Sunday, June 19, 2016

Northern California

Part 1
With a good seven months of traveling under our belt, we are finding that making a reservation at an rv park is often like agreeing to go on a blind date. You have a few pictures along internet presentation, and your imagination is left to fill in the blanks. Often our imaginations don't have enough to give us a realistic picture until we get there, and our hopes and desires can't paint pictures for us as if we could photoshop the future. Some rv parks were better than we expected, and some were so far off what they promised that we felt cheated. Then there are those few that seem like someone tried to combine an rv park with Wally World and it all went bad. 

    We were trying to escape the hundred degree plus weather on our route north, which led us to Carson City Nevada, where we would have mild weather and be near Lake Tahoe. When Hana gave me the number to book the reservation, and I talked to a very friendly older woman named Ivy, I was picturing being near redwood pines in some sleepy little park with shade. I found I couldn't be further from the mark when the gps led us to a park off a busy street under construction, right next to a Walmart. Now folks, I realize one cannot travel the country and expect beauty one hundred percent of the time. Since the place had a pool, I told myself I could deal with all of the noise of being in the middle of a bunch of chain stores and burn off some of this fat swimming before my wife starts calling me papa bear. 

  My gut told me not to book the entire week. Hana snapped at me when we pulled into the park when I said,"This is the place?" Her exclamation was,"You don't appreciate anything!" I knew I had to tread lightly, and try to get some extra exercise at the pool for a week. When she went in to the office to check us in, my gut told me to follow behind her before she payed for a week. Knowing she wouldn't lose her mind right in front of nice Ivy, I stood firm on paying for a day to be sure we wanted to stay there. Hana doesn't like moving during the week, but it's good to have options. Nevertheless, my gut had served us right. The park smelled like a porta-poddy. Hana couldn't sleep, while I got a headache that lasted two days. 

The next day I found a place for us in Sierra Valley, forty minutes past Reno. The park had no reviews online, just a simple statement along with a photo of some empty spaces with mountains and wildflowers in the background. I followed my gut, and gave them a call. It was a good sign in my book when I was told that a reservation would not be necessary. "If you don't see anybody, just knock on the door of the trailer in the front and someone should answer." When we got there the park of 43 sites looked exactly how I expected. A bunch of empty spaces with a few full timers camped out.

  I got out and talked to a man on a riding mower and let him know we wanted to stay. His expression seemed to say, "Are you sure?" I let him know what he had was exactly what we were looking for. Some peace and quiet with a view, and most of all, fresh air. We parked the rig next to a tree in the middle of all the empty spots where we had some nice green grass for once. 

 The town is called Beckwourth. It has a population of 430, and while there are cars pushing down highway 70 as fast as they can, everything moves slow in this town that probably goes unnoticed by all those people in a rush. The mountains aren't huge, breathtaking monsters that make people stop and take pictures, but they don't need to be to be beautiful. There is a lot of farmland, where the cattle can lazily wander through the sage brush and feed on the lush, green grass. I liked to take walks down one dirt road in particular where I could walk down the middle of the road and moo at the cattle on both sides of me. Call me a simple man if you will, but I really like to daydream in places like this while listening to birds on the wire sing. I like looking out at the fields of green sage, light umber, and violet wildflowers, imagining a time in this country where weary pioneers looking for a home would find some dreamy land and call it home. Modern life is filled with so much buzzing and beeping and rushing it's no wonder that most of the time society does not seem to be thinking entirely straight. As my dad always likes to mention the pioneers rv was a covered wagon and thats it. They didn't have all of the luxuries of a house all rolled up one 10 by thirty space. Their houses didn't even have all of the features that a small camper would have these days. What they did have was an understanding of land, and how to make use of it. I like to imagine these traveling pioneer families stopping to camp in a field and calling it home, sleeping next to fires at night while they built log cabins in the day. 

  So for that week Hana and I enjoyed the simplicity of our location. Farmers all waved when passing, and we were pretty much left alone. We barely even saw the people who owned the park. 

   We did find a lake in the middle of a lush forest full of redwood pine with trails to hike around with the dogs. The lake had a story to it which I will share before closing this entry since I do like to rip on how ridiculous the departments of fishing and wildlife can be. So it goes like this as told to me by a local, and confirmed by a billboard near the lake with a picture of a northern pike eating a small trout. Someone had "illegally" introduced northern pike to the lake five years ago, leaving the department of wildlife no choice but to poison the entire lake. Being from Michigan, pike is not considered an invasive intruder. It is a fish that will come flying out of the water if you get one on the end of your line that you can either keep or throw back. They are boney and difficult to fillet, but are a sweet tasting fish that a lot of people up north love. Yes they do feed on trout, but so do striped bass, and nobody poisons a lake to get rid of them. Fish eat other fish. It's just how it all works. Not all of the pike died when the lake was poisoned, and the billboard states that should you catch one of these "invasive species" you are not to throw it back, but to behead it and take it to such and such department at such and such location. All of this to protect all of the farm raised trout that have been put in the lake after most of the wild fish were killed off. Yep, makes a lot of sense to me. What would nature do without these departments managing things? I wonder what those old pioneers and cowboys I read and dream about would have to say about this?

Part 2

 If you have seen the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, then you would remember that demented sort of high pitched sound of two piano wires being scraped together. I have not seen the movie in years, but that sound is unforgettable. Driving into Tionesta, Ca, which is a single street outside the Modoc National forest, that sound came to mind as almost all of the 10 properties on the street were decorated with cowskulls and various other bones. Among the skulls were strategically placed lava rocks from the nearby lava beds. There were two rv parks, a general store that was permanently closed.

   When we pulled into The Eagles Nest, which did not look as nice as the park we saw at the beginning of the street, and old man on crutches and a pirate skull shirt greeted us. We had to ask ourselves what kind of place we stumbled upon, since there was not a single store or gas station for at least 30 miles one way, and fifty the other. At first while it looked like the park we didn't have a reservation at was the better park, since it had a lot of trees that provided shade, a large fire pit, and well kept grounds. When I asked the owner where the laundry was, he said it was broken down, but he would take our laundry in his house and do it for us. Neither of us really cared to have anyone else do our laundry, so I brought it down to the neighboring park and asked if I could do it there. We considered moving there, but when I tested the wifi signal and found it was weak, we decided to stay where we were.

 By the end of the day I realized that even though there was barely any shade that we made the better choice. The owners of the Eagle's Nest were extremely friendly and helpful, and if they had to do any groundskeeping around our site always asked us if it would be okay first. They let us know about a cave that the old man had discovered 10 years ago, and a trail that led up to the fire watch behind the park. Also a plus was that they had two fat, old goats which I fed and made friends with.

  I also made the first friend that I had made in a while since we have been in the west. I made a lot of friends in the south, but since we left Mississippi the only other town that I had made some friends was in Taos. I believe one reason is that the fishing licenses for out of town got way too expensive, so I have not fished at all since New Mexico. It is over a hundred for a license in Oregon, and when I saw the two limit fish sign in California I didn't even bother looking.  I was heading for the hiking trail that led to the fire watch station when I noticed another guy with a walking stick going the same way. Half of my crabby mind just wanted to walk up the mountain alone, while the better half said shut up and give the guy a chance. His name was Bob, and he was a friendly guy that retired from the phone company that now lives in seclusion in the mountains on the east side of Yosemite. When I saw that like me was a loner and had the same sense of disdain I have for politics and mainstream culture, I found that we got along well. When we got to the fire watch we climbed up and talked to the woman on duty who had a lot of information on the area for us. 

The main attraction of the Modoc National Forest was caves formed by molten lava and lava beds. We didn't know until we got there. There was even a cave a mile outside of our rv park that had Native American writing on the walls. The cave was discovered by the old man that ran our rv park ten years ago, although his wife said she was not sure that he ever explored it. To get in you had to crouch down into a small hole. I have to admit it was a little frightful for me at first, but after we had explored a few caves I started to get used to it. It was a great experience to overcome the fear, and I never really thought I would ever find myself exploring these tunnels on this trip.

Overall I sort of miss Northern California.  It was peaceful and there was plenty of seclusion. Folks were friendly, and it was nothing at all how I pictured California, or what I knew of the southern part of the state when I had been there before. A lot of people in northern California talk of how they want to separate from the southern are from San Diego to San Francisco. The only difficult part of it was getting decent groceries. We stocked up in Reno, and didn't have a problem, but if we were going to stay longer we would have had a hard time. 


Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Destination: Lone Pine, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe

I remember reading an over-rated novel two decades ago that was written in the late 80's, and the main back drop was Death Valley. I am not going to mention the name of it, nor do I really want to sit here and slam another person's work as if I am some sort of critic. With yelp and other forms of social media, critics are a dime a dozen these days. It was interesting enough to finish, and at the time anyone who had a poetic way of describing things caught my interest, where as now I prefer honest and direct over the heavily decorated sentences that make you wonder if they are saying much at all. The author did successfully describe the heat in a way that made me never want to go to Death Valley, being one who prefers a mild climate with cooler nights. 

Mt. Whitney, Lone Pine
 By the time we got to Lone Pine, California I had a rip-roaring sinus headache. Driving days often do that to me. I suppose I will mention here that the hardest part about living in an rv for me is the allergy that I have to all the materials on the inside. The materials in newer rvs are much lighter than they were in the old days, but the voc level is higher. While one person may have to live with arthritis, or some other ailment that never goes away, I have allergies. It is becoming a more well known fact that a lot of people are getting cancer from all types of household materials. Few notice what is happening to them, while people like me can hardly stand to be in a Walmart more than 10 minutes because of all the products in there which contain benzene and formaldehyde. Needless to say, I keep the windows open even on some cold days and nights and drive my wife nuts. She struggles to be warm, and I struggle to breathe. 

from Mt. Whitney, Lone Pine
Lone Pine is a small, desert town surrounded by mountains. It has a hostel downtown, and seems to attract a lot of young backpackers and die hard hikers. There wasn't much wildlife to be seen in our area other than a few furry little this and thats mumscumbling around the dust and brush. Twelve miles down the road was trailhead access to one very beautiful area full of aspens, rock, and clear flowing streams. The dogs enjoyed the hike through the mountains as much as we did.

James' homemade cigar box guitar
 While I waited for Hana to get off work I finished constructing my first cigar box guitar. It holds it's tune well, and is designed for playing slide only in open G tuning. Now that I have built one, I have a better idea of what I want to do on the next one, which will be a little more advanced and be electric. The creativity that one can have with these things is limitless, and I can see why some of the people that make them really get a bug for it. I have plans for making four so far.

Next we headed to Lee Vining right outside Yosemite National Park. I was up naturally at 6:30 the first morning, exited to get the day started. The previous night I discovered a spring, and filled up as many jugs as I could. While the few people I asked said it is good water, I had a little rumbling going on in my stomach. Overall it is great water, and I am not sure if the rumbling was even from that, or the small amounts of chlorine in the municipal water that comes from a well. I am taking the precaution to boil the water, and am always thankful when I can find a good spring, considering all of the things added to water these days. We usually fill our jugs with reverse osmosis water that can be found at a variety of health stores, and even at some Walmart stores. The downside is that there isn't one in every town, and you are relying on the store itself to change out the filters when they are supposed to. I recently discovered one study that found 1 out of 15 water refill stations in California actually had true purified water. We are now going to purchase a two gallon Berkey purifier which will get out 99.99 percent of what you don't want in your water, plus an extra set of filters that specialize in removing 95 percent of the flouride that has been added to the water.

We headed into Yosemite which really lived up to my expectations as far as scenery goes. After driving around a bit we found a trail that we wanted to hike, only to find a sign that had a picture of a dog with a red Ghost Busters circle around it with a slash. We stopped to asked the rangers if there was anywhere that dogs were allowed, and the answer we got was a very abrupt "This is not a dog friendly park!" When I asked why, we were told it's because they hurt the wildlife and spread disease. I found this highly debatable, but I could not get a word in with the ranger who cut me off to preach about what a threat dogs are to wildlife. I imagine an off-leash dog may get a squirrel here and there, but I know the cars driving through get more than a few. One thing that was mentioned to us is that a lot of black bears and other animals are killed in the park by cars...and maybe an occasional off-leash yorkie.

Since I have already written a pretty lengthy blog so far, I am going to save my rant about all of these regulations and attempts to "preserve" our forests. I am sure I will have another opportunity later. I have never read in my cowboy stories about dudes that probably looked like an unshaven Clint Eastwood with names like Hondo having to stop and pay some snively ranger a hefty fee to ride through the trails and be told to leave their dogs behind.

Frozen lake at the top of Saddle Bag Mountain, Yosemite (It was snowing up there!).
 We are now in the season where we are seeing rental rvs everywhere, and crowds taking pictures of deer like they have never seen them before. As beautiful as it all is, it just makes us want to avoid the popular parks and head for the more secluded places to hike with our dogs at our side. 

Contemplating that mountain view
One final note, in his seven years of age Frankie has managed to be the angel of death for one squirrel in northern Michigan a couple weeks before we left on this journey. I have add he had finally gotten the squirrel after years of being restrained from doing so by a leash. I have decided that should he ever get a fat one I would skin it and fry it up for him, and may have a little myself. I will also add that he happened to get it on a day that I woke up early and stood in the rain getting soaked for four hours at the dam in Elk Rapids, MI trying to get a salmon. When my hands were so wet and cold that I could barely move them I decided to stop. Once I was warm and dry I got the bug again and fished in the rain for three more hours for one big chinook that I spotted the day before in the Jordan River. I cast at him for three hours, almost getting him a couple of times. When I finally hooked him I got the fight I expected, but after ten minutes the tough rascal had tangled my line and my heart around a log and got away. The first thing I heard when I got back with my not-so -victorious fishing story that nobody wants to hear was, "Frankie killed a squirrel today!" I think that was one of the only moments in my life that I looked at a dog with true unbridled jealousy. 


Not our usual Sunday post, as we're getting tossed around here and there in California trying to avoid the 100+ degree weather in most areas, as well as struggling to find parks that aren't completely booked now that the summer camping season has kicked in. We've already had to move 4 times in the last 2-ish weeks! After Yosemite we headed to nearby Lake Tahoe (which was much more pristine and beautiful than I expected) to spend Memorial Day:

Lake Tahoe