Down US 95 to Goldfield

It’s the time of month when i start thinking about visiting the family in Petaluma, but they’ve got a lot going on so it’s not a good time to visit. Works for me, I am overdue for a little 395 adventure … which I haven’t done in awhile because I’m always going to Petaluma.

I’m gonna do a loop involving 395 one direction and 95 the other. The 95 corridor (western Nevada) is quite a bit hotter than the 395 corridor (eastern Sierras), so this time of year it seems sensible to do is clockwise – down 95 and back up 395. Typically I go all the way to Tecopa Hot Springs then west through Death Valley, but Death Valley has already closed most of its campgrounds for the summer, and good ole Bailey’s Hot Springs is closed for the year. It’s already in the 90’s down there. So I’m gonna do a shorter trip. At Tonopah, cut west on US 6 and catch up with 395 somewhere around Bishop. That’s the plan!

Wednesday (May 29) 

Starting this trip the heart healthy way at good ole Big Ed's

I planned to go yesterday, but just couldn’t get myself going. So I spent the first half of Tuesday packing and the second on a nice walk that took me past a couple of bars, where I drank a little too much. Oh well.

Finally got myself out the door at 2:30-ish, and made it to Big Ed’s before 3 pm closing time. Chicken fried steak is the thing there, but I decided to spend an extra dollar and go for the 8 oz steak and three eggs. That’s a lot of food, but it was very good! I also ordered a cold meatloaf sando to go. We’ll see what that’s like. I probably won’t get too hungry this evening after that giant meal, but … be prepared!

Doing this afternoon’s drive last year woulda taken me to Fernley then south, another 20-30 miles. But now the road through the giant industrial park – home of a huge Amazon shipping hub and the famed Tesla Gigafactory – is finished A brand new, already pretty busy four lane highway (Nevada 439) from I-80 to US 50 at Silver Spring. It’s not even on my 2017 Nevada state map! Silver Spring real estate would have been the thing to invest in five years ago.

Fort Churchill Campground:  

The real name of this place is Samuel Buckland Campground, but it's easier to just call it the campground at Fort Churchill.

The terrain is barren high desert hills for miles, except for this lovely belt of ancient cottonwoods along the Walker River.


Hanging out in the cottonwoods is restful and pleasant. This time of year there were billions of small flies that made it less restful and pleasant, but still ...

My happy home at Fort Churchill campground.

Fort Churchill itself is in the barren high desert hills. But its campground is down in the valley, in the lovely cottonwood grove that follows the (not) mighty Walker River. There is a powerful attraction to rivers in the desert. The Walker is a year-round river, so it sustains a two hundred yard belt of old-growth cottonwoods as it winds through the treeless hills from the Sierras to Walker Lake. [In a small plot twist, I will camp on the Walker again five days from now in the shadow of the Sierras on the way home.]

The Walker River is flowing pretty high.

There’s lots of chirping birds and woodpeckers, and unfortunately, billions of little flying bugs. I will call them mayflies, since they are flying and it’s May, but I think actual mayflies are bigger than these. This part of the world is still in the unsettled, scattered showers weather pattern we’ve been in for a month so the ground is damp and there is lots of standing water, which makes for an unusually severe bug situation.

There’s a little hike to the river on the map, but abot 150 yards in it got too swampy to continue. I went for a safer hike away from the river on higher ground. It was fun. The unsettled weather stayed unsettled, and I got caught in a pretty heavy downpour for a while. But I was in the trees and I had on my heavy coat. I stood with my back to the wind next to a tree which protected the bottoms of my legs and didn’t get too soaked.

The trail took me across the railroad tracks and eventually down to the river. On the way back I looped up to the bottom corner of the fort. Adobe withstands long soaking rains, but it does get kind of mushy.


Fort Churchill trail map. I did campground - Railroad Trail - up to Ruins and back.

It rained pretty hard through the night. All the splattered bugs on my windshield were washed off by morning! It’s a really pretty day … for now. The loudly chirping birds and the woodpeckers sound very cozy outside the van. But when I finally venture outside I find that the swarming creatures are still there. So it’s a perfect spring day, but really not that much fun to hang out. I’m outta here by noon.

Stop at the Visitors Center for a little knowledge on the place. It wasn’t really a fort as one usually thinks of it, with enclosing walls. It was just a row of barracks and support buildings around a quadrangle. A military presence to protect the Pony Express and the dumbass settlers and to project Federal power after the Civil War. The story of the settler-native dust-up (Pyramid Lake War) that caused them to build this is really, really sad and reflects very badly on the white folks.

Scattered thunderstorms on US 6 west of Tonopah.

Drive to Yerington. Have a so so bear claw and good coffee at a little bakery there, then on to Hawthorne. Did a drive-thru on the Sportsman’s Beach camping area for old times sake. My allotment of days for this trip means I can’t really stay here this time, but it sure is a cool spot!

Spectacular storm scenery after the intersection with US 6, more or less due east to Tonopah. Even a double rainbow!

Banc Club Casino:  

Finally, an easy place to stay in Tonopah! I guess it's been here all along, I just never noticed it. The Banc Club is a modest little building full of slot machines, and they have a large gravel parking lot next door with a sign that says RVs welcome! An easy walk to downtown Tonopah ... such as it is.


I parked on the western edge of the lot this time, which gives me a great view of the valley.

Phone reception was not good this time. Bad LTE that suddenly said "Off Network LTE", which doesn't sound good at all.

Tonopah Brewery was more uninspiring than I remembered, but it got the job done.Game 1 of the Finals is tonight. I’d forgotten, but suddenly there it was on the TV! Great to get to see the first half. Not so great that they lost the game. Also I really didn’t need that second IPA.

Back at the good ole Banc Club parking lot I planned to take a walk, maybe catch the end of the game at the Casino, but it started raining again and I lost momentum. I really should’ve, because all that barbecue and beer didn’t sit very well inside me and I slept very fitfully..


I got the cool table at the Mizpah Hotel

Beautiful, quiet morning in the parking lot. Even did the tai chi form! Treated myself to a fancy breakfast … actually a pretty average breakfast in a fancy place – patty sausage and eggs at the Mizpah Hotel! Very fun.

Joshua tree fruit in a cloudy desert

Another spectacular weather day driving through the desert! Sunny and clear for a while, driving downpour for a while. I bombed down US 95 through Goldfield with all the Vegas-bound people, then hung a right on NV 266. Much nicer to be off the busy road. I stopped to take pictures of some Yucca flowers (fruits?). Once I got out of the van and walked 20 yards to a Yucca I saw that there there were tons of things blooming – a coupla kinds of cacti and oodles of little, tiny flowers! What a great stop.

pincushion(?) cactus flowers
Over a minor mountain pass, drop into the surprisingly fertile and peaceful Fish Valley, past the Palmetto Ruins. The miners that set up here thought Joshua trees were palmettos so that’s what they called the town. I thought I’d never been on this road before, but I’ve stopped at these ruins, so evidently I have. I now recall that I took the less travelled path to cut off a corner on an earlier trip – instead of north on 95 and west on 6, I took this road, which goes due west for 40-ish miles then hooks north to meet US 6. Today at the hook instead of turning north I turn onto  a road I for sure have never been on, CA 166, up and over the Palmetto Mountains, then down and across Deep Creek Valley past an odd compound called Deep Creek College, then back up the White Mountains.
CA 168, coasting down from the White Mountains towards Big Pine.

As long as I was all the way up there, I took side trip into in Bristlecone Pine country, up to 9,200′ to a spectacular overlook of the Owens River Valley. It’s a really cool spot, but with my breathing as bad as it is nowadays, the 200 yard hike to the viewpoint was really taxing. Getting old sucks.

The drive down the mountain is VERY pretty – all of the Owens River Valley spread out before you. When I got phone reception I researched the very limited dinner options in Big Pine and chose the Country Kitchen. It wasn’t awesome, but it really wasn’t bad either. Got a Lagunitas draft and fish & chips and it was just fine. Then it was time for my date with disaster. A lawless Friday night campground too close to the highway and too close to LA – ground zero for motorized assholes.

Baker Creek Campground:  

Another Inyo County campground along one of those "Creeks" controlled by LA Water Authority. Dusty and low tech, but very pretty. If you come on a summer weekend you run the risk of real asshole neighbors.


Poor planning, I got here on a Friday night. It's very busy, crawling with kids and noisy trucks, and just now the loudest fucking ATV I ever heard. Real nice place other than that.

Now that it's over, I can say the other campers made this one of my top 5 worst campground experiences ever.

New check-in kiosk, takes a credit card and spits out your receipt. Doesn't even ask for a site number.

White Mountains backlit at Baker Creek.

The neighbors just cranked up the loudest ATV I have ever heard … and another. They’ve been past on the dirt road that loops around the campground four times now, raising a cloud of dust that blots out the mountains each time, an I hope they rot in hell.

There is a god! A little after sunset the asshole neighbors were still partying hard, kids yelling, some junior asshole banging endlessly on the empty ATV carrier because it makes a loud noise and and if their parents are assholes they let them do it. Then, as if answering a prayer I hadn’t actually made, a short but intense downpour rolled through. Enough to put all the assholes inside their asshole trailers for the night – wonderful!


Black Sheep Coffee, Bishop.

Sadly however it did not rain again, and assholes gonna asshole, so around 7:15 in the morning they cranked up the first ATV. God I despise those people. I stuck my head outside a little later and the entire row of campers on my side, five groups harmless, quiet fishermen and families, were all gone. By 7:45 on Saturday morning! The nice couple in a bus with two little girls and a dog that had peacefully set up where the assholes were before they got there, also gone.  The odds are pretty good that most of those folks planned on spending the weekend there, but just couldn’t hang with the noise and dust and general asshole-ism. They probably paid for two nights, but decided to walk away from the $14 rather than have a whole weekend of all this crap.

I was trying to nap around 9:30 when mariachi music so loud I thought it was right next to me started up. That was it, I was at Black Sheep Coffee 20 minutes later. F— all the grown-ups and teenage ATV drivers in that pathetic lot, and I hope life treats them they way they treated us.