Monthly Archives: June 2019

Why We Love the Loneliest Road or back on Route 50 again.

Our next stop was in Nevada to visit friends. They are long time travelers who recently moved to Nevada following a disastrous house fire. (http://robinsonfuso.com) Now established in Nevada, Jon has let his tool and equipment fancy take flight and has, I think, one each of everything from 3D printer to tractor.

The perfect place to pull out the cassette toilet and replace it with a composting toilet. We loved our Nature’s Head on the Tiger, but this time went with a C-Head as it is a better fit for the tiny bath on the 917. Jon was in fine form, machining a foot for the front of the toilet, reworking the teak shower floor, 3D printing a shower plug, and even repurposing the fan and vent from the SOG so that the C-Head has a power vent. Did I mention Jon’s superb craftsmanship?

And if you were wondering, the C-Head is wonderful. (http://c-head.com) Look for a compare/contrast with the Nature’s Head in a future post.

Time to head east for our appointment at Terry Lee Enterprises in La Junta so we set off east along Route 50.  What more could we ask?  The pavement is good, the traffic light, and the scenery spectacular. Plus we know where the camping places are.  We ran in and out of rainstorms as we drove, which helped to explain how green everything was this year (much greener than the last time we drove Route 50 two years ago).

And we stopped, as always, in our favorite town of Ely.  Ely always provides what we need, when we need it and whatever it may be.  Previously we needed a car wash, a new fuse for electric steps, and espresso.  Ely provided.  On that trip we discovered the Happy Valley Chinese restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed lunch there.  Another time, all we needed  was dinner at the Happy Valley restaurant and a state park for an overnight. Again, Ely provided. This time we needed peat moss in a reasonably sized package for our new composting toilet, a supermarket, and of course lunch.  Ely provided, so we bought a perfectly sized pack of peat moss and our Chinese lunch was wonderful.  (And the portions so large that we got three more dinners out of it!) Unfortunately we have never managed to be there at the weekend to ride the steam train, but we live in hopes that we may manage that one of these days. Any excuse to return.

We continued east towards the Great Basin.

After a nostalgic night’s camping in the Great Basin National Park, we entered Utah near the town of Delta where Route 50 wanders rather and finally becomes 1-70. 

But we were back on 50 as we left Grand Junction, heading through Colorado. Another night of nostalgia as we found the Dry Gulch campground in the Curecanti National Recreation Area for the third time.

Our first tourist stop was Fort Uncompaghre in Delta, Colorado.  (http://fortuncompahgre.org) It took us a while to find it and we enjoyed our driving tour of the town!  The fort, like Bents Old Fort near La Junta, which we had previously visited, was a trading post in the 1800’s. This is a reconstructed site and extremely well done.  We have visited a couple of these forts and we learn something new each time. 

The whole history of the Santa Fe trail and the “Old Spanish Trail” to Mexico City and Los Angeles (La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de los Angles) is fascinating and relatively little known. This time we learned how valuable were the furs which the trappers caught and the reason for the preference for beaver hats in Europe – the fur is naturally waterproof. Georgette Heyer and Jane Austin fans take note! Now you know why Mr. Darcy, and others, favored curly beaver hats.

The various trails, Oregon, Santa Fe, “Old Spanish”,  and the rest, are interesting studies in geography as destiny. Some of them went hundreds of miles out of the way to find a lower pass through the mountains, or more assured water and grazing for animals. We you consider that they were all traversed mostly on foot, this could mean weeks of extra travel. On the other hand, it could be the difference between arriving alive and perishing in the desert. In contrast, European trade routes were known and in habited for thousands of years. The only thing similar may be the Silk Road. Even the trans Sahara routes had been used for millennia.

We spent the night at the Winery of the Holy Cross Abbey, in Cañon City, Colorado, courtesy of the Harvest Hosts group.  (Of course we purchased a couple of bottles of wine, which we shall enjoy!)  It was a pleasant spot with nice views of the abbey.

On a whim, we decided to ride the the Royal Gorge Railroad through Colorado’s Royal Gorge.  This proved to be great trip on a beautiful sunny morning.  We booked breakfast on the 9.15 a.m. train and enjoyed our 2 hour ride, through the Gorge, with eyes open for animals, while enjoying our breakfast burritos and coffee.  We saw various deer, both mule and pronghorn, and missed the supposed sightings of the bighorn sheep, though some saw them!  The camouflage is so good it is hard to see the animals unless they move.  

We then headed up the road to La Junta. We checked into the little motel and took the 917 to Terry Lee Enterprises bright and early on Monday morning. We didn’t need much, and indeed, the spare tire carrier probably could have been modified by any welding shop, but it felt good to let Billy modify his own creation. We changed every fluid and replaced several pinion seals. The bottom of the truck is much cleaner now.

The truck done, we headed back to Cañon City to buy more wine. (Well, it was excellent and they let us stay a second night!) The next morning we took a four mile walk along the old railroad path overlooking the Arkansas River. We went through three tunnels which had been cut by hand by prisoners from the penitentiary in Cañon City. Cut by hand as no one was going to give prisoners dynamite! We took photos of the train as it went and returned and then we met a herd of big horn sheep. None of this viewing through the train window – we were up close and personal. To be fair, I think the sheep were much less impressed than we were.

We then headed off for Leadville with an afternoon coffee stop at the Brown Dog in Buena Vista, another find from a previous trip. (https://browndogcoffee.com) We found a wonderful, huge dispersed camping area just outside of town and settled in for the night.

The great AT&T coverage let us make our first blog post of this trip.

Discovering Route 395

After Overland EXPO, we wanted to go somewhere to shoot pictures of the 917 in action. Bad weather put paid to plans to return to the Valley of the Gods, so we headed west, across Death Valley to California.

Along the way we stopped for the obligatory photo on old Route 66,

We did not spend any time in Death Valley; we merely popped through the 20 Mule Team Canyon, but that said, it is spectacular.

The grades into the valley test your exhaust brake to the maximum! Oh, and the views are amazing. But with an 18,000 lb. vehicle, the road commands a lot of attention.

A grade of almost 10%. Note the road continuing across the valley.

In May the temperature in the valley is not bad, but you can imagine what it is in high summer!

Climbing out the the valley, we camped at an abandoned work site, known as “The Slabs.” (The old foundation slabs make nice level campstites!)

Once into California, we turned north on US 395. We had never heard of Route 395 which runs along the Sierra Nevada, but we very much enjoyed driving it.  We are not alone – it even has a Facebook group.

Our first stop was the Alabama Hills. The Hills have been Hollywood’s secret weapon since the 1930’s. You want the Hindu Kush (“Gunga Din”), the Lone Ranger’s massacre site, Afghanistan (“Iron Man”), a burned villa (“Gladiator”), or simply spectacular scenery for westerns, great and not so great? The Alabama Hills provide it all in an area about two by five miles. We drove around the rocks a bit (proving that the swing away rear bumper would swing!) and then settled in for the night.

No, we are not in the Hindu Kush.

The next day dawned grey and dismal, but we still drove under Gunga Din’s bridge, almost by accident. (Sadly, Annie, the elephant, was no longer there.) This is a great video: https://vimeo.com/8561946

The bridge spanned from the concrete in the foreground to the rock on the other side of the truck. The “yawning chasm” was a matte shot. You are standing where Annie the elephant stood when she shook the bridge.

We left the Alabama Hills and headed into Lone Pine to visit the Film History Museum.  This was most interesting with everything from cars used in the era to memorabilia and posters from different movies.  Fred especially liked the old movie camera car, used to film racing cowboys and crashing wagons.

The town of Lone Pine has what may be the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world. (We went to the espresso bar, not as scenic, but better coffee.)

All of the scenery on Route 395 was incredible, though we could have wished for better weather – rain, clouds and even snow were our constant companions. 

Then it was time for a visit to a most moving and sad location, Manzanar, National Historic Site. One of the Japanese Internment Camps, established after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it housed about 120,000 ethnic Japanese of which 60% were US citizens. They, for the most part, lost everything; homes, businesses, and even pets were abandoned at short notice. Allowed to carry, only a suitcase, they were forced into the windy, dusty high desert environment.  Parts of the camp have been reconstructed and interviews with former residents tell their stories. A very sad and shameful part of our history.

As we continued our drive north, we stopped at the Laws Train Museum and Historical Site, a collection of old houses and memorabilia from the late 1800’s and one of the last narrow gauge engines and cars from west of the Rockies.  The Laws Depot from 1883 is there.  Other than the falling rain, it was pleasant.

Heading north still, we decided to see the Obsidian Dome, a volcanic feature amongst a number of volcanic calderas, cones and lava flows.  As the road climbed, the rain turned to snow and we found ourselves in deep drifts.  Of course we managed to get stuck as we were not expecting this and were not even in 4×4.  (Yes, we should have been).  This posed a bit of a problem – we had sand ladders and “Go Treds” but no shovel. (Don’t even say it!) We successfully extricated ourselves using the rear winch. For the first time in our lives, Mr. “I-don’t-need-no-stinkin-winch” was saved by a winch. (Yes, we did have a nice new tree strap.) Actually, the truth is that Denise ran the winch while Fred drove.

Denise, a beautiful wench, or is it winch?

Once out, the snow was falling, so we decided to stay put and camped beside the drift!!  Next morning we had a dusting of snow on us but the sun was shining!  We had not seen it in so long!

Our final stop on 395 before heading into Nevada was at the Mono Lake, known for its tufas.  Mono Lake is a salt lake, which forms tufas, strange spires and knobs, when fresh water springs containing calcium bubble up through the lake water and combine with the carbonate-rich waters of the lake. 

We started at the Visitor Center and then retraced our steps to the South Tufa area where a footpath led down to the lake and close encounters with both dry and wet tufa.  There are no fish in the lake only briny shrimp, which are a favored source of food for several migrating birds.  There are also alkali flies which are a food source.  There were a few birds around but we did not visit in the main migration season.

The Mono Basin is very volcanic with the youngest mountain range in the US.  For example, Panum Crater only erupted 650 years ago.

As we left, we went to the Panum Crater, and climbed up the side to view the lake and the crater, before heading into Lee Vining to enjoy an ice-cream on the first sunny day in a week!  And on to Nevada where we planned to visit friends, for the Memorial Day weekend.

On the Road, Again

This time our departure was rather rushed as we could not leave until the new wheels arrived from Germany.  (http://www.expeditions-lkw.de/felge-11-75×22-5-8-loch-et-110-kronprinz.html  Thank you, Fabian!) They made it by the skin of their teeth and we drove to Baltimore on the Wednesday to pick them up and then dropped them at the tire shop.  Fred had them installed with the new tires on the Friday and then it was all systems go for departure on the following Wednesday. Thank you all of the wonderful folk at Alban Tire, Springfield. (https://www.albantire.com

New, round wheels and tires!

It always takes far longer to get ready than one thinks it should but we made it out about 11 AM with most of what we planned to take with us!  And in the U.S. one can always buy what one forgets!  In other parts of the world that is not always the case!

We were heading for Overland Expo West, (https://www.overlandexpo.com/west) so had a limited amount of time to make it to Flagstaff, Arizona which made for long driving days. We could see considerable flooding as we approached the Mississippi River and as the river was cresting further north at that moment, we were glad to get through without problems. Perhaps as result of all of the rain, the spring flowers beside the interstate were lovely, even into the desert.

We took the shortest possible route, Interstate 40, but were frankly shocked by the state of the road surface in several of the states and by the general lack of open rest areas. Oklahoma had not one rest area available, so no wonder all the truck stops advertised “clean toilets”.  Even a camper needs a rest area for a lunch stop.  Eating lunch in a truck stop parking area is no fun. 

That said, there were some pleasant surprises en route. The KOA in Grants, New Mexico is not impressive from the road, but it turns out to be lovely and right in the middle of “El Malpais” (badland). (https://koa.com/campgrounds/grants/) They even have a short, annotated lava/nature walk which gives you a sense of the unique geology of the region.

As it was warm and the sun was shining, we made a flying return to the Painted Desert and stopped at the same overlooks we had visited on our first trip west in 2014. That time it was cold enough to chill the proverbial monkeys! This time it was lovely and the sunlight made the colors so much richer.

But we made it to Flagstaff in time, met up with friends at the KOA and headed to Overland Expo. And the new wheels and tires? Round and wonderful! We could make as much as 60 MPH!

Overland Expo is in a new venue, Fort Tuthill Park, which is right in Flagstaff, a boon for day trippers and those who stay overnight in hotels. The event is now up to 22,000 people, and, as Denise’s brother would say, it was “heaving.”

We showed the 917 at the XPCamper display and were busy dawn to dusk.

We were able to slip away and catch Dan Grec’s wonderful presentation on West Africa. (http://theroadchoseme.com)

Fred was also able to catch a presentation on driving to the Eye of Africa: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richat_Structure a cool looking hole that can only be appreciated from space. Go figure! Still, we may put it on our agenda for the coming years. This link gives a good impressionistic view of the event: https://americanadventurist.com/overland-expo-west-2019/

True to the history of Overland EXPO in Flagstaff, it snowed on Monday morning!

We even saw Rob and Nina Blackwell’s old truck in the camping area. The new owner is said to be delighted with it. (http://whiteacorn.com)

An old friend from EXPO’s past. (This is the truck they drove across Asia to Europe.)