February 7, 2020 Portland OR

The drive home was easy.  It was clear and relatively warm until I got to the pass over the Cascades where I was met with clouds and rain  to remind me I was home.  My trip thru the Great Basin, Sonoran, and a little bit of the Mojave Deserts was great.  The total trip was 3300 miles, but it is generally low stress driving as the roads are good, and the traffic is remarkably light.  The highlight was Organ Pipe National Monument.  It merits another trip in the future.

We will be taking a break until late March when we are off for our spring trip to Europe.

February 6, 2020 Burns OR

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.

Sunset behind Steens Mountain.

February 5, 2020 Cathedral Gorge SP NV

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.  

The Tower in the center was built as water storage in the 1930’s.

Cathedral Gorge is another beautiful site.  It is a box canyon with interesting sides eroded to look like cathedrals if you have imagination.

Some of the “Cathedral” in Cathedral Gorge.

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.

This picnic area made of Mesquite trees and roofed with Willow branches has survived since the 1930’s.

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.

Part of the trail system with a grove of Mesquites.

February 4, 2020 Valley of Fire SP NV

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.

Enjoying the Petroglyphs, picture courtesy of a nice German tourist.

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.  

The platform for the Petroglyphs.
Part of my walk.  The rock in the left center reminded me of a throne in 3 dimensions.

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.

February 3, 2020 Laughlin NV

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.

View of the Colorado River from the casino.

February 2, 2020 Tucson AZ

I planned to have an easy day in Tucson before watching the superbowl.  But the game was pretty late so I looked for something to do early in the day.  

Since I was on an airbase it seemed appropriate.to visit the the Pima Air Museum which has the second largest collection of airplanes in the world.  On the way I drove by the boneyard.  Davis-Monthan Air Force Base where I am staying is where the US stores aircraft that are not currently being used but not ready to be scrapped.  Some are being held in reserve in case they are needed in the future.  Some are being stored for possible sale to other countries Air Forces, and some are being harvested for spare parts for similar aircraft.  There are thousands of aircraft stored here in the desert and it is quite a site.  The storage area is referred to as the boneyard.

Some of the thousands of aircraft in the “boneyard” next to the campground.

The Pima Museum was very impressive, I spent about three hours wandering thru the exhibitions looking at both military and commercial aircraft.  There were some interesting experimental planes, and some classics.  The WWII exhibits were especially impressive.  If you like planes or just like mechanical things I highly recommend the Pima Museum.

A cool strategic bomber from the late 1940’s at the Pima Air Museum.

My last adventure for the day was to try to find an ATM from my bank.  It took two tries  and about 10 miles of driving to find one.  Scout would not fit into the drive thru so I parked and was walking up to use it when a car sped around me and cut in to beat me to the machine.  Then they spent about five minutes getting ready to deposit checks while I cooled my heals in the sun standing behind them.  The guy did not even have the guts to make eye contact with me while I waited for them to complete there complicated transaction from the comfort of their car.

Today is my day for jerks, as my neighbor at the campground is apparently using his truck engine as his generator to power his RV, so every hour he runs his truck for 15 minutes right outside the door of my RV even when I am sitting outside watching the Super Bowl.  On top of that the team I was rooting for in the Super Bowl lost.  Tucson so far has been my least favorite stop on the trip.

February 1, 2020 Ajo AZ

With great reluctance I left Organ Pipe.  I decided to head towards Tucson to do some much needed shopping, and to be somewhere that I could get TV to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday.

As I was leaving I debated whether to stop in the town of Ajo as it was about 20 miles out of the way.  In the early 1980’s my sister lived in Ajo as she had married a guy from there.  I remember visiting her and thinking it was the most remote place on earth, a dusty company town that was dominated by a gigantic copper mine.  At the time the copper mine there was supposed to be the largest in the world.  The mine closed in the 1990’s and given how remote it was I wondered what state the town would be in. 

A mission style church across from the main square of Ajo.

I am glad I decided to visit as the town had much more character than I remembered and actually seemed to be thriving. It is one of the oldest settlements in Arizona having been founded in 1854, one year after the land was purchased from Mexico.  The town is centered on a typical Spanish style town square, common in Mexico and New Mexico.  It is small but very well preserved and charming.

The town square with a very nice Christmas Tree even though it is February 1st, I guess why waste a good Christmas tree on just Christmas!  

Since the mine closed it looks like the town has become a small artists colony.  Since it was Saturday there was a small farmers market with local artists, and some baked goods, but not a lot of farm produce.  There is also a antique and art store around the corner from the square that was interesting.

The entrance to the antique market in Ajo.

Next to the antique store was a sign saying do not miss the artists ally, so I turned down to check it out.  There were some interesting wall murals down the ally, and I ended up spending about 20 minutes walking the ally even though it was only 30 yards long.

Another mural from the artists ally.

Finally it was time to head out to Tucson.  As I was crossing the Tohono O’Odham Reservation which is the second largest Reservation in the US there was a surprising amount of traffic.  It turns out this weekend is the annual tribal rodeo and festival.  I passed the rodeo grounds and was tempted to stop for the day but pressed on instead.

I spent the rest of the day in one of the busiest Costcos I have ever seen, and the military grocery at the Air Force Base in Tucson.  Tonight I am parked on the Air Force Base dry camping.

January 31, 2020 Organ Pipe Cactus NM

I slept in a little this morning before heading out to explore some more of the Monument.  As I was walking around I saw a European camper with Netherlands plates.  I asked them how they liked traveling in the US and they said they were enjoying it tremendously and were looking for ways to come every year.  I told them about our van in France and it started a long conversation about how we arranged things in Europe, and they asked questions about purchasing here in the US, as they are thinking about buying an American RV.  It was an interesting conversation, and I learned about some places they really enjoyed in Europe to add to our future travels.

The campground tucked into the desert at Organ Pipe.

I spent the day doing a couple of drives along the other two scenic roads.  These roads were interesting as they showed different environments in the Sonora.  One was dominated by Saguaro cactuses.  The other was a road that paralleled the Mexican border for 14 miles to a small natural pond fed by springs.  The road was heavily traveled by construction equipment as they are building a section of the wall here.

Trumps Folly, a scar on the Sonoran Desert and a scar on the American Soul.

I returned to the campsite which is one of the best I have seen in the Park Service and is very well managed by the rangers.  There are a couple of trails that leave from the campground so I walked the desert view trail and enjoyed the expansive views, and the quiet that you get when you are far away from civilization.  The Park Service had put out very interesting plaques describing how the native American and early European settlers used different plants for medicine and to produce household goods.   This place is special, the views are incredible, often the only sound you here is the wind, and both the day and night skies are pristine.  

A Saguaro forest on the desert view trail.

When I returned to Scout for the evening I ran into Harry and Erna and we spent some more time over a couple of beers talking about traveling in North America and Europe.  I also said good bye to John and Yvette my neighbors with the Tiger and thanked them for their advice on the blog.

Once again I finished up my day by attending another ranger talk.  Tomorrow I am reluctantly off to civilization as the food cupboard is bare.

January 30, 2020 Organ Pipe Cactus NM

The plan for today was to drive the Ajo Mountain Road and hike a couple of the trails along the road.  I woke up about 6 am and thought I would go out and watch the sunrise after I made my morning coffee.  I made my way to the top of a hill and enjoyed the quiet of the desert morning.  The sky was crystal clear which made for a pretty but not spectacular sun rise.  I ended up wandering up into the desert and ended up with a nice walk while enjoying my coffee.

I tried a little artistic shot of an Organ Pipe at sunrise, but I miss the real photographer in the family.

After returning to Scout and puttering around for awhile I bought another day for the campground before taking off for the drive.  The Ajo Mountain loop is a 21 mile gravel road up into the Ajo’s.  Both hikes are near the base of the mountains. One is called Arch trail and is an easy 3 mile out and back, though I never did see the Arch.  The other trail is two trails that connect to lead you to an overview that gives you views into Mexico, and back towards Ajo.  When I got to this trail I was feeling a little lazy so I decided to hike the flat part and skip the 1000 foot climb to the overlook.  I was able to follow two Park Service Rangers out looking at plant life.

Two nice examples of the namesake cactus of the park.

The park is being significantly impacted by the current government immigration policy.  A large portion of the wall is being built across the valley floor at the base of the Monument.  

These signs are abundant in the park.

It was early afternoon when I returned to the campground for lunch.  I was planning one more short hike from the campground for the afternoon, but instead I ended up talking to my neighbor John for a couple of hours about Tiger ownership, military experience, and blogs.  John and Yvette’s blog is www.theturtleandthetiger.com, it is their adventures full timing in a Tiger around the US.  

This bird was singing up a storm when I went by.

Before I realized it it was dinner time and time for me to do my evening catch up with Ton.  I ended the day with another interesting Ranger Talk on how nocturnal animals navigate in low light.  The Ranger talks are one of my favorite things about the parks, and the young men and women who share their passion for the parks and nature always gives me a warm feeling.

January 29, 2020 Organ Pipe Cactus NM

Today I reached the target for the trip.  When I was looking for places to go both Ton and Dylan my son said that I should visit Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  So I am here now, and I am really glad they recommended this place.

I was pretty low on fuel so the plan was to find a gas station before I left Yuma.  I plugged the Monument into Greta and she gave me a different route than I took yesterday but I figured there would be a gas station on the way.  The route took me through an extensive agricultural area in the desert.  I learned why the Proving Grounds tested bridges in the desert as the Colorado River runs thru Yuma.  The agricultural area is a result of tapping the river water.

The green of the fields against the desert mountains was jarring.

I ended up on the Interstate without gas and I really needed gas so I got off at the first available fuel.  When I pulled up to the pump they were really gouging so I put in enough to get me to the exit from the freeway.  A little further up the freeway I saw fuel at a reasonable price so I filled up.  With the fuel problem solved I headed on down to the Monument.

The drive thru the back country was pretty quiet, with no towns for about 70 miles until I came into the old mining town of Ajo.  My family has a connection with Ajo as my sister lived there for a few years.  On the way out I plan on stopping to check it out.

The drive into the monument is lined with all types of cactuses not just the Organ Pipes that the monument is named after.  On arrival I was a little worried about campground availability so I headed up there but there was plenty of room and the Ranger told me I could pick any spot that had a green card on it.  As I was driving in I saw another Tiger like ours which is pretty rare.  The spot next to it was empty so there are two Tigers parked side by side.  The couple is from Massachusetts  and they are full timing in their Tiger.

Scout parked up next to a large Saguaro cactus.

Once I settled in and finished lunch I decided to head for the visitors center along a walking trail where I got an introduction to all of the different types of cactus in the Sonora desert.

There are four types of cactus in this photo if you look carefully.

They were giving a Ranger talk when I got to the visitors center so I caught the end of it.  After I consulted with one of the volunteers and made a plan for the next couple of days I headed back to Scout to prepare dinner.  After dinner I spoke to my other neighbors who are also from the west side of Portland and finished the day with another Ranger talk on coyotes.

A flowering barrel cactus.

January 28, 2020 Yuma AZ

Today turned into a shopping day.  I wanted to swing by a couple of military bases to pick up some food and stuff.  Yuma has both an Army testing area, and a Marine Corps Air Station.  

I started at the Army base as they have a RV camp and I needed to dump and get some water.  While I was in there I asked about availability and they said they had only one spot available so I moved on to the Marines.  

After a run thru their stores it was early afternoon and I had to decide what to do.  I had a couple of options there is a National Wildlife Refuge in the area so I headed over to their headquarters to look at the option.  The nearest place I could camp was about 90 minutes away.  I checked the next option which was to head on to Organ Pipe National Monument and that was over 2 hours away.  I decided to call the Army to see if they still had that spot and they did so I headed over there for the night.

The base does ordnance testing, is the sight of the armed forces High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) parachuting school, which is done by special operations, and interestingly the place where they test bridging equipment despite the fact that it is in the middle of the Sonora Desert.  

A WWII Sherman tank on display at Yuma Proving Grounds.

At the base entrance they have an interesting display of old armor and artillery that I stopped in to take a look at.  This place was a major training area during WWII with three infantry divisions going thru here before heading to Europe.  I wandered thru the old equipment for a while.  Included in the display was an example of the howitzer that I worked on during my first two years in the Marines.

The M101 105mm howitzer that I operated during my first two years in the Marines.

By the campground they had an interesting display of a land train concept that was trialed at this base during the early 1960’s.  The concept was to have a train that did not run on rails and was capable of going across country off of roads.  The thinking was that this would allow for flexible logistics.  The train consisted of a command unit, two power units, and 10 wagons.  The entire thing was over 500 feet long.  They tested it here for 3 years before abandoning the concept.

The command unit of the land train.  The back includes quarters for 6 people.  The wheels are over 10 feet tall.

January 27, 2020 Quartzite AZ

I wanted to swing by Quartzite AZ which is an interesting part of the RV culture.  In the winter the town of 5000 year round residents swells to as many as 500,000 people as RV’s by the thousands descend on the town to enjoy cheap sunshine and parking.

I took my time leaving in the morning as I wanted the rush hour traffic in Las Vegas to settle before setting off.  The drive was an uneventful 200 miles thru the Mojave desert.  While the landscape was desert there are subtle differences.  The valleys between the mountains are generally much wider, and on this drive the sage brush is gone and you begin to see various types of cactus.  I really enjoy driving thru the desert as you realize how harsh and tough an environment it is.

I arrived around lunch time and the town was busy, but I missed the biggest week of the year by one day.  Once a year there is a RV show under a giant tent in the desert that is supposed to be the biggest in the country.  During that week an estimated 500,000 people attend the show.  Thousands of RV’s park in the BLM land surrounding the town.  Today driving from Las Vegas to Quartzite I easily passed a couple of hundred RV’s heading home from Quartzite.

I did a quick driving tour of the town and then headed over to the giant tent as there were a lot vendors set up there even though the show was over.  I ended up in a giant flea market.  I walked over to see the giant tent and imagined 500,000 people swarming it last week.  I took a turn thru the flea market but could not find anything I needed so I decided to head out of town.  

One of several vendor areas like giant flea markets around Quartzite.  The theme is RV’s, Americana, and Seniors.

When I got to Scout I realized that Arizona is on Mountain Time in the winter so it was an hour later than I thought so I decided to find a place locally.  Leaving town I saw a BLM office surrounded by several hundred RV’s so I pulled in there.  When I went in the office they told me it would be $40 for a week, I asked if they had a nightly fee, but it was one week or nothing for this site.  As I was walking out the volunteer told me that if I went up the road five miles I would see a bunch of RV’s parked on BLM land and that site was free for up to 14 days.  So tonight I am parked up with several hundred other RV’s for free about 7 miles from Quartzite.

Scout on his free site courtesy of the BLM.

January 26, 2020 Las Vegas NV

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.

Scout tucked in among all of the giant RV’s at Las Vegas RV Resort.

January 25, 2020 Las Vegas NV

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.

Alex wearing the local Hockey Teams logo with Chinese Characters.

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.

January 24, 2020 Las Vegas NV

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.

Another look at Zabriske point.

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.

January 23, 2020 Death Valley NP

I woke up early and decided to head over to one of my favorite places.  Zabriske point overlooks the gold canyon, and after today I think it is my favorite view in the US.  I have been thinking about places that I really enjoy, and Zabriske point at sunrise is hard to beat.  My writing style (military log book may be the best description) does not allow me to do justice to the beauty of Zabriske point at sunrise.  The way the light cascades over the desert and hits the different colored light is magical to me.  I could spend days on end watching sunrises there and never tire of it.

I do not have the photographic skills or equipment to do Zabriske at Sunrise justice.

Now that I was up early I had to decide what to do until my first planned event of the day which was a ranger talk at the old borax production site and mine.  I headed over to the visitors center to watch the park movie to get some ideas.  The movie was good and I enjoyed it but I did not get any ideas.  So I finally just started driving north up the valley to see if anything drew my attention and before I knew it I was near Beatty Nevada which is the closest source of reasonable fuel so I decided to head over there to top off Scout.  The fuel at the center of the park is $5.37 a gallon which must be close to the most expensive fuel in the US.  There are two gas stations in Beatty one was $3.20 and the other was $3.09 when I tried the $3.09 the pump told me to go see the cashier.  The cashier told me that their system was down and they could not do credit transactions, I asked about debit and she told me with a bit of an attitude that it was the same system and today was cash only.  I went down the street and paid the higher amount with a credit card.

I ended up being late for the ranger talk due to my running around Beatty.  I watched the last few minutes.  A lot of the people at the talk were like me attending every talk while they were in the park so I was beginning to recognize faces.  One guy told me I had to try the Indian Fried Bread Taco at the Timbisha Shoshone reservation in the park.  The Timbisha are the native Americans who lived in this area.  I decided to follow the recommendation, though I doubt this is really traditional fare of the tribe  as beans, cattle, and corn would not have been native to this area.  But as some one in France when I asked if a dance was traditional, he said no, but it could be in a hundred years.  So Fried Bread Tacos may be traditional Timbisha food in 100 years. I now have had one, and I can cross it off my list.

One of the original 40 mule team wagons used to haul Borax out of the canyon in the 1880’s, the rear wheels are over six feet tall.  The rear wagon is a water tanker as there was only water source on the 10 day trip.

I spent the afternoon hiking Mosaic Canyon a nice flash flood canyon with interesting rock formations.  The road to the trail head was a mess and gave Scout a workout, but the first 400 yards of the trail were worth the drive.  The ability of water to carve the rocks in the west never ceases to amaze me.   The rest of the hike was nice but not super spectacular.

Mosaic Canyon had about 300 yards where water has cut down to the bedrock which is quite pretty.

I ended the day with a nice ranger talk at sunset at Mesquite dunes.

Mesquite Dunes.

January 22, 2020 Death Valley NP

I started the day by heading over to the visitors center to see what ranger talks were available today.  I was there as they opened and one of the Rangers was running up the flag for the day.  I talked to her on the way back in after the flag was done, she told me there were two talks for the day and she was leading one of them.

So with a little time to kill until the first talk at gold canyon, I decided to do a little exploring.  I had noticed a sign for another campground above the one we usually stay in here. The problem with Sunset campground is that there is no electricity so all of the big RV’s run their generators all day to power all of the stuff in them.  They require generators to be shut down from 7pm to 8am, but nothing ruins sitting outside to enjoy the sunset than the buzz of three or four generators running around you.  The Texas Spring campground costs $1 more than Sunset but is generator free and prettier so I moved up here and bought two nights.

Part of Artists Pallette Drive.  A really nice one way drive in the park on the way to Badwater.

The first talk of the day was in gold canyon which is one of Ton and my favorite hikes in Death Valley.  The person leading it was not a ranger but a young man on an internship at the park.  He took the duty very seriously and one thing I learned is that some of Star Wars 1 The Return of the Jedi was filmed in the canyon.  Besides that I learned a great deal about fan canyons which Death Valley is famous for.

Gold Canyon.

The second talk was at Badwater Basin which is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 280 feet below sea level.  It is one of the must stop photo stops in the park.  Besides being the lowest spot in the West it is also an interesting salt flat, and does have a spring which is 4 times saltier than sea water.

Badwater Basin, the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere.

I returned to Texas Springs for sunset and climbed a hill above the campground to watch the sunset.  Since the mountains on the west side of the valley are about 5000 feet higher than the valley but quite close, sunset happens about an hour and a half before the light fades which is kind of weird.  

January 21, 2020 Death Valley NP

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.  

I ‘m not sure what this thing was, but I was diverted to the shoulder so it could get past, and it had another truck hooked to the back to push.

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.

The Round Mountain Gold Mine with one of the giant dump trucks moving dirt from the pit to the processing area.

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.

Sunset looking at the Panamint Mountains from the campground.

January 20, 2020 Winnemucca NV

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.

Windshield shot of the loneliest road in Oregon.  Don’t worry about my safety, I was in the middle of a 10 mile straight stretch of highway without a car in site in either direction.

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.

Typical scene along OR78.  Sagebrush desert virtually unaltered by man.

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.

The “ghost town” of Paradise Valley.

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.

January 19, 2020 Burns OR

We realized that Scout has been lonely in the driveway and has not moved in nearly a year.  This is definitely not good for a RV so we were looking for an opportunity to take a trip before we take our spring trip to Europe.  Ton has a much more active social life than I do and she was having a hard time freeing up time, and she is also not a fan of cold weather camping.  On the other hand I had time on my hands and was going a little stir crazy at home so we made a decision for me to take Scout out on a trip by myself, this means the pictures are not going to be as good.  I do not have an agenda besides getting out of the gloom of Oregon and finding some sun.  The initial thought is to head towards Arizona.

Today was about getting over the mountains before the next storm runs thru and makes crossing over the passes difficult.  Ton and I spent the last couple of days stocking up Scout for the trip.  She was even nice enough to cook some of my favorite meals so I can microwave them.  So I was ready to make an early start as the best stop for the first night was Burns which is about 330 miles.  Last year we took a different route home thru central Nevada and it was really beautiful, so I decided to head south that way and this long drive would get me in position to do it.

The weather was clear and pretty warm on the west side of the mountains, but as I climbed up the temperature began to fall until it reached freezing and a there were a couple of accidents.  One of the accidents involved two cars and was pretty serious.  Some people get careless and try to drive too fast.  One fool even tried to pass two snow plows that were spreading cinders until the guy in the plow made it clear that was not going to happen. Between the accidents and the snow plows the trip over the passes took a while.

Detroit Lake Reservoir had been drained in preparation to receive the spring snow melt. It made for an eerie picture.

Once I descended down the weather was good and the skies were clear.  Eastern Oregon was its’ rugged and remote finest for the last three hours of the trip.  I love the emptiness of the high desert.  Last winter the campground we usually stay at  was closed when we went thru here and we ended up in a hotel.  This year I checked and their website indicated they were open, and sure enough they were.  So all ends well today and I hope my longest drive is behind me.

Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters were out today once I crossed over the mountains.