Crossing the Border into California

We continued across Nevada on HWY 50. The western side of the state is drier due to the higher Sierra mountains to the west. Outside of Fallon, NV is the 600 foot Sand Mountain. If you zoom in on this picture you will see an ATV just below the crest to give it some perspective. The mountain is the wind-blown remains of the ground Sierra quartz that washed into the valley from the receding glaciers that covered this part of Nevada 10,000 years ago. Around 30,000 folks now visit the site a year to have fun in the sand.


As the scenery along the highway became sparse, we stopped to read more of the historical signs posted along the road. HWY 50 was the Nevada route used by the Pony Express in 1860 between St Joseph, MO and Sacramento, CA. Several of the “Pony” stops, which were roughly 20 miles apart along the route, can still be found today. The “Pony” was a private business that only lasted 18 months with the completion of the telegraph lines that followed this same route.


The Overland Stage also used this route along HWY 50 until the turn of the century and was part of the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental road. Somewhere along the line the road was by-passed by the new interstate system, and like Route 66, is now just part of history, and a much more interesting route to travel if you have the time.

We gave the Roamer a wash in Fallon, NV, knocking off the caked on mud and pine pollen from the previous weeks. We found a place by the river to camp at Fort Churchill CG, trading pollen for cottonwood snow – lol.


Fort Churchill was a western fort in the 1860s made of adobe and wood to provide a base for the military presence in western Nevada during the mid 1800s. The remains of the buildings still stand today.


We took the dirt road west towards the California border and passed the NATC – Nevada Automotive Test Center. Every type of military vehicle was there and the roads into the hills looked like they put them through some good tests. The guy at the gate gave the Roamer a good look as a possible future test vehicle.


We hit the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe on a Sunday afternoon. Lake Tahoe is a large, deep, beautifully blue lake. According to the local paper, if you drained Lake Tahoe it would cover the entire state of California with over a foot of water.

The steep slopes into the lake makes any level land around the lake at a premium for use. There were hundreds of vacationing people and parked cars all along the winding roads that surround the beautiful lake. We headed up into the hills just above Incline Village and found a nice little campground called Mt Rose CG.


It had just opened for the year the previous Friday due to snow – yeah snow. There was still snow all around but it was melting fast.


There were a few Uinta Squirrels there that had fallen food recovery down to an art form.


We had a nice hike to a nearby meadow in the mountains.


We took the long way around Lake Tahoe as we left to see as much as we could. Emerald Bay was beautiful and may be a future stop. We did stop at the USFS Ranger station and got some tips on where to camp in the future. She did say that the July 4th weekend is not the time to be there, where in her local area the population goes from 5,000 folks to 100,000 folks – yikes! Luckily summertime road construction was in progress to help with the traffic – lol.


We stopped in South Lake Tahoe, which is in California, to stock up with food for the upcoming weekend with the boys. We then hit the California Border Inspection Station south of town. We were singled out of the line of vehicles for further inspection of produce, wood, plants, and animals. We had a good chat with the inspector, having entered California on previous trips and knew what to expect, but after I had to wonder what “border” did we cross.

We then climbed over Monitor Pass along HWY 89 and stopped for a nice lunch near the top before dropping down onto what I consider one of California‘s best roads, HWY 395.


As we traveled south, clear blue skies of the last week gave way to a nice summer storm over Mono Lake.


Luckily we stopped to read the “you are here” map at the lookout and saw that there were BLM campsites up Lundy Lake road not shown on our map. We headed up the canyon and were surprised at the beauty of Lundy Lake.


We found a nice camping spot down by the river below the lake, after we made it through the trees.


We knew had picked good spot because someone left the “CAMP HOST” sign with a new envelope on our post sometime in the early morning for whoever was going to host for the upcoming holiday weekend.


We then headed for Bodie, CA – a mining town that peaked at around 10,000 folks in the late 1800s and ended mining operations in the mid 1900s. While it’s called a “Ghost Town” we were there with about 200 other folks walking around town.


The place had a lot to see, even Prince Albert in a can!


Our next stop was Mono Lake, with its structures that were the submerged calcium carbonate spires that formed around the lake spring sources. These are now visible because the water level is much lower since LA has been pulling water from as far away as here since the 1940s.


There was a forest fire that recently burned around Lee Vining and up the mountainside. Fire crews were still all over the place putting out the last of the fires.


We are camped now at June Lake Beach CG, another beautiful lake in the high Sierras.


May be tough to find a place to camp in tomorrow given the holiday weekend and no reservations, but we’ll meet up with the boys in Lone Pine on Saturday for a few days.

Entering the Great Basin

We packed up and exited the Grand Staircase-Escalate NM, heading west along picturesque HWY 12. We ran into Bryce Canyon NP and stopped in for a nice Father’s Day lunch at the lodge. We’ve bought the NP annual pass for the last three years, which allows us free admission into all of the parks. During our travels the pass has paid for itself many times over. It’s nice knowing you can just run into a national park, have a good lunch, refill your water, catch a few incredible sites and leave without feeling like you should have done more.


Bryce, while extremely beautiful, was filled with a zoo of people. More folks were jammed into the parking lot and visitor center area than we had seen in total since leaving Arizona a week ago. We were glad to exit the park after only a couple of hours.


We camped a little west and at a little higher altitude compared to Bryce at White Bridge campground next to Panguitch Creek. The next day was our laundry day so we headed to Cedar City. The road took us past Cedar Breaks NM so we stopped in for a look before we dropped down from 10,000 feet into Cedar City.


After laundry, food and gas provisioning in Cedar City we headed back up to Cedar Breaks for a nice afternoon hike. The last time we were in Cedar Breaks was nearly 20 years ago when we were skiing at Brainhead, which is nearby, and took an afternoon off from downhill to cross-country ski into Cedar Breaks during the winter. It looks even better with snow on the colorful rocks.


We camped the night at Cedar Canyon campground, on the hill between Cedar Breaks and Cedar City. We learned it’s never a good idea to camp near a 12% grade hill.

We took off the next day across western Utah using a less traveled route; the Lund Hwy and the Pine Valley Road to get to Baker, NV. Both roads are nice dirt roads that pass through some very beautiful country.


We stopped for lunch along the way. No need to worry about traffic out here.


We entered Nevada and The Great Basin National Park. Neither of us had been there before and really had no idea what to expect. We were both nicely surprised. While the great basin is the bowl surrounded by mountains that encompasses most of Nevada, the park itself sits in the 13,000-foot Wheeler Mountain range, and not in a lower altitude basin.


The Wheeler campground is at 9,800 feet and was nice and cool given the heat wave hitting the rest of the southwest. There were many trails from the campground and we did the hike to the high altitude bristlecone pine forest, where the trees are over 2000 years old; the oldest close to 5000 years old.


The hikes to the alpine lakes were gorgeous too.


The park also has beautiful limestone caves that are full of beautiful cave structures.



The second day we even got a little rain during a hike to one of the lakes.


There were a lot of deer in the park enjoying the cool weather and the new grass.


The sunset from our camp was not bad either. It’s so out of the way that the park was not crowded and definitely a place to revisit.


We then took off west across central Nevada on HWY 50, known as “The Loneliest Highway in America”. The central Nevada countryside was beautiful with large green valleys covered in sage and desert brush, between the many mountain ranges that run north to south.


We pulled off the highway past Ely, NV to have lunch at Garnet Hill Rec Area. We didn’t find any garnets, but it is a huge mining area and the garnets are around according to the information board there.


We continued on just a little further west to Illipah Reservoir for the night, a BLM campground that was pretty and quiet.


In the morning we headed into the hills to the mining ghost town of Hamilton, NV. Once a silver mining town of 12,000 people, the town is now just a memory since the mine stopped producing in 1870.


We did see a herd of wild horses on the road into Hamilton.


We made our way to Hickison Petroglyph Rec Area west of Eureka, NV for the night. We hiked the trials to see the great basin petroglyphs and the scenery.



We’re about in the center of Nevada now and will be making our way to the California border and Lake Tahoe.

Grand Staircase-Escalante

We left the north rim traveling north towards Utah. We stopped at Pipe Springs National Monument just outside Fredonia, AZ. Pipe Springs has a rich history of the native Paiute Indians and Mormons settlers dating back to the 1850s. The spring was the only source of water for many miles.
Because of its strategic location, nearly half way between Zion and the Grand Canyon, Mather made it a national monument in the 1920s and put in place an equal water split between the Paiute Indians, the local ranchers and the US Government that is still in place today.


The “castle” built there was a sanctuary for Mormon wives. The cattle given to the church grazed the local fields for many years. It even had a telegraph office that connected the outpost with St George and Kanab.


We then headed to Stateline CG along the Arizona / Utah border on the northern end of the Vermillion Cliffs. We spent the night there and hiked Wire Pass trail into the Paria Canyon. The entrance is just north of “The Wave” so the rocks are very interesting.


The slot canyon was nice and cool in the shade, but some light made it down to the ground.


We then took off north up Cottonwood Canyon road that runs up the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The drive was beautiful and the skies were clear. Last year we attempted to make the drive and the local rangers advised against it due to rain. Sections of the road have a clay mud that binds into your tire tread and then you just skate along the road. We ran into some back-country horse riders that said they were caught on the road in the rain and their trailers all jackknifed on them on the down hills.


We stopped to do a couple hikes. The first ended in a river bed so we turned around.


We then hiked the cottonwoods narrows which was very beautiful.


We made our way to Grosvenor’s Arch and found a nice juniper grove just over the hill from the arch to camped.


The next day we hit the north end of the drive and Kodachrome Basin State Park, where we stopped to do a hike.


They had two campgrounds there. One in the basin that was full of RVs and another in the back-country that seemed to be more our style, but it was early in the day so we continued on.


The hike had a few photo spots that led out to some interesting points. The sign at the trail entrance said to stay 10 feet from the side rock sides, but this does not look 20 feet wide. You do get some good pictures though.


We then made our way to Boulder, Utah and to one of our favorite restaurants, Hell’s Backbone Grill, for lunch. Everything is grown locally, tastes great and the ambiance of the place makes it even better.


The restaurant is named for the road that was constructed in the 1930s by the CCC to finally connect Escalante and Boulder, Hell’s Backbone Road, separated by incredible rock formations. Now the two towns are connected by the paved and very scenic Hwy 12 that slices through amazing rock formations. The old road is now just a dirt forest road that is a great drive, so we took it. It takes the long way around the rock gorge up through the mountains and jumps the 800-foot gorge by a single lane bridge, Hell’s Backbone Bridge. It’s hard to explain the beauty of what it looks like off to both sides of the bridge so I’ll leave that for you to come see for yourselves.


We made it about half way along the road and stopped at Blue Spruce CG for the night. It was a great spot along a brook and at a higher altitude for a cool night in the pines. We had a nice campfire and watched several deer feed all around us for our entertainment.


We then headed south out of Escalante on the Hole-In-The-Rock road, a 57-mile dirt road that runs all the way to Lake Powell.
We did some good hikes along the way at Zebra,…


Devil’s garden,…


Dry Fork Slots, stopping to camp along the way.


At the end of the road is “the-hole-in-the-rock” where in the 1880s Mormons looking for a faster route lowered 26 wagons and 280 people to cross the Colorado River, which is now part of Lake Powell.


We spent the night there under a beautiful moon.


Now it’s off to western Utah and Nevada.

North Rim – Revisited

We arrived home from our New Mexico trip to a heat wave that pushed the Phoenix temperatures into the 110+ degrees, way too hot for our liking. I smoked some chickens and pork before we took off to Prescott area and actually had trouble keeping the smoker cool enough in the valley weather.

We attended the yearly Orme school reunion and then went to our place on the rim, where Pam’s brother, Allan, made short work of a 30-foot ponderosa near the house. We now have fire wood for a year, once it dries out, and wood stump stools for the outside fire pit. Oh Yeah.

We dropped back into the sweltering heat again long enough to pack up and head north to higher and cooler climates. Our first stop was Walnut Canyon National Monument outside Flagstaff, AZ. We took our favorite route there, up through Payson and Lake Mary Road. When we crested the rim above Pine a mother bear and two cubs ran across the road in front of us. It was the first time either of us saw a mother with cubs in Arizona. Pretty Cool! The road passes by Mormon Lake and there was still quite a lot of water in the lake, which most always is dry by early June.

Walnut Canyon does not have camping within the monument, but the national forest around the place offered many places to camp for the night. You can see the San Francisco peaks in the background.


We watched a great lightning show roll in from the east and had the nice patter of rain for most of the night.


We were up early the next morning and at the gate as the ranger unlocked it and let us into the park. There are only a couple of short hikes in the park so we did them both. The canyon was the home to hundreds of Pueblos, where their homes were built into the rock faces, like a modern condo.


The canyon had many rock overhangs that were made into dwellings.


Many of the dwellings still exist today.


We left Flag and headed north to the Vermillion Cliffs for lunch. We parked at the condor release site, but only spotted a single condor circling in the air. Rain showers were passing through, which may have grounded the condors.


We jumped up onto the Kaibab Plateau and made our way to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. We pulled off into the Kaibab forest heading east before entering the park and found many beautiful spots to camp along FR 611.


The overlook from this road is Marble Canyon, the Vermillion Cliffs and the eastern entrance of the Grand Canyon from Lee’s Ferry.


While we thought it was pretty spectacular a local squirrel didn’t care at all and just nibbled away at his pine cones in a nearby tree.


We then headed to the west side of the north rim and to the back country camp spot called Fire Point. It’s about a 17-mile drive through the forest and you cross into Grand Canyon National Park for the last mile of the drive. The north rim is about 1000 feet higher in elevation from the south rim and much different in vegetation. The fall is very pretty on the north rim due to the number of aspen trees that turn gold, orange and red along all the forest roads.


The park section of the drive is through a beautiful old growth ponderosa forest, where all of the trees have the golden orange bark and smell of vanilla. The ground was also covered in blue lupines.


The road snakes through the ponderosas and some spots require that the side view mirrors are pulled in.


However, you get to park right next to the rim and it’s all yours (except for the folks who drop in during the day to check it out too).


The view looks over a large section of the canyon to the west. To give some perspective, the shaded rock walls in the side canyon on the right are about 500 feet tall, and the near peak, Steamboat Mountain, is just over two miles away.


The rocks along the walls are all aglow as the sun sets.


This is a pretty nice campsite.


Now off to Utah and points further north.