A hummingbird just flew into the van! Now that’s a first! There’s a little bit of a cold breeze, and my slightly sick self felt better hanging out in the van with the door open than out at the picnic table, and all of a sudden there’s this kind of compression in the air, like a tiny helicopter flying by, and it was a hummingbird, two feet from my face, doing its hover thing for a three count, then poof! it’s gone! I’m trying to think what could’ve smelled enticing to a hummingbird, and I’m not coming up with anything, but it DID happen!
Southwestern Las Vegas is even more outta control than last time. The Blue Diamond Highway was seven lanes wide going my direction – really! Four lanes of straight ahead, one lane of right turn and two lanes of left turn. This is even more fucked up than the streets of suburban Florida, which faithful readers will know I despise with the heat of a thousand suns. Although I guess two left turn lanes helps the basic problem, which is everybody else waiting for the left turners.
I headed straight for Holly’s Cuppa as I have every time through here for the last few years. Today is it’s very last day of operation! Sad news for me. Not necessarily for them, they’ve opened a new spot somewhere else in this wasteland. What will I do next time?
Albertson’s for a couple of meals worth of food, then diesel before I hit California prices, and I’m ready to meet the Mohave Desert.
Odd place. Separate bathhouses for men and women, nudity required. Camping is available in glorified parking lot across the road overlooking the settlement pond.
No potable water, must drive a couple of miles for that. Really interesting salt flats area at the edge of town. In the last couple of years a pair of restaurants have opened. And breweries!
Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend, and it's very uncrowded. So you just never know!
I had Section L to myself, that corner of the lot looking out over the pond.
I gotta say, this stretch of getting from Santa Fe to San Rafael has worked out really, really nicely. Instead of new adventures I decided to plug into a chain of stops that I know very well: Las Vegas Bay to Tecopa Hot Springs to Death Valley to Lone Pine. After Lone Pine I will do something new, but for these few days I’ll be in familiar places where I know how to work it.
Today, I did the Leaving Las Vegas thing, going from suburban insanity to desert nothingness in about ten minutes. An hour or so later I arrive at Tecopa. This is Saturday, and the parking lot was busy when I arrived, so I feared it would be crowded in the tubs, but not so as it turns out. I paid for my campsite and went straight into the soaking tubs. I was looking forward to the shower even more than the soak. My last shower was six and a half days ago – last Sunday morning in far away Alamosa CO. The feeling of clean was awesome, then the soak in the healing waters was sooooo soothing.
The check-in guy hooked me up with a spot in the L section, which is the small area in the southwest corner of the large parking lot that is the camping area. I like it because I always like being on the edge, and it has a picnic table and a great sunset view across the pond and the wide valley.
A little before sunset I head down to the salt flats for what I think will be a moonlight walk, but again I don’t wait long enough for the moon, so instead I have a walk in the very dark. It was very fun anyway, there’s enough ambient light to not walk off the highway, the only not awesome part is when cars come. Even that is kinda cool, looking away and watching he shadows the headlights make on the salt flats. I’m sure they’re a little surprised to see a random old man wandering down the road in the dark, but this close to the hot spring they probably don’t think much of it.
Anyway, I walk back … still no moon, walk past the brewery back to my spot in the corner of the parking lot, pick up my laptop and walk back to the Brewery and have a little Saturday night party time in the form of a beer, a bowl of their excellent chili and watch the Warriors game. Walk back to the van then back to the bathhouse for another soak.
Luxuriate in the heat of the morning for a while, the batten down the van for another day’s driving. Start ‘er up, then drive 200 yards to the pools for one more soak. It was me and six Japanese guys this morning.
Then drive to Shoshone. There’s a diner there, but it just doesn’t do if for me, so I got expensive coffee at the mini-market and drove to the edge of Death Valley to drink it and nibble on my goodie collection. I’m taking the back way into the park, entering at the southeast corner and coming up through Badwater. This s a great time of year to visit. As good as the Spring weather-wise, but there are no wildflowers.
Badwater is a trippy place. Lowest point in the continental US as you probably know. Coming in from the back was it is a little jarring to have seem literally one car in the last 80 miles, then to round the bend and come upon a large, busy parking area – maybe 30 vehicles and 60-ish people spread out on the flats. Badwater is a very distinctive, unique salt marsh environment, and they allow people to walk out into the middle of it for the experience. To me, the image is like a impressionist crowd scene.
Another 30 miles of driving to the Artists Point turnoff. Artists Point is is a one way road south to north for about five miles parallel to the main road. As it happens I am going south to north and am in no rush today, so let’s do it!
Even on a mild day like today, Death Valley is very tiring and longer than you think. I pull in at in the only place in 100 miles with phone reception, Furnace Creek, to plan the four nights I have between now and van repair. The plan had been to stay here tonight, but it’s early and I ain’t feeling Death Valley today, so I am pressing on to Panamint Springs.
Only thing going between Lone Pine and Death Valley. It looked a lot more alluring when driving past than it does now that I'm staying here. Maybe when I get a beer and hang out on the veranda I'll like it better. It does have showers!
Register at the gas station, not the restaurant as you might expect.tonight:
The nice area with a little bit of shade that used to be tent sites is now tent cabins.
The new tent area is a little further back with now shade at all. Not a problem today.
There is supposedly wifi here, but it's terrible.
Register and get my assigned site, pull into my rough little gravel area. Should be eating leftovers, but decide to go over to the restaurant.
This is a dusty, shabby-around-the-edges place, but it seems pretty well run with better prices than one usually gets in the middle of nowhere. For instance, the bar has a very large selection of bottled craft beers, and they’re all $4, which is way better than you would expect, in both selection and the price. My fish n chips was pretty good. The wifi was unusable so I did not have a second $4 beer.
I explored my rocky campground a bit in the morning. My notes from the previous stay here say there are showers, so I walk over to the bathroom, and sure enough, there are! I couldn’t make the water come on, but am not in dire need, so I didn’t worry about it. The bathroom for the new tent area cracked me up. Looks like an old-fashioned outhouse, right? But no, it is a pretty nice flush toilet, in that tiny little box. Very odd.
Out of Panamint going west you drive straight uphill for like eight uninterrupted miles then you follow a high plateau to the eastern edge of the wide Owens Valley and the giant dust bowl that used to be Owens Lake before LA stole all their water (see: Chinatown). Usually I’ve been driving since at least Stovepipe Wells, so I’m kinda burnt out by the time I get here, but today I am fresh as the proverbial daisy and really enjoying the scenery changes.
Drive straight to good ole Lone Pine Bistro, my go-to Lone Pine coffee + wifi spot. I must have been here 6 or 8 times over the years. There’s another breakfast place that gets good reviews, but they don’t have wifi, and the one time I went they seemed too full of themselves to give good service, so I will stick to the Bistro thank you.
So I stockpiled 2-3 dinners in anticipation of no services in the desert, but s it happened, there was a nice little restaurant nearby for the last two nights, so I need to eat my leftovers. Stop at the Vis Cen with the amazing LA Water District relief map and revisit my Italian leftovers from Kingman. Man that seafood pasta was good!
the going over the southern end of the. Glad I did it, nothing like I thought it would be
The weather gods are allowing for a new adventure today – crossing the Sierras on Route 178 through Lake Isabella. It’s the only paved road crossing the mountains between Yosemite and Tehachapi Pass. It’s always been too wintery or too hot or too something, so I’ve never done it until now! Glad I did. It was nothing like I imagined it would be. I was picturing pine trees and an alpine setting. But in fact Lake Isabella is a sad dusty puddle amidst cottonwoods and sagebrush and a lot of dirt.
Continue south from Lone Pine as if to go to So Cal. I stop at the Visitors Center with the giant relief map because I can’t get enough of that map. Continue on 395 south past Fossil Falls, a BLM geological spot with campground. Leave 395 and take Route 14 past Indian Wells (where I did spend the night one snowy evening eight years ago).
Not too long after Indian Wells my new adventure starts, a left on Route 178. No too exciting at first, head up into the first set of foothills, up to about 4,000′ elevation, and there are Joshua trees. Continue on into the dry hills and there are lots and lots of Joshua trees, thicker on the ground than I have ever seen Joshua trees anywhere, including Joshua Tree National Park! The Mohave Desert ecozone around 4,000′ seems to be their sweet spot. There were a few on route 190 west of Panamint earlier today, but this is a ridiculous amount of Joshua trees. It would not be easy to walk through them they are so thick. Soon enough I must have driven out of the Joshua tree’s Happy Zone, because they were no more.
Then was a long, dry valley around the town of Canebreak, where the cottonwood trees were still in pretty nice fall foliage. As I said, I was imaging a cool, alpine setting for Lake Isabella, so I kept waiting for the pine trees to appear, but they never did. The lake was very disappointing. The campgrounds around it were closed, it was small and not pretty in any way. Frankly, except for the Joshua trees and the very pretty cottonwoods in fall foliage, this route was a letdown. But at least now I know!
After the lake 178 follows the Kern River down its canyon to Bakersfield and the Central Valley. 178 follows the north side of the river. There’s a point at which you can take a left on Kern Canyon Road and takes a much slower and curvier route to the bottom on the south side. That side has hot springs. so at a different point on this trip I might’ve gone that way. I visited these springs once with a nerd crew from Autodesk … 20 years ago? I remember they were kind of hard to get to, and the other people there were very sketchy, kind of hair-trigger creepy in fact, so I took a pass on that experience at this time.
The Kern River originates in Lake Isabella, and I have followed it from there all the way down the mountain to the Great Valley. Then after losing it and wandering through the suburbs of Bakersfield I end up camped right next to it for the evening tonight:
Quite a nice place, despite the $8 "registration fee". Peaceful and quiet and quite close to Bakersfield. Very pleased to be here.tonight:
$12 to camp off season, $8 registration fee. God I hate those fees.
Check in procedure here was a very annoying machine, but once settled, it’s a really, really nice place. Beautiful grounds, spacious, level camping pads right on the Kern River. The trees are a little past peak fall color, but there’s a great variety of them and it’s really pretty.
This morning’s coffee spot was poorly chosen and poorly executed – i.e. I got lost and wasted time trying to find it, then it sucked when I finally got there.
I chose it because it was in my part of the suburbs, so I didn’t have to go into downtown Bakersfield, whatever that is. The drive there was an interesting disaster, I took the back way with the idea that I would follow the Kern River, which worked for a while, but what Maps thought was a road through the hills had become a gated bike path. So I ended up driving an extra five miles that took me along the interface of prosperous Bakersfield suburbs on the hill and the endless oil fields on the flats to the north … sort of interesting …
It used to be a Peets, but now it’s part of a church. Everything about it was weird. Walking into it was weird – the door was 200′ fro the parking for no good reason. Everything with a name was still Peets, the wifi server, the password. And there was nobody there. A few dudes walked through – dudes with very strong “I am an important person” asshole vibe about them. The goodies were bad, the coffee was very average, the wifi did not work, and they had Fox News on the tv. Just bad vibes all around. The barrista was nice enough in a Stepford-y way until I told her I never return to a place it Fox News is playing there, then she got a little frosty.
Now I wish I had braved the mean streets of Bakersfield for a real coffee place. At least it was close to 178, from which it was easy to hop onto Route 99, where I would spend the rest of the day, putting int my time and going through those familiar Valley names – Bakersfield, Visalia, Fresno, Merced, Turlock, Modesto. It was not a bad drive today. Very long, yes, but the road was smooth and the big rigs where just run-of-the-mill terrifying, not aggressive and stressful and even threatening as they occasionally are. I stopped at a couple of rest areas, fed myself at a McD’s, and wasn’t really that tired.
I did run out of daylight however. A little after Manteca but before Stockton I took a left on good ole 120, the road that crosses the Tioga Pass. Today I’m following it the other direction a few miles to cut over to I-5 to exit at the little town of Lathrop. It was a little jarring. At the exit, there’s a stoplight and a the usual exit services (such as tomorrow’s Starbuck’s). Take a left under the freeway and … I’m on a deserted two lane country road!
A very handy, odd little campground. Two miles off of I-5, right up against the (quite tall) levee on the San Joaquin River. You can see and the interestate far off in the distance across the farmland.tonight:
Shower available for 2 hours in the morning and 2 in the evening. Other times they turn the water off.
Drive a couple of miles of nothing, then there is a HUGE complex on the left. The is Lathrop High. It’s quite dark but still very early, and the stadium was lit up for I’m guessing football practice. After not much more than another mile of nothing then I am at a funny little county park. It appears to be out in the middle of a field for no reason, but it turns out the San Joaquin River is dead ahead.
I take a loop, then come back and pull into the first empty campsite. When I get out to pay my fee, it’s quite a small area so I walk the loop and decide a place at the far end, facing out into the fields is a much better bet, so I write my check, slip it into the pay box, and move to the better place.