Jan, Feb, March 2018 Florida to California. Donna, Buddy, Holly and Bill. 2014 Arctic Fox 25R. Twenty miles or so from home we make our traditional first stop at a rest area to see if all is fine with the tow set up. Florida is very good with the rest areas. Next stop is another tradition, the Atchafalaya Louisianna Welcome Center, which allows overnight RV parking. When heading west on a coast to coast run I try and hit Baton Rouge, a notorious bottle neck, on a Saturday. Atchafalaya is 50 miles or so west of Baton Rouge so that works out well. On Sunday it's push through Houston and San Antonio to the welcome center at Boerne, TX, another free overnight spot and another traditional stop for us.
Mondays, after hammering out almost 1,100 miles over the weekend, the goal is always somewhere around Ft. Stockton, a less daunting 300 mile run. Fort Stockton is good for gas and supplies, but bad for overnight spots. Due to this lack of parking availability we push on another 100 miles to Van Horn. In Van Horn there is an old Mexican Restaurant, Chuy's, that welcomes overnight parking in their parking lot. As an added benefit their food is pretty good according to Donna.
After a night in Van Horn we push on a couple more days to our first destination, the Quechan Casino in Winterhaven, CA and their RV parking, which is right at our preferred crossing into Mexico. We are able to leave the RV in their parking lot and drive the mile or so to the crossing into Al Godones. Parking used to be free but now there a nominal fee. I guess cheap by RV park standards but a bit pricey for what you get, a dusty parking area with no facilities. Personally I like it a lot better since they started charging. It's is much less crowded and when it was free there was the usual nasty crowd that heads south for the winter to congregate anywhere that's free. But it was time to catch up on dental and medical supplies so into Al Godones we went. The nice thing about Mexican dental, besides the prices, is its quick. One day for minor, thee days for major work.
From Winterhaven we head west to San Diego and then north to Encinitas. Usually we stop short of the California coast to avoid the congestion but this time we agree to go all the way to brother Rick's place in Encinitas. Getting to his place turned out to be quite the struggle with the traffic and steep hills being the least of worries. Narrow winding roads through the hills, after escaping the congestion of downtown Encinitas, were our nemesis. Rick was difficult to reach by phone, the road signs were difficult to see and of course nobody has any patience with an old fool towing an RV. I turned at what appeared to be the right neighborhood and found the gate combo didn't work, clueing me into the fact I was at the wrong address. As there was no turn around I had to back the truck and RV back out onto the narrow access road. I still feel bad about the lady in the Lexus on her cell phone who had to slow down to almost the speed limit to let me complete my maneuver. A few blocks more and I found a gate that let me in. I thought I was home free but my ordeal was not quite over. Although my RV weighed about half my tow rating I was just barely able to power to the top of the main hill, which is where Rick's estate was located. I tend to be over cautious but I really didn't think the truck was going to make it. Then I had to make a sharp turn from a 1.5 lane road to a one lane drive with no real shoulder to forgive mistakes and plenty of vegetation threatening paint and fiberglass. I managed to squeak in with only a few minor scratches from tree limbs. Then his gate presented it's difficulties. It was timed so a sports car loaded with mall loot could zip through but a lumbering truck and RV? Not so much. The gate closed on my truck. I had to prop it open. Of course the fact that there was 6" clearance on either side of the RV didn't leave me any room for error. Ordeal over? No. I was assured once I got there that there was plenty of room to maneuver and park the rig. Well there simply wasn't. Backing out of that trap wasn't an option so I had no choice but it was extremely tight a steep drop off at the edge of the drive. Eventually I got situated and stayed for a couple of days. I felt like a Beverly Hillbilly come to town and was treated as such.
From Encinitas the itinerary was open. I had a hankering to see Death Valley so that's were we set our sights. I figured a night, maybe two, and then we'd wonder around the desert for a couple more weeks. After a day of pushing though the California congestion we made an overnight at another familiar spot, Black Rock Campground in Joshua Tree. Another long hard day's drive brought us to Death Valley's Furnace Creek Campground just after dark.
Our route to Death Valley had us turn north off of I-15 onto 127. From that point on the scenery was breath taking. What a pleasant drive of several hours. I made the turn to the park just at dusk and it was apparent it would be full on dark when I arrived. About the only thing I hate worse than visiting relatives and driving in coastal California is arriving at a mountain location after dark. Ok, maybe it's not worse than visiting relatives but it's a close second. Along the lengthy route to the park there are several areas of disbursed camping where people just pull over, with permits, and set up camp. I was sorely tempted to pull over, sans permit, and sleep until dawn, allowing a daylight arrival. But at the urging of my mostly sleeping co-pilot I trudged on. As luck would have it the camp ground of choice was a sprawling, mostly empty, gravel parking lot.
Morning presented life in the desert, a beautiful desert. This campground was, like described, just a sprawling gravel lot with a few rest room facilities sprinkled about and a dump station. There are other campgrounds in the park, and a few right next door, offering a lot more amenities, but his is more my style, cheap dry camping. Cheap isn't a financial necessity it just draws a different type of camper. The more expensive camp grounds have more people with more stuff. So this big old gravel pit called Furnace Creek Campground is perfect for me. Yes there are the same percentage, give or take, of inconsiderate obnoxious AHs, but it's a different breed of inconsiderate obnoxious AHs. These are my kind of folks.
What was planned as one or two days turned into twelve. Death Valley and it's environs is a really special place full of beauty and history. The campground, except for one holiday weekend, stayed about 25% to 30% occupied, mostly by Oregonians escaping the miserably weather they are blessed with for such a long time in the winter. I, for my own selfish purposes, like the fact that Oregon has long miserable winters.
Death Valley NP is huge. There are plenty of very different sections of the park but it can take most of a day to get somewhere and back. Want to go see the jets? Scratch a day. Want to go see the kilns? Scratch a day. Need a few groceries? Scratch a day.
Donna provided some drama for not only me but the whole camp ground as it turns out. There's no shortage of rocks in Death Valley. In Furnace Creek people stack them around the borders of their parking space. At night it's pitch black. Donna decided in the middle of the night to visit the rest rooms. As we have facilities in the RV I don't know why but I didn't ask. Of course she didn't bring a flash light and as to be expected her feet found the rocks. Then next thing the rocks found her face. Some time after midnight I awoke to some strange howling noise, barely audible, but audible enough to raise my alarm. I'd been with Donna long enough to suspect the worst. I venture into the blackness, with flashlight in hand as required, to find Donna on the ground screeching, face pulverized by rocks. I got her back to the RV and safely tucked away in bed, if only temporarily. In a few hours she was getting out of bed and falling all over everything. She couldn't stand up and wouldn't stay laying down. She was pretty much dead weight. Certainly I was worried about her situation and wanted to get her to a hospital, but I couldn't get her out of the RV. I called for some help but paramedic assistance was two hours away in the next down and costly, not that cost was a factor but it was there. Those folks contacted the park service who have paramedics in the park and they arrived to provide assistance. It finally was decided they would help get Donna out of the RV and into the truck and then I would drive her to the hospital. I was good with that.
At 2 AM, or 3 AM, a rescue vehicle with all the flashing lights and half a dozen people with flash lights and walkie talkies gets a lot of attention in a camp ground. But we got Donna loaded up, to my relief, and headed for the hospital. It was maybe 30 degrees out. About half way to the hospital Donna announces she's fine and she wasn't going to go to the hospital. I knew she wasn't fine and she was going to the hospital. I sure wasn't going to go back to the park, after all the trouble and excitement, and say false alarm. We had a stalemate. She wasn't going to go and I wasn't going to go back, so I pulled over and we slept in the tuck until daylight. And it was a freezing sleep at that. Every half hour or so I'd crank the truck up to take the chill out and then go back to sleep. In the morning it was off to the hospital where I left Donna for a day or two.
There was other entertainment in the park, pretty much all of which I enjoyed more. Driving up to Father Crowley Overlook to watch the jets practice was one. You find a comfortable spot on the edge of a cliff and every 15 minutes or so a jet or two swoops over the ridge and makes a pass through the valley. That burns a full day with travel included.
Another was a run up to Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. After turning off the main road you are restricted to 25' maximum length vehicle. That is a clue to expect plenty of narrow, winding, hilly roads. About two thirds of the way is a little campground that would be nice to check out but it is tent/van/truck camping only. A little further and the pavement ends and the road gets pretty steep. I was of a mind to turn around but was encouraged to proceed. I've grown fond of the Dodge and it hurts me to see it abused in such a way but sometimes I have little choice but to bear the witness. The kilns are a worthwhile visit, maybe not for a one ton diesel truck, but worthwhile in some more suitable transportation. There's a parking area at the kilns then the trail continues some ways up to a camp ground, no vehicles allowed. At that elevation it was cold and windy and beautiful. It was a very enjoyable stop but the sun was getting low and I didn't want to be navigating that general area in the dark, so down we went. Going up with the truck was difficult but going down that unpaved, steep, rutted, two track made me want to cry. Two wheel drive diesel trucks just aren't suited to that type of travel. There is no restraint once you let off the brake like in a gas vehicle and the weight of the diesel engine gets the truck flying down hill the moment the brakes are released. The truck starts beating itself to death and you have to jamb on the breaks again to stop the acceleration. Each cycle is good for maybe 50 yards at best. And each cycle heats up the brakes even more. I was very happy when we reached the pavement. That burns a full day with travel included.
Another run was to Beatty, NV. I can't say I'd feel like I missed anything if I never went back to that town but Rhyolite, NV, with it's bottle house an a few other interesting things was worth the dive. And on the way back is a 30 mile or so gravel passage though the desert and mountain passes that was well worth the effort. It as another place my truck was ill suited to venture but possibly worth the wear and tear. This burns another full day with travel included.
The hiking in Death Valley is many and varied. I was able to get in quite a few, my favorite probably being Mosaic Canyon. I was able to leave Donna with the dogs at the truck and enjoy this 4 mile hike in solitude. Of course there were others on the trail but the herd thins out quickly starting about 100 yards in. Once again, the problem was the access road, unpaved, rutted and steep. Going up was bad, going down terrible. Another day burned with travel.
Need to get some groceries while staying in Furnace Creek? That means a run in to Pahrump, NV if you don't eat gas station food. There goes another day. And as much as I talk about how unsuited the truck is for certain situations, that's a very small part of it's life. When it comes to hitching up a trailer and hitting decent paved roads the truck excels. For that use I don't think there's a better vehicle on the market.
Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge, just outside the park, is another worthwhile day, IMO. What is left of the original marshlands is hanging on by a thread, victim of human development. Image that. Certainly interesting to see and study. The spring fed salt marshes inside the park are in this same category and worth seeing and pondering.
There was one holiday weekend in the park that the crowd was at maximum capacity. Some years there's a fair overflow on this same holiday, which one escapes me. We were well forewarned about the influx about to happen and to be prepared as need be. Just by lucky chance, from my perspective anyway, on the first afternoon of the arrival of the weekend warrior crowd, bless their hearts, a wind storm like no other seen in our brief time there made an appearance. It was a real blazing howler and in spite of being well prepared with awnings down, chairs and mats put away and stabilizers firmly in place, the RV was rocking and rolling. We had it easy, the tent people suffered terribly, even the experience ones who were well prepared. Whole tents took flight, along with anything not secured. People parked their vehicles upwind to try and get some respite but still the tends were blown flat. The rest rooms ended up filling up with people in sleeping bags trying to find safe haven. By morning things were back to normal except for the crowds. It was not a good weekend to hit the attractions so I stayed close to home. At various spots around the park, and near the restrooms, were areas for getting and using water. The signage made it pretty clear there was to be no dish washing or bathing but as to be expected the miscreants sprinkled throughout the horde paid no heed. I might, probably would, excuse those ignoring the signs and washing dishes in the public sinks is they left the place in at least as clean a condition as they found it, but they didn't.
So it's easy to see how on day turned into twelve at Death Valley. I could have stayed much longer and hope to get back some day. But for reasons that escape me know we pushed on to the Las Vegas area. WE decided to base at Bolder Beach Campground on Lake Meade. This location seemed to provide the best central location for seeing Hoover Dam, Valley of Fire State Park and Las Vegas. It was a nice park and I enjoyed the stay.
First up was Hoover Dam. Interesting and enjoyable enough for the effort, I think.
Valley of Fire State Park. Wow, I could spend days, weeks, there, but I only ended up with a few hours. Still fabulous and if you ever have a chance, go, but leave yourself time to hike and explore.
Las Vegas. Passing though on the Interstate was good enough for me but Donna wanted to donate some money, my money, to some slot machines. So downtown we went to try and find suitable parking to the strip for her to go and complete her mission here on earth. It took me two or three passes to get it done and I got spanked good and proper, but I did finally find some parking. I ended up going the wrong way down one way streets, getting in the bus only lanes, turning where you weren't allowed to turn. At one point I ended up pulling up over a curb and onto a side walk just to get out of the fight and catch my breath. I'm sure plenty of people do as much, or worse, but I wasn't drunk.
I did find a spot to park only a block off the strip so I was reluctant, but willing, to let Donna venture out into the mayhem alone in her condition. Parking was $35 and hour. I almost fertilized the parking lot when I read that. While reading all the fine print I noticed it said you must pay as soon as you leave your vehicle (it was self pay). That was the loophole I was looking for. I never left the vehicle. I had all the entertainment I needed just watching the nut bags coming and going from the parking lot to keep me happy. The most surprising thing of all was Donna returning in what a normal person would consider a reasonable time. And she was satisfied. I wasn't going to argue, I got the heck back to the campground.
From there our next base camp was Davis Campground, just north of Bullhead City. This was another nice government run campground full of northerners escaping winter. It was a nice place to walk the dogs and I think I actually said hi to a couple of people. We used this base to explore a little bit of old route 66, and visit a place I last visited when I was maybe 10, Grand Canyon Caverns. The caverns are in Indian land I imagine and run by Indians. It was a dump, a clean and friendly enough dump, but a dump. I don't suppose a lot of tourist dollars are deposited here so I'm sure the going is tuff. Here Buddy got to play in snow for the last time. As much as he enjoyed snow I was hoping for him to get to play in it one more time.
From there to Oatman, AZ, on old mining town turned tourist trap with a big draw being the donkies that come into town to be fed. I'm sure anyone reading this will be surprised, but I'm not much for tourist traps, but I liked this one OK. I even bought a trinket, which may be a first. Not a blow molded donkey made in China but a carved piece of local red rock.
From there we continue on down the Colorado River, a sad sight indeed, to another fateful encounter with relatives. As my pleasure batting average is zero when visiting relatives, mine or hers, I don't know why I allow myself. But we visited Dona's uncle in Phoenix, that city in the desert that pretends it's a lush city in the tropics. Enough algae clogged artificial lakes and dead grass died green to make any golfer think he's died and gone to heaven. I should have known better but I was coerced into having dinner with them and paid a heavy price over the next few days. Donna seemed to enjoy herself at least.
From our dinner engagement I drove down to Gila Bend to spend the night before a planned trip down to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Free parking again but it was busy. Right on the highway with a big truck stop across the street and trains running on the other side of our parking. And considering the lack of ambiance it was surprisingly crowded with RVs. But I was miserable from the effects of the meal so any place would have seemed bad.
Organ Pipe is a really nice desert camp ground. I got in several good hikes, one a big one of 11 miles. You get out in the hills a couple of miles from camp and it seems like you are alone on the planet. I can't image what it was like when a donkey with a few supplies was the normal mode of transport. All was going peachy, then Dona managed to get bit buy a Brown Recluse spider. They apparently are very rare in that location but Donna managed to find one. Perhaps it had been traveling with us anyway. By the next day it was clear we had to find a hospital for her, again. The closest with the necessary facilities was Tucson so off to Tucson we headed.
Passing through a big city on the interstate with an RV is nerve wracking enough but going places in town on local roads during business hours can be really rough. By the time I got it all done I was mentally exhausted but I had to get the heck out of town and find a place for the dogs and I to spend a night or two. Somehow I managed to get tangled up in mile after mile of road construction. It seemed like it would never end. I finally found a gas station I felt comfortable pulling into, then found a lot next door I could park in for a few minutes, just to catch my breath and try and come up with a plan and target location.
I found a casino a reasonable distance from the hospital and settled in for a few nights. I may have been in a Casino parking lot but I was relieved to be alone to unwind. It was a nice few days of nothingness, just the two dogs and me.
By the time Donna was ready to be discharged home was beginning to call. Tucson is on the eastern edge of the area I generally roam out west, for no good reason really. In order to get through Houston and Baton Rouge on the weekend, a must for me, we had a day and a half to spare or we'd need to wait another week. I picked her up in the morning and used the rest of the day to run due south from Tucson to the border crossing at Nogales to see if that may suit our Mexican needs and be a day closer than Los Algodones. We got there with a couple hours of daylight to spare so the plan was Donna go across first to check things out and return in an hour to give me a change to go across for a bit. Somebody had to stay in the truck with the dogs.
So I walked the feeble Donna to the crossing and watched her disappear into Nogales. I can't say I wasn't worried about her going there alone in her condition. Then her hour passed. Then another hour passed. Now it was dark and she had been gone for two and a half hours. I was getting pretty frantic and helpless to do much about it. I couldn't leave the dogs, I couldn't call her and I was reluctant to call the police. Eventually Donna emerged with a likely story.
The next morning we left from the casino parking lot and headed to Tombstone, AZ. That area of AZ is crisscrossed with scenic drives. The plan was to see Tombstone then head south and east on a scenic trail before turning north and hitting I-10. That all went as planned actually. Tombstone was worthwhile. Donna wanted to tourist trap shop and see the shows, which she did. I was fine just walking through and seeing the place.
The scenic drives from Tombstone to NM to I-10 were all very nice. I could spend several days checking that area out. As beautiful as it was it was very sparsely traveled. That may be part of what made it beautiful to me. Once I hit I-10 I set my sights on getting home, stopping at our usual places for overnights along the way.