3. Spring road trip….April/May/June.2019 

Day 11 5.2
I was awake a dawn & made coffee & ate my steel cut oat experiment Id prepared the night before.  Id never been to this park before & was excited to see itits been on my list for  a few years now.  But, I also knew 1.  Id missed the super bloom by a few weeks; & 2. It was going to be hot today & after yesterday, I wanted to get an early start.

The south end is where most of the super bloom happens; the central & northern parts have the trails & camping.  There was no one else on the road this early morning, so I made the drive, looking all around surprised at how many flowers were still in bloom.  Im sure a few weeks ago, this was all breathtaking in its floral glory.  But, while I had only some flowers to see, I had no people to see.  For miles, I was the only car there.

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I’d picked out a mountain hike & a hike within the boulders to do today.  I thought I might pay the $15 bucks to stay at one of the walk up (no reservations) primitive campgrounds in the park, but as I drove through the park, my plan began to change.  So, I delayed getting a campsite until after my hikes.  The first trail was supposed to be one of the popular ones in the park called Ryan Mountain.  It’s only 3 miles RT, but has over 1,000’ elevation in that 1.5 miles….so, straight up hill.  The temps were good this morning & better, the sky was bright but overcast, so no direct sun making it the perfect day to hike.

At  the top was a 360 degree view…a nice hike!

  Going down is always faster!  But something new happened…twice…on the way down.  I pulled off the trail, to let a young woman packing a baby & an older guy come up the trail.  She said thanks as she passed & I said "you’re welcome, but you have the right of way”.  The man stopped in front of me & said, ‘No, the down hill hiker has the right of way”.  I let a few seconds go by, then said, “No, it’s the uphill hiker”.  He started to argue with me.  All I could think of was…I’m not going to stand here on the trail & argue with this guy….he really wanted to be right.  As I paused, he continued with his argument.  He said the downhillers can’t stop, so they have the right of way (can’t stop?  was he serious?).  But, then I said, well the up hill hikers have it much harder, so that’s why they have the right of way.  But, he wanted to keep going.  I just interrupted him & said, “you know what, we both should look it up when we get off the trail, so we’ll be doing it right”.  And then I walked away.  

As I got near the bottom of the trail, I stepped off to let a couple about my age pass.  The woman said thank you & the man stopped & said, “I never know who has the right of way”.  I took my opportunity & told him it was the up hill hiker, but that I always move off the trail for any backpacker, since they have it harder no matter which way their going.  Then I was back at the car & driving to my next hike.

Split Rock trail is a 3 mile loop that’s pretty easy…until you start seeing a bunch of other random trails intersect near the parking lot side of the loop…then it’s just pick something, hope you have a good sense of direction & find your way back!

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Here are some photos of the infamous Joshua Tree...which I sort of fell in love with this Dr. Suess-ish tree, it’s blossoms & more desert wildflowers.

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It was still early in the day & I had decided there weren’t any different hikes I wanted to stay for.  I’m not good at sitting in camp all day, so I nixed the camp site idea & left through the north end of the park stopping at the Visitors Center.  I made a phone call to a museum I’d read about to see if I could get on a tour today.  With a yes from the museum, I took off for the 1 hour drive to Desert Hot Springs to tour the Cabots Pueblo Museum.  

What a super cool place this turned out to be.  Tour Guides can make or break the experience & this one was super good.  There’s a long & interesting story behind the builder of this place.  His name was Yerxa Cabot who settled in this area in 1913.  He discovered Hot Springs here &  help to turn the place, eventually, into a spa healing area bringing in tourists from all over.  But back to the Pueblo…It took him 24 years to complete, constructing each room into a living space, then adding on as he could find building materials from scraps, old railroad ties, broken & discarded pieces.  Everything he used to build, he found.  The main building is four story, 5,000 square feet with 35  rooms & 150 windows…which he pieced together from broken glass he found…they are really beautiful!  There are 65 doors & 30 different roof levels.  It’s all pretty amazing what one guy did.  Plus, he traveled all over the world & was an artist.  Many of his paintings are on the walls of the house.  He has a great history of entrepreneurship starting at age 16.  All & all a fascinating man & super interesting place.  Don’t miss it if you’re close by…quirky for sure, but I’m always amazed at the creative, stubborn spirit of the pioneers.

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I’d also read about a place called Pappy & Harriet’s Saloon in Pioneer Town.  I’d also asked the tour guide about it & she said it was wonderfully fun & great food.  It’s set out amongst some giant rocks…evidently there have been some western movies made there.  I was surprised to see three people in safety vests pointing out where to park.  From the outside, the place just looked like an old bar…& from the inside too.

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There’s live music every night, so that must be the ‘fun’ part.  I was there during the late afternoon, but my entertainment was watching tonight’s lead musician or DJ or whatever he was direct his crew for setting up.  He was in a duster & high top converse shoes & everyone was under his command.  He must have a been a really big big-wig…or he certainly acted like it.  Maybe his music or playing was off the top amazing, but he “presence’ lacked a lot   I had the pulled pork sandwich which was good, but not over the top amazing either.  But, my curiosity had been satisfied & I slipped away before the music started so I could find camping before dark.

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One more note:  the bathrooms were kind of cool.

The drive to Lucerne Valley was super pretty at dusk.  I was trying to locate a BLM free campground called Sawtooth.  After a few u-turns & driving part way down a super sandy road…then backing up all the way, I found what I was looking for.  The spot was practically wonderful, but first I had to pick up trash left my former campers.  I even picked up what was a little bit in my neighbors campsite…don’t know why they hadn’t done it.  Except for the fact they stayed inside all evening long….I never saw them outside on this beautiful evening.

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The sky filled with stars as it grew very very dark & cooler.  I snuggled in for some reading before calling it another lovely day.

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Day 12 5.3
I never saw my neighbors all morning long as I made coffee, ate breakfast & re-organized Camper.  Right before I started the car, a man came out of his RV & looked under his hood.never even said hello.  No big dealyou can sort of tell, when people stay inside their RV’s all the time, they really aren’t the social type.

Before I knew it, I was back on highway 395!  Yippee!  Last year I’d spent three wonderful weeks along this highway; hiking every day & loving every minute of it (well, I’m not a fan of Bridgeport, but that’s last years story).  I’d only be on it a couple of days this year, but it felt great to be back.  So much more snow this year, so not going to be able to hike hardly anywhere or camp at some of the places I stayed at last year.

A weird thing happens…as I heading north on the highway, I’m seeing hundreds of butterflies.  They’re flying across the road in mass quantities.  Sadly, they are also getting splattered & stuck to all parts of my car.

I stopped at the Visitors Center in Lone Pine & then headed out to the Alabama Hills.  It’s Friday, so I knew I had to get a camp spot early.  The woman at the VC said it was packed out there.  As I rounded the bend to see if my last year’s spot was available, I could see three big RV’s in the spot next to mine.  But, mine was open & tucked away, so I pulled in the shared ‘driveway’ & set up camp.  It was going to be a ‘camp’ day…I was staying put.  I’ve done a lot of driving & packed a lot in over this past week & today I was taking a break.  I love this place!  With a view of Mt. Whitney from the back of Camper & lots of privacy, I was super happy!  It’s got crappy cell service & it seemed I had a lot of phone calls back & forth, so I had to keep climbing up rocks or running down the road to talk, but that’s the only down side to this place.

I was making soup for lunch.  It promptly boiled over into my backpacking stove & created quite the mess.  The good news was that when I finally got it all cleaned up, the stove still worked great.  And, so did the cozy I made….kept the soup warm while I was cleaning up the stove.  The bad news?  The soup wasn’t all that great.

At ‘cocktail hour” which is what Jill & I call our 3:00pm CST video chat, I hiked down the road.  The service was too bad for Face Time, but at least we could talk.  I’d opted to bring my thermos of water, so I put my beer drinking off till I was back in camp.  The neighbors turned out to be nice with two giant dogs among them.  And, they never ran their generator…not once.  Those are definitely my kind of campers! I took a bottle-shower behind the giant rocks & in the warm sun…it felt good.  Towards evening though, my head started itching.  I thought maybe I hadn’t rinsed out all the soap, but it turns out I was being bit by tiny flying gnats.  This happens to me every year….one time in was at the Great Salt Lake & it was probably here last year.  I never remember what it is because you don’t see them biet you.  And it’s always my head.  I get these giant lumps that swell…about the size of a nickel.  It’s just one of the lovely parts of living outside!

I took a long walk in the evening down the road & took a spur where camping is not allowed just to see what was up there.

I was trying another dehydrated meal tonight & this one I’d started soaking about 4 hours ago.  It’s home made chili I dehydrated & it tasted really good!  One success among several fails….we’ll see in the end how it all works out.

I sat outside & watched the other campers go by looking for a spot & read until dark.  Then I moved inside the camper with the hatch open & let the fresh air & probably a few biting gnats inside.  Then I tucked in for the night…happy to be here although a little itchy.  The night sky is pretty dark here & as I made my middle of the night pee trip, I could see thousands of stars & the Milky Way…so beautiful!!!

Day 13 5.4
I made coffee early this morning & climbed a nearby rock to watch the sunrise over Mt. Whitney…what an incredible view!

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I wasn’t in any hurry to leave.  But once I packed up & left, I drove the 3 or so miles back to the Visitors Center, used the bathroom & refilled my water jugs.  It was almost 11am when I arrived at Copper Top BBQ in Big Pine just about 40 minutes up the road.  Last year I had their candied ribs & they were sooooo great.  The menu didn’t look quite the same, but I ordered the ribs again.  They were very good, but did seem different & not as OMG-fantastic as last year.

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After my early lunch, I just kept heading north.  Each time I’d stop at the VC to check on a trail or road, it would be under snow.  I knew this was the probable possibility before I ever came this way.  The Sierra’s, like the Rockies have had tremendous snow this year.  I feel for the thru hikers on the PCT as they’re going to have a difficult year in the snow & with the water crossings.  

The mountains are so beautiful though with so much snow on top!  I took my time, making up some roads as far as they were open.  And, it was fun to recognize places I’d been to last year.  I remember camping in this canyon (pic below—the road goes in between the mountains towards the snowy one in the far back) & it got so dark, I literally couldn’t see my hand in front of my face when I got outside to pee.  I’m not sure I’d ever been somewhere that dark before.  And it kind of freaked me out.  I had to have a talk with myself (there was no cell service) because was I really going to be over 60 years old & afraid of the dark?  It was a moment for sure.

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Here’s a photo of June Lake & some of Mono Lake.  I was too much in the middle of the day to get the gorgeous blue that you usually see, but it’s still beautiful with the Tufa’s growing up around the edges.

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One of the trails I wanted to hike—because I had done the other side of that trail last year until the snow got too deep, was way under snow as I drove by it…but you can still make out the beginning of the trail along the side of the mountain.

Here’s a pic I took from inside my car as I drove down one of the roads I’d camped off of last year.  The camp was still closed & the forest ground was still covered in snow.  But, here’s a pic of the snow that had been plowed just to get the road opened…you can see it’s huge!

I stopped in Bridgeport, my least favorite town along the 395, to find some BLM camping & some famous hot springs.  I’d been told last year they had some bacteria in them, so I avoided them then.  The one’s I really enjoyed last year, Buckeye, were along a river.  Those hot springs are currently UNDER the river…so, no going there this year.  But, I easily found Travertine Hot Springs & a ton people enjoying the tiny pools.  Too many people for me!  The one pool I found looked pretty gross, so I moved on.  I decided I really didn’t want to camp here either…so I kept going north on the 395…smashing butterflies all along the way (sad face).

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I drove north all the way to the end of CA395 & popped into Nevada.  I filled up with gas & tried with some might, to clean off the windshield & headlights….my poor Thule is covered in butterfly parts!  The talk at the gas stations is all about cleaning off the butterfly parts….ewwwww.

Last year, I stayed in Happy Valley for two nights just south of South Lake Tahoe, so I headed there tonight, trying to find something before dark.  As I got closer to the area, I figured it would be a no-go.  What ground wasn’t still under snow, was covered in water.  The Tahoe area got slammed with snow this winter.  And, sure enough, the road I started to head down & had a gate & “Road Closed” sign across it.  That probably wasn’t too necessary, because on the other side of the gate, was a huge amount of snow…I wasn’t driving over that.  So, now I had to scramble for a camping spot before dark.  I backtracked a few miles down the winding & forested road to a big pullout.  There was a raging stream across the highway I could hear, but I was safe off the road & in a big space.  This one felt a little weird, but not scary…I could never pinpoint what was making me a little nervous.  But it wasn’t enough to get me to move, so eventually, I crawled in the back & fell into a pretty good sleep.

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