Day 8/Monday/October 13:
We awoke to another sunny day and drove north on Highway 89 toward Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lake Almanor was again on our route so we stopped on the south side of the lake near a boat launch, day use area and campgrounds. The lake was low but evidently high enough for the California Department of Fish and Game to plant 6,000 trout. They were chauffeured from the Crystal Lake Fish Hatchery near the town of Burney. We watched the fish wiggling and flashing their way to freedom from the two pipes.
Continuing east on 89 to its meet with 36 where it became 36/89 would bring us toward Lassen. Just past Morgan Summit (5750) we turned north onto Lassen Park Road through a heavily forested area. Along the way we were delayed by some road construction but it seems it is an ongoing activity in the rush to complete projects before inclement weather.
Our plans were to spend the night at either campground in Lassen. But, we were not that impressed with the park, at least not impressed to remain longer than a drive through. Because we have a dog, we are not able to hike the many trails that are available to park visitors. We are fine with that and, at times, either of us hikes the shorter trails while the other wanders the parking lot with Toller. also, it was sunny so I believe it would be more photogenic on a stormy day or if there was fresh snow. We stopped at several viewpoints, including one to have lunch where the wind blew strongly.
Once through the park, we turned north on 44/89 toward the Pit River campground off Highway 299, where we had stayed several years before. On the way there, we stopped at the Subway Cave off 44. But, the path to the cave or tube looked too much like rattlesnake country so we just admired the large pine trees in the parking lot.
Returning to Highway 89 we drove north toward Highway 299. Just for a change of pace, we turned onto the Cassel Fall River Road, a meandering narrow two lane county road eventually ending up in Fall River Mills and 299. Turning west onto 299, we soon arrived at the road leading to the Pit River campground. A USFS campground, the price for a night’s stay was $4 with our Senior Pass.
We were the only ones there besides some day use picnickers and the camp host. We picked a spot, set up and I wandered with my camera gear to the boat launch on the Pit River to see if the light was adequate to photograph the two mini waterfalls that, split by a wooded islet, emptied into the stiller waters in front of me. Our previous visit was later in the year so the fall color hadn’t peaked. The light was dull and the color even duller, so I packed up, walked and fed Toller, fixed supper and went to bed.
Day 9/Tuesday/October 14:
The light improved in the morning so I was there at the boat launch to shoot some frames with slow shutter speeds for the cotton candy effect and some to catch the sputter of the water as it poured over the rocks. But, there was neither the color nor the fog like the previous time. You take what you get and enjoy being in a special place.
Pit River Powerhouse #1, an impressive Art Deco structure, was just a short drive away through a private guest ranch (yes, you can drive through despite private property postings). We spoke with several workers who said it was really cold in this area in the winter. The facility was fenced and gated so we couldn’t tour it so I just snapped a few iPhone shots through the chain link fence. It was spare, austere and had those long multi-paned windows.
About five miles west on 299 and five miles north on 89, is beautiful Burney Falls. A fisher at Pit River told us we could come in the back way and walk along the trail to the lower view of the falls which can also be accessed by going to McArthur-Burney State Park and walking down below the upper overview. We drove down a road and parked in a small parking lot. I noticed a sign that gave directions and distance for the local trails plus the Pacific Trail. As I walked down to the bridge that crossed Burney Creek, I wasn’t really sure which direction to head (directionally dysfunctional) and didn’t want to encounter a bear alone (no dogs allowed on trail so Tony remained behind the sign), so we drove to the entrance of the park.
We walked the short distance to the upper viewpoint and I shot a few frames as the falls dropped 129 feet, but the best images are photographed along the paved walk down to the bottom. All along the way, there are compositions using a wide angle for the entire falls and a telephoto to capture the details. We had visited here last April when the Spring greens were vibrant and lush. This time, I wanted to shoot the Fall color. After about an hour or so, probably the “or so”, we ate lunch in the parking lot. There are trees in this park that I am unfamiliar with. We also saw them in the surrounding forest. I have included a photo of one titled “Mystery Tree”.
The wind was beginning to pick up and the rain was sputtering as we drove on 89, 44 and 36 on our way to Susanville to fuel up and buy a few groceries. We stopped along Highway 44 at the Bogard-Lassen Rest Area, a palatial rest stop for such a sparsely populated area; check out the photo below. It was really howling as we arrived in the Safeway parking lot. We weren’t really sure where we would camp for the night. We ultimately wanted to explore the Smoke Creek Desert area then drive along the western shore of Pyramid Lake but knew that driving into arid areas in the rain in the coming dark would be foolish.
Using an iPhone app, I found Ramhorn Spring, a BLM campground north on 395 that we could tuck into for the night then decide which way we would drive in the morning. The campground was populated by hunters who were off looking for mule deer. One who stayed behind said he had a night vision camera that caught a few mountain lions sneaking around behind the boulders we camped next to. Mountain lions which we have behind our home wasn’t bothersome; I was thinking rattlesnakes tucked into the rock pile. We set up as dusk approached, ate supper then went to bed sheltered from the elements.
Day 10/Wednesday/October 15:
The rain intensified during the night and the wind hadn’t slowed down. We decided to skip the Smoke Creek Desert to head for the west side of Pyramid Lake. There were some places that one of the WtW folks suggested we visit but we can return here as it is closer than our New Mexico destination this trip. We drove south down 395, turning east on Wendel Road just past the BLM Wild Horse Adoption Corrals.
As the paved road turned to gravel, it became Sand Pass Road. The rain began breaking off abut the dark storm clouds were ominous. We could see that the sky was become lighter toward the southwest which was our general direction. Just as we were approaching the turnoff to Highway 2 which would bring us along Pyramid Lake, I saw a large rainbow. “Let’s follow that rainbow”, I yelled, thinking that a photograph was in the making with the desert, brooding clouds and a rainbow.
Driving north along the Sand Pass Road, we could see that multi-colored arc over the hills. We drove on until we could see just a short wide band over the alkaline dry lake bed. We were a little late but did bang off a few as I was running down the road. After it disappeared, I looked around to see two square white wood-framed buildings along the RR tracks. They were falling into disrepair, no longer needed. I am not sure what their purpose was, maybe for supplies or living quarters for the crew or maintenance employees. The trains still run. It is named on our Benchmark maps as Sand Pass.
We backtracked to Highway 2 into the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. Along this road is the access to the Fly Geyser, a multi-hued wonder, on private land. No trespassing means that and you need special permission from the landowner. You are also required to obtain permits to even drive off the main road if you are non-Native. We could see the Needle Rocks off in the distance, their jagged points guarding the lake’s shore. The light shining through the clouds played off the beautiful blue of this large lake. The Truckee River feeds the lake, although there is no outlet. It is one of the few remaining lakes that were once a part of ancient Lake Lahontan.
When 2 became 445, gravel turned to pavement. At Sutcliffe, there is a fish hatchery that raises the cui ui, an endangered fish endemic to these waters. In the same area along the shore is an RV park (parking lot type), marina, visitor canter and ranger station. South of Sutcliffe, 445 turns toward Reno and 446 goes to Nixon and 447. There are several tribal parks, lake access points and picnic areas along the western shore but you need to buy a permit at the Paiute Tribal Headquarters in Nixon. On the other side of the lake is Highway 447 from which there is no lake access except for a closed gated gravel road. If you followed that road you would drive by the Great Stone Mother and Basket and The Pyramid which can be seen from 2/445.
At the junction of 446 and 447, we turned south to Wadsworth and Fernley. We bought fuel by the I-80 interchange and headed south on Highways Alt 50 and Alt 95 toward Silver Springs. Past Silver Springs, 50 turns toward Carson City and Alt 95 continues south to Yerington where Alt 95 joins 95 just past Shurz. On 95, traffic is fast as it is the main connector between Reno and Las Vegas. Semi trucks are especially fast and will pass you. The highway is flat, very straight in long stretches but there are very few places to pull off to allow them to pass.
Soon, we arrive at 20 Mile Beach, a free BLM campground on Walker Lake. There were a few campers near the vault toilets but we chose to drive down a sandy road to be closer to the beach. At last, Toller could run and run. I think he knew as we unfastened his harness and detached the leash that he was free to go. We watched him run in circles then flat out sprint. All too soon, it was time for his supper and ours as the light was fading quickly. At the south end of the lake is the Hawthorne Army Depot where there are miles of bunkers storing munitions, I believe. We only hoped that we would not be awakened in the darkness of night by a huge KA-BOOM!
Day 11/Thursday/October 16:
Quiet reigned (no missiles raining down) during the night so we were in one piece in the morning. We were greeted by a superb sunrise over the mountains across the lake. It lasted for some time and spread clear across the eastern sky. Toller was allowed to run again and took full advantage of the opportunity. We broke down our camp quickly and returned to 95 to fuel up in Hawthorne, just a few miles south.
From Hawthorne, one can take Highway 359 through some sparsely populated areas into California arriving at Mono Lake and the eastern entrance to Yosemite. One could also take the Bodie Road, a rough ride to Bodie State park, a genuine ghost town, preserved in a “state of arrested decay” by the California State Parks Department.
But, our destination was exploring some 4×4 roads off of Highway 6 on the way to Tonopah. There isn’t much to see from Hawthorne to where 95 joins Highway 6 at Coaldale and there isn’t much to see there, either. I wanted to see about a gravel road that went from 95 to Mina but some trucker was on our tail so we had to speed on by. These roads aren’t often marked and you are going by so fast that you have passed the entrance by the time you figure out that’s where you want to turn.
95 goes through two towns that are barely hanging on: Luning (population 40) and Mina (population 75). I noticed in a Google search that their populations are in decline. Luning has a rest stop and Mina has the Hard Rock Market (for sale, I think).
At Tonopah Junction, we left busy 95 for Highway 360. This road isn’t as flat and straight but there is some traffic, mainly semis. close to the highway, we saw a pair of burros grazing. I looked at the map and there was a POI for the Marietta Wild Burro Range. We drove down the road until we came to an overlook. We saw a group of four burros about 500 feet off the road, nibbling at the sage brush while over behind the mountains to the north, we could see and hear some major dynamiting happening at a mine among the cluster on the map. They must have become accustomed to the booms because they only looked up occasionally to check us out.
It is probably a good thing we did not find that road off 95 as there are many mines in the area and the road may be off limits. At times, that is the case; we find a road that has ghost towns or interesting geology and it is either closed or the trucks are running to deliver goods or remove the extracted material. Marietta was no longer a ghost town, but had a small settlement there with modern trucks.
Back on 360, we stopped at Belleville, really not much more than a site, as the few buildings were reduced to a pile of stone rubble. It was a community set up to provide water to the Candelaria Mines down the road. It had a population of about 500 people at one time and included a restaurant (we found oyster shells), doctor’s office, telegraph and assay station, livery stable, school, two hotels, restaurants, blacksmith shops and seven saloons. Belleville existed for about twenty years, from 1872 until 1892 when the mines got their own water source nearby. People, since its demise, have been poking through the rubble. We found many items including ceramic beer bottles, bone china, very small shoes, some hardware, rusty pieces of machinery, lots of thick aqua blue, purple, and olive green bottles, etc. All of the china and bottles were broken but we did find a used up but intact bottle of E. G. Lyons Jamaican Ginger.
We journeyed on to Highway 6 picking up 264 which continues south until it splits into 266 (to 95) and 168 (to 395). 264 merges with 773 which is the road we wanted. Off 773, we drove across a wash and continued up to where we camped last April. We wandered around looking for interesting rocks and photography locations. Boundary Peak, Nevada’s highest mountain at 13,140′ was visible from our camp site. The lighting too direct and the sky wasn’t filled with the dramatic storm clouds I like so I shot detail shots of the petrified wood hoodoos.
The quiet filled our ears and the millions, no billions, of stars filled our eyes. There is a large ranch or two nearby but we couldn’t see their lights. I love these silent, barren places where there are no distractions except the stark beauty. Listening to the nothing as we watched the sunset is magic. We were the only ones within miles. It is so different from our home where large trees obscure our sky views and the city lights shine too brightly for the next hill over to block completely.
Day 12/Friday/October 17:
This morning I shot more telephoto images of the same subjects as yesterday. The foothills below Boundary Peak had some interesting light so I worked that for awhile. We had breakfast then decided to drive the truck down to the lower area to follow the wash. We stopped to look for rocks and found a pocketful of Apache Tears, some clear, others more opaque. We could hear a group of ORVs close by and soon they revealed themselves coming up the wash. With a wave, they drove up to where we had been.
We drove further on the wash, stopping at a wide area. The wash made a right turn then left. Where the right became a left, the road was blocked by a foot tall rocky upcropping that would challenge our rig. We could see that it had been breached before. We contented ourselves to wander around checking out the petrified wood hoodoos. I wanted to stay longer to explore beyond to see the end of the wash, to see if the end, if there was one, was a box canyon. But Tony had an itch to rockhound for agates near Tonopah.
Once on Highway 6 we drove to Tonopah, stopping only at the now familiar Millers Rest Stop. After fueling up at the Shell, we went directly to our secret location and, darned if we didn’t get skunked. Maybe the light was bad in the late afternoon or maybe we took them all last April. We wandered around a bit, hope fading in tandem with the sun’s rays.
This is as good a place to stay as any, we thought, so we popped the top, made sandwiches and looked at the maps for our next destination. Often, we have a general idea of what we want to see by circling POIs on our well-worn Benchmarks. I also jot down a “general” itinerary on my iPhone. Sometimes, we go by the script, but mostly just allow serendipity and the signs along the way be our guides. Tomorrow was to be one of those days. I wanted to drive to Delamar, a remote ghost town, but that would mean miles of driving. Anticipating the unanticipated, we went to bed.
Day 13/Saturday/October 18:
The light made all the difference: we pocketed (knapsacked?) more than two dozen big’uns (1″ -2.5″D) in about two hours. They differ from the Summer Lake area because they are not as lumpy and are a milky blue color. Our agate lust sated, we headed east on Highway 6, stopping at the Saulsbury Wash Rest Area.
Last April, we had driven south from Highway 50 on the gravel road through Monitor Valley, crossing the Monitor Range over to Antelope Valley then recrossing the Monitors to the Ralston Valley. In Antelope Valley, we saw a large herd of wild horses. Since we didn’t complete our Antelope Valley drive (which segues south into the East/West Stone Cabin Valley), we turned north onto the road through West Stone Cabin Valley to see what we could see. As we drove along the gravel road, we saw a small group on a bluff, two white ones brightly shining in the sun. They watched us as we drove by slowly, looking up then browsing. We passed by a couple of springs, a few more horses then turned around to find a place to camp overnight. We almost drove to the junction where we drove into the lovely McCann and Hunts Canyons last April.
The green oasis of Stone Cabin Ranch was visible during much of our drive, so we turned east toward it knowing that the road would be okay. It is a typical Nevada ranch, complete with corral, stock yard, old rusty trucks, tractors and implements, a few weathered outbuildings and a main house. We then drove south on the road that passes through East Stone Cabin Valley. Suddenly, a band of 3 horses galloped across road ahead of us. They left their hoof prints in the alkaline area that we thought might make a good spot to camp. To the west was a small canyon that they disappeared into. We ate dinner as we watched the sunset. It was another quiet night.
Below are iPhone 5 photographs but the DSLR images can be found HERE
Day 1/Monday/October 6:
It is highly recommended that you make reservations for the Coupeville to Port Townsend ferry. If you arrive at the ferry terminal in peak season, you may wait for a long time. Also, don’t let it be a surprise if the the ferry is grounded due to tidal action (high or low). When you make your reservations on line or by phone, you can check to see if your sailing is a go. There is also an app or two for the Washington State Ferry System but I don’t have them. Fort Casey State Park is conveniently located nearby so we purchased our annual Washington State Parks Pass ($30) which was due and a Senior Off Season Camping Pass ($75 for free camping October through March and Sunday – Thursday in April). Our 12:30pm sailing departed on time.
Once on the other side (Olympic Peninsula), we drove south on Highway 20 until it connected with Highway 101. We drove southbound on 101 until turning west on the Satsop Coquallum Road for a change of scenery. Besides, we wanted to check out Schafer State Park, a 119 acre park on the Satsop River. The campground had been closed since October but we wandered around the park along the river.
From Schafer State Park, we headed toward Lake Sylvia State Park on the East Satsop Road. The park is just north of Montesano. The campground is located on lovely Lake Sylvia. Some campsites are set close by the lake shoreline, others are near a slow stream or on the interior loop. Few people were there so we were lucky enough to get a lakeside site. We guessed this would be a Popular class non-hook up site which, in the shoulder season, would cost $25 on a Monday. With our off-season pass, it would be amortized over the next 7 months.
We walked around the campground then crossed a bridge over the lake then returned for supper. We sat by the lake watching the ripples on the glassy surface until the sky turned pink. It was quiet and we slept peacefully.
Day 2/Tuesday/October 7:
We awoke to a foggy morn. We drove slowly along Highway 107 to its junction with the coastal portion of Highway 101 through Arctic, Raymond, South Bend, and along Willapa Bay to Long Beach. Traffic was light except for a few logging trucks. It was still foggy once we stopped in Long Beach to allow Toller to run on the beach. Long Beach is a dog friendly town that allows dogs to freely run and play on the very long packed sand beach of this ocean shore town. You can also drive your vehicle but you need to be mindful of soft sand.
We picked up Highway 101 again and crossed the Astoria Megler Bridge into Oregon. In Warrenton, we stopped at Fred Meyer for fuel and groceries. Back on 101, we drove through the coastal towns of Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita and Garibaldi until we went inland to Tillamook famed for its dairy products. 101 remains inland until just before Lincoln City. The drive is through pastoral dairy farms.
Just north of Depoe Bay, of the Smallest Harbor in the World fame, and just south of Lincoln City, is our favorite beach to look for agates. The beach has changed over the years yielding fewer and smaller agates. Still, it is fun to walk along the crescent beach as the ocean waves break. We missed low tide when the agates are easier to find, but did pick up a few. Polished by the ocean’s relentless pounding, they have that dull glow that sets them apart from other rocks. You can also find fossils there, mostly shells. The weather was overcast with some drizzle.
Our route south took us through Depoe Bay to our campground for the night. It had been tiring driving through the fog so we elected to stop at Beverly Beach State Park. Oregon state parks are some of the nicest anywhere, with clean campgrounds and free showers. We do not need hook ups so a tent site is $17 in the off season. The beach is long and sandy and just a short walk under the Highway 101 bridge. No agates to seek on this beach as it is mostly sand. Still, it is enjoyable to walk along the crashing surf. After a nice long walk, we ate supper and went to bed early to get an early start tomorrow.
Day 3/Wednesday/October 8:
This morning we continued down 101, stopping for another beach walk at Muriel Ponsen Wayside just north of Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park. It is easily accessible from the parking lot although the vegetation along the drive in needs pruning for the larger RVs. Last Spring when we were here, I found a few agates but wasn’t so lucky this time. Still, it is refreshing to walk along Oregon’s seaside. Oregon’s beaches are public, unlike my home state of Washington where access is limited.
In Florence, we fueled up at the Fred Meyer and bought a few last minute supplies. From Florence, it was an inland drive to Reedsport to head east on Highway 38. This is an easy drive along the Umpqua River with little traffic. At Elkton, we went southeast on Highway 138 to Sutherlin on I-5. Just a short jaunt down I-5 brought us the the eastern portion of 138. This is a very scenic drive along the North Umpqua River. One POI on our list was Susan Falls. But since it was becoming late in the day and the hike was 2.1 miles one way, we put it off for another trip. We noted that there was the Susan Falls campground nearby up the road.
We were stopped along the highway when a biker stopped to ask if we needed help. He lived nearby and advised us to check out Steamboat Campground on Steamboat Creek, a USFS facility. It was closer than Tokatee Falls, another falls on our itinerary, so we drove up the gravel road to the campground. The falls were underwhelming and were marred by a cement fish ladder. We paid our $5 fee and settled in for the night. This was a small campground and we had one neighbor who wasn’t visible through the large trees.
Day 4/Thursday/October 9:
The logging trucks began their day at 4:00 am so we were up and about earlier than we wanted. We tried to time our departure to after we heard the trucks head either up or down the road which narrowed at times to a single lane. Being Pacific Northwest natives (and a grand daughter of a logger), we are familiar with these lumbering beasts (ok, bad pun). We didn’t have a CB to check for oncoming trucks so just hurriedly drove the several miles back to 138.
The fall colors were ablaze along the North Umpqua Riverso we pulled over for a photo op. There are many trails, waterfalls and campgrounds along Highway 138 so we will definitely return. At the Tokatee Falls trailhead, there is a very large (8′ D?) wooden aquaduct that evidently was still in use as it spouted leaks. The vegetation growing out of the seams made it look like a Chia Pet. The trail is about .5 one way via 97 steps up and 125 steps down. It is a beautiful trail through the woods (big leaf maple, yew, old growth cedar and fir) along the North Umpqua River to the viewing platform. Along the trail is an overlook above a round gorge that the swirling water and sediments gouge out. The falls are spectacular: the river etches its way through a gorge that drops 40′ into a pool then plunges another 80′ into another large pool. What is a scenic bonus is the columnar basalt that the falls drops out of. A short and easy hike in, Tokatee Falls is one of the most beautiful falls I have seen.Tokatee Falls has a campground, also.
We passed by Diamond Lake where we had camped at Thielson View about a year ago. This is a beautiful campground that has many sites along this lovely lake with a view of pointy topped Mt. Thielsen. We could have dropped down to visit Crater Lake but had a schedule so turned east on Highway 138 which teed into Highway 97 at Diamond Lake Junction, an unofficial truck route that we try to avoid. A short 15 mile segment brought us to Silver Lake Road which bisects the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. The lake was dry and we saw few birds.
Just before Silver Lake, the road ended at Highway 31. Our destination was the rest area at Summer Lake, a free place to camp. It is right off the road but 31 sees little traffic. We also enjoy looking for agates nearby and always find a few pocketfuls of some nice ones. They are different from the ones we find along the Oregon Coast as they are not polished but they are larger and have a knobby opaque quality. After a fruitful rockhounding session, we returned to the rest area for supper and sleep. We were joined by three other vehicles for the night seeking a place to camp. There is a store/gas station across the road if you need to resupply or get fuel. If I remember correctly, diesel was cheaper there than in Paisley, a town further south. The Summer Lake area is one of eastern Oregon’s great places to explore from the Summer Lake Wildlife Area to the USFS roads above.
Day 5/Friday/October 10:
After a further mining of agates in the Summer Lake area, we drove toward Lakeview to fuel up and head south on 395 into California. If you wanted a shortcut over to 395 north of Abert Rim, there is a road through the XL Ranch that runs from paved Red House Road through a small canyon which becomes more rough and rocky. Eventually, as you near 395, the road becomes easier and is graded gravel. Sometime ago, we ran this route in reverse (direction, not gear) so were fooled at the beginning. Not recommended unless you like to crawl and bounce through pasture land. On the way to Lakeview, we drove through Paisley and met up with 395 at Valley Falls.
We fueled up at the Shell station on 395 just north of Lakeview but didn’t stop for groceries at the Safeway which has been in town since 1939. If you need supplies, this is one of the better stocked grocery stores for miles until you are well into California (even Alturas has less of a selection).
It is always a nice drive into California along 395, a nice highway that sees little traffic. We had to stop at the California Agriculture Department checkpoint to declare our produce on board. Sometimes it is open, sometimes not. After Alturas, we drove down 299 through Canby when it merges into 139, and Adin (nice small town with an interesting warehouse of treasures peeking through the windows) where we headed south on 139.
It was getting dark and we were a little anxious for a place to spend the night. One of my iPhone apps indicated a BLM campground near Eagle Lake. There were no signs indicating a campground but we did find a clearing off the road overlooking the lake so we pulled in and set up camp. There was little traffic to bother us and soon, after dinner, we went to sleep.
Day 6/Saturday/October 11:
We awoke early, anxious to meet up with a group of pop-up truck camper enthusiasts from the Wander the West forum at the Meadow Lake campground in the Tahoe National Forest. We stopped at the Susanville IGA for groceries and fuel then headed west on 36. From Highway 36, we took 147, the scenic route along Lake Almanor (which had water unlike poor dry Eagle Lake). We stopped at a scenic overlook for a potty break and to stretch our legs. Toller always wants out so we wander around with him so he can do his business and get some exercise.
After the overlook, we took Highway 89 south, stopping at Indian Falls. I am glad we did as it was a beautiful area and a very important spiritual and cultural area for the Maidu Tribe. There are large blue gray rock outcroppings that you scramble over to get to a better view of the falls. Even in mid-October, there was still a flow.
89 continues south and east as 89/70 through Quincy and East Quincy. Then, near Blairsden, 89 becomes its own road which we followed south to USFS Road 07. We would follow this road and USFS Road 86 near Weber Lake for 20 miles, becoming rougher until we saw a group of pop up campers at Meadow Lake campground.
We were warmly welcomed by this enthusiastic group with which we felt right at home immediately. I have been a participant on their forum for several years, getting and giving advice about campers, destinations, modifications and other areas of interest to those who explore backroads and backcountry. We soon found a place to set up camp and did a walk about to meet everyone. There was a pig roasting on a pit donated by Marc of XP Campers. Marty, of All Terrain Campers cooked up a hearty and aromatic onion soup. I think it was MarcBC who brought a homemade walnut pie. Others brought ice cream, salads, casseroles, etc. We brought home grown Honeycrisp apples from our neighbor’s orchard. We did not go hungry.
Thanks to Ted who organized it all and Bill for the decals. We weren’t the ones who came from the furthest away (Grant from British Columbia, our northern neighbor did) but we probably drove the most miles as we tend to travel back roads, all in the spirit of Wandering the West. I hope we can all meet up again to share our adventures and camping rigs. We got some great ideas and hope to incorporate some this winter. One of the campers hung a mini hummingbird feeder from a bough. Noted.
The sunny weather held all weekend. Toller enjoyed playing with the other pups who were well-behaved. They ran and frolicked among the campers. We enjoyed meeting the dogs who folks mention in their posts. After a wonderful pot luck dinner amongst folks who felt like long-time friends, we headed for bed to sleep among the pines with full tummies.
Day 7/Sunday/October 12:
Most folks headed back this morning but we stayed to walk around Meadow Lake, a reservoir that was quite low. We spoke with Smokecreek, a retired BLM archeologist, who told us to visit the Smoke Creek area east of Susanville as we would be traveling that way.
We wanted to return to Indian Falls and Burney Falls and drive through Lassen Volcanic National Park in between. We said our goodbyes to those still in camp and back tracked to Indian Falls. We stopped in Quincy for fuel then drove to Indian Falls via 89/70 for late afternoon photography. Golden reflections highlighted the water above the rock outcropping 20 feet above the pool below where the gold shimmered.
Tony disappeared with Toller and after the gold shimmers disappeared, I began to look for them. I went upriver a ways and found them in an even more beautiful location. In the distance, twin falls dropped a short distance about 20-feet apart. The entire scene was magic. Boulders and submerged rock outcroppings were scattered in Indian Creek. Placed among the rocks near the water was a beautiful large lobed leafed plant that was changing from green to red. I couldn’t have asked for a more photogenic location. I shot wide and long and everything in between.
It is difficult to describe the emotion that I feel when I am in a beautiful location and the cameras’ batteries are charged and the media cards have been formatted and are ready to fill. I really try to be restrained initially, composing with the thumb and forefingers of both hands to see the potential, trying to get a feel for the possibilities. But, the light was fading and so I just continued composing through the viewfinder, pressing the shutter, hoping that this wondrous place wasn’t a dream. I had to place my tripod at odd angles and lengths in the eroded pitted rock outcroppings, hoping that it was well enough anchored to prevent any shake.
Back at the camper, we decided to spend the night. There were no signs prohibiting overnight stays and we were the only ones remaining in the parking lot. After dinner, I reviewed my photos. I wasn’t disappointed. No one disturbed us during the night and we slept well.
Day 16/Wednesday/September 24:
I really wished for some beautiful clouds this morning but the fog gods left their trail of dewy droplets. Still, fog can make for some moody images. It soon lifted but the sky was cloudless and there was a ripple on the lake where yesterday was like glass. We said goodbye to Karry from Colorado and headed out to the roads that would take us back home. We had reached the furthest point east and south of our trip so the remainder of our adventure would be homeward bound.
There are several spots off the road where you can disperse camp. We had met some campers who had camped along the Green River who showed me a photo they had taken yesterday, a wide angle shot with the river running toward Squaretop Mountain, a terrific example of leading lines/S-curve composition. We looked for it and found a few possibilities. Our plans for further adventures would be to more throughly explore Western Wyoming, places on the map like Plumes Rock, Chimney Rock, Killpecker Sand Dunes, Adobe Town, Crazy Woman Canyon, The Haystacks, etc. And, spend a few days, exploring this area and relaxing in our chairs along the banks of the Green River, fishing and relaxing.
We missed 40 Rod Road, a shortcut over to 189/191, by gawking at the scenery. It would have saved us probably 10-15 miles. We drove back through Hoback Canyon to 26/89 heading west into Idaho. This is beautiful country, I thought, as we drove along the Grand Canyon of the Snake River toward Alpine, Idaho. In Alpine Junction, where we fueled up, tourism hit a dead end. A large complex of Swiss Alpine themed buildings including a restaurant and motel was for sale and appeared to have been for some time. We see a lot of businesses that cater to travelers that are for sale and abandoned. I want to know the backstory. Why are these places for sale? Where do people stay? Is it the RV industry or do people have to ration their vacation time to see only the top-tier of their bucket list?
We dropped down along 26 to parallel the Palisades Reservoir, a dammed up portion of the Snake River. Our camping destination was Falls Campground along Fall Creek near Swan Valley. We turned off of 26 to USFS Road 058 toward the campground keeping an eye out for a sign for Fall Creek Falls, a scenic falls that I wanted to photograph. The campground was closed (for the season?) so we drove down Fall Creek Road (USFS Road 077) along the creek of the same name and found some areas with informal camping spots (rock fire pits). The waterfall was visible as we returned from the closed campground so we at least knew where it was. It was getting dark and we were tired. It was quiet except for the occasional bellow from the free range cattle.
Day 17/Thursday/September 25:
I misjudged the time that the sun would rise so parts of the waterfall were already basking in the sunshine. I made the best of an poor situation and fired off a few wide angle shots. We returned to Highway 26 enroute to Idaho Falls. Because we wanted to arrive home to tend to the garden and attend a friend’s going away party, we, gasp, got on I15 and drove to its junction with I86 just north of Pocatello. I86 merges into I84 just east of Burley. I am not a fan of freeways but Idaho’s aren’t as congested and the traffic flows freely, if fast.
Soon, we said good-bye to freeways at Mountain Home and fueled up. From Mountain Home, we drove on Highway 67 (Grand View Road), crossing the Snake River at Grand View to 78. We followed 78 (the Murphy Grand View Road) past dairy farms and the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Site. We saw no eagles or other larger birds of prey but did spot many hawks. We drove through Murphy and Guffey at times following the Snake closely.
At Marsing, we turned west on 55 then north on 95 through Homedale. At Homedale, we turned onto 19/201 and proceeded through Adrian. We crossed the Idaho/Oregon border just west of Homedale. It was harvest time in this part of the world. Overladen dump trucks spilled their loads of red and yellow onions at every turn. There were trucks also carrying carrots and potatoes, stew veggies. We picked up a few large red onions laying by the road side.
Somewhere in the midst of this farmland, the winds began to blow forcefully and we were now trying to see our way through the soil billowing across the road from one fallow or harvested field to the other. 201 brought us to Nyssa where we stopped to fuel up. One of the local farmers was fueling up next to us and said if we continued to drive west, we would be driving away from the winds. He also mentioned he was having a great harvest this year.
From Nyssa, we headed north until the junction with 20/26 which would take us to Vale, Oregon. We camped at Bully Creek Reservoir northwest of Vale, at a county park that had showers and power, our first hook up site on this trip. Since we were out of daylight, campgrounds were few and boon docking on farmland is not encouraged, we took advantage of the power and showers for $15. The reservoir was down substantially, like most of those we have seen. It was quiet as there were only two campers here including us.
Day 18/Friday/September 26:
After using the campground’s water and our hose to wash off almost 3 weeks of dirt, we returned to Vale and turned north on highway 26. Our map showed a shortcut via Reservoir Road but it hadn’t been used in a long time. 26 took us through small towns like Willow Creek, Jamieson, Brogan, Ironside, towns that are fading away or gone. We were looking for a cut bank along the road just before Unity that someone during one of our travels was said to have carnelian rocks. It wasn’t really evident as there were a few rocky banks along the highway and we weren’t sure how far from Unity, but we did find some pretty rocks along a promising area. The few people driving by were probably wondering what we were looking for.
In Burns, several weeks ago, a local man told us about Strawberry Mountain where he worked falling juniper. He said it may be worth our while to check it out. We drove toward Unity to ask for information at the Ranger District station but it hadn’t been open for some time. You could buy some maps from a kiosk but we wanted utd info on camping, road conditions, POIs. We could have backtracked to USFS Road 16 but chose to just sample the area by driving to Prairie City.
We immediately liked Prairie City, a friendly Mayberry RFD kind of town. The storefronts were original with stone, brick and wood. The friendly locals directed us to the correct road to the Strawberries and Tony shopped at the Mom and Pop grocery store. We had this same feeling at Condon, Oregon, last spring, another authentic real small town America place on the map..
Following the Prairie City South Road (62), we made a semi-circuitous route through the Strawberries. 62 turns left becoming 16. Since we were in the Malheur National Forest, there were a few campgrounds along or off the road. They were circled on the map for a “next time”. At Parish Cabin campground, we turned onto 15 toward Seneca and Highway 395.
It seemed just a few days ago we were traveling south on 395. Northward bound, we passed through Canyon City (fuel at Shell) and John Day. From John Day, 395/26 took us west toward Mt. Vernon where we followed 395 north toward the Oregon/Washington border. Since it was getting dark quickly, we drove onto USFS Road 432/3940 to find a place to camp for the night. It was hunting season so we did see a few hunters parked here and there. We set up camp on a single track dirt road among the pines, far enough off in case someone wanted to pass by.
Day 19/Saturday/September 27:
It appeared that the road we were camped off of would take us north a ways then drop down to 395. But, since it was a weekend and hunting season, we back tracked to 395 to resume our homeward direction. As we drive along 395 in this section from south of Fox to Long Creek and north of Ukiah, there are some really photogenic old barns, churches and homes. Somehow, we are there too late in the morning or too early in the evening or it is a cloudless day. One of these days….
We make good time driving 395. It is a good road with some traffic, altitude changes, and curves, but very drivable. We pass through small towns that time forgot, thriving at one time in this open range ranch country when ranches were smaller.
At 74, we turn west to travel this time on the Little Butter Creek Road through ranches along Little Butter Creek. Turning onto 207, we stopped at the Echo Meadows Oregon Trail Interpretive Site. We stretched our legs, read the information in the kiosk and wandered down the trail to look at the wagon wheel ruts. Overhead, we heard strange sounds. Hundreds of large black birds were flying south in numerous Vees. Later, we found out that they were brants.
We stopped in Umatilla for fuel then crossed the Columbia River into Washington. We exited onto 14 then headed north on 221.retracing our steps from when we began. From Benton City, on 221, we drove along the Yakima River to connect with highway 240. We turned left, again passing through the Hanford area. Too soon, it was getting dark and we needed a spot to camp. We thought of the rest area just before the Vernita Bridge. But, semis were there, maybe for the night, so not wanting to hear and smell diesel all night, we drove across the bridge to the boat launch and found a spot away from the weekend crowds. And, I don’t think Washington has an ordinance that allows you to spend the night at a rest area like Oregon and Nevada.
Day 19/Sunday/September 28:
We slept well and hit the road early. It was beautiful sunny morning as we drove along the Columbia River and the vineyards that thrive here. I forgot to mention when we passed by here several weeks ago, we also drove by Priest Rapids Lake and Dam. There is a large RV park and community there called Desert Aire, definitely not our style. They even have their own airport.
Since we are adhering to our route that we began this trip with, in reverse heading home, I will be brief. From 205 , we joined I90 until the exit 151 past George to 283 to Ephrata. In Ephrata, we drove the Sagebrush Flat Road/Rimrock Road/Coulee Meadows Road northbound. I took a few iPhone photos of some barns and the volcanic rimrocks. When “the road that frequently changes its name” ended on Highway 2, we made a sharp left on 2 westbound for about 5 miles then turned north yet again on 172 which meandered past wheat fields and more abandoned buildings. Someday, I would like to get permission to photograph these old structures before they become one with the ground. Most of the access roads are gated and posted so no trespassing.
We found Ridgeport Hill Road which, in a meandering way, took us to 17 and through the town of Bridgeport. Next time I will play tourist and photograph the really well-done chain-sawn sculptures hewn from standing 70 year old sycamore trees along the main road through town. There is a salmon, horse, eagle, and other animals.
From Bridgeport, we drove onto Highway 97 to fuel up in Brewster. Highway 153 was just ahead at Pateros and our favorite fruit stand called the Rest Awhile Country Market. We bought some organic apples and a pastry for Tony. This is fruit tree country: cherries, nectarines, peaches, apricots, pears, and apples. With productive volcanic soil watered by the Columbia and Methow rivers, this region grows some of the best produce in the country. You know, famous Washington apples.
153 past before Carlton was open so we drove it to just before Twisp. For a change of scenery, we took the Eastside Winthrop Twisp Road. It is a little slower paced and you drive by the North Cascades Smokejumper Base. We noticed all the homemade signs of gratitude to the firefighters in this area who fought the Carlton Complex fire. Brave men and women.
We picked up 20 again in Winthrop. Because it was still early, we drove off 20 to Mazama to check out several USFS campgrounds. Around Mazama, there are many vacation homes, some grandiose but most just small weekend cabins in the woods. The closer we got to the campgrounds, the rougher the road became. We stopped at a trailhead to walk around and let Toller stretch his long legs. We returned to highway 20, deciding the spend our last night at Klipchuck. We could have pushed to head home but we don’t like to travel at night, especially along very winding and dark roads.
Day 20/Monday/September 29:
We were a little anxious this morning as we were going to head up the looooong switchback on 20 toward Washington Pass. Last June, the radiator in our truck developed a leak almost to the top. (I have yet to document that episode as it is not fun to relate). At this point, I can recall it and almost laugh, well, almost, as it cost us over $2000 to replace it with a Mishimoto aluminum model. We limped to where we could get cell phone service in Newhalem to call AAA. We were certainly glad that we had a camper full of water and that there was a campground that we could replenish the tank with. Pretty trying at the time.
We took the long climb with ease, both of us breathing a sigh of relief. We made our usual stops along the way home, at the Diablo Lake overlook where we met several men in a homemade wooden camper sitting an older fire truck and at Gorge Creek Falls Viewpoint.
Since we had lots of time, I wanted to reshoot the falls behind the Gorge Powerhouse. I usually just shoot the one you can see from the bridge but there are several others to see by climbing a steep set of stairs. I promised that I would return in a half hour and you know how it goes when you are having fun. My time was up so maybe next time I will ask for an hour.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. We returned home to put the garden to bed, clean the truck and camper, plan our next adventure, work on photos and attend a going away party. I usually don’t keep track of mileage, food or fuel expenses. I do know that we spent $57 for camping. I think it might help others if I tally up our costs, either daily and/or at the trip’s end. I only know that it is worth whatever it costs. We are not extravagant people, choosing not to camp at RV resorts or dine out. Happy trails.
Day 12/Saturday/September 20:
I am glad we gave our tent camping neighbors firewood as it was cold last night. We broke camp (easy to do with a truck camper) and drove south to the Tetons. One of my bucket list photography locations is Oxbow Bend along the Snake River. There is guaranteed to be a crowd of photographers waiting for the early light to hit the Tetons above the glowing gold of the aspens groves. Anyone can photograph here; access is anywhere you park along the roadside. I knew we wouldn’t arrive in time for the early morning light so we drove along Jackson Lake taking our time, stopping at Moose Falls.
The Flagg Ranch Visitor Center was closed for the season (I wanted info on dispersed camping) so we drove on to scout out a camping spot for the night. While we were taking a bathroom break at a picnic area near Fonda Point/Lizard Creek Campground, we met a Four Wheel Camper owner from Idaho. He advised us to travel down the Pacific Creek Road to boon dock on USFS land. I had circled it on our benchmark Wyoming map as a place to check out. He confirmed that it was a decent place.
Since it was along the way, we joined the hordes along Oxbow Bend. We managed to snag a place to park along the road among the large RVs and tour busses. It was a clear, cloudless day showcasing the brilliant blues and golds. I scouted the area for a spot to shoot from in the early dawn as it would be dark when we came to shoot tomorrow or the next day.
Just a short drive south from Oxbow Bend was the turn east onto Pacific Creek Road. We drove on a paved road for a time then past the turn for private residences. After the turn to the left, it became an easy graded gravel road where we encountered another Four Wheel Camper on a truck with FWC graphics. He was in a hurry but waved to us. We didn’t drive all the way in but decided that this would be fine for a night or two.
We backtracked out to visit Two Ocean Lake reached by taking the first fork before the road continues back to the highway. Parking was at a premium here and we just squeezed in. It is a lovely lake but too many people spoiled what could be solitude. There were trails that you could explore here and at Emma Matilda Lake but there were bears in the area and Toller was not allowed on the trails. We headed back to the main road, stopping along a pullover to eat lunch.
It was still early so we decided to visit Mormon Row and the famous Moulton Barn where, in 2010 I was fortunate to photograph a double rainbow behind the iconic structure. I found a good place to plant my tripod for a morning shot (Tetons are primarily for early risers as the range is lit up with the first rays at dawn). A quick look at our map showed that Flats Road was a good candidate for boon docking. We drove past a huge mega-mansion that displayed larger than life bronze figures of a Native American on a horse that was pawing the air and several men in a canoe hitting rapids at an angle. Very stunning and very expensive.
I wasn’t sure if we were within park boundaries but we saw some folks camping off the road so decided this would be a good spot amongst groves of aspens with a million dollar view of the Teton Range. After supper, I searched for the perfect backlit aspen images and found one near our campsite. We watched the sun set behind the Tetons and fell asleep under the clear night skies.
Day 13/Sunday/September 21:
If you want to photograph that special predawn light, you have to arise early. We broke camp quickly then headed the short distance toward the Moulton Barn. There were already several photographers there and I set up my gear at the spot I had chosen yesterday. Funny that we all chose to be at an angle to the building rather than directly in front. Just our artists’ eyes that line up the perfect framing.
The clouds were lovely but the more dramatic ones were outside of my ideal composition. I had to go really wide to include them. The light didn’t hit the front of the barn as I wanted but just to be there was exciting. My company was a great group of other photographers who were glad to be there, too. I met a guy whose brother’s blog I follow. He was a fine photographer in his own right. I have his card somewhere. Usually, I am the lone female but there was one other this morning. I don’t think she really knew what she was doing as she was asking many questions. This is poor etiquette as you never interrupt someone shooting during peak light.
Since we were near the Gros Ventre area, we drove south on Mormon Row to its intersection with Gros Ventre Road. This scenic road will bring you through the Gros Ventre Slide area. In 1925 a huge rock slide tumbled down the north face of Sheep Mountain, across the Gros Ventre River and uphill for 300 feet. This created a large dam across the river which, in 1927, partially failed causing a flood which destroyed the town of Kelly downstream. There is an overlook above Lower Slide Lake where you can see the slide area. This lake also has the Atherton Creek campground.
Driving on, we came to the red hills. I remember that the area was prettier in the spring when the green fields contrast more deeply with the red of the hills. Still, it is lovely and the complementary color scheme is stunning. We passed by several campgrounds (Red Hills and Crystal Creek). There was a beautiful ranch property along the banks across the river.
The road continued but we decided to quit early to check out River Road, a 4×4 road that parallels the Snake River. We started driving it but it hadn’t been graded for some time and washboards really bother my husband’s back. We returned to Teton Park Road. Since we were close to Jackson and getting low on fuel, we went on into town to get fuel and a few groceries at the Albertsons.
Returning from Jackson, we headed up the highway to the Pacific Creek Road to camp for the night. There were a few vehicles parked off the road but they weren’t very private and we weren’t desperate yet. We found a rutted road that led to a clearing. There were several horses tethered and one who was in a portable corral. We saw the FWC guy from Idaho and talked about places to explore. There was a very nice spot down by Pacific Creek which was occupied. We settled for a place off the muddy road near some cottonwoods but not too close. We call them widow makers back home. Early to bed for early we shall rise in the morning to grab a spot at Oxbow Bend.
Day 14/Monday/September 22:
It was a dark and stormy morning, but photographers are ever hopeful for a break in the clouds or a stray shaft of light. What I previewed from this morning didn’t excite me. I only had time to process the 5 stars during the week we returned home before our next epic trip to the Southwest. I mainly shot reflections of the aspens in the water as the Tetons didn’t want to come out to play. While waiting for some drama, I met a gal who took her photography seriously. Three camera bodies, all Nikon, one set up on remote firing every few seconds. She had just quit her job as one of mayor deBlasio’s staff photographers because, as she said, she was tired of podium shots. We had quite a bit in common (Nikons, suspicious of Adobe CC, etc.) but I didn’t get her card.
We drove north to explore a gravel road to the river where there used to be a cattleman’s bridge before the area became a national park (interesting history of the conflict between ranchers, conservationists and the Rockefellers). I shot a few reflections then we moved on.
I wanted to photograph Schwalbacher’s Pond so we drove down to the parking area. I shot a few reflections near the trailhead but soon the rain dampened any further attempts. It was a nice place for a lunch as not many people ventured down here except for serious photographers who were probably here much earlier for the classic shot.
Antelope Flats was just down the highway so we headed east. The clouds and sun were playing peekaboo with the aspens and cottonwoods in the Antelope Flats Road area. The lighting was dramatic for afternoon photography so we parked off the road so I could mingle with buffalo. Not really, they are powerful animals and you do not want to get in their way. They are faster than you think so I kept a watchful eye on them and the light.
Soon, it was time to return to Pacific Creek Road for the night. The light was fading and storm clouds were brewing. Returning, I saw some really dramatic lighting at the parking lot just before Oxbow so we pulled to shoot some of the more dramatic shots of our trip. The aspens obligingly lit up, the Tetons were dark brooding hulks and the clouds were ominously black, grey and navy. This is what I love about photography: the suspense, the drama, the beautiful locations, and the surprising compositions you can find just off the highway. I was joined by an Asian couple who stood right next to me when there was plenty of room many yards on either side of me. Maybe it is the culture or maybe they thought I looked like I knew what I was doing. They were shooting wide, I was shooting long.
We drove to Pacific Creek Road just a short jaunt away and parked next to the sign that marked the USFS/NP boundary. As good as any, we thought. This is bear country so we kept our bear spray handy. Toller was quiet all night so we didn’t need to worry but it still pays to be “bear aware”.
Day 15/Tuesday/September 23:
We were up early to return to Oxbow Bend, in the dark. As we approached the target area, we could see photographers’ head lamps which made it easier to find. When it is dark in the Tetons, it is dark. They sky looked promising so I set up at “my” spot. The clouds over the Tetons began to color up and I believe there may be some keepers in amongst some duds. I broke my split neutral density filter and don’t own enough flash card capacity to set my camera up for HDR (3-9 shots of the same scene in ½ to 1 stop increments). At least I have Nik’s HDR Effex Pro which will do tone mapping with a single exposure and balance out the highlights/shadows.
Sadly, we left the Tetons and headed into Jackson for fuel, this time stopping at Smith’s for groceries then we were on our way to the Green River Lakes area north of Pinedale. We followed 26/89/189/191 south to Hoback Junction where we turned southeast on 189/191. This highway passes through Hoback Canyon which has a nice campground between the Hoback River and the highway. We may return for photographic possibilities.
When we plan for trips, I, the planner/navigator, look carefully for POI and geologic features that may be interesting to explore and photograph. One such feature I wanted to check out in Wyoming on this route was the Open Door on Granite Creek Road (USFS Road 30500). Also, Granite Hot Springs and Granite Falls might prove worth the drive and a place to camp. We started up the road but signs at the beginning indicated the hot springs were closed. We drove on anyway but the road deteriorated so we stopped to have a snack and return to the highway. In the winter it is a Snopark.
We passed through ranch country and trophy homes and the town of Bondurant. Just before the Green River at Daniel Junction, 191/189 divides and we drove east on 191 toward 352, the road that would take us to the Green River Lakes area. We drove by by small towns like Cora and ranches like the Flying U and Circle S and The Place and Green River Guest Ranch, closed and for sale. The aspens were in their prime glowing red and gold against the blue sky.
352 eventually changes from paved to gravel as it enters the Bridger Teton National Forest becoming USFS Road 650. It follows the Green River until its headwaters at Green River Lakes. The road is rough in places and graded in others. I will tell you now, the long drive drive is worth it. There is an official campground along the way, Whiskey Grove but there are also many places to disperse camp.
Waiting for us at the end of the road was the Green River Lakes campground. It had just officially closed for the season so was free. We were one of two campers there plus the camp host who was leaving the next day. The light was fading fast so I grabbed my equipment and headed down to the shore. I discovered this place from the cover of a book on camping in Wyoming. Squaretop Mountain is reflected in the lake along with White Rock (I think that’a the name). If the lake is clear of any ripples, the reflection is stunning. It is an evening shot as the fading light highlights the peaks.
While I was shooting, a fisher in his canoe came toward shore. He asked if he was bothering my shots and I replied, no way, you add to the images. He obliged by casting his line as he paddled back and forth across the lake. I shot some photos of his catch with his P&S (it was too damaged to release, the fish, not the camera) and we chatted awhile. Nice guy who lives in Colorado and loves to fish. I did send the images I shot of him after we returned home.
Tired, but happy, I walked up to the camper, ate dinner and fell promptly asleep.
Day 7/Monday/September 15:
We tried to capture the early morning glow on the gorge walls we witnessed yesterday evening but the sun’s rays didn’t light the walls like the evening did. After trying to capture this lovely gorge cut by the North Fork Owyhee River, we drove up a winding gravel road to the flats where there were more ranches. From the campsite to the end of this scenic backcountry byway is fairly flat open range country. We did see lots of cows and cross over many cattle guards.
We met one rancher who spoke with us about a half hour on ranching out here in one of the least populated areas in the U. S. He is a 5th generation rancher, proud of the hard work it has taken him and his family to continue to ranch in this remote area. He said he never thought he would see the day when his market cattle would fetch $1500 each. I am not sure if he was referring to this year’s calves or yearlings. Based on weight, it would have to be last year’s newborns. Here, they talk about their land in thousands of acres like most of the arid west.
The Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway officially ends in Grandview, ID but decided to take a shortcut: just a few miles after Mud Flat Road became paved, we turned onto the graveled Shoofly Cutoff Road which after less than 10 miles ended at highway 51. The roads of the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway change twice. From Pleasant Valley Road (paved) the roads we followed were Juniper Mountain Road (wanders in and out of Idaho/Oregon, graveled, southerly direction) and Mud Flat Road (easterly direction, graveled until the very last part).
After crossing the Bruneau River, 51 becomes 51/78. This highway passes the Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park which has the highest single-structured sand dune (470 feet) in North America. It has several campgrounds and judging from photos I have seen can be a great place to photograph. However, we only had so much time and, having left a week later than previously planned, we were anxious to explore Wyoming. Idaho will be for another time as this state has a wealth of photogenic gems.
Just before the Snake River, we followed 78 to Glenns Ferry for fuel then drove about 20 miles on I84 to exit 141 and highway 26. 26 runs due east until it tees into highway 75 at Shoshone. We followed 26/93 through Richfield and ranch country. It was harvest season because we saw many long trailer trucks loaded with giant rectangular bales of beautiful green alfalfa.
Since, it was getting darker, we began scouting for our overnight stay. Along this highway runs the Little Woods River with several sportsmen’s access points. We turned down a rutted single track road, crossed a one lane wooden bridge to a nice clearing by the river. No one else was there. It was free, quiet, private and we could hear the river through the pop up’s screened flaps as it came around a corner. We enjoyed a night of great sleep listening to nature at Patari Bridge sportman’s access..
Day 8/Tuesday/September 16:
What a beautiful sunrise over the river bend. We left early to arrive at Craters Of The Moon National Monument before the heat and crowds. We stopped at the Goodall’s Cutoff Historical Marker to read about the narrow trail that the early settlers traveled to avoid crossing the great swaths of volcanic rock. This area is also where one of the last herds of antelope migrate and wildlife officials are trying to prevent its disappearance. We usually stop at historical markers and other points of interest to stretch our legs and allow those with a speedier agenda to pass. History is so much more alive if you can actually visualize it happening where you are standing.
The trails in Craters of the moon are short, easy and interesting with interpretive signs for the curious explaining the swirls in the volcanic rock and information about how this area was created. I walked most of them while Tony stayed in the parking lots with Toller who, as a dog, is not allowed on trails. The Visitor Center has an informative display, is staffed by knowledgeable rangers and has clean rest rooms. The campground was right by the road and the sites didn’t appear to be that private. If you wanted to spend more than a day there, it is one of the few campgrounds around.
We passed through Arco which featured an entire rock wall of “Class ofs” years high above the town. We have seen a few rock walls or hillsides where the locals have written on or arranged rocks displaying its initials but not entire wall of graduation years.
From Arco, we continued on 20/26/93 to the junction with 22/33 which was the most direct way over to Rexburg. We passed by more fields of harvested alfalfa and trailer trucks ready to haul the bales to market, probably south to the Snake River area. Past Howe, we drove by Little Lost River Sinks and Big Lost River Sinks. These are where the river sinks into the ground to appear later. It also feeds the giant Snake River Plain Aquifer upon which the Snake River area dairy farmers depend to feed their many cattle and grow the rich alfalfa. If you eat Chobani yogurt, the Snake River area is where it comes from. I won’t get into politics here, but this is yet another battle over water rights in the West.
In Rexburg, we fueled up then bought a few groceries at the local Albertsons. From Rexburg, our destination was the Mesa Falls area where we hoped to photograph two beautiful waterfalls on the Henry’s Fork River. At Ashton, we left 20, a very nice divided highway to drive on 47 where the falls are located. We meant to camp at Grandview, but I misread my map and we ended up at Warm River. It was a nice campground but it filled up quickly mostly with large RVs and we got one of the few remaining sites. The falls were just up the road a few miles so we settled in and spent the night among the large willows.
Day 9/Wednesday/September 17:
We left camp early to get to the falls before the sunlight (waterfalls photograph beautifully in shade or indirect light-direct sunlight won’t allow detail in the highlights). The Lower Falls is viewed, at least officially, from an overview a short walk away from the parking lot right off highway 47. There are trails below where you can get much closer to the thundering falls. Another trip? I am usually wary around falls due to wet rocks and vegetation can lead to a natural slip and slide. The Upper Falls charged a $5 admission which also entitles you to admission to Harriman State Park which is on the way to Yellowstone’s West Entrance.
Upper Falls is accessed by a path and stairs which leads to a viewing platform. Fall color was abundant on the walls across from the viewing area. The falls were thundering by you at eye level. Out came the tripod and 24-70 mm lens as a wide angle was definitely needed here. The telephoto was perfect to capture the clumps of colorful vegetation attached to the far walls. Breathtaking and worth a visit. The visitors center, housed in the Big Falls Inn, an historic log cabin lodge built in 1915 by the Snake River Electric Light and Power Company, wasn’t open while we visited.
Harriman State Park, a former ranch and private retreat, once belonged to the Harriman and Guggenheim families. W. Averill Harriman, a career politician, was a former governor of New York, diplomat and presidential candidate. The park includes 11,000 acres of wetlands, lakes and the Henrys Fork River running through the middle in addition to the many log cabins of the rustic compound of the Harriman family. We drove by Silver Lake, hoping to see trumpeter swans or sandhill cranes. No luck. We also drove a ways on a graveled backroad hoping to see better views of the park and lake but since we wanted to get to Yellowstone before dark, we backtracked to Highway 20.
Once we arrived at the West Entrance, we discovered several campgrounds were closed as was part of the road to Old Faithful. I knew that arriving in the park without reservations was a crap shoot but the ones we wanted to camp at the first night were either closed or full. Mammoth was full and Indian Creek was closed. We aren’t fans of the larger campgrounds so skipped Norris and Madison and they may have been full as well. We did drive the Firehole Canyon Road then backtracked north to try our luck past the North Entrance in Gardiner, MT at a USFS campground. On the way, we stopped at the Artist Paintpot where I walked the trail to see nature at work (or play).
Mammoth Hot Springs was crowded with both tourists and a large herd of resident elk gathered for an elks convention. We drove north to Gardiner only to find that Eagle Creek campground was crowded with a large group of middle schoolers. Okay, I like kids but not several classfuls all at once. We made our way back down the winding gravel road toward town and set up camp at a pullover. We had a lovely view of the town and no one made us leave. Not ideal, but it was free.
Day 10/Thursday/September 18:
It was a drizzly morning so we left our spot by the side of the road to explore the Mammoth Hot Springs area. I have been to Yellowstone twice before but never this part. I was excited for the photographic possibilities, especially converting to B&W. Grey skies are perfect for moody photos and the Mammoth area’s steam vents look eery.
Just outside of Gardiner is that famous saying etched into the arch’s cornerstone that was laid by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903: “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” This is the spirit of our national parks, at the time, unique in the world. We encountered some road work so one way traffic was the norm for a few miles. With such volatile seismic activity underground, parts of Yellowstone’s roads are buckling underneath.
Even though it was early morning, the parking lot at the main terraces was beginning to fill. I grabbed both Nikons with their assigned lenses (D800-70-200mm and D700-24-70mm). Lots of detail shots with the sky excluded yielded some interesting images that appeared to be from an alien world. The dead trees added some drama like some photos I have seen of the desert in Namibia. Not for everyone, but I like them.
I began my ascent up the wooden stairs to view the other geysers and assorted geologic features but big black thunder boomers developed. With my tripod, I was a walking lightning rod. Down I came in a big hurry, the loud booms getting closer. We then drove the one way loop to view the Lower Terraces. Yellowstone has amazing features one after another, wherever you turn. It is an active cauldron area, still evolving, still building. What was there yesterday is either bigger or gone today. Fascinating.
There is a one way dirt road, the Blacktail Plateau Road, that runs one way west to east. We thought we could avoid the bucket-listers that check off their must see items then move along at a fast clip, not really seeing anything. No such luck. They decided to drive this one, too, even in their rental sedans. We poked along, looking for wildlife and enjoying the fall color. At a pullout, we stopped for a leisurely lunch in front of an aspen grove. Just before the exit, we encountered a stubborn bison who stood his ground, not allowing us to pass. Finally, he moved on, slowly, when he was ready and not before.
Our next destination was the Lamar Valley, Yellowstone’s Serengeti, where we hoped to see the famous megafauna. At Tower Junction, we took the Northeast Entrance Road that passes through the Lamar Valley. We spotted several fishers along the Lamar River, a catch and release cutthroat fishery. We mostly saw bison and mule deer herds.
It was raining now and we had yet to decide where we would camp for the night. We passed by Slough Creek and Pebble Creek campgrounds, both full. At the Northeast entrance, we asked the ranger who told us to drive past Cooke City just a few miles where we could disperse camp on the Lulu Pass Road. There were other campgrounds but they were closed due to grizzly activity. We drove a short way up a gravel road, ate dinner inside and slept with the bear spray close by.
Day 11/Friday/September 19:
Relieved that we had no ursine visitors during the night, we left camp early to see if any wild life was about. At a trailhead, we talked with a group of fishers who were not able to fish due to the muddy condition of the river. No fishing nor photos of the river and the golden aspens and cottonwoods today. And, someone had hit a bison, either that morning or last night during the downpour. Later that day, a ranger informed us that bisons were one of a few animals that did not have eye shine at night. If you hit one on the road, and were not using due diligence, you could be liable for a $5,000 fine.
We drove south toward West Thumb Geyser area as I remembered some beautiful colors in the pools along the boardwalk from a previous visit. As I said before, Yellowstone changes. Or, it could be that the Technicolor pools I saw in June, 2010 were a Spring thing. We did talk to the owner of a Man expedition vehicle parked next to us. They were Europeans who had been on the road for 14 years. The interesting part of their vehicle was the display of license plates on the cab from many of the countries they had visited.
We were in luck for camping tonight. Lewis Lake, which does NOT allow generators, was open and not full. We picked out a nice spot then walked to the lake and around the campground. Our neighbors were a young couple from Germany who were traveling our country for 6 months before they returned home to begin looking for work as they had just graduated from graduate school in the science field. They were also investigating the possibility of a work visa. Since they were tent camping, we gave them some firewood, kindling and paper as it is cold at these altitudes.
*Day 1/Tuesday/September 9:
Because I5 from Marysville to Olympia is such a traffic-choked exercise in frustration, we usually take Highway 20 east over the North Cascades Highway to the dry side of the state or head west on the same highway gaining access to the Olympic Peninsula via the Washington State Marine Highway ferries. This time, the North Cascades Highway was our choice as we were headed east toward Wyoming. It can be a leisurely drive with overlooks and trailheads along the way to Winthrop, an over 150 mile drive from Bellingham.
We usually stop at the Diablo Lake overlook to use the vault toilets and enjoy the vistas of the mountains and the blue green lake. We also stop at the Gorge Creek falls overlook to enjoy 2 waterfalls. Often, when you live in a beautiful area, you almost take your environment for granted. I never tire of the mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and rivers. Well, maybe the grey skies and drizzle but then we wouldn’t be the Evergreen State.
Since we left later than usual and weren’t sure about road closures due to the extensive summer forest fires near Twisp, we opted to camp at Klipchuck, a USFS campground (elevation 2940′) in the pine trees off Highway 20 which muffle the road noise. Early Winters Creek is nice to listen to also if you get a creekside site. Mid-week, after Labor Day, is a great time to camp in a popular area in peak season. Our Senior Pass discounted the camping fee to $4.
We wandered around the pine forested campground. Our neighbor had a truck camper trailering a motorcycle. His small dog fit into a pack behind the windshield on his bike which he would take on short jaunts. After our dinner of homemade soup and sandwiches, we fell asleep.
*This journey and subsequent ones will be in honor of my sister’s son who lost his 9 month battle with melanoma yesterday. A former Marine and father of three, he fought a valiant battle with this insidious disease. He loved to travel so we will wander the west in his memory.
Day 2/Wednesday/September 10:
After returning to Highway 20, we passed through Winthrop (tourist trap) where we fueled up. At Twisp, we were directed to the Twisp-Carlton Road, a detour around the destructive Carlton Complex fire near highway 153 where that same area subsequently suffered mudslides. 153 connects with Pateros and 97. We were glad to see that our favorite fruit stand/bakery/orchard just before the junction with 97 escaped the fire damage. We bought organic peaches and pears for me and an apple fritter for Tony.
Turning east from 97 onto 17, we passed through Bridgeport and the Chief Joseph Dam (potty break) until we turned south on Bridgeport Hill Road NE. We spotted an interesting fluted rock formation so drove up a dirt road almost getting stuck in some deep sand. Formerly a ranch, all that remains are piles of fencing and collapsed structures, poplar trees (to shield the winds), and a wooden water tower. Now, it is the West Foster Creek Wildlife Area set aside for the sharp tailed grouse, among others.
Zig-zagging down 172, we arrived at Highway 2 (if we wanted to return west to Everett, we would travel this road). Just a short while later, we turned south on Coulee Meadows Road/Rimrock Road/Sagebrush Flat Road which brought us just north of Ephrata. It was a paved road that wandered through wheat fields and abandoned farm houses and outbuildings.
From Ephrata, we went south on 28/283 to its junction with I90 just before George (the Gorge Amphitheater is close by). We crossed the bridge over the Columbia River/Wanapum Lake to Vantage. Our plan was to camp at Wanapum State Park but it was closed because of breaches in the Wanapum Dam down river. Because we had planned this small detour to visit Gingko State Park, we were stuck with staying at the Vantage Riverstone Resort nearby. $11 paid for a grassy strip near residents who lived in permanent trailers.
Gingko Petrified Forest State Park has a trail that winds up a hillside featuring caged specimens of petrified maple, walnut, fir and, of course, gingko. A sign warned of the presence of rattlesnakes but the trail had little vegetation for them to hide in and a local hiker said he rarely saw any. The coolest part was the rustic home for the resident ranger built by the CCC. It is a multilevel Craftsman bungalow.
When we returned to the RV park, we met a couple who knew the parents of the groom whose wedding we shot last August. In a twist of fate, we had met the bride’s parents while we were exploring the Olympic Peninsula near Port Angeles last Spring who asked us to be the wedding photographers. We played with the small dog that belonged to one of the kids who lived nearby, had dinner, then went to bed.
Day 3/Thursday/September 11:
Back on I90, we made a quick exit after recrossing the Vantage Bridge onto Highway 243. This highway follows the Columbia River passing through vineyards and now we were on the opposite side of the Wanapum Dam where we saw work in progress to repair the damage.We cross the Columbia River once again at the Vernita Bridge. Nearing the end of this trip, we will be camping here in several weeks amongst the many people who launch their boats.
On 240 we pass through the Hanford Reservation (DOE) and the Hanford Reach National Monument. Just move along folks, nothing to see here, just gated roads leading towards compounds. Just after turning onto 225, we stop at Horn County Park to bathe Toller at one of the campsites. Most sites are in the open in a grassy area but several are amongst some shade trees along the periphery.
Highway 225 leads us to Benton City and an on ramp to I82. We follow this quiet freeway east and south to again cross over the Columbia River into Oregon. Just for a change of pace, we exit onto a road that will bring us to Oregon Highway 207 or the Hermiston/Lexington-Echo Highway. We could have taken the exit for Highway 395, our eventual main road through the northern part of Oregon. But, we decided to take a more scenic route that would lead us to 395 further south. We would bypass Hermiston and the outskirts of Pendleton.
Somehow, we became lost on a road that ended in a cantaloupe field. Since, it appeared the harvest had finished, we took several that remained and eventually found our way to 207. We were in Oregon Trail territory according to a highway sign. From 207, we turn left onto Butter Creek Road, winding our way through ranch lands along Butter Creek. At Vinson, we turn onto 74 then begin our southbound journey down 395.
In the distance, we could see smoke to the west and south. We stopped at the Ukiah-Dale Forest State Scenic Corridor along Camus Creek for a picnic lunch. There was camping there also, but it was too close to the highway. 395 goes all the way into southern California passing through some beautiful country such as along the Eastern Sierras. Here, in Oregon, there is little traffic except for the occasional logging truck.
We began to scout for a place to camp for the night but wanted to avoid any fires. Toll Bridge campground was an option but it looked like a scene out of a spooky movie (our truck barely made it through the brushy entrance). We explored several roads on either side of 395 along the Middle Fork John Day River but only found several folks fishing and no roads for dispersed camping. Just after we explored those two roads, we drove further down 395 and found an ODOT clearing for disposal of rock slide debris. We had a view of some livestock on the next hillside over, a scenic rocky ridge and the valley below. The highway quieted down and we slept well.
Day 4/Friday/September 12:
395 continues south until a junction with highway 26 at Mt. Vernon where we fueled up. No self-serve in Oregon; there is an attendant who fills your tank. 395 and 26 are the same road east until you again turn south onto 395 at John Day heading towards Burns. Last April, we took a county/USFS road south from Dayville which would have led us to just outside of Hines near Burns. Somehow, we missed a turn and exited onto 395 way north of Burns.
This time, we found 63 aka the Izee Road, and retraced our route to follow the Burns-Izee Road to Hines. 63 is across 395 by the Zwick Old Growth Interpretive Trail. 63 ends at 68/47 which is the Burns-Izee Road. In a funny way, USFS roads, well, other roads too, take on another number and name: 68/47 or the Izee Road becomes 127 or the Hines Logging Road. We just continued to drive south, eventually ending in Hines where we fueled up at the Shell station and picked up a few groceries at the Thriftway across the highway. At a store nearby, we saw several llamas being loaded with item their owner just purchased. Just part of the rural west.
From Hines, we traveled south on 205 until we turned onto the Center Patrol Road, a graveled road that traverses the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It was early afternoon and we saw a few pelicans, hawks and songbirds. We returned to 205 toward Frenchglen and our favorite campground, Page Springs, a BLM facility that features nice vault toilets, garbage/recycling, water and a resident deer family. The sites are located near the scenic springs and in the spare pine and aspen woods. Our Senior pass entitles us to half off the $8 fee. After a walk and dinner, we went to bed.
Day 5/Saturday/September 13:
We awoke early to explore the 59 mile Steens Mountain Loop. It is not open year round and was closed when we were there last spring. We were hoping to photograph golden aspens and the scenic gorges: Kiger, Little Blitzen and Big Indian. The road is graveled and graded and there was surprisingly little washboards. Unfortunately, a controlled burn was happening east of Burns so the Alvord Desert was hazy. There were a few educational signs about the Basque shepherds who once kept their flocks in this area. We did see a large flock below when we were checking out an aspen grove.
Steens Mountain is one large fault block mountain, over 50 miles long, steeply plunging from a summit elevation of 9730 feet down to the Alvord Desert, elevation 4200 feet. In 2000, President Clinton approved the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protective Act which was a collaboration of local landowners and government representatives responding to a movement for national monument status. This area now protects 425,000 acres for recreation and limited ranching.
We met a group of people on SxS UTVs that could carry their dogs. An aha moment for us as we were not previously aware of such machines. They looked sturdy and could allow us to access areas where our F-250 would be too wide or heavy. They can be easily accessorized with extra fuel cans, crates, doors, under carriage plates, etc.
We continued on the loop which ended on 205 further south from Frenchglen. The main overlooks are in the more scenic area and you could backtrack to Frenchglen. The road deteriorates somewhat and there is a narrow section with step dropoffs that is scenic. We passed a crossing where people were fishing the Donner Und Blitzen River. There is also a campground on this stretch, South Steens, that had a few horse trailers.
Once back on 205 which becomes 202 in the Catlow Valley, we stopped at Fields for fuel. The son of the owners said it was for sale due to their wanting to retire. It is one of the few fuel stops here so hopefully there will be new owners who will keep it open in this sparsely populated corner of Oregon. When in areas where services are few it is a best practice to get fuel as you never know where the next service station is. Some that have been around for years are suddenly gone. Or, you might that that urge to explore further than your original plans.
Our planned camping spot was on the Whitehorse Ranch which is bisected by a road which is open to the public. The Willow Creek Hot Springs campground is operated by the BLM. The ranch has 63,222 acres of deeded land and has grazing rights to an additional 287,205 acres of public range land administered by the BLM. It has operated continuously since 1869. Along the road, which is a well-graded gravel road, there are signs of some former buildings, either homes or outbuildings.
The campsite is not well-signed but the GPS on my iPhone worked well enough to find the access road before we saw any signs. Unfortunately, the campground was filled with a group that was partying. We backtracked a few miles and found a clearing in the sparse sagebrush. There was an amazing sunset that blazed across the western sky in red and golden streaks. The night sky was so pockmarked with bright stars that we had trouble finding the Big Dipper. It was so quiet that we had no trouble falling to sleep.
Day 6/Sunday/September 14:
It was a bright sunny day so we began to search for interesting rocks. We found a few agates and jasper. Eventually, the group at the campsite left so we decided to check it out. It was divided into two parts by a cement barrier: warm and warmer. It felt so good to wash out the desert dust and even Toller took a plunge. I could just imagine how nice it would have been last night. Maybe another time, not on a weekend.
Continuing on the ranch road, we eventually came to Highway 95 (aka the Idaho, Oregon, Nevada Highway). There wasn’t much traffic but what traffic there was were in a big hurry. Even a truck with a multi-horse trailer passed us. It seems that folks from Idaho bring their faster speed limits with them as those who passed us had Idaho plates. Oregon has more sensible speed limits than most western states, imho.
In Jordan Valley, we fueled up and saw the horse trailer folks parked along the road. What was their hurry? Pleasant Valley Road in Jordan Valley will take you to the start of the 90+ mile Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway. We saw a TV program on it once so decided to check it out for ourselves. Pleasant Valley Road winds through small ranches and there was a small local school. We also saw a turnoff for Silver City, a living ghost town in Idaho that we visited last Spring accessing it from the Idaho side.
We drove through cattle country passing the Lone Tree Ranch and the Dougal Ranch which was sited on a lake or reservoir. It was getting dark and we just missed the evening light on a gorge carved by the North Fork Owyhee River. The road twisted down to the North Fork campground, a free BLM campground in the North Fork Owyhee Wilderness. This campground was new and featured a vault toilet, fire rings, and picnic tables. We were the only guests that night. It was quiet and peaceful.
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.