A Couple of Oddities

The rain is lingering here in northern California longer than expected. We had rain showers off and on all day yesterday. It’s windy this morning and rain is forecast later this morning – possibly a thunderstorm with small hail this afternoon. The forecast high for today is only 63 degrees. If the weather guessers are right, starting tomorrow we’ll have a completely different weather picture. The forecast calls for a high of 80 degrees and no precipitation.

We didn’t do much yesterday – Donna went grocery shopping in Corning and then out for a bike ride. I made a run into town for a few things in between rain showers. I figured while I was hanging around this morning, I would write a short post about a couple of oddities we came across recently.

The first was in Sparks. We went to Great Basin Brewery Friday afternoon for happy hour and had an early dinner and a couple of cold ones. Great Basin has three locations in the area – the Sparks Brewery and Pub, another brewery and pub in Reno and a third location that’s a bottling facility. Great Basin is the oldest currently operating brewery in Nevada. The Sparks location is the headquarters and it opened in 1993.

Sparks and Reno are joined – they aren’t two distinct cities anymore. If you travel westbound from Sparks on Prater Way, once you pass under I-80, it becomes 4th Street and you’re in Reno. When I was a kid back in the 1960s, I came through here on a summer vacation with my grandparents. I remember Sparks being a small town a couple of miles outside of Reno back then. But I digress.

Back to the story at Great Basin. When we left the pub, Donna noticed something odd at the fence by the parking lot. Two bicycles were locked together through the fence, one on each side. The strange thing was the lack of wheels. One bicycle was a road bike and both wheels were missing. The other was a mountain bike and the front wheel was missing.

I took a closer look and could see the remaining rear wheel on the mountain bike had a conventional axle with nuts fixing it in place. The drop-outs for the missing wheels appeared to be quick-release type – no tools required.

Where are the wheels?

We concluded that one of two things occurred here. Either the owners of the bikes removed the wheels and took them wherever they went – we didn’t see anyone with bicycle wheels in the pub. Or, a thief saw a target of opportunity. Since the frames were locked together, he or she simply released the skewers on the quick release axles and took the wheels. We’ll never know.

We came across another odd thing here at Rolling Hills RV Park. We’re in Corning, California in the upper Sacramento Valley. This part of the valley is relatively flat with gently rolling hills. Around the Rolling Hills facility are open fields with native grasses, the casino, an equestrian center and a golf course.

While we were walking through the RV park to check out the sites, we came upon two birds. I immediately recognized them as chukars. But here’s the thing, chuckars don’t belong here. I’ve only found chukars on steep, rocky canyon walls. Their native habitat is actually in the middle east and Asia. But they’ve been successfully introduced in the western states – California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Utah. They’re mostly confined to the rocky steep walls of canyons where they find security and feed on cheatgrass. Most often, water can be found close by.

A pair of chukar in the weeds
They’re watching me watch them

So, what are chukars doing in this fairly flat region? I can only guess that they’re escapees from a game farm, but I’ll probably never know.

There are also plenty of California quail around here, but that’s not unusual.

Last evening, in-between rain showers, Donna grilled shrimp skewers and a new-to-me side dish. It was a portobello mushroom with pesto, prosciutto and mozzarella cheese. It was a treat. She also picked up some fresh corn on the cob. It seems really early for fresh corn, but there it was. The white corn wasn’t the sweetest but it was good.

Grilled shrimp, portobello mushroom and corn

We’ll hang out today and wait for the weather to improve before we start exploring the area. Donna plans to put on a pot of lentil stew – perfect for a rainy day.

Snowy Donner Summit

I continued to monitor conditions over Donner Summit via the live webcam provided by Caltrans and NDOT. Our decision to not go on Thursday was a good one. The conditions weren’t good and Friday wasn’t any better. I watched as snowplows worked to clear the road and snow piled up on the shoulders.

On Saturday morning though, our window of opportunity to travel west on I-80 looked good. The webcam showed the Interstate clear and dry. Winds were only 15-20 mph but expected to gust higher in the afternoon. Snow was also supposed to return later in the afternoon. We pulled out of Sparks Marina RV Park round 9:30am. I wanted to get over the summit around noon when the temperature would be warmer, but still beat the gusty winds and snow in the forecast.

We planned to top off the fuel tank before leaving the Reno/Sparks area so we could enter California with a full tank of fuel – fuel costs are higher in California. At first I thought about hitting the Maverick station by the RV park, but I decided against it as I didn’t want to get trapped in their lot if too many cars were there. I filled the tank at the TA Travel Center near I-80 at McCarran Boulevard.

We headed west on I-80 and crossed the summit at 7,239 feet above sea level around 12:15pm on a dry road. There was plenty snow all around though. On the steep slopes near the pass, we saw signs of avalanche damage. Tall trees we’re piled on the slopes like a box of spilled match sticks.

Donna snapped this photo through her window near Donner Summit

We left I-80 at Yuba Pass and hit CA20 westbound through the Tahoe National Forest south of Lake Spaulding. This is a two-lane highway with reasonably smooth pavement for the most part. The area is heavily forested with towering Ponderosa pines trees lining the road.

We hit a few twisty bits and road construction in a couple of places, but traffic was light on this route and it was very scenic. As we dropped through the foothills near Grass Valley, we encountered farm land and finally cattle country. Near Yuba City, we drove through flooded rice fields.

We made a shortcut through farmland on Woodruff Lane which took us to CA70 northbound. Our original plan was to boondock somewhere along this route, but we decided to press on through Oroville. CA70 eventually merged with CA99 and took us through Chico. About 12 miles north of Chico, we turned west on CR-A9 near the Abbey of New Clairvaux – a winery we visited when we were here three years ago.

We drove through Corning and stopped at the Rolling Hills Casino. We had reservations to stay at their RV park beginning on Sunday, May 19th. We were a day early and knew the park was full on Saturday night. But, they also have a truck stop on the property next to the RV park and we knew we could dry camp for the night there. By this time it was raining.

We found a fairly level spot on the lot and set up. We popped out the bedroom slides but opted to leave the living room slide retracted. A few other RVs were there along with some tractor-trailer rigs when we arrived around 2:30pm. Soon several other RVs arrived and parked by us. A woman pulling an older travel trailer with a a late model Mercedes SUV parked next to us. I was in the trailer when she came over and asked me if I had a spare battery. I asked her what kind of battery? She said the battery for her trailer had fallen off and she had no electricity in the trailer.

I didn’t have a battery to lend her. Later she asked me if I thought she could hook up to her car battery for power. I told her I didn’t think it was a good idea. Car batteries are not intended for deep-cycle use and she would have bigger problems by morning. She wanted to run an electric heater all night. I told her she would have a dead car battery by morning and be stuck. I guess she opted for extra blankets because we didn’t hear from her again.

This morning we had to wait until noon to check in. We found a long pull-through gravel site and set up in site 18 – and didn’t have to drop the trailer. We’ll stay through the Memorial Day weekend and celebrate Donna’s birthday on the 27th. We did that here in 2016 and found the steakhouse in the casino was very good.

This morning, I checked the Donner Summit webcam again. It was snowing and the road was covered with packed snow. We made the right call to cross when we did. Rain showers continued to pass through here most of the day. The temperature is cool with a high of only 60 degrees. Tomorrow should be warmer – 70 degrees and dry. We may have a few showers again on Tuesday but the long-term forecast looks great with highs in the upper 70s to 80 degrees and overnight lows in the high 50s. We plan to stay here for 10 days.

Taking a Pass

We started the week with pickleball at the Evelyn Mount Community Center Monday morning. There were a few unfamiliar faces there and the level of play was very high. The way they rotate players on the courts is a little different – sometimes it results in the same pair playing together for multiple games. Also, some of the players on Monday wanted to play against specific people, so they were re-arranging the order of paddles waiting to play. No one did this to gain a wait time advantage – if they wanted a particular group to play together, they went to the back of the queue.

It was warm on Monday and I worked up a pretty good sweat before we were done at 11:45am. On the ride home, we made a stop at Winco Foods – one of my favorite grocery stores. We only needed a few things and I found an IPA from one of my favorite breweries – 10 Barrel Brewing from Bend, Oregon.

10 Barrel Brewing Apocalypse IPA

They also had fresh sushi made onsite – something I hadn’t seen at any other Winco store we’ve shopped at. We picked up some for lunch and it was excellent.

On Monday night, Donna prepared fish for dinner. She made walnut-crusted tilapia which she served with coconut-cauliflower risotto and green beans. You might recall a meal I described last week that was similar but it was tortilla-crusted tilapia.

Walnut-crusted tilapia

Tuesday was basically a repeat of Monday. We played pickleball all morning and returned to Sparks Marina RV Park. We really like this park – it’s level, very clean and well-maintained and it’s quiet – it also has the best wifi of any park we’ve stayed at. It’s a little on the pricey side though – more than we usually want to pay. I should mention the pickleball at Evelyn Mount Community Center costs one dollar per person each day. The weird rotation on Tuesday had me paired up with the same guy for four games in a row – we played well together and won all four games, so I shouldn’t complain. Donna was partnered with the same guy for three games.

Tuesday evening Donna prepared another favorite meal. It was pizza chicken – that’s not a typo, I don’t mean chicken pizza. Pizza chicken is a dish that uses flat, thin slices of chicken breast in place of pizza dough. She tops it with the marinara sauce, pepperoni slices, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. When it comes out of the oven, she tops it with kalamata olives, chopped red onion and pepperoncini.

Pizza chicken

It’s a tasty dish and avoids using dough – Donna keeps flour and sugar out of her meals. She served the pizza chicken on top of roasted spaghetti squash.

I packed a few things in the trailer in advance of our departure on Thursday. Tuesday night we had a change in he weather. We woke to rain drops Wednesday morning – I had covered the Spyder the night before and had the Weber Q grill, Donna’s bike and folding chairs packed away. The rain put the kabosh on going to play pickleball. We would’ve been soaked on the Spyder.

The rain cleared away by noon but the wind really picked up. It was so gusty that I retracted the window awnings! Then I had a special weather advisory appear on my Radar Express phone app. It warned of a series of storms from the Pacific crossing California and into Nevada. Snow was expected on the mountain passes along with strong gusty winds. Travel advisories warned against crossing the Sierra Nevada range in high profile vehicles – high profile is defined as anything over nine feet tall. We’re over 12 feet tall.

I looked at the Donner Pass webcam provided by Caltrans and NDOT. The road was dry and clear Wednesday afternoon, but I took the advisory seriously. We didn’t need to be anywhere, so I went to the office and extended our stay until Saturday. The forecast called for snow and high winds by Thursday morning with the gusty winds continuing through Friday. Saturday promises a break in the weather before another storm comes through Saturday night and Sunday. The new plan is to make a dash over the pass and into California on Saturday morning.

Wednesday evening Donna made another favorite dish – flank steak stir fry with broccoli, mushrooms and scallions over rice. Simple and yummy!

Flank steak stir fry

This morning I took another look at the live Caltrans-NDOT web cam on Donner Pass. We made the right call. The road was covered with snow and I watched in real time as a minivan slid out of its lane and came to a stop on the shoulder. We don’t need to drive in that slop. I didn’t see any big rigs crossing the pass. The forecast calls for a wintry mix with gusty wind over the pass today.

The temperature here in Sparks is only supposed to reach the upper 50s today and tomorrow. I’m hoping the expected break in the weather on Saturday holds true.

Exploring Reno/Sparks

After I wrote my last post Saturday morning, we headed out on the Spyder. We rode to the Reno Riverfest – a summer kick-off held at Wingfield Park near downtown Reno. Wingfield Park is an island in the Truckee River, which flows right through town, accessible via pedestrian bridges, two on the north side and one on the south. The Riverfest featured a number of events including a kayak competition, several bands on two bandstands, vendor tents and beer gardens.

Entry was free and a sunny Saturday meant huge crowds in the park. The temperature was around 80 degrees.

Pedestrian bridge on the north side over the Truckee River

We watched the kayaks on the south side for a while. The competitors had to paddle upstream through rapids and maneuver through a series of gates. It looked very technical as they had to quickly change direction to get through the course.

Kayak competition

We listened to a guy performing an excellent blues set with just his acoustic guitar and a great voice. He was good!

Great blues set

We didn’t hang around for too long. It was very crowded and Donna had left her I.D. back at the coach, so we couldn’t go into the beer garden. On the way back, we stopped at The Depot Craft Brewery Distillery. We sampled a couple of tasty brews made onsite – they were okay with Donna not having her proof of age. They also have five stills for distilling spirits, but we didn’t try any liquor.

On the way to the Riverfest, Donna spotted a storefront with a sign advertising hand rolled cigars. We made a stop there on the way back. It was Ruiz Cigar Lounge. This is a cigar shop featuring Ruiz cigars – rolled onsite by Marvin Ruiz and also some Ruiz cigars from his family’s factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. Marvin is an interesting and very friendly guy. He moved to Nevada from Nicaragua in 2005. He imports tobacco from his family’s farm and rolls cigars. He learned the trade in Nicaragua, first working at the Padron factory where his father and grandmother also worked at one time. Later he worked for Drew Estate and then Perdomo.

We talked cigars for a while as he showed me his selection and described many of the cigars in the Ruiz line up. I bought one to try, then he surprised us with a treat. He brought out some tobacco leaves and described the different leaves. They were all Nicaraguan from Esteli and Jalapa. He realized I knew a little bit about cigar construction as we discussed different leaf types and methods of rolling the filler.

Then he proceeded to roll a cigar. It was like watching a magician. His movements were quick and precise – he had the filler bunched and rolled in the binder so quickly that there must have some sleight of hand involved. He was almost done with the cigar before I could start snapping photos.

Already rolling the filler bunch with binder leaf
The bunch and binder are hidden by his right hand as he makes a cut with a chaveta – a special type of knife for cigar making
He laid out the wrapper leaf to finish the cigar
Finished cigar – old school style without using any molds

He gave me the Churchill cigar he’d just rolled. How generous is that?!

Off the shelf Ruiz cigar on the right – the shaggy foot Churchill he made for me on the left

I puffed the shaggy foot Churchill after dinner. It was a very nice cigar and I enjoyed it immensely.

On Sunday, Donna rode her beater bike to do some shopping nearby. While she was out, she went to Petco and brought home a surprise for Ozark the cat. Ozark has only been outside of our coach a few times in the four years since she joined us. She likes to sit on the steps behind the screen door or in her window bed to watch the outside world, but she isn’t inclined to go out.

Donna brought home a cat harness and leash. We fit the harness to Ozark and Donna took her out. She seemed to like it. She rolled in the synthetic turf in our site and they took a short walk. I’m wondering if this will encourage Ozark to go out on her own – that wouldn’t be a good thing.

Our site with fake grass at Sparks Marina RV Park
Donna and Ozark exploring

Sunday afternoon, I went back to Ruiz Cigar Lounge and sat with Marvin and shot the breeze while we puffed our cigars. He told me a lot of interesting stories about growing up in Nicaragua as a third-generation cigar roller. Another fellow from Nicaragua came into the lounge – I don’t recall his name – he told me Marvin is a Master Torcedor – a title given to only the most highly skilled cigar rollers. I bought a few more cigars from him.

While we’re back on full hook-ups, Donna is taking advantage by catching up on laundry and preparing some fine dinners. Saturday night she made one of our favorites – chicken enchilada skillet casserole.

Chicken enchilada skillet casserole

Sunday she whipped up coconut cauliflower risotto while I grilled chicken thighs. She served it with steamed spinach.

Grilled chicken thighs with coconut cauliflower risotto and steamed spinach

This morning we returned to the Evelyn Mount Community Center for pickleball. The games we’re all high level and we had fun. We’ll go back again.

The weather here in Sparks, Nevada has been holding up fine. Daily highs are in the upper 70s. It should be cooler Wednesday with a possibility of rain on Thursday. We’re scheduled to depart on Thursday – with any luck we’ll beat the rain. I’m not sure where we’re going next – maybe Susanville, California. I’ll be sure to top off our fuel tank before we enter California – diesel fuel prices are about a dollar less per gallon in Nevada than they are in California.

Mono Lake, Hot Springs and Sparks

June Lake was gorgeous and we wouldn’t have minded spending a couple more days there. But, with snow in the forecast we packed up and got away Wednesday morning. We left Oh! Ridge Campground around 10:30am. We took the scenic route completing the CA158 loop through town and past Grant Lake. This section of the road is typically closed in winter. It was a beautiful drive.

We headed north once again on US395 and made a stop north of Lee Vining at the Mono Lake Visitor Center. This is a nice center – it’s practically a museum. I think it’s the nicest one we’ve seen since we stopped at the Missouri River Visitor Center on I-90.

Mono Lake is unique in that it’s fed by at least six mountain streams, but has no outflow. The 45,000-acre lake is about 13 miles long and nine miles wide. Lake water levels are kept in check by evaporation in the dry desert climate. Minerals concentrate in the water which is highly alkaline.

In 1941, the city of Los Angeles struck again. They diverted water from four of the streams feeding the lake. This caused the lake level to drop by 50 vertical feet and further concentrated the minerals in the lake, doubling the salinity. This affected the ecosystem. Brine shrimp are found in the lake and are an important food source for two million migratory birds.

In 1978, the Mono Lake Committee was formed to save the lake. They eventually won a legal battle before the California Supreme Court in 1983 and the City of Los Angeles was ordered to replenish the water it had taken from the watershed.

Mono Lake view from the visitor center – Paoha Island on the right

The alkaline water has high levels of calcium. Fresh water enters the lake from subterranean sources. When the fresh water from these springs mixes with the calcium rich lake water, it forms columns of limestone called tufa. These towers take centuries to form and once the lake level was lowered, many of them became visible above the surface.

Tufa towers near the shore

We saw signs advising that Tioga Pass from the eastern Sierra to Yosemite was closed due to snow. The alternate route was a loop north by Lake Tahoe – a six-plus-hour detour!

This vehicle in the parking lot would get over the pass

After we left the visitor center, we climbed another pass on US395 and topped 8,130 feet above sea level at the Conway Summit. Our travel day was short – we drove about 50 miles to Bridgeport and checked in at the Bridgeport Reservoir Marina and Campground. Our site had us right on the reservoir.

Our windshield view in the evening

After lunch, I unloaded the Spyder and we took a ride out to Travertine Hot Springs. These natural hot springs were only a few miles away but it entailed a slow ride up a bumpy dirt road. We found one bathtub sized pool with very hot water where the road ended. We hiked down a well-used trail and eventually found a place where there were a few interconnected larger pools.

On the way back, we climbed a razor back ridge that had a large crack running down the center and I shot a couple of photos.

The pools are at the end of the ridge
View of town from Travertine Hot Springs

Bridgeport has a population of about 600 people and sits at an elevation of nearly 6,500 feet above sea level. Although the town is small, it has a brewery. We stopped at Big Meadow Brewing on Main Street for a cold one. Although they’re small with only a 7.5-barrel system, they had excellent beers on tap.

Sunset at Bridgeport Reservoir

Donna prepared tortilla crusted tilapia for dinner with sauteed corn, spinach and onion.

Tortilla crusted tilapia

Our original plan was to spend one night at the reservoir, replenish our fresh water and dump the tanks in preparation for more dry camping in Carson City. Donna found a casino there that allowed five nights of dry camping in their lot. Then we discovered that the information was outdated. The city had passed a no camping ordinance and the casino no longer allowed it. A similar ordinance was passed in Reno. However, the casino operators there argued that RVers were an important source of business for them. In typical hypocritical government policy, the city agreed not to enforce the ordinance at casinos. This apparently isn’t the case in Carson City though.

Glassy water at the marina in the morning – the fishermen were loving it
Jetty protecting the docks

We changed our plan – flexibility is our motto on the road. We decided to head to Sparks and go to the Sparks Marina RV Park. We’ve stayed here twice before – both times Donna had flights out of Reno so she really hasn’t spent much time here. It’s a nice park with pull-through sites that they advertise as 65 feet long. In reality they’re no more than 60 feet and we overhang a bit at both ends, but it works without having to drop the trailer.

While I was dumping the tanks at Bridgeport, I found a problem. Our Rhinoflex sewer hose had sprung a leak. I cut the bad portion of hose off and re-installed the fittings. I could see that the hose was becoming brittle. A few years of desert sun will do that. On the way to Sparks, we made a stop in Gardnerville at Walmart and I bought a new hose.

Donna found pickleball at the Evelyn Mount Community Center about eight miles away from the RV park. We played there Friday morning from 9:45am to 11:45am. The level of play was advanced and we had a good time – we’ll go back again.

Last night, Donna cleared some leftovers from the refrigerator. She sauteed cabbage and added the leftover pork tenderloin with apples and onions, rosemary garlic roasted potatoes along with asparagus. She finished it off with a balsamic reduction and it was tasty!

Leftovers dinner

The weather forecast here in Sparks is favorable with daily highs around 80 degrees and overnight lows of about 50. There’s no rain expected in the next several days. We’ll hang out here until Thursday – I took advantage of the weekly rate. We haven’t figured out what our next move will be yet.

June Lake

We had leisurely morning on Monday. Donna walked down to Schat’s Bakkery and bought a fresh baked croissant for me and some swiss pecan cookies for the road. I think it was around 10:30am when we hit the road. Just outside of Bishop, US395 begins a long uphill grade. We were climbing for about 10 miles. At one point, I geared down and slowed to about 40mph. Although the engine coolant temperature was well under control at 195 degrees, the oil temperature was rising, so I used gear reduction to ease the load on the engine. We topped out over 8,000 feet above sea level at Deadman’s Summit.

We thought about checking out Mammoth Lakes, but the weather forecast wasn’t favorable there. Also, although it’s a beautiful area, it’s geared toward ski tourism and a little too trendy for our style. We drove about 60 miles up US395, then exited at CA158 toward June Lake and found the Oh! Ridge U.S. Forest Service campground.

After a conference with the workers at the gate, we decided to take a look at a few sites. We were able to easily drop the trailer in one of three overflow parking spaces and set up in site 91 about 50 feet away from the trailer. With my newly acquired Interagency Senior Lifetime pass, we paid $27.50 for two nights here – half price. We’re at an elevation of about 7,220 feet above sea level. The mountain peaks surrounding June Lake are covered with snow.

View of the lake from the road by our site

Donna and I rode the Spyder into town – it’s only a couple of miles away. June Lake is a small town with only a little over 600 full-time residents. The number of businesses belie the small population though. There are a number of eateries, motels, cabin rentals, a couple of pubs and a brewery!

We stopped at the June Lake Brewery and each ordered a flight of four samplers. The beer was good, but not outstanding. The brown ale for example was over-hopped and had a slightly bitter finish that I don’t expect to find from this style.

The town is nestled between June Lake to the north and the smaller Gull Lake to the south. It’s a cute town – it reminds me a lot of what Big Bear, California was like in the early ’70s. It was a gorgeous day – blue skies and the temperature was near 70 degrees. We rode back to our site and enjoyed the sunshine although the afternoon wind picked up.

This is bear country and numerous warnings are posted on the grounds. Each site is equipped with a large rectangular safety box for storing food. They’re about four feet high, four feet deep and five feet wide. They’re easily large enough for a big cooler and other stuff. Tent campers are advised to keep all food locked in the box.

Bear-proof food storage box

On the way back, we drove down the lake access road. There are two beach areas and a couple of tour buses filled with what appeared to be students were stopped there. The kids had set up a volleyball net on one of the beaches and were enjoying a game in the sun

June Lake view from the access road

We’re dry camped here as we have been since leaving San Diego a week ago. Long-time readers may recall that I replaced our house batteries with Lifeline advanced AGM batteries last year when we were in Vermont. These batteries were pricey, but I have to say they were well worth the expense. They’ve been completely maintenance-free. I no longer have to watch electrolyte levels or perform periodic cleaning with a baking soda solution. The best thing is how strong they are. I still top up the battery charge by running the generator for a couple of hours in the morning and evening when we dry camp, but they usually hold 12.5 volts or higher.

In the afternoon, Donna took a hike up the hills surrounding the campground and shot a few photos.

View of our site from the ridge to the northeast – our coach is just left of center
Looking north from high on the ridge – you see Mono Lake way in the distance
Looking down at June Lake from the ridge

Monday evening I was puffing a cigar out of the wind while puttering around in the trailer. It was still light out – sunset is after 7:30pm and it doesn’t get dark here until 8:15 or so. Our trailer is on one of three paved pads just wide enough for a car or the trailer. While I was in the trailer, a silver Dodge Ram 1500 pick-up truck pulled up in the dirt alongside the trailer. It crept forward until I could see the driver through the trailer door. When we made eye contact, he hit the brakes and threw it into reverse and backed away. He then proceeded to drive out of the area by going the wrong way out of our one-way loop.

By then, I had figured out the guy was casing the trailer and thought he had his lucky day when he saw the door was open. He didn’t count on anyone being inside since there weren’t any vehicles in the area. Our coach – about 50 feet away – is the only vehicle in our loop. I walked over and asked Donna if she saw the truck. She had and noticed New Mexico plates. I added the second tongue lock to the trailer and made sure it was locked up tight. I wouldn’t want another episode with Dirty, Rotten Thieves.

Tuesday morning Donna started her slow cooker filled with pork tenderloin, apples, cinnamon and onions. She left it running all day while we made another run to town. We had lunch at the Tiger Bar and Cafe. I had a French dip and it was very good served with beer-battered French fries. Donna had the cheeseburger minus the bun and she plated it over a garden salad.

After lunch, we drove around town and checked out the two marinas – one on June Lake and the other on Gull Lake. Both lakes are known for great trout fishing. Fishermen make up most of the tourism here although there is also a ski area outside of town that draws winter visitors. It’s not as trendy as Mammoth Mountain, but the bartender at June Lake Brewing told us that it brings in a fair share of skiers.

Did I mention how strong our batteries are? Donna had the slow cooker running off the inverter for six hours before the voltage on the battery bank went below 12.5-volts. At 12.3-volts – more than a 50% charge still in the bank – I fired up the generator to recharge them. The pork tenderloin was so tender it fell apart on my fork. Donna served it with steamed asparagus spears and garlic-rosemary roasted potatoes on the side.

Pork tenderloin with apples, cinnamon and onions

We have another nice day in the forecast. Tomorrow is supposed to be not-so-nice. A cold front bringing rain and snow – yikes, the “S” word – to the area is supposed to arrive by midday. We’re pulling out today ahead of the storm and going about 50 miles away to a campground in Bridgeport right on the reservoir there. We’ll be on a full hook-ups and I’ll dump our holding tanks and replenish our fresh water supply there. On Thursday, we plan to head into Nevada and spend a few days – or more – dry camped at a casino in Carson City. The weather forecast looks fine there. That’s one of the perks of our nomadic life – if you don’t like the weather, leave!

Owens Valley

I closed my last post saying we’ll move on toward Bishop. Friday morning we headed out of our boondocking site near Inyokern and drove north on US395. This is a good road – divided highway with two lanes in each direction at times. Other places are undivided and parts are two-lane highway. The traffic is generally light and the surface reasonably smooth.

This route took us up the Owens Valley. This area is mostly arid nowadays, but it wasn’t always that way. The Owens Valley is bordered on the west by the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada range. On the east, the White Mountains – also called the Inyo Mountains – form the boundary. The once fertile valley is fed by water runoff from the mountains.

In the early 1900s, unscrupulous politicians and bureaucrats working with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began surreptitiously buying property to acquire water rights. William Mulholland had a plan to build an aqueduct to divert water from the Owens Valley to the Los Angeles basin and allow future growth. They took water from the Owens River and sent it through the aqueduct beginning in 1913. Owens Lake at the time was 19 miles long and eight miles wide. By 1926, Owens lake was a dry lake bed. It fed one third of LA’s water supply and the lake was desiccated.

The 1974 film Chinatown starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway is a fictional account of the water wars in the Owens Valley. Today, some water has refilled portions of Owens Lake, but it’s still mostly dry and in 2013 was declared the biggest source of dust pollution in the USA.

After a couple of hours, we made a stop in Big Pine. We found ample room to park our rig next to a small city park in town. There was an information center at the corner of US395 and CA168. This center was about the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. We also looked at the campground next to the information center, but decided to move on.

Ample parking in Big Pine
Horses in a pasture on the edge of Big Pine with snowy Sierra Nevada peaks in the background

I topped up our fuel tank with $200 worth of diesel fuel in Big Pine. In California, $200 buys about 50 gallons – California has some of the highest fuel prices in the country.

We came to Bishop and found parking at the Vons/Kmart center. It was posted “No Overnight Parking” but after buying groceries in Vons, we asked about it. We were told we wouldn’t have any problems. So we set up for the night. Bishop is at an elevation of just under 4,200 feet above sea level. There are peaks all around reaching elevations of 10,000 feet.

Later that afternoon, we walked about half a mile to the ranger station and I bought an Interagency Senior Lifetime Pass for $80. This will get us into national parks for free and give us half price discounts on forest service and BLM campgrounds.

We thought about taking the Spyder up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest but we heard at the ranger station that we were likely to encounter snow at 9,000 feet. And, in any event, it would be a cold ride. The ancient pines – the oldest living trees in the world – are above 9,800 feet.

We changed our plans and went to the Laws Railroad Museum. Laws is a small community about four miles from Bishop on Route 6. The highway, US6, crosses the country from Bishop, California to Provincetown, Massachusetts. We love to travel on these old highways.

The Laws Railroad Museum is really a re-creation of a ghost town. Many old buildings from the area were relocated on the 11-acre property. A couple of the buildings were made from lumber re-purposed from old barns and warehouses. We took the self-guided walking tour and found it to be scenic and interesting.

There’s a great deal of mining history in this area. Everything from talc to gold was mined here – including the biggest tungsten ore mine in the world.

Donna checking out a mine entrance
Various ore samples from mines in the area
20-mule team wagons

These 20-mule team wagons were the heavy haulers of the day bringing borax from Death Valley mines to the railroad spur 165 miles away.

Horse drawn hearse
Old engine number 9
Laws railroad station

By the time we finished strolling through the museum, it was nearly 1pm and we were hungry for lunch. A place called Schat’s Bakkery was highly recommended and we went there. I can tell you, the recommendation was well-warranted. They have outstanding sandwiches made with bread they bake on site, delicious cookies and pastries of all kinds. If you are ever in Bishop, this is a must stop.

You must stop here

Sunday was Cinco de Mayo and our 13th wedding anniversary. We celebrated by going to dinner at Astorga’s Mexican Restaurant. The margaritas and food were good and they had an excellent eight-piece mariachi band.

In the afternoon, before we went to dinner, I should mention the visit I had from the Bishop Police Department. A police officer stopped by while I was outside reading a book in the shade. He wanted to let us know that overnight parking wasn’t allowed in the city. I told him I saw the signs, but got permission from the customer service in Vons. I told him we would leave if necessary. He was a nice guy and said it was a gray area really as the parking lot is private property. He also said his shift was over at 6pm, so he wouldn’t know if we were here overnight. I took that as tacit approval and we stayed.

Today we’ll continue northward on US395 and see what we find at Mammoth Lakes or June Lake or maybe Lee Vining. The daily highs here in Bishop have been in the 80s with very low humidity. As we go north, we’ll gain elevation and can expect cooler temperatures. Rain showers near the mountains are always a possibility.

Into the Quiet

As usual, I put off a few errands and chores until our time at Mission Bay RV Resort was nearing its end. Monday morning it rained. There were sprinkles and periods of drizzle until late afternoon. I left the Spyder covered and didn’t get to the hardware store as planned.

Tuesday morning was misty with light drizzle. I hopped on the Spyder and took a chance of a shower and made a run to Costco. I also straightened a few odds and ends in the trailer. Time was getting short – we had to hit the road Thursday morning. Donna ran a few errands on her bicycle – she rode her beater bike to the post office in Pacific Beach and stopped at the store. She also washed screens and inside windows. I took a break and went to Offshore Tavern and Grill for my final taco Tuesday of the season.

Wednesday was time to get down to it. I had to pick up a prescription in Point Loma and also stopped at the hardware store in Ocean Beach. I repaired another “D” ring in trailer and finished organizing it. I checked tire pressures on the trailer and coach – all were good. I had drained our fresh water tank on Monday so I refilled with fresh city water. By the end of the day, I felt like we had it under control and just needed to transfer a few final items to the trailer and load the Spyder.

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard stopped by again. Mr. Mallard had some fine nylon mesh netting wrapped around one leg. I tried to entice him close enough so I could remove it, but once he got within two feet he became wary and I couldn’t get it off of him.

If you look closely you can see the green nylon mesh

Wednesday evening Donna made baked shrimp with fennel and feta. She served it over spinach and orzo for me and zoodles (zucchini noodles) for her. She made enough to have leftovers. We also have leftover pizza chicken that will come in handy on the road.

Shrimp with fennel and feta

I dumped and flushed our holding tanks Thursday morning – empty holding tanks and full fresh water tank is how we roll. By the time we had everything packed away and rolled out of site 142, it was past 10am. We drove to the overflow lot and transferred things like chairs and the Weber Q grill to the trailer. I hooked up the trailer and loaded the Spyder. We pulled out of Mission Bay at 11:15am.

I was ready to leave behind the noise, traffic and the hustle and bustle of the city. We’d been in large metro areas for the last seven months with only a couple breaks in he desert. In San Diego – like Mesa, Arizona – there are aircraft overhead almost constantly. In addition to light general aviation aircraft, helicopters frequently fly over Mission Bay. This year we even had a blimp fly over the RV park.

A blimp passing overhead

This year, we had an abundance of families with young kids in the park. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but a few of the kids were overly rambunctious and loud. It was tiresome and a few of the regulars we know here also commented on the noise levels.

Our route was a familiar one. After a short ride up I-5 we hit 52 east to I-15. This took us north out of San Diego County to Riverside County. The traffic was light and we breezed along. There are several steep grades along the way but we didn’t have any issues. We took the 215 fork and passed through Menifee where my step-dad Ken lives. From there, I knew we would be running the gauntlet getting through Riverside and San Bernardino .

The traffic became much heavier and we had a few slow downs and stoppages. I strived to be in the proper lane for our route well before any forks or ramps on the route. We rejoined I-15 and climbed Cajon Pass. This is a long steep grade. Trucks use the two right-hand lanes to climb the grade – slower trucks to the far right. Sometimes a large truck will use the number three lane to overtake. The interstate is six lanes wide here.

I remembered a time back in 2007 going up this climb on my Moto Guzzi Breva 1100 motorcycle. I was on my way to a motorcycle race at Willow Springs. As I was going up the hill, a truck swung into my lane ahead of me going at a much lower speed. I took a quick peek over my left shoulder and moved into the clear lane next to me. As I did this, I hit something in the road. I felt the bike jolt and heard a loud clang.

The next thing I knew, I lost traction with the rear tire and started going sideways. I thought maybe I had a flat tire. I lifted my butt out of the seat and corrected the slide. The bike continued to fishtail as I slowed and moved through the right lanes. I was fearful of getting too far sideways and being thrown off the bike in a highside crash. Surely I would be run over if that happened. I made it to the side of the road and got the bike stopped. It was smoking and I smelled hot oil. That’s when I figured out what happened.

I had run over a piece of metal on the road and it flew into the oil filter on my engine. It cut through he filter housing and engine oil was pouring out onto my rear tire.

Slashed oil filter
I made it to the shoulder
Oiled rear tire

I had roadside assistance and a guy picked me up. He took me and the bike to an auto parts store nearby. I bought an oil filter, some oil and a can of brake clean. I repaired the bike and cleaned the tire as best as I could and got back on the road.

Oil spot next to the freeway after we loaded the bike

I don’t have any harrowing tales of Thursday’s crossing. We came over the summit and soon hit US395. It’s been a long time since I’ve been through here and I could hardly believe what it’s like now. US395 was just a two-lane highway that crossed the desert to the Sierra Mountains last time I was on it. Now, the city of Victorville has bloated to the west all the way to US395. There were busy intersections with stoplights. I was determined to press on until we could find some solitude.

We found it about an hour later on BLM land south of Inyokern. We found a level, secluded area far enough from the highway that we had no road noise. The quiet in the afternoon and into the night was awesome. It also got very dark with bright stars twinkling in the night.

A secluded area
Very quiet

The weather was fine – a dry 80 degrees or so. Donna had chicken stew in the crock pot all day while we drove and it made for a nice meal. Overnight the low dropped to the 50s – it was perfect for sleeping with the window open and not a peep to be heard.

Today we’ll move north near Bishop and see what we can find there.

San Diego ShakaFest

Donna and I were sitting outside of the coach enjoying the fresh air and sunshine when we had a couple of visitors. A pair of ducks casually walked into our site. I dubbed them Mr. and Mrs. Mallard. I gave them my best duck call and they turned toward me and walked past us under the picnic table.

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard stopping by

They pecked around our site, then settled in by the tree while Donna had her lunch a few feet away. I don’t know how these ducks became so tame, but they had no fear of us whatsoever.

Donna has her salad while the ducks make themselves comfortable

Did I mention the weather? We’ve had sunny skies and temperatures reaching the low 70s all week. Nice.

Yesterday we could hear music coming from the park on the north side of De Anza Cove. When I walked out to retrieve something from the trailer, I could see vendor tents and hear Hawaiian music.

Vendot tents along De Anza Cove

Donna and I took a walk over there. We found the San Diego ShakaFest – a Na Koa Kai Canoe Club event. They describe the ShakaFest as a fusion of Hawaiian culture, arts and athletics. They had a youth-only canoe regatta as one of the events and also had music and traditional dances.They’re a non-profit organization and sponsor many youth activities.

ShakaFest schedule
Vendor area
Outrigger canoe used in the regatta
Paddlers from the canoe ran up the beach under paddles held high by club members
Youth Hawaiian dance troupe
Hawaiian culture in San Diego

After spending some time at the ShakaFest, I had a job to remove from my “to do” list. It was time for the annual wheel bearing grease job on the cargo trailer. Our Interstate trailer came equipped with Dexter Axles and EZ lube hubs and bearings. The recommended interval for renewing the grease in the wheel bearings is 12 months or 12,000 miles. We’ve never towed it 12,000 miles in year, but I stick to the 12-month interval.

The EZ lube bearings make it a relatively easy job to do. The axle spindle has a passage drilled through the center. Another passage is drilled perpendicular to this, intersecting the center drilling at the rear of hub, just inside the inner wheel bearing seal.

The outer end of the spindle has a Zerk fitting to pump grease into the bearing. The grease travels through the spindle to the rear of the bearing where it’s contained by the inner seal and then travels through the bearing. This forces the old grease out of the front of the bearing. It’s important to spin the wheel while you’re pumping the grease – this distributes the grease throughout all of the roller elements. If the wheel was stationary, the grease would only travel through the drilled channel into one part of the bearing and only force the old grease out from one area of the bearing.

I jacked up the trailer one side at a time and pumped in the new grease. It’s not a hard job, but it’s a messy one. As the old grease comes out around the spindle, it collects around the grease gun nozzle and needs to be wiped away. I had the job done in less than an hour and now it’s good for another year.

Rubber cover sealing the outer hub and bearing, covering the Zerk fitting
Cover removed exposing Zerk fitting the center of the axle
Forcing the old grease out can get a little messy

Last Thursday, Donna prepared a new dish. It’s a traditional Peruvian recipe called lomo saltado. This is made with thinly sliced flank steak, chopped tomatoes, peppers and onions. It’s served over french fries. Delicious.

Lomo salado plate

Yesterday I had a notification that an Amazon delivery was scheduled to arrive in the afternoon. At 4:05pm, a delivery truck stopped at our site. I walked out and asked the guy if he had something for site 142. He looked a little confused and said “Yeah, but I left it at the front office.” The thing is, the office closes at 4pm on Saturday – if he left it there, he must have given it to them as they were closing. Then he drove to our site. What? This didn’t make sense to me. I walked down to the office to confirm they were closed and it was locked up tight with no one around. I still can’t figure out why the guy dropped off the package, then drove to our site empty-handed. Oh well, I got the package from the office this morning.

There’s a 60% chance of rain showers tomorrow morning. Other than that, the week ahead looks good weatherwise. We’re pulling out of Mission Bay RV Resort on Thursday. Our tentative plan is to head up US395 to the Indian Wells-Inyokern area, then continue up to somewhere around Bishop, California. Our plans are pretty loose at this point. We know we’d like to be in the Seattle area by the end of June to visit my oldest daughter and two granddaughters.

Full Spa Treatment

After the full-adult dose of Belize, it took us a couple of days to recover. But, recover we did and we’re comfortably back into the full-time RV lifestyle. Easter week was not the best time to make our re-entry – it’s traditionally a very busy time here at Mission Bay RV Resort. With kids having the week off from school, the park fills with weekend warrior families. By Friday, the park was packed and there were more kids on bicycles, skateboards and scooters than ever. It was okay though – most everyone behaved well and the park quieted down at night.

We met some new friends two sites down from us – Jeremy and Erica Cohen from New York. They were here for a week with their two kids in a somewhat unusual circumstance. Their friend set up his Fleetwood motorhome in site 140 and left it here for their use. They flew in, rented a car and moved into the motorhome for the week.

Saturday night the park had an Easter parade for the kids. Most of the kids adorned their bicycles with LED lights on the wheels – they were selling them at the snack shack – and followed a golf cart through the park.

Kids Easter parade – photo without flash
Kids Easter parade – photo with flash

As expected, the park began to empty on Sunday – many people had arranged for a late check-out and didn’t leave until well past noon. By Monday afternoon, the park was less than 50% occupied.

Our neighbor in site 143 has a 2003 Monaco Diplomat. He hired the guys at Elite RV Service and Detail to detail his coach. They worked on it for most of the day on Monday. His coach has half-body paint, meaning that all of the white parts are gel coat. Gel coat can oxidize and it’s really hard to get the luster back, but they did a great job and his coach came out looking practically new.

Donna said our coach could use some love. I ended up paying Elite RV for the full spa treatment. We had the coach detailed including polish and wax of the full-body paint job. It took four guys about four hours to get the job done and it wasn’t cheap, but the coach sparkles now.

Full spa treatment

This week we’re back on track again with pickleball in the mornings and I hit happy hour at Dan Diego’s Monday afternoon.

Westmalle Belgian dubbel at Dan Diego’s

We’re also back to eating good, wholesome home-cooked meals. Monday night, Donna prepared a salmon filet which I grilled. She served it with onion marmalade (onions cooked with olive oil and apple cider vinegar in a foil packet on the grill) over arugula. Very tasty!

Salmon with onion marmalade over arugula

The weather has been agreeable here since our return. While not as warm as Belize – there the daily highs were in the 80s and the temperature only dropped about 10 degrees at night – we’ve had daily highs in the upper 60s to low 70s, mostly clear skies and overnight lows in the upper 50s.

Yesterday Donna dropped her sister, Sheila, off at the airport. Sheila is still hobbled by a broken leg and is getting around on crutches. She’s off to a seminar in San Francisco, so we’ll have her car for a few days. Today we’re driving up to Menifee to visit my step-dad, Ken, for lunch.