Today I made like a commercial truck driver and focused on miles and not fun. I covered a little over 600 miles in 10 hours. It was made easier by driving a route I really enjoy. I love the quiet roads and expansive views of the Great Basin. For me it really is low stress driving.
I was still on the road for sunset and the Great Basin rewarded me with a great desert sunset.
I decided to begin pointing towards home last night. I am beginning to miss Ton. But I wanted to try one more Nevada Park before leaving. A couple of years ago Ton and I swung thru Cathedral Gorge State Park without stopping. I wanted to check it out so that was the target for today.
The day began with a bit of a mishap. I woke up just after dawn so I decided to take a walk to enjoy sunset as it was only a three hour drive. It was a nice walk and the red rocks of Valley of Fire were spectacular. When I arrived at the campground I met a nice couple from Washington out walking their dog. We chatted for a while about different places before I went in to finish up preparing to leave. I needed to brush my teeth and I reached into the bag I keep the toiletries in and instead of grabbing my toothbrush I grabbed my razor and managed to cut the end of my index finger pretty deeply. I threw a band-aid on it and started to finish up packing. While I was putting up the electric cord I noticed my finger was bleeding considerably, so I grabbed the first aid kit and tried to stop the bleeding. I finally got the bleeding somewhat under control and was heading out when I saw the couple from Washington waving at me vigorously, I thought how nice, but then they shouted at me to stop. I had forgotten to close the door, and left the steps down on Scout. How embarrassing, fortunately my finger was starting to drip blood to show the reason for my incompetence as a RV’er.
The drive to Cathedral Gorge was uneventful. When I arrived at the park around 12:30 I debated whether to stop, it is going to be cold tonight and since I am heading home why not get in another 3 or 4 hours towards home? I drove in and after checking the excellent campground complete with electricity I decided to stay.
Cathedral Gorge is another beautiful site. It is a box canyon with interesting sides eroded to look like cathedrals if you have imagination.
In the 1930’s during the depression the Civilian Conservation Corps built some interesting structures including a water tank and a picnic area that have survived until today.
They also have a nice trail system that is well signposted and easy to follow. Someone did a nice job with interpretive signs describing the flora and fauna of the area. It was a nice easy walk to make the day. As I am typing this I am watching a beautiful sunset to confirm my decision to stay was the right one.
Valley of Fire State Park has been on my list for this trip since the beginning. Ton and I stopped here last year and it is really spectacular. The name is apt as the hills in the park are a bright red.
The drive over was even windier then yesterday and the temperature has fallen nearly 30 degrees. The sky is blue but the wind chill is at or a little below freezing. Scout was getting blown around pretty good on the highway as I made my way thru the desert from Laughlin to Las Vegas. I decided to by-pass Las Vegas by cutting thru the Lake Mead Recreation Area. I do not have to pay the entrance fee with my senior pass and there is no traffic on the scenic highway thru the recreation area, making for a much more relaxing drive.
When I got to the Valley of Fire I had to pay my entrance fee (no free entry for State Parks, only National Parks.) When I went by the visitors center to check things out and pay the fee, the ranger told me that as it was so cold there may be a couple of spots available in the full hook up area with electricity, but if I was interested I needed to head right over there. Since it is going to below freezing tonight having electricity to run the heater seemed like a good idea so I hustled over there and claimed the last electric spot.
A few hundred yards from the campground is a Petroglyph site. It is pretty high up a canyon wall so they have built a nice ladder and platform so you can observe the Petroglyphs. As i climbed down I saw a group clustered around a rock a couple of hundred yards away so I wandered over there to see what they were looking at. It turns out it was another large set of Petroglyphs at ground level that the park does not advertise. It was fascinating to try to interpret the symbols. Some are pretty obvious and some are not obvious at all to me.
After warming up for an hour or so I took another short hike to a display I saw off in the distance. It was late afternoon and the wind was getting even stronger and the display was disappointing so I called it a day and returned to Scout, turned on the heater, cooked supper, and put on The Sand Pebbles with Steve McQueen.
It is going to be a short one today as there is nothing much to talk about. I needed to begin moving towards home and after a couple of days of looking for something around Phoenix I could not come up with anything that caught my interest. So I decided to spend the day driving and have stopped in the economy Las Vegas, Laughlin Nevada. In fact it is so economical that I am staying in a casino hotel for less than most campgrounds.
The other reason for my decision to wimp out was the wind was blowing a gale, with steady wind around 40 mph and gusts to 60 (if you can believe the warning signs posted by the Arizona Department of Transport).
I do not gamble so there is not much for me to do in a casino. I walked around the lobby a little, noting that KISS was going to be playing there at the end of the month. The crowd looked to be a mixture of seniors, Chinese tourists, and people coming over from California on tour busses for cheap gambling. After a while people watching I went back to the room and watched some TV before turning in early.
It is a short one today. Alex and I met in the morning and had a buffet at one of the casinos at the strip. We then walked the strip and did some people watching, and kept up with the news of Kobe Bryants death.
Alex had a baby shower to attend so I went back and cleaned scout, and did some laundry. Alex joined me again for dinner and we had a good father son talk it was an enjoyable day for me.
Today was a quiet day in Las Vegas with Alex my son. He is an elementary school teacher here and has been at the same school for 6 years. I realized I had never seen his classroom so I asked if he could show me. He walked me thru the school for about 30 minutes and told me about the joys and the trials of teaching. While he has a lot of frustrations, he truly enjoys what he is doing and works very hard to help his kids. I am proud of him.
After that we just drove around the non-tourist part of Las Vegas, visiting the hockey team training facility (Alex is a big fan), a teachers supply store, and had a nice lunch. We ended the day at the casino down the street watching the Lakers game on TV.
I woke early and prepared Scout for the trip to Las Vegas. As I was leaving the park we drove by Zabriske point and it was sunrise so I pulled in for a quick look at what is my favorite view in the country. While beautiful it was different than yesterday and colder with some wind. I took one picture and then moved on for the day.
With an early start I rolled into Las Vegas about 9:30 am and the check in for the campground was noon so I got directions to a car wash to knock some of the grime off of Scout. I can now touch the side of scout without having to wash my hands. A quick stock up at the grocery, and I headed over and the campground let me check in early.
I met my son Alex for an excellent Mexican meal at a Freida themed restaurant in the arts district. The arts district is an interesting part of Las Vegas. It looks to me like the old downtown before gambling took over the town, and Las Vegas was a rail and cattle stop. After the meal we walked the four or five blocks looking at some funky stores and bars that could fit into Portland, Seattle, or San Francisco. Las Vegas’ little center of hipsterdom.
The original plan was to drive to Tonopah NV which was about 250 miles. I woke early and while I took my time getting going and doing a trip to Walmart to get some supplies I was still on the road at 8:15.
The route thru central Nevada goes thru some more remote land, though not quite as remote as yesterday. The roads are pretty good, straight as an arrow and posted at 70mph. I took it easy and cruised at 65mph, and while there was not much traffic it was all faster than me including tankers and semi-trucks.
The highlight of the drive was a giant gold mine at a place called Round Mountain Nevada. Gold was originally discovered there around 1880 and it was a very large and initially easy strike as it was surface gold. Over time while there was quite a bit of gold still around it became much more difficult to get at, and according to the signpost at the mine all of the different techniques for gold mining have been used there. At one point it was abandoned, but as mining technique became more sophisticated the mine was reopened and now it is quite a spectacular operation. It is now a pit mine and there are extremely large trucks moving the dirt form the hole to the site where it is processed. I stopped and watched these oversized dump trucks run up and down the hill for a while before moving on to Tonopah.
It was only about 12:30 when I got to Tonopah, and thanks to the miracle of satellite technology I was immersed in the Arsenal v Chelsea game on the radio so I decided to press on to Death Valley today. This turned todays drive into 380 miles. I arrived about 3 and went into the visitors center to register when I realized I was now eligible for the Golden Age pass which is a lifetime pass for all of the parks in the US. It also gives you 50% off at campgrounds. So taking advantage of my senior status and $80 I now have lifetime access, and half off in the campgrounds. Publishing this is probably going to be delayed as there is no internet at the campground, and really marginal phone service.
Winnemucca Nevada has been on my radar since last year when we passed thru on the way home. I liked the name and it had an interesting history. It got its start as a railroad stopover on the intercontinental rail road. Their are several large gold mines in the area, and one of it’s banks was robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It has a Basque heritage, and boasts of five Basque restaurants in town. The final reason is that it was only 230 miles from Bend and seemed like a reasonable distance for the day.
The first 150 miles of the trip was on Oregon Highway 78 which has to be one of the emptiest highways in the continental US. About 30 miles outside of Burns is a gas station and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT, it comes up again later!) has put up a sign warning motorists that there will not be any fuel for the next 120 miles. Ton and I have driven this road several times in our visits to eastern Oregon and we always comment on the lack of man made objects. This time because I was by myself and had nothing better to do I paid attention, and for a 48 mile stretch of OR78 there are no visible permanent man made objects except the road and the power lines adjacent to it. For a 100 mile stretch of OR78 and US95 there are six man made objects, I kept track. In this stretch all you see are 2 ODOT facilities for road maintenance, 1 radar site for either the military or the FAA, 1 cell/microwave tower, and 2 very lonely ranches. It is hard to envision the emptiness of south east Oregon.
Last night while researching things to do on the drive today I came across an entry for Paradise Valley in the Nevada tourism site. It had an interesting history as a gold mining town in the 1880’s and was billed by Nevada tourism as a living ghost town. The blurb showed a couple of interesting pictures. It was close to my route so I decided to swing over for lunch. I know that selling tourism in north central Nevada is tough but they really exaggerated the ghost town. What is there is a small farming community with a couple of well maintained churches, a few nice houses and some derelict buildings that are old. It is certainly no ghost town, and really shows the power of what a good photographer can do to make a mundane site look interesting.
I arrived in Winnemucca around 1:30 and checked into a very nice campground a couple of miles out of town. I was debating what to do for the rest of the day but I had noticed that there was a brand new sidewalk all of the way from town to the campground, so I decided if Winnemuca had gone thru all of that trouble to build a sidewalk I should use it. The walk into town was nice as I spent a lot of it chatting with Ton. The town itself was kind of disappointing. I expected more, but it looks like Winnemuca’s downtown has suffered from the suburbanization of it’s shopping so there was not much going on downtown. The tourist information office/museum was closed, and none of the other stores looked interesting. The restaurants looked shabby, and they do not brew beer in town. So after walking around a while I headed back to Scout and cooked up some of Ton’s Larb, which is my favorite Thai food.
Today we drove across the great basin of the US. The great basin is an old inland sea that covers most of Nevada and Utah, and parts of California and Oregon. Ton and I have always enjoyed the area. To give you an idea of how remote and varied this area is we drove 600 miles and the largest town we passed thru was Winnemuca Nevada which has a population of 7500 people. Generally it is about 100 miles between towns, and in between towns there is very little to see but mountains and deserts. We started the trip at 200 feet below sea level in Death Valley, and reached an altitude of just over 7000 feet near Austin Nevada. We drove a ridiculous distance today, but really enjoyed ourselves.
We woke up early as we had both fell asleep very early the night before. Since we were up we decided to head on out. We hit the home button on the GPS and it told us it was 896 miles to home following the quickest route. We usually pick a place we are heading for but today we decided to just follow the GPS and to find a place to park for the night when we ran out of steam.
Everything was going as we expected following highway 95, when we drive to Las Vegas we follow US95 from Reno to there so we knew this route, but in Tonopah the GPS told us to turn off 95 and follow US6 instead. We decided what the heck and followed her directions. She had us turn onto Nevada 376 which had us a little worried, but the road looked good so we decided to go ahead. It turned into a fun decision. We found the kind of road we love, heading thru wide open country with high mountains on either side. Towns were few and far between. Near the town of Round Mountain, we came across an immense gold mine which ran for about 8 miles along the road.
Eventually we came to US50 which we followed for about 30 miles to Nevada 305, another wide open road thru a valley called Antelope Valley for about 120 miles. The highlite was another mine which was even bigger than the one at Round Mountain, but we think was for Copper. At the town of Battle Mountain we joined I-80 for about 50 miles before turning north on US97. We followed US 97 to the Nevada/Oregon border and at that point had about 480 miles under our belt. We talked about parking up there, but we were on a roll and decided to keep going.
The last 120 miles were on US97 and OR78 was actually the most remote part of the road yet. For an 80 mile stretch the only man made structures we saw were a Road Maintenance station and a military radar site. When we rolled into Burns it was dark, and the RV park we had stayed in previously in the winter is now closed for the season. We had to scramble for a place to stay, but it was worth it.
Today we spent the day with our son Alex. He wanted to have Korean food for lunch so we had our second Korean barbeque in three days. It was also good and Alex really enjoyed it.
After that we headed out for some shopping and then went to watch the local hockey team on TV as Alex has become a big fan. Who would have ever thought of Las Vegas as a hot bed of hockey. Unfortunately the home team lost.
Ton was looking for some Mexican food and had a place in mind. When we got there though the restaurant was closed. We just drove randomly down the road after that looking for a Mexican restaurant and found a place called Pepe’s. It turned out to be both the cheapest and possibly the best meal we had in Las Vegas. Ton really loved their salsa.
This was the last day for all of our friends in Las Vegas as they all need to get back home to go to work. The guys and Ton wanted to watch the football games, while the girls were either sleeping in from their club adventure, or shopping.
Las Vegas has a replica of the Hofbrauhaus from Munich and we decided to watch the game there. We found ourselves in this cavernous beer hall with one other couple. It was kind of strange to have that much space to ourselves. Both Ton and Tim one of our friends had been to the original Hofbrauhaus in Munich and they thought it was a pretty good imitation. Our waitress had a slight accent so we asked if she was German, and it turns out she was from Heidelberg in Germany. Her and her husband are touring the US by RV for the past few years and have stopped here to raise a little money. We enjoyed comparing the experience of RVing here and Europe for a while until she had to get off to another table.
Following the games everyone decided we had been in the posh part of Las Vegas too long and decided to head down to Fremont street. The clientele are not as elegant, but Ron felt like he belonged there, and the drinks were significantly cheaper. Our friends decided it was time to take advantage of the lower cost of gambling there, so we took our leave and headed back to Scout for the night.
When we got back there was a Blood Red Wolf Moon which was nice. The weather was talking about high wind warnings, and while a couple of good gusts hit it did not seem to be as bad as they indicated.
Today we spent with our friends, beginning with a walk down the strip for lunch at a Beer haus. After that the group splintered for a while with different people doing what they were most interested in in Las Vegas. Some went to gamble, some went shopping, and Ton and I relaxed in one of our friends posh rooms in the Cosmopolitan Hotel.
In the evening we headed out to dinner at a great Korean Barbeque near the strip. Everyone ate far too much beef and pork, but it was delicious. Following dinner we headed back to the Cosmopolitan and shared some drinks in another friends room. They had a fabulous view of the strip at night, and got to see a fireworks show, and the fountain show at the Bellagio from their balcony.
When the group decided to go clubbing again for the night, Ton and I headed home to Scout for a good nights sleep.
Our route today was on one of Ron’s favorite stretches of roads. US-95 from Fallon to Las Vegas passes thru some of the most stark terrain in the US. There is a town about every 100 miles and the rest of the time you are surrounded by desert and mountains. Generally the traffic is light so you can enjoy the views.
We have traveled this route quite a bit as in addition to being the way we prefer to go to Las Vegas to visit our son, it also is a way to access Death Valley National Park.
It also passes by Area 54 which is an Air Force test and bombing range, where if you believe the movies the US government keeps the aliens we have captured!
In addition to visiting our son on this trip, a bunch of our friends from Portland are flying in for the weekend to celebrate some birthdays and to enjoy Las Vegas. Alex picked us up at the RV park and we decided to head to the strip for dinner. While Ron was parking our rental car, Ton and Alex ran into Goi one of our friends so she joined us for dinner.
Later we went out for a late dinner and some drinks at a nice but expensive Tapas bar. The rest of the group headed off for some clubbing while Ton and I used our advanced age and ailments to skip the clubs and head to bed.
After getting up we both felt a little better so we decided to push on. We planned an easy day down to Fallon, and Ron optimistically commented that if we got to Fallon too early we could go on to the next town so we would have a shorter drive into Las Vegas the next day.
The weather was supposed to be rain with a chance of mixed rain and snow at the passes. They were mostly right, and the first 150 miles from Klamath to Alturas was just that. The next leg was about 80 miles from Alturas to Susanville California. As we climbed up to the pass the rain turned to mixed rain, and then turned to just snow. Before we new it we were on snow covered roads and in 4 wheel drive. After about 5 miles the lane we were driving in was suddenly clear of snow though the other lane had about 8 or 10 inches covering it. It turns out we were behind a snow plow. We lucked out and followed him for about 20 miles until he turned off. We covered the last 15 miles or so to Susanville in 4wd. While it was slow we made the trip without any real drama, though we did see one accident. Once we descended to Susanville we were back in the rain for the rest of the trip.
Because of the snow Ron’s optimistic hope of going past Fallon was dashed, and his back was pretty stiff from driving so we decided to spend one more night in a hotel.
There is not much to write about these two days. We did our best imitation of long distance truckers covering about 970 miles in two days. We did our normal route from Vegas to Reno and saw a few of the vehicles heading towards Burning Man in northern Nevada.
The next day we covered the ground home mostly on the east side of the Sierra Nevada/Cascade mountains. The smoke from the multiple wildfires was very dense in places and reminded of our drive last year going to Alaska. At one point we passed within about a mile of a 38,000 acre wildfire in Northern California and could actually see some flames on the hillside as well as a couple of fire trucks attacking the fire.
This is the end of the trip that we dubbed “Urban Camping”. This time we used scout primarily as a substitute for a hotel room (except in Las Vegas). While we did not see our normal sites we did get to visit with our Son’s and some best friends, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
When we were doing the planning to see both of our sons we new that it would be hot in Las Vegas but our experience was that it cooled down at night to a point where it was comfortable. The night before we left Dylan looked up the weather for Las Vegas and said it was quite hot, the high was supposed to be 106 degrees.
Driving over we stopped at a rest area about 50 miles outside of Las Vegas. The thermometer on the dash said 111 degrees, and as we stepped out of the truck we were hit with a wind of about 20 miles per hour that felt like a blast furnace. As we pulled out of the rest area Ron asked Ton what she thought a room would cost in Vegas. Without hesitating Ton began the research. It turns out rooms were cheap, The Rio was offering a rate of $30 plus a $34 dollar resort fee. We both decided that was cheap enough to not bother stress testing the A/C unit on Scout as the overnight low was supposed to be 92 degrees. The deal got even better when we checked in as Ron asked if they had a military discount and that got us down to $15 plus the resort fees.
Alex had to work late as this is the first full week of school in Las Vegas so we decided to eat in the room. Ton whipped up some food in Scout and we carried it up to the room for dinner. We spent the evening talking about teaching and particularly teaching in Las Vegas which is infamous for having a low priority for schools. Alex earns every penny of his salary.
Today we did what most Americans do which is watch the Super Bowl. The RV park at Nellis was having a Super Bowl watch party and we signed up to join it . Our son Alex joined us for the party driving back 4 hours from a long planned trip to Phoenix to see us.
The game was unusually good though none of us really cared who won. We all decided to pull for the Eagles as they were the underdogs, and the underdogs won in an exciting way.
A slow day for us. We spent the morning taking care of laundry and using the internet at the office to publish the blog and do some research on next stops for us.
We decided to go to a Chinese Lantern Show that was advertised in the local paper. It looked like it would be interesting and a nice way to spend an evening. It totally blew us away. It was 5 or 6 acres of really complex lanterns, though they did cheat and use led lights instead of candles. Ton killed the battery on her camera taking pictures. We had a hard time selecting a couple of pictures for the blog. It also included a show of Chinese jugglers, acrobats, and a mask dance that was really extraordinary. The young women went thru a series of masks in just a couple of seconds. We have not been able to figure out how she did it, but it was really cool.
We moved into the city for the weekend. Today was about a little shopping, giving Scout a bath to knock some of the mud off of her, and going somewhere we could use WiFi to catch up and post the blog. We finished everything except the internet stuff as it turns out we are in the only part of the park that does not have WiFi.