September has always been my favorite month, not only because it is my birth month, but also because it heralded the beginning of a new school year, it (usually) has the best weather nationwide, and, these days, it is often the month in which we take our Big Vacation.
This year’s Big Vacation was so big in so many ways, that I’ll have to break it up into sections with headings so as not to overwhelm you with its bigness and allow you to have coffee and stretch breaks. The post title already gives away the ultimate destination, but first we have to get there.
This was an RVing trip, the distance of which necessitated about 2.5 days of travel. Our first stop was a small Oregon State Park that we had read about on other folks’ RV blogs, and it seemed like it would suit our needs.
Hilgard Junction State Park
This modest park is literally at the roadside of the highway and has no hookups, but it is pretty, the sites are nice, the bathrooms are clean, and at $10 the price is right.
The end loop is all ours!
It was pleasantly quiet despite its proximity to the road.
I knew from web reviews and satellite web maps that it also abutted a fire road on the opposite side of the Grande Ronde River, and on which we’d be able to stretch our legs.
We chose a two-mile morning stroll along the Grande Ronde.
I enjoyed saying Grahn-day Rahn-day a lot, even though that’s not how it’s pronounced. It should be, though, because that’s how we say Grahn-day when we order a Lah-tay, and it’s just plain more fun. There was only so much time for my shenanigans since we had to move along to our next overnight in Idaho with a few housekeeping stops along the way.
What we hadn’t planned on was the time change and losing an hour to Mountain Time. Even though the shopping stop was relatively quick, I had mysteriously failed to print out or write down the exact directions to the RV park we wanted, and we spent some frustrating time getting to it. If you’re wondering why we didn’t just use our Smart Phones, it’s because we don’t have them nor the traveling internet capabilities we will one day have for full-timing. Pre-planning is still crucial, and I’d missed some details.
Rock Creek RV Park, Twin Falls ID
This is a lovely city-owned park with electric hookups, modern facilities, and plenty of connecting trails on which to work out the kinks of a too-long day in the RV. It’s another bargain at only $15 a pop.
Hide and seek for my rooster rock!
I remembered to place one of my Festones, something I would only be able to do in a few places along the way when we weren’t on state or federal property. Again, there wasn’t too much time to dally since we were planning on reaching our Great Basin destination and needed to stop for groceries in Ely, NV (that’s E’-lee if you don’t want to sound like the out-of-stater you are) the closest place to the park, at 60 miles, to get such provisions. We were also very happy that the time zone changed back to PST along the way. Little did we know that more frustration was looming.
One of the draws of Great Basin N.P. is its remoteness. It is billed as the least-visited of the national parks, and it requires no entrance pass/fee. The closest town is Baker, NV about six miles from the official entrance to the park, and while it has some facilities available so that you won’t freeze, starve, or die of loneliness, you’re also not getting reliable phone service, internet (unless you have your own hotspot, and even then…) or major medical anything. If you’re more into luxury vacations, keep driving south about 300 miles to Vegas. Some would say that compared to those who were tent camping in the park, we were glamping (a descriptor I despise, by the way) in our RV. Comparatively, sure. Overall, not even. But I digress.
Even though we were arriving on a Saturday afternoon — not a time we would normally expect to pull in and find a spot without reservations, which you can’t make at this park — we didn’t anticipate that the wildfires in our state and those surrounding us had pushed vacationers further south than usual, and this park was experiencing an unprecedented visitor rate. In other words, there was no room at the inn. No problem, we thought, and motored back out to the RV park in Baker.
Whispering Elms RV Park
Problem. Also full. Had we not been thrown off our game and nervous about time growing late, we easily could have parked just about anywhere and boondocked for the night. No one in these parts would have batted an eye at that. But what ultimately happened was the staff at this RV park opened a space for us that hadn’t been used in years and was directly in front of the bathroom building and adjacent to a large group of boisterous tent campers. While we appreciated the last-minute accommodations, it was not a good night. At all. What it was, was a lesson in patience, which we will need much more of if our full-time plans are to come to fruition. I will say, though, that the showers had plenty of hot water, and that went a long way towards happier attitudes.
Found my first rock ever!
Good, strong coffee, a nice sunny morning walk, two little roaming dogs, and finding my first painted rock at the Baker P.O. fully restored our happy vacation mind-frames.
Our plan was to check the campground later in the morning, and while we waited for check-out time to near, we stopped into both visitor centers. Great Basin Visitor Center is just outside the park and has better interpretive displays. The larger, better appointed, Lehman Caves Visitor Center is inside the park and has a reputedly good cafe. We put it to the test, TBG having a breakfast quiche while I had a small dish of their smoked pork. Their reputation is well-deserved as both were delicious.
Our first “hike.”
We took advantage of the beautiful weather with a leisurely walk around the nature trail. Then is was time for some campground stalking.
That’s “lee’-man” for you out-of-towners.
There are several campgrounds within the park, but only two in which RVs can fit, and only one that we were interested in. This area has 11 spaces, one of which is reserved for disabled parking, so really just 10 spaces. After many driving and walking loops, reading the site tags to determine how many nights campers were staying, we managed to snag #6 directly on the heels of its previous occupants. This was to be several days of dry camping, and we were excited and nervous about how our supplies would hold out.
Snugged into #6.
“And now, let the wild rumpus start!”
The Hikes, Part I
As part of my studious vacation planning (which greatly enhances my vacation enjoyment and reduces stress immensely, if you were wondering) I had printed out a blank calendar into which TBG and I had penciled which hikes we would do on which days. Some of that was to ensure we didn’t burn out with back-to-back long hikes, and some of it was to allow ourselves to acclimate to the altitude. Nothing was set in stone because there is always unpredictable weather and the vagaries of personal wellness with which to contend. Our first hike, the Alpine Lakes Loop, remained right on schedule.
TBGuide finally gets to do his thing.
A short hike of 2.7 miles to view lakes Teresa and Stella, beginning at an elevation of 9800′ and gaining to one of 10,400′. The elevation manifested in me as a feeling of a lump in my belly with the faintest touch of nausea and in TBG as very slightly labored breathing, but nothing in the least debilitating at all.
Speaking of fickle weather, clouds rolled in during this outing, cooling things off temporarily and spoiling some of our picture-taking. It also seemed to put a damper on our happy, positive attitudes. There was a small argument, a misunderstanding, and then a kindness done by an elderly solo camping neighbor by the name of George Harrison.
Nothing says “Thank you” better than blueberry pancakes and bacon!
After our gratitude breakfast, we set off for the second day of hiking, one that would take in the park’s most famous feature.
TBGuide giddy over three trails in one!
If this sign looks familiar it is because it is the same one as in the first sign picture. Same weird dude, too, with whom I completed all the trails listed on this sign.
The altitude was no longer a problem for either of us. In fact, we both remarked how exhilarated we felt at the start of this hike.
Bristlecone Pine Grove
The species of Bristlecone Pine Pinus longaeva that grows in this park is possibly the oldest living thing on Earth, many living thousands of years — like 4 to 5,000. When we saw the display in the visitor center of the cross-section that was cut in 1964 from which they determined that the tree was 4,000+ years old, we thought, “Why did those @ssholes cut down that tree?!” That’s a question we asked a ranger later on, and the answer was they had no idea it was that old, and the discovery of its age is what led to all bristlecones being protected and new methods to date trees that don’t kill them.
Baby bristlecone <1500 years old.
One of the interpretive signs in the grove describes the bristlecones as having “grotesque beauty” and someone, obviously offended by the word ‘grotesque’ had attempted to scratch it out. But it is the quintessential description of these trees, and it made me sad that not only had the sign been vandalized but that it had been done by an ignoramus.
Hugging the oldest thing I’ll ever lay hands on — humbling.
Spurring off of the Bristlecone Trail is the Glacier Trail, an out-and-back to the only glacier in the park. It is labeled on the map as “Rock Glacier” but we couldn’t tell if that was also its name because it is a rock glacier. Searching the web for its name, I find that it is named Wheeler Peak Glacier, which makes sense but nowhere in the park or on the park maps does it show that it has that official name. I like calling it Rock Glacier because that’s so unimaginatively hilarious.
Sounds like walking on broken china under dazzling blue skies.
Looking back over the valley and at the “amoeba” cloud.
TBG being defiant.
When we reached the elevation sign, TBG spotted some sort of pole further out and decided he needed to investigate, leaving me to do something I’m really foursquare against:
Taking a selfie. Ugh!
I’m not sure which of those snow patches is the glacier — none were very big or at all impressive (sorry, Rock Glacier, we come from Rainier) but the climb up was fun.
Amid the changing aspens.
For the last .4 miles of hiking to make the day’s total 8 miles, we strolled around the Island Forest Nature Trail, a pretty little wheelchair-accessible route with signs and benches along the way.
Our third day dawned with a spectacular sunrise and a warmish wind. We had one more day of “low” hiking planned before the pièce de résistance of our trip.
TBGuide redeems himself.
This trail head is accessed from a different part of the park, and at first we parked along the gravel access road where we saw a trail head into the scrub. It was a short connector trail to where we wanted to be, but we soon discovered that had we driven just a bit further like the one of us who was driving who isn’t in the above photo said we should, we would’ve gotten to the very nice new parking lot, picnic area, and facility. The one who is in the above photo trotted back to the car to bring it to the parking lot proper.
Making maps, signs, brochures, and websites agree on trail mileage seems to be a universal problem and not one unique to our state. Unfortunately. The park’s newspaper lists it as 4 miles. The trail head sign says it’s 2.3 miles to the junction. The sign at the junction says it’s 2.5 miles back to the trail head. Gah!
There were still some splashes of color left to the season no matter what the mileage actually was. There were also nettles, and one got me in the finger which smarted the rest of the day.
Looking down on the canyon trail.
We added another half mile to the hike, making it an even six, by climbing up to the Timber Creek saddle.
High in the saddle.
See that peak directly behind us? That’s Wheeler. Remember that.
A rafter of wild turkeys.
Wild turkeys are everywhere in the park, and I have since learned that they are not native to Nevada at all but were brought in almost 50 years ago for hunting. They are mostly benign, says the web info, but are beginning to be too many in the park where they know they are quite safe. We enjoyed encountering them in the wild and also daily in our campsite, where they even enjoyed a dust bath later this same day.
This hike was only the second one ever in our history of hiking during which we encountered no other humans. When you think back to what I said earlier about this park’s remoteness, that should add a little perspective. We liked the solitude, but if we had needed another human, too bad for us, especially since no matter how nice your electronic devices may be, they don’t work here. I try to think hard enough about stuff like that to be prepared, but not so hard as to be scared. It’s a very, very delicate balance.
When we returned to camp, we took cat baths and did hair washing in the rig, and when I went outside to sit in the sun to dry my hair, I found a lovely note from George Harrison secured under a rock on my chair. What a wonderful man, and an inspirational solo traveler at the age of 88.
And now for the monumental centerpiece of the trip, the part that puts the Big in our Big Vacation.
This was it. The day was here. This is what we had been training for all summer. This was the day we were going to summit Wheeler Peak 13,159′. It wasn’t going to be the most gain we’d ever done in one hike, nor was it going to be the longest in terms of mileage — far from it at only 8.5 miles round trip. But, for me, it was going to be the highest altitude I’d ever done, and for TBG, a close second. And if we didn’t make it on this day, there would be no second chances during this trip because the weather was set to turn the following day. It was now or probably never.
It was now.
It has its own sign and parking lot.
Making it official on the sign-in log.
Golden-orange sunlight blazed the trail.
The first couple miles are not at all hard, which was a nice warm up on the chilly morning.
These ladies wished us luck.
The turning aspens lined our way.
This bachelor herd wasn’t impressed with us at all.
We had seen only one other car in the lot, and about halfway in we met up with the fellow to whom it belonged. He was headed back, but he told us he hadn’t made it due to the wind, cold, and elevation because he was from the Netherlands, below sea-level. He was also concerned about being alone and continuing on not knowing if anyone else was going to be on the trail. We pointed him in the direction of the bristlecones so that his time at the park wouldn’t be a total loss, and undaunted by his tale of woe, we pressed on.
We had removed some of our outer layers after the first mile or so as things warmed up a bit, but at the tree line, we had to duck into a cove for a potty break and to re-don gear. It was here another solo hiker passed us. He carried nothing, wore no backpack, and seemed only to be clothed in a heavy red sweater. We feared for Red Sweater Dude, as we henceforth referred to him.
Past the tree line is when things got serious, not only in more steepness, but in exposure and wind. Oh, the wind! The tree line was around 11,500′ and there was nothing at all to break the vicious wind. While it was a nearly cloudless day, the sun offered paltry warmth in the face of the alpine gale. Not only did it create an extreme windchill factor, the force of it made it difficult to move when it came from the side or head-on. Even a tail-wind, while not as cold, was a bit pushier than was comfortable. After struggling for what probably seemed much longer than it was, TBG motioned towards something to the side of the trail. He may have spoken, too, but hearing was next to impossible.
What he’d spied were rock bivouacs! The complete cessation of the wind when we ducked behind one was amazing. At first it felt warmer, but it wasn’t long before the cold started seeping back in. While TBG tried to call his mom (it was her 80th birthday) I did some sit-swimming to keep my major muscles moving and body warm. Good thing, too, because the time immediately following our exit from the stone shelters was the biggest test of our physical fortitude to come.
The wild blue yonder.
If we thought the wind was cruel before, it was savage upon leaving the bivouac. A ranger told us later that they do not have anemometers on Wheeler, though they believe it gets hurricane-force gusts, but the sustained wind was the hazard. TBG figured later that the temps we experienced with the wind-chill were likely in the upper 20s. As I pushed through this section, I began to shiver and I knew that was one of the early signs of hypothermia. I ran down the list of all the symptoms I could recall in my head, trying to assess if I was in danger. I gave myself simple math problems, then laughed when I realized that if I was suffering mental decline I wouldn’t know if I got the answers right. Surely, I wouldn’t find anything funny if I was suffering from hypothermia, would I? I didn’t believe I had any of the other symptoms, but then I panicked a bit thinking, “That’s how it gets you because you don’t think it’s getting you!”
Against the wind.
I was moments away from putting the kibosh on our dream, and little did I know that TBG was having similar thoughts as he struggled behind me. He confessed to me later that he thought I was going to call it quits at this point so he didn’t although he wanted to.
Then things took a turn for the better. I am never one to be enthused over steep climbs and heights, but both of those things came to my rescue.
Do you see the trail here? No, of course you don’t because you can’t unless you’re right on it. But it’s there, and its increased steepness when I was this >< close to succumbing to crushing defeat got our quadriceps pumping and began to warm us up enough to keep going. The trail also dipped slightly to the leeward side of the mountain. From there onward, it was just a matter of one foot in front of the other.
Red Sweater Dude had passed us on his way back while we were bivouacing, and we met up with another solo hiker at the summit who had passed us on his way up. He said he’d chatted with RSD who told him this was the highest peak he’d ever summited. Whatever, Dude!
Chilled, but victorious.
Looking down on Stella and Teresa Lakes. And everything else.
We did not celebrate long at the top because it was still cold and windy. Descending provided some major belly-laughs, though.
If you look closely at this picture, you will notice just how severely the wind affected what could have been simple walking. See how the wind has plastered my jacket around my left arm and ballooned it on my right? See how it looks like I am stepping with my right foot but the wind has caught my right leg and blown it into my left leg before I can put it back on the ground? Neither of us fell down on this hike, but three times a gust of wind sat me down. Watching one another descend like drunken stumblebums took away what was left of our breath with laughter.
We also had some fun seeing how far into the wind we could lean without falling over. Pretty darn far! We passed a few other couples on their way up who may have thought we were suffering from altitude sickness, we were laughing so much.
Once we were back at the tree line and out of the wind, the rest of the way back was uneventful and peaceful.
Except for one little thing.
When we got back to the campground, TBG realized he’d lost his glasses somewhere along the way. We racked our brains trying to think of the last place we knew he’d had them and could only agree that they’d made it back down to the tree line at least. I would have said so long to them, but he got back in the car, drove back to the trailhead, and hiked back in two miles in search of them. If he’d had his glasses on, he might have seen them hanging on the signpost at the one-mile mark and saved himself two total miles of re-hiking, but as it was he found a note under a rock back at the trailhead (that wasn’t there when he’d first returned) that said a pair of glasses had been turned in and would be waiting at the Visitor Center in the morning. We bandied about the odds of them not being his, and went to sleep with hopeful hearts.
(They were his.)
As predicted, the weather had started to turn overnight, and we awoke to little sun under gray skies. After retrieving his glasses, TBG decided that we should take another hike before precipitation arrived. I was not overly enthused, but since we were unexpectedly suffering no ill effects whatsoever from the previous day’s adventures, I acquiesced.
The ranger said we’d not see any this time of year, but I did!
TLG taking a turn (that’s The Little General, if you must know.)
The Timber Creek Loop was one I’d slated for later in the week, but it’s relatively short distance of just over five miles moved it up in the rotation. The weather notwithstanding, it was not a very enjoyable hike. The first half was a strenuous slog uphill through dark woods. We can get that at home, thankyouverymuch.
A distant sunbreak.
TBG winds his way through the aspens.
Shortly after the above photo was taken, it began to sleet on us. Sleet, I say. By the time we were back at camp, the sleet had turned into fat rain (for those of you not from the PNW, fat rain is what we call big, wet snowflakes — the kind that don’t stick. Not to be confused with what Forrest Gump called fat rain.) But snow was snow, and it made me sad to see it before the Autumnal Equinox had even arrived.
We decided that would be our dinner-out night, and believe it or not, the teeny town of Baker has a nice little restaurant called Kerouac’s
I broke one of my cardinal rules and took a picture of our food. I would have asked the waitress to take a picture of us with our food instead, but due to the weather and the crowded dining room, she was far too busy for me to pester about that. To mitigate my sin of food photography, I have added witty doodles to it.
Our delicious pizzas.
We also had deep-fried Brussels sprouts as an appetizer and shared a peanut butter chocolate-chip cookie à la mode for dessert. It was all quite good, and helped me forget about being cold for a little while.
The next day’s weather, the day of the official Autumnal Equinox, didn’t promise to be much better so we decided it would be Field Trip Day, and we motored off to the Border Inn at the Utah state line. This is where we might have stayed if other sites hadn’t opened up. Our plan was to have lunch there and see about accessing a bit of wifi. We also toted along our shower supplies since they had pay showers there.
The restaurant looked so much like a stereotypical rural Nevada movie set of a rural Nevada restaurant, that I wondered if they ever had filmed a movie scene there. Lunch was good if you ask TBG, not so much if you ask me. They did have free wifi, but it barely worked. No great loss there. We opted out of the showers, which were $5 each ($6 if you needed a towel!) willing to take our chances at the pay showers back in Baker that were only $2 (or free if you weren’t the sort to honor the honor system.) We left without doing any gambling, though I had wanted to.
Our next stop was the Baker Archeological Site, where there is a short interpretive walk with small sign posts and an accompanying booklet that explains all about the Fremont people who lived here long, long ago.
Then we rolled back into Baker to hit the showers, which were large with plenty of hot water. We ran into a young guy who we had met in the parking lot of the summit hike, and with whom we had chatted quite awhile. We never did get his name, but I think of him as Animal Sciences Guy because that’s the degree he had just graduated with and the field in which he was not going to work. Anyhow, he alerted us to the Utah town of Gandy where there was something called a ‘crystal ball’ cave that he said was really cool. We parked that thought in the backs of our minds.
After that, we stopped into T&D’s Grocery Store (liquor and café too!) where we snagged the last dozen eggs and some beer.
As we drove by the P.O. we noticed that my kitty Festone had been found!
Then we headed up the road towards the park, stopping at a roadside attraction we had now passed several times called a Ranching Exhibit.
The Ranching Exhibit
This is all there is to it — a large ramada with benches situated as if to accommodate an audience, and explanatory panels discussing what ranching in the area is all about. I can’t imagine why money was spent on this.
Out behind this exhibit is a very old rusted out car that has been set on posts, so obviously is meant to be a permanent fixture and not just a piece of junk left in the desert.
You can see that there is a cow skull “driving” it, and inside there are two cow shin bones complete with hooves on the pedals. There are no clues as to its origin or why it is where it is. It isn’t even labeled, The Jalopy being the name I gave it. The weird mysteries of remote areas are something I love about being out in them.
That concluded our first day out, and we spent the late afternoon and evening bundled up in the RV eating leftover pizza, reading magazines, downloading photos, and playing Battleship on paper.
Friday was still going to be a spotty weather day, but we took Animal Sciences Guy’s suggestion and headed off to Gandy, UT in search of the Crystal Ball Cave. I don’t think I mentioned that since TBG had done all but one hour of RV driving which had put a hitch in his get-along (sore hip) I was doing all the CRV driving. This particular drive took us down 29 miles of gravel road. The gravel roads here are pretty darn good, though.
Heading towards Gandy.
There was a small arrow sign nailed to a telephone pole that pointed toward where the cave was supposed to be, but after that we never did find it. Not to be thwarted, we found other stuff.
Testing the waters.
During a brief prior wifi connection, TBG got wind of a warm springs pool in the area near the Crystal Ball Cave. It should have been the much harder of the two to find, yet it was what we found right off the bat. The water was quite warm, especially compared to the cold air.
Whether or not we availed ourselves of the spring’s secluded warmth will have to remain one of those remote area mysteries.
On our way back, we popped back into The Border Inn so I could lose a little money on the slots. Except I didn’t, and I cashed out when my $5 became $10. I’m such a high-roller!
I knew when to hold ’em.
It was snowing for real when we got back to the RV, and it was cold, and we were being conservative with the propane because we didn’t really know how much we had left exactly, so we played dice games with our coats and hats on, then got under all the blankets we had, still with most of our clothes on, and went to sleep. I exaggerate only slightly. My new favorite thing to say became, “I caught a chill on Wheeler Peak, and I’ve not been the same since.”
The snow was temporary for the lower elevations, but we were happy to have planned our summit when we did because Wheeler was now snow-covered and was going to remain so until next summer. The sun had mostly returned, though, and it was time to get back in our boots.
The Hikes, Part II
Up until a month or so before our trip, one of the signature hikes in the south end of the park had been closed due to a previous wildfire, but over the summer things had stabilized enough that it had re-opened. We definitely wanted to see the feature — a six-story limestone arch — but all the web descriptions of the access road made us leery. We decided to give it a shot with me at the wheel and figured we’d consider parking further out on the road if necessary and adding those miles to the hike.
To get to this hike, you have to leave the park, drive south for about 25 miles, then head west for just over 12 miles on the gravel road.
This park is very well-signed (just double-check your mileage!)
The gravel road and the southern entrance and trail signs exist exclusively for this hike — there is nothing else in this part of the park. As the web reviews and a ranger had told us, we managed to traverse all but the last mile of the road then had to park and head in on foot. I only bottomed out the hitch once. Yay?
TBG not lingering around large burned trees.
Prior to the trip, I had poured over the types of critters we might espy in the area, and there were a few I was especially eager to spot. I did not think this hike would be the place to see any of them, but I was pleasantly mistaken.
The burned areas were aflutter with bluebirds, who were too happy to sit still for very long. The above photo was captured on the drive back out from the car.
Not really a trail.
Because of the fires and floods the road is gone in places and the wash serves as the trail. There are a few neon pink ties on some trees, but no real trail markers. Paying attention is vital. At least it wasn’t warm enough for snakes.
Once through the wash, the trail proper is rather nice for having been closed for so long, following gentle switchbacks up to the arch.
Best seats in the house.
What you don’t see in this photo is that just to the right of the bench is a sheer drop off into a very deep canyon. Eep.
A closer look.
The sun was playing hide-and-seek, so it was difficult to get a sunny shot of the arch, and soon after we reached the viewing bench, darker clouds began to gather to the north. We weren’t particularly worried about rain or flooding on this day, but it cooled things down considerably and being still for long was not an option. “I caught a chill on Wheeler Peak, and I’ve not been the same since.”
On the way down, despite the sometimes too-cool wind, we stopped to pluck some green cones off the pinyon pine trees. The Great Basin area is also known for its many pinyon pines, and the collecting of their cones and nuts is allowed in the park. We had originally planned to have our approved gunny sacks ready to fill, but as we learned, the collection of pine nuts is a tedious and disappointing venture. It is no wonder at all that they cost so much to buy at the store. During our other walk abouts, we had picked up many a cone with nuts inside, only to discover that all of them were hollow. The meager cones we harvested near Lexington are completely green and sealed, they will have to be put out in the sun to dry and open (if we ever see the sun again at home), and if we get any nuts out of them, they will have be shelled and roasted. As a ranger at the visitor center advised, if you see someone selling pine nuts by the side of the road, be happy they’ve done all the hard work and buy them there.
This shows how deep of a wash flash flooding can create. This is the trail-not-trail that roughly follows what used to be the road.
TBG drove on the way out for expediency, and shortly after we passed a game camera and water storage tank, we heard what we thought was an alarm associated with those things.
“Sorry to alarm you.”
Turns out, it was this rock squirrel with an alarm call so loud we could hear it through closed windows on a rough road.
Safely back out on the main road, I commented that the small cave-like openings I saw in the fields looked like the perfect places for badgers to live. Not two minutes later, we espied something furry in the road up ahead, and I knew within seconds it was a badger. I let TBG know by screaming, “It’s a badger! It’s a !@#$% badger!!” Fortunately for us, and the badger, there was no other traffic on the road.
“Please do not badger me.”
Badgers are not uncommon in the area, but they are good at not being spotted, so it was a real treat not only to see one but to capture it in a photo. Rock on, little badger, stay off the road!
One more day, one more decision to make about which hike(s) to do. With some re-arranging, we had managed to get to almost all of the treks we’d wanted to do, but we differed on which of the leftovers should be our last. Luckily, as trails often do, one of each of our choices were connected in a loop. And we’re off!
TBGuide chooses the Johnson Lake loop.
The day was sunny, but don’t let that fool ya. We were going up to the lake at over 11,000′ and it had snowed.
When I could still feel my feet.
This hike was just under 8 miles, branching up to Johnson Lake, then splitting off to Dead Lake on the way down and back to the trail heads. Once we reached the branch to the lake, we also reached the snow.
Following the bobcat tracks.
In the early 1900s a tungsten mill was built up here between 10-11,000′. The remains of it, the workers’ cabins, and the stable are still here.
Johnson Lake Mill
We had to reach it by foot, but apparently during its heyday, there was a aerial tramway.
Frozen hikers pose at frozen Johnson Lake
We sat on the big, flat rocks for a quick lunch and a slight bit of warming in the sun. It was again too cold to tarry. “I caught a chill at Wheeler Peak, and I’ve not been the same since.”
I don’t know why it’s named Dead Lake, and I don’t need to know. I will assume it is because it’s not an actively fed lake but rather one made from snow melt.
The next morning we headed out. While TBG stopped by the dump station, I drove down for a last shower in Baker. Much to my dismay, there was no hot water this time. It cost me $1 to wash my face with a cold paper towel. Then I drove over to the coffee stand — yes, a coffee stand in Baker! — and got a mocha not only to help warm me up, but to support local business. We hooked up the rig and car in the P. O. lot, made a quick stop at the Visitor Center outside the park, and away we went.
We were not returning home via the same route we came because we had plans to go through Bend, OR and visit an RV dealer there. More on that in a bit.
Our first stop was to be Winnemucca, NV, and we nearly ran out of gas getting there. That was fun.
What really was fun was staying in a big RV park with all the amenities — hot showers, wifi (mostly), and cable TV. We didn’t do much but relax.
I left a calling card.
Our next stop was LaPine State Park in Oregon, home of The Big Tree, or as I liked to call it, La Pine. This park will make our list of places to re-visit when we have more time and our bikes for the large network of beautifully smooth trails. I was adamant that we must see The Big Tree, but we had to wait for an early-morning walk the next day to do it.
Chilly and sunny along the Deschutes River.
From there we headed to Beaver Coach Sales in Bend. One of the owners is a friend of a friend and someone TBG had been in contact with for awhile. Our mission was to look at some types of coaches we hadn’t been able to see before, and for TBG to test drive a big ‘un.
Mission accomplished, and no vehicles were harmed in the test driving. It was not horrible (as I usually find time at any vehicle dealership to be), we loved the staff, and they will be on the lookout for our full-time coach.
Our last stop was at Brooks Memorial S.P. back in our home state, a park we had stayed at prior so couldn’t check off our master list. I remembered liking most of our stay before, although the park isn’t very well-maintained, but I couldn’t remember what it was I hadn’t liked. Oh yeah, it was the price! $1 more than the fancy RV park in Nevada! Pffft.
We reached home the following day before noon, under gray skies (of course), and to a very happy Turtle kitty. Since then I have been doing little else besides laundry and writing this blog. Believe it or not, there are dozens of photos I don’t have room to share, and as many stories I don’t have time to tell.
As always, thank you for virtually rolling along. Now it’s your turn — Go! See! Do!