Three Rivers, round 2

Where: working a short spring gig at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

I was going to start off this blog post with a plea that someone send out a St. Bernard with a cask of brandy, to rescue us from all the snow here in Colorado.  But, when I looked it up, I learned that the whole scenario is just a creation from a 19th Century painting with a not-so-catchy title — “Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler”.  Even if the whole dog/booze thing is just a myth, we are pretty much drowning in the white stuff, and a friend with some fortifying elixir would be a welcome sight!

When we arrived at the same time last year, there wasn’t a drop of snow around and the ground was completely dry.  On our first day this time around, I stepped out of the RV in my sandals, sunk to my ankles in mud, and immediately changed into muck boots, which I’ve been living in every since.  April and May are traditionally an off season around here, aptly called “Mud Season”, when the skiing is over, but the hiking and biking trails are still just troughs of slop.

But, it’s alright, because we’re doing spring cleaning on the 50-odd cabins at the resort, which is always good for a solid butt-kicking, no matter how in shape you feel before you start.  These are top to bottom, scrub everything, move everything, and remove every speck of dirt assignments. Some of the cabins have been nightly rentals over the winter, and therefore, were cleaned regularly, between each reservation.  Others were 6 month rentals, popular with the employees of the ski town just north, and pretty much look like you might imagine after groups of young folk move out.  So, besides working, we’ve really only been going to the library and then taking easy saunters around the neighborhood.  Here’s some views….

Thank goodness the resort owns a frontloader, because it would have been hell to shovel out our site by hand:

The path to work:

Perhaps because of all the snow, the road next to us is much quieter than last year, and it’s a very pleasant stroll to follow it between the Taylor River and the granite spires across the street:

The sky here can be a funny thing.  In one direction, the resort looked like the frozen tundra…..

…..while a 180 degree turn showed a decent spring sky and slightly melting snow:

I do love a pine tree in early morning light:

Up on the hill above Almont:

The truly incomprehensible part is the strength of the sun.  On clear, calm days, it’s completely comfortable to be out in shorts and a t shirt, and we even managed to get in a Vitamin D session on a day with particularly robust solar energy.  This photo is not just  staged; I was able to lay out for a half hour and feel warm!

While we did have a couple wickedly cold days with highs barely above freezing, the general trend is in the right direction, and the snow is melting quickly.  Below is the difference from one week to the next.  Progress! :

The hills above the river are just loaded with herds of Mule Deer and Bighorn Sheep; they are down at lower elevations because their usual stomping grounds are still under snow.  Every day we see at least 20-30 of them browsing just a couple hundred feet away, right across the river:

Up next: the passes clear, the sun comes out, and we head to a hot springs outing!

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Spring break

Where: on vacation until our summer job begins. Current stop: en route to that job! Read on for details!

We first met our friend Mary when we all worked for Amazon over the 2014 Holidays and we got really tight after a season together at Rock Creek Resort a few summers ago. Because she lives on the California coast, we just don’t see her as often as we’d like and the last joint venture was a camping trip way back in October of 2017.  We’re very different people, but we have a blast together.  I think our variant personalities are best highlighted by the way we approached this upcoming vacation: I was making reservations and plans from nine months in advance, whereas she shot me a text a few weeks before and said “So, where are we meeting? And what dates?”

We met at a more-or-less halfway spot, down in the southern point of the Sierras.  Kernville, CA is in the foothills, but at just 2,700 feet of elevation, it was solidly in the spring category, rather than still in the grips of winter like the rest of the mountain chain.  The local claim to fame and tourist draw is Lake Isabella, which is often empty due to years of drought, but was still looking pretty good after the banner snow season of 2016-2017.  And all the rains from this past winter made perfect conditions for wildflowers!

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Remington Hot Springs is a riverside series of concrete tubs, built by free spirits in the 60s, and now maintained by “Friends of Remington”.  It’s usually a very busy place, but we managed to stop during a magic lull, when only a couple other people were there.

Since wildflowers were absolutely everywhere, we headed out the next day with only the roughest of plans: “let’s drive up this road, and yell when you see someplace you want to stop!” We barely made it out of town before the first amazing field of colors.

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When Mary takes pictures, she always sneaks in some extras, like when she makes you bust a gut and lose your composure.

Pilfered from Mary’s Instagram, here is a rare photo of my rear end, which is only fair since I’m always taking pictures of JJ’s derriere:

Kern River hike:

South Creek Falls:

We had such a great time with Mary! We played games, we did yoga, we ate lots of good food without going out to eat once.  I always request that she cook this eggplant dish that seems very simple, but that I just can’t make the same.  On our final morning, she was even cheerful about the fact that we had to boot her out of bed at an ungodly hour in order to make an RV appointment.  In this week’s episode of Freaky Furnace, we saw a great mechanic in the dusty little town of California City.  He was able to diagnose the fact that we needed a new burner, but the replacement would take 5 days to arrive.  We decided to order the part from Amazon, and have it delivered to our new job.  (Yes, all will be revealed before the end!)

The next couple days were a blur of movement.  We drove a whole lot, boondocked outside of Las Vegas, and stopped in town to visit Costco and Trader Joes. We planned a two-night, one day stopover at the Virgin River Gorge Campground in the very northwest corner of Arizona, but when the weather on our trajectory was turning stormy, we stayed a couple more night to let it pass.  Instead of slogging through snow, we enjoyed 70s every day and worked on our tans.

Front yard, back yard:

There was a trail through the canyon, but the first part required fording the Virgin River.  We decided against that one:

20 miles up the road (and in a different time zone) was St. George, UT, which turned out to be a really cool town.

Red Hills Desert Garden is a free botanical garden with lots of water features, collections of native plants of the area, and plenty of benches and swings to sit and enjoy it all:

Pioneer Park is a natural jungle gym, with all the red rocks and fun formations that Utah is known for:

We went out for lunch to a hole-in-the-wall Hawaiian joint that serves poke and Kahlua pork bowls.  We had one of each, and wished that we could eat there everyday. Neilson’s Frozen Custard reminded JJ of Ted Drewes from his college days in St. Louis.

The campground was a great place to relax before we headed out for the last leg of our journey to our spring job.

 

Our final destination was Almont, CO, at Three Rivers Resort, where we worked last summer.  We’ll be here for the next 6 weeks, working in housekeeping and spring cleaning all 50-something cabins.  Yes, that means that I have even more announcements to come about our summer job!  In the meantime, send warm thoughts our way as we enjoy the 2 feet of snow still on the ground!

The week where everything went wrong and then everything went right

Where: on vacation until our summer job begins.  Current stop: California

Boy, those sexy Instagram #vanlifers sure do make full-timing look glamorous, with endless photos of back doors opening onto pristine beaches, and tanned, lithe ladies in bikinis.  This past week, we definitely had our share of victories on the road, but we also experienced a ton of little defeats that don’t often get mentioned by folks who are promoting the mobile lifestyle.  So, this week’s blog post might be described as “truth in advertising”, as it paints a more accurate view of what it’s like to travel for a living: there’s good and there’s bad!

On our last night in the Alabama Hills, Friday night, a giant crew rolled into the large space above us.  They came with several RVs, lots of ATVs, and about a million people.  The natural amphitheater of the canyon walls accentuated every sound they made, from just the sounds of their voices to the roar of their generators.  And when they started target practice at dark, that *really* reverberated.  The Alabama Hills is BLM land, and shooting is permitted, but people usually do it in secluded areas, and during the day.  I guess spring break brings out a whole different crowd, one that we’ve never encountered there before.  The next morning, was “suns out, guns out”, and we decided to hit the road early to find some quiet.

I had planned a few days at a dispersed camping area about 50 miles south, a dry lake bed near some cool volcanic formations.  But, with all the recent rains, the dry lake bed was a current lake bed, and we needed to find another spot.  We wanted to stay in that general area, because we realized last week that our furnace wasn’t actually fixed, and we had a appointment later in the week at an RV shop in Ridgecrest.  Most of the surrounding areas are open BLM land for ATV use, which is not the sort of place we like to boondock.  So, we chose the next best option and paid for several nights at Red Rock Canyon State Park, which turned out to be a great stop.

The State Park is a real stunner as you drive by on Highway 14, with beautiful pink cliffs.  The campground is first-come, first-serve, and we were able to snag a pull through with a fairly private backyard for Soupy explorations. Although we hadn’t traveled all that far south, the climate was completely different from Lone Pine, with a strong sun and temps in the 70s.  It felt great to sit out in the sun and let our bones thaw!

We knew our friends, Buddy and Judy, were headed past us to Death Valley, but they surprised us by leaving a day early and staying overnight with us in the State Park.  Even better, they showed up with ice cream…they sure do know us!

On Wednesday, we dropped off the RV to get the furnace fixed, and we packed up Soupy along with her food, water and litter box to spend the day at Trona Pinnacles.  The Pinnacles are tufa formations, just like what you see at Mono Lake, except on a now dry lake bed.  Camping is permitted, and we wanted to scope out the area and assess the 5 mile long access road, as well as have a safe place for adventure cat to pass the day.  We are soooo glad we had a look first, because the road had been mostly washed out from all the recent rain.  The Subaru had no issues, but there was no way we could get the RV in.

When we went to pick up the RV, we checked the furnace to be sure it was operating correctly, and saw that it was still showing the same problems.  The owner worked on it a little bit longer, and then did something we’ve never experienced before; he apologized for not knowing how to repair the problem and said that he wouldn’t charge us since the issue wasn’t fixed.

We made another appointment at a town not too far away, but the next appointment was a week later.  After much debating, we headed north again, back to Tuttle Creek Campground in Lone Pine, because it was the best, cheapest option for a couple days.  Just after we arrived, we heard from Buddy and Judy again–they wanted to spend a night in the Eastern Sierra before they headed back home, and they would camp with us again!  Judy taught us the card game Trash (also called Garbage), we enjoyed a beautiful night by the fire, and ate a scrumptious breakfast at Alabama Hills Cafe.

Showing Buddy and Judy our camping spots in the Alabama Hills:

Their travel set-up:

Even with the low snow level, I really wanted to get into the mountains for some hikes.  I recently bought a nifty book of topo maps for Inyo National Forest, and I discovered a promising canyon just to the south of Lone Pine.  Cottonwood Canyon was a real find, with lots of Southern California type vegetation like Joshua Trees, Manzanita, and Oak.  The trail was completely washed out in parts, and looked like it hadn’t been maintained in years, but we loved seeing a new place, and had the whole canyon to ourselves.

Cute little empty house, and the only one in the canyon:

Eastern Sierra trails rarely have shade.  These oaks provided it in spades!

Google Maps is notoriously inaccurate about traffic delay times concerning cows:

From the campground, we hiked Jeep roads up to the mouth of Tuttle Canyon, the start of a short hike to an old ashram.  The snow was too deep to visit the temple, but we still enjoyed the views.

If you like “Where’s Waldo?”, try to find the stone ashram in this picture!

Next week: a get together with Mary in Southern California, and round three of furnace repair!

Lone Pine Picture Post

Where: on vacation until our summer job begins. Current stop: Eastern Sierra

About 5 years ago, a delivery truck was just outside of Bishop, CA, and had a small mishap as they maneuvered in a tight space. The truck snagged a phone pole, and pulled out the, and I mean THE, wire that provided internet and cell and even 911 service to 100 miles of the Eastern Sierra. (What does a telephone pole line have to do with cell service, you ask? Hey, it’s the Wild West…who knows!) While I can’t yet report the unique circumstance that led to the outage we’ve had for the last 24 hours, I can only say that we had to drive 50 miles south to find data service along Highway 395. This is all just a long preamble to explain why today’s blog is mostly a photo essay–a quick entry from a rest stop, on our way to the next event.

Last week was a cold but beautiful visit to one of our favorite places: Lone Pine, CA. We’ve been through more times than we can remember, and we still find new nooks to explore every trip. Our first stop was to Tuttle Creek Campground to meet up with our friend, Patty.  There is simply no bad view from this campground!

Patty also loves to poke around in the rocks of the Alabama Hills, and we had a great ramble through the formations.

All the girls on Instagram are doing desert glamour shots, so here’s mine…maybe I’m supposed to be wearing less clothes?

Spring is sort-of-maybe-almost there in this part of the world:

Secret location from the expedition:

After our weekend with Patty, we moved over to boondock in the Alabama Hills.  We got our favorite spot, the one where we can stick up our booster between the rocks and get cell service at camp!

There’s a road in the back of the Scenic Area I’ve always wanted to explore…what views!

Across the Owens Valley is the Inyo Mountains, which are much drier and less vegetated than the Sierra.  We hiked part of the Pay Keyes Trail, but gave up well before we hit the crest 6,000 feet higher than we started.

The best part of any stay here is the pure joy we all get from deep blue skies, rocks to climb, and millions of trails to explore, all within a few square miles.

Until next time, Lone Pine!

p.s. Should you desire more reading material from past excursions to Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, please check our prior blog entries here and here.

The winter that will not die

Where: on vacation until our summer job begins. Current stop: The Eastern Sierra

There’s certainly several ideal times to visit the Eastern Sierra, but last week was not one of those times. The lower elevation areas, like Bishop, were sopping wet from weeks of rain and snow, and more was on the way. And places like Mammoth Lakes were getting walloped with major snow storms every other day, each one dropping amounts measured in *feet* rather than inches. But, it didn’t look like the weather patterns were going to change, and there were things we wanted to do, so we braced ourselves for an interesting time and charged down into the Owens Valley.

(A quick recap in case you’re just tuning in: we worked just north of Bishop, CA for 3 summers, so this area feels a lot like home. We had people to see and places to go!)

It was so good to see the Sierra. I’ve missed these beautiful mountains! We stayed in a campground that offered an amazing view of big Mount Tom, Wheeler Crest, and the White Mountain Range.

 

Just behind the campground is the Volcanic Tablelands, an thick deposit of volcanic tuff from ancient explosions. This area is usually extremely dry, but the rocky indentations were full of rain water, and the Owens river was full and flowing rapidly.

Most of the recreation just outside of Bishop is at a pretty low elevation, and therefore, was always too hot for us to sample while we worked in the area in the summer. On a sunny, warm day, we hiked down in the Owens Gorge, into a whole world you’d never suspect just looking down from the top. First, this canyon is a major climbing destination (¾ of the other people in the campground with us were climbers) and every vertical surface hosted a Superman-ing human shimmying up the rocks. Some of the routes were over a hundred feet high, and the climbers were just specks far above our heads. The gorge is home to several derelict hydro power stations, now just spooky skeletons of buildings with lots of signs to Keep Out. There were fisherman trying for trout in the stream, lots of other hikers, and tons of birds, including my favorite, cheery canyon wrens—a very reassuring spring day in the middle of so much cold.

We have never been snowshoeing, so when there was a break in the snow, we rented snowshoes and poles and headed up to the little hamlet of Aspendell, just west of Bishop. Aspendell sits at 8000 feet and had a couple feet of snow of the ground. At the far end of the town, the highway is gated off, and this closure is a good place to park to access the Bishop Creek drainage. We trekked up to Lake Sabrina, 2 miles and 1000 feet up, to a world that looked completely different than the green paradise we’re used to seeing in the summer. The boat house and restaurant were surrounded with about 5 feet of snow, and it was totally silent when the wind was still. Snowshoeing was technically easier than I expected; you just have to take slightly wider steps and pick up your knees a bit higher. But, it was a lot more physically demanding than I thought it would be, and we were tired little pumpkins when we finished our 4 mile jaunt.

 

We got together with our Rock Creek peeps, Sue and Amy, for a hike in the Tungsten Hills, an old mining area that’s now a mecca for hiking, biking and Jeeping. Their dogs had a great time, probably covering 3 times the distance we did as they ran back and forth. The Kings have had an interesting winter because of all the snow up at the resort–snow that needs to get cleared from roofs lest it get too heavy. After each big snowstorm, they drive up Rock Creek Road to the last plowed parking area, and then ski or snowmobile the final 3 miles up to the resort to shovel. It was a great day for a hike, and we loved being in the sun with views of all the snow capped mountains around us.

We planned to see more friends, but the weather had other ideas, and the drive from Bishop to Mammoth Lakes was not appealing. We would have needed to buy tire chains (limiting your speed to 25 miles per hour) to transverse the 10 mile long Sherwin Grade. I felt like less of a sissy when our friends in Mammoth were also leery of driving down to see us. Next time, Doug and Chalese!

It was great to see this area in a completely different season, but for the future, I think we’ll plan to stick with summer visits!

A ray of sunshine

Where: on vacation until our summer job begins.  Current stop: Death Valley National Park

After 2 months of unrelenting precipitation, we were so excited to see the forecast for the week we would be in Death Valley National Park: highs in the 60s and 70s, sunny and clear, and low, low humidity.  It’s been a long, cold winter, and all of us desperately needed a chance to dry out and warm up.

Just outside the eastern entrance to the park is a really cool dispersed camping option: The Pads.  This area used to be a housing development for a mining company, a regular neighborhood, with even a rec hall and a swimming pool.  When Death Valley upgraded from a National Monument to a National Park, mining in the nearby hills was no longer permitted, and operations like this one were forced to close.  All the buildings are gone, but the concrete pads they rested on make great parking areas or patios.  Alas, the pool was filled in, but the giant concrete pool deck is now an informal art gallery, with strange little sculptures that are half found objects from the site and half empty beer cans.  The camping area is large enough that we never had a neighbor closer than 500 feet away, and the adventure cat could be outside for sunbathing and lizard hunting.

The Funeral Mountains were just across the street, and the Wilderness area beckoned to us to come explore.  I’m no geologist, but it looks like some nifty forces were at work to birth such creative rocks:

The best part was the little cactus nursery we found.  There were hundreds of these fellows, some just the size of a quarter:

I went through Death Valley on a day trip with my family in 2003, but somehow, I remember nothing but our tour through Scotty’s Castle.  JJ had never been.  So, it was important to do things right and see all the sites!

We hit Badwater Basin at a very sweet point: all the morning sunrise photographers were on their way back to the parking lot, and the regular crowds must have still been in bed.  We had the playa to ourselves!

Devils Golf Course is a huge expanse of salt formations, on which you are cautioned not to walk, lest you fall and simultaneously cut yourself and break a limb:

We hit the Visitor’s Center for the obligatory thermometer photo, but it’s not as dramatic when it’s cool enough for a light jacket:

Zabrieski Point was absolutely hopping at 7am, because it’s another spot for dramatic sunrise shots over the badlands.  We took a quick peak from the overlook, and then dropped down into the twisting canyons to do a loop hike around Gower Gulch and Golden Canyon.

Colors inside the dry creek bed are just like what you see along Artists Drive:

 

Salt Creek is a short boardwalk through a riparian area, complete with our new fave, pupfish!

Dante’s View is a fantastic stop to see all of Badwater Basin from 5,476 feet above.  We took a ridge trail that runs north from the viewpoint and ultimately ends on Mount Perry about 4 miles away.  This trail is very different from most hikes, because you are following the spine of the mountain chain, and therefore going up and down over and over again.  The end point is only a couple hundred feet higher than the starting point, but it takes 3,000 feet of elevation gain to get there.  We just enjoyed a walk, and stopped before the final giant “up”.

This was the perfect stop to cure our cold weather blues!

 

Blog post #300

Where: on vacation until our summer job begins. Current stop: Nevada

While Pahrump, NV is a fine place to wait out parts for a furnace repair for about a week, after that point you’ll be craving another option. The weather in every direction was dismal; even the floor of Death Valley was predicted to be too cold for us to camp with no source of heat! (A quick tech note: Yes, we do have a catalytic heater, but no, we did not find it effective as the solitary heat source when nights are in the 20s and daytime highs are in the 30s. We tried that route exactly one morning, and when the inside temperature had risen from 36 to only 48 in 3 hours, we considered that experiment a failure.) Beatty, NV was the perfect solution. As the economically depressed eastern gateway to Death Valley, the town offers a plethora of $25/night full hook up RV parks. Plus, it was close to many of the attractions that we wanted to see in the park that would be a really long drive from “downtown” Furnace Creek, if we ever got our furnace fixed and finally made it there. (Spoiler alert: the furnace gets fixed!)

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Rhyolite was a real big deal in 1907—the third largest city in Nevada, (when Las Vegas was nothing but a stage stop) with three story office buildings, electricity and telephones, an opera house, and a stock exchange. The town was the last hurrah of the gold rush days, and filled with every prospector who had failed in earlier ventures. But, like all boom towns, it quickly folded when there wasn’t all that much gold to be had, and the bubble burst. Most of the town was repurposed, and the joke is that the best place to find Rhyolite is now back in Beatty, where many of the buildings were moved in their entirety, or broken down to build new structures. The few remaining buildings are just shells, except for the train station that stands like a sentry up above the town, fenced off and therefore marginally protected.

On the outskirts of the site is the Goldwell Open Air Museum, a surreal collection of art installations.

A ghostly Last Supper:

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During our stay, daytime temperatures in Death Valley were starting to get more reasonable. On a clear day with a high in the upper 50s, we headed out for a “beach day” at Mesquite Sand Dunes. This is the one dune field in the park right on the main highway, so it can be pretty crowded if you stay in view of the parking lot. We walked out for about a mile, aiming for the largest dunes that never seemed to get any closer, regardless of how many ups and downs we crossed. Deep in the basin of several large dunes, we lied down to bask in the reflecting sun and almost felt warm for the first time in weeks.

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Forgetting that we had only done a handful for shorter hikes this season, we headed out to tackle Corkscrew Peak, a 7.5 mile hike with 3,000 feet of elevation gain. The tired and pain were all worth it when we crested the highest ridgeline to a view down the whole valley.  The tired and pain may not have been worth it as I remembered that 3000 feet up also means 3000 feet down, and my jello legs threatened to return me to the starting point via a two-mile somersault down the mountainside.

Views of lowest point Badwater Basin, highest point Telegraph Peak, and the sand dunes we had walked the day before:

We also spent a very yicky day at home, huddled near the space heater, drinking tea, as we experienced full-on snow. Everywhere we go this year, the locals are talking about how unusually cold it is, and how much more precipitation they’re getting. We’re really failing on the Vitamin D front–it’s hard to work on your tan when it’s too cold to be outside in anything less than a full winter get-up!

Two weeks after we rolled into Pahrump, our parts were ready for installations, so we spent a few more nights back in town for the repair. Armed with a defense against the weather, we were ready to roll!

Old Highway 95, Beatty NV: