A Stop in Barstow, then on to Boulder City

Boulder City, NV

On our final day in Lone Pine, CA we went over to the nearby Mt. Whitney Golf Course to play nine holes.  We played this course two years ago with Dave and Sue and enjoyed the course and the great views of the nearby mountains.  The course is not in very good shape now, but the views are just as beautiful.

Tough to focus on golf with this view of Mt. Whitney

The caddie enjoyed the view more than the golf!

The day after golf we headed south on US 395.  Our destination was Boulder City, NV but the drive of over 300 miles is much too long for us.  So we booked a site in a small RV park outside of Barstow, CA (halfway to Boulder City) for two nights.  There is not much to do or see in Barstow, but just to the north is a nice area operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  To get there we drove north on Irwin Road for about five miles, then went west on Fossil Bed Road (a fairly smooth dirt road) and followed the signs to Owl Canyon Campground where the Owl Canyon Trailhead is located.

The trail is mostly in a dry wash with decent footing.

After a short distance we went up a side trail on to a mesa overlooking the wash.  The mesa gave us a nice view of the surrounding area.

Looking south on the mesa

Looking down into the wash from the mesa

Elephant toes?

Dropping back down into the wash

A narrow section of the wash

About a half mile up the wash there is an entrance to a cave that goes about 20 yards into  an adjacent canyon.  You can get through the cave without a light, but it’s pretty dark so we took out a flashlight to help us through.

Cave entrance

A young spelunker coming out

We went through the cave to the other side and returned back through it to the trail.

After a bit less than a mile we came to three pour-overs, where water drops over a falls from six to ten feet high.  The wash was narrow and the rocks on either side provided good hand rails to help us up.  About a mile up the trail we came to a clearing, where we turned around.  The trail continues further up the wash but we had seen enough for the day.

Back town one of the pour-overs

Another pour-over

A slot section

Near Owl Canyon Campground is Rainbow Basin Natural Area, a short, one-way loop road through a mishmash of shapes, colors, and interesting formations sculptured by water and wind.

The loop begins on a wide dirt road, but it soon narrows as it winds through the rocks.  Any car or small truck can navigate the road, but the turns are too tight for a long vehicle or with a trailer.

The next morning we headed north on I-15.  We wanted to avoid traffic in Las Vegas so we left the interstate at exit 286 and headed east on Nipton Road.  After 13 miles we reached the state line, where the road becomes NV 164 and is called the Joshua Tree Highway.  After a few miles we could see where the highway gets its name, as the Joshua Trees were all around us.

The road ends at the junction of US 95 in Searchlight, NV where we turned north and drove the rest of the way to Boulder City.

The main purpose for going to Boulder City was to be near a decent airport.  This year instead of driving the motorhome all the way to the east coast we decided to fly back.  So we parked the motorhome in Canyon Trails RV Park for a month and the next day headed to McCarran Airport for a flight to Baltimore.  We don’t like to leave the motorhome for that length of time but, fortunately, our neighbor in the park is a federal police officer who works in security at the nearby Hoover Dam.  Kevin is a nice guy and volunteered to keep an eye on it for us.

As we parked the Jeep in the long term lot at the airport, the view to our west was a bit eerie.  The large golden hotel in the photo below is Madalay Bay.  The arrow points to the broken window where a shooter fired down into a crowd of people enjoying an outdoor concert across the street.  The view was pretty humbling!

So now we are back east to complete some routine medical appointments and visit with family for two weeks.

crossing the snow covered Rockies

We are currently in our former home town of York, PA visiting our daughter.  Our plan is to drive north to the Thousand Islands along the St. Lawrence River to visit Pam’s mother, then return here and fly down to Atlanta to visit our son.

More on that later . . .

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Cottonwood Lakes Hike – Lone Pine, CA

Lone Pine, CA

As you drive out of the Boulder Creek RV Park you can see a winding road making its way sharply up in a series of switchbacks.  The road is called Horseshoe Meadows Road and it climbs up 6,000′ to Horseshoe Meadows,  a vast 10,000 foot high meadow, surrounded by lodgepole pine forest.  We drove up there two years ago but didn’t have time to hike any of the many trails that begin there.  So during this visit a hike up there was high on our to-do list.

Horseshoe Meadows Road

We drove up the winding road for 15 miles and turned north following signs to the Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead.  Interestingly, we did not see another person or vehicle the entire drive up into the parking area.  But when we arrived, the parking area looked like a Wal-Mart lot.  Where did these people come from?  And where did they go?   Because we saw very few people on the trail and hike alone the whole time.

One half of the lot, the other side was just as crowded

There are a couple of trails branching off from this trailhead.  We selected a 5.8 mile route up to a series of lakes, creatively named Cottonwood Lake #1, Cottonwood Lake #2, etc.  While the temperature was around 70 degrees at the RV park, the temperature at the trailhead (10,000′) was a crisp 45.

Foxtail Pine Tree

The trail slowly gains elevation during the first part of the hike and crosses Cottonwood Creek twice over narrow single log bridges.

A nervous hiker

At the 3.5 mile point we came to a split in the trail and have gained 400 ft of elevation.  Go left and you head for New Army Pass, a trail that continues up through the mountains into Sequoia NP.  We took the right fork heading to Cottonwood Lakes.

After another 1.5 miles up a fairly steep, rocky trail ( gaining 800 ft of elevation), we came to an open meadow surrounded by mountain peaks.

Up the steep section (can you see the nimble hiker?)

The meadow at the top

We passed Cottonwood Lake #1 far off to our left.

Just past Cottonwood Lake #1 the trail went along side to another larger lake on our right.  Oddly, this lake is unnamed on the maps we looked at, although it is one of the most beautiful.

After hiking 5.8 miles we finally came to our destination, Cottonwood Lake #3.

Cottonwood Lake #3

We found a large, flat boulder to sit on and rest our weary feet while enjoying the spectacular views around us.

Lunch with a view

The lake looking to the south

We waited patiently for a shuttle to go by and take us back to the trailhead but apparently they don’t stop along this route.  So we finished lunch, enjoyed the view for a bit, and headed back down the trail.

Along the trail we spotted four deer enjoying a quiet lunch in the meadow.

Check the two sets of ears facing our way

The hike going down the steep section was much more pleasant than the hike going up!

Coming back down

As we approached the 12 mile mark of the hike we were very happy to see the front of the Jeep peeking through the trees at the end of the trail!

On the drive back down Horseshoe Meadow Road we enjoyed the great views looking down 6,000′ into the Owens Valley below.

That wraps up our short stay in Lone Pine.  Next up is a visit to Boulder City, NV, just outside Las Vegas.  It is too far for a one day drive so we’ll break up the trip with a two night stop in Barstow, CA.

More on that later . . .

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Alabama Hills and the Eastern California Museum

Lone Pine, CA

Lone Pine is a little town (pop. 2,035) sitting in the Owens Valley just east of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

Looking west from our site in Boulder Creek RV Park

The mountains directly to the west are some of the highest in the Sierras.  In the photo below Lone Pine Peak (12,949′) is on the left and Mt. Whitney is the far peak near the center.  At 14, 505′ Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous U.S.

Between Lone Pine and the Sierra’s is a rocky area known as the Alabama Hills.  The Alabama Hills were named for the Confederate warship CSS Alabama by prospectors in the area sympathetic to Confederacy.  The Alabama Hills are a popular filming location for television and movie productions, especially Westerns set in an archetypical “rugged” environment.  Since the early 1920s, 150 movies and about a dozen television shows have been filmed here.  We spent a few hours locating some of the many arches located in the hills.

The Shark Fin

Two arches are located near the formation called the Shark Fin.

Rancher Arch #2

Rancher Arch #1

The Shark Fin is a popular spot for rock climbers.

Lone Pine Peak on the left and Mt. Whitney in the center

We left the Shark Fin and drove deeper into the hills to check out some more arches.

Ram’s Head Arch

Rebel Arch

As we searched in one area we passed a formation that looked very much like a foot with four toes sticking out of the sand.

We call this the “Four Toes Formation”

Graffiti Arch (we didn’t see any graffiti)

Cave Arch

Little Heart Arch

Face Rock

West of Face Rock Arch

Another popular climbing spot

In the southern section of the Alabama Hills sits a marker identifying the location of filming for the movie Gunga Din.

Two nice arches sit up in the rocks just behind the marker.

Gunga Din Arch

Eagle’s Head Arch

Most of the arches pictured above are small and very difficult to spot.  We were aided by the book Arches of the Alabama Hills.  Many are so hidden we needed to use GPS coordinates to locate them.

One afternoon we drove north 20 miles up US 395 to the little town of Independence for a visit to the Eastern California Museum.  Founded in 1928, the museum has been operated by the County of Inyo since 1968.  The museum has a nice collection of artifacts and photos tracing the history of the Owens Valley.

Image result for eastern california museum

Artifacts Collection

One of the main exhibits is on the WWII, Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp, located between Independence and Lone Pine.

One of the main exhibits deals with the life of a local climbing legend, Norman Clyde (1885-1972).  Clyde was a mountaineer, mountain guide, freelance writer, nature photographer, and self trained naturalist.  He is well known for achieving over 130 first ascents, many in the Sierra Nevada Range and Glacier National Park.

Behind the museum building they have preserved many of the buildings from the earlier years of Independence.

Double Freight Wagon

Old Farm Implements

Just outside the museum is a garden that displays many of the plants found in the area.

A young botanist surveys the garden

We have one more hiking adventure planned before we leave Lone Pine.  More on that later . . .

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Lone Pine

Lone Pine, CA

The 65 mile drive from Bishop to Lone Pine is a stress free ride on a great highway with beautiful views of mountains to the east and to the west.  The view of the Sierras to the west are especially nice.

The day after our arrival we headed to the east on CA 191 to enjoy the scenery and hike a short trail to Darwin Falls, a desert waterfall.  The low, jagged hills along the way contained a great variety of colorful rocks.

After a bit we entered Death Valley National Park, where the road descended steeply in a series of switchbacks.  It’s a great drive in a car, but we wouldn’t want to do it in the motorhome.  Near the bottom of the descent, just before Panamint Springs, we turned south on a one lane dirt road called Old Toll Road on Google Maps.  There is no sign for the road but the National Park Service has a marker for the water falls just a short distance from the highway so we knew we were on the correct road.

View of Old Toll Road from the highway (NPS sign is just visible on the far curve)

The Old Toll Road is a bit “bouncy” but drivable in any vehicle.  After two miles we came to the trailhead in a small parking area.

Darwin Falls Trailhead

The two mile (roundtrip) hike begins in a dry creek bed filled with loose gravel.

About half way to the falls the trail enters a narrow canyon surrounded by riparian greenery that seems out of place in Death Valley NP.

In times of high water hiking this trail would be problematic, as it crosses Darwin Creek numerous times.  But we had no problem crossing, using small logs as bridges and our poles.

As the trail began to narrow we came to the end of the canyon.  There the falls form a small pool surrounded by a variety of plants not usually seen in the desert.  Darwin Falls, named after Dr. Darwin French (1822–1902) a local rancher, miner, and explorer, is as unique as it is beautiful.

The pool at the base of the falls must be very inviting for a refreshing dip on a hot day.  But the temperature was very comfortable during our visit so we decided to stay dry.

Crossing some rocks on the return hike

Colorful views driving back out to the highway

The road must have been paved at one time, as we went over two small areas of asphalt.

It was good to be back on pavement

Returning to the highway we drove back up through the series of switchbacks and stopped at the Father Crowley Vista Point.  The view wasn’t very impressive from the large, paved parking area, but a dirt road lead out to a point with a great view of a section of Death Valley below us.

A section of CA 191 is visible on the left

This short hike was a great way to begin our one week stay in Lone Pine.  We’ve been here once before so we know there is much to see in the nearby Sierra Mountains and the Alabama Hills.  More on that later . . .

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Revisiting Crowley Lake and a Hike Around Convict Lake

Bishop, CA

Crowley Lake is a reservoir on the Upper Owens River on the east side of US 395 between Bishop and Mammoth Lakes.  The lake was created in 1941 by the building of a dam by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP), as storage for the Los Angeles Aqueduct and for flood control.  On the east side of the lake are what is known as the Crowley Columns, strange columnar formations some of which reached heights of as much as 20 feet.

View of the Sierra’s from the dirt road leading to the columns

When we were here in 2015, California was in the middle of a severe drought.  We drove out to the area of the columns with friends Dave and Sue (Beluga’s Excellent Adventures) to check them out.  Since that visit, California has received a great deal of snow over the past two winters and the lakes are back up to capacity.  So we decided to drive back out to the same spot and see what the high water level looks like by the columns.  We found the difference to be quite striking.  Just a quick comparison of the two photos below show the differences.

2015 visit

2017 visit

During the first visit we could walk along the shoreline and explore inside the many caves and pillars.  But we couldn’t do that during this visit!

2015 visit

2017 visit

While the visit to the columns this year was nowhere near as interesting, we are glad the drought is over and the lakes in the area are back up to normal levels.

We drove back out to the highway and continued north for another few miles.  Across from the Mammoth-Yosemite Airport we turned west on Convict Lake Road.  It is a two mile drive to the end of the road at the east end of the lake.

Convict Lake Road

At an elevation of 7,850 feet Convict Lake sits in the Sherwin Range of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is known for its fishing and the dramatic mountains that surround it.

Convict Lake

The lake was named after an incident in 1871 where a group of convicts escaped from prison in Carson City.  A posse from the nearby town of Benton encountered the convicts near the head of what is now Convict Creek.  Posse member Robert Morrison, a Benton merchant and Wells Fargo Agent, was killed in the encounter.  A peak on the southeast side of the lake is named after him.

Mount Morrison

Driving just outside Bishop we came upon a white boulder with a plaque mounted on it.

The plaque marks the spot where the story of the escaped convicts came to an abrupt end.

After a long hike the day before at high elevation, we were looking for a trail with a bit less challenge.  A trail of just under three miles going around Convict was just what we were looking for.

Trailhead for the Convict Lake Loop Trail

Hiking out on the south side of the lake

At the far end of the lake a boardwalk bridge over Convict Creek is missing, creating a challenge to continue.  But two logs lying together across the water provided us with the opportunity to crab walk sideways across the water.

The nimble hiker demonstrates her skills

Looking back east from the far end of the lake

Looking back to the west as we hiked the north side of the lake

In addition to the incident with the convicts, the lake is also known for a more recent tragedy.  In 1990 it was the site of a major drowning.  Twelve teenagers and two counselors from a nearby camp were on a holiday outing at Convict Lake.  The group was warned that the ice was too thin to support their weight but failed to heed the warning.  At least four teenagers and both adults fell through the thin ice and into the water.  By the time the first rescuer arrived on the scene, only one teenager had been able to pull himself out of the water, but the other teenagers were no longer in sight, having apparently already drowned.  In all, three teenagers and four would-be rescuers drowned in the freezing water.  Another youth and a volunteer fire chief were rescued.

A plaque at the est end of the lake marks the tragedy

Plaque recognizing a Forest Service firefighter who drowned trying to save the boys

That ends our brief revisit to Bishop.  We’ll now continue south on US 395 to the little town of Lone Pine.  More on that later . . .


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Hiking the Little Lakes Valley Trail

Bishop, CA

On Monday we had a nice, uneventful drive of 162 miles south on US 395 from Carson City, NV to Bishop, CA.  We arrived mid-afternoon at Highlands RV Park, the same place we stayed during a visit here two years ago.  After getting set up in our site we relaxed for the remainder of the day, although a trip to the local chain coffee shop broke up the afternoon.

Early the next morning we set off for a hike to the Gem Lakes on the Little Lakes Valley Trail.  We tried to hike this trail during our previous visit but a little blunder on our part cancelled that hike.  We failed to factor in what an increase of 6,000′ of elevation can do to the temperature.  With temps approaching the high sixties in Bishop that morning we dressed in shorts and tee shirts.  But as we drove up the road to the trailhead we knew we were in trouble.  Arriving at the trailhead we found everyone dressed in heavy coats with gloves and hats, as the temperatures were just below 40 degrees with a strong wind and fog.

This year we were prepared for the cooler temperatures at 10,000′ and dressed appropriately.  But since it is about a month earlier in the year, the temps were much more reasonable, even with the elevation gain.

The Sierra Nevada’s along US 395

To get to the trailhead we drove 20 miles north on US 395, then west on Rock Creek Road.  It is a ten mile drive up to the trailhead, with the first 8 miles a nice, wide road.

The last two miles of Rock Creek Road are on a narrow, paved road just wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other.

Rock Creek Road ends in the trailhead parking area where we were fortunate to find a space.  Apparently during the high tourist season parking is at a premium here.

Little Lakes Valley Trail

From the trailhead at over 10,000′ the trail immediately begins a steady climb as it heads up toward the first of a number of lakes it passes.

As we moved up the trail the views of the mountains were impressive.

Mack Lake

Marsh Lake

Crossing Ruby Creek with Heart Lake in the background

Rounding Heart Lake

When going along the lakes the trail was fairly level, but between lakes it would go sharply uphill.

Box Lake

Passing Long Lake

After hiking over three miles our legs were definitely feeling the effects of the high altitude.  We felt that we were close to our destination, the Gem Lakes, when we came to a fork in the trail.   An old post probably once held a sign indicating which way to go, but the sign was long gone.  So we made a guess and took the left fork, which began to go steeply uphill.  Fortunately, we met a hiker coming back down the trail and he had hiked up a bit and turned around.

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it” – Yogi Berra

We followed his advice, returning back down to take the right fork.  That turned out to be the correct trail, as we soon came to the Lower Gem Lake.

Lower Gem Lake

Laurel and Eric( Raven and Chickadee) had done this hike before and told us to be sure to keep going beyond that point.  So we continued, crossing another creek and making our way further up the trail.

Our extra effort was rewarded when we soon came to the end of the trail at beautiful Upper Gem Lake.

Lunch with a view

A young philosopher ponders life before . . .

. . . disappearing into the cold water

On the return hike we took a side trail for a visit to Chicken Foot Lake.  Look at the lake in Google Maps and you’ll see that the shape of the lake does resemble the foot of a chicken.

Chicken Foot Lake

Passing by Heart Lake on the return hike

We were fortunate to have perfect weather for this hike, a clear sky and comfortable temperatures.  The high elevation made the eight mile trek quite a challenge.  But the beautiful scenery makes it very worth the effort!

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The Rubicon Trail, Lake Tahoe

Carson City, NV

For our last hike during this visit to the Carson City area, we decided to go back up to Lake Tahoe and do the Rubicon Trail.  When we visited the lake two years ago it was during that severe drought in California.  The photo below is one we took along the south end of the lake during that visit.


Below is a photo from around the same spot today.  The lake looks to be completely recovered.


The Rubicon Trailhead is in the D. L. Bliss State Park along CA 89 on the western shore of the lake.  The road is quite scenic as it winds steeply up a series of switchbacks and goes around Emerald Bay.  The trail will take us along the far shore of the bay in the photo below.

Emerald Bay

The Rubicon Trail follows the shoreline of Lake Tahoe for about three miles.  It then crosses over a little peninsula and continues along Emerald Bay for another two miles.

The trail goes up and down as it winds along the shoreline.  At one spot early in the hike it goes around a rocky outcropping, but a chain eliminates any danger of a fall.

The weather was perfect and the sunshine made the water even more beautiful.

Much of the hike is through an impressive, aromatic forest along the lake.

Crossing a small stream

Lunch with a view

We made our way along Emerald Bay and finally came to our turn around spot, Vikingsholm, a 38 room mansion that is now a part of Emerald Bay State Park.  In 1928, Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight bought the land along the bay with the intent of building a summer home that would compliment the natural surroundings.  Emerald Bay reminded her of fjords she had seen on numerous travels to Scandinavia.  She commissioned her nephew by marriage, Lennart Palme, a Swedish architect, to design the home.  Vikingsholm was completed in the fall of 1929.  The exceptional summer home was enjoyed by Mrs. Knight and her guests for 15 summers until Mrs. Knight’s death at the age of 82 in 1945.  The estate changed ownership a number of times over the years until taken over by the State of California in 1953.  The house is open for tours during the summer months.

A tour boat goes around the bay in front of Vikingsholm

In the photo above you can see a small island behind the tour boat.  Known as Fannette Island, it was once the home of Captain Dick “Them’s my toes” Barter from 1863 to 1873. The eccentric captain had moved from England and built his own tomb and chapel on the island.  He enjoyed sailing and earned his nickname from his penchant of showing his self-amputated toes to guests.  Ironically, he was never interred in the chapel he built, as he was lost in a storm off Rubicon Point in 1873.  Mrs. Knight built a teahouse on the island where she could enjoy some privacy with friends (as if Vikingsholm was not private enough!).

Fannette Island

The tea house

Creativity along the trail

The trail makes its way through the Boat-In Campground, where you can tie your boat up and camp for the night ($35/night).  The campground was empty and is scheduled to close next week for the season.

Boat-In Campground site

Just a beautiful view

And another

As we approached the trailhead on the return hike, we could hear quite a bit of noise on the lake.  We rounded a curve and could see a party boat filled with young guys yelling at their buddy perched on the rock ready to jump.  In the photo below you can see one jumper in the water, but the one on the rocks soon backed out and crawled down the rocks to the water.  That might be the only good decision this group made all day!

We returned to the Jeep after a hike of just under 10 miles.  This is a perfect hike to enjoy the beauty of Lake Tahoe.  You don’t need to make it a long hike if you don’t want to, as a short hike will still provide many beautiful views.

On Saturday we drove up to Reno to meet some RV friends.  We first met Bob and Sandra at a rally in 2010 during our first summer full-timing.  We have crossed paths a number of times over the years but it has been a long time since we last met up.  They are from this area and are currently spending the summer in Reno, where Bob recently had surgery to correct a torn bicep muscle and a damaged rotator cuff (ouch!).   We were in contact with them earlier in the week but decided to wait till the end of the week to meet up, giving Bob a few more days of recovery time.  We met for lunch in south Reno and three hours flew by as we caught up with each other.  It will not be as long until our next meeting as they will visit us in Borrego Springs in January.

That wraps up our week in Carson City.  We’ll now head south on US 395 into California for a visit to the town of Bishop.  More on that later . . .

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