Current Location: Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley, California
Current temperature: 94. High today 104 Low tonight 75 Sunny
We are beginning our third day in Death Valley and I am working on photos and blog posts. There is WiFi only in the lodge here at Stovepipe Wells where we are camped with full hookups, including sewer, for 8 bucks a night. Yeah you read that right. But that is a story for another post. In the mean time…
Tuesday April 30. We laughed this morning, wondering what day it was. Finally decided it was Tuesday. Hmmm. Must be Belgium? No, not Belgium, instead, it is time to drive over the mighty Sierras and find the beautiful high desert country of 395. We also noticed that a couple of clocks had different times. Maybe half an hour apart. Did it matter? no. Vacation time.
Getting on Highway 50 going east was a matter of a few minutes from our campground, and the road was reasonably quiet on this Tuesday morning. The light was brilliant in that way that seems to be found only in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Mo and I both have traveled 50 many times, but once again it all seemed new. Neither of us remember how closely the road followed the American River, and the river was wild and full with the spring snowmelt.
We stopped along the way for a doggie break and when I stepped out of the rig I was overpowered with the intense scent of dry pine and incense cedar. I live in the forest, Oregon is covered with beautiful forests, many of them the same species, and yet here and only here in the Sierra Nevada Mountains have I smelled this particularly unique fragrance. I have no idea why other forests don’t smell like this. I took deep, deep breaths while we walked around a bit and listened to the sound of logging down below us along the river.
A few more miles along the river and we were up on the crest, and rounding a big curve the blue beauty of Lake Tahoe lay before us. I also didn’t remember Highway 50 being this steep and narrow. It is a LONG way down and of course I was in the passenger seat looking down at a very long drop to the bottom. We knew that the highway 50 route to Carson City would have been a bit easier, but the faster and shorter route was through Markleeville along Highway 88 and a turn south on Highway 89, intersecting 395 just south of Topaz.
Monitor Pass is narrow and very steep, with a few hairpin turns but the vistas across the east slope of the mountains down into the desert are magnificent. I am not sure I would like to drive it in a bigger motorhome, but in our 26 footer we do just fine, even towing the Tracker. Slow and Easy does it. Traffic was light and the downshift feature in our Ford chassis worked great as usual, although the lowest gear wasn’t really quite low enough and Mo had to use the brakes more often then she liked.
Once off the pass and onto 395, the landscape opened up to the dry sage high desert that is the beauty of the Eastern Sierra. Not far down the Walker River we found a great day use area, that looked as though it had been worked on a bit since we passed here last. In the warm sunshine, the Jeffrey pines were exuding the scent of vanilla, or some think of it as butterscotch.
Mo had never smelled it before and was surprised at how strong it was. She also learned the “Gentle Jeffrey, Prickly Ponderosa” saying that helps identify the two trees by their cones. No prickles on this beautiful cone. The river was full and beautiful as well, and we enjoyed the interpretive signs that talked of the magnificent Walker River Trout, now a quarter of its once historic size. We enjoyed our lunch in the sheltering coziness of the MoHo, and appreciated the nice RV turn around area and parking. What a great lunch spot right along the road!
The rest of the afternoon led us along the eastern slope of the Sierras, where the snow seemed quite thin for the last day in April. Passing the road to Bodie where we spent happy times wandering the high desert, and then passing our road to the Virginia Lakes trails brought back lots of great memories of times we have spent in this, one of our most favorite parts of the world.
We pulled a long hill and then rounded a big curve to see Mono Lake stretching out before us, a strange and very different shade of green than I have ever seen. At the rest area overlooking the lake were some more interesting interpretive signs telling the story of this lake like no other in the world. Farther down in the landscape we found more signs with the story of the geologic hot spot in the area, the Long Valley Caldera. I had been explaining this particular phenomena to Mo as we traveled along and it was great to find a picture of the extent of the explosion right there along the highway.
Pulling into Brown’s Millpond just north of Bishop in early afternoon was perfect, and we snagged a nice little site. Looking at each other and the blue skies and leafed out locust and cottonwood trees, I said, “What about just staying here two nights?”. A site was available, and we were really glad to know that tomorrow would be a leisurely day exploring around Bishop and just hanging out a bit and enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
Brown’s Millpond is a great little campground, one not on our radar until Russ mentioned it in a comment and we decided to check it out. The six miles into Bishop is an easy trip, and unlike the other campgrounds in town, it is off the road and quiet, with the Sierras as a backdrop and shaded by beautiful cottonwoods and locusts now in bloom. The camp hostess, Stacy, is a granddaughter in the extensive Brown clan, folks who have been in the Bishop area for several generations. She was a sweet and delightful young woman, full of talk and stories, and so helpful. She even lent us a DVD player! Ours in the MoHo has been broken for awhile and we have avoided trying to replace it since we discovered that it is hardwired into the rig. Funny thing, there is an input for “video game” and Mo thought, why wouldn’t that work for a DVD?! Sure enough, it did, and we got to try it out without having to buy one just yet.
We watched “Lincoln”, trying once again to actually get through the movie without falling asleep. I have no idea what to say about this movie. It was so highly acclaimed, and parts of it were amazing, with good performances and yet it still very nearly put me to sleep. I am glad we got through it, glad we watched it, if only to know we watched it and to not have to wonder what we missed. As I said, parts were really good. A test of a good movie is if you are sorry it is ending or if you are glad it is finally over, do you think?
Before we settled into the movie, though, we decided to walk the campground. On the west boundary, there was an open gate, and who can resist an open gate leading out into the desert! It was a great, quiet, off leash place to get a good leg stretch for us and for Abby, and while the sunset wasn’t very colorful, the light was still beautiful. I am so glad to once again be in this part of the world, watching the light change on the mountains and smelling the incredible air, listening to the cottonwoods rustle.
Before I go, I have to mention that THIS is why I read blogs. hike into Antelope Canyon. As many years as I have traveled the canyons of Southern Utah, I have never managed to get to Antelope Canyon. Diane’s post made me cry, and made me remember how top this is on my bucket list. Time to schedule a Utah canyon trip. So many places, so little time….
The same thing happened this morning while reading Sherry’s review of Grayson State Park on the western edge of Florida. Yes, I love Utah, and yes, I love Florida. Then of course, I read Nina’s beautiful post about gnats while camping on Antelope Island. I now know for sure when NOT to camp there.
What a great day, what a great life.