An unusually mild February

WHUFU Trip: 395 | 0

When I don’t have to be any particular place any particular time it’s sometimes hard for me to get going. I walked over to the barber shop on Tuesday in preparation for a trip where there would be no showers available for the whole six days. As it turned out, this is not the trip I took, but it is the one I thought I was doing on Tuesday.

After the haircut I was going to go home and pack and leave tomorrow.

Nope.

After haircut I called my friend Ed. We met for a happy hour beer which became two beers, and because this place has happy hour till 7, at 6:58 he talked me into that fatal third happy hour beer. That was a dumb move. I didn’t feel like packing when I got home. I slept poorly. ==> I got started on my day very late on Wednesday.

But as the day wore on I felt more human. I packed. I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, and I went to bed shiny and ready to roll on Thursday for a six night trip. Home for First Thursday of course!

Thursday (Feb 27) 

I was still feeling bright and shiny when daylight rolled around, so I am absolutely going to hit the road today! Get started 10-ish, quite early for me, left around 11:30. Pick up a salad and sando from the deli, return a library book, and I’m ready for breakfast! I had a big chorizo omelette at Big Eds. I had a propane FAIL at the Sparks U-Haul, I got my tank filled there five years ago, but all of a sudden today, they didn’t have the right hose fitting. I hate it when people lie to your face. It wasn’t a pleasant encounter.

East out of town on I-80, to the cut-off on on USA Parkway, a big four lane road that didn’t even exist on a map four years old. In Yerington I try the AirGas supplier for propane. They couldn’t do it, but pointed me right across the road to the old-timey lumber and hardware store, which fixed me right up! Woo! I’ve got heat tonight! Also scored a sweet pair of reversible white work gloves! This is gonna be a good trip!

South on US 95 through prosperous Mason Valley until I join the wide Walker River Valley and follow it to where the Walker River ends at good ole Walker Lake.

Sportsman's Beach Walker Lake:  

Pretty, spectacular view down the length of Walker Lake. You can hear the neverending semis on US 95, but they are pretty far up the hill.

You come to the main campground first. I find out later this is the only unlocked bathroom. It's nice enough, but the sites are not level. After you wind down a few more hundred feet, past the boat ramp, there are more camp sites, a couple of which are nice and level. If only the bathroom door was unlocked...

tonight:

For some reason my phone says "Out of Service LTE" this time. I think that means I can use it a little. WTF!!

Lower level (where I stay) was pretty busy, five campers total. All gone by 9 am.

Sportsman's Beach Campground, Walker Lake, before everyone else arrived.

I parked on the row of individual shade structure campsites at the bottom of the hill as always. There was one camper further down near the bathroom (closed!) so I chose the one farthest uphill of course. Fat lot of good it did me, two more campers showed up and took the ones nearest me. The second annoyingly parked so their headlights shone into my van when they annoyingly turned them on a couple of times after dark.

Southward view later in the evening.

I took an evening walk in the form of a hike up the hill to the only bathroom that’s unlocked. It wasn’t a long walk, but it was very aerobic, because it’s a steep, big hill. First part of the walk was to drop by the pay kiosk and do my duty. I do not have my Senior Card card! My Senior Card and my Nevada Museum of Art card have peacefully shared the same slot in my wallet for 8 years, since there is no situation where I will need both at the same time. Really, it’s a miracle haven’t messed this up until now.

It’s very cheap to stay here, $6 regular, $3 for me. So the high road would be to just pay the extra three dollars but that’s not how I roll. I entered a 9 digit number that was my best guess at the real number.. This will be my only time federal campground on this trip, so no big deal.

Friday 

8:30 am: I look down the row, and all three of my RV neighbors are gone. I have the row to myself. Awesome!

From my site I can see the road towards Hawthorne for miles and miles snaking along the west side of the lake. It’s fun at night, the headlights behave almost like jetliners in the sky, they’re so far away they barely move. Anyway, as I’m puttering around this morning trying to recall the Tai Chi form I notice these huge lines of cars, first going one direction, then the other. You, the astute reader, probably get this immediately, but in the moment I did not. So I was surprised when I got o the top of the hill and there was a flagman at the highway.

I was right at the north end of the work area. The flagman told me to wait, but the pilot car told me to follow him as he u-turned, so I lucked out!! I lead the parade of 30 or so cars and trucks on down the lake and into Hawthorne. Woo!

My phone has been saying “Out of Service” since yesterday afternoon. I don’t yet know what that means, but it doesn’t sound good. I leaned later it’s not a big deal for normal use, but for right now I really wanted wifi so as to not stress my usage numbers. There was a great little place called Mr Beane’s in the middle of Hawthorne, such as it is. Looked like a drive-thru, but there was actually a place to sit inside with two little tables, and their wifi was very good.

I spent a long time there, essentially replanning the trip! Turns out the weather is going to be pretty crappy on Sunday. Quite nice before and after, but there’s a 36 hour stretch centered on Sunday evening where 3-6 inches of snow is forecast over much of the state. The Berlin-Ichthyosaur plan involves 50 miles of gravel road, and I ain’t doing that in dicey weather! I do not want to be sleeping up some deserted canyon and wake up with six inches of snow. Yes I am risk averse in my old age.

Not totally sure about the details of the trip, but I will drive to Tonopah tonight and figure it out.

Old Brewery Hostel:  

Hostel-style lodging in a cool-looking renovated brewery building behind the actual Mitzpah. Register in the hotel, walk out the back door and across the street and there you are.

tonight:

My room is just a bed and a nightstand. The bathroom is across the hall.

There is a shared kitchen/fridge. Shampoos and such are in a basket in the kitchen.

It's quite comfortable!

Someone came in late at night which made me realize how thin the walls are. Hard-soled steps in the hallway sounded like they were three feet away ... which they are, but the wall is supposed to muffle it!

Old Brewery Hostel, behind the Mizpah Hotel

The drive seemed long and tedious, and I was pretty tired by the time I got to Tonopah. Also, it was only 3 pm, so my usual plan of slwwping in the Banc Club parking lot seemed like a bleak prospect. I checked out the lodging possibilities and discovered that the Mizpah Hotel has a new hostel in an abandoned building out back!  $50 for a bed and a television (and wifi), with a bathroom across the the hall and a kitchen down the hall.

This is what passes for a side street in Tonopah.

I enjoyed my “hotel life” afternoon! Walked up the hill to the brewery, also owned by the hotel. Had the burnt ends appetizer and a coupla IPAs then took a slightly longer walk back. Stopped by the Bug Bar just to see what the heck it was. Very glad I did not have another beer, because I was bloated enough as it was for the evening.

Saturday 

Despite my best plans to the contrary, I could not fall asleep until 2:30 AM, so I did not get up before my 10:15 alarm, which I set so I could make it to breakfast at the Hotel. The breakfast itself is pretty average truth be told, but the china is very nice, the room and the cut glass windows are spectacular, and the coffee is high quality, so it’s a real treat for me to breakfast here. While here I called Caliente and made a reservation for tomorrow night. The room that worked so well for me last time, # 1 was available, so I’m pretty pleased!

US 6, snowcapped mountains and clouds made for great driving.

I musta gotten plenty of sleep, because today’s 3 hour drive just flew by, as compared to yesterday’s 2 hour drive, which was a grind. It was one of those wonderful weatherful days to drive across the desert. Dramatic gray cumulus clouds and snow on all the many mountain ranges. It makes the scenery more interesting, quite dramatic and gorgeous really.

Stay weird Rachel!

It’s pretty much straight east-west to the Warm Springs turn-off. Cross two mountain rages and two valleys, then on the far slope of the second one, US 6 heads northeast and Nevada 375 heads southeast. I take 375. The excitement of this part of the drive is Rachel NV and the Little Ale’Inn motel/bar/restaurant/trailer park/tourist trap combo.

When I left this morning the plan was to stay in Rachel. They allow free overnighting in the parking lot. But I got there around 2:30, and it just didn’t seem like a fun place to just hang for the rest of the day. The Mexican wedding party hanging out at the bar was pretty exciting, and was a great addition to the general weirdness of the place, but after consulting the map it struck me that the campsites at Upper Pahranagat Lake are a mere 15 miles off my route and only an hour away total, so let’s do that!

Upper Pahranagat Lake:  

Lovely campsites right off the busy highway, next to NWR water - either a small lake or a large pond. Idyllic except for the noise and headlights of the constant semis 300 yds away.

tonight:

Lucked into this excellent spot again!

I'd say maybe six of the thirteen spots are taken at 3:30 on the Leap Day.

It's a windy day and this exposed point is catching more than it's share of it. But preferable I think to being closer to the road dust.

In my van at my campsite at Upper Pahranagat Lake

The camping spots are spaced out along the east side of the lake, so I do the usual thing of driving to the farthest end to see what today’s options are … 10 mph to keep the dust down! The coolest spots at the far end were taken, but I did nail the excellent spot I had last time, good ole site 12. It’s own little side loop, where I can park away from the road dust, parallel to the lake so my front door looks right out over the water.

The stiff wind turned out to be a daytime thing. It died down around sunset but was back the next morning.

The campground road at Upper Pahranagat Lake

After settling in I put on my hiking boots and walked the lake loop, which my Pacer app says was about three miles. That’s a pretty good hike for decrepit old me. I decided to go clockwise this time, starting north towards the entrance and crossing the lake on the levee which defines its north edge. The last full rays of the setting sun were smack in my face as I did that, but I turned that lemon into lemonade by walking backwards and admiring the beauty of the last rays on the wintertime cottonwoods lining the lake. Really lovely.

So I walked the west side of the lake in that lovely light between the sun going behind the hills and actually setting. By the time I turned the southwest corner it was pretty much dark and I was hiking by the light of the waxing crescent moon. I sat outside back at the campsite to enjoy the stillness and the moon shadows

Sunday 

artful tree Upper Pahranagat Lake

What a great place to wake up! It’s windy again. Very hard to leave such a peaceful place.

The back lot at the Ash Springs Shell Station, my breakfast spot!

I had my stomach set for a fancy looking restaurant outside Alamo, but it was closed on Sunday, sigh. So I drive on a few more miles and have convenience store coffee and a pretty good brownie which I eat at the edge of the back lot. Pretty nice, really.

US 93 from Crystal Springs to Caliente is kind of mountainous and quite scenic, especially on a dramatically cloudy day like today. The weather is getting worse, just like the forecast said. There’s a few stray raindrops. My meal of the day is a mushroom burger at the downtown restaurant in Caliente. The place is kinda odd, but the burger was pretty good.

Caliente Hot Springs Motel:  

Recently re-opened, run by an earnest young couple for whom I wish nothing but the best.

You can get a rooms with your own tub, or for cheaper a regular room like mine, which is still quite nice, with a spacious kitchenette. With one of these rooms you can use the private tubs all evening.

There are four more or less identical private tubs to choose from. They are open to the public until 3pm after that they are solely for the use of us lucky lodgers. :)

You fill your tub from empty each time, so hygiene is pretty good, I think.

tonight:

So happy to be here again!

Scored room 1 again. The weather is blowing sleet, so having the van close is great.

Nevada Lodging Tax is a bitch 11% means! $85 becomes $94.35. :(

Great night to be in a motel room (with hot springs!).

I’m as excited as a kid at the gates of Disneyland! Arrive 2:30-ish. Get settled, then hit the tub. As described above, the soaking experience here is mostly in the filling of the tub, getting a great massage from the high pressure, very hot water. Super relaxing. Back to the room, bust pout a can of the good champagne :), warm the leftovers I brought from home in my microwave, move on to some Trader Joe’s box wine, and I’m in business!

Outside, it’s now snowing/sleeting in a pretty stiff wind. I lose tv reception for a half hour, I think because of snow on the dish. Run out of the room for a second soak CAREFULLY, because sidewalk is slick with ice. The grass is covered in about and inch of snow. Perfect night to be in a motel instead of the van. All that planning has worked out well!

Monday 

The road to Delamar.
Snow-covered Joshua branch

Breakfast at Caliente’s other restaurant. Yesterday’s restaurant was civilized and clean and had wifi. Today’s is grimy and truck stop-y and rough, but they DO serve breakfast all day, so they’re all right with me. Both had awful modern country music, which is just the pits, IMO.

The roads are perfectly dry and there is still beautiful snow cover on the sagebrush. I am giving thanks to the universe to be fortunate enough to be out here driving on this beautiful post-snow day!

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.

tonight:

Western edge of the lot again. Uneventful evening, just the way we like it! Cold and windy.

good morning from the Banc Club parking lot

Pull into Tonopah and go straight to the Brewery. That really is the only place in town that works for me for dinner. Beer and tv sports and wifi.

I am tucked into my spot at the edge of the Banc Club parking lot by 6:15.

Tuesday 

The last coupla times in Tonopah I’ve gone fancy in the morning, Pittman Cafe in the Mizpah Hotel, but I’m not feeling it today, so it’s back to casino breakfast for me! The Tonopah Station coffee shop has pretty good food and wifi.

Head out of town on US 95 North/US 6 East with the intention of spending my last night on Walker Lake again. A few miles down the road a sign that said “Bishop 125 miles” got me thinking about how close I am to good old US 395. I picked a spot where I had a little bit of phone reception and pulled over to reassess my situation:

  • The bad weather over, so it will be clear and not super cold.
  • CA 120 over the Mono Craters from the Nevada state line to 395 is usually closed in winter, but the Caltrans website sez it’s open! That is a very pretty and interesting drive.
  • Bridgeport, with it’s choice of two hot springs with free camping is about as close as Walker Lake and a lot more interesting.
    Looking more or less at the June Lake Loop from 120.
  • To top it all off, I realize looking at the map that the new highway through gigafactory-land makes following the East Walker River north an easier way home than following the West Walker!

It’s all clear now! At Coaldale, instead of turning north on 95 I keep on straight on 6 to the California border where I pick up beautiful CA 120 west to 395. I drive right past Benton Hot Springs, and give a thought to popping in to see if they’ve an open hot tub for tonight, but I’m liking my Bridgeport plan a lot, so I keep driving.

Travertine Hot Springs:  

There's a very nice tub at the parking lot, holds 1-3 folks - adjustable temp, great soak.

Down the hill is a travertine mound that starts with a pretty hot one person tub (109°-ish?) on the uphill side, which feeds into progressively cooler tubs as the water flows clockwise around the mound downhill. The last two have a spectacular view of the valley, but are too cool and have creepy stuff growing in them.

This place is too accessible from 395 and too well known. It's usually busy, and sometimes straight-up creepy with weirdos straight off the highway.

The camping spot is handy even without the hot springs.

When the hot springs road turns left, take a right and park at any of the several rough camping spots.

tonight:

So far, nobody camping but me.

I've been here an hour-ish, 4:30-5:30. Five vehicles have gone in, two have come out, so there ya go.

There's a moon tonight, so I'm looking forward to walking over there around sunset. Not particularly optimistic about what I'll find there.

west from my camping spot near Travertine

The roads seem clear enough that I could drive up to the lovely mesa above Buckeye Hot Springs, but Travertine is a lot closer and will be warmer in the morning, so I try that first. The camping area is deserted! I am very happy.

It was a very, very nice evening, a blessing in fact, considering what the world is like two weeks later. I ate and hung out, then after dark, 7-ish I got bundled up, put on my hiking boots and walked over to the springs. It was a LOT longer than I remembered, a mile and a half at least, but the moonlight, and the mighty Sierras across the valley in the moonlight make it pretty nice. There was one fellow in the tub at the parking lot. He had cross country skied in the moonlight last night and was getting in a soak on the way to Mammoth tonight. He left and I had it to myself for as long as I wanted. The walk back was awesome, and I slept very well.

Wednesday 

nice zoom of the mountains at Travertine

Bridgeport is pretty useless off season. The Sportsman’s Bar and Grille was closed. The so called bakery in the old house is always closed. Everything is closed except the Burger Barn. It’s very popular, and indeed the burger was very good.

As mentioned above, I did not continue up 395 for the standard drive home through Minden and Carson, rather I went up the east side of Bridgeport Reservoir on CA 182 and took a really pretty and restful drive up the East Walker Canyon. 182 becomes NV 338 at the state line and winds it’s way through hills and valleys to end up at Yerington, where I retrace my route from six days ago.

All in all a very nice little trip, and considering we are all now in Coronavirus hell for an indeterminate length of time, I am incredible glad and grateful that I took it.