Hooked on June Lake

TIMES STAFF WRITER

I'm swimming laps in an almost-empty indoor pool, stretching out after a day of late-season skiing, the water heated just right for a workout. The huge gallery windows looking out on the mountain landscape are misty with condensation.

Outside, bundled up against the chill, my wife is winding up a fly-fishing lesson. Alison's instructor grimaces as he reaches into freezing water to unhook a trout.

It's nicer in here. After showering off from the pool, I'll lie down on a padded, heated table for a full-body massage, getting a firm rubdown from head to toe, soothing music in the background and a masseuse who knows exactly what she's doing.

To each his own, as they say. We're at June Lake, and it seems like January even though it's really the second weekend in April. A surprise storm has left 2 feet of powder on this eastern Sierra village since Friday night, forcing Caltrans to muster its snowplows once again to keep the roads clear.

But the great thing about our weekend is that it doesn't so much matter what's going on outside, because there's a lot to do inside. Opened about two years ago, the Double Eagle Resort and Spa fills a gap in June Lake lodgings: It's not just a base camp for fishing or skiing excursions but a pleasant destination in itself.

June Lake, about 300 miles north of Los Angeles, is Mammoth's prettier sister. Fishing is bigger than skiing here, and there are no fast-food restaurants, buses or nightclubs to remind you of the city you left behind. But, until recently at least, the public accommodations were wanting.

Alison and I had taken trips to June Lake years ago, staying in different motel-cabin lodgings each time. The places smelled musty, and furnishings bordered on threadbare. But there didn't seem to be better options. None of the lodgings listed in the AAA TourBook at the time ranked more than one or two diamonds on a five-diamond scale.

Still, June Lake is a such a scenic place that I scouted the Web again last year and was pleased to find Double Eagle's home page. It seemed like the perfect place for a quick getaway with our three children--Kelly, 16, Kevin, 13, and Katie, 9--because it offered a variety of activities. I made a reservation.

One of the great things about the trip to June Lake is the drive up the Owens Valley on California 395, which offers a glimpse of how California must have looked to the pioneers.

We stopped in Lone Pine for lunch Saturday, after pulling over at the ranger station in town to peer through the siting tubes trained on 14,495-foot Mt. Whitney. Because the Sierra was shrouded in storm clouds, we looked through the "overcast day" tube aimed at the painting of Whitney on a motel sign across the street.

We arrived at Double Eagle in the late afternoon. Our two-bedroom cabin more than met our expectations. It was roomy, with a well-stocked kitchen and a wood deck overlooking the resort's trout pond. The price, $218 per night plus tax, didn't seem bad for a family of five. (Summer rates are $228 midweek, $257 weekends.)

A big plus is having the Eagle's Landing restaurant as part of the complex; at most other lodgings at June Lake, you have to drive to eat out. We were surprised at how uncrowded the restaurant was on a Saturday night, but then, the trout season opener was still three weeks away.

The Eagle's Landing can't be beat for its mountain resort atmosphere: high ceilings, large picture windows looking out on 10,909-foot Carson Peak and big, roomy booths that can accommodate up to eight people.

The service was good and prices were reasonable, although the lamb, chicken and other entrees we ordered for dinner weren't tops in flavor. We thought the restaurant did a better job with breakfast; we sampled the pancakes, waffles, and bacon and eggs with home fries.

As at most spas, the facilities and services are geared to adults. But the big indoor pool is open to kids from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and again from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., so on Sunday, Alison and Katie went for a swim.

There are other activities for young people, including snowshoeing and ice skating in winter and fishing and hiking in summer. It's a short walk to trails that will take you to back-country lakes in Inyo National Forest.

The fitness center's weight machines, treadmills and the like seemed hardly in use. The spa was well equipped, with a warren of treatment rooms for mud baths, seaweed wraps and massages. There's even a Vichy shower--kind of like a shower you lie down for. You get rubbed with a luffa while stretching out under the falling water. (It was tempting, but I passed.)

An adjoining salon does hair and nails. We signed up Kelly, just a few weeks shy of her 16th birthday at the time, for a 50-minute makeup session. But she was so wiped out from a day of outdoor adventure that Alison went in her place.

Alison enjoyed the fly-fishing lesson much more. For a time, we were worried that it wouldn't happen. Trout season in the Sierra doesn't begin till the last weekend in April, and when I booked the cabin I asked if we could get a lesson ahead of the opener. No problem, the staff said: The resort has a private pond stocked with trout where beginners can learn.

Temperatures this month have been in the 70s and 80s, but earlier in spring, as our trip date neared, the slow departure of winter threatened to keep the pond frozen. Before we arrived, the resort kindly had offered to arrange for Alison to take a lesson in warmer Bishop. As it turned out, Double Eagle's pond melted by the time we got to the resort, and the lesson was on--albeit in a snowstorm.

The guide, a young man named David Marshel who grew up in the region, not only showed Alison the basic techniques of casting, hooking and playing the fish, but also provided a good short course in the lore and aesthetics of fly-fishing. They wound up hooking a trout, and she worked it expertly into the net, surprised at how much fight the fish had in it. The hour we paid for turned into about 90 minutes.

While Alison was finishing her lesson, I was headed for the pool and then my massage. Choices range from a 20-minute neck, back and shoulder job for $45 to the $125 Symphony Duo Massage, where two masseuses have at you. I opted for the Sierra Sports Massage, a $75 full-body treatment that had me relaxed in no time. It was an hour of heaven.

Afterward, I was ready for the champagne we had brought with us, now chilling in the cabin refrigerator. Alison, alas, was more in the mood for hot chocolate.

John Corrigan is an assistant editor in The Times' Business section.

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Budget for Five

Double Eagle, two nights $475.24

Massage, with tip 88.50

Fly-fishing lesson 35.00

Dinner, Eagle's Landing 134.44

Breakfast, Eagle's Landing 37.36

Gas 64.64O

Other meals 143.64

FINAL TAB $978.82

* Double Eagle Resort and Spa, Route 3, Box 14C, June Lake, CA 93529; telephone (760) 648-7004, fax (760) 648-7017, Internet http://www.double-eagle-resort.com.

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