A Traveler and his Cat exploring America.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Hot Night at the Brothel

After a few more nights in Death Valley, we moved on to new adventures. We meandered up Highway 395 visiting the Japanese Internment Camp at Manzanar then stayed at various campsites along the base of the Sierra Mountains. Each of these campsites afforded spectacular views of the snow covered eastern slopes and each camp had an icy cold trout laden stream running through it. Best of all the weather was ideal, sunny with very dry air during the day and the nighttime temperatures never became bad at all. Yet days later when we arrived at Mono Lake there was snow on the ground and I knew this would not do. I had planned on staying a couple days around the lake but now that was out of the question. Not only that, but Tioga pass through Yosemite was still closed so an alternate plan had to be devised. After lunch at the lake, we turned east for Nevada and lower elevations. This was a good decision as we spent a very pleasant evening at Walker Lake some 3000’ lower than Mono Lake.

The next day we blew on down the Highway 50, “Loneliest Highway in America”, another one of my favorites. This was a bad decision. I say we blew down the road for the strong tailwinds out of the west made for great travelling. Yet our intended camp for the evening, Sand Mountain, was infested with off-roaders and their ATV’s. Being the middle of the week, I thought we would be okay there. Doesn’t anybody work anymore? So after lunch I turned around and fought 30 mph winds all the way back to Fallon and beyond to Lahontan Reservoir, the nearest available camp area. The last 10 miles were the worst being buffeted all about on a two-lane road with sand blasting us head on. The camps were situated on the beaches at the lake. Fortunately a site was located behind a large dense ground-hugging tree and this afforded us protection from the now 40 mph winds coming in off the lake. The following morning was quiet and still.

Oh, and the brothel? On the way out Hwy 50, I was surprised to see the Salt Wells House of Sensual Pleasures had burned to the ground. Located about 10 miles out from Fallon it had always been a landmark to look forward in seeing. Not only did I wonder under what circumstances did this fire begin, but no doubt the disappointment of returning customers who had driven all the way out there to have their pencil sharpened only to discover their little secret place in ashes. Hmm…now I will have to come up with some other way to celebrate my upcoming 60th birthday.

Oh the stories these mattress springs could tell.

Now our month long road trip chasing desert flowers draws to a close and we work our way back home. I will take a month to re-group and take care of business at home and hopefully will be back on the road come May.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Martin and the Swiss Miss

We left camp at Texas Spring above the Furnace Creek complex this morning and continued our leisurely pace to the north end of the Death Valley. The first point of interest was the Salt Creek turn-off. I hesitated at first since I’ve seen it several times but turned anyway just to kill some time and see how the desert pupfish were doing. Two bicyclists were parked at the beginning of the dirt road and the guy asked me if they could get a ride in. They were not too keen having autos kick up a lot of dirt on them as they whizzed by on the mile and half long washboard track. I said sure, get in and Sinbad ducked under the covers in back.
They were Martin and Franziska (Fran-chess-ka) from Switzerland. Both spoke English well enough but conversed back and forth in German as we drove in and walked the boardwalk. Martin earlier said if I wanted to hurry along that they could find a ride out with someone else, but I assured him I had nowhere to go and all day to get there.
They had flown in to Los Angeles and hired a taxi to take them out of the city. I thought that quite smart and now wish I had asked where the taxi dropped them off at. Their goal is to hit as many National Parks as they can in 5 ½ months on a route that loops down south then north up to the Yukon. I asked why the Yukon but I think pretty much was because it is there. Franziska was looking forward to seeing Las Vegas after Death Valley. That will be an overwhelming experience for her. From there they will go down to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier/Jasper and I’m sure others she didn’t mention, including the Grand Canyon no doubt. They average around 50 miles a day. Martin who was 32 (Franziska a few years younger) had been to the states before with friends in a rented RV, but it was Franziska’s first time.
I asked about preparation for this along with how Europeans are able to get so much time off to travel as they do, whereas Americans can’t seem to get it together. In their case they quit their jobs for this trip. Martin explained that Europeans for the most part work and save for things like this. They, especially the Swiss, Germans and Dutch, save their money to care for family, to be prepared for any unexpected financial needs and to travel. “Europeans love to travel and see the world. I think Americans spend all their money as soon as they get it and don’t plan.” He nailed that pretty well I thought.
They planned for a year for this trip. Most of the information they needed to know as to expenses, best places to go and stay and the best way to go about accomplishing thier goal was available from books and guides (and the Internet of course) written by other Europeans who had bicycled in the U.S. Other than the flight over here and shipping of their bicycles and gear, the only expenses they really face are camp fees and food which Franziska was quick to add “ lots of pasta, bananas and water”. I offered them some sodas at the end but they declined.
As we walked the boardwalk they both had camera bags with them but only Martin pulled his out. I asked if he would like me to take a photo of them together with his camera and he said okay while gingerly handing over his expensive Canon with a large zoom lens to me. Damn, that thing weighed over twice as much as my SLR and I wondered about him lugging this thing around on a bicycle. I took one shot and then went to take another at a different angle when he quickly stopped me. “It’s not a digital! It has film in it and I don’t have that many shots available.” Well, I could appreciate someone wanting to shoot slides but on a trip like this, riding a bicycle, that seemed hardly appropriate. With the small 10-mega pixel cameras the size of a pack of cigarettes they make now, he could take thousands of pictures of equal quality which would leave lots of room for more pasta and bananas.
They were a very nice and friendly couple. With more time I could have found out more, like what Franziska’s early impressions of America was, and what their thoughts of Americans in general were, but I didn't want to grill them too hard. I bid them a safe trip and sent them on their way south while we continued on to Mesquite Campground near Scotty’s castle and Sinbad crawled out from beneath the covers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What difference a week makes! We came back through Joshua Tree National Park and the place has exploded with flowers of all colors, so much so that we encountered a couple of flower jams along the way. Come on people, pull off of the road all the way. Leaving half your car on the pavement makes it an interesting process trying to pilot a small house down a narrow two-lane road when an even bigger house is approaching from the opposite direction. Further on were valleys full of Joshua Trees just bursting with blossoms that should be opening by the end of the week.
We left the park at the Twentynine Palms entrance traveling north from there towards Amboy on old Route 66. The historical gas station/motel in Amboy, has long been vacant for many years. An enterprising individual in just the past month purchased, renovated and re-opened Roys for business once again. A side trip along the original Route 66 from Ludlow off of I-40 east of Barstow is only 8 miles longer than driving the Interstate and a lot more interesting.
We crossed under I-40 and continued north into the new Mojave National Preserve staying the night at Kelso where the park service has restored the old railroad depot there. This entire area nestled between interstates 40 and 15 eastward to the Nevada border deserves some more exploration in a future road trip, but for now, onward to Death Valley and see what surprises it holds in store for us.
The Future is already here!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Chasing Desert Wildflowers

Tread Lightly.

The Flowers will LOVE YOU!

March 2008

Our first stop on the Desert Flower Tour would be the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve west of Lancaster. Expecting the hills to be carpeted with bright orange flowers I was surprised to find none at all. In fact no one was there; we had the place all to ourselves. Evidently it is too early in the year for them. So, I ate breakfast took Sinbad for a walk and on the drive out I finally spotting one lonely poppy by the road’s edge. Lucky me! I was witness to the blooming of the first poppy of the season and everyone else missed it.

Retracing our tracks from a few months before, we motored on to Joshua Tree National Park. Entering Joshua Tree will be an experience I will never forget, for we drove in FREE of the $15 entrance fee, thanks to my Annual National Parks Pass given to me by my daughter for Christmas. I felt like a VIP as the Ranger swiped my card, verified my ID and wished me a pleasant visit. “Don’t I get a map and park newsletter?” I asked. Since I wasn’t handing over any money, perhaps he felt I wasn’t entitled to the automatic free handouts.

So here I am, in the park, driving along at my usual traffic impeding pace and there is not single wildflower to be seen. What is going on here? I wondered. We camped for the night and left the following morning continuing our search for the ever-elusive desert wildflowers. Once we crossed over the ridge at Sheep’s Pass and dropped down on the southern slopes the flowers began to appear. Faints patches here and there of small little violet colored blossoms and little more. I reasoned the further south we go, the more flowers we would see…hopefully.

We arrived at the Cottonwood Visitor Center at the south entrance to the park an hour earlier than last time, thus it was open, not closed for lunch as before. Inside the place was packed with each and every visitor asking, “Where do we go to see the flowers?” I could tell the Ranger lady’s patience was at its ragged end, no doubt having answered this question so many times already, and here her day wasn’t even half over. To the other Ranger lady standing there with glazed eyes I asked “What are the people doing alongside the road with the little black trash bags bundled up along the way?” She was very happy to answer something that it seemed no one had asked before. “I believe biologists and volunteers are in the process of removing exotic plant life from the park.” Sounds like a fun thing to do on a nice spring day in the desert.
I wrestled with the idea of staying at the campground here rather than to rush off southward. After several passes through the two loops of Cottonwood campground, not finding anything that promising or level and not relishing the idea of parting with $12, I decided to head for Anza Borrego as the day was still young. As soon as we crossed the Joshua Tree park boundary I noticed some boondockers on a side road. I had not noticed this area the last time through here. We drove in, liked what we saw and made camp for the night.

We spent the flowing week exploring Anza Borrego where the wildflowers of all varieties were abundant. It wasn’t till we ventured to the southern portion of the park did I finally discover some barrel cacti, cholla, hedgehog and beavertail cactus in bloom. All are in their early stages and I’m sure come April they will be in their full glory.

Desert Sand Verbena


Desert Lily

My desert guidebook doesn't show all the flowers that I have seen and photographed and this here is just one of the many unknowns. I plan to go to the visitor center after posting this into the blog and see if I can ID some of these unknowns. I fear though the visitor center may be like walking into a K-Mart during a blue light special being it Sunday and the weekenders are here.


Barrel Cactus