Very, very, very cold weather sends me south

Monday (Oct 28) 

It is COLD in the morning. It was supposed to get down to 8°, but Wunderground says it actually only got down to a mere 12°, which is still cold enough to scare me into moving to Plan B.

When I go out to the van: my water bottles are frozen, the sink faucet is frozen solid. There’s a very good chance my water system is fucked. I won’t know until it thaws out, at which point there will either be water leaking everywhere from driver’s side of the back of the van (where the water tank is), or there won’t. We’ll see …

Putter around until 11 (of course), then drive downhill five blocks to The Grind, a really, really nice coffee shop near the University that I stumbled upon two years ago. I order a goodie, a sandwich and coffee and settle in with the internet to make a final decision on whether to go west or south. The frozen water system was the decider, south it is! Head for the low desert for the next two nights – the really cold nights – then head back up towards Mammoth for the slightly less cold nights before I make my dash to Petaluma. I am sad to miss Benton Hot Springs and Caliente Hot Springs, but at least I can console myself with Tecopa Hot Springs, my old reliable.

I was so in my head thinking about all these weighty choices that I walked out of the Grind without my laptop. I’d put it back in its case, leaned it in a chair, took my cup and plate to the bussing station, and just … kept walking right out the door. DUH! Never done that before. When I get stressed I start forgetting things. Later today at my camping spot I discovered that yesterday I drove away from Mystic Hot Springs without my doormat. Like I say, I get preoccupied …

Anyway, the relatively good news is that I figured this out a mere 20 minutes into the drive down I-15 South. I pull into a rest stop to plug the laptop so it will be powered tonight, and … no laptop! I called Grind and they had it, so no harm done except for the 40 miles and 45 minutes of my life to drive back and get it. It was a pain, but not nearly the pain it would have been if I’d driven two hours before noticing.On the other hand, I would have avoided the drama entirely if I’d done what I almost always do – plug the laptop back in as soon as I get back to the van. But that’s where the weather stress comes in.

By the time I get to St George the weather has warmed a bit. St George is a pretty big (and not very attractive) city, the biggest thing going in southwest Utah. The Virgin River comes out of the Zion National Park area heading southwest towards the Colorado River and defines the path of I-15 for the next forty miles or so. Not long after St George we enter the quite spectacular Virgin River Canyon, where I-15 clips a little corner of northwest Arizona between Utah and Nevada.

After the surprisingly large town of Mesquite NV, I leave I-15 at exit 63 with the idea of following the length of Lake Mead from its eastern end to good ole to Las Vegas Bay. However once I am off the freeway and on the access road I am reminded that I’m driving through Overton, which has a county Wildlife Refuge with camping. I stopped and checked it out. The camping area wasn’t very big, seemed to be full, and it wasn’t really that awesome anyway once I looked around. So the heck with that! The next place in my memory is Valley of Fire State Park, so onward to there. But on the way I drove through a huge boondocking area on the mesa above Overton. It has always looked strangely inviting when I drove past, but it was always early in the day after camping elsewhere. This time it’s the end of the day and I am quite ready to stop, so boondocking it is!

Overton dispersed:  

Allstays calls this Poverty Flats, and the area across the road Snowbird Mesa. That's too cheesy for me. They both are large, flat parking areas, one on each side of Nevada 169 about 4 miles south of Overton. Evidently anybody can park wherever they want for as long as they want. It's very nice!

tonight:

I've driven past this impressive array of parked RVs before, but it's never been the right time of day to stop. Today it is. I'm on the north side of the road (on the right heading towards Lake Mead), at my favorite spot, on the edge, facing away from the sunset with a great view of the valley below. So happy everybody else left this spot for me.

Nice zoom on the mountains behind Poverty Flats

Poverty Flats as the boondocking area is called, turns out to be an entirely awesome place to stay overnight. I am glad to be stopping. This has been an exhausting day. Having to backtrack part of the day to recover my laptop didn’t help, but mostly it was the uncertainty of changing plans and worrying about the water system … which, since I am mentioning it, has thawed out and seems just fine! My faucet is no longer frozen in place, the water system works and there is no water seeping under the edges to indicate a busted pipe, so I think I dodged a bullet – yay!

I get good phone reception here, so I mapped out the final few days of the trip. Weather is mild down here, but the plan is still to drive across the Sierras over the Tioga Pass, and the weather apps say it will still be pretty brutal up towards Mammoth and Lee Vining, so I need to figure out how to attack it.

This is where I noticed that I no longer have my outdoor doormat … I can picture it outside the van door at Mystic., and I guess I just drove off in the morning without it. Sigh …

Tuesday 

Good morning near Overton!

This morning was another episode of me ignoring what my mapping app trying to tell me and being sorry layer. It showed only two choices for getting to Las Vegas: driving along Lake Mead or backtracking through Overton to I-15. On the map there is another route which looks clearly preferable to either – taking a right through Valley of Fire and cutting off the corner. Why drive back through Overton?! Well, the very good reason it turns out, is that you must pay the $10 state park admission fee to take the road. I was annoyed, but only mildly. Donating $10 to the State Park system ain’t such a bad thing.

Anyway, my ten dollar toll road did provide one small validation – the road goes right past the state park campground, and it seems to have been full last night! So I did the right thing when I stopped at Poverty Flats!

So $10 poorer, I pick up I-15 and motor on into Vegas. Vegas is so effing huge and spread out and the traffic lights are so endless that you really do need to have a plan of where you’re going or you could wander forever. The coffee place I lucked into years ago – Holly’s Cuppa – shut down two weeks after I was here last, so I need a new plan. I found another place called The Cuppa, for which Holly’s was named I guess. I made my way there – stay on I-15 straight through the middle of the city, past the downtown casinos, to west on the 215, to only a couple of blocks of city streets. The setup was weird. The coffeeshop itself was pretty normal, but the building was a really strange sort of upscale shopping area that was hard to figure out. Vegas is weird.

I decided to pick up dinner in the form of chicken from a Hawaiian BBQ place that looked nearby on Yelp. My opinion of Vegas traffic planning was validated again when I needed two left turns on huge avenues to get there, even though it’s only a 1/3 of a mile away on my block. I filled up on diesel before the desert on the way out of town, then got the hell outta that crazy place.

There was road construction on Nevada 160 on the way up the hill to Mountain Springs, but otherwise it was an easy and very familiar drive out of suburban busy-ness to the utterly empty Mohave desert. When I got to Tecopa I gave passing thought to stopping by the brewery near the junction on the way to my campground, but they’re still on my bad list for not serving me BOTH times I’ve tried to go there, so the heck with them. Onward two more miles to:

Tecopa Hot Springs:  

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!

tonight:

You never know how check-in will work out here. This time they are completely mellow, run my card, give me a pass and a parking tag and say "park anywhere you want on that side" - awesome!

It's very windy here ... it often is. The bbq place with wifi is closed for "staffing issues". Bummer. Won't get today's podcasts until at least Death Valley.

Registering here has been an annoying hit or miss experience the last few years. Today it was super simple and straightforward. The two fellows in the tiny office I think were the same guys from last time, so I guess they’ve figured this thing out! They charged me the minimum no-hookup rate and said park anywhere you want in that parking lot, which is the way it used to be and the way it should be!

In the course of chatting I found that the hot springs is indeed still owned by Inyo County Parks. Inyo County is huge –  I will drive 200 miles tomorrow and still be able to camp in another Inyo County campground tomorrow night. This particular park is administered by a private concessionaire, BUT these fellows are unpaid volunteers! I guess living out here rent-free is a pretty good deal if you can afford food.

I did a drive-by the Delight’s restaurant (with wifi) before settling in for the night, and was very sad to see a sign saying they have a staffing emergency and are closed tonight and tomorrow. :(  (spoiler: it worked out just fine!)

The weather has been mild and unremarkable all day, but when I crossed the parking lot and parked at my favorite spot by the lone tree and picnic table, it was suddenly quite windy. This changed my camping calculation a bit. There’s no point in parking for the best spot for opening the door and enjoying the outside when it’s too windy to open the door. So I parked at the best wind-shielding angle and took a swing at the Hawaiian chicken I bought back in Vegas in the closed-up van.

I walked over for an afternoon soak, then again a few hours later for an after dark soak. Both times most of my fellow bathers were middle-aged Japanese dudes. In the afternoon there was one young anglo – nice fellow! An there’s always a couple of the too-talkative older white guys who come out of the desert and think everyone needs to hear their thoughts on everything. We boomers really do suck.

By the time I returned after the second soak, the van was shaking with the wind. It was that way all night! My typical bedtime ritual is to open of the van door one last time to pee and throw out my toothbrush water. I literally could not do it because of the wind.

A stiff wind is not exceptional at all out here. But it’s never been scary like it was last night. I had parked right on the edge of the lot as always, since the unbroken view of the valley and the privacy make that the cool place to be. I was rocked to sleep by the van getting buffeted by the gusts. Somewhere in the middle of the night I tried to open the door to check it out, and almost couldn’t. I was so disconcerted that I cranked up the van 3:30 in the morning and move 40 feet into the parking lot. That wasn’t particularly rational, and I don’t think it made much difference, but I did sleep through the rest of the night.