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!