Back To The Coast

We spent just one night in Truckee, California, before moving on. It seemed like a cool town and all, with lots of trails nearby, but we had a valley to cross. During a hot summer.

My first idea was to cross the valley at night, to avoid the heat. We simply could not drive with Bailey in the back of the truck on a 100o day. Michael agreed. Then, after a few days of mulling that over, I changed my mind and told him I thought it was a terrible idea.

He agreed again. But what was the best solution? In the end, we took all the stuff that normally rides in the cab with us and put it in the back. We took Bailey and his blanket and put them both up in the cab with us.

Bailey seemed a bit confused when we first tried to load him, and I realized he’d never ridden in the cab of the truck before. Lucky dog, I told him. But don’t get used to it.

The mid-point of the drive was a town called Yuba City. Main street there has all the big box stores and we had a BOGO Chipoltle coupon. When we stopped there for lunch the temperature outside was 101o. Even in the shade that was damn hot. We moved on as quickly as we could.

 

Our goal was Mendocino, California, where the high temperature that day was 71. That was about the only good news. The more research I did, the more I wished we didn’t have to go there. Free camping seemed to be non-existent along the California coast. But we had packages waiting at the Mendocino Post Office. Also, I wanted to ride the Skunk Train.

Now, the Skunk Train was not exactly a bucket list item. In fact, I think I only found out about it a few weeks ago. But train rides are fun. For me, anyway. I remember taking the train to Agawa Canyon in Canada years ago, and I spent the entire time leaning out the open door in between cars. This was back in the old days, and I’m pretty sure I took three or four rolls of film.

Anyway.

As we headed west, we found a few not-free campsites in Jackson State Forest that were sort of cheap at $15/night. We used Google Maps to try and find Camp One, on the western edge of the State Forest.

Google Maps led us to a prison. No lie, the road ended at a correctional facility, complete with lots of barbed wire, CCTV cameras, and a guy walking through the yard in an orange jumpsuit.

Thanks a lot, Google Maps.

Now winging it, we continued west anyway. And right before we hit Fort Bragg, we saw a little wooden sign with yellow letters along the side of the highway: CAMP ONE.

We turned down the gravel road. It was still an hour before sunset but this road was already dark. The trees were thick and tall, towering over us and shutting out the light. We soldiered on.

Camp One was full.

Taking matters into our own hands, we drove back up the road – it was almost sunset now – and found a pullout that was pretty level. We didn’t see any signs that said you couldn’t camp there. So that’s where we set up shop for the night.

Take that, Jackson State Forest!

Haha, I say that, but the next morning we got up early, packed up the tent, and drove into Fort Bragg before coffee or anything. No need to flaunt our status as squatters. The original intent was to find a park or something to make coffee and breakfast, but we found Main Street and a little breakfast place called Eggheads first. At least it was good, and their coffee excellent.

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With full bellies we walked over to the train station (Fort Bragg is a pretty small town) and asked if there were still tickets for that day’s train. We were in luck – all three of us got tickets for the 11AM Pudding Creek Express.

 

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Bailey even got his own ticket.

Since it was only 9:45 we took Bailey over to Fort Bragg’s dog park. It was nice – grassy, lots of water, lots of room for Bailey to run. We wanted him to be tired, in case he didn’t like the train.

In this case, I worried for nothing.

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Bailey spent most of the trip just like this.

 

In fact, that nose showed up in a few of the pictures I took, once I enlarged them a little.

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The train itself was super cool. All the windows opened and you were free to move around during the journey.

I was able to stand in the open doorway in between cars to take pictures. From a photography standpoint, it was a tough trip. It was going on noon on a bright sunny day. Harsh light. I did the best I could.

 

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But even if most of the pictures were a bust, I still had a great time. So did Michael and Bailey. On the way back Bailey just took up his own bench.

 

 

After the train ride we headed over to Glass Beach. Up until the 1950’s, Glass Beach was actually the town dump. The ocean carried off everything else, apparently, but the glass stuck around, getting sanded and rounded and turned into something quite beautiful. According to the pictures on Pinterest, anyway.

We left Bailey in the truck for this one, and he didn’t seem to mind. As we were heading towards the ocean we saw another couple heading out. They had a black and white border collie mix with them, and that dog looked so much like Elvis that I actually started to cry. I miss that dog.

We moved on, trying to find all that cool glass. It turned out to be quite the hunt, and I never did find anything like what I’d seen on Pinterest.

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I guess people have been stealing pieces of glass off Glass Beach since the 1980s. There are now signs up asking for people to stop, which I think is kind of funny, when you consider that the glass was garbage once upon a time.

The rocky shoreline of Glass Beach was also worth a few dozen pictures.

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Believe it or not, by the time we finished a tailgate lunch at Glass Beach it was only 2pm. Plenty of time to get our packages from the Mendocino Post Office.

My friend Kody at Revel Gear recently gave an interview with SGB Media, and I encourage you to read about it here because Revel Gear is a pretty cool company. With our care package Kody really outdid herself! There are several strings of lights – white, multi-color, and changing – a new charger, a light-up dog collar, coozies, and cards with a coupon code (so we can hand them to people who ask about our cool lights). Going through that box was like Christmas.

Michael was no less excited for his package, from Savory Spice. You might recall that we left Colorado with a host of Savory Spice in our pantry (you can read that blog post here), but we used all them up a while back. I guess Dan (owner/managing partner of the Boulder store) saw our post for Cholaca Camp Chili, because he got in touch with Michael, asking if we could do something similar for him. Of course we could!

I think I was the most excited about the Vietnamese Sweet Lemon Curry, but the Peruvian Chile Lime Spice sounded pretty fantastic too. Stay tuned for more food posts!

All of that was going to have to wait for another day, though. See, after we got our packages we walked around Mendocino, because it turned out to be a mellow town full of art galleries and coffee shops and little alleyways full of flowers.

By the time we’d had our fill of Mendocino, our camping options were limited. Our next stop – gamble, really – was an area called King Range National Conservation Area that I knew nothing about, other than it existed. Managed by the BLM, campsites were $8/night, which seemed okay. But the NCA was about a 2.5 hour drive north, and that meant we’d be arriving right around dark. What if the campground was full? We didn’t have a plan B. The King Range NCA is part of California’s Lost Coast, and it looked pretty isolated.

So we went back to our squatter’s site at Jackson State Forest, but with a plan for the next day: The Lost Coast.

Loving Lake Tahoe

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As we headed into South Lake Tahoe on Saturday, June 17th, we passed a giant sign advertising for a giant flea market – that day! So we checked it out. It cost us $1 each to get in, but we went ahead and splurged. The flea market itself was a bit of a bust – mostly junk, or stuff we didn’t need. But Michael did find a bakery selling the most decadent donuts I’d ever seen.

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That donut was drizzled with chocolate and peanut butter, and topped with peanut butter Oreos. Michael at it in the shade of a tree, right next to the South Fork of the Truckee River. We found a spot out of the current to let Bailey jump in and cool off. It was pretty hot that day.

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Lots of people were putting in at that spot – boats, canoes, and one SUP. Someone told us that you could float from that spot all the way to Kiva Beach. It looked like a ton of fun.

After the flea market we headed over to Tahoe Sports Ltd, which was actually in Heavenly Village. We could see the gondola from the parking lot. What we didn’t see in that parking lot was a tree, or shade of any kind. We brought Bailey along. He’s generally calmer than Elvis ever was, and he likes people. We figured that if it went south, one of us would just hang out in the shade that existed right in front of the store.

I needn’t have worried. For a dog that can go so nuts over a tennis ball, Bailey can be remarkably calm sometimes. Like walking around an outdoor store and talking with the staff there about trails to run on. He pretty much laid down at my feet and took a nap. One of the employees there (a former chef himself) suggested going for a trail run on the Echo Lake trail. Pretty mellow, elevation-wise, he said, and since it was part of the Tahoe Rim Trail, the scenery would be killer.

As we left Tahoe Sports Ltd we spied a dog boutique. We figured Bailey deserved a treat. I’m sure this wasn’t what he had in mind, but we found him a coat. Don’t laugh! He’s not double-coated like Elvis was, and while it’s hot now, we’re going further north and we both worry about him in colder temperatures. (If/when we ever use that coat, I’ll be sure to post the pictures.)

Bailey also picked himself out a treat. Literally. I’m still a little suspicious of a place that would put yummy-for-dogs things like duck tracheas out in the open and at the dog’s eye level, but that’s how this place was set up, and Bailey decided to help himself to said duck trachea. I told him to drop it, which he did. As a reward I picked it up and bought it.

After getting all the things we needed in Heavenly Village we decided to go to Kiva Beach. Unfortunately by the time we got there (well after noon) the parking lot was full. There were lots of signs around indicating you’d be towed for parking outside of the lot, so we went for plan B and drove out to Echo Lake. No parking problems there! It was cooler and we found a spot in the shade. I gave Bailey his duck trachea as Michael and I set out. I’m guessing he liked it because when we got back there was no trace of it.

Echo Lake was gorgeous. The run was fairly mellow, but the lake sits at over 7,000 feet so even those little climbs, well, they were a little tough. This was my kind of trail, though – rocky and technical. I loved it.

The next day we tried to get a jump on the crowds and went back to Kiva Beach in the morning. And I’m not sure that Bailey ever had so much fun in his life.

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He was so excited that we had to do a little bit of remedial work with him, like making him sit and wait until the ball was back in motion. Otherwise he would just circle us, barking like crazy. But with all that water, Bailey gt his launch on.

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Those three pictures above repeated for over an hour. The result? We wore that dog out. Bailey slept the rest of the day. In fact, after dinner, when I was cleaning up, he came and sat next to me at the tailgate. When I’d cleared off a space for him, I looked at him and said, “do you want to go to bed?” He jumped right up into the truck and settled down on his blanket.

Tired dogs are happy dogs.

I thought that Tahoe might clear out on Monday, but no such luck. I think that if you want to do anything here, you need to do it before 10am if you want to find a place to park.

See, we drove out towards Emerald Bay but couldn’t find a place to park along the highway. Anywhere. It wasn’t the weekend anymore -who were all these people? We ended up at Emerald Bay State Park and paid $10 to get in, which is something most tourists are apparently not willing to do, since their parking lots were pretty empty. To get our money’s worth I went for a trail run on the Rubicon Trail, a wonderful path that heads downhill for a couple of miles, straight to the water line, and then continues along the curve of Emerald Bay itself.

It seemed like a lot of money to go for a trail run, though. Maybe I’m just cheap? Anyway on the way out, we stopped at the bath house since there was a dumpster next to it, as well as a water spigot at the campsite across the way (it might have been fun to camp there, but it cost $45/night and on that part I am cheap).

So we got rid of our trash and filled our water container. And then it hit us: we could take showers! The bath house was right there! We grabbed all our shower stuff and ran in.

At least I still had all my clothes on when I saw that the showers operated on tokens. As in, not free. So even if you paid $45 per night to camp there, you still had to pay for a shower. What a gyp! I stomped back out of the ladies room, which was on the back side of the building, and promptly saw four laundry sinks. The sign above the sinks said they were for laundry only. No dishwashing.

I grew up in a house with a laundry sink. You know what those sinks are great for? Washing your hair. I mean, the sign said no dishwashing. Nothing about hair washing.

So I washed my hair. Twice. There was hot water and everything! Then I took as much of a “whore’s bath” (when I was a kid, I mis-heard that phrase as “horse bath,” which I found enormously confusing) as I could without getting cited for indecent exposure. Not that there were any witnesses, but you know what I mean.

Turns out Michael took his whore’s bath in the tiny sink in the men’s shower room. He did not have warm water.

We headed out of South Lake Tahoe on June 21st. Traffic was surprisingly light as we headed out on Highway 89, and we were able to see Emerald Bay and Eagle Falls. The wind had died off and the weather was perfect. A wonderful send-off to our time in South Lake Tahoe.

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Emerald Bay
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Eagle Falls
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Eagle Falls with Emerald Bay in the background

I was sorry to go – Lake Tahoe has everything I want! – but we had tracks to make. Our next destination was Mendocino and Fort Bragg. We had packages to pick up (from Revel Gear and from Savory Spice), and besides, I wanted to ride the Skunk Train. To get to the coast, though, we had to drive across the valley one more time. The forecasted highs in the valley? Triple digits. We had another day to come up with a plan, as that day we were just going as far as Truckee.

Stay tuned! The adventures are just getting started.

Adventures in Roof Top Tents

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When we left our nameless little campsite next to Mono Lake, Highway 395 immediately began to climb. And up at the top of the climb we found a little pulloff. With this view:

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Wow! Of course, I was also intrigued by something else: bumper stickers. They were all over the barrier of this parking lot.

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Some were funny, some made no sense, and some even represented good old Longmont, Colorado.

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We even managed to get our picture taken together. When you travel with just one other person, it can be harder than it sounds, proving you were at the same place at the same time.

Moving on, our next stop was Travertine Hot Springs.

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The day was a little bit warm for me to soak in a 105o pool, so I just soaked my feet. Michael went for it. We found a pool down the hillside that was just a bit cooler, but still had an amazing view.

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After our soak we stopped in the town of Bridgeport – mostly because we found a parking spot in the shade, so we could let Bailey out and have a tailgate lunch. We also spotted this beauty as it drove by:

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As nice as it was in Bridgeoprt, we had to move on. We were headed for Carson City, Nevada, to meet Bobby, our contact at Cascadia Vehicle Tents. This story goes back several months. I can’t remember exactly when, a long time back but the zipper on the mesh screen door of our tent got sticky. (This is the door that we use to get in and out of the tent.) The zipper got worse and worse, until when we tried to force it the zipper just split.

Sometime in March Michael called Cascadia. We just wanted to know the best way to get that zipper fixed. The CSR we talked to said we’d best talk to Bobby and gave us Bobby’s phone number.

Much to our surprise, Bobby suggested just replacing the entire tent. We were pretty shocked, but said okay. A free tent seemed like most excellent customer service.

Well, Bobby turned out to be a little hard to pin down – as you can see by the amount of time that has passed. But we finally met on a sunny warm day in June, at a WalMart parking lot in Carson City, Nevada. This is the rig Bobby showed up in:

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As they shook hands, Michael asked what, exactly, Bobby did for Cascadia Vehicle Tents.

“Oh,” Bobby said casually. “I’m the owner.”

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I think my head spun as I tried to rewrite that narrative. All this time we’d been dealing directly with the owner of the company. Talk about excellent customer service!

 

 

Cascadia Vehicle Tents currently operates two showrooms, one in Bend, OR and a new one in Chattanooga, TN. And Bobby drives the tents back and forth. (He said that when shipping from Bend, tents going to anywhere east of Colorado tended to arrive damaged, so he opened a showroom in Tennessee to help alleviate that problem.)

He was a super nice guy, and he helped us take the old tent off, install the new one, and showed off all the new bells and whistles as we set up the tent right there in the WalMart parking lot. Honestly, the thing I noticed the most is that our new tent has a 3” high-density, open-cell-foam mattress. (The old tent had a 2” mattress.) I’m a side sleeper and this has made all the difference in the world. I finally got rid of that old Ridgerest closed-cell-foam pad (half-destroyed by Elvis) that I used to fold in half and put under my hips.

Another fun addition to our new tent is the stargazer rainfly. Sure, we can see the stars, but at dusk leaving those doors open lets in a ton of light. We use our Luci lights less. Yay!

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So a huge THANK YOU to Bobby and CVT for taking such great care of us.

We camped that night in Toiyabe National Forest, and the next day we got our first glimpse at Lake Tahoe.

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I’ve seen so many pictures of this lake that show how clear it is. I’ve been unable to reproduce them! It’s been breezy and the pollen is flying here in South Lake Tahoe. So when I can get into a small cove, or anything out of the wind, the water is covered with yellow pollen, making it impossible to see the bottom.

Looking for a place for Bailey to stretch out, I saw lots of these signs:

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Which I thought was odd, considering everybody and their uncle seemed to have a dog with them. Michael did a quick online search and the only beach that allows dogs was called Kiva Beach – but the website said all dogs had to be on a leash.

That’s a little bit of cruel and unusual punishment, I think, taking Bailey to the beach and then not letting him run around. Another Google search showed that South Lake Tahoe did in fact have a dog park.

I tend to judge a city by their dog park, and South Lake Tahoe’s was pretty okay. There was shade, there was water, but there were also a lot of wood chips, which can give dogs splinters.

Luckily Bailey remained splinter-free and we wore him out with a tennis ball. We met a local who told us that leash laws weren’t too strictly enforced at Kiva Beach, and that we definitely should go.

That afternoon it looked like the wind had died down a bit, so we went ahead and rented Stand Up Paddleboards. This was our third time renting SUPs. The first was on a river in Florida, the second was at Avila Beach in California. The water in Lake Tahoe was rougher than either. All the wind came from the north while we paddled westward towards a river inlet. That meant we kept getting hit with waves from the side.

Keep in mind that these were tiny little waves – although it sure didn’t feel like it. Both of us went for a dip, and not voluntarily. I slid up on wave and when I went to paddle on my left side, my paddle met with air instead of water. I leaned forward right as the board slid into the trough – and over I went.

That water was cold! Somehow my sunglasses stayed on my face but I had to grab for my hat and my paddle. Luckily it’s pretty easy to get back on a SUP. And once I was back in the sun, I have to say that my little dip was quite refreshing.

So there are no pictures of our SUP adventure on Lake Tahoe. The camera never came out of the waterproof case. But we had a blast and definitely worked hard. After 2 hours on that board I was ready for a nap.

Next post: Kiva Beach!

 

 

Sunset at Mono Lake

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In my last post, I explained how the wind died down for a day at the Buttermilk Boulders, and Michael was able to make some delicious Cholaca Camp Chili. It turned out to be a good thing we made the chili that day. Because that night – it was as if, just after dark, someone turned the wind on.

Our fabulous CVT tent has survived 50 mph winds before (in Moab) so I wasn’t worried, but I had to put my earplugs in, the tent rattled and shook so much.

The next morning dawned clear and gorgeous. To the west I could see new snow on the hillside.

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We broke down camp and headed in to Bishop. We had work to do. The first stop was the Wash Tub, Bishop’s laundromat, which offers free WiFi. You can also take a shower there for just $5. No time limit, and soap and a towel are included.

I passed on the soap (have my own) but I did accept the towel. Michael and I both carry travel towels – the backpacker version, which is pretty tiny. The size is something I appreciate when I have to stow that towel in the truck, but it’s something I generally despise whenever I have to actually use it as a towel. So wrapping myself in a full-size bath towel felt like quite the luxury.

Clean, and with clean clothes, we filled the water containers at the Chamber of Commerce, then went to Holy Smokes Texas BBQ for lunch. There is a bakery across the street from the BBQ place, called Schatz’s. Apparently they’re famous for their sheepherder’s bread. (Whatever that is.) I figured it must be a gigantic loaf of bread, because all the people we saw leaving were carrying a giant white paper bag. So we went over there to check it out.

I don’t know how big that sheepherder’s loaf is – they were all sold out. But I can tell you that the bakery itself is what’s gigantic. In addition to about 20 different kinds of bread, they churn out muffins, cookies, fudge, donuts, pies, cobblers, and more. We picked out a loaf of pinto bean bread (made with pinto bean flour… should be interesting) and a few sweet treats.

We headed up to the grocery store and I noticed something as we filled our cart. There were a lot of young cowboys at Vons. As in, the 10-gallon hats, the cowboy boots, the Wranglers. Some were sporting red vests with a number on it. But these cowboys looked like kids.

Now, most cowboys tend to be on the young side (there’s not a great deal of longevity in that sport), and as I get older I get worse at guessing young people’s ages. But these cowboys did seem particularly green.

It turns out that the rodeo was in town. And not just any rodeo – the California High School Rodeo. So yeah – it turns out those cowboys really were boys. I wished we were able to go, but it just didn’t fit in with our schedule. Too bad – my Aunt Jackie and Uncle Chuck took me to the Larimer County Fair and Rodeo, years ago when it was still a small venue. I thought it was awesome. Except I’ve never been to another rodeo. I swear, we will make it to a rodeo this summer. Somewhere.

By the time all the errands were done it was late enough in the day that we just headed back up to our previous campsite. The bad weather had passed, and it was hard to beat the views.

The next day we finally made the move north. We made one last stop to refill the water containers (when it’s free, you top off as much as you can) and got a treat: the Rodeo Queens!

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I don’t know where the parade was, but this little caravan was parked right next to the Chamber of Commerce. They took off a few minutes later.

Then it was off to Mono Lake. Finally! This was kind of a bucket list item for me. I can’t remember exactly when I learned about Mono Lake but I have always wanted to photograph it. I’ve read that the best times for photographs are sunrise and sunset, for that soft light on the tufa and the best chance for the lake to have that glassy, mirror-like surface.

I have a wonderful husband who said we could stay as long as I wanted to get my sunset shots, that he’d be okay with finding a campsite in the dark. Wheeee!

Unfortunately the wind did not cooperate. There were whitecaps on Mono Lake! But I was still thrilled. This place is amazing.

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Mono Lake is similar to the Great Salt Lake in Utah, in that there is no outlet for the water other than evaporation. Water (in the form of snowmelt and from underground springs) seeps in to the lake, but there are no streams leading from it. As the water evaporates, what remains gets saltier every year. Currently Mono Lake is about 2.5 times saltier than the ocean. It’s also alkaline, so no fish live in Mono Lake.

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I used the word “tufa” earlier. Tufa towers are calcium-carbonate spires and knobs. They form by the interaction of freshwater springs (found under the lake) and the alkaline lake water. See, the spring water is rich in calcium and the lake water is rich in carbonate. The resulting interaction is insoluble calcium carbonate: limestone.

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Tufa towers grow as long as they’re covered in water. But in the 1960’s the city of Los Angeles began diverting water away from Mono Lake, and the levels of the lake dropped dramatically. In 1994 a campaign successfully began saving Mono Lake. The level of the lake is still below the goal, but it’s no longer shrinking.

And we have these amazing limestone formations to walk through.

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If you see a little splash of brown in that photo above – yep, that’s Bailey. There were no signs that you couldn’t bring a dog down to the beach. Bailey spends enough time in the truck, so we leashed him up and brought him with.

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He’s a very photogenic dog. And even though I feel guilty admitting this, life has been a lot easier with just one dog. Particularly a friendly, obedient dog like Bailey.

Don’t get me wrong! I miss Elvis every single day. And in his youth, Elvis was an exceptionally obedient dog. But he was never good with strangers. You know, there was a point when we were hanging out at our Bishop campsite, just hanging out and reading, and this couple came walking up the road right next to our site. I looked up and waived. They waived and kept going. Bailey looked up at them, then went back to sleep. That was the sum total of our interaction.

Doesn’t that sound normal? Well, Elvis would have given those two people the bum’s rush, barking his head off. It’s one of the reasons we kept him tied up most of the time.

I’m not sure what my point was with that story. I don’t regret any of our time with Elvis. (Well, maybe that time he threw up on my pillow….) He was a challenge as he got older, is all.

We finally left Mono Lake right as the sun went behind the mountains. About 30 minutes later we found a campsite nearby, down a nameless little dirt road. It wasn’t much of a site, but we were only there for one night.

It was time to move on… to Carson City, Nevada.

 

Recipe: Grass Fed Beef & Cholaca Camp Chili

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I would not have thought it possible when I started this project. But this is blog post number 101!

We caught a lucky break on Saturday, June 10th. In spite of what the Weather Channel predicted, the wind died off overnight and stayed that way throughout the day. After coffee and a wonderful oatmeal breakfast, we had time to run Bailey.

Have you ever seen this dog run? When I used to take him to the Longmont Dog Park, people used to ask me if he was part Greyhound. The most common overheard statement was something like, “man, that dog can run.

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Those are the Buttermilk Boulders in the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Michael wore Bailey out with a tennis ball and a Chuckit, it was hammock time. Except Bailey figured that hammock time was also snuggle time.

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How can you say no to that face?

I also had the chance to take some pictures of the east side of our campsite. I still think it’s the most beautiful place we’ve ever set up. And since this is BLM land, it was completely free.

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I even found a cactus in bloom.

 

 

 

Because the weather was so calm, we decided to make a big meal for dinner: Grass Fed Beef & Cholaca Camp Chili. We have a container of Cholaca, which is pure liquid cacao, in our cooler and typically I put it in my coffee in the mornings (so good!). But you can cook with chocolate too – and not just dessert. Michael wrote this recipe himself. Enjoy!

Grass Fed Beef & Cholaca Camp Chili

Ingredients

1 lb grass finished beef stew meat, small dice

2 organic medium carrots, diced

1 organic red onion, small dice

3 organic mini sweet peppers, sliced

2-14 oz cans organic diced fire roasted tomatoes

1-14 oz can organic pinto beans, drained and rinsed

4 oz Cholaca Original (can substitute raw or sweet as desired)

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons organic chili powder

1 tablespoon organic garlic powder

1 tablespoon dried pasilla powder

Extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt to taste

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Method

  • In a 10″ dutch oven, pour enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom liberally. Heat over high heat until oil is hot but not smoking.
  • GoGoTacoNegroAdd the beef and season with kosher salt. Cook beef on high heat, stirring occasionally, until caramelized on all sides.
  • Add the carrots, onion, and peppers. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent. (You likely will have to add more olive oil at this stage if all the oil has burned off while cooking the beef.)
  • Stir in the chili powder, garlic powder, and pasilla powder. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  • GoGoTacoNegroAdd the tomatoes, Cholaca, beans, and water. Crank the heat back to high and bring to a simmer, stirring periodically.
  • Reduce heat to low and cover tightly.
  • Cook covered on low, stirring every once in a while until the beef pulls apart easily with a fork.
  • Taste and season with kosher salt if needed.
  • Smile. Because you rock for making Cholaca Camp Chili!
  • Try not to eat it all standing at the stove. Your campmates are likely hungry too.

Serves 4

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Dark and savory, this chili was delicious. The perfect meal for someone with a cold.

There And Back Again

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The views at our Coyote Trail campsite were pretty nice.

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It’s too bad that there weren’t any hiking trails or anything to do along this road – we were fully stocked and would have stayed for a few days. But after a nice, leisurely morning we packed up and headed in to Bishop.

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Since it was already pretty hot there we quickly turned north towards Mammoth Lakes. That drive was uneventful, but along the way towards Mammoth Mountain we missed a turn and ended up at a place called Twin Lakes campground.

Of course, there was so much snow that the campground wasn’t actually open.

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We leashed Bailey up and took him with as we walked around. California ended up at 170% of their normal snowpack this winter… and it showed.

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The General Store looked like it was going to need a new deck.

 

 

 

 

This canoe looked like it was ready for the scrap heap.

 

 

 

But we did get to see this awesome waterfall.

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After a tailgate lunch at Twin Lakes, we got back in the truck and went all the way to the resort, Mammoth Mountain, which was actually still open. On June 7th.

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I watched the few skiers and snowboarders jealously, wondering how much a lift ticket cost this time of year. Not that it mattered – we’d have to rent everything if we wanted to go – it’s just that this is the first time in about five years that we didn’t get a single day on the mountain.

Not that I’d trade what we’ve been doing for a day on the mountain! I just missed snowboarding, was all.

We took some time finding a place to camp, and as usual we kind of stumbled across a great site by turning down an unmarked road.

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For the first time in a while we didn’t have to worry about dead trees – there weren’t any. Somebody had logged there recently. And when the wind picked up that evening, we were well protected.

The next day we broke down camp and went back in to Mammoth Lakes, this time to Black Velvet Coffee. I worked on a blog post and Michael looked at the weather.

See, a big cold front was moving in, and while it was bringing snow to Oregon and Washington, it was bringing a sharp drop in temperature to Lake Tahoe (our next destination) and Mammoth Lakes. The forecasted high for Sunday June 11th was 49o in Tahoe, with clouds and wind. Mammoth wasn’t looking much better at 51o. Looking south, it appeared that Bishop was the answer, with a high temp of 65 on Sunday. Although it was supposed to be pretty windy, at least it wouldn’t be windy and cold.

Wondering just how far south this weather front was going to go, I looked up Death Valley. Big mistake: the weekend high temperature there was forecasted at 110o.

That’s not a typo.

The overnight lows were in the 90’s. And the next week, after the weather front passed, high temperatures were forecasted at a frightening 120o.

Bishop it was. Thursday June 8th we stocked up at the local grocery store (Vons) and took advantage of their rewards card at their gas pump (Vons is under the same parent company as Safeway). We actually got 50 cents off per gallon! That might have been our cheapest fillup in California.

Our last stop before heading out Buttermilk Road was the Bishop Chamber of Commerce. See, I found this nifty article called A Road Warrior’s Guide to Bishop, CA that outlines all the stuff a dirtbag traveler (or climber) would need, like where to get a shower, do laundry, and where to get water for free. The article said that the Bishop Chamber of Commerce has a spigot outside the building that can be accessed day or night.

I love the internet.

The wind had picked up as we headed out of town, and it seemed to intensify as we turned on to Buttermilk Road. (If you’re a climber, this area is the home of the legendary Buttermilk Boulders). We ignored the ominous sign alongside the road (“FLOODED”) as the road itself was quite dry, and set off in search of a sheltered site. Somewhere we could get out of the wind.

Several of the no-name roads we turned down were flooded, though, so there were several 5-point turns or just backing up for several hundred feet to get back to the main road. We were starting to get worried when we found it.

It wasn’t the most sheltered – but we didn’t really think we were going to get out of the wind entirely anyway, and the views were spectacular. I think this might be the most beautiful campsite we’ve ever had. I couldn’t wait to take pictures the next day.

We decided to set up the annex to the tent – which was a serious pain in the ass since it was so windy out – but once it was up we were both pretty happy, as it gave a place to get out of the weather. The wind howled most of the night so we both slept with earplugs in. I got up around 7am to quiet skies and immediately grabbed my camera.

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Basin Mountain

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The wind picked up around noon on Friday, which was about the time I decided to go back to bed. For the past few days I hadn’t been able to figure out if what I had was allergies or a cold, but that day I knew it. I had a cold. I’d call the timing lousy, but when is a good time to get a cold? I slept for a while, then got up eventually and hung out in the annex, reading. The wind was howling. It was so noisy in the annex that Bailey wouldn’t stay inside – he went out and lay down under a tree.

That night there was a brief hour, maybe around 10pm, where the wind died off almost completely. It was a full moon (or pretty close to it) so I grabbed my down coat, my tripod, and my camera.

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I love a full moon in a dark sky. I didn’t even need a headlamp to see what I was doing, it was so bright out.

The craziest thing about our site – which was at least seven miles from Bishop – was that it had 4 bars of 4G LTE service. So the next day I did what any person with internet access would do: I checked the weather channel constantly.

Bad news. The wind was going to continue all weekend.

Maybe it was a good time to have a cold after all?

The Eastern Sierras

So, I mentioned in my last post that we got Elvis’s ashes back. Here’s what we carry with us:

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This lovely oak box is completely sealed and has Elvis’s name on the bottom. Pretty cool, huh? Although – it’s actually been a little tough to find a spot for Elvis. I don’t want him to end up on the bottom of a pile and forgotten about, you know? The cab is packed pretty tight. Not a lot of open space. For right now we put the box on top of the center divider. Which is great, until one of us needs to get into the center divider. We’ll get it worked out. I’m glad we have Elvis with us, silly as it sounds. He’s still on the adventure.

Moving on: I’ll say one thing for eastern California: it’s hot. I mean, I was expecting it to be hot across the San Joaquin valley (trip number 6 across that valley, I believe). But I expected Keyesville Recreation Area to be a little cooler.

Wrong. Still, it was nice to be sitting outside at 9 o’clock at night in shorts and a t-shirt. I wasn’t cold while making the coffee the next morning.

Surely the area along Highway 395 would be better, I thought. It’s at a higher elevation.

Wrong again.

Alabama Hills Recreation Area sits just outside of the town of Lone Pine, California. A bank in Lone Pine said the temperature was 94o when we passed through. Ouch. And while we gained a tiny bit of elevation heading west from town, Alabama Hills was pretty damn hot.

It was gorgeous, though. The rock formations reminded me of Arches National Park, except that these rocks were granite, not sandstone.

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When we finally picked a campsite at 2:30, the first thing I did was set up the tent… just so I could have some shade.

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After 6pm the heat of the day finally abated, and Michael and Bailey and I took a little walk.

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Those are the Inyo Mountains in the background. Believe me, that name has been the source of many, many jokes.

We also walked over to a nearby climbing area to check it out. The area is called The Corridors, a series of narrow and parallel rock formations, each with what could be described as an alley inbetween. The alley looked like it would be shady for all but an hour of every day.

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We messed around in the shade for a while, before returning back to camp. That night it was so warm that I hung out in a tank top and shorts. When I had to leave the tent to go to the bathroom at 1am, I didn’t even need a jacket.

Tuesday morning I got up early (6:30am) to go for a run before the heat of the day set in. I’m not sure it worked. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the elevation. But the only fun part of my run was that Bailey came with.

Okay, well, the views were pretty spectacular.

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That’s 14,505-foot Mount Whitney in the background. The trail to the peak starts at the Whitney Portal trailhead and is 22 miles round-trip, with an elevation gain of over 6,100 feet.

After breakfast, as I was cleaning up, I heard this funny sound and looked up to see a drone waaaay up in the sky. It hung out for a while, so I can tell you that the sound a drone makes is plenty irritating.

Well, apparently we were pretty interesting or something, because this drone proceeded to drop down to about 10 feet off the ground. I’d guess it was somewhere about 100 feet away? Close enough to see the camera attached underneath. And it hovered there for several long minutes. It was like being watched. Stared at.

I’ve never wished for a rifle so badly in my life. I mean, the sound was bad enough. But knowing there was a camera on that thing? I flipped it off. Michael finally mooned it and then it went away.

I guess the point of that story is… that now I’m going to search YouTube for clips with titles like “Full Moon at Alabama Hills.” Hehe!

We did eventually escape the heat, although not exactly how we thought we would. We have a friend that lives in LA, named Travis. We met him and his girlfriend, Chelsea, back around the Tetons in Wyoming (I wrote a blog post about it!). We ended up sharing a campsite. Travis has a Toyota 4Runner, and he and Michael talked Toyota for hours. We follow Travis on Instagram and he’s been putting up some awesome pictures lately. Over Memorial Day weekend, he went off-roading with a group of people in the Eastern Sierras.

Michael sent him a text and Travis replied with an entire map (complete with GPS points) of their trip on the Coyote Trail, which they took from Bishop down south to Big Pine.

We stopped in Lone Pine’s outdoor shop, Elevation, for information and maps. They even let us fill one of our water containers there. Sweet! We stopped at Big Pine for a topoff of groceries and gas, then decided to follow Travis’s route from Bishop.

I was driving, and when the first mile of the Coyote Trail was paved. Then it became a sandy road with lots of washboard marks. Then the climbing began. I did not want to drive anymore. The road was steep and narrow and off-cambre and it pretty much scared the shit out of me. But there was no place wide enough to stop and change drivers. I had to keep going.

When we finally did reach a big, wide turn, I pulled to one side immediately. Michael seemed a little surprised when I told him I was terrified and didn’t want to drive anymore. He said ok. I looked down at the dashboard as I was about to get out of the truck, and saw an idiot light (I think they’re actually called Warning Lights these days) that I’d never seen before: A/T Oil Temp

Michael hadn’t seen that one before either. I reached for the owner’s manual. He reached for the phone. Believe it or not, we had 2 bars of 4G LTE service out there. Good thing there’s a website called TacomaWorld.com. Michael found our question on one of the forums. Basically the automatic transmission is cooled by the radiator, and if the coolant is hot and the transmission is under a heavy load it can overheat the fluid.

Well, it was hot. We were going up a steep, rocky hill. And we were fully loaded – full tank of gas, full water containers, full cooler and pantry. That transmission was under a heavy load.

Apparently one way to accelerate the cool-down is to put the truck in neutral and rev the engine. (Here’s the link as to why.) I’m not quite sure the reason makes sense, but Michael tried it. We also sat for about 10 minutes to try and let things cool down even more before continuing.

With Michael driving. Yep, I was done. The Tacoma is actually a pretty big truck for someone who’s barely over five feet tall. It’s like driving a tank. I keep trying but driving Taco Negro off-road never seems to get more comfortable for me.

The road leveled out for a bit as well, which was nice. There were some other steep sections, but nothing like what I drove, and that warning light never came back on.

Crisis averted.

Our next obstacle came when the Coyote Trail came to an abrupt halt. A snowfield had buried the road. We checked Travis’s map and there was another way around. Supposedly. We don’t have GPS and simply couldn’t follow his trail.

We finally turned around – knowing that we’d passed three campsites on our way in, and that we just had to pick one.

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I’d say we did pretty well.

Time To Move On (For Real This Time)

We returned to San Luis Obispo from the Yosemite area right before Memorial Day weekend. I feel the need to mention we found a great little taco place in Paso Robles, called Tortilla Town. The menu is a little small – kind of like the place itself, which has maybe 4 booths inside. But the tacos and gorditas are delicious. Whenever a customer asks for guacamole, the ladies behind the counter all shout “Guac-ah-mole-AAAAYYYYY!”

So if you ever find yourself in Paso Robles, California, get to Tortilla Town (it’s just west of the the intersection of Highways 101 and 41), and make sure you add guacamole to your order.

Anyway. Things have settled down a bit – for everyone. My father in law has been moved into a skilled nursing facility, and there’s no need for Michael and I to fly back to Fayetteville. It was good that we were in SLO, though, as there were lots of phone calls back and forth over the course of the past two weeks.

We did get out to do some fun things, though. Wednesday we drove over to Los Osos, mostly to see the GoWesty facility. If you’ve never heard of GoWesty, then you’re most likely not a Volkswagon Bus, Vanagon or Eurovan enthusiast.

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GoWesty is a dealer, but the bulk of what they do is restoration and conversions. So if you have an old, crappy Vanagon, GoWesty can update it – completely. Need new upholstery? New engine? No problem. They “conversion” part means converting the vehicle to 4WD. So really, these guys can do pretty much anything.

Believe me, those enthusiasts are out there. The GoWesty website says for restoration and conversion work, the company is booked… for all of 2017.

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The company does give tours, apparently, but when we arrived they were closed for lunch. So we looked around their little lot (enviously, these were some sweet rigs), before heading out for lunch ourselves.

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In case you were wondering – GoWesty has a page on their website that details how much these conversions cost. Brace yourselves. A lot of what I saw on the website was late 1980’s and early 1990’s models, and the average cost of a convsersion/overhaul was $70,000. Some were as high at $117,000.

After I saw those numbers I stopped being so jealous. Because there is basically no way we could ever afford something like that, no matter how awesome it is. My main issue with a camper van (or a Sportsmobile, for that matter) is that it’s not a daily commuter. Ever. See, with Taco Negro, we can take off the RTT and the basket and the hitch-mounted bike rack, and that truck goes back to getting decent enough gas mileage that I wouldn’t mind driving it to work every day. The same cannot be said of a camper van. Why would you want to put commuter miles on a decked-out camper van, anyway?

So when I say that we could never ever afford something like that, it’s because we would need to have an extra $90,000 or so just sitting around, along with extra garage space to hold the vehicle that would only get used on special occasions.

Anyway. I will say that those GoWesty camper vans were super tricked out. We enjoyed looking at them.

We also (finally) went Stand-Up Paddleboarding at Avila Beach. We’ve been trying for a while now but the winds kept thwarting us.

See, this time of year, every afternoon the wind kicks up. This isn’t exactly a gentle breeze. Sometimes the wind gets cranking at 25-30mph. Another problem, as the folks at Avila Beach Paddlesports explained, is that this strong wind is normally from the northwest. If you get caught too far from shore in that wind (and being on a stand-up paddleboard basically makes you a giant sail), you will get blown all the way to Pismo Beach – 7 miles away!

So we finally got smart and went in the morning.

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It was a gorgeous day – so sunny and warm that we didn’t need wetsuits. We saw several sea lions and lots of gulls, cormorants, and pelicans. Some fish – mostly the small ones that hung out around the kelp beds.

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We paddled out along the Port San Luis pier and pulled up on the beach below the Port San Luis Lighthouse. We hiked up to check it out and saw this fabulous swing along the way.

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Even I took a turn. (I loved swingsets as a kid, but as an adult they tend to make me a little sick.) So I didn’t swing for very long. It was fabulous, though. Like swinging out over the ocean.

We spent almost two hours on the boards. I am completely hooked! Wherever we settle (and San Luis Obispo is currently looking pretty good), I’ll be checking Craigslist for a used SUP.

So our plan is to head back out on the road on Sunday, June 4th. This is partly because we don’t want to look for a campsite over the weekend. But it’s also because Elvis’s ashes are due back June 3rd. I’m willing to wait a couple of extra days for him.

Hopefully we’ll have good coverage as we head out – the plan is to hit the eastern Sierras (especially Bishop, Mono Lake, Lake Tahoe) before going back west towards the coast. I don’t know how I feel about zig-zagging across the state, but in addition to the cool things along the eastern Sierras, I want to ride Skunk Train near Mendocino, visit Glass Beach near Fort Bragg, and visit Redwood National Park.

Actually, this is far more planning than I normally do. So we’ll see what happens. Stay tuned!