Day 71: Our Favorite Remote Outpost of Civilization

Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) is a place completely unto itself, especially these days. While it used to, as far as I can tell, thrive primarily on people coming to fish on Lake Edison, these days it’s clearly overwhelmingly a way station for hikers on the PCT and John Muir Trail. So what’s it like?

In some ways, VVR is like its own little city. It consists of probably eight or ten fixed buildings — a main office/general store/restaurant, shower/laundry, “hotel” with six rooms, a couple of maintenance buildings, owner’s house, staff lounge — along with eight or ten RVs parked outside (quite permanently), a yurt, and various sheds and so forth. It’s completely off-grid; water comes from a well or the lake, and an enormous diesel-powered generator (hours: 7 AM to 10 PM) powers the entire place. Accommodations range from free camping in the yard to hotel rooms and the yurt; we splurged and went for the yurt, which is really pretty great — heated, private, sink with hot and cold water…and its own private outhouse next door. (Which, in fact, is just a port-a-potty enclosed in a shed, albeit the nicest port-a-potty — battery-powered LED nightlight inside! décor! — that I’ve ever seen.)

The really dangerous part about VVR comes from a combination of two things: (a) everything’s on a tab that you start when you get there (soda from the store? night in the yurt? dinner at the restaurant? throw it on the tab!), and (b) there’s a restaurant that is actually very good…and priced accordingly. I mean, this isn’t a fancy place; you sit at linoleum tables inside or wooden benches outside when you eat. But you can get a seriously good burger (lots of beef, cheese, avocado, bacon, mushrooms, carmelized onions, etc., $17) for lunch, or, depending on the day, steak for dinner (with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach, $26), which is amazing after lots of freeze-dried meals. Breakfast is particularly deadly; a breakfast entrée is $10–$11, but we needed at least three between the two of us to give us enough to eat. End result? VVR makes you very happy — and blows a massive hole in your wallet. (Ed. Note.: I’m not going to tell you how much the total bill was after we left, but it was enough to spend two nights at a very, very nice hotel in San Francisco.)

Having said all that, VVR was our favorite stop along the JMT, and it’s one of my favorites this time, too. Why? VVR has character. It’s completely taken over by hikers at this time of the year, and the lack of services (want something they don’t have at VVR? 90-minute shuttle to Fresno for $50) is more than made up for by how friendly it feels. You’re among friends, everybody’s talking — JMT and PCT hikers both — and having a great time, and it’s really, really relaxing. This morning, Dilly, Dally, Sarge, and Stump arrived, and so we got to hang out over burgers at lunch, shooting the breeze with them, gentle breeze blowing through…it was wonderful. (Knowing you can then go take a midday nap in your yurt just makes it all the better!) Plus, having clean clothes and clean bodies is such a wonderful feeling, too…it made this day wonderful.

Zeroes continue to be busy for us; there’s lots of pack maintenance to be done. The fact that there’s no real Internet connection here — there’s Wi-Fi (when it’s working), but it’s $8/hour for 100 Kbps, which is about 1/30th the speed of even a very slow home DSL connection — does make it a lot simpler, because there’s no way to catch up on posting blog entries even if I wanted to. (Of course, this just means they stack up even more for our next encounter with an Internet connection — not that I know when that will be.)

We plan on leaving relatively early tomorrow morning, just after breakfast, which is good for our bank accounts but bad for our spirits. If we had the time and the money, I’d spend about five days here — it’s that nice of a place. But the trail calls, and we know for a fact there’s more beauty north of here, so…onward!

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