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Friday, May 29, 2015

IT'S SNOWING IN ARIZONA


It is time to head on towards Flagstaff for the Overland Vehicle Expo. So another session of map planning – we always look for back roads and scenic routes – we find one – a section of Route 66. But first is an awesome drive through dry sandy desert, crazy plants & weird escarpments. Finally off our back roads and onto the main motorway: Rte 40. When we reach the Colorado River, we turn off the motorway onto our historic route. This section is a bit rough & deserted, but by the time we reach Oatman we find the tourists. The town is straight out of the mining days- with old time shops, mock mines, tourist tat, burros (donkeys) & even a shootout on the main road. After lunch in the local bar we head into the Black Mountains – a very scenic, narrow part of route 66. At Kingman we stop to tour the museums, especially the Route 66 one. Then on to find a spot for the night. Fifty trains go past every day so we want to be a bit away from the railway line – end up not far from the road, but most of this flat area is farmed.

That evening we check out camping details for the Expo and discover that we were expected today (Thursday) or by 8am tomorrow as we are (VIP Traveler’s). Woops, we are still over 200km away. We wake early – mainly because it is so cold & a bit noisy - so decide to head off. Back to the motorway as soon as we can. The road starts to climb, and we see why the night was cold. There is lots of fresh snow, with more to come. Traffic slows down & only one lane is clear. As we reach Flagstaff we see snow ploughs heading out. We reach Mormon Lake (where the show is) before 8am. The grounds are pretty waterlogged – we find our soggy site & settle in. John heads off to explore while I stay nice & warm inside catching up on some computer work. Eventually I head out for some talks. In the evening it is way too cold to head to the outside fireside chats. That night it snows!! Brrrr. The place looks magic covered with snow, but it doesn’t take long to turn into massive muddy puddles. Despite this we go to lots of forums & presentations, see lots of overland vehicles & meet lots of people – including a few Aussies in their vehicles. We really enjoyed the expo with many likeminded folk and lots of interesting vehicles.

Sunday the show winds up with a BBQ. We decide to stay put for the night. Lots have left – lots have to be towed out. Monday morning we head back to Flagstaff to replenish our supplies. We spy an appliance repair shop, so drop off our washing machine (which we still haven’t been able to repair) and head off to meet our friends Johan & Anne who we met in Alaska last year. The rest of the day is spent with them – we even sleep outside their Wyndham unit for the night. (Guess what kids – we even went to a Wyndham presentation!)

Heading off the next morning we are “back on the road”. First stop Sedona (very highly recommended by Elizabeth). The drive descends through a glorious canyon to a landscape full of brilliant red escarpments that get more jaw dropping as we head into town. Sedona town is a lovely tourist strip full of many ways to part with your money. There are heaps of tourists & heaps of hotels. After loading up with more paper from the info centre we head off to explore. There are numerous scenic back roads – mainly dirt – that we explore. The other tourists are doing the trip in open back jeeps. It is a full day with lots of driving, trekking & sightseeing before we end up in a BLM area to disperse camp for the night.

Back to Flagstaff. Our washing machine can’t be repaired, so we collect it & head on to Walnut Canyon National Monument. We walk down many, many steps to look at some of the Indian cave dwellings perched under ledges of rock. There are 100’s of them here. Then back up those stairs for a well earned lunch in GR2. Next stop Meteor Canyon. As this is privately owned our National Park pass doesn’t work, & it costs $16ea (even as seniors!) So we make sure we see the movie, go on the guided tour (was that “Baaa” you said John?). As usual the day has raced by & we had planned to tour the Petrified Forrest as well. Oh well, we carry on and are suitably pleased to see a free camping ground at the entrance. What perfect timing. We stop beside Aussies in their RV. What a small world.

We thought we would just buzz through the Petrified Forrest – how wrong we were. Lots of stops, lots of walks before the better part of the day is over. Obviously we enjoyed it more than expected, especially the Painted Desert. By 2.30pm we are back onto the motorway and into the Indian Reservation area. There are so many red rock formations I have to stop myself taking too many photos. They are amazing.  Find a great spot beside a lake to camp, but decide to carry on as the weather is so gorgeous - We are heading to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. As we approach the landscape is flat with lots of scruffy plants. We head down to the first vista point and wow we are blown away by this canyon. It is truly gorgeous. We stop at all the lookouts & even glimpse lots of cliff dwellings, before evening approaches. My Lonely Planet says there is free camping near the visitor centre at Chinile so we head there for the night.

Another day dawns bright & sunny so we head off early to have breakfast at one of the many lookouts on the south side of the canyon. There is a walk down into the canyon, but as it takes 2 hours (probably much more with John prodding me with a stick) we decide to head on. Back in town we restock with food & stop at the local flea market – more trash than treasure, before heading on through Indian farming/reservation with untold red rock formations. Our planned destination is Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Because it is Indian owned our National Park card will not work. So in we head at $20 per vehicle. The signs say no RV’s or trucks on their road around the monuments – as it is a rough Indian road. We head off on the 18km drive. The other poor suckers who can’t drive on it have to pay out for a trip on the back of a jeep – all open air. And the drive is pretty dusty! We spent the rest of the day exploring – amazing. There is an RV park inside the grounds, but at $45 a pop – we head on out. Further down the road we pass Mexican Hat – an interesting rock formation. There is a little road to it – so we head off and find a magic spot for the night along with a few other campers. On our way here we have crossed the border – Utah coming next.

 

 

ARIZONA - PHOTOS

Yes we are on Historic Route 66

Gun action at Oatman - on the tourist track

Driving over the black mountains - route 66 - just after Oatman

A wild burro - the rest were in town getting fed by tourists

On our way to Flagstaff

And yes there was lots of snow - when does summer start here?

At the Overland Expo

This is what it turned into - some of the Aussie vans for sale here

Sedona's red rocks - I have 100's of photos

One of the back tracks in Sedona

Even more of Sedona

Indian cave dwellings at Walnut Canyon

The Meteor site

Petrified Wood National Park

A lovely walk in the Petrified Park

Driving in the Petrified Park

Back on the main road - red rocks everywhere

Canyon de Chully

Indian cliff dwellings

Even more

Wow

I know - even more

Last one I promise

On to Monument Valley Tribal Navajo Park

More views in Monument Valley

Yet more!

Mexican Hat

Driving in to our lovely camp spot behind Mexican Hat

Monday, May 25, 2015

NAVIGATING NEVADA


Despite the title we are still actually in California. Camping beside an abandoned hut, just south of Bodie- a ghost town.  We arrived at 4.30pm & did a quick rush around. Decided it was too interesting to miss so have camped down the road. Then we are back waiting at the entry gate by 9am. Amazingly there are others there too. Quite a surprise as this place really is off the beaten track. Spend a few hours exploring. Sadly the mine itself is off limits, but we can poke around pretty much anywhere else.

Tioga Pass is waiting. We don’t want to camp up there overnight at 11,000ft, so we head back to Lee Vining, via Cottonwood Canyon Rd -the dirt road back, and then on into Yosemite via the Tioga Pass. The weather is magic and the scenery breathtaking. We are surprised at the number of vehicles. Don’t know how they all knew that it had opened! It is a fabulous drive up to the pass, then on past shimmering alpine lakes & immense granite outcrops. We finally reach the lovely Tuolume Meadows where we sit and have lunch. Leaving the meadows we are surrounded by trees & rocky outcrops. Every now and then we see how huge they really are. A final lookout over Half Dome, the peak we saw in Yosemite Valley, before we head down & out of the park.

My idea had been to turn around and head back out the same way, but John suggests we should cross the Sierras via another mountain pass, so we continue to head down into the valleys, exploring a few more old mining towns – Sonora & Colombia. Start heading up the next pass – the 108 or Sonora Pass. It is getting late so we start looking for a spot, but because it is so steep it takes a while. Finally we settle in a carpark at a closed ski resort at the end of Dodge Ridge Loop Rd.

An early start means we can stop for breakfast at an outlook and walk. The rest of the drive is pretty step (parts are 25%) And very windy. No wonder trucks, large motorhomes & caravans are banned. It doesn’t take long to reach the snowline, and eventually the pass. Before we know it we are back on the 395 heading north. Next stop- Carsen City in Nevada. It takes a lot of looking, but we finally find the elusive Info Centre & check out what to do in town. Then head off on a walking tour. Of course there are numerous glitzy Casinos, but there are some lovely old homes as well. Decide to stay for dinner in town, visiting the recommended Red’s BBQ & Grill. The ribs were ultra yummy & we loved all the stagecoaches & carts strung up in the ceiling. We come away full to bursting – and we shared one meal! A quiet night at Hotel Walmart.

Boy is it chilly when we get up. We even have a scattering of snow & more is forecast. Crazy thing is we are booked in to get the air conditioner serviced. Anyway, once that chore is done we head to the Nevada State Museum as it is such a gray cold day. It is surprisingly good, especially the replica mine. We end up spending hours there.

At the Info Centre we heard about America’s Loneliest Road – that sounds like us, so that is where we plan to head – directly east. But first, as we are so close to Lake Tahoe, I suggest we do a quick loop over the mountains to see it. Half way up we reach fresh snow – dripping off trees & covering the ground. It was a big fall. There is some really lovely real estate near the lakes edge, then some driving on the lakes edge before it starts snowing. Time to get out of here. Back another pass and onto our Lonely Road. Nighttime stop this time right on the beach at Lake Lahortan – not the prettiest lake as the water is low & weather cold, gray & windy.

So far there have been lots of suburbs & towns, but they slowly thin out. The road is long, flat & pretty straight, but not boring.  Next stop is Sandhill National Reserve. There are lots of huge motorhomes with quads & motorbikes, all enjoying the dunes...would have hung around longer if someone had offered John a ride!  Pity about the continuing cloudy, wet & even snowy weather. We pass heaps of tiny mining towns, some dying off & others still busy mining. At Eureka there is a hot rod race on. We try hunting it down. The race has been cancelled & we only find a few cars. Oh well, we won’t hang around to wait any longer. We end up a great little (free) campground at Illipah Reservoir overlooking the lake & some wild horses. Pity it is too cold to bother having a campfire.

More scattered mining towns follow, before we end our stretch on the Lonely Rd to head south – to hopefully somewhere warmer. John has even purchased a beanie to keep his head warm. We had toyed with heading into Great Basin Nat Pk, but the wet weather isn’t conducive to long hikes. So time to head south to sun…. Stops today include the Ward Charcoal Ovens, Pioche & finally Cathedral Gorge State Park. We walk through the gorge from the lookout, find the camping area & decide to camp there so we can do a bigger walk the next day. It really is a gorgeous place – lots of photos as usual. We are more than glad of our tramping boots as it rained heavily in the night & most of the track is pretty muddy.

Late morning we head out & on. A quick stop at Kershaw-Ryan Regional Pk – conned the ranger to let us drive in & out for free. The drive south has been pretty awesome with some amazing canyon scenery. We plan to get to Valley of Fire tonight, but at one of our stops we meet Karen & Tom in their restored Oldsmobile. We go back to their house for a chat & they tell us about a free camping spot just before the park. So this is where we head for the night.

An early start to explore the Valley of Fire – it gets pretty hot walking on these sandy tracks. Amazingly we catch up with Spoke & Norma (who we met about a week ago). Lots of great red rock – finally enough & we head on to Vegas. We had decided to camp at Circus Circus (like we did years ago with the kids), but they had an event on, so were closed. A bus driver said to go to Bally’s on the Strip where we could camp free for up to 2 weeks. (One night in Vegas will be enough for us)

Last minute tickets for a show, dinner, walk the Strip then decide it would be fun to drive it at midnight. So we do. Crazy crazy place – even on a Monday night. A few chores the next day before we head out. Next destination is Death Valley. We want to be as close as possible for the night so that we don’t spend night inside- weather wise it is warming up there (plus we are due at Flagstaff soon for the Overland Expo) We overnight near Big Dune, not far from Beatty.

A few people have recommended the one way road through Titus Gorge into Death Valley, so we head off bright & early. First a short detour to Rhyolite Ghost Town – not much left and it’s all fenced off, before hitting the corrugated gravel. Phew! John lets the tyres down. Once we get to the hills it is magic. We only see one other car. The final part through the rocky canyon is amazing – definitely only one way and just enough room for us. We pop out with a great view over Death Valley. One of our great drives – thank you to friends who recommended it. Next stop the dunes where it is blowing a gale – sand everywhere and lots of tourist buses. Another great side road is the Artists’ Drive – also one way, smaller vehicles only. Again lots of photos. A few more stops, and finally the long drive out. Phew, time to stop for the night.

Stay tuned….more to come And yet more snow in Arizona!

 

 

NEVADA - PHOTOS

Bodie State Park

Bodie township

Bodie Mine

More of Bodie

Driving up the Tioga Pass

Wow - lake at the top of the Tioga Pass

Frozen lake

Tuolumne Meadows

More of those granite peaks

The Half Dome from Tioga Pass

Snow on our way to Tahoe Lake

Tahoe Lake

National Park area at Tahoe Lake

Campsite at Lake Lahortan

The Loneliest Road in America

Sand Mountain

John wouldn't mind a ride!!!

And yes it is snowing

Town of Austin

Eureka

Wild horses from our campsite at Illipah

Mining at Ruth

Ward Charcoal Ovens



Cathedral Gorge

Inside the gorge

Walking in the gorge

Valley of Fire

Us at Valley of Fire

Exploring

It's pretty hot

Finally Vegas

More of Vegas

Yet more of Vegas

Driving into Death Valley - ruins of Leadfield

Amazing Titus Canyon

Will we fit!!!  One way only - thank goodness

Dunes in Death Valley

Old mining gear

Gorgeous Artist's palette

Pretty windy!

Finally the lowest point