There is no place like Alpine County
February 3, 2017
You have to enjoy your own company to live in Alpine County. One might even go so far as to say that you need to prefer it. It is a place with more varmints than humans and challenging and isolating terrain. There are wildfire threats in the summer, heavy snow and avalanche danger in the winter and the possibility of floods all year round. Weather in these mountains is unpredictable, but the inherent beauty of this territory is unsurpassed, and that makes it all worth it.
Whether you are a saint or a sinner is not what predisposes you to this specific geographic location. You may be conservative or liberal, since ideology does not separate the citizens from other places. Most have chosen to be here so they can hear the actual heartbeat of the canyons, the meadows and the snowy peaks. The lakes and rivers speak their own language and in quiet moments you can hear it.
With roughly 1,160 residents, the population is the lowest in California in this region of the Sierra Nevada. Both Bear Valley and Kirkwood are well-known ski resorts. Markleeville is the county seat and has the majority of our government buildings. Woodfords surrounds the West Fork of the Carson River and Hung-A-Lel-Ti is home to the Southern Band of the Washoe Tribe. Each locale reflects its own unique style of small-town living. These are high-altitude communities with elevations ranging from 4,800 to just over 11,000 feet.
Most inhabitants are independent and prefer to do everything themselves. They can be artists, writers, miners, ranchers, shopkeepers, cooks, firefighters, ski patrollers, accountants or those involved in public agencies. Many work in the tourist industry, an important component of the current Alpine economy. People make a living any way they can. Adaptability is a requirement.
Bears lumber through backyards looking for manzanita berries and we are neighbors with badger, bobcat and coyote. The deer come to munch on sweet currants. Between them, the rabbits and the squirrels it is difficult to maintain a garden. Some residents harvest wild foods such as rose hips, fireweed and the elusive thimbleberry, just to name a few. This land provides the soft seeds of the pinyon pine, the cornerstone of the Washoe diet.
Wandering these mountains you will discover that each trail and passage has it's own special nature. The granite batholith, the meandering streams, the sheltering and protective junipers, cedars, firs and pines give the feeling of being at the right place at exactly the right time.
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You have to be willing to haul wood, shovel endless snow, do without power for long periods of time and live on storage food to live here year-round. We have no grocery stores, banks or hospitals. The closest towns on the eastern side of the county are from about half-an-hour to an hour away. It is second nature to stock up and be prepared in this remote area.
It is best not to have a need for constant outside stimulus to be content here. I do not fret if I have no cell or internet service, living in a daredevil fashion, at least for this age. It is part and parcel of real mountain living.
Quite simply, I would rather be here than anywhere else. Whatever unsavory thing men may do to it, this particular region has the mark of glory and perfection. It is reflected in our deep star-filled skies, our pure air carried on crystal clear breezes, and in the vast stillness of the night punctuated by the cry of the Great Horned Owl. A winter like this one can be a defining moment for some, but for a true Alpiner, it is just how it is, another privation that makes the perfect moments even more magnificent.