Tag Archives: rv/campervan travels

Lake Tahoe to Desert Playa

We loaded up the van and headed out last week, stopping first for a couple of days to visit with Troy in Tahoe.

 

Our intention was to travel on to the Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada and maybe into Utah but we had to cut the trip short and head home early so that Darlene could help a friend.  So we spent the couple of days we had checking out Pyramid Lake north of Reno (which is where Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River drain to) and then visiting the Black Rock Desert playa before heading home.

All of this area (and in fact all of northwest Nevada) used to be submerged in a huge prehistoric lake (Lake Lahontan) and the ancient water lines are still obvious along the mountain sides.  There are also lots of cool tufa rock formations in the area, though unfortunately much of the area around Pyramid Lake is off limits to the public and open to tribal members only.  (The lake and surroundings are part of a Paiute Reservation.)

Tufa / calcium carbonate rock formations (or perhaps alien artifacts)

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Colorado Road Trip

I’ve already posted a series of galleries for most of our Colorado road trip:

This last gallery (Florissant, Shelf Road, Flaming Gorge, etc.) contains more miscellaneous pictures — visiting the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, driving the dramatic, unpaved Shelf Road south out of Cripple Creek, stopping by the Royal Gorge Bridge, hiking out to the dinosaur trackways near Red Fleet State Park (Utah), spending a couple of days at the south end of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, seeing wild horses in Sand Wash Basin HMA in northwest Colorado, and overnight stops in Wyoming, Utah and Nevada on my way to and from Colorado.

Old homestead at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

On the Shelf Road

Flaming Gorge Reservoir

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Dinosaur National Monument

As part of our month-long Colorado road trip, we spent about four days in Dinosaur National Monument but could have happily spent more if not for the worsening smoke from this year’s California wildfires.

One of many canyon overlooks along Yampa Bench Road

 

Coming from the south, we started with the canyon portion of the park and spent two nights at the Echo Park campground.  One day was just biking out along the Yampa Bench Road and checking out many of the amazing river canyon overlooks.

The following day we turned our attention to the dinosaur fossils and petroglyphs in the western part of the park by taking a slow, rough 4WD road to the other side of the park.  (Why take the easy way around??)

At the Quarry Exhibit Hall, you can see hundreds of fossilized dinosaur bones still embedded in the rock:

Lots of petroglyphs along Harper’s Corner Road

And we had a close encounter with a pair of bighorn sheep:

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A Taste of the Kokopelli Trail

As part of our month-long Colorado road trip, we stopped at a fossil quarry site along I-70 near the Utah border called A Trail Through Time where you can see a few fossils still embedded in the rock:

Afterwards we chose to check out the mountain biking trails in the BLM area just across the highway. Turns out this very pretty area, Rabbit Valley, is part of the popular Kokopelli Trail that continues southwest into Utah and all the way to Moab, over 140 miles.  We just ended up riding as far as an overlook of the Colorado River that afternoon before returning to our campsite for dinner and to watch a very cool, very active, distant thunderstorm.  I went for another ride later that night after dark.

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Museum of the Mountain West

As part of our month-long Colorado road trip, we decided to check out the Museum of the Mountain West in Montrose after seeing it in Atlas Obscura.  Jim was our friendly tour guide for several hours and it proved to be quite an amazing collection of old west artifacts.  Very easy to recommend – check it out – but you’ll want a guided tour as as a lot of rooms are now cordoned off for self-guided visitors.  (They kept having thefts.)

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Black Canyon of the Gunnison

As part of our month-long Colorado road trip, we spent a day exploring the south side of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  And yes, it is an incredibly deep, steep and narrow canyon!  We camped on some BLM land just outside of the park and spent a full day gawking at the canyon from the various viewpoints, including hiking out the Warner Point nature trail.

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Creede, Bachelor Loop and Wheeler Geologic Area

As part of our month-long Colorado road trip, we found ourselves in Creede and immediately discovered the incredible scenery of the 17-mile Bachelor Historic Mining Loop starting just outside of town.  We camped on a spur of the loop and then proceeded to follow the historic loop and gawk at the incredible scenery.  I do regret that we didn’t choose to ride our bikes along the route instead but it was still fantastic to see.

 

Later that day we decided to make our way up to the staging area (at 11,000 ft) for the Wheeler Geologic Area, based on an entry from Atlas Obscura.  You can’t actually easily drive the whole way as the dirt road gets seriously messed up and eroded away at points requiring serious 4WD maneuvering.  (Most people seem to take ATV’s or other off-highway vehicles.)  There is also a hiking trail but that’s best done as an overnight backpacking trip as it’s seven miles just to the trailhead leading to the formations.  We opted to follow the 4WD road on our mountain bikes as they aren’t allowed on the hiking trail.  (Except for the carve out for the dirt road, this is deep inside a designated wilderness area.) Interestingly, the Wheeler Geologic Area used to have national monument status until 1950.

As it turns out, the road goes way out-of-the-way to get there (14 miles) and it both gives up and regains a lot of elevation along the way.  Doing 30 miles round trip from our nearby boondocking site at 11,000 ft of elevation with a two-and-half-mile hike in the middle to actually see the formations turned out to make for a seriously brutal day – and that was with our electric-assist mountain bikes.  It was however a gorgeous ride and the geological formations are very cool – definitely worth the effort of getting there.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park

As part of our month-long Colorado road trip, we spent a couple of days at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

We rented some rather worn out sand sleds, hiked to the high point of the first ridge (while fighting the strong high winds that day) and eventually managed to get the sleds working well enough to glide back down.

 

Sledding down the dunes

We had also planned to take the 4WD route over the mountains (Medano Pass Primitive Road) but were put off by the reports of very deep sand to get through.  We did hike up to see the nearby, cool-to-see Zapata Falls though.

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Road Trip to the Pacific Northwest


Humboldt Redwoods State Park (California)

With Darlene out in Wisconsin visiting her family, I loaded up the van with Pan and Hera and headed up to the Pacific Northwest for a couple of weeks, visiting with my brother and some friends in the Portland/Vancouver area as well as exploring a bit of countryside – while avoiding the smoke from the wildfires already flaring up.


Visiting with Corey and his family

And with Jon & Siobhan

 

Glenn and Michele then joined me in their new van for a little tour around Olympic National Park.

 
Hiking in Olympic National Park (Washington)

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Onward to Lassen

After a couple of days layover in Tahoe to ski some new snow and repair the van (a badly installed anti-sway bar), we headed off again – north this time towards Lassen National Park.  Along the way, we spent an afternoon riding as far as we could (before being turned back by snow) up the Mills Peak Lookout trail near Greagle, checked out the Subway Cave near Old Station, wandered around some rough forest roads, visited Burney Falls – and in Burney I was finally able to snag a covid vaccination shot!

The highway through Lassen was still closed to vehicles as they continued to clear the snow but open to biking which made a lovely ride to the top from the southwest entrance.  We made two attempts at hiking the Chaos Crags trail on the other side of the park (after getting caught in a thunder and hail storm) and pushed past the still snow covered road to check out the Fantastic Lava Beds area.

 

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Early Spring in the Eastern Sierra

Darlene and I loaded up the cats and the camper van in late March and headed out for an extended, month-long trip.  After a few days of skiing at Alpine and Homewood from the Tahoe house, we headed down to Bishop and Mammoth for some more skiing, as well as mountain biking and other exploration in the surrounding area for a few weeks while camping out on public lands.

We biked around the Mono Craters area, found a nice wading pool just outside the now closed off Mammoth Hot Springs, hiked up to the still frozen South Lake and bailed out of a swim in the still-quite-cold Owens River near Bishop.

Despite all the time I’ve already spent in the Eastern Sierra (including attending high school in Bishop), we managed a few new adventures like biking up Coyote Valley Road, skiing at June Mountain, visiting the exposed “tuff” formation along Crowley Lake, winding through Chidago Canyon, visiting the petroglyphs along Fish Slough Road, and finding an eagle’s nest (with chicks!) in the Owens River Gorge.

In mid-April, it looked like a bit of snow was going to mostly hit the Tahoe area, so we headed back up to Tahoe for a few days to catch a bit of it before heading out again and north to Lassen.

Oh yeah, and we broke the van on a particularly rough road near Mono Craters – started hearing clunking noises from what turned out to be a very badly installed anti-sway bar.

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Joshua Tree and the Mojave Desert

After the long delay in building out the van due to Covid-19 shutdowns, keeping indoors from the widespread smoke and wildfires, dealing with several pet health issues (and emergency), then more Covid lockdowns across the state, we were finally able to take the Traveling Cat Adventure Van (II) out on a week-long maiden voyage.  We headed south to Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve, away from the storms and snow in the mountains.

   

All the campgrounds across the state had been closed until recently and not surprisingly, all the campgrounds were already booked up in Joshua Tree and the first-come, first-serve sites filled by Thursday afternoon when we arrived.  Not a big deal though as there is dispersed camping allowed in the BLM land just north of the park in and around the Coyote Lake dry lake bed.  As the nearest national park to the greater Los Angeles area, Joshua Tree was already fairly busy on Friday but turned crazy busy on Saturday so we moved on to the much quieter and deserted Mojave National Preserve on Sunday.

The van proved to be super comfortable and worked well for the two of us and the cats, including having to hunker down multiple nights in the midst of heavy wind storms.  We can easily see spending any amount of time (weeks or months) traveling and living out of the van.  And with the smaller size, it’s so nice to be able to easily go and park anywhere, unlike the previous 25-foot Leisure Travel Vans RV.

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Carrizo Plain National Monument

After getting the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle back from the repair shop (following my close encounter with a falling tree limb), Darlene and I decided to get in another little road trip.  I found Carrizo Plain National Monument initially as looking like a nice layover point on our planned way to Joshua Tree National Park, but we ended up deciding to spend our four days just there, exploring the hills and valley.

Carrizo Plain is probably most known for many illustrative pictures of the San Andrea fault cutting across many old creek beds and showing how quickly (geologically) the two plates are moving past each other.  It’s also home to some once elaborate Native American rock paintings, at “Painted Rock”.  Here’s some great side-by-side images showing the terrible damage these rock paintings have been subjected to over the last century.

In the spring, the valley and foothills are often covered in a brilliantly varied carpet of wildflowers.  (See this image search for examples.)

Besides these sights, we got in some hiking, drone-flying and general exploring.  I also brought along my newly acquired digital imaging telescope from Unistellar to see what it can do.

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Big Trees, Missing Arms and Falling Limbs

Darlene and I joined Resi, Troy & Aiden and Greg, Erin & Merritt for another camping weekend, this time in Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Besides some hiking among lots of giant redwood trees, we got in a couple of games, Decrypto and Quacks of Quedlinburg, and we got to experience the spooky, night time reenactment of Big Basin’s last lumber mill owner’s fateful encounter with a grizzily bear and the subsequent haunting of his missing arm!

 

The weekend ended with a true scare though.  This was another weekend of hot and dry winds, setting off wildfires despite PG&E’s efforts to shutdown large portions of the electric grid across many California counties.  Just a minute or two before we were to drive out of our campsites, several redwood tree branches gave way and came tumbling down just in front of our vehicles in the roadway.

Before that dust had settled, I heard another large crack directly overhead as I was still standing in our campsite, just outside the RV, about to climb aboard.  I ran off towards our adjoining campsite where everyone had just got into their cars and spun around to see a large 20-foot long limb, maybe 8 inches in diameter, come crashing down onto the back of the RV, right where I had been standing – and where we had been hanging out in our camp chairs much of the weekend.  Darlene was inside the RV and was startled into a scream at the sound of the crash and rushed out to see what had become of me.

Everyone piled out of their cars to quickly clear the roadway so we could make an immediate departure and get the heck out of there.  Later I was able to pull off the road in a clearing and survey the damage: the edge of the roof was busted open, exposing some wiring, the awning was crushed and bent and partially torn from its mount and a couple of solar panels were damaged.

So, both lucky that no one was hurt and that it didn’t come down while everyone was sitting around camp or in their tents and unlucky that we didn’t leave just a minute or two earlier and avoid the whole mishap.

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Camping in Pinnacles

Darlene and I met up with Greg, Erin & Merritt and Resi, Troy & Aiden for a very warm weekend of camping at Pinnacles National Park this past weekend.

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(And sorry guys, the first batch of photos are pretty messed up by my not noticing until our hiking snack break that I had left my camera set at a very high ISO.  Just think of it as an old-timey filter…)

   

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Flying Around Mono Basin

This little road trip to the Eastern Sierra got off to a rough start as I experienced a breakdown in the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle far from any service help.  I was on US-395 just past the intersection with CA-108 (still closed from snow on Sonora Pass) when I suddenly felt multiple and ongoing jerking motions from the transmission as it seemingly tried to jump between gears.  I was luckily right in front of a pullout (which are few and far between) and was able to pull off the highway and try to figure out what was going on.  I ended up waiting about four hours as Mercedes roadside service tried to find a tow service before I found I could get the vehicle moving and head back towards Gardnerville and eventually Reno to get the vehicle looked at the next day.  (For more play by play on what happened, see this thread in the Sprinter-Source forum.)  Anyway, after losing a couple of days to dealing with that and then another day back at the Tahoe house fixing the RV’s refrigerator (which had also started acting up), I eventually headed out again.

I was going to meet up with Hoan and his family in Mammoth Lakes but they ended up bailing out and so I spent a few days in and around the Mono Lake basin.  The first night was a little off road on the way up to Virginia Lakes after discovering the dirt roads any higher were still blocked with snow.  Still it was looking to be a lovely high altitude spot for star gazing with my telescope – until after setting everything up I realized I had forgot to pack my counterweight – making it mostly unusable.  D’oh!  Still it was a nice spot to fly the drone around a bit with Mono Lake visible in the distance.  And Pan caught himself a mouse. ;-)

  

The following day I dropped down into the Mono Basin and went off roading a bit to get near the Mono Craters to go exploring on foot and in the air.  (I wasn’t going to try take the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle up the slopes of the craters!)  My cross-country hike turned out to be much more difficult than expected as it was really tough just getting up a step or two without slipping back on  the steep scree slopes.  But my, such a lovely and fascinating view over the top by flying the drone!

 

The last day involved some more exploring and flying near Grant Lake – and I found myself pushing the vehicle climbing on some just barely passable rough dirt roads.  Once again, I’m really looking forward to downsizing to a much smaller and more capable off-road van.  After getting out of there without mishap, the return trip involved backtracking north on 395 to highway 88, Monitor Pass and Markleeville.  Tioga Pass was still closed and Sonora Pass and Ebetts Pass would be a really bad idea for a 25 ft. RV!  Carson Pass was lovely and snow capped all over on the way back though.

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