Thursday, May 31, 2018

Did you guess correctly?

In the previous post I moaned about forests and mentioned two routes I might take to Oregon—less forested and more forested. I invited people to guess which route I's take.

Well, as I arrived in Susanville CA and was presented with the junction of 395 (less forested route) and 36 (more forested), I made the last-second choice of 36. And then 44, toward Lassen Volcanic National Park. Surprise, I actually enjoyed it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Can’t see the scenery for the trees

The Woods

When I was a little kid, my friends and I would go play in the woods. The “woods” was really just the center of an oversized suburban block. But it was our Adventureland. Big trees, trails, hiding places—for ourselves and for our treasures. We could be free there. With a break for lunch.

Near Mount Hood

Sixty years later, being in the woods just, I don’t know, makes me a little claustrophobic. I’ve become accustomed to broad horizons, huge skies. In a forest I just see trees and small patches of sky. Only a handful of stars. And forget about glorious sunrises and sunsets. Mostly just trees. Hundreds and thousands and millions of trees. Quick, find me a clearing!

Ah, that’s better

Stuff can fall on me in the forest. Leaves and needles, cones, twigs, branches—even entire trees. Out in the open, it stops raining when it stops raining. In the forest water keeps dripping from the trees, usually onto my glasses or down my neck.

See, isn’t that even better?

Today I’m near Reno, with mountains to the west and desert to the east. I want to get to Redmond, Oregon. People usually go to the Pacific Northwest for the forests. I go there despite them. Well, an hour or so driving through the Cascades is nice, but then, you know, that’ll do me for quite a while. Unless I can get beside a good sized lake. Look! Open space! And sky!

I could get to Redmond by continuing up the east side of California and into the plains of central Oregon. There’s less forest that way. Or I could take one of several routes that’s pretty much forest all the way. Can you guess which is more likely?

Don’t plan a fuel stop in Bridgeport CA

These are the highest prices I’ve seen since I’ve been in California this year. About a dollar more than anywhere else.

Bridgeport is in the middle of nowhere and I wasn’t sure I had enough gas to get to the edge of somewhere. It turned out I would have, because even though there were a couple of moderate uphill grades ahead of me, most of it was downhill, coasting. Wheeeee!

The Eastern Sierra Tree Trout

Meanwhile, at Mammoth Mountain

Memorial Day has passed but the lifts are still open. Avid skiers and snowboarders are on the slopes even though the snow is... meh. I skied here once upon a time, back before my knees suggested I give up the sport.

In related news, the road beyond Mammoth Mountain, which leads to Minarets Overlook, Devil’s Postpile and several campgrounds, is still closed. But there are plentiful boondocking spots along Mammoth Scenic Loop, in the National Forest.

Taking the slow road

US-395 north out of Bishop, California, climbs up a long grade. It’s the type with warning signs to turn off your air conditioning to avoid engine overheating. There are stops with water barrels along the shoulder. Previous times I’ve made that schlep, the poor Rolling Steel Tent was howling away in second gear while vehicles with better power-to-weight ratios flew past.

However, I discovered an alternate route thanks to these things called “maps.” Two lane road, scarce traffic, a couple of switchbacks, and slightly more scenic. It connected back to 395 at the summit and it was easy cruising to my destination: a hot spring on public land where I could soak and camp.

I was a little apprehensive, because the flies were horrible the last time I was here. Not so this time. Just a few mosquitoes. Oh well. The full moon made up for it.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Heading out

After a week in the Lone Pine-Bishop corridor, it’s time to move on up the road. See you later, Mount Whitney.

Friday, May 25, 2018

I saw no onions, and I wouldn't call it a valley

I suppose Onion Valley looks like a valley from the tops of the surrounding peaks. But having come up from the Owens Valley (a long, wide space between two mountain ranges) the place seemed more like a bowl.

Nonetheless, it’s an impressive place. Jagged ridges of bare stone, conifers, a campground and at least one waterfall.

The real drama, though, is the drive up. And down. It’s a steep road with a lot of switchbacks and few guardrails. But the Rolling Steel Tent made it up without overheating, and down without going off a cliff.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Happy camper

I’ve been dreading Memorial Day Weekend and the swarm of people it brings to the outdoors. But then I realized today is Thursday, not Friday. Woo, one more day!

Short hike for a long view

Clouds had started forming along the crest of the Sierras when I turned up Glacier Lodge Road, but I pressed onward. The road ends at a campground and trailhead. The tree canopy blocked most of the view, so I headed up the trail to see what I could see. The glacier, perhaps. Or a waterfall.

The trail rose a little, a gap opened in the trees, the clouds parted some and, ah, there we go.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The weather took pity on me

Almost there

Whining about low clouds and rain must have worked. I woke up to almost cloudless skies. I embraced the gift and headed up Highway 168 to Lake Sabrina, at about 9,000 feet.

A police car zoomed past me. Hmmm, what was that about? Well, you know those falling rock signs? A boulder the size of a car had come down, burying itself near the right shoulder of the road. Cones, flares and flashing lights, but the road was open. The road narrows after the campground and continues to the dam and boat launch.

I’m glad I went

The air was crisp but not too cold and, as you can see, the water was glassy. There were a handful of anglers fishing from shore. I wished I had a canoe.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The weather said, "Not at this time"

I had been studying maps and satellite views of the Eastern Sierras. “Look at all these roads into interesting canyons and up into the mountains.” The roads were paved and led sometimes to trailheads, sometimes to campgrounds, sometimes to lakes, sometimes to all three. And some of them became unpaved roads over passes to the west side. “Why hadn’t I noticed these before?”

Somewhere like this?

I made a plan to check out Horseshoe Meadow Road from Lone Pine, Onion Valley Road from Independence, Glacier Lodge Road from Big Pine, and Highway 168 from Bishop.

Or maybe like this?

But clouds have been hanging around and hanging low—at about 9,000 feet. I’d be driving up into the clouds or at least have clouds blocking the view.

So I put the plan on hold relocated to the Volcanic Tablelands just north of Bishop instead. I’ll hang here a few days and see what the weather decides to do. As if to validate my change of plans, it rained a little this evening.

Monday, May 21, 2018

See, I'm not the only one

It bugs me when one big rig pulls out to pass one going just a hair slower, and both are going way slower than other traffic. Yes, I know there are reasons for this, but AAAAaaaaaargh!

Then I came across the photo below. It helps to know I’m not alone.

Moved a little

I love camping at Alabama Hills, but it’s almost impossible for me to get a useable cell signal. So each day I drive to where I can get a 4G Verizon signal or use wifi. For example, right now I’m by the city park. Yesterday I was at the BLM information signs between Lone Pine and Movie Road.

When I return to Alabama Hills I have the choice of returning to where I was (if someone hasn’t taken it) or finding a different spot. So yesterday I went for variety.

It was fairly secluded, on a dead end loop. And there was a great view. But it turned out to be right by a popular foot trail with people out on a nice Sunday afternoon.

“Hi, how ya doin’?”

“Hi, how ya doin’?”

“Hi, how ya doin’?”

“Hi, how ya doin’?”

“Hi, how ya doin’?”

I can take only so much neighborliness, folks.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

To higher ground

Trona Pinnacles is in the Searles dry lake bed. It’s where rain runs on the rare occasions it falls in the region. The washes can flood and the hard packed soil can turn soft. The forecast said there was a small chance of thunderstorms, and having passed some axle-deep ruts in the road from someone else’s misadventure, I figured it would be wise to head for higher ground. Like Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills. The chance of rain was even greater there, but at least it’s not at the bottom of a basin.

Besides, it’s just a really neat place. The photo at the top of the blog was shot there. That’s 14,505' high Mount Whitney in the background. It’s probably the most dramatic view you can get of the Sierras without actually climbing them.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Van alternative

Off to Trona Pinnacles

It has been two years since I was last on the eastern side of the Sierras. This time I figured I’d start with a place I’ve somehow never gotten around to.

Trona Pinnacles a BLM-administered area east of Ridgecrest CA. To quote the BLM:
The unusual landscape consists of more than 500 tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, rising from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake basin. The pinnacles vary in size and shape from short and squat to tall and thin, and are composed primarily of calcium carbonate (tufa). The Trona Pinnacles have been featured in many commercials, films, and still-photo shoots.
What the BLM doesn’t say (and I’m falling off the No-complaining May wagon here) is that the 6-mile unpaved road from the highway is a wretched stretch of washboard and potholes. I know public land budgets are tight, but are there a few bucks to run a grader through here once in a while? Sigh.

But, back to the positive, it’s a cool place, very quiet, and the camping is free. Oh, and it was warm enough to stand outside in just shorts to take star photos.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Why I dislike buying gas in California

Well, yeah, the prices are higher because of state taxes, but I can live with that. Somewhat.

No, what bugs me the most are these nozzle hoods. They’re supposed to keep gas fumes from the atmosphere, but about one time out of three, they just make it hard to get gas into my tank. I have to find just the right magic angle to keep the pump from shutting off. And that means I have to hold the nozzle in place all the time it’s pumping. But sometimes even that won’t work. There have been times the pump shut off every couple of seconds, and I’ve gotten so frustrated that I just settled for quart or so of fuel and driven off to a different gas station.

Maybe I should keep a screwdriver handy so I can loosen the hose clamp and slide the hood from the nozzle. No one would notice, right?

At the bottom of the Sierras

Rather than risk running into a closed pass over the Sierras and needing to backtrack, I looped around the southern end.

That brings me to a free camping area on Isabella Lake. The last time I was through here it was in the middle of a long hard drought and the lake was nearly dry—like so many in the region. But now it’s back up to something close to normal, even with a disappointing snowpack this year.

It’s Friday morning and I need to find a place before the weekenders start swarming the area, taking up all the good spots. There are some officially designated free dispersed camping areas along the highly restricted Kern River.

I’m going to take a look and see if any of the sites appeal to me. I won’t expect solitude if I stay the weekend. And I doubt there's a cell signal in the canyon. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Big trees, low clouds

As I drove up to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, I knew it wouldn't be a day for grand vistas and travel brochure photos. But being up in the clouds added a bit of, oh, mystic atmosphere.

A tip: if you're going to a popular spot (like the General Grant sequoia pictured above) and you want a little solitude, get there really early. When I arrived at 7:15 AM there were only three other cars in the parking lot. By the time I left, the lot was nearly full.

The ogre emerges from hiding

Not excellent

Is that a low number or a high number? Whichever, I passed the night without incident.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

In the foothills of the foothills

Yesterday I crossed the San Joaquin Valley to begin exploration of the western Sierras. In the process, I learned not to overdo online searching for campgrounds.

My easily befuddled brain had the name of one campground mixed with the location of another, causing me to wander down several narrow, badly paved, dead end roads. It didn’t help that I was on the fringes of cell service and couldn’t look anything up.

I finally got straightened around and got a waterfront campsite in a nearly empty state campground.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

New roads

After spending a night, a day and another night in nearly 100 percent humidity, it was time to move someplace much drier.

I’ve traveled up and down US-101 and Highway 1 many times. What could I do instead? I looked at the map. Hmmm, what about these farm roads that parallel 101 farther inland, running past the east entrance to Pinnacles National Park(Not to be confused with Trona Pinnacles.) Sure, why not?

This is unglamorous, un-trendy, nearly unpopulated California. This is no-rush California. It’s what I needed today. That and no fog.

Friday, May 11, 2018

White on white: super stealth mode

Yesterday my boondocking spot was above the low coastal fog. This morning the fog came up to keep me company. Not much of a view, but it's great for privacy and for minimizing spring pollen.

Thank you, fellow wanderers

I love the California coast, but it’s almost impossible to find free and legal boondocking. That’s why I depend on the suggestions of users. The pickings are slim along the coast, but there are some gems, like this spot on a ridge overlooking San Luis Obispo.

National Forest, decent (but narrow) dirt road, excellent solar exposure and cell reception, and free.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Making the best of it

I've written a out the van-rocking desert winds. And I've written about driving in strong side-winds that try to tip me over or blow me off the highway. But sometimes wind can be good. Wind turbines, for example. Or the kite surfers at Jalama Beach. Big wind, big fun.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Another little thing

I ran out of wiper fluid the other day. So I got a gallon this morning and filled the reservoir. Then I discovered why I was out of fluid.

On the positive side, two different people pointed out the puddle and, thinking it might be a radiator leak, asked if I needed any help.

At least I was able to clean some of the grime from the windshield before all the fluid leaked out.