02-11-2018 Leaving Tucson Heading North

Remember that if you click on a photo, (except for maps and internet photos) it will take you to the larger version on my SmugMug site, where you can also see more photos in that gallery.

When Sunday morning arrived, the gorgeous clear skies over Tucson were showing a bit of gray.  Clouds were coming in.  We didn’t know at the time that there was a lot of rain heading towards the big city in the desert, and as the days passed with extended weather reports from friends and news sites, we knew how lucky we had been.  Our entire time so far had been gorgeous.  Sunny, warm, temperatures much above normal, no wind.  Who could ask for more?!

Leaving Tucson, we knew the best way out of town was on the interstate.  To our delight, I-10 at 9 on a Sunday morning was beautifully quiet.  Note to self, always leave big cities which require freeway travel on Sunday morning.  I was driving so we missed photographs of all the amazing freeway overpasses and bridges between Tucson and Phoenix.  Even the fences are covered with gorgeous sculptures, some in cement, some in rusted metal.  We enjoyed all the art along the highways, both in Arizona and in Nevada.  Next time I’ll have Mo drive this section so I can get some photos.

(The two photos here were taken from the internet just so you get the idea.)

I have noticed this trend growing in many places where we travel.  Made me wonder what it must be like to be a freeway graphic artist and to see your designs bigger than life in such a public venue.  Almost as much fun as the mural craze that seems to be everywhere as well.

We were still not absolutely sure about our route home.  I had checked the weather going north along Highway 395 in California, and it looked a bit iffy.  The fastest route would be to take Highway 95 directly north from Las Vegas to Reno, but geez that part can be boring.  We thought maybe we could boondock in the Alabama Hills if we could get through Death Valley.  Both of us remembered some of the climbs in and out of the valley.

The route we traveled from Tucson to Minden, Nevada

We decided to head for Phoenix, and then north, with no real idea of how far we could or wanted to go and where we might end up that night.  Beatty, Nevada was the goal, and then Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley, but who knew the timing.

I used the freecampsites.net website and found quite a few boondock sites north of Kingman.  I couldn’t believe how big Kingman was, and as we passed through, the boondock sites didn’t look all that welcoming.  We continued north, thinking we could find something.  Once again, freecampsites.net led the way.  We saw a big parking lot available across the street from the Hoover Dam Casino, just east of Boulder City and set a beeline for a free night spot that shouldn’t be terribly crowded.

Turned out to be a perfect place, and we never even bothered to cross the highway to visit the casino.  Dinner was once again some excellent leftovers from the freezer while we watched the sunset and settled in for the evening. A few rigs rolled in during the night, but they weren’t terribly loud.  By morning there were a few trailers, and some car and tent campers scattered around the edges of the big space.

Our plan was to continue north and then cross Death Valley, with a stay at Stovepipe Wells, but the weather had other plans.  It was COLD, and when we drove into Beatty I think the daytime temperatures were in the low 40’s, with a hard freeze predicted for the night.  I called Stovepipe Wells, where we were told all sites were taken, and we did a quick rethink.  We had passed a decent looking park on the way into Beatty, so gave them a quick call, and sure enough there was a space, full hookups.  Death Valley Inn RV Park was a good choice.

It was still early in the day, and as we thought about our options, it seemed like a good thing to relax early and spend some time playing and exploring.  We have been to Death Valley a few times, and the things we would see there are sights we have enjoyed in the past.  Something different would be fun.

We headed for the tiny Visitor center in town, next to the cheapest gas in town, and gathered up some brochures on local interesting things to see and do.  Rhyolite is a ghost town that is fun to explore, but we had already done that a few years ago.  We decided to explore some of the back 4 wheel drive roads, and found an interesting loop that meandered past old mining cabins, through “Secret Pass”, south to the desert, and back via the highway.

We explored the old Flourspar Cabin at a mining site before continuing up the road

The 8 miles to Secret Pass was challenging, but that is why we were out there.  I was a bit of a wreck actually, as Mo crawled over the big, pointy rocks, with me jumping out now and then to move some especially big ones.  Once we were past the bad part, it didn’t seem so bad.  I think for me it was the unknown factor of whether the road actually continued through.  I didn’t like the idea of having to back up and out over those rocks and ditches and eroded dry streambeds. 

When we got to an easier part, I started taking photos, and Mo asked why in the world we didn’t get photos of the scary parts?  I was too busy holding on and gasping! 

Of course, we didn’t have a good local map, and the phone map quit working about half way through.  We just kept going, and following our noses, found our way out of the mountains and across the desert back to the highway.  It was fun, and something we love to do when in the desert.  No flat tires, no getting stuck in sand or creekbeds, and beautiful views.

We had seen Big Dune on the way north to Beatty, and our dirt road intercepted the highway just a few miles north of the road to the sands.  We traveled the washboard gravel just 6 miles with the dunes looming in the distance.  This dune is incredible, a star dune out in the middle of the flat desert, and I loved it much more than the dunes in Death Valley.  Maybe because it rises all alone from the surrounding space, or maybe because it isn’t overrun with people, or at least it wasn’t when we were there.  Unprotected the way the Death Valley dunes are protected, it was covered with 4 wheeler tracks, but when we were there on this mid week afternoon, there wasn’t a soul around.

Mattie had more fun than she has had in a long time.  Something about soft sand makes her completely joyously crazy, and she ran around like a wild thing in the wind. 

She does the same thing at ocean beaches, and in big soft grass as well.  The dune was lit from the west with the late afternoon sun and the backdrop of dark clouds was a photographer’s dream.  Gorgeous!

On our way back, along Highway 95, we finally spotted the wild burros that were touted in the brochure.  All along our route we had seen burro apples, but no burros, so we were glad to finally see them.

A great mural in Beatty along the main road into town

The next morning was cold, so we took our time heading west toward Death Valley.  Stovepipe Wells was busy with tourists, and I stopped in at the Visitor Center and General Store hoping for a really good sweatshirt to add to the one I found at Chaco Canyon 4 years ago.  No luck.  I am pretty specific in what I want, and I guess my current version will have to suffice. 

I was glad we didn’t stay there, with all the people, visiting all the beautiful sights we have seen before.  It was enough to pass through this part of the valley and to save wandering around in the back country for another trip. 

Look closely to see the MoHo winding down the grade toward Panamint Springs

We knew about the long grade up from Stovepipe Wells, and then back down to Panamint Springs, not horrible, but definitely long.  We decided to unhook early on rather than waiting for the really big hill west of Panamint Springs.  Mo went ahead in the MoHo and I followed in the Tracker, making it much easier to stop along the way for photos.

We negotiated the really steep hill up from Death Valley toward Lone Pine without any mishaps, and stopped at the top for lunch and a walk with the dog.  The sun was warm coming through the windows, but the wind was really cold!

As we approached the intersection with Highway 395, I was again enthralled with the magnificent view of the eastern face of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Often at this time of year, the highways are snow covered, but this year the snowpack in the Sierra’s is extremely low.  It was our window in time to travel one of our favorite highways without being worried about the storms and snows.  We have been in serious snow storms with chains required on this road as late as Memorial Day!

We didn’t stop along the way, passing places we have visited in the past, reminiscing about good food, beautiful hikes, historic sites.  Many good memories along this route for us, and it was fine that on this trip we simply passed through viewing the incredible scenery.  We were heading home, and no matter how long we are out, when it gets close to home time, we tend to move along fairly quickly.

There is just so much to see and do along this highway, the list is huge.  It deserves a month, preferably in warmer weather, not just a day.  We will return.

Our destination for the night was Minden, Nevada, where we had stayed at a new park back in 2014 on our way home from Florida.  At that time, it snowed on us, April 1, and we were happy for hookups.  This time the prediction was for temperatures in the teens, and once again we were happy for hookups.  I called ahead, and was glad I did since Silver City Resort seems to have developed into a very popular place in the last 4 years.  Most of the people there are in for long term visits.  That surprised me because it can be cold in this area south of Reno.

When we woke up the next morning, the temperature was 12 degrees F, the Tracker was covered in thick frost, and even the MoHo had frost on the lower sides.  We had turned on our tank heaters for the first time in a long time.

It was time to figure out our home route, and we cooked a nice breakfast while debating whether to take our chances over the northern mountains or give up and cross the Sierra’s over Donner Pass and travel home via I-5.  Decisions, decisions!


04-02-2014 Home Run

In Rocky Point Oregon, sunny and 42F at 10AM

last days_056We are home, and “home run” can mean more than one thing.  First, the trip was a classical “Home Run”, meaning a great success.  Secondly, we “ran home” pretty darn fast once we were heading that way.  The weather was spring-like throughout the west, completely unpredictable.

I have been trying to keep up with fellow bloggers, many of them Canadians, who are also on the trek home.  Many of them are meandering, with a month or so to get north.  Others are bookin’!  I especially loved reading about Peter and Beatrix’s homecoming.  Sheesh.  Made me really appreciate coming home to Rocky Point with just gray skies, a skiff of snow here and there, but nothing to speak of on the ground.  Lucky us.

With high winds predicted all along our route from Edward’s AFB north, along highway 395, we hunkered down for a day, waiting for a break.  The morning we left, things were reasonably quiet, and we traveled north towards the back side of the Sierras without any difficulty.

last days_050We had seen several reader boards touting high wind advisories, and when I had access to the internet, I saw chain requirements on several stretches of 395.  Somehow we missed all the bad stuff, both before us near Mammoth when we got through without chains which were required later that night, and the next day when we waited long enough for the chain requirements to be lifted north of Susanville.

In spite of all the dire warnings, the trip home was a piece of cake!  Sometimes our luck is so incredible I have to trust that it is someone watching over us more than mere luck. We drove 350 miles or so the first day before spending the night at Silver City RV Resort in Minden, and completed the second leg of our route home with ease the next day. 

For me, coming home was a bit strange.  I felt completely loose, ungrounded, disconnected and weird.  I suppose that is to be expected after more than 3 months away, but it didn’t seem to bother Mo in the least.  We were both really happy to be home, but I was rather disoriented.  Today I am fine.  It took a day or so, and a hug from my daughter and granddaughter for me to come down to earth, but now everything feels normal again.

last days_052Recapping the trip, going over the numbers, helps me to put it in better perspective.  We traveled 9,179 miles/14,772 km in the MoHo, with an additional 2,500 miles of explorations in the Tracker.  Our total fuel cost was $4,179.55 an average of 46 cents per mile.  Fuel for regular gas ran the gamut from 2.99 at the lowest in New Mexico and 4.99 the highest on the California border.

We camped 84 nights (not counting our 8 days on a cruise ship) with an average cost per night of $17.39.  Our expensive campgrounds in Florida were offset by several nights boondocking and discounted National and Passport America parks.

last route homeNow it is time for doing taxes, starting on the winter yard cleanup, putting away the Christmas tree decorations, and getting ready for Easter with the family here at home.  Today I’ll fill the bird feeders for the birds that are returning.  The hot tub water is balancing nicely and tonight will be our fist soak under the stars in a long time. 

I have some amazing memories of the trip, images in my mind that stick and come to me when I am still.  I also have an untold number of images on the computer to go back to when I want to remember our travels.  There are a few days and some great experiences that I didn’t manage to write about during the trip, and those stories are waiting in the wings, but they will be backdated as catch-up posts.

Any fears we had about being gone for three months never materialized, but it was a long time to be away from home.  I am not sure we will do that again.  A month or two at a time might be enough for us in the future.  For me, the most noticeable feature about traveling for that length of time is the ability to live in the moment, not worrying much about anything except where the next stop might be, or the next hike.

entire trip mapLife does require a bit more than that when back in the “real world”.  Unlike full timers, we didn’t take much of our “real world” with us, leaving those concerns back home and putting most everything on hold.  Sure, we had the internet, and Quicken, and a printer when we needed it. 

last leg homeWe had telephones for communication, and yet when I talked to my closest friend Maryruth in California a couple of days ago, she exclaimed, “I am so glad you are home!  I missed you!”.  We both laughed about how different it felt to talk on the phone from home than it did from our “vacation” home.  Just different somehow.  My daughter said the same thing yesterday when we had lunch together in Klamath Falls.  I can’t explain it, but I am glad I am home, really home.


Home again, Gone again, Home again

Rocky Point, Oregon partly cloudy and 51 degrees F

I think anyone who travels knows about the “getting ready to leave” feeling.  Energy is high, plans are coming together, dates filling in with routes, new roads are calling, or old roads are waiting.  Since we don’t full-time travel, there is also the energy of “coming home”.  Like a horse to the barn, I am, and that going home thing sometimes gets in the way of seeing all I might see on the route. Abert Lake on 395

But not this time.  On our way home from Magical Joseph, we took a long meandering route through parts of Oregon not yet traveled.  Once back in Rocky Point, I caught up on the blog (almost), whipped up a quilt top for my sister, had a great visit with a fellow retired soil scientist, was treated to a fabulous dinner at Wes and Gayle’s next door, and then in only 10 days we were on the road again.  And this time I didn’t even take a computer with me!  Oh dear…thank goodness for the photos.

I guess it really IS a good thing that I am no longer employed, since I would have been off work anyway with the government shutdown, and who has time to work anyway.

route home But back to the beginning, the route home from Joseph. I am sitting here at my desk looking out on the dusky evening light, trying very hard to slip back in time so I can actually feel what I am writing about, because as often happens, on that last run home, I didn’t have a moment to even keep a note.  I keep thinking of Erin, who is posting little teasers from her Greenland and Iceland adventures, and I just hope that she has time to write while traveling.  How in the world can anyone keep track of such adventures?!

Then of course there is Sherry, who posts such beautifully illustrated stories of their hikes and kayak adventures, and like me, is usually posting about what happened a week or so in the past.  And Nina, fabulous Nina of Wheeling It,  who writes so eloquently about their travels, does superb campground reviews, and posts well researched blogs about all sorts of pertinent subjects.

So…what was I saying?  Oh yes….back to the photos….and the map. 

overnight at Hilgard Junction State Park Leaving Joseph in early afternoon, with only a little over 80 miles to our next destination, we weren’t in any big hurry.  Back near the interstate at La Grande, we found a WalMart for some groceries and were amazed at how hot it was at 5PM.  Sure wouldn’t want to be boondocking in THAT parking lot, although it is a place where overnight parking is allowed. 

Instead we traveled a few miles northwest on I-84 to Hilgard Junction State Park.  We knew there would be no hookups, but the tall cottonwoods were shady and the evening was cooling off, so with the windows open and the fan going, everything was just perfect.

turn around at the Ritter Hot Springs roadCovered wagons on the Oregon Trail were hoisted down the nearby hill, and there is a nice little kiosk at the park with stories of the pioneer travelers.  It was a restful stop, with the Grande Ronde River flowing adjacent to the campground.  The water wasn’t deep enough for Abby to even get over her knees, but she still enjoyed splashing around a bit.  There are 18 primitive sites at the campground, right off the freeway, but the noise didn’t bother us much since the freeway is elevated and the sound didn’t come down much.  It wouldn’t be a destination campsite for sure, but it was a great overnight for just 9 bucks.

We took our time the next morning, and continued west along highway 244, a very winding but lovely road with no traffic at all.  Even after we intersected with Highway 395 the traffic was light, with truck length limits keeping the truck traffic level low.  Not a problem for the MoHo at all, all the way to John Day and Clyde Holiday State Park where we thought we might spend the night.  Just off 395 is a narrow side road to Ritter and the site of Ritter Hot Springs, but it was a bummer to find the springs closed for the “season” and a gate across the old road.  We were just glad we had managed to find a place to turn the MoHo around at least.

Canyon City OregonWhen we reached Clyde Holiday, it was too early in the day to really want to stop, and with plenty of water and charged batteries we thought it would be better to boondock somewhere.  Turning south from John Day, we visited the little town of Canyon City, another gold story of course, and then meandered up the hill to the west of Strawberry Mountain to the Starr National Forest Campground.  (good thing the government wasn’t closed back then!)

Starr Campground FS on 395 Starr was interesting, with several sites and no one at all in the campground.  You know how that is when there are too many choices, we drove around a bunch trying to decide which one before settling in to the most level spot.  The campground is near the road, but road noise was again not a problem.  I guess 395 isn’t too busy this time of year, at least on this section.

I have heard of the Strawberry Mountains for years, and looking at the map, we found a road that circled the wilderness.  It was just long enough for a good drive in the baby car with views of the mountains, and the headwaters of the John Day River.  We even found a beautiful campground that would be a nice place to stay to hike the wilderness and bike some very nice mountain biking trails nearby. So many places, so many hikes.  I would love to go back someday and hike into the beautiful lakes in these mountains.

The next day we continued south along the 395 corridor, and discovered more little towns and one amazing huge ranch.  The highway bisects the ranch, and once I had internet I had to look it up.  What a story!  The Silvies Valley was beautiful and reading about the history of the ranch, how it started with an old Oregon family more than 100 years ago, was lost to California developers and went bankrupt twice, and is now back in the loving care of an Oregon family made my heart sing.  Check out the Silvies Valley Ranch website!   circling the Strawberry Wilderness

Once we passed Burns and turned south toward Lakeview, the landscape was oh so familiar.  This is the part of 395 we both have traveled many times, separately and together, and still the desert views are incredibly gorgeous.  Even with the overhanging clouds, briny Lake Abert was beautiful.

Hunters RV Park Lakeview Then in Lakeview we did something almost unheard of.  Just 2.5 hours from home, we decided to camp overnight.  A bit north of town is the Hunter Hot Spring Resort, once home to the only active geyser in Oregon.  Right next to the resort is the Hunters RV Park.  Do NOT make the mistake of thinking the two places are related!  If you call the resort they won’t even give the phone number of the RV park, saying instead,  “I have a room I could rent for you”

I wasn’t interested in a room, but I did want to try out the springs.  We settled in with the evening rain at the RV park with full hookups and cable tv while I walked across the field to the hot spring resort.  For $8. you can relax in the pool, but as the RV park owner said to me, check it out first.  Sometimes it is clean, other times not so much.  It was clean enough for me, though, and while not a natural spring pool, at least there aren’t any chemicals in the water and it is refreshed often by the spring.

Hunters Hot Spring Lakeview Oregon Nicest experience for me at the spring was enjoying the company of a young geologist working in the area and staying at the resort.  We talked for a long time while soaking, and I learned of the problems with all the hot springs and pools in Lakeview, and about the threat to the springs from the proposed geothermal plants in the area.  I know geothermal energy is supposed to be a good thing, but I have no idea how to resolve the environmental issues that come with the big geothermal plants.

Save Hunter Hot Springs

It was a great idea to stop for the night and relax rather than rushing home.  When we arrived late morning the next day we were rested and refreshed and ready to tackle the unloading and laundry chores that always seem to be a big part of coming home. 

Next up:  We go camping with friends AND I get to meet Nina at Harris Beach State Park!

Mammoth and Mono and Snow Monday May 6

view toward the John Muir Wilderness It was cool enough in Bishop that we were glad for electric hookups so that we could take the morning chill off the MoHo with our little electric heater.  The big furnace is almost as loud as the air conditioner, and I would much rather use free shore power for a little heat than listen to that thing burn up costly propane.  The weather was considerably different than what we had left behind in Death Valley as we continued north on 395. 

map There is just so much to see in such a short distance, but the fact that the morning was cloudy, chilly, and blustery made the little side roads a bit less inviting.  We decided to skip the 6 mile backtrack for another trip to Eric Schat’s Bakkery and packed up and continued on north towards Mammoth Lakes. I had never been into the town itself, the famous ski mountain and summer mountain bike destination is a mecca for all things skiing and biking. 

Mammoth Mountain also happens to be the very heart of the Long Valley Caldera, source of that huge volcanic blast that went as far as Nebraska.  For years I have followed the USGS monitoring of this site.  I was close enough to Mt St Helens when she blew that I was buried in volcanic ash and trapped in Moscow, Idaho for three days.  The fact that it was my wedding day and I had a houseful of people made it all that much more exciting.  Imagine a honeymoon with all three of my teenaged girls, my foster mother, my best friend, and assorted other friends who couldn’t get out of town because the ash was choking all the auto transmissions. 

lifts running at Mammoth Mountain in May Volcanoes and earthquakes are fun to study, although maybe not from such close quarters.  I also live now in the shadow of Crater Lake, another huge caldera responsible for a massive eruption, and Shasta, the sleeping giant, is visible from the road south of our home.  I love following the earthquake and volcano sites and seeing just how restless our earth can be.  So traveling around inside the perimeter of the Long Valley Caldera is exciting.

earthquake fault trail, and yes, it is snowingAs we approached the city center of Mammoth, we stopped at the big beautiful visitor center.  The complex was beautiful with lots of interpretive signs about the caldera, Mammoth Mountain, and Mammoth Lakes, the local flora and fauna, and the restless earth.  Inside the center was a live display of current earthquake activity and interesting discussions of the history of movement in the area.  There are CO2 emissions from some part of the mountain that are dangerous enough to cause the trees to die off, and to elicit a warning about CO2 poisoning concerns for humans in that area.  Magma is rising and the earth is bulging.  Cool

earthquake fault trail, and yes, it is snowing Speaking of cool, by the time we found the Earthquake Fault Trail, it was snowing lightly.  The trail isn’t officially open, so the signs mentioned on the web site are not yet in place, but with the help of the iPhone, we found what looked like the right road.  Amazing that I had a 5 bar LTE signal up there at Mammoth.  I guess rich kids with snowboards require good phone reception.

The “fault” isn’t really a fault, but a fissure from fairly recent volcanic activity.  Some of the earth failures seemed to be even more recent than the 700 years or so mentioned on the sign because the fence posts had fallen in with some land failure and there was a more recent fence keeping folks away from the edge of the fissure.  It was a great little walk, just 1/4 mile or so to the fissure and then some rudimentary steps and a trail around the edge.

earthquake fault trail, and yes, it is snowing We drove up to the main ski lodge at Mammoth Mountain surprised to discover the lifts still operating and people skiing.  Amazing.  My nose was still in nosebleed mode from 104 temperatures and no humidity.  California is truly an amazing state and you can find just about anything you want within a few hours drive. 

Back in town we were delighted to discover another Schat’s Bakkery, although this one wasn’t Eric Schats Bakkery, but just Schat’s Bakkery.  Either way, the Sheepherder bread was there and the tiny difference was that Eric’s bread had olive oil in it and this bakery did not use oil in their bread.  Seems as though the Schat’s had a divorce and this was the wife’s establishment.  We had soup and bread in the small eatery attached to the bakery, bought a couple more pastries for the road and another loaf of that famous bread.  The soup was utterly fantastic, tomato basil and turkey vegetable.  The tomato soup appeared as if it had been made from a luscious medley of roasted veggies and ripe tomatoes.  Yum. 

the visitor center It was raining fairly hard when we got back to the MoHo where we left her near the Hot Springs Geologic Site.  We didn’t take time to drive out to the springs, but did see the steam from what is now a large geothermal generating plant.  At one time Native Americans used these springs, then several different kinds of spas and hotels were there until the geothermal plant took over in 1983.  Did I mention magma rising?  Yup!

Continuing north along the highway toward our evening destination of Topaz Lake, we were happy that this time the Mono Lake Visitor Center would be open.  The center is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, so we had missed it on our way down.  This visitor center is an absolute, without a doubt, must see requirement if you are on Highway 395 near Lee Vining.  Lee Vining is the tiny town where the Tioga Pass Road climbs the east side of the Sierras into Yosemite, still closed this time of year.  The sun even cooperated as Mono Lake came into view, slipping out of the clouds just enough to make the skies interesting.

I love these maps, and this one even has pictures that light up with the buttons The building is beautiful from the outside, with beautiful xeriscaping (landscaping using drought tolerant plants), a lovely interpretive nature hike, and beautiful views of the desert and the lake.  As I walked through the entrance, the interior took my breath away.  The center is architecturally beautiful and the exhibits are truly wonderful.  The very best part for me is that I learned something completely new.  You have probably seen photos of the amazing tufa pillars at Mono Lake before.  There is a certain volcanic rock called “tuff”, and I had no clue that “tufa” and “tuff” are not synonymous.  In the center are some informative displays of how tufa is formed under the surface of the extremely alkaline lake water where calcium rich spring waters emerge into the lake.  These tufa pillars are then exposed as the lake level has receded. Mono Lake is a must return site, only next time with our kayaks.  I really want to paddle around those tufa towers at the southern end of the lake, even if it means getting our boats all salty and in desperate need of a good rinse.

lighting jup the bird migrations at Mono LakeIn addition to the natural history of the lake, the center explains the recent human history of the water wars surrounding this magnificently beautiful high desert lake.  Once again, water was removed to feed the hungry masses in LA and it was only in the last few decades that a group was formed to try to save Mono Lake from complete ruin.  The displays at the visitor center explain this controversy clearly and beautifully, and as yet the problem has not been solved.

Living in the Klamath Basin as I do, where these kinds of water issues are at the heart of our culture, I so wished for a beautiful, informative visitor center like this one for the Basin.  The Mono visitor center was an Inyo National Forest facility, but I couldn’t help but wonder how such a state of the art, creative and informative facility was funded.  We stayed a long time, perusing every exhibit and taking our time to walk the pathways.

Mono Lake from the visitor centerI was shocked to realize that it was 3:30 in the afternoon when we finally left and as yet we hadn’t decided for sure on where we wanted to spend the night.  Snow flurries and white on the mountains all around us precluded a boondocking night and instead we decided to forge on north toward Topaz and the Topaz Lake Casino. 

We passed the road to Bodie, (which was surprisingly open already), Dogtown, Bridgeport, the beautiful campsites along the Walker River.  A little roadside stop in Bridgeport gave us enough internet to do a bit of research and discover that the Topaz Lake Casino had full hookup, pull through sites for $20.  per night.  Not bad!, and even though the rain was getting heavier and the skies darker all the time, we made it to Topaz.  For once, the weather gods weren’t with us, and Mo set up in the pouring rain while I walked in the pouring rain to secure the last pull through site available.  We were both pretty wet by the time it got dark, but after a bit of relaxation with 88 tv channels and the heater going, we decided to go to the casino and take advantage of our free drink coupons.

Day 9 DV to Bish_070DSC_0083 Most of the time we can pass up the gambling, but every now and then we will donate 20 bucks each to whatever tribe is trying to make a living.  It took us a few minutes to realize that we were actually in Nevada and weren’t donating to any tribe at all except the rich state of Nevada.  Oh well, Nevada has better pavement than just about any state out west, so I guess it is worth it.  It was also more fun than usual because I won 50 bucks, leaving the casino with $40 instead of the $20 I had walked in with, including the free drink! There isn’t a level site to be found in that place, but it still is a definite stopover on 395 if you want to save a little money.  They have spaghetti for 3.99 and biscuits and gravy for 1.99, neither of which was on our radar at the moment, but still good to know.

Sonora Pass is now closed againBy morning, the rain had lifted and the skies were only a bit cloudy as Mo negotiated the urban interface where 395 passes through Minden and east of Carson City, through the Reno interchanges and on north toward Susanville.  There is so very much to see on this route as well, but we were ready to be home, and like a couple of barn sour horses, we just drove and drove all the way to Klamath Falls.  I was missing my cat big time, and it was with great delight that I picked him up at the vet, where he gave me a good scolding and snuggled up to my chest like glue.

We stopped at the Moore Park RV dump site, which was thankfully open, flushed our tanks and then headed around the beautiful Klamath Lake, over Doak Mountain, and pulled into the driveway at Rocky Point in late afternoon.  It was good to be home again in the forest.

Ambling around Bishop and Lone Pine

Current location: Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley, California; Current temperature: 101 degrees F Hi 102F Lo 70F
We are at the Furnace Creek Ranch RV Park hiding in the MoHo shelter with the air going full blast.  It isn’t very cool in here, but it is a good place to be at the moment, and lots better than outside.  The swimming pool is great as well.
desert peach in the SierrasWednesday morning May 1 in Bishop, CA
It is great to wake up in the morning after a good night’s sleep to know we have absolutely nowhere to be at any time at all.  We are hanging out in Bishop, a town we have traveled through often, but never really stopped to visit.  We knew that a few things were on the list, including a visit to a famous bakery and a drive into the mountains.  The rest of the day would be fleshed out after we checked out the lovely visitor center directly across the street from the previously mentioned bakery.
Day 4 Bishop_013DSC_0015The visitor center didn’t open until ten, and since it was only 9:30 we had no choice but to spend time in Schat’s Bakkery.  Awww…too bad.  even though the place was established in 1904, it is clear that now it caters to the tremendous tourist industry that plies the road between LA and Reno.  There is no way a tiny town of under 4,000 people could begin to support a bakery of this size and quality.  They are famous for their sheepherder bread, but the rest of the choices are fun as well.  We had a great pastry and sipped perfect coffees while we watched the tourists come and go with their big bags of bread and pastries.  I left with a bag of bread as well.
Day 4 a day in BishopMo parked at the visitor center, adjacent to the city park, with a large sign once again proclaiming “No Dogs”.  We keep seeing these signs in most of the small city parks along this route and it is a bit discouraging.  Mo waited in the car while I picked the brains of a very informative young woman, a local resident for her entire life.  She told us about some of the places to go, but more important she knew the history of the little Rovada Village that we had seen yesterday afternoon.  It was built by the owners of the Tungsten Mine up Pine Canyon, now closed because even though it was the largest tungsten mine in the US, it is cheaper to mine tungsten in China.  The village is a leftover, and consists of old, somewhat poorly kept rentals.  The young woman lived there until very recently, and didn’t think it was nearly as charming as it appeared to us yesterday as we drove through.  On our list today: drive the canyon to the tungsten mine.
great Bishop Dog ParkFirst things first, however.  We needed an Abby place, and just around the corner from the visitor center and city park we found a wonderful dog park.  There were even toys lying around, lots of doggie bags, grass and trees for shade.  Another young woman there with her dog told us that the locals all take their dogs on the road on either side of the canal, just 1/4 mile east of the park, where there are old cow wallows that are perfect for doggie swims.  Hmmm.  Maybe not today, but good to know.
galen-rowell-0By the time Abby had played to her heart’s content, it was time for the opening of the Mountain Light gallery down on Main Street.  No one except maybe Ansel Adams has photographed the Sierran light the way that Galen Rowell did.  His images are breathtaking, and the gallery was incredibly beautiful.  I have wanted his book, Mountain Light, since forever, and a 25th anniversary edition was right there in front of me.  Yes, I bought it.  Galen and his wife were killed sadly in small plane crash right here at the Bishop airport in 2002, but his legacy lives on, not only for the Sierra, but for all the other magical mountains in the world that he climbed and photographed.  I stayed in the gallery a long time while Mo waited patiently with Abby in the car and read brochures about more things to do in the area.
Round ValleyMid day we went back to the campground to enjoy the beautiful sunshine and rustling breezes before wandering off in the  opposite direction north of town to find Pine Canyon and the tungsten mine.  Bishop has a long history in cattle and mining, and the valley was once magnificent with the waters of the Owens River.  Now that river has been diverted for the thirsty developers in Los Angeles, and the valley looks nothing like it did before the 1920’s when the LA water district bought up all the water rights.  Our helpful history woman at the info center told us that Round Valley, on a narrow road west of 395, still was naturally sub irrigated, and looked like it did when her family ranched there 4 generations previous. 
Rovana village built by the mining companyWe drove through Rovada again with different eyes.  Yesterday we came through the town trying to find our campground, but that was just a little mistake.  Today it was on purpose.  Pine Canyon was beautiful, with huge glacial boulders strewn on the canyon floor and the steep crest of the eastern Sierra directly above us.  The natural stream has been diverted by the mining company, and according to our local resident, there is something in the soil, left over from mining, that interferes with growing veggies to any decent size. 
found a place where she could get in at least a little bitWe looked for a place to let Abby go swimming, and took some bumpy hidden old dirt paths that looked like they went to the river.  Once down there, we found some perfect spots, except they were completely taken over by large groups of campers.  Not RV types, but more like the kind of campers who might be living there permanently.  So much for a swim, Abby.  Near the diversion gate we did finally find a little place where she could at least get her feet wet, but the water was much too fast to let her get even knee deep.
desert peach on the east side of the SierrasThroughout the canyon we saw desert peach in full bloom.  Somehow I knew nothing of this common eastern Sierra shrub, in the prunus family, that has a bitter small fruit and blooms all over the hillsides in spring.  It stands out because it is so rare to get desert flowers that are this shade of pink.
Home in the afternoon to chicken quesadillas at our picnic table with cards and wine and more beautiful breezes.  I loved this little wayside park and am so glad that we decided to stay here more than just overnight.
Thursday morning we knew our travels to Death Valley would be less than 150 miles so we decided it was a good day to see some of the sites along Highway 395 we never seem to have time for.  Sabrina Canyon was first on the list, but after missing the turn in Bishop we ended up driving out to Keogh Hot Springs Campground and Resort.  A drive around was enough, and  I don’t think we really need to think about staying here.  The pool is developed from the spring and the place didn’t look very clean.  I would much rather have a natural spring or a really clean pool, no in between for me, I guess.
the cemetery at ManzanarA few more miles south and we passed the small town of Big Pine and then arrived at Manzanar.  This was our day to actually stop and go to the visitor center and drive the grounds.  The story is daunting, and the visitor center is filled with eloquent words and evocative photos and exhibits.
Day 4 D Valley_009DSC_0070There were ten “relocation centers” for American citizens who happened to be Japanese, and the largest of them was near where we live now in Tulelake.  Can you imagine having to suddenly leave your home and business with only what you could carry?  The homes and businesses were almost completely gone years later when the people were allowed to return after the war. Much to think about as we viewed the center and drove the now empty sites. 
Continuing south to our beloved Alabama Hills, we finally made the stop at the Film Museum in Lone Pine. The Hills are a primo boondocking site, and lots of RV folks have written about them, but once again, the museum was something we just hadn’t made time for in the past.  We parked in the nearly empty huge parking lot, in the shade of some big cottonwoods, and paid our 5. entrance fee to see the museum.
Day 5 Manzanar and into Death ValleyThe short movie about the area was fascinating.  As we went in and Mo saw all the huge movie posters, she was skeptical that there were really THAT many movies made in this area.  But there were.  Literally hundreds of them, especially in the heyday of the B westerns and then the TV era that was so dominated by western series.  My first radio memory was The Lone Ranger, and then TV brought old black and white films of Hopalong Cassidy, the Cisco Kid, and so many more.  It would be fun to have a list of all the movies made in the hills, but I didn’t actually see that anywhere amid the displays of posters and old cars and gun belts and sequined outfits that belonged to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.  An era long gone, I am afraid.  It was a fun stop, but the only photos I took were of the murals on the outside walls.descent into the valley
The afternoon was waning and it was time to head east from Lone Pine on Highway 136 toward Death Valley.  Tonight, Stovepipe Wells and hopefully a site with hookups.  Reservations are not taken after April 30 at this park, but a phone call assured us that only 1 or 2 of the 14 available hookup sites were taken. 
We are ready for a few days in the beautiful valley of death, or as the Paiute’s and Shoshone’s called it, the Valley of Life.