Day 6/Sunday/June 1:
What we thought was a road that not often used was actually on the way to a local fishing hole or reservoir. Before 7:00 am, 4 trucks drove by to do some Sunday fishing. It was a clear sunny morning so we broke camp early to beat whatever traffic is on I 80 from Winnemucca to Battle Mountain. I 80 usually has a lot of truckers as its route is across the country. Just last April we traveled the opposite distance returning home.
Traffic on 140 was light but increased as we turned south on 95 toward Winnemucca. Once on I 80, a well-engineered freeway, travel was smooth and fast at 75mph. We passed semis and a few RVs. A stop at the Valmy rest stop, dating from the CCC era, broke up the journey. Everything inside the restrooms was cold: steel toilets, water and hand driers. There was a sign proclaiming I 80 the Dwight D. Eisenhower Highway honoring the author of our nation’s interstate system.
We fueled up in Battle Mountain then turned south on 305. We turned up a road just to see where it went. A huge mining company had taken over most of the hills to the north: Phoenix Mines. The road was closed at the mine, but you could drive on eventually ending up on Highway 50 near Middlegate to the Southwest.
Reaching the end of 305 at Highway 50, we turned east toward Austin, a town from the mining days of old. It is a mix of old store fronts and a few tourist shops plus at least 4 churches. We went up a dirt road to The Tower built by a mining magnate from the 1860s. It was built using native stone by local craftsmen based on a tower the owner saw in Italy. The family used it one June and July then lost interest.
We continued east on 50 or “The Loneliest Road In America”. Out of Austin, the road climbs and descends as it winds through the mountains. There were a few straight stretches then we arrived at the BLM’s Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area to view the rock etchings and camp for the night. There was only one other site occupied and remained that way the rest of the evening. The amenities were vault toilets, garbage cans and picnic tables, some with slatted sun shades, all for free.
There seemed to be some interesting light and clouds to the east but nothing exciting happened that would warrant pressing the shutter. As I waited, in vain, a few vehicles drove by on 50 nearing dusk. For a lonely road, there was more traffic than you would assume.
Tomorrow, we will walk the short Petroglyph loop (.3 miles) to see what the ancient culture left behind. More sandwiches and time for bed.
Day 7/Monday/June 2:
The short Petroglyph loop was long on history. There were many panels along the trail that were done in the Central a Great Basin curvilinear style. That is, incised lines into the stone rather than dots. There were several references to the sun, one with a narrow pointing to the direction of the sunrise. Some were puzzling but one was clear as it showed a arrow with feathers, drawn simplistically with lines. One large boulder displayed rock art that differed from the other panels although still curvilinear. Surprisingly there was little modern graffiti. Someone from the Simpson Expedition left his initials from 1858.
We drove east on 50 stopping at a promising gravel pit. We have found a few of these roadside rock piles productive. Today we found two somewhat large agates and some agatized jasper. It was beginning to get hot and the wind was very dehydrating so we drove on to find the back road to the almost ghost town of Belmont. On the way, we would detour to the Miniature Grand Canyon which I saw on the Benchmark Atlas and read a blog entry about. Why not visit a mini one and a grand one on the same trip?
The Monitor Valley road was a well graded gravel road with soft shoulders. It was shown as the Belmont Road in the Benchmark Atlas but the sign read Monitor Valley Rd. We stopped at another gravel pit for lunch but the hot wind kept that visit short. It was there that we encountered the first of two vehicles we saw all day.
We passed the geographical center of Nevada according to the atlas but there was no marker to indicate otherwise. The only markers were for federal roads or ranches. North of the Monitor Ranch we saw two horses saddled up and tied to a rail in a corral. We felt badly for them as it was dusty due to the many dust devils but we soon saw the second vehicle, a truck with a stock trailer coming to their rescue. At the turnoff to avoid passing through the ranch we saw a sign saying “Bye, bye BLM” with a bother indicating a meeting. Hmmm, Sagebrush Rebellion.
At the next turnoff, we turned east toward the hills: Potts Ranch and Antelope Valley in hopes of finding the Miniature Grand Canyon. I had vague directions, a Topo map app on the iPad Mini and the a Benchmark Atlas for Nevada. We soon found ourselves on 373 after a confusing array of roads going every which direction.
We were now heading for Dobbin Summit at 8657′ in the Monitor Range. Our surrounding changed from mostly sagebrush to juniper and pine with some sagebrush. There was a hunting campground in one of the few open areas. The road twisted through the trees and suddenly we were at a huge gap in the rocks. Dobbin Creek, a small creek carved a fairly deep canyon through the rocks to Antelope Valley. We pulled into a turnout as the road had been one lane since turning off past Potts Ranch (which appeared abandoned due to some dilapidated wooden structures but had a corral, fencing and cows).
We discovered a small chunky cactus blooming in bright orange red. The canyon wasn’t very spectacular but was an interesting side trip. The road we were on was in good shape so we decided to continue on into Antelope Valley to take another indirect way into Belmont rather than backtrack to the Monitor Valley Road.
Antelope Valley is narrower and shorter than its neighbor Monitor Valley. The Monitor Range divides the two. At Clear Creek, there was a log home with sod roof, another log building with upright logs and a roof patched with the tops of old 5 gallon metal buckets as at Bodie State Park in California, an old boiler, and a rock structure. The atlas indicates this collection of buildings as Clear Creek Ranch.
Several curves later we were on flat ground with sagebrush dotting the landscape. We saw horses off in the distance, about a half dozen. Further along, there were groups adding up to 3 dozen. I snapped a few shots with my 70-200 mm lens but the wind blew my scent toward them and they scattered. We weren’t sure if they were wild as there was a collection of buildings in the distance snug against the hills. But, they spooked so maybe they were wild.
It was getting late so we wouldn’t make it to Belmont so we began looking for a place to camp. There were quite a few open range cattle with heifers and their calves and big bulls so we didn’t want nighttime visitors. We were again in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest so maybe the cows wouldn’t venture past the cattle guards. In Box Canyon we came upon a closed gate that only asked that we close it behind us. We saw only a few more cattle after Box Canyon although we had left the forest. Luckily, we found a clearing amongst some pines where others had camped. There were some rabbit droppings, deer prints and what could only be a snake trail across the road.
Out here in the middle of Nevada or any open range area in the west it is difficult to tell who owns what. Nevada has the most federal holdings of any state, mostly military but the USFS and the BLM have a large chunk. We saw quite a few signs indicating that we were either leaving or entering the national forest but many ranches have grazing allotments and what may be BLM or forest lands have cattle guards and fencing. We saw a few no camping signs at the Potts Ranch but no other types like no trespassing or no hunting. We saw no sign of humans other than buildings.
Since it was after 8:00 pm we again ate our sandwiches and hit the sack, well, our sleeping bags. Tomorrow we go to Belmont then head toward Highway 6 and Tonopah for fuel as backcountry traveling eats up the miles and fuel. Then, we plan to explore back roads that leave the highway heading north.
Day 8/Tuesday/June 3:
After we got ready to hit the road, we saw the first people since yesterday morning. A rancher and his (grand)son were moving their cattle up our dirt road probably to Box Canyon where water awaited in big stock tubs. So, we just watched as they expertly kept them on track and keeping this year’s calves with their moms. The young boy, probably about 10 or 12 knew what he was doing.
After they passed by, we headed south looking for the turnoff to McCann Canyon. Interior Nevada does not have street signs. Occasionally, you will see a sign indicating how many miles to whatever canyon or ranch you are seeking with arrows and miles or a USFS road number. But, sometimes they are missing or faded or rotting off to the side.
However, this time we saw a dirt road leading west with a sign for McCann Canyon and other destinations. We followed it to a barbed wire gate, beyond which lay a narrow single lane road which look like it had seen little use. After some debate, we decided to forge ahead just because this was the shortest way to Belmont and we didn’t want to get there in a very round a bout way.
The road shortly improved and we wound through the canyon which had meadows of blue flag iris, several abandoned sheds of stone or logs or more recently of milled pine lumber. There were also fences of local wood where the wire had become loosened from the posts.
Soon, we began climbing toward the summit anticipating the steep grades that the atlas pointed out were ahead. Hah! There were grades but they weren’t steep and soon we were descending into Longs Canyon. This was a beautiful canyon reminiscent of Utah. There were sculpted stone outcroppings and hoodoos, colorful rocks and side canyons. This was a canyon we needed to return to for its photographic possibilities. There was a rather prosperous ranch but no one was home. The home was newer and looked more like a summer home. However, there were implements, corrals, tanks, etc. and the requisite cattle.
Arriving at the first paved road since Highway 50 on Sunday morning, we turned right toward Belmont. If it hadn’t been for lovely Longs Canyon, we should have continued south on USFS Road 139. The famous brick courthouse was crumbling while it was being renovated. The stone buildings and homes were partially crumbling as were those of pine. But, the most irritating situation to us was that people were living there amongst the ruins in either derelict RVs or in modern homes. This was a town that boasted 15,000 people at one time. It could have been preserved like Bodie, CA in a state of “arrested decay”. I don’t know the history of how it evolved that way but it was sad and a disappointment.
We turned around after a few images and lunch behind the courthouse to go to Tonopah for fuel, info at BLM and the USFS and drinking water/groceries. Tonopah can’t really decide what defines it: mining, gambling, or new technology. There are carved mountains in town from mining plus the Round Mountain gold mine which is huge and is gated, there are several casinos and a solar array is being built northwest of town which brought in newcomers displeasing the locals. Essentially, due to its location of the junction of highways 6 and 95, it a stopover for fuel or a rest as it is about equidistant between Reno and Las Vegas.
The next problem was a place to stay; the casino and RV parks were out so we selected a gravel pit off of Highway 6 which isn’t as heavily traveled as 95. We arrived too late for some of our errands so it was a quick 4 miles into town.
The gravel pit sheltered us from the hot sun, wind, and the little traffic noise. Even though there is an airport and race track across the highway, it was fairly quiet. I found a milky agate while walking the dog but found no others. It was getting dark so we ate and went to bed.
Day 9/Wednesday/June 4:
Apparently one of us thought we had transitioned to Mountain Time once we were in Nevada. It could have been the navigator as she takes care of logistics and mattered of time, distance and space. This positioned us in town a full hour before anything opened. Okay, so we could use the time to feed, water, groom and walk Toller, wipe down dusty lights and figure out questions and map requests. Grocery list was simple: chips, sour cream, bananas, pop for Tony and fresh fruit for me.
The people who live in Tonopah are pretty nice folks. We discussed rattlesnakes, geology, canyons, politics and Ford Diesel engines. USFS and BLM are next door on 95 and Scolari Market is just a few doors up from them. We came away with some answers, groceries, drinking water (Scoalris has a dispenser in the rear of the store by the chips), and maps. Tony also found some cool agates in the landscaping rocks at the USFS office who said, yes, okay, take a few and here is the number for Harris Gravel.
Karl at Harris Gravel was kind enough to invite us to his new pit and okayed our stay last night in his old one. Back on 6, we drove to the new pit, met Karl and started to find a few rather large agates, some milky and others kind of like clear gristle. After collecting a large zip lock bag, we waved goodbye and headed east on 6 toward our next destinations.
We stopped at the Saulsbury rest stop for lunch and met a photographer from Portland who was on his way home from a quick trip trip to the Grand Circle area. We exchanged POIs and business cards. Here was another person who saw the world in prints and also looked for things by shapes and colors rather than by name (like grocery items).
Traffic was light and the road fairly straight or with gentle curves so at 75 mph we soon were at our next turnoff to Tybo past Warm Springs. Tybo is a firmer mining town way up in the hills north of highway 6 up a dirt road. We passed different wildflowers and some sphaeralcea (orange blooms) and a large white poppy like we saw at Belmont.
Tybo looked like it may arise as there was a line of power poles marching up the mountain to the town. There were some pine lumber cabins, a brick structure still upright and the remnants of mining activity. We saw no one but there were a few “No Trespassing” signs posted so we snapped a few photos then headed to Hot Creek Canyon with a stop at Keystone, another old mining town. Hot Creek Canyon was recommended by a geologist in Tonopah who did his doctoral thesis in the Monitor Range.
Somehow, we missed the turnoff to Keystone although the sign laying on the ground indicated it was in the same direction as the canyon. We passed through Hot Creek and Upper Hot Creek Ranches, the latter who had trenched out a large wetland for irrigation. The canyon was a box canyon and actually ended up at the a Box Canyon we passed through on Monday. We passed by a herd of several hundred cattle, all horned and drove through several open gates.
Instead of arriving at the Old Page Place, we drove through a small ranch surrounded by poplars fronting a stream. We felt sorry to drive through someone’s front yard especially since a gate was ahead. We began to turn around when a nice gal appeared to brush aside our apologies. She and her husband lived at the old Dugan Ranch and had for twenty years since they discovered it on a camping trip. They had a green house, a few cows and horses. It really was a lovely spot nestled in this valley surround by poplars.
We returned to the crossroads by the Hot Creek Ranch which would lead to South Sixmile Canyon which we hoped would lead us to some fascinatingly named geology: Jumbled Rock Gulch, The Needles, and Slanted Butte. It was getting late so just before the entrance to the canyon, there was an old corral with a few cleared areas from years of use by or pother campers: Rock fire pits and rusted flattened tin cans.
Darkness revealed one light across Hot Creek Valley on some distant mountain range. There were a few clouds but the stars were brilliant in the pitch black darkness of central Nevada. Toller was restless because of all the smells of cows and jack rabbits. He was still excited about seeing the chukars in the last canyon. Time for bed Toller, it has been a long day.
Day 10/Thursday/June 5:
Waking up again to a bright sunny day, we left early before it became too hot. South Sixmile Canyon appeared to be great candidate for exploration so down a narrow rocky road we went. There were some interesting rock formations but no signs of civilization due to the narrowness. We found a place to turn around as the road was deteriorating beyond what we were comfortable with.
As we drove off USFS Road 812 to USFS Road 804, we were greeted by many cows and their calves along with some large bulls. Cows are very curious so they stopped to watch us drive by. These cows were thinner than the ones who were part of the Hot Creek Ranch herd. Later, we saw some antelope sharing the same grazing area.
I don’t know how we made it through the jumble of roads as few were numbered but we did arrive at Moore’s Station, which is a ranch/private residence. We passed by a large runway and a huge aquaduct. Since we didn’t go to the Project Faultless Nuclear Test Site (warned away by local geologist who said it was still highly radioactive. This could have been part of the support system for the detonation of the first atomic bomb.
Further north was the road to Jumbled Rock Gulch. It looked a scenic canyon but the road was rutted, very rocky and narrow. We couldn’t find any roads for Slanted Buttes and The Needles so we headed back to Highway 6 via the road that follows Moore’s Station Wash.
Once on Highway 6, we turned east toward Lunar Crater National Natural Landmark. We had planned to shoot Easy Chair Crater in the morning, but it was really hot and it was only late morning. So, we backtracked to a shortcut to 375 or the Extraterrestrial Highway called Twin Springs Ranch Road. It was scenic and not a bad gravel road. There was a mono line just before the ranch and the ET Highway.
375 has little traffic like 6 and 50. We passed through Rachel arriving at the junction with Highway 93 to turn south toward a Valley Of Fire State Park. We bought diesel in Ash Springs which sees lots of semi traffic. We passed by the Pahranagat a Lakes then turned east on 168, a shortcut to I15. There is a large scale development at the turn called the Chase at Coyote Springs which has a large green golf course and plated lots with street names and some mechanical support like water treatment facility but no homes. This is in the area where there is a preserve for the endangered Desert Tortoise. Why a huge sprawl like that was allowed near a preserve escapes me. For the tortoise’s sake, I am glad it didn’t grow any more.
I 15 had the usual mix of semis and passenger vehicles and in 2 exits we were on 169 to Valley Of Fire State Park. It had been hot all day and our Fantastic Fan helped some to cool us down. Showers were free so I gladly took advantage. The rock formations all around us glowed as the sun set. A late dinner of sandwiches as usual and we were off to sleep.
Day 11/Friday/June 6:
Even at 5:30 am, Valley of Fire was hot. The red rocks take on a glow before the sun rises. There is a dump station so we took advantage of it and potable water to fill our fresh water tank. We stopped to see the petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock. There is a 3 story staircase to climb to view the ancient rock art. Thankfully they are partially protected behind plexiglas so vandals won’t add their contributions. Atlatl was a type of hunting tool the natives used in the area.
We returned to Overton for groceries then retraced our path to I15 for The Arizona Strip. The interstate passes through the Virgin River Gorge travels from Nevada to Arizona to Utah. The times zones are confusing as Nevada is Pacific time, Arizona does not use Daylight Savings Time and Utah is Mountain Time. We did stop in Mesquite, Nevada to fuel up at the Shell. Mesquite is a retirement town we would never retire to. Glitzy, cookie cutter Las Vegas wannabe.
We stopped at the BLM office in St. George to pick up some maps and info. The Arizona Strip map for $12 is a must for traveling where we had planned. We were told the road south to Toroweap was a good road so we headed south. People tend to travel way too fast on gravel roads so it builds up washboards which shake the hell out of you vehicle not to mention any unsecured items in your camper. After 20 bone-jarring miles with 80+ to go, we retreated back to St. George and headed east on 9 through Hurricane, 59 south and east to Hilldale and 389 into Arizona. We stopped at the local tribe’s Chevron to fill up as we were venturing into the back country.
Back on 389, we turned south on USFS road 22 recommended by the BLM in St. George. It was a decent gravel road, not nearly as deeply wash boarded as the road to Toroweap. The further south we traveled, the mor mixed the forest became. Once mostly pine, the forest added Engelman Spruce, Douglas Fire and Aspens. There was a tornado in 1958 that blew down 550 acres of virgin pine. The young pines are renewing the land but since their habitat is in the higher elevations, their progress is slow. We found a downed pine that had been cut with a chainsaw that had very narrow growth rings.
As it was getting late, we drove down another road then found where others had camped. It was level and quiet. Toller could run and run and he did allowing his nose to lead the way. Tired Toller slept well that night as did we with the scent of pines.
Day 12/Saturday/June 7:
We awoke early to head for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I had never been there and Tony had never seen the Grand Canyon. On the way to Highway 67, we saw a mature coyote, three Merriam turkey’s and a hawk. We heard the woodpeckers. Once we came to the highway, we cut across to a viewpoint of the Saddle Mountain Wilderness where you can see a deep gash in the valley below. It was quite windy and there were no guardrails on the ledge going almost straight down.
A few miles down the road we entered the park and parked at the visitor center to check out evening photography opportunities. The park had a guest photographer so many of the rangers were knowledgeable about when and where. Since we were at Bright Angel viewpoint, we decided to stay for the evening shot then find another boondock spot on 22 for the night as the campground was full.
But, first we needed to dump our fresh water tank of the alkaline water from Valley Of Fire. The “potable” water was so bad Toller wouldn’t drink and Tony said that coffee wouldn’t even mask the taste. We checked with the rangers who allowed us to dump and refill even though we weren’t camping at the campground.
Returning to Bright Angel Point, I headed out with camera gear to the very end to await the magic. There was a glow but it wasn’t as impressive as I had envisioned. I even waited until after the sunset but there were no clouds to send the last rays for the after sunset glow. A group of photographers from the Albuquerque area said they got some amazing images at Imperial Point that morning with Mount Hayden all aglow. Looks like we will be up really early to drive the 45 minutes from wherever we stay the night.
Underwhelmed, we drove back up to 22 to find a place for the night. It was dark but we turned off the first road where 2 campers had claimed the lower flat ground. We put the truck in four wheel low and climbed up to a flat area. A quick dinner and we were asleep.
Day 13/Sunday/June 8:
We were so tired this morning and the drive to Imperial Point would be long and through deer territory so we elected to sleep in. When we swing through this way again we will camp at the campground in October as no reservations are needed. It will be closer to the point for both morning and evening photos.
Highway 67 had little traffic but they all seemed in a hurry. We stopped at Jacob Lake for fuel then headed east on 89 A North. A series of tight curves brought us out of the mountainous terrain and down into a valley. We turned north on House Rock Valley Road through the Vermillion Cliffs area. As graded gravel roads go, it wasn’t a bad road. The washboards would come further north where the popular trails for Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch are.
We stopped at a viewpoint for the California Condors who nest in the Vermillion Cliffs to the northeast. Noting the whitewashed stains on the cliffs, Tony scanned the area and discovered a nest with an adult spreading its wings to fly. We saw a total of three birds catching the thermals scanning for food.
California Condors used to scavenge for mammoths 1.5 million years ago. With the extinction of their main food source their numbers declined until just a few birds remained. A valiant effort has brought their numbers up slowly. Impressive birds with a wingspan of 9.5 feet, they again soar above looking for smaller remains for survival.
Another stop was an old ranch with a beautiful local stone chimney still standing. The house had collapsed but a weathered shed, corral and small barn remained. Outside the shed was an air powered shovel that would shovel soil into a mine car.
From House Rock Valley Road we saw a rock formation on a ridge with an arch and some interesting jumbles. We tried a road that headed toward them but it ended at a gate where it became soft coral hued sand. There was a tight turnaround so we returned to the main road. There were offshoots but they were narrow and we weren’t sure where they went.
We ventured up Winter Road that wound up to the west toward Fredonia thinking we would get some views to the west and north. It was a rough road that revealed a small canyon on one side. After awhile, we turned back as the route travelled atop along the top of a plateau and we weren’t keen on backtracking to Fredonia.
Toward the northeast some beautiful formations that are the Coyote Buttes (South and North) began to take shape. From atop Winter Road returning to the main road you could see the colorful badlands and the teepee formations among others. Trails to the east would lead to the Paw Paws, White Pocket and the famed Wave.
As we traveled north, they became more prominent, but the traffic became more pronounced also with people who had permits for the various trails. We were wondering why people would bring sedans on a rough road but were even more puzzled when we were almost sideswiped by a lumbering class C rental.
Eventually we arrived on pavement so we again turned east on 89 past the Paria Contact Station (permits for the previous area) toward Cottonwood Canyon Road in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. I had visions of candy colored rock outcroppings, especially along The Cockscomb. Initially, the scenery was not too colorful as we followed the trickle of the Pariah River. But, as we neared the Cockscomb, the color began to show. We had seen some power lines but were hoping they would head away from us. Whoever thoughtlessly engineered these transmission lines thoroughly destroyed one of the most beautiful back roads we have traveled with not one but two parallel lines that probably head toward Salt Lake City from the Glen Canyon Dam on Lake Powell.
We had planned to boondock along the route to take advantage of morning and evening light but were so disgusted that we decided to make Bryce our evening destination. Later, we were told by the a Bryce ranger whose dad was a lineman that they preceded the monument’s establishment by a few years. She was defensive about it saying people had to have power. But, I say that they could have been routed elsewhere.
Grosvenor Arch is a short 1 mile side trip to a golden yellow double arch. To see both arches, a sidewalk takes you to the base so those with disabilities can see through to the sky.
This is a sandy road and the winds had picked up. We had our windows closed and the AC on but it was so fine that it seeped into the truck. We passed Kodachrome State Park where we had stayed in a cabin in September 2010. We stopped along the paved road to photograph a picturesque shed with some nice geology in the background. Not really the best light but the composition was nice.
We stayed at North Campground at Bryce in Loop D which surprisingly wasn’t full. Almost, but not quite. The sites are a bit too close for me but hey, we were in Bryce. Our neighbors had a smoky campfire so we retreated to our camper after a walk with Toller around our loop and to the pay station.
Day 14/Monday/June 9:
We were up before sunrise to photograph from Sunset Point, my favorite viewpoint. With the dog along, we couldn’t walk the trails together but I did venture a few switchbacks down the trail from the viewpoint. Surprisingly I only had the point and shoot crowd for company and they left after sunrise. I had the whole viewpoint to myself until a bus load of tourists arrived. The backlit glow of the hoodoos is so ethereal that you just can’t stop shooting.
After leaving Bryce, we thought we would check out the Sevier Scenic Backway. We passed through ranches and saw a few antelope but the road was really dry and dusty and the traffic including USFS trucks would blow right by leaving us in a cloud of dust.
Back on highway 12, we passed through the red rock tunnels and by Red Canyon. Highway 89 would take us to Panguitch for fuel then on 143 toward Cedar Breaks National Monument. When we were in this area in 2010, a controversial coal strip mine was being debated. Sadly, I was informed by the gas station cashier that the Alton Mine was in operation. People need jobs she said as the double bellied coal transport trucks rumbled through this beautiful brick home town. Maybe so I replied but not 50 miles from Bryce. Coal mines are dirty and ugly and coal is antiquated unless newer technology to improve the emissions from the generators is invented. Jobs always win.
143 is a winding highway through ranches and recreation. Panguitch Lake is for recreation not photography as vacation homes and vehicles parked on the shore attest. We encountered some road work as the crews were laying down a layer of asphalt. In these higher elevations, roads get hammered due to the cold and snow and chains. There was also some volcanic rubble along the road which might indicate this area is on the fringe of the Great Basin.
Cedar Breaks has a nice campground just down the road from the Visitor Center. Our camp hosts were from Texas who demonstrated true Texan hospitality. Our campsite was a pull through across from them in a field of emerging wildflowers. It was about a month too soon for the explosion of color but a variety of bluebells was just beginning to bloom.
We had lunch and took a nap due to the high altitude. Several hours before sunset we drove to Point Supreme which is just behind the Visitor Center. There is a half mile trail from the point to the campground but I didn’t feel like hauling heavy camera gear in the dark. I did discover that it had overviews into the amphitheater that gave a different perspective.
The Ramparts Trail skims the amphitheater offering great views but it was very windy and it has no guard rails to prevent a gust of wind from toppling you into the steep canyons. There isn’t the glow that you get in Bryce except deep into the amphitheater. But, the point has thick log rails supported by rock pillars that place you too far away for a deeper view. I did get some images that might work but tomorrow I would really see some glow about an hour after sunrise.
Since we had already eaten dinner, we took Toller for a stroll then went to sleep after watching the dark sky fill with stars.
Day 15/Tuesday/June 10:
Before sunrise was too early for any images due to orientation of the amphitheater at Point Supreme (elevation 10,350′) toward the west. After about an hour the sun hit the upper cliffs and it’s outer flanks but the sun, being direct, flattened the outcroppings. A half hour later brought the side and backlighting into play and now the light was sublime. I worked the point overview and the views from the campground trail. I was alone in the quiet and the light. It was liberating not having to find a view amongst a crowd of point and shooters and the more serious photographers.
Park staff was on the job installing a station for filling water bottles like we have seen at Zion and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. A ranger told us that the source of their water was from underground springs. We could fill up our drinking water bottles from a spigot in the campground or adjacent picnic area. We always check with the park personnel regarding potable water and the taste. After filling our water containers, we headed south on 148 toward 14 to stop for fuel and food in Cedar City at Shell and Smiths respectively. 14 is a beautiful road that passes through a beautiful gorge and gives you a glimpse along the road of the red rock that typifies Zion.
Highway 56 goes directly to Nevada passing through ranches and the small towns that support them after the sprawl of Cedar City. It is fairly flat and straight then climbs into mountains between the two states.
From Panaca, we drove directly to the campground at Cathedral Gorge State Park. We began to feel the afternoon heat so after quickly raising the top and opening the vents, windows and flaps, we took a nap until it cooled down.
Silly me had my time zones mixed up so I missed some nice light on some of the formations that typify the park. Making my way back the short distance to our campsite, I swept the beam of the flashlight across the road to spot any snakes that the park ranger said might be in the campground. It was still warm so I went to bed with the Fantastik fan running. The sound of large raindrops startled me awake but i fell back to sleep soon.
Day 16/Wednesday/June 11:
Since the storm had brought in some clouds, I thought there might be some great light at dawn. There was a colorful sunrise but the light didn’t fall on any of the more interesting formations. I did have several black-eared jack rabbits for company so I turned my lens on them. After returning to our campsite, I almost stepped on a baby snake. He curled up against the base of one of the shade trees but didn’t coil or hiss. I am unsure of the species.
Traffic on 93 northbound was very light so we had the whole highway to ourselves at times. We bypassed Pioche, a notorious mining town that rivaled some of the baddest at the time for violence. It was beginning to warm up and we had visited the town in 2010.
Up ahead we saw two very large birds sitting on fence posts who, upon closer inspection were Golden Eagles. Since we could see no traffic for miles in either direction we slowed down for a closer look. Larger than the Bald Eagles that we see in our area, they are truly a majestic bird.
Ely sits at the crossroads of 3 highways: 50, 93and 6. The main businesses are on Great Basin Avenue as you approach town from the south. Downtown wasn’t exactly thriving but there was a casino/hotel and several defunct gas stations. In Ely, we had some businesses to visit for fuel, a better gasket to seal the air filter, and some rubber to better seal the driver’s side window. There is also a USFS Ranger a District office there so we could decide which way to drive to the Ruby Mountains.
I thought County Road 3 which heads north to the Ruby Lake Wildlife Refuge would be more scenic and direct than taking 93 north to Interstate 84 and Elko then driving 227 to Lamoille Canyon. The informed opinion of the ranger was that we would be fine but to watch for livestock and extraction trucks. It was paved for a distance but would eventually become a graded gravel road.
The cattle we saw were off in the distance eating sagebrush and our only encounter with a large truck was a two tanker petroleum truck we could see from miles away due to the dusty rooster tail following it. Other than a few pickups from ranches or the mine, there was very little traffic.
We drove through a mining area where the hills had been scraped away into a huge open pit. The names we saw were Barrick and Bald Mountain Mine but the name on my map said Mooney Basin Project in the same vicinity. We drove through but didn’t see much activity even though there was heavy equipment scattered around.
We passed by a monument for Fort Ruby which was one of the worst forts to be stationed at as it was isolated its purpose was to protect the settlers and transcontinental railroad workers from Indian attacks. The overland Trail and the Pony Express route pass closely by.
Ruby Lake Wildlife Refuge was more of a marsh with dikes and small ponds than a lake. It is spring fed from the snow pack on the Ruby Mountains to the west. There is a small settlement called Shantytown which is a collection of small older and newer homes.
The campground at South Ruby was empty so we had our pick of sites. We chose one with a view of the lake and the Maverick Springs Range to the east, number for $7.50. It had been a long 200 miles so we set up camp, had dinner and watched the almost full moon rise toward the east. To the north several sets of denticular clouds hing in the sky until the setting sun turned them a light pink. I just enjoyed the show as there wasn’t much of interest for photography due the lighting from our campsite.
Day 17/Thursday/June 12:
The day began with a beautiful sunrise over the far mountain range. We drove out to the access road to discover which birds were nesting and feeding. We saw many golden head blackbirds, white egrets, white-faced ibis, canvas back ducks, mallards and others that were unfamiliar. Pale blue Blue Flag and wild roses were blooming plus a miniature white creeping morning glory and some pink flowered plants I didn’t know.
The only people there were some management personnel turning the valves regulating water flow in the canals. Hunting is permitted in season and fish are stocked by the on site fish hatchery with bass and several species of trout. Dragonflies were numerous and in many sizes and colors.
We turned north to the Visitor Center but due to a staff shortage no one was available to answer our questions. We met several ladies outside, one of whom was a host at our next campground, Thomas Canyon. We stopped at the bressman cabin to see a finely constructed log home with a log roof. Mr. Bressman is buried on the site. He built the home and lived with his daughter and son-in-law there after selling a business in nearby Eureka.
We passed through ranch land and a Mormon church which served the entire valley with its large parking lot. One rancher had a large collection of big tires carefully arranged in rows. Others had the usual assortment of old farming equipment and vehicles. As we follow USFS road 788, we are following the Hastings Cutoff, part of the California Trail. As we come to a paved road numbered 767 and the split of 229, the trail veers eastward.
Secret Pass overlooking Secret Valley is a stunning view into fertile ranch land. Soon we are done with straight roads as we climb and twist along a gorge. We stop for lunch overlooking Devils Slide Canyon and a large herd of sheep hugging the hillsides as they graze. We could hear them as we ate our lunch. Before we saw a badger cross the road. This is only the second one we have ever seen, the other bring on a country road in Eastern Washington.
Fort Halleck Road is a gravel road that twists it’s way through ranches until it brings us to a Lamoille and the Lamoille Canyon Road. Sometimes we think we are lost but somehow we make our way to pavement. A local on an ORV with two young children senses we are lost so points the way ahead at a crossroad.
The Ruby Mountains are unlike any range in Nevada as they are green and still have some snow on the peaks. They very much resemble the Colorado Rockies with sheer walls and waterfalls from snow patches. Lamoille Canyon RiD is very scenic and does provide the visitor with many pull outs to view the splendor. One pullout overlooking the Lions Club Camp has an informational panel about the glacier you can see. We saw a weasel scoot across the road in front of our truck.
Thomas Canyon Campground is almost full so we pick site 30 in a Loop C, a single site. With our Senior Pass, we pay $8.50. The hosts we met were gracious and the vault toilets were very clean and had air fresheners. Vault toilets at campgrounds can be very nasty so these were a gift. You know, the simple things in life. We also have had to dig a hole out in the desert so this was civilization and a luxury.
We wandered around the campground which seemed to have rushing streams everywhere. Lamoille Creek was fed by at least two smaller streams. All were swollen from the snowmelt from the Ruby Mountains. Moths were busy feeding from the bottle brush blooms of chokecherry bushes. Smilicina racemosa, orange columbine, and a pink wild geranium were blooming.
Our campsite was next to one of the feeder streams so we fell asleep listening to the rush of water like the creek by our house back home. One of our neighbors were on motorcycles. They had a specially fabricated trailer for their German Shepherd that had its own bed and windshield.
Day 18/Friday/June 13:
Friday the Thirteenth began as a clear sunny day. We left camp after filling our water jugs with some very tasty water. The drive to Roads End was a very scenic drive with many turnouts to view the mountains and the several beaver ponds.
An island meadow in the parking lot had colonies of Veratrum among the alpine shrubbery. Evidence of avalanches were along the road as tree debris had been cleared off to the side. There was a trailhead for Ruby Crest that was around 50 miles long but we opted for the short trail that passed by the creek. It rushed over boulders and some exposed rock shelf. A perfect view of the Ruby Mountains framed by several aspens and and a few Veratrum in the foreground would have made for a grand photograph had the light not been so harsh. I snapped a few iPhone images while I reveled in the view.
We headed down the road to Elko for fuel and to make our way to Silver City, a living ghost town, and a BLM campground. Elko’s downtown was blocked off as we arrived on 227 so we had to detour around. The Sinclair station on our way had dirty restrooms, no paper towels, dirty wash water for windshields and an insolent attendant who couldn’t give us receipt. We got out of town as soon as we could to head north on 225 into Idaho.
Another less traveled road populated by ranches, 225 or the Mountain City Highway passed several reservoirs and small towns like Wild Horse, Mountain City (a visitor center in a boarded up town), and Owyhee. After Wild Horse Reservoir, the landscape resembled photos I have seen of the Owyhee Canyon further north. Rocky spires on each side of the very twisting road that follows the river of the same name dominate. Between Mountain City and Owyhee, jumbled rocks, appearing in clumps held together with a special kind of side gravity clung to the hillsides.
We also drive through the Duck a Valley Indian Reservation that straddles the Nevada/Idaho border. In Idaho, 225 becomes 51. The road varies from curving descents and ascents to straight shots. When we come to 78 we turn west. To the north we can see the Snake River that nourishes the ranches that grow very green crops for stock. Rolling irrigation pipes make sure the ranchers grow enough feed for the cattle that dot the open range.
Silver City Road has several warning signs about rough gravel roads unsuitable for large trucks and towing vehicles. The city is about 20 miles away as we begin on a paved road. A sign for the the Silver Falcon Mine says it is 6 miles ahead. This is also an area for ATV activity as the many signs along the the road regarding their rules attest. We encounter several of them and some trucks towing trailers for their machines. Everyone seems to know the rules of the road (downhill yields to uphill traffic and there are few speeders). Curiously, we see a minivan and a Honda Accord which really have no business on a 4×4 road with ruts and exposed rocky shelves with blind tight curves that ascend and descend randomly. The views of the rugged mountainous terrain are spectacular but you need to pay attention. The road runs the gamut from sagebrush to junipers to fir or spruce from the gain in altitude.
It is a long slow slog to Silver City. It has some buildings that are shuttered and some that are occupied. The Idaho Hotel is open and has several ATVs parked out front. We talk to a group of riders who said the BLM wanted to take over the town but the residents fought it and the town seems to be able to keep its authenticity. That’s are several newer homes but most are restored originals from the silver mining days. We find several old safes and a large wooden cook stove at the Memorial Park along the same stream that passes by the campground.
It is dinner time but I encounter a local resident who tells us the best way to return to paved roads is to retrace our steps to 78. If we went west to Jordan Valley, it would add another 40 miles. A Vietnam Vet, he has lived here for 35 years. He excused himself as he was invited to dinner at the Idaho Hotel.
The campground has no other occupants but us so we pull into the first one. It has a picnic table, fire pit, it’s own empty garbage can and a nearby vault toilet. We also have our own marmot population which thrills Toller. He has to sniff every hole and grass clump. If we let him off leash, he would be all over the hills chasing the furry rodents.
As we eat dinner, the black clouds overhead let loose with claps of thunder and hail. We are snug and cozy in our camper but I worry about the gravel and dirt roads that we travel tomorrow all downhill. If we leave early, we can beat the weekend recreational traffic.
Day 19/Saturday/June 14:
The sky was still overcast when we left the campground just outside Silver City. We spent one of the first nights with the heater turned on. Our early start was calculated to miss all the ATVers coming up road to Silver City. I dawdled taking photos so we started meeting them a few miles out of town. However, most followed their code of off road etiquette, so any collisions were avoided. The morning light was interesting so I used the DSLRs when the light added depth to the layers of hills.
Back on 78, we head toward Nampa to fuel up. On the way we saw a which was just across the bridge over the Snake River. As we pulled in so did a group of LEOs escorting some bikers for a Crime Stoppers fund-raiser.
On to Nampa and a Thriftway for some groceries before traveling west on Interstate 84. Traffic was light westbound but a bit heavier eastbound. We exited at #3 for 30/95 toward Payette/Weiser/Midvale/Cambridge, small farming communities. In Weiser we needed a rest stop so turned down a residential street and found an athletic field with SaniCans. Toller was let loose for a wild run around the grass. He ran for the pure joy of being free of the leash.
At Cambridge, we turned west onto 7, still in Idaho as the Snake River which forms the Oregon/Idaho border was still to the west. The road featured tight curves ascending and descending for miles. We stopped at an Idaho Power Rest Stop near Woodhead Park on the Snake River which had one of the nicest public restrooms we have seen. A walk through the picnic area showed the same attention to detail and cleanliness.
On up the highway we went to find a campsite for the night. Crossing over the river at Brownlee Dam brought us into Oregon. We tried a few BLM sites along the river by the Oxbow Dam but this being a nice Saturday, they were all full of campers and folks fishing and boating. Copper field is a settlement for the workers and families at the dam.
We took another winding road (86) to head for FS Road 39 to see if Lake Fork had sites available. If not, we would boondock in the Wallowa Whitman National Forest. Unfortunately, FS Road 39 was closed for repairs for the next 2 years. This was our scenic route to Joseph and Enterprise and the red barns. The nice gal at the closed sign post, told us we could probably take Fish Lake Road through the forest from Halfway and come out above the road construction.
Back on 86, we saw a sign notifying us that we were now in the Pacific Time Zone. Halfway was a small community that evidently was proud of its recent high school graduates. On the light posts through town, a sign with the photo and name were proudly displayed.
We turned onto Fish Lake Road which wound its way across the mountains in curve after curve. We encountered snow at Fish Lake Campground so drove on to Twin Lakes. We only met a few folks traveling toward us and none going our way. At Twin Lakes, it was peaceful and vacant. One lake empties into the other with a gurgling stream. There are marshes and forest where the mixed softwood trees that have died retain stark silhouettes.
We walked out on a dock where we startled a deer having dinner. The only sounds we heard were frogs and an occasional fish splash, and yes, birds. Just about bedtime we had company from the other direction. They quietly made camp and the night was again silent.
Day 20/Sunday/June 15:
The dawn was a grey overcast but the snow-speckled Wallowas could be seen in the distance. The wildflowers were spattered along the road, in the forest and in the meadows. Forget-me-nots, Veratrum, coltsfoot, wild strawberries, lupine, Indian paintbrush, camassia, a red penstemon, and several blue varieties that I didn’t know. Deer were plentiful of course, but we did see two female elk near the road and a wild turkey raced across in front of us.
USFS Road 66 is a lovely drive through mixed softwoods: pine, fir and others I was familiar with but forgot the names. It tees into USFS Road 39 which was our intended route yesterday but it was closed for construction. We drove up 39 toward the Hells Canyon Overlook. After turning on the overlook road, we stopped part way up the 3 mile drive at an unofficial overlook. The views were vast even though the day was still overcast across the canyon to the Seven Devils in Idaho.
Once at the overlook we took the path along a restored wildflower meadow. Again, many wildflowers in a rainbow of colors were scattered on the ground. You can’t see down the canyon floor but you can see across. Even though you can’t see the Snake River that carves the canyon, it is still impressive. It is this continent’t deepest river gorge.
We returned to 39 to continue toward Joseph and Enterprise and the valley of the red barns. This road has many switchbacks and a few fallen rocks and potholes. The vegetation is creeping onto the pavement so it appears to be in need of some maintenance even above where the road has closed the road. We were surprised to see trailers and boats and a motor home as the road has some tight turns.
Eventually the road straightens out some as it approaches 82 or the Imnaha Highway westbound to Joseph (or eastbound to Imnaha). We drove on to Enterprise for fuel as it was a tight turn in to the gas station in Joseph. Enterprise has a Safeway. Which has a surprisingly good produce section and a variety of other items. It even had Silk soy milk in very vanilla which most small town grocers don’t carry. Oregon has a bottle deposit and attendants who pump the gas. Very civilized.
We drove around looking for red barns and found a few that would look good in the morning sun. We decided to camp at Hurricane Creek, a USFS campground about 8 miles south of Enterprise. The usual fire pit, picnic table and vault toilet awaited us. The toilet was new and fairly clean with no bullet holes. The picnic table had 3×12 fir planks attached to a 6″ channel iron base. Very heavy, it definitely would be difficult to steal.
Hurricane Creek roars through the campground. Most camp sites are along the creek but some have been abandoned due the ravages of flash flooding during heavy storms. Many fallen trees crisscross the creek at disjointed angles, evidence of past disruptions.
A few vehicles drove in but didn’t stay. It isn’t the brightest place to camp on a grey overcast day but for $3 it worked for us. We had arrived early in the afternoon so set up camp then wandered around by the creek. It had been an exhausting drive for Tony due to the many twists and turns of both USFS roads so we relaxed. It was still light when we fell asleep to the rushing creek.
Day 21/Monday/June 16:
Rain drops plopping from the overhead tree canopy on the camper roof awoke me at first light. We retired early among for rest and to catch the early morning light on the Wallowa Mountains backdrop for red barns. We had discovered a few and marked them on the Google Map app.
We wandered around the campground in the drizzle so Toller could do his business then left for Enterprise for Tony’s meds and to wash the truck of filthy road residue. Folks around here must oil their dusty roads as we sure picked up gobs of oily dirt.
After these chores we began to look for more red barns as the mountains were beginning to reveal themselves from behind the low clouds. We found a few and the soft light was flattering to the foliage. After getting lost on a dirt road that became progressively narrower and bumpier, we ended up on Highway 3 about 9 miles north of Enterprise.
Several years ago, we thought we had found Old a Chief Joseph’s grave near Nespelem on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington far from his home in the Wallowa area. But, further research revealed that he had been reburied outside of Joseph, Oregon overlooking Wallowa Lake. We found the memorial marker for his grave. One of our favorite quotes from him: “Hear me now my chiefs. My heart is sad and sick. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever”. A courageous leader who would not sign a treaty giving away 90% of traditional tribal lands, he led his people on a long march to escape the US Cavalry. Eventually, they were settled in the Omak, Washington area.
The rain had abated and more Wallowas were now as large as life above the valley. We found a few more red barns and reshot a few others with a more dramatic backdrop. We started off toward the Zumwalt Nature Preserve of native grasses but 15 more miles (and return) of washboard gravel roads was more daunting toward the end of our trip. Back to Enterprise and north on Highway 3 northbound to Washington.
Highway 3 is another two lane state highway that has little traffic. It becomes 129 in Washington winding its way toward Clarkston, Washington and Lewiston, Idaho and the Palouse region. We stopped at the Joseph a Canyon Overlook to see where Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce made their winter home along Joseph Creek.
After some flat stretches, Highway 3 does some tight curves as it makes its way down into the gorge created by the Grand Ronde River. I don’t think we have been on a curvier road in our travels. The curves were tight and frequent descending to the river once in Washington. Oh, but the fun is not over yet, folks. From Boggan’s Oasis, a restaurant, the road did the same thing in reverse. We did stop at an overlook where you could peer into the canyon below. The river snakes along the gorge until it empties into the Snake River.
About 5 miles from the viewpoint we stopped at Fields Springs State Park to spend the night. We needed good hot showers and to dump our black tank. $23 is more than we like to spend but we needed some services and it was getting late. There were just 2 other campers so we had a good selection of sites to choose from.
It was quiet in the park so after supper and a walk, we went to bed early after awaking so early to see what the morning light would do at Puffer Butte. This viewpoint at the butte at 4500′ looks into the Grand Ronde Canyon and has views across 3 states.
Washington state has some nice state parks. I would rate this one highly due to it being one of the few around, the cleanliness of the grounds (792 acres) and the lovely forest that is a part of it. The sites are spacious and most are level.
Day 22/Tuesday/June 17:
At least it wasn’t raining when we awoke this morning. We tried to find the road to the Puffer Butte warming hut which promised views of three states: Washington, Idaho and Oregon. Apparently, this is more of a snopark as the map on a closed road showed groomed trails for snowmobiles and other routes for cross country and snowshoeing enthusiasts. There was no road to Puffer a Butte, only a trail and I didn’t want to carry camera gear for two miles. I may be wrong but we searched for roads which we found gated or that lead to trailheads. The hosts were asleep at 6:30am and the staff had yet to arrive.
After dumping our black tank, and getting some fresh water, we turned north on 129 toward Clarkston/Lewiston for fuel and meds. I found a Safeway that had both in Lewiston, Idaho. We passed through farmland dotted with farms both abandoned and working.
Asotin, the county seat of Asotin County, is a charming town along the Snake River. Once we entered Clarkston, then Lewiston, they looked like any other cities with growing pains. Sprawl, malls, rush hour traffic. Get us out of here.
129 had ended so we took 12 out of town to where 195/95 head north to Spokane. 195 forks westerly to bring us to the Palouse for lovely barn photos amongst the rolling fields of wheat, canola, peas, other crops. Also, Steptoe Butte, which has a long spiraling climb to the top, offers views of patchwork quilt farmland. Unfortunately, the rains began in earnest and didn’t look like they would ever let up. We decided to go to Colfax, to see if conditions were improving.
Colfax was a wash and I wasn’t happy as this is prime time for photography. Time to head west on highway 26 as Twisp/Winthrop promised sunnier skies. 26 is a state highway that needs repair due to grooves from traffic. Coupled with constant rain, it wasn’t a fun drive. We took respite in a rest area that 26 shares with 395. The bathrooms are okay but the facilities for Fido were appalling. I just can’t figure out why people don’t pick up after their pets. Gross.
We turned north on 17 toward the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. At the northern border is the Potholes Wildlife Area and Potholes State Park. The Seep Lakes Wildlife Refuge fits in there somewhere in this area set aside for wildlife, hunters and fishers. We stumbled on to Seep Lakes while looking for a place to boondock for the night.
There are many small lakes in the area that are contained within the Scablands that make up a part of eastern Washington. We found a level area with a vault toilet in the Lyle Lakes camp area. There weren’t assigned spaces of course; you just found a spot with a view off the road and called it home.
People drove by occasionally on a nearby road but no one bothered us. There was some ugly trash, however that we did clean up down near the water, mostly plastic bottles and bullet casings. However, we do not pick up condoms or dirty diapers.
We could hear the sounds of the birds as we ate supper and watched them dive into the water. We were surprised to see a pelican but we later discovered that they do nest here.
As I was walking Toller, the rain sprinkled some and we were treated to a lovely double rainbow. I don’t think Toller appreciated it as much as I did. I grabbed my camera for some photos of the truck bathed in golden light but couldn’t frame the entire rainbow even with at 24mm on a full frame body. I would have had to back into the lake which was beyond the lengths I would go to for a shot.
We fell asleep listening to the evening bird song and the occasional vehicle.
Day 23/Wednesday/June 18:
I was expecting some nice light to bathe the landscape this morning but the eastern clouds were too thick to let in any golden rays. We wandered around, broke camp then returned to the main road in the preserves.
This is fruit tree and feed crops country. The farmers were busy in the fields and trucks were hauling totes to the fields for harvest. It is mainly the sweet cherries that are being picked now. Field hands were thinning the apple crop to ensure bigger apples.
We decided to swing east a bit to explore Potholes State Park. It is a well-manicured park, a bit too much for our tastes but would make a good stop when we travel through this area for our fall or early spring forays. If we buy the off-season senior pass, we can camp for free.
Back on the road, we made our way north via some county roads and highway 17 to and through Ephrata and Soap Lake. Traffic was light as this isn’t a heavily populated area. We stopped at Lake Lenore Caves State Park or more specifically, the historic site which has some caves the local natives used to prepare collected foods for winter storage. The trail wound it’s way up into the cliffs but my rattlesnake phobia warned me about rattlers lurking in the sage brush along the trail. We could scan them with our binoculars from the safety of the parking lot. We could also see the rock art along the outside of one of the cave. We were told by a local gal that they were also inside the caves.
Back on 17, we headed north to Coulee City to splurge on some wraps at a little cafe attached to a Cenex gas station. We like their food and also liked that they had a copy of a portrait of Old Chief Joseph on the wall.
You have to travel on US Highway 2 a bit before turning north to travel on 17 again. Just outside of Bridgeport, we stopped at the Chief Joseph Dam to eat our wraps. This is the second largest dam in the US and the largest straight dam in the country. It generates about a million dollars of electricity a day, enough to supply Seattle. I am just wondering if it does serve Seattle as the big city gets its power needs met by Seattle City Light’s dams on the Skagit River or so I thought.
Back on 17, we crossed the bridge over the Columbia River to highway 97 which would pass through Brewster and Pateros before we swung west onto 153. This is what happens when you choose to forego interstates in favor of county, state and US highways.
There is a nice fruit stand/bakery on 153 that has an organic orchard. They also use their own fruits to bake deliciousness into their baked goods. Black cherries were $3.50 a pound and the larger Queen Anne’s were $6.50. We bought a bag of each so I can now gorge on one of my favorite fruits.
Back on 153, we pass through Methow and Carlton, two very small towns. Soon, we are on highway 20 which will bring us through the North Cascades then home. Twisp is a bit bigger than Methow or Varlton anfpd boasts a Les Schwab tire facility and a NAPA auto parts store. Winthrop is the artsy touristy town we always drive through, only to stop at the four way stop in town. It reinvented itself as a Western-themed village when Highway 20 pushed its way through from the dams.
Our campground for the night was a USFS campground called Klipchuck which is well off highway 20. We have stayed at Early Winters but found that the highway noise was bothersome. It is quiet in here except for the sound of Early Winters Creek which has buried itself in a gorge. The campground is less than half full so we have some choices. We pick site number 1 which is fairly level and not close to other campsites. Although it is on the corner, where campsite seekers turn onto this loop, it is very quiet. We ate surrounded by mixed softwoods, mainly pine and fir. We love the glow of pine trees in the early and late evening sun.
We ate a bowlful of cherries, finished our soup then hit the sacks. Lots of driving today made for sleepy campers. Good night.
Day 1/Tuesday/May 27:
Just a few hours of traveling east in Washington will take you from fir, cedar, maple and alder forests to the pine and aspen variety. We left our home during mid-morning to avoid the “rush” hour on highway 20 eastbound. Most traffic was headed west including RVs and logging trucks. We stopped along the Magic Skagit River for photos of the blue green water tumbling over boulders along moss covered trees lining the shore to the salt water.
We also took a break at the Ross Lake overlook. Soon, we were hitting the passes (Rainy and Washington) then began our descent to the Methow Valley. Snow-covered peaks were replaced by irrigated fields although you could catch a glimpse of the east side of the Cascades occasionally.
In Winthrop, we bypassed the tourist shops to take a look at an old farm that has since been turned into a wildlife refuge. Sadly, the rustic red outbuildings had been removed leaving a rather dilapidated octagonal silo. Last time we were there, we could see owls hiding behind the openings.
Our campground for the night was Foggy Dew, a USFS facility in the Okanogan National Forest off highway 153. The turnoff is just past the very small dot of a town called Carlton which has the Carlton Mall. We traveled for about 5 miles on a one lane road that crossed a single lane bridge bringing us to the site. We chose number 10 which was more in the open. There was only one other camper at the other end in a tent. You won’t find the big rigs here. We paid our discounted senior rate of $4. The vault toilet in our part of the campground was just cleaned and was in decent shape meaning no bullet holes or recent graffiti. The campground is sited between 2 creeks: North Fork of Gold Creek and Foggy Dew Creek. We fell asleep to the creek that was flowing about 80 feet from our camper.
Day 2/Wednesday/May 28:
After breaking camp at 7:00 am, we drove down the single lane road returning to 153 aka the Cascades Loop. It was a quiet drive with little traffic. Highway 153 follows the Methow River as it winds it’s way to the Columbia River near Pateros where the highway ends at US Highway 97. Traffic was light and even lighter when we took Alternate 97. Alternate 97 is above 97 but both follow along the Columbia River along its western shore. Alternate 97 is higher allowing a better view of the River below. There was a road called the Apple Acres Road that was even higher paralleling 97 before it became two highways. It eventually ended at Alternate 97.
Speaking of apples, this is fruit tree country. Just before Pateros, there were patches of cherry and pear tree orchards. None of the fruit stands were open and it appeared that the cherries were just ripening. There was a sign that said Washington cherries are here but the building by the sign was closed. Maybe we can pick some up when we return in 3 weeks.
Alternate 97 passes through Chelan where we fueled up at a Shell station. Chelan is at the east end of Lake Chelan which is a popular recreation area. Progress seems to have found it as there were some high end homes up above the lake and condos closer to the shore. Just before Chelan 97 goes over the east side of the Columbia while Alternate 97 hugs the shore of Lake Chelan then goes through some hilly country until it begins to follow the Columbia on the west side.
We pass through the town of Entiat. All through this area are big fruit processing plants and the season seems to be gearing up as we saw not a few semis carrying new and old wooden fruit bins. By the way, both 97s have a lot of trucker traffic, but the alternate has fewer.
Just before Wenatchee, we head west (hey, I thought we were going east and south) on highway 2/97. But, 2 heads toward Seattle. Unless we want to head towards the Tri Cities area, we need to hook up with 97 south (the alternate has merged with 97 after crossing the bridge to Sunnyslope.). Confusing but several federal entities cluster forcing a pass through Yakima or the Pasco, Kennewick, Richland area which would put us further east than we want. The 3 areas are the Yakama Indian Reservation (not a misspelling), US Army Yakima Training Center and the DOE Hanford Site.
Between Cashmere and the tourist town of Leavenworth, 97 heads south. Before we made the turn, we stopped for a break at the Peshastin Pinnacles State Park. There are some toothy rock formations that unfortunately have huge power lines running through them. No camping but it does attract rock climbers. From 2 heading west you can see the east side of the Cascades which separate the western or wetter portion of the state from the drier east side.
97 twists and turns and loses and gains altitude heading south. Somewhere on one of the curves we go through Blewett Pass, altitude 4102′. We pass through Ellensburg, home of Central Washington University. Instead of following 97 to Yakima, we follow the super curvy highway 821 or the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway. There are a number of federal campgrounds and we stop at the first one: Umtanum Creek Recreation Site on the Yakima River. There is suspension bridge for foot traffic that crosses the river. We stopped partway over to watched a number of small blue butterflies along the shore congregating near muddy areas. We also saw a pair of goldfinches, our state bird.
Eventually, we came to Interstate 82 which is also 97 and 12 to skirt Yakima on the east side. We pass by Wapato and Toppenish, then Goldendale where my grandfather spent a part of his childhood 100 years ago. He rode a buckskin horse to school and played in the rock piles where the rattlers hung out.
Soon, we can see the Oregon side of the Columbia River. However, we are stalled for awhile as traffic backed up due to a motor home having missed a turn taking out a lamp pole landing sideways in a ditch. We crossed 97 on the bridge to the gas station town of Biggs to fuel up. Diesel was $3.89 a gallon at the Union 76. We left 97 to the truckers taking the Biggs to Rufus highway. At Rufus we turned south on 206 through Wasco.
There are rolling hills being farmed but there are also windmills everywhere. Where there are no windmills, there are huge transmission lines. These wind turbines are huge; they are not your father’s windmills. They were all turning, some more slowly than others.
After winding through the lumpy hills, we arrive at the new Cottonwood Canyon State Park along the John Day River. It was a ranch at one time. Now it is an 8,000 acre state park. The campsites aren’t very private as the trees are newly planted where the fields once were (there are some volunteer grasses in rows). There is garbage (no recycling), vault toilets, water, picnic tables and fire pits. We passed through here in April 2013 when it was being built. The area is beautiful between basalt cliffs and volcanic hills. There are trails for people and horses. Very clean and new. There were 5 campers here among over 25+ sites so it is not crowded.
The canyon runs southeast to northwest but the lighting was soft due to hazy western skies and canyon walls began to block the sun at around 7:00 pm. There was no dramatic sunset or light on the cliffs along the river afterwards. Tired from the long day, we had supper and were in bed soon after dark. The stars are out and can be seen very clearly.
Bird tally for the day: several blue herons, peregrine falcon, red tail hawks, bald eagle, red wing blackbirds, swallows, goldfinches, magpies, flickers and we saw a marmot running across the road to a pile of rocks.
Day 3/Thursday/May 29:
Since yesterday was such a long grueling duel with semis on 97, today we chilled by driving slowly on county roads and 3 digit highways. Since this morning was cloudless and the light didn’t hit the canyons the way I wanted it to, we took our time decamping. Oddly, we camped a site over from a couple from Bellingham.
I spoke with a ranger about how the park came to be. The Murtha brothers ran an 8,000 acre ranch along the John Day River. One had children who had moved away and weren’t interested in hard scrabble ranching. The property was purchased by a river conservancy who sold it to the state piece by piece for a total of $8 million, $1,000 per acre. It was purchased with Lotto earnings which is what funds the Oregon state parks. It opened last September.
We stopped in Condon, a ranching community to buy a few items from the grocery store. The town businesses recently changed their facades to reflect their roots from the early part of the last century. On 206 we noticed more wind turbines and either abandoned farms or, for those ranchers who had the turbines on their property, new machinery, trucks and a tennis court. We did stop by one old home for photos.
From Condon, we continued east on 206 toward our eventual designation of the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day National Monument. We saw a turnoff for Lonerock, so decided to drive the 17 miles to explore. The road was paved for a good portion but then became a graded road. From an overlook we could see the very small community that was still populated (35) nestled in a valley. There was a church, school, jail (1891), community center and a number of homes. It was a very quiet town with no apparent stores. We turned north on the Buttermilk Road driving through canyons and scattered ranches. We saw a few deer and many birds including magpies and doves.
We drove out to 207 passing by the Treo Ranch holdings. We ended up at Hardman, a town down on its luck with a small cluster of homes and a towing shop. From there we drove through the Umatilla National Forest. The road had many switchbacks and elevation changes. It was also very narrow with steep drop offs so thankfully we encountered no logging trucks or semis and little other traffic. We turned east on 406 at Kimberly to check out several campgrounds on the John Day River. We turned into the first one, Lone Pine and picked a sunny site, L5. There are 5 sites, one of which was occupied. Vault toilets, fire pits and a picnic table are standard issue for USFS campgrounds. For all these amenities, we paid $2.50.
Day 4/Friday/May 30:
This morning was a bright, sunny day so no photography although we were in a beautiful setting along the John Day River. We drove south down 19 through the Sheep Rock Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. I shot a few from the side of the road of the various multi-colored layered rock formations. We turned left onto 26 continuing on the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway.
Just past Dayville, we left the highway to venture south along the South Fork of the John Day River on 42, a county road. It soon became the South Fork Road and a gravel surface. There were scattered ranches among the valleys. We also saw columnar basalt along the way and some beautiful gentian blue flowers on tall stalks with several pink ones. Hummocks of small yellow daisies and puffy pale yellow blooms were growing from the rocky scree.
Once we came to Black Canyon, we stopped along the road to investigate the bird condos. There were several kinds that were living in the cracks and fissures of the jagged rocky canyon walls. The river, much smaller than where we camped, flowed below. We saw a ruddy duck fly back and forth along the river while swallows were nesting in the cracks and pockets. Many butterflies we saw were dining on a bush with small white blooms in clusters.
But, the coolest of all was when we spotted a herd of mountain sheep up above us on the cliffs on the other side. There were 4 newborns among the herd of at least ten. They knocked a few rocks loose as they climbed to higher ground. We were very quiet although it was pretty exciting. This is a time when I wished I had a bigger lens (and deeper pockets). But, I did get a group portrait.
The river had become noticeably smaller and we were nearing the headwaters of the many creeks that feed it. It had disappeared from immediate view into a small canyon. Suddenly, in the clearing, we saw it tumbling over some big boulders. There was a turnout for it that ended a few yards from the top. It was also a great place to camp. The wildflowers, mainly lupine, were bunched among the rocks.
We drove by the site of a former mill evidenced by scattered collapsed buildings and rusted ruins of machinery. Further down the road was a group of mature lilac bushes and orange poppies. There were no “no trespassing” signs but we backed up and returned to the main road.
Somehow, we missed a road and ended up teeing into a Highway 395. We kept looking for Izee but never found it, the reason being that we took a turn too soon. There was a rest area across the road, an old growth forest area with vault toilet and picnic tables and paths wandering through some large pines. While we were having lunch, a volunteer for the USFS stopped by who was researching gravel biking routes. He was curious about the road condition which was good as it was graveled and graded last year. He said he had lived in the area since the early 70s and had only seen the mountain sheep once. He also explained that the falls used to be steeper and denser with boulders until it was blasted to allow the steelhead and salmon to travel further upstream.
Once down 395 we encountered few cars and more than a few log trucks. We passed by the towns of Seneca and Silvies. The Silvies Valley Ranch, a huge modern ranch, took up a large portion of both sides of 395 for miles. Tony was getting tired so we drove into the Idlewild campground, a USFS facility right along 395 with the usual vault toilets, fresh water, campfire rings and a picnic table. There was just a class C with a toy hauler and a Tundra/toy hauler combo. We parked at the further end in seclusion. There was some wood in the fire pit so we had a campfire because it was only 4:00 pm and a fire was practically laid. Dry pine burns fast and hot.
After our dinner of soup and sandwiches by the fire, we sat for awhile then went to bed. The traffic had died down for the night. Tomorrow, we go into Burns for fuel and to ask whether Steens Mountain Loop is open.
Day 5/Saturday/May 31:
We really had the best intentions of breaking camp early to do our fuel stop in Burns. Really. But, I overslept and then Toller needed a long walk. We had just finished adding water to our tank when we encountered the camp host. He and we were on the same page on just about every topic. He also informed us that the white-headed woodpecker we saw was only seen here in this area. And, that the mountain goats were actually mountain sheep. The pine forest we were in had trees up to 800 years old. The following floored us: $5,000 ferro-cement picnic tables, $800 fire rings, $35,000 single vault toilets, $55,000 double. Pretty unbelievable. Kinda like the $800 toilet seats.
Our human contact satiated, we went into Hines to fuel up at the Hines Shell and buy a few groceries at the Thriftway across the street. We drove toward the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve taking the Center Patrol Road, a gravel road that tended toward washboard. We saw many red-winged blackbirds, not so many yellow-headed blackbirds, many ducks, harrier hawks, cormorants, and a white egret.
At Frenchglen, we headed up toward the Steens Mountain Loop which the Thriftway checker said was closed at Fish Lake. We passed through rangeland and fields of wildflowers. Soon we could see Steens, a bulky mountain longer than tall. It had patches of snow. The aspens were stunted and had smaller leaves. The BLM or USFS was conducting a juniper management program to see which method could reduce the number of juniper that were crowding out the aspens for a more balanced ecosystem to protect the watershed.
After checking out Fish Lake campground, we headed back toward 205. Once on 205 then 202, we began to look for a place to spend the night. We passed through Fields then Denio just over the border. It was looking bleak as there were few roads that led to other than ranches or dead ended in snake infested grasses (we saw 3 dead ones on the highways that saw little traffic). Finally, past Denio Junction, there was Ninemile Road that looked promising. We saw another camper about ¼ mile away so we found a level area off the gravel road and set up camp. There were mountain ranges all around us, typical of Nevada, barren and buff colored. Windy but not cold and not too out of our way.
A quick dinner of sandwiches and a blog entry then time for bed.
Day 20/Saturday/April 26:
After a quiet night and a restful night’s sleep (no traffic on Wyeth, muted trains and the forest blocked the freeway sounds), we headed down 30 toward Cascade Locks where we would cross over the Bridge of the Gods bridge to Washington, paying our $1.00 toll to a gal who had a collection of gnomes in her booth. We were welcomed to Washington about half way over. We turned west on highway 14 toward Washougal to purchase fuel at the local Shell for $3.859 for diesel, less expensive than gasoline for a change. The restrooms were clean and the station was well-maintained.
We continued on Business 14 to Camas where we picked up 500 West which zigzagged northward and westward for an alternate to the sprawling mess that is the budding megalopolis of Vancouver, Washington. We passed through hobby farms and we noticed the beautiful soil that was turned. All the flowering trees and shrubs were brightly colored and in full bloom brightening up the grey gloom. We just skirted the creeping northward sprawl of Vancouver as it covers the countryside northward to Battle Ground. Somewhere when 500 makes up its mind to head north, it becomes 503.
Since we had around nine hours to arrive at our final night’s camping (Walmart in Tumwater), we headed into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to find Lower Lewis Falls, a very photogenic cascade of water on the Lewis River. We pass through Brush Prairie, pass by Battle Ground and wind our way through Amboy and Chelatchie until we turn right onto Forest Road 90.
It begins to rain (affirming that we are really back in Washington) but we can see faded patches of blue through the trees in thick colonies along the road. There are few cars, maybe a few good old boys in their trucks, and no semis. We stop at a rest area/boat launch for a break. Even though it is nicely landscaped, the vault toilets were gross although the building was nice. I am unsure if Yale Lake is a reservoir or a lake as it is a lake on the map but a reservoir on signs. I am thinking that the chain of three lakes on the Lewis River ate reservoirs as each has a dam at their western outlets. Lake Merwin is dammed but called a lake as is Yale but the easternmost is named Swift Reservoir.
We climb above Yale then Swift crossing many feeder streams and passing by quite a few waterfalls along the sometimes rocky cliffs. Occasionally, the sides of the road have sloughed off and there are not always guard rails or trees to block your fall.
Forest Service Road 90 loosely follows the Lewis River north. It is paved, but damaged until we arrive at about a 2 mile section that is ungraded and more suitable for a 4×4 high clearance vehicle like ours. Yet we saw low sedans pull into the day use parking lot for the Lower Lewis Falls Recreation Area.
The short 1/8 mile to the fall overlook is beautiful with fallen monarchs and big trees surrounded by a carpet of ferns and moss. Very primeval. The falls were thundering down creating a huge over spray. I tried for a few detail shots as shooting the falls in their entirety would have resulted in so much white space. A better time to visit and take the trail to the base of the falls would be in the fall. The falls would have less volume and a bonus would be fall color. And the campground would be open then as it was closed now.
Returning to 90 we began the long way to Woodland and the I5 corridor. I stopped along the way a fad shot a few mossy scenes of the woods and a creek with mossy boulders. I just didn’t want to come away with no images.
More sedans, small low cars were headed toward the falls or maybe just going north to Randle but if they drive on that bad section they will do some serious damage to their undercarriages.
Actually, the day gave us a mama elk, a dark winter coated deer and a ruffled grouse. And, the rain stopped allowing the sun to peak through the tree canopy.
I-5 was busy but we bravely took it on and arrived in Tumwater at around dinner time. We treated ourselves to a ready-made sandwich for Tony and a Greek salad for me. We parked at the local WalMart, a first for us. We can hear I-5 southbound but hopefully we are so tired that we will fall asleep. It was a long day, especially for my husband who had to drive interstates and forest back roads.
Tomorrow we will leave early, like about 6am to run the gauntlet through the Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle, Everett, Marysville, and Mount Vernon until we arrive home.
Just a few thoughts about this trip:
The further you are from big cities, the friendlier people are. This is a general rule and was broken several times by some very nice folks giving us directions.
The further from the Cascades you get, the drier and hotter it is. It may get colder at night but this generally holds true in the spring and fall which is when we travel.
There are collectors of scrap outside of the large towns and out in isolated pockets. The scrap is rusted machinery, vehicles, RVs, parts of the former and water tanks, plus things that were beyond description and use.
The further away from the bigger towns and small cities, the more interesting the landscapes and there is way less traffic.
I will think of more generalizations later but these are what come to mind.
A few highlights on this trip:
Watching the ospreys feed their young above Burney Falls
The beautiful falls themselves
The sun hitting the eastern Sierra with snow (but arriving too late to photograph)
The blue green color of Mono Lake as you drive in from Nevada on the north side
The amazing place that is called the Sump and the surrounding area
Being in the midst of two cattle drives
Finding a fist-sized agate
The rainbow that ended on an evening sunlit butte
The birds that cleaned our truck and camper
Finding some great boon docking locations
The petrified forest south of Gerlach, NV
Meeting a nice couple on the Washington coast who graciously are allowing us to shoot their daughter’s wedding
The nice people in the small towns
Day 17/Wednesday/April 23:
Another cold morning but we were anticipating the great agate hunt so we prepared to head out onto 31 going south toward Paisley. We were finishing up the details when we saw a herd of cows heading north on 31 right past the rest area. We have seen a few in Oregon and Utah but still find it fascinating how the dogs herd the cows who obviously are not thrilled about interrupting their breakfast to be hurried to greener pastures. They seemed to be yearlings, last year’s babies which we more than likely be destined for market in the fall??? I am not sure about this so will ask for clarification. The ranchers all rode horses, no ATVs, but the dogs did most of the work.
We were headed south again when we encountered another larger herd heading north. A truck with a big yellow sign proclaiming “Livestock” was in the lead and the herd followed down the road and on the shoulders. I am embarrassed to admit this but I played tourist with my iPhone and shot a few images of the ranchers, one of whom was female. I did ask first. And, btw I am a vegetarian.
We scouted around and omg, I found a fist sized agate that I had to dig out of the packed gravel with my foot. I almost passed it by. They are hard to spot as it seldom rains and they are dusty, not like the tide washed ones on the coast. The jasper was agatized and there were a few small rounds of obsidian. A call to ODoT was not returned although I left a message. During a previous call to the Lake a County Road a Department, the person I talked to wasn’t sure of the shoulder gravel’s origin and said that probably no one would bother us if we snooped around the gravel lot that was gated.
I did shoot some images as the light was hitting the buttes and the lake. Unfortunately, the scenes were usually marred by new fencing and telephone poles. Even content aware fill in Photoshop may not eliminate these problems.
As we were tired, hungry and cold, we returned to the rest area to remedy our discomforts. The strong winds that were beginning to build awoke us at 2:00 am. They gusted around us although we were somewhat sheltered. I thought surely the pop top roof would blow off. We were still intact the next morning so our camper was tougher that we thought. The winds still made for a sleepless and worrisome night.
Day 18/Thursday/April 24:
The winds continued to howl gusting at high speeds so we braved the winds to pack up head north on 31 to connect with 97 and northward bound to home. After Silver Springs the winds did subside as we were out of the Summer Lake Valley. There was little traffic and the scenery was still scenic on Oregon’s Outback Scenic Byway. The pines glowed almost orange in the morning sun.
We passed by the road to Fort Rock and soon arrived at the signed road to Hole in the Ground. I had heard it was difficult to find but our Oregon Benchmark Atlas showed it to be just off the road. The road was gravel led but badly wash boarded from the speeders. We tried one small dirt road thinking it might be the one but it turned out to an access road for the power lines. We looked at the map again and noticed that the lines went across the gravel road before the road that appeared to be the one nearest the Hole.
We drove on this dry dirt road until a fallen tree blocked any further advances. It fell diagonally across our path as it was hung up on neighboring trees so a lower vehicle could have gone underneath. We turned around but I wanted to take a few pics of the pine trees and Toller needed walking. After Toller was walked and the fotos shot, Tony decided to change clothes. As I sat in the truck, an amazing event happened in front of me. A whole group of some type of grosbeak bird began to appear on the hood and all around the truck. I actually got a few close ups of a few brave ones who came right up to the windshield. One even perched on the outside mirrors. Tony saw them on the roof of the camper and noticed that they were eating all the bugs that stuck to the camper and truck. They even cleaned off all the bugs on the front of the camper cab over where they were plastered thickly. It was as if we were just in time for their morning break. We never did find the fabled Hole in the Ground. With a large pine forest surrounding it, it may be the Lost Hole in the Ground. Or Hidden.
Since we needed fuel and a few groceries we stopped at the Redmond Fred Meyer. Small towns with growing pains on busy highways are not my favorite places to be but since we were passing through, it was convenient. The people were not as friendly or helpful as they were along Summer Lake. Even the store personnel’s greetings were forced. It was quite a contrast.
Our escape route was to head east to Prineville via 126 to camp at the Prineville Reservoir State Park. We had met a nice ranger from there at Cascadia State Park last Fall so we wanted to see if she was right about it being a nice park. Just outside of Prineville we drove up to a vantage point for lunch called the Ochoco Wayside State Park. No bathrooms but a beautiful 360 degree view of the Prineville area.
After passing through Prineville, we turned south on highway 380. Another turn onto S E Juniper Canyon Highway led us to the state park. It had the amenities you don’t have when boondocking like flush toilets, recycling bins, hot and free showers, and a splurge for us: 30 amp power connection. Tony could have his microwave popcorn. A loop for tents was closed or we would have taken a site in there and foregone the power.
We chose site 10 C as it had a view of the lake. It was $22 for our site but we had been boondocking most of our trip and a nice hot shower was really welcome. The campground was starting to fill up with weekenders and a few sites and cabins were reserved. There is also a marina and one couple we met said they fish for catfish.
We walked around for awhile, had supper and went to bed early to make up for last night’s lack of sleep.
Day 19/Friday/April 25:
We talked to the ranger we had met last fall and she said she and her husband found Hole in the Ground but it was difficult to find. She actually remembered us. Another walk around the park and we were ready to depart. It actually snowed in the hills surrounding the reservoir.
One of my preflight jobs is to add more air to the Firestone Ride Rite Airbags, not because I am good at pushing buttons bit because it is on my side. Poof, nothing, no growling noise or any movement on the gauge. Tony thought it may have been the relay switch so he cleaned it off and checked for leaks, deflated bags and blown fuses. Nothing. So I found a NAPA store in The Dalles which was on our way so off we went.
Back to Prineville, 17 miles away, the way we came. The plan was to follow 26 north then swing east on 216 to meet up with 197 to The Dalles. 26 eventually leads to Portland but we didn’t want to even get close. When 26 meets up with 97 they become the same highway splitting in Madras. We split to head up 26. In Warm Springs we spoke with a nice a Native gal of the Warm Springs tribe whose reservation we were on. I had noticed another route up through the reservation which was shorter and looked more scenic. Place names followed by canyon always intrigue me. She said it was a nice highway, winding with ascents/descents but scenic and to watch for wild horses.
We took the E. 100 Road or BIA Road 3 through the reservation. Not much traffic which allowed us to view our surroundings at a slower pace. We saw horses, wild and domestic or maybe some of both. We did go through canyons and saw hillsides of coltsfoot and lupine. In one canyon, we saw some amazing purple blooms on a shrub clinging to a rocky wall. We even saw several hummingbirds foraging on the blooms.
There were several overlooks so we stopped at those to look for the horses which we did spot. Just outside of the reservation on a power line access road, we stopped for lunch amidst fields of lupine, coltsfoot and a few I didn’t know. We walked around and found several horse skeletons. This puzzled us as why would they be scattered here? Did they stumble on the rocky terrain or muddy areas? Or were they shot? This also saddened us.
After lunch, we traveled up to 216 then took a left onto 197 just before Maupin. Before we left to turn onto 216, we went through Wapinitia which had many old vehicles and buildings.
197 reminded both of us of the Palouse in Southwestern Washington. Rounded hills of patchwork colors in green tan and light green. This is farm country, the Tygh Valley. Off in the distance to the east we could see the giant windmills taking advantage of the wind that blows up the Columbia Gorge. The Tygh area gets the transmission lines. The road was very curvy and had it roller coaster ups and downs.
Soon we came down a grade and we arrived in The Dalles. The NAPA store was easy to find and luckily the relay switch was the issue with the air bags. I guess we need to keep a spare on hand as it failed on us in October 2012.
Interstate 84 or any interstate are not my favorite way to get anywhere but we were tired and our campground for the night was around 20 miles away right off 84. We could have taken 30 but it weaves it’s way all over so we chose the shortest line between two points. The rains started and we slowed down but everyone else sped by. On 84, the speed limit is 55 mph vs 65 for cars. This makes for lots of passing the big rigs which don’t handle the winds well.
The drive is beautiful as you can see the Columbia River and the green bluffs along both sides (Washington and Oregon). There were a few brave windsurfers on the River.
Our chosen campground, USFS Wyeth was closed. The website said May and I thought it was close enough. Wrong. So, we travelled along the Wyeth Road until we found an old road that had not been in use for some time. There was gravel under the grasses so we were able to pull in to get off the road. All the other roads in this area were closed to vehicle traffic. It is a beautiful forest with some large evergreens up to four feet in diameter at the base. I found some trilliums, many ferns, a wild orchid, Solomon’s seal and twin leaf among others.
We set up camp, ate supper and walked Toller up the road. He was mostly looking for green grass as we had been around rabbit brush and sage brush for most of our trip. It is good to see the greens of home again. All the new growth comes in all the shades and tints of green. It is refreshing.
Day 13/Saturday/April 19:
I am thinking I really should revised this blog’s title as we will not be traveling further south. We missed our last chance at Bishop for Death Valley. We are finding some fascination places here in Nevada and decided to spend more time exploring these deserted locations.
This morning I was hoping for some alpenglow on the White Mountains to the west, which had snow. I was up early, like 4:00 am for the magic hour before and after sunrise but the wispy clouds didn’t add much drama. The dramatic clouds of yesterday dissipated. At least I could set up my tripod just a few steps up the hill behind our camping spot.
We were just packing up when a couple from near Reno drove by. We chatted about rock hounding and they recommended Rawhide Canyon south of Fallon for malachite. We will have to check it out when we return to Nevada in May.
We drove back to 774 and tried a few 4×4 roads looking for some rocks and vistas. We found a few on both sides that seemed promising. One had the remains of someone’s attempt to capture runoff for a water supply. A rusty barrel was in the ground surrounded by some large rocks. It didn’t look like much came of it. We wandered around finding a few nice rocks, mostly jasper types. The road became narrower and less distinct, so we returned to the highway.
Another road lead on the west side of 774 led to some colorful canyons, badlands and rock formations. No rocks of interest but it was a gorgeous place. Since the sun was high, any photos would be washed out but I shot a few anyway using a combo polarizer. A hummingbird visited us out of nowhere, probably looking for lunch amongst the wildflower smorgasbord.
We drove up another dirt road that paralleled some power lines, probably the access road for their maintenance. We stopped part way up where someone left a fire pit. We looked down into the eroded landscapes we partially explored yesterday. Hoodoos and sculpted cliffs lay below us. I found a few Apache tears lying about on the road. We ate lunch while looking down and across to more colorful mountains. Nevada has 300 mountain ranges making it the most mountainous state in the U. S.
We were going to return to where we were yesterday when we heard motorcycles or ATVs. Peering into the canyon from above, we saw a caravan of 3 motorcycles and one large ATV driving up the wide wash. We decided to go anyway but turned left rather than go straight ahead. The road was rougher, crossing several narrow washes. It lead us to an area of dark and mint green badlands. No rocks of interest and any light, morning or evening would be poor. If you walk up the rough gravel road, these badlands lead your eyes to the White Mountains.
We began to hear gunshots from the party next door, so drove back to the highway and to the road where I saw some lovely pale yellow desert blooms. They were plentiful, scattered amongst a spiny low shrub. There happened to be a large rock formation, actually, a sort of butte, that would be a nice backdrop with the right light and a few photogenic clouds.
Tony wanted to move on, thinking that a wait of over an hour for the sun to low enough to brighten the butte wouldn’t be worth it. But being the less practical but more creative member of the Tilley Traveling Circus, I pleaded my case. Am I glad I won. I was treated to a rainbow (and, a shower), with some puffy cumulus clouds in black, grey and white plus a golden butte shining in the waning rays of the sun before it set. And, yes, I stayed until the sunset faded away.
Returning to 774, we looked for a place to spend the night. Since it was getting dark and Tony was getting grumpy, we left the road for a highway gravel area. The wind picked up, but the rains left us alone. Not a picturesque locale, but it was free and I could see a cluster of colorful badlands nearby.
Again, a quick set up, dinner, walk and to bed. We were all tired from wandering around and the heat. That Bishop water is quickly disappearing.
A note here about snakes. Rattlesnakes. I know they are out here in the desert scrub. I have seen various kinds of lizards, most less than 7″ long. But, no snakes of any kind. Too cold? Too hot? Nothing to eat? I am still careful around rocks and brush and just hoping my luck doesn’t run out.
Day 14/Sunday/April 20:
This Easter morning we explored the colorful badlands/canyons behind where we slept. The road was well-maintained: graded with runoff channels. Rock hounding wasn’t very rewarding but the scenery was magnificent: alkali beds dotted with golden tufts of grass, colorful rock formations, small canyons to walk, evidence of former mining or ranching activities (rusted remains of water tanks, wood stove, barrels, late 1920s truck fenders and hood, porcelain light socket, etc.), views when climbing up the slopes, etc. this is a place we need to return to when the skies aren’t hazy.
We drove out to the intersection of 774 and 6 on the gravel road and headed east on 6 then north on 95. 95 is the connector highway between Reno and Las Vegas. We encountered lots of snowbirds, truckers, and fast cars. We drove through the dying towns of Mina and Luning; the grocery stores were closed, even the Hard Rock Grocery, though open, had a for sale sign. We were curious about it as it was noted in our Benchmark Atlas and a sign on the roadside proclaimed its proximity.
After lunch at the rest area in Luning watching the proprietor of the Trading Post (rocks and cold drinks and a for sale sign) rearranging his rocks, we drove across an alkali dry lake bed and up a rocky steep road for 2.3 miles hoping to find a malachite/azurite site. Unfortunately, the road was closed at 1.7 miles with a Nevada State Department of Mines sign telling us that the the mine was closed due to dangers like rattlesnakes, open mine shafts, falling rocks, etc. we poked around and found some colorful rocks, enjoyed the view across the valley then returned to 95.
Highway 361 heads north just a mile from Luning bringing through the town of Gabbs then to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park about 20 miles east on 844. The only fuel station in town was closed on Sundays and Easter Sunday of course we had enough fuel to make it to the park, return then fuel up. Gas stations are few and far between in this part of Nevada. After exploring back roads and driving without fueling up since Bishop, we were getting low.
844 was paved until the junction up to the park. As we drove east we could see it perched on the hillside. All around us was an open valley with very healthy green rabbit brush and sage. There were a few scattered buildings on the hillside but nothing else. There was a road to Ione but roads were scarce, too.
We drove through the preserved mining town of Berlin and on to the campground 2 miles away. $17 a night, our first paid site since last Monday at Burney Falls for site 6, level and a pull-through. It was furnished with a fire pit, gazebo, and picnic table. The vault toilet was a few steps away, garbage cans nearby and water pumps which were shut off. We had few neighbors so it was quiet. There was a black tank dumpsite on the way in but the water was shut off.
After setting up the camper, wandering around with Toller, eating dinner, and planning our next day’s route, we went to bed.
Day 15/Monday/April 21:
The sun was shining when we awoke to begin our day. First things first: feed and water Toller. There was a .3 mile interpretive trail we followed to the Ichthyosaur excavation site. The placards detailed the flora and fauna of the area: pack rats, Mormon tea, rabbit brush, small needled pine (can’t remember exact name), etc.
We knew the covered site wasn’t open but there was glass at either end that one could peek through including interpretive numbers. Just as we were leaving to return to our campsite to prepare to leave, Robin, the very friendly and knowledgeable park ranger appeared. He graciously offered to give us a mini tour. At one time, a doctor of paleontology spent five hours waiting for a film crew so he asked every question he could which she graciously answered.
Ichthyosaurs are a marine reptile, a very successful one who lived during three eras, about 150 million years plus. They gave birth to live young and breathed using lungs, cetacean traits. The ones at the pit, Shonisaurus, were about 60 feet long but other genera can range from single digits to 72 feet. These lived off the east coast of Pangea about 215 mya. About 8 or 9 individuals are present at this site but Robin said probably around 100 or so were in the area. We were actually able to touch a real disc of the spine which the staff used as a paperweight.
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park isn’t just about the bones; it also is the site of a mining operation. Some of the original buildings remain, including the stamp mill. Since it was getting hot and the ranger mentioned that rattlesnakes were found near there at one time, we left to fuel up in Gabbs, about 20 miles west on 844 then 2 miles south on 361.
Ray and Linda, his daughter-in-law, were congenial folks who owned the grocery store, gas station, cafe and motel. Diesel was a reasonable $3.99 a gallon so we filled it up. Gas stations out here are few and far between so if you find yourself on 361 stop by and fill up.
Linda told us that once we teed into highway 50, of America’s Lonliest Road fame, to take 722, the old highway 50 which was more scenic. Just watch for cows, she warned. You won’t find too many other vehicles so it is even more lonely. We found it quite scenic and saw only a handful of cars. We passed a few large ranches.
Soon, we returned to 50 for a short while then turned north on 305 toward Battle Mountain and Interstate 80. Surprisingly, I had a signal for my iPad Mini so found Mill Creek, a federal campsite on Trout Creek. It was about 24 miles south of Battle Mountain and about 4 miles east of 305 on a gravel road. It was a nice campground with vault toilets, a grill and fire pit, picnic table, and a metal pole to hang your lantern (?). Best of all, it was free and we were the sole occupants. The physical structures and amenities were in fine shape but the grasses weren’t mown. No problem for us but some might object. The creek was running and it sang us to sleep as it cut through the campground.
Day 16/Tuesday/April 22:
Our dream campsite was not so perfect: we awoke to the rumble of trucks heading up into the canyon on the same road that lead to our campground. At least they didn’t run all night as they started at 7am. We saw some type of observation tower or communication satellite receiver array which may have been manned or else, like most places in the West, some type of extraction activity.
After the usual morning duties of feeding and watering our faithful pup, moving gear from camper to truck cab, refilling water bottles, ensuring that that the latches were secure after lowering the top and the propane was turned off, we left for Battle Mountain to fuel up and begin our westward wandering on Interstate 80.
As much as I despise interstates, 80 wasn’t too bad. There were not as many semis as I thought there would be and general traffic was light. Soon, we were in Winnemucca to head north on 95. There was some construction which delayed us about 20 minutes but the edit could have been up to a half hour. It was raining lightly and overcast but the drive to our turnoff to 140 was up eventful.
Once on 140, we passed Denio, just a spot on the intersection of 140 and 282 traveling north to Oregon. 140 turned westward here and we began the series of ascents and descents and steep grades, especially near the Doherty Slide summit at 6240 feet. It began to lightly snow but didn’t stick. We passed through Adel, the Plush cutoff and followed Deep Creek. There is a very large ranch along this route with the large logs as an entry gate in several places named Crane Creek Ranch. There is supposed to be a viewing area for some nice falls along Deep Creek but it wasn’t marked and we had some impatient local on our tail.
Eventually we hit 395 and turned south to Lakeview to fuel up at the Shell station and on into town for groceries at Safeway. After finishing up we headed north on 395 toward Summer Lake on 31. There was a cold wind and the sky had some angry clouds. We passed through Paisley which has a serviceable gas station and mechanic but fuel is cheaper up at the dot on the map called Summer Lake.
We stopped along the highway to look for agates and jasper. We found a few, well, actually a pocketful of each. It is fortunate not much traffic is on 31 as we were walking along the shoulders poking in the rocks. A few concerned people wanted to know if we needed help. They were surprised that we were looking for agates.
We were getting chilled and Toller was bored in the truck so we went north to the rest area across from the Summer Lake store and gas station. Highway 31 is the Oregon State Outback Scenic Highway. It is very scenic tucked between the Coglan Buttes and Summer Lake (alkali). The kiosk at the rest stop mentioned that the explorer John Fremont traveled through here. As the highway heads toward 97 in a northeasterly direction, you can visit Fort Rock, where a 9,000 year old fiber moccasin was discovered and Hole in the Ground.
We set up quickly, had supper, and sank into bed. The traffic was non-existent during the night and we slept well. We could hear cows nearby, their lowing a soothing lullaby.