George Shirk sits in his office at the Mammoth Times on a Saturday afternoon, with his dog, Fido, who writes his own weekly column for the paper, curled up underneath the desk. Early December is the quiet time between the Thanksgiving and Christmas rushes at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, and Shirk, a 60-year-old news veteran with a sandy smoker's voice, has kindly agreed to give me an armchair tour of his adopted hometown. Mammoth Lakes is perched in the Eastern Sierra, a half-day's walk from some of California's most spectacular high country. "The first time I drove over Tioga Pass and saw the Eastern Sierra, my eyes just bugged out," says Shirk, who bought a condo here in 1997 and moved up full-time a few years later after a career that took him from the Philadelphia Inquirer to the San Francisco Chronicle. "We're really out here," Shirk says, rattling
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