Thursday, August 28, 2014

A year later

I headed out on the road a year ago today. There was a little anxiety and second guessing about the big picture, some concerns about details. "Can I actually do this? Am I prepared? Can I adapt?"

There was also eagerness. I needed a change, an adventure. I needed new perspective.

It has been absolutely the right thing to do. For me.

I settled into it quickly, easily. Van dwelling has become totally natural. I'm excited again. I'm contented again.

My sincere thanks goes out to the van dwelling community. They showed me how it's done, how it's possible. Without their guidance I would have been clueless about basic things, like mail forwarding and camping free on public land. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Family and friends have asked how long I'm going to be living this way. At the beginning, my answer was, "Until I'm not able to anymore." Now, having done this a year, the answer is, "Until I'm not able to anymore."

Monday, August 25, 2014


Claire is a hiker. So is her dog, Jeffery. When on the road they camp in her Suzuki SX4.

Crustaceans beware

The last of the well known hot springs in the Mammoth area is the Crab Cooker—so named because it gets exceptionally hot. At least sometimes. When I visited, the valve had been turned off a while and the water wasn't much more than body temperature.

There are two ways into the Crab Cooker and both are wretched. I'll give directions from Benton Crossing Road.

There are three cattle guards on Benton Crossing, starting with the one at the junction with US395, next to the little green church. Just before the third cattle guard there's a road on the left. (The right turn immediately after the same cattle guard takes you to Wild Willy's.) In case you lose count of cattle guards, it's about three miles from US395, the next left after the Whitmore Tubs Road fork.

The road is lumpy, bumpy and rocky. It might be less annoying to walk. After a while there's a road to the right that leads to the Crab Cooker. It's just as bad. There are a couple of small parking areas at the end of the road. (37°39'46"N, 118°48'0'W)

The path from the parking area to Crab Cooker

The stone and concrete tub is about ten by six feet and not much more than a foot deep.  It's not glamorous, but it's functional. The view is about the same as Wild Willy's.

The water valve is down in a flooded hole. As far as I know there's nothing in there that bites.

A few paces away is a concrete slab with a small chamber in the middle. It seems to be the source of the spring. It might also be a place one could actually boil crabs. Lower a pot on a chain, hook it to the grate, and go soak while dinner cooks. Maybe?

If it weren't for the awful access roads, its shallowness, the so-so view, a bit of litter and some cow pies, I'd rate Crab Cooker 4.75. Instead, I give it a 3.5 out of five. Really, the road is that terrible.

Another walk to water

Today I visited Crowley Hot Spring, also called Wild Willy's. While all the other hot springs have been on the west side of Benton Crossing Road, this on is east side. There are also two separate soaking holes here.

About three miles from the little green church you cross a cattle guard. Turn right immediately after. Follow this unpaved road a little over a mile to a large parking area. A long gravel path and boardwalk meanders to the springs. (37°39'6"N, 118°58'6"W)

Unlike the other springs I've visited in the Mammoth area, the pools at Wild Willy's/Crowley are just holes in the ground with mud banks and coarse sand bottoms. That means the water can be murky. Also, the hot water comes straight from the source. No pipes, no way to control it. You get what you get, which was sufficiently hot without being too hot when I was there.

The upper pool

The lower pool (not my photo because the pool was occupied by several people when I was there)

The upper pool is about ten feet across and slightly less than knee deep. The lower pool is maybe fourteen feet across and knee deep. It looks like it might have been dug out with a backhoe long ago. It's the largest pool I've seen in the area. Maybe that's why it has the reputation as a party spot. More people can soak at once. WOO!

Crowley Hot Spring/Wild Willy's wouldn't be my first or even third choice in the area. True, it's more natural than the others, which can be a big plus for some people. But I prefer my water clearer and to not have muddy feet when I'm done. I rate it 4.25 out of five.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The wrong way to Little Hot Creek

First, let me get the correct route out of the way:

Take Benton Crossing Road from the little green church at the junction of US395 to Whitmore Tubs Road (on the left).

Take Whitmore Tubs past Hot Creek Hatchery Road to Owens River Road (there's a sign) and turn left. You'll know you're on the correct road when you cross a small white bridge.

Take Owens River Road past Antelope Spring Road to Forest Road 3S138, which is the next road on the left. It's only a two-track dirt road but don't freak out. Follow it until you get to what looks like a hot spring on the left, across the creek. There's a wide spot in the road. There might be other vehicles parked there. (If you miss it and keep going, you come to a camping area a little further along where you can turn around.) 37°41'24"N, 118°50'27"W

Follow the path and planks over the creek to the tub. It's not technically a hot spring. The water for the tub comes from the creek, and the whole creek is hot. Very hot. Hence "Hot Creek."

If you take Antelope Spring Road as some online guides suggest, things will be nice and dandy until you reach the very gnarly and steep road that connects to Forest Road 3S138. It's closed November to April, anyway. Don't go that way if you don't need to. If you follow Google Maps to the GPS coordinates given in one of the online guides, you'll wander all over the place on some awful roads and never get anywhere near the right spot. (Ask me how I know, he said, rolling his eyes and smacking his head.) If you're coming from somewhere north of the airport, you could connect to Whitmore Tubs Road via Hot Creek Hatchery Road. Don't let the first miles of pavement fool you, though. It turns into the usual dirt and gravel.

So, about Little Hot Creek itself.

The planks across the creek. Also the pipe that feeds the tub.

It's set in a small valley (because that's where creeks tend to run) with views of, well, not much. The concrete tub is approximately ten feet by six feet and a little more than knee deep at one end. It can get very hot, but there's a valve to help adjust the temperature. There are a couple of decks for your stuff or your body.

It's a place to go if you want a developed hot spring but want to get away from the riffraff. Or from those who might want to harsh your mellow. Or from the law. With so many other springs closer to civilization, you have to really want to go here. My rating of Little Hot Creek is no doubt influenced by its inconvenience. To me it's not so amazing that it's worth the schlep. I give it 4 out of 5. Decks and very hot water keep me from rating it 3.5.

Whose campsite is it, part two

The cow in the previous post was just one of a herd of a hundred or so that spent the evening grazing around the Tub. That led to a damn-I-wish-I-had-my-camera-with-me moment.

I was alone in the Tub, watching evening settle on the mountains, sort of meditating, when one of the cows moseyed over to have a drink.

Well, howdy, ma'am. I remained still and observed.

Cows don't lap water like cats or dogs. They slurp. I learned that firsthand. From three feet away.

Having had her fill of warm human tea, she moved on.

Two other cows sidled up to the bar and drank. They slurped, too. I started wondering if the entire herd would be by for drinks. That could take a while. And leave me in an empty pool.

My ear itched. When I lifted my hand from the water the two cows spooked and ran off, thus ending my Attenborough moment.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Whose campsite is it?

I looked up from my reading and saw this.

It's their world and I'm just passing through it.

A stroll and a soak and a stroll. And a stroll.

Pulky's Pool, or Hilltop Hot Spring (there's disagreement over the name) is easy to drive to, just off Benton Crossing Road (the one that junctions with US395 at the little green church). (37°39'49.4"N, 118°47'20.2"W) The thing is, the spring is about a quarter mile from the parking area.

See the white speck at the bottom of the low hill? That's the Rolling Steel Tent.

At least it's a nice path of gravel and wood planks.

I walked to the spring, then back to the van, where I got my camera. Then I walked back to the spring, then back to the van. A mile a day keeps... something away.

The concrete and stone tub is about six feet in diameter and two and a half feet deep. Unfortunately, the concrete is very slippery with algae. The tub needs to be drained and scrubbed.

As for temperature, it's delightfully hot, right at my threshold of tolerance. There are two pipes feeding the tank. One, running from a closer spring, is hot. The other, running from a spring a little farther away, is also hot. Turn the valve and you get a choice of hot or more hot. Can't beat that.

Someone has placed a few astroturf putting greens around the tub, which makes it nice for slipping shoes off and on, as well as providing dry clean places to put your clothing. It keeps grit out if the tank as well, though some grit could come in handy, considering the tub's slipperiness.

Overall, I give Pulky's Pool/Hilltop Hot Spring a 4.75 out of 5.


From the turnoff to the Tub, continue down Whitmore Tubs Road, turn at the fourth right and follow it to the end. Welcome to Shepherd's Hot Spring. (37°40'0"N, 118°48'14"W) It's at about 7,000 feet elevation.

As you can see, someone got creative with the block and concrete construction. Maybe it was built by Aztecs. It's about seven feet square and two and a half feet deep with nice steps/seats built in. There's seating for five, but you could squeeze six or seven people in it.

As you can also see, there's a valve on the pipe so you can adjust the temperature. Good hot spring etiquette says to turn it off when you leave so the water isn't too hot for the next visitors. It takes less time to heat the tub up than to cool it down. On is with the knob in line with the pipe, off is with the knob perpendicular to the pipe. Follow the pipe and it leads to the actual hot spring. I doubt many people would want to soak in it.

The spring is in pasture land. That means visits from cattle, and that means the occasional cow pie nearby. The spring is also on land owned by the City of Los Angeles. It's part of their watershed. That means there's no camping at this hot spring. Nice of LA to let folks access it, though.

If camping were allowed, I'd rate Shepherd's a 5 out of five. Instead, it gets 4.75.

The Tub

There are a cluster of hot springs on the flats between Mammoth Lakes and Crowley Lake. The closest one to the highway is called the Tub. South of the Mammoth airport, on US395, turn east on Benton Crossing Road. (Look for the small green church at the junction.) Bear left on Whitmore Tubs Road. Take the second right. The Tub is a couple of hundred yards ahead. (37°38'50"N, 118°48'28"W)

My photos this time

It's about nine feet long, four feet wide and two feet deep, made of stone and concrete. It can hold up to six very good friends or friendly strangers. It's great when solo.

Water temperature varies throughout the day. I'm guessing it's about 102° at its hottest, cooling down to just slightly more than body temperature.

One of the pluses: it's easy to find. One of the minuses: it's easy to find, so it's busy. Another plus: it's on BLM land, so you can camp next to it. I did. Another minus: you can have several people camping here at once. Last night there were eight. But most of them pulled out after a sunrise soak.

Despite the minuses, I give the Tub a 4.5 out 5. Well built, large, deep, and camping.

Friday, August 22, 2014

On the lam

There are certain hours, certain days, certain seasons, certain weather conditions, certain phases of the moon and alignment of the planets, certain filters, certain lenses, certain manipulations and certain skills that will produce amazing photos of Convict Lake. Instead, here's the best I could do this morning.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Twin Lakes and Buckeye Hot Spring

Twin Lakes Road runs south and west and south and west and southwest out of Bridgeport, California, to, duh, Twin Lakes. It's a beautiful place.

The first of the fraternal twin lakes

On the way is the turnoff for Buckeye Hot Spring. Yes, two hot springs in one day.

The unpaved road is in excellent condition. The hike down to the spring is another matter. The parking area is about a hundred feet above Buckeye Creek. The trails down are steep. They scrabble over boulders, rocks and loose dirt. Bring hiking poles or at least a walking stick if you're not a mountain goat.

Again, someone else's photos

I have mixed feelings about this hot spring. The location is extremely attractive, once you climb down to it. It's by the creek. There's a nifty rock overhang. But the pools are shallow. I prefer my hot springs at least a couple of feet deep. Made of stacked stones and mud, the pools need to be rebuilt after the spring runoff washes things away. So the size, shape, number and depth of the pools vary season to season. If there are more than a few people there at the same time, there might not be room to get horizontal in the water. Then there's the climb back to the parking lot.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 3. No urge to return. But I wouldn't know that if I hadn't checked it out myself.

Ghost in the machine

It was still a bit chilly when I headed off to the hot spring this morning. I turned on the van's heater and was surprised by a low pitched vibration. It got worse, of course, when I turned up the fan speed.


I turned the fan up and down, up and down. It still vibrated. So I turned it all the way down and drove on thinking about what a labor intensive job it would be to get access to the fan and fix the problem. I suspected something had slipped down an air duct and was rubbing the fan.

Ah! But since it happened after going to Bodie ghost town, maybe the fan was haunted. OooooOOOoooooo! That must be it.


Whatever it was, it stopped causing a problem. Now the fan acts normally. Maybe the ghost just wanted a ride and a good soak.

The hot springs tour is back on!

There are a bunch of hot springs sprinkled along the east side of the Sierras. Thank you geologic activity. This morning, Travertine Hot Spring near Bridgeport, California, kicked of the second leg of the RST Hot Springs Tour.

I didn't take this photo. There were other people in the spring, so it would have been uncool to take a picture.

Yes, that's an outcropping of travertine marble. The hottest pool was very hot today, but there are several pools, each less hot than the other.

There's a ranger station on US395 on the south side of Bridgeport. Turn east on the road just north of the ranger station. Continue on the dirt road marked with an official sign. Part of the road requires some adventurous driving.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The old no swimmin' hole

This is a hot spring on the shore of Mono Lake. I love hot springs. But the sign says no bathing, nude or otherwise. And no nude kayaking, either. Spoil sports.

The day I wished I was driving a sedan

Ah, passenger cars, with their nice squishy suspensions that aren't much bothered by ripples and bumps. Ah, a three-quarter ton truck chassis that's tough as nails but with a suspension as stiff as hell.

That's what I was thinking driving the last three miles of unpaved, unmaintained road to Bodie State Historic Park. It's a ghost town, and I think the last road crew must have left in 1899. Oh well. A road in disrepair is a prelude (and postlude) to a town in disrepair.

The trick, during tourist season, is getting a photo without people in it

Sometimes I get partially lucky

I needed to drive a couple of miles down a dirt road. That would usually be a dusty proposition. But it just so happened a water truck was spraying the road ahead of me. That's nice.

Sorry for the bad shooting-with-the-phone-while-driving photo

It's hard to tell from the photo that the left side of the road is smooth and the right side suffers from a bit of washboard. A grader had just made a pass on the left. I waved as I went by. If I'd waited an hour or so I would have had freshly smoothed dirt to drive on. Can't have everything. At least not today.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Travel day

I finished the video I'd been working on and got the DVD shipped out. I was free to head wherever. I chose south.

Oh, sure, it would have been quicker to take I-80 to Reno and pick up US395 there, but I took the slower scenic route past Lake Tahoe.

And it would have been quicker to take US50 out of Tahoe, but I took NV207 instead. Not the best choice, what with construction delays and a 25mph speed limit all through Minden. But I had time and patience.

I had never been on the stretch of 395 between Carson City and Mammoth Lakes. It was quite nice, a change from the dense pine forests of Truckee.

At the Mono Lake overlook. Gee, I would've brought some stickers if I'd known.

I have a guide to boondocking along the east side of the Sierras. It pointed me to some spots by Mono Lake. Cool. It took some wandering and backtracking (the "abandoned buildings" aren't abandoned anymore) but I found a sweet spot near a creek and with a bit of a view of the lake.

It was early in the evening by the time I got to the site, so sightseeing will need to wait until tomorrow. The drawback of being on the east side of the mountains is the sun sets earlier.

From the parking lot of the South Tufa. I didn't have time to walk down.


I was able to reshuffle my possessions a bit more so that I no longer need these two shoe box sized containers.

Now the question is what to do with the containers. Where's the nearest Goodwill donation bin?

Monday, August 18, 2014

I swear it's not my fault

I was deeply engrossed in a video I've been putting together and hadn't noticed a fire about a mile away. It's on the other side of a hill, so I don't know what, exactly, is on fire. There are a few utility buildings there, a railroad track, some highway equipment and, on the other side of the Truckee River, I-80. As well as grass, brush and trees, of course.

There are two helicopters with water buckets (good thing this is right next to a reservoir) and a water bomber. The bomber needs to go to a larger reservoir a few miles north where there's room to scoop water.

The wind is blowing the fire eastward.

Since it's the way out of this camping area I guess I'll see what damage was done. But not today. I'll stay put, parked on many acres of gravel and dirt.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Well, that's not good

I was talking with a camp host this morning. He asked, "Do you know about the hubbub the other day?"


"They found a dead guy up that way," he said, pointing up the hill, across the road. "He'd been reported missing. Someone spotted his car over there, then they found him. Don't know whether it was a heart attack, stroke, suicide or what."

"That's sad."


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Blow hard

Today would be a good day to have a wind turbine to charge my batteries. It's late summer in the Sierras but it's blowing like winter and spring in the desert—about 20 mph with gusts to about 30 mph.

Over the past year I've learned that my solar setup—a 270W panel and two 104Ah batteries—is sufficient on most days. I need to be very mindful on short, overcast, winter days, or whenever there are several overcast days in a row.

Under the right conditions a wind turbine can charge even in the dark. That's neat. The problem is, wind turbines like to be big and high off the ground. When using a turbine and tower and support cables and stakes and wiring and whatnot that disassemble compactly enough to stow in a van, those necessary conditions are often fleeting and the output minimal.

These photos are from a 2011 article about setting up a workable mobile wind turbine. Note the turbine is about as big as his leg and the blades are each about two and a half feet long. There are also two 8-foot sections of schedule 40 1.5" pipe and other space-consuming stuff. The owner of this setup lives in a travel trailer. Between it and the tow vehicle he has room to store everything. The man who wrote the article lives in a converted cargo trailer towed by a van. With his extra space his view of what's compact is different from mine.

But I'll keep investigating the possibilities. Maybe there will be a tiny, super-powerful, affordable wind turbine someday.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Computer's eye view

When I'm working

When I'm playing

No office, no problem

So, here I am, by a lake in the Sierras, making a video for a family reunion. I sent a sample clip to my sister and she replied, "It's amazing what you can do in the middle of the wilderness." Yes, and there are people doing all sorts of cool computerish things in every remote corner of the world. Yay technology!

Now, this video would be much easier if I had my three-monitor PowerMac from my building dwelling days. But this will get the job done.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

I'm a fan

Some days, like the past two days, there's a nice breeze blowing through my van to keep things at a perfect temperature. Some days, like today, there's no breeze. That's when I use my fan.

It plugs into my 12-volt system and has two speeds. It came with a power canister to hold flashlight batteries, but I don't use it. The best feature is that the fan mounts with a magnet. That gives me many more location options than the ones without.

It's not such a great advantage if you have a passenger van where most of the metal is covered by plastic or upholstery. In that case there are other 12-volt fans, like the ones below, that sit on whatever surfaces you have.

However, the magnetic fan must not have been a good seller, because O2 Cool has stopped making it. I guess that means I'll need to take good care of the one I have.

It's surprising how effective a fan is in a small space like a van. Keeping air moving is a key to fighting heat. Avoiding hot places helps too. Such is the advantage of the mobile life.