Monday, November 30, 2015

The Desert is Thankful

The desert is thankful  - thankful that the long weekend is over and all the Atv’s quads, motorbikes, side-by-sides have gone home.  Dust everywhere, and the desert creatures hiding out wherever they could. 

But while still in the Alabama Hills, I discovered the road up to Whitney Portal, which is the trailhead for Mt Whitney, and sits at about 8000 feet, well above the valley below.  The campground at the end of the road is closed for the season as are all other facilities, but the trailhead is still accessible for those hardy climbers and hikers willing to endure winter conditions.


There are a number of summer cottages clinging to the mountainside at the end of the road.


And some great views out over the valley, looking back down towards Lone Pine.



We also did a bit of 4x4ing up some of the old roads leading to countless old mine works in the area.


I was not really watching the calendar and did not realize that US Thanksgiving was upon us when I pulled out of the Alabama Hills at Lone Pine, Ca.  That is, not until I started to see the large circles of rigs out in the desert, with atvs roaring around in all directions.Once out of the Lone Pine area on highway 395, I began to wonder if finding a spot not over-run by weekenders and atv’ers would be possible.  We had a bit of a late start as well, so our possible intended destination at Sawtooth Canyon was not looking good, and I was not sure if it would be full as well.  But no worries, the memory was still working and reminded me of a small BLM wildlife viewing area at Harper Lake, off of hwy 58 not too far west of Barstow where I had spent the occasional night.  I don’t think the lake has had water in it for years now, but the spot was quiet and basically consists of a small gravel parking lot and an outhouse and a short hiking trail.  It’s 8 miles off the highway and they have turned the road into a very nice washboard.  When last I was there, I noticed a solar farm off in the distance, but that has changed.  A lot.  By now it was dark, but what should have been dark desert and scrubby farmland with only a few scattered houses was now pretty much an industrial complex with thousands and thousands of acres of solar arrays and large glittering generating stations.  At one point I ended up at a security guard shack before being directed to ignore the detour signs (!), and I eventually found my spot.  The rough road had shaken loose one of the rigs wheel covers as well as the fireplace now needed to be re-fastened!  At least it was quiet, but I will scratch that place off my list of possible overnight spots.

Next morning early back on the road into Barstow we were glad to find that the cheapest fuel around was at a nice Arco station on the west end of main street, and better yet the low price was not just the cash price, and the pump took my credit card without asking for a zip code!  Then off we went south to Sawtooth Canyon, a very nice little secret BLM campground, that does not allow off road vehicles!  There is absolutely no signs on the highway, and it is completely hidden from sight.  I even asked at the big BLM office on the edge of town a few years back and they didn’t seem to know where it was either!  Don’t tell anyone, but the turnoff is to the west at the MP 63.  It is a free campground, is pack-in, pack-out with several outhouses, no water, power or dump. There is a spot for a host, but it was empty this time.  Better yet, there was only one other small rig there and a couple of tents.  It popular with rock climbers, so there were quite a few scaling the cliffs.  But climbers tend to be clean and quiet, and they don’t make dust or rip up the desert, so we get along just fine. They have vans, small tents, and no generators – Wandering Willy!


Hailey really seems to have taken a liking to rock climbing in this area and is getting pretty proficient at scaling the heights. Here, she scouts a new route.  Looks like about a 5.12c to me …IMG_2577IMG_2578IMG_2565

Taking a break with a relaxing roll and rest at the summit!


The biggest problem is to convince her to come down again.  I can climb up most of the areas where she is climbing, but if she does not want to be caught, she is a bit faster than I, and can squeeze through many of the little crevices where I won’t fit.


It’s a fun game that at least one of us enjoys!

To round out the weekend I managed to meet up with a retired wildlife officer from back home who I used to work with on a few investigations. He’s from British Columbia, but was disguising himself and his wife in a red jeep with New Mexico plates – driving from California to Nevada! We sampled some of the finest breakfast fare that Barstow has to offer.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, Ca

The weather forecast for the Mammoth area of the  east Sierras was for much colder temperatures, high winds, and considerable snow.  The red skies in the morning provided another warning!
For that reason, we vacated our excellent spot amongst the scattered hot springs, and headed for lower elevations.  We were also getting a bit low on propane fending off the very cool night time temps.  So we trundled down the big hill and ended up in Bishop where the Shell station took care of most of the requirements.  Took on fuel there and enquired where I could get my propane, and it turned out they had a propane facility just behind their large truck style wash bays.  Almost needed a mortgage for the propane that must have been over $4/gallon!  Then took advantage of the car wash to slosh some of the accumulated dust off the truck and rig.  After a quick stop at Von’s to refresh the grocery supply, we headed off south down 395 at a leisurely pace with no destination in mind.
The sun was starting to get a bit low as we were passing through Lone Pine, so what the heck, it was as good a place as any for an overnighter.  I’ve stopped here in the past and know that many RV bloggers have written about it’s virtues and scenery.  By the time we actually looked for a camp spot it was getting a bit dark, so we ended up in a rough, boulder strewn spot just off the edge of Movie road.  I’ve been experimenting with night time-exposure photos, so took this one at 30 seconds.  Believe it or not, it was dark outside notwithstanding the almost full moon.  You can see the stars if you look closely.
In the morning, the ‘plan’ was to go into Lone Pine and perhaps see if there was a convenient laundromat, and then carry on southbound.  Hailey was glad to get out and explore some of the rocks first though.
It took some convincing, but I finally got her into the truck.  It seemed a shame to leave without looking around a bit more in the light of day, so instead of heading back down for town, we turned further up Movie road, where the pavement soon turned to gravel, with the usual washboard and a bit of dust.  After a mile or so, the plans changed again when an excellent spot came into view.  That’s Mt. Whitney in the background – highest peak south of Alaska at 14,505’.  Before breakfast things were set up, blocked and levelled, slides out, solar and dish set up.  Well, that was a long day on the road Winking smile.
That left some time for exploring the new location.  A short stroll across the road turned into a bit longer of a hike.
During the afternoon, some ‘movie’ folks showed up, scouting locations for a beer commercial.  They told me that my exact spot was in a key scene in Iron Man.
The sun dipped down behind Whitney rather early, at about 3:40PM, and before long it was dark and the full moon was up.  So I tried a few more night time exposures, that turned out rather well.  These were all taken in the DARK.  You can hardly tell, except that stars are visible, as are lights shining on the ground from the lights that are on in the rig.
That’s Mt Whitney in the background again.In this one, you can even see my ‘moon shadow’!
We’ll be here till we decide to leave!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Hot Springs Break

Coming down some of the long grades on 395 is a good way to save on fuel.  I checked at one point to see how the big diesel was doing.


Turns out, it wasn’t using any fuel at all.  Zero fuel / 100km, or in US terms unlimited mpg!  Of course, all good things come to an end, and on flat ground there was measureable fuel being consumed.  Luckily it was cheaper fuel from our brief foray into Nevada and not the expensive California type.  It was sunny and warm when we pulled in to the hot springs area, even though it is at around 6500’ elevation.  We pulled into the same spot we left in March.IMG_0230

Lots of snow up there in the mountains, and nearby Mammoth is open for skiing.  Lights from snow cats and groomers can be seen at night from our camp.


Speaking of cats;  it wasn’t long before the grey mountain lion was out prowling among the rocks and sage.


Some her furry and feathered friends watched from their rocky lookouts.


Further out, some of the ducks and coots were finding it a bit chilly at night.  The pond they are in is clearly not fed from the hot springs and mostly freezes over every night, only to clear off again in the warmth of the day.


It got down to –20C last night (about –4F), which sounds pretty cool for camping, but other than one morning when the tap dispensed ice cubes, it has been snug and comfortable.  Last thing at night I turn on both the furnace and water heater for about 10 minutes which keeps it somewhat warmer in the enclosed spaces and in the basement.  Bedroom heat is supplied by my Kozyworld heater, which does not use any electricity.

With ample sunlight all day long, the solar system keeps the batteries fully charged so I can watch hockey and the weather reports from home on satellite TV.  And of course it keeps the satellite internet running as well.

Daytime temps have been very nice all things considered around 18C or 65F.  Of course the native Californians show up in parkas and down vests and winter boots because they think it is cold, while I’m happy in a T-shirt.


It looks like the weather is due to turn really cold here this week, so I guess that will be our cue to find some lower locations to hang out.