Monday August 31 – one night camping
I am memorializing this night because it is the first time I have stayed in the van since COVID. It was the only night of the trip that was WHUFU-worthy. The rest of the trip was visiting family. It was a weird trip, up to the standards of awfulness I have come to expect from 2020. After a couple of days in San Rafael getting a van service, I went up to Petaluma to hang with the family. Saturday it was 108°, Sunday and Monday it hit 111°. The heat wave broke on Monday night, but when I woke up on Tuesday the air was pleasantly cool, but the sky was unpleasantly orange. It was still that way when I left on Thursday.
I had planned to camp a few days on the way home, but when it was time to leave the air was terrible all the way from Portland to San Diego. On Wednesday (Sep 6) the Forest Service shut down every campground in California due to the historically widespread and terrible wildfires. So I just went straight home on I-80.
I followed my usual pattern of dithering and not quite leaving for a couple of days, so that by the time I actually do leave I am pretty prepared and get on the road without a lot of fuss. I was on the road by 2-ish and got to Hampshire Rocks by 4-ish. I wanted to get there early because this is the Monday before Labor Day, still theoretically peak season. I was worried there’d be no spaces, but no problem, there were many. I still managed to get one next to a noisy dog.
At the Rainbow Road exit off I-80. On the South Yuba River.
Super nice place, even if the freeway is 200 yards away.
If you're familiar with the CA to Reno run, there's a place where I-80 crosses some beautiful rapids. This is about ½ mile downstream from that.tonight:
Every campsite has a reserved sign, but most are reserved for later in the week
So as it turns out I've got plenty of choices for a one night stand on Monday.
Site 8 has it's own beach and a great view down the river (straight into the sunset), but it's open to the big rig sites, where there are often loud barking dogs and people sitting on their asses watching you.
Great spot though.
Also, very aggressive chipmunks.
Air is awful, place is wonderful. It’s so nice to finally be out in nature again, even if it’s nature 200 yards from Interstate 80.
Fast forward six weeks…
It’s so hard for me to break out of the home rut nowadays. Gettin old really sucks the life out of you. Fall color leaf porn is starting to show up on Facebook, which always gets me excited to get out there and NOT MISS it. I’ve only got a handful of autumns left in this go-round on earth after all …
A little research showed that it’s already getting pretty cold at night down around Bridgeport/Lee Vining. It’s hard to leave the house to sleep in the van in the 20’s.
The plan was to leave Monday, then Tuesday for sure. But Tuesday I did so little preparation that Wednesday became my for sure getting ready day, and I would leave on Thursday. Part of all this preparing was to remember that Grover Hot Springs exists. Because of COVID the springs are reservation only, so Wednesday night I made a reservation for Friday early afternoon. Now I’m committed!
Pretty stupid to not leave earlier in the week. I will be hitting the prime June Lake area on Saturday. Duh.
As mentioned above, I am not blasting straight down 395 as I usually do, rather I’m heading up into the mountains at Minden to visit Grover Hot Springs. It’s not far out of the way, and Hope Valley is a good fall color spot. It all fell together really nicely.
An important thing that I wanted to do before I left was to VOTE. I really, really want Trump gone and I’m really stoked about the opportunity to vote his fat ass out! Nevada has a pretty well-functioning and user-friendly voting system. I got my actual ballot five days ago (a few days before the Voting Guide :). Early voting doesn’t start till Saturday, but good ole Washoe County has a drop box at the Registrar of Voters office open every business day now, so I was able to drop my signed and sealed absentee ballot off on the way out of town today. [update: Little did I know then that Nevada would be one of the undecided potential swing states that the nation would natter about from Tuesday to Saturday :)]
I feel great about it!
As always, take US 395 south through Carson City, where it continues due south for quite a long straightaway to Minden. At Minden 395 veers eastward, but NV 88 continues that straight line straight into the Sierras as CA 88. At this point I’m only 45 minutes from Markleeville, but it’s only 3:30 and my camping spot tonight is a dusty bare spot in a bit of boring pine forest, I’m in no hurry to get there too early in the day. So I don’t turn left on CA 142 to Markleeville, I continue on CA 88 towards Hope Valley to be a fall colors gawker for the afternoon.
Fall colors were very nice. I took some pictures and scouted a dispersed camping area near the junction of 88 and 89 that might come in handy someday.
I backtracked back down East Carson River Canyon to the Woodfords junction and on to Markleeville. I explored the small town on foot a bit to kill more time, then headed down the road to Grover with a little bit of daylight left to find my spot.
California state park campgrounds are too expensive. If you're paying for beachfront that's one thing, but parking my van on a level spot in the woods with a bathroom for $35 does not work for me.
The fine young man at the entrance kiosk told me that a couple of miles back on National Forest land, the signs saying "Camping 14 days max" also signify "OK to camp here tonight". So that's what I did.tonight:
I left my soaking with just enough time to have a little dusk-light to see my way to find a parking spot in an unknown place. I found a very cool spot. Not as level as I would wish, but pretty excellent all in all.
The spot is nicer than I remembered. Still boring for sure, but actually pretty roomy and comfortable.
It was so pleasant and warm-ish at sunset that I was a little shocked at how cold it got last night – 21° at sunrise! As I often do on the first night out, I had weird dreams and slept badly, tossing and turning all night. I was pretty worn out from my big day, so I fell sleep at 9, then woke up multiple times through the night … until the timer told me it was 11:30am, time to get ready for my 11:45 reservation at the hot springs!
I got the van into moderate ship-shape and jetted out of there with a little bit of urgency because I really need to poop.
It’s a state park so there’s a check-in kiosk, which stressed me a little in my urgent state. But check-in was quick and there’s a day use bathroom right around the corner, so hooray for that! I took the wrong turn leaving the day use area, so I missed about 12 minutes of soaking time on a little tour of the park. But it’s a small park, and I am happy for the education, and I got enough soaking time anyway. :)
The springs at Grover gurgle out of the hillside into a beautiful U-shaped alpine meadow. So it should be a groovy, enchanted place, but sadly it is managed by the State Parks system, who do their darnedest to make it prosaic and institutional.
The pools are a couple of rectangular concrete tubs - a big one with lukewarm water, and a shallow (3 feet) one, maybe 40x20 which they keep at a pleasantly toasty 104°. You can look over the fence on the uphill side and see the water burble out of the ground and down a sluice to you.
There are showers and cubbyholes to store your stuff.
There is a campground, which I have never used since it's CA State Parks expensive and there is boondocking three miles down the road.tonight:
Because of COVID, the showers and changing room are closed, and one MUST reserve beforehand for a specific 1½ hour time slot.
The hot pool is just as excellent as ever once you're in.
The hot springs was awesome! The purpose of the reservation system is to regulate the number of folks in the tubs, so crowding was not a problem.Afterwards I tidied the van some more and headed into Markleeville in search of coffee. The little general store had coffee and it was relatively fresh for 1:30 in the afternoon! I parked across the road next to a picnic table overlooking the scenic little dell and creek at the edge of town. So I had a pretty nice party with my Bunn coffee, my packaged brownies and a small Payday bar at my beautifully situated picnic table, watching the Saturday tourists come and go. Woo!
That worked out very well, maybe I’m on a roll!
Time to get on with the day. Head on down CA 89, following the East Fork of the Carson. Past two campgrounds that Humboldt-Toyiabe NF in their wisdom have had closed every time I’ve been up here ever. This is the same CA 89 that crosses Mt Lassen and passes by Lake Almanor and some of my favorite Hat Creek campgrounds in Nor Cal.
The main road continues straight on as CA 4 to Bear Valley and the other side of the mountains. I take a left to continue on good ole CA 89. Not too far onward is Heenan Lake, a little alpine lake that they stock with Lahontan trout. It’s very un-busy up here. I think I’ve seen one car since Markleeville, but the lake parking area was totally full of beat-up fisherman pickups! :) Catching a Lahontan is pretty much a bucket list item for those dudes! I’ve made this stop before and checked the lake out. It’s cool, but not that exciting if you’re not going fishing, so today I keep driving.
Onward to cross Monitor Pass, then descend from the heights on a very scenic tour down the backside of the Sierras to Antelope Valley.
Hello US 395! At the junction of 89 and 395, off to the left and up the hill, I can see the Topaz Lodge, home of my beloved $6.95 steak and eggs. It’s a short drive along the west side of Topaz Lake across the state line back into Nevada, but that is not the plan today. I want to try one of the two lunch places in little town of Walker, ten miles on south down the road.
The two places are a burger place and a barbecue place. I try the barbecue first. It had the cooker going in the parking lot but no cars. I think I’m early. The wtress/cook didn’t seem to excited to see me, and the sigh said “cash only”, so I decided I wasn’t feelin’ the barbecue place and drove 200 yards back north to the Walker Burger. It was pretty nice. The burger and fries were good but unremarkable, but there is a very pleasant little garden area in which to eat. It’s not at all noticeable from the highway, so this is a good discovery.
Then the always scenic West Walker Canyon. All the campgrounds and even the rest area are closed. I think Humboldt-Toyiabe does a BAD job around here. Fall colors plus fishing season is a very popular time of year, and they should keep their facilities open. But they’re not open, so onward through the still scenic high country southward, through Bridgeport to my spot at Travertine, which happily was not occupied.
I have used the hot springs without camping, and lately I have been camping without soaking, so I'm breaking them into two spots. This is the camping spot.When the hot springs road turns left, take a right and park at any of the several rough camping spots. The hot springs is a little less tan a mile further on.tonight:
Friday night in peak fall color season, there are five groups of campers within sight. Lucky for me, exactly the same spot I had last spring was still available, so I hopped on it.
On the downhill edge, facing into the valley, so it still feels private despite the crowd.
Pulled in about 40 minutes till sunset. Busy Friday night. After I got there, one camper left, but three more packed in right around sunset, so now there are eight overnight vehicles visible from my spot.
I did not walk or even drive to the tubs tonight. I wasn’t particularly feeling it, and from the looks of the traffic it was probably quite crowded anyway.