The Southern Migration

The Road House rolled out of Ancortes Washington under bright, clear skies headed for Portland Oregon. The water in Padilla Bay sparkled as we rounded the corner on Hwy 20. I will miss the Beach House and all of our friends in Ancortes but it was exciting to finally hit the road in our new coach.

Our winter destination was Palm Springs but we planned to take a month to get there. Sure we could dead head, put the petal to the metal and get there in 4-5 days but why? Highways and byways can be a lot more fun for exploring rather than staying on the major interstates like I5. 

Our first and longest stop was Portland. We haven’t done a stop over there since May of 2018 and then we only stayed 5 nights. Pheasant Ridge RV Resort was our home for the two week visit and we found the location in Wilsonville to be better than expected despite the horrific traffic that has entangled the city of Portland. This pretty little 45 acre resort is not only incredibly dog friendly (the doggies have their own laundry room) but has great amenities which include paved full hookup, pull-thru and back-in sites, onsite grocery, L.P. gas, indoor pool and spa, Wi-Fi (wireless Internet access throughout park) and much more.

The fall colors in Portland were spectacular… the city was ablaze with deep golds, reds and brilliant oranges. It was great catching up with longtime friends and our dance ticket was full every day. Late nights and bountiful bottles of wine left me in need of some serious sleep-in time. Not only that but 5 of those nights I spent in Austin with a friend I haven’t seen in 8 years….more on that later!

I spent my birthday with our good friend Deb and my favorite husband! We couldn’t have had a more perfect day together… picnic lunch, hiking the Trail of 11 Falls at Silver Falls State Park, a gorgeous sunset and a fabulous dinner together. Blackened Hangar Steak, Chanterelle Mushroom Barley Risotto made with duck bone broth (thank you Sharon Harmon), Arugula Pomegranate Salad and a amazing Almond Cake for dessert. Thanks Deb for taking a day off work to hang with us and make my birthday so special!

From Portland, we headed to Eugene for two nights to spend time with dear friends and our god daughter Lucie who has just turned 21!!! It was family and alumni weekend at the University of Oregon so the town was abuzz. We were treated to a pre-game party and great seats in a box for the Ducks vs Cougars game – Thanks Brent and Wendy for a fun weekend!

Next stop was Medford for one night where we honestly just did laundry, went for a walk and ran some errands. I will say the Southern Oregon RV Park at the expo is a great stopover. Just three years old, the landscape has really matured since our first visit and the access to the 20 mile bike/running/walking trail between Medford and Ashland is a bonus.

Our plan was originally to go to Bend Oregon, spend a few days then head towards south on Hwy 97 and catch Hwy 395 which follows the Sierra Nevada’s. The stopover in Eugene, kinda put Bend off the itinerary as we had a deadline to be in Palm Springs by the 6th. Crapola, why would we have a deadline – we are retired right? Well, tickets to see comedian Wayne Brady with friends in Palm Springs were on the calendar so there ya go!

Weather was a concern on the Hwy 395 route as it is getting close to snow season but all the fires in Southern California definitely had us wanting to avoid I5 and the LA basin. As luck would have it, Mother Nature has been withholding rain so the route down the Sierra Nevada’s looked just fine. Not sure how lucky this was/is for Southern Cal – rain is much needed for sure. 

Our next planned stop was in Shingletown California as it was close to Lassen Volcanic National Park which has been on our list of places to see and hike. I didn’t make any reservations once we left Eugene as I  just didn’t know if the weather would hold. Turns out that was probably a good thing. The KOA we had planned to stay in had no electricity due to the massive PG&E shutdowns. High winds were expected again and the worries of lines sparking fires led to power being turned off all across parts of California. 

We can survive with out power as we have a generator but knowing how damn cold it was going to be at night, we decided that while we could run the generator to charge up the batteries neither of us wanted to have it running off and on all night to power our furnace. Thankfully, the Premier RV Resort in Redding had open sites and they aren’t part of the PG&E grid so power wasn’t an issue there. Also, we could still make our day trip to Lassen National Park from there. 

Redding is a nice town with loads of outdoor activities, good restaurants and plenty of services. Unfortunately, the rampant homeless/opioid issues are holding the city hostage according to some locals we talked to. This seems to be the number one issue we see and hear about in our travels. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any easy solutions.

Lassen Volcanic National Park was spectacular albeit a bit windy but that didn’t detour us from our day trip. It was a picture perfect day for the scenic 30 mile drive through the park. We had planned to renew our annual National Park Pass at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center  but when we arrived it was open but there was no power so no monies could be accepted. The rangers gave us some maps and said “just renew your pass at the next park you visit”. SCORE…so technically admission was free but unfortunately the visitors center audio and media shows weren’t operating and the museum and discovery center at the other end of the park were closed too.

Oh well, despite the wind we really wanted to do some hiking and one trail that caught our attention was Bumpass Hell.

Yep, that really was the trail name and it turned out to be the highlight of the day. Bumpass Hell Basin is the largest hydrothermal area in the park and marks the principal area of upflow of steams and discharge from the Lassen hydrothermal system. The temperature of high-velocity steam jetting from Big Boiler, the largest fumarole in the park, has been measured as high as 322°F, making it one of the hottest fumaroles in the world. A board walk that takes you through boiling, hissing, steaming pots of sulfuric mud…oh, hell yeah we wanted to see that.  

Distance wise the the trail was a easy 3 miles round trip but personally I was muttering “kickass hell” under my breath for parts of the hike that had elevation gain … my ocean level body wasn’t used to hiking at over 7,000 feet. The unworldly basin much like parts of Yellowstone National Park was worth the grunt in the wind…glad I had a hat and gloves. 

Picnicking on a windy, 40 degree day isn’t for the faint of heart but we found a sunny area out of the wind where we could enjoy our lunch. Bentley had accompanied us on the driving tour but like all National Parks he was relegated to parking lots …well, and this picnic area. Honestly, we maybe saw a dozen people all day so who was going to tattle if he was laying in the sun by our picnic table. 

Awesome day trip from Redding and only 144 miles round trip. I would love to go back and hike some more of the back country but really if you only have a day – do the driving tour and the Kickass Hell, Oops I meant the Bumpass Hell hike.

From Redding we headed east on Hwy 44 toward Susanville California where we picked up Hwy 395. There were some steep grades – 9% was the steepest but the new Road House handled them with ease. With six gears in the heavy duty Allision Transmission and the two stage Jake brake, windy hilly highways don’t bother my driver a bit! We were mostly driving on beautiful two lane highway with hardly another car on the road.

EEK…that was a bit tight!

Our next stop for three nights was the Carson City area. We ended up at a small, “boutique” RV park near Dayton that had full hooks ups so we could catch up in laundry. Small and cramped must be there definition of boutique but at least it was really quiet at night. Next time we do this route, I will definitely try to get into the Washoe State Park Campground. Situated on the edge of Washoe Lake, with hiking trails and a great wetlands area this campground is a winner.

After being on the road all day, we decided dinner out was in order and we really enjoyed the San Marco’s Grill in Carson City. Great Mexican food, not your typical big plate of bland beans and rice plus the margaritas were da’bomb!

After a good sleep in and lazy morning, Virginia City was our first stop for the day. Like many cities and towns in Nevada, Virginia City was a mining boomtown that developed virtually overnight as a result of miners rushing to the Comstock Lode silver strike of 1859. The riches of the Comstock Lode inspired men to hunt for silver mines throughout Nevada and other parts of the American West.

Once a booming town of 25,000, prospectors from all over the world funneled their millions back into the town by building mansions, hospitals, churches, opera houses and schools. They imported furniture, fashions and entertainment from Europe and the Orient.

With more than 100 mines in the Comstock area, seven million tons of silver ore were produced – equating to more than $600 million in both silver and gold in today’s money. Among many things, this money helped to build San Francisco to what it is today as well as finance the Union in the Civil War.

Today mining for silver is a thing of the past in Virginia City but the town is well preserved and well worth an afternoon of exploration. I will say that we were lucky as it is off season and I suspect that Virginia City could be a zoo in the summer months. 

After a very sad lunch at the Red Dog Saloon (highly rated but seriously crappy food), we continued on our loop back toward Carson City. Washoe State Park was on the agenda for a good walk in the wetlands preservation area. We knew it was too late in the season to see many of the migratory birds that fly through but we thought we would recon and check out Washoe State Park anyway.

I was surprised to learn that the number of recorded bird species visiting, breeding, or living in the state of Nevada is a whopping 488. During the spring and fall, hundreds of thousands of those birds following the north-to-south path from Alaska to Patagonia—the Pacific Flyway—can be seen throughout the Silver State. However, Nevada is rarely on a birder’s bucket list. In fact, according to the Great Basin Bird Observatory, a nonprofit science-based organization, Nevada is one of the most under-birded areas in the country. 

The Washoe wetlands are also an Audubon-designated Important Bird Area (IBA). This classification is used to “identify, monitor, and protect the most important places for birds” according to Audubon’s website. Dangola, guess we need to come back through here in the spring.

Another reason for the stop in Carson City was the close proximity to Lake Tahoe. No snow, meant all the roads around the lake were open. This gorgeous freshwater lake is the largest alpine lake in North American. Lying at 6,225 ft, it straddles the state line between California and Nevada, west of Carson City. Casino’s dot the Nevada side and there are two major ski areas. 

The lake was formed about two million years ago as part of the Lake Tahoe Basin, with the modern extent being shaped during the ice ages. It is known for the clarity of its water, cobalt in color and the panorama of surrounding mountains on all sides. More than 75% of the lake’s watershed is national forest land, so camping and hiking opportunities abound in this area. Since we were visiting in off season, most of the campgrounds were closed despite the fact there was no new snow. 

We spent the day driving the 72 mile loop around the lake and also took a side trip to Truckee, the Donner Pass Memorial and Donner Lake. Post card perfect weather made this a spectacular day to be on a drive. Bentley frolicked in the Truckee River and at Donner Lake…he would have been happy to spend the whole day there.

We did a short hike to Upper Kings Falls near Emerald Bay and had a great lunch at the Fire Sign Café near Tahoe City. The only disappointment was that the Heaven Valley Gondola was closed  – WAHHH, the views would have been amazing. We did however really enjoy a stopover at Sand Harbor (no dogs allowed, how rude). There is a great walking path and beautiful rock boulder formations at this end of the lake. 

There are no shortage of things to do or see in Lake Tahoe and if you are a casino lover, well you might never make it outside to see anything.

Our three days in the Carson City area flew by and soon it was time to hit the road again. Our next stopover was Mammoth Lakes and the drive between Cason City and Mammoth was spectacular. Late fall colors, beautiful blue lakes and towering mountains make this portion of the drive my favorite. Only one crazy deer almost ended its life by bounding out in front of our 48,000 lbs coach. Luckily, it saw us and changed course at the last minute. CARDIO BLAST for both of us and I bet the deer might have dropped a load of pellets too!

Mammoth Mountain RV Park was our home for the two day stopover. After a frustrating time initially trying to get parked in the treed campground, we eventually got settled into the spacious site under the towering pine trees. Again, since it was off season we were lucky to find any place to stay but the upside was this “resort” was virtually empty. The sites are much like being in a state or national park, except there are full hook ups and a big price tag. At $75 per night, I would say they think highly of the place. No off season rates here or any discounts like most RV parks or resorts. Oh well, the area was worth the visit and in addition to all the scenic beauty, Mammoth has great restaurants.

Our splurge meal was at the Mammoth Rock Brasserie…a well rated restaurant situated over the bowling alley. There were plenty of great restaurant choices but the menu caught my eye as did the funky location with the spectacular views of the Sherwin Range and Mammoth Mountain. The website noted that they did NOT offer a children’s menu and expected any children in the restaurant to be well behaved, to stay in their seats and to keep their voices to a normal speaking level. If a child is being loud or disruptive, they expect parents to instruct their children to act appropriately. AMEN to that I say.

We booked an early dinner reservation to take advantage of the views and were not disappointed. A gin martini and Ahi Poke tower to start. Our entrees were delicious and the wine list was first class. The restaurant was on the second floor of a newish, modern mountain building which you would never know housed a bowling alley and fine dining restaurant when you pull into the parking lot. I am also happy to report that there wasn’t a child to be seen or heard…guess all the other patrons took the website warning to heart!!!

After another well deserved sleep in day, we spent the day hiking at Convict Lake and touring the surrounding alpine lakes. There are a plethora of places to hike in this region but Convict Lake struck our fancy because the trail is a 3 mile loop around the lake, is relatively flat (no kickass hell here) which was important since the elevation was 8,438 feet. Plus it has cool history and spectacular views of the mountains. If you are an angler, bring a rod and reel as this lake is stocked with trout. As a matter of fact, bring your fishing gear and a kayak…so many places to use both around this basin. Curious how Convict Lake got its name? Click on the hyperlink and read on!

This trail can be really busy in peak season but on our sunny Sunday hike we saw far more people fishing than hiking. After a pleasant, easy hike complete with bald eagle sightings and fish jumping in the lake, we headed further up into the mountains to check out Lake Mary and Lake George. There is a great bike path and plenty of options to get off road or golf in this area as well. Of course, there is a the ski mountain…and we had a Good giggle recalling a weekend we spent in Mammoth with friends Eric and Carol many moons ago. We went to ski and ski we did but what we really remember is the Spanish Coffee induced clogging and craziness that happened one evening. I am pretty sure we didn’t ski the next day…or did we??? 

The Mammoth Lakes Basin is so diverse that it really deserves a longer stop over. One could tour Yosemite National Park from here but we opted not to try to do just a day drive to this massive national park. A return trip in the late spring to this area might just be on the agenda. 

Our last stop on the souther migration was merely a place to park and sleep. Mammoth Lake to Palm Springs is about 345 miles, totally doable but makes for a long day. We didn’t want to roll in after dark and have to get set up so we opted to spend the night in nowhere Ridgecrest CA. 

So many scenic vistas on this drive down Hwy 395.

$22.50 got us a self registration, full hookup and pull thought site with easy access off Hwy 395. After a tour of Ridgecrest we were in total agreement that this wasn’t a town to put on our “future paces to live someday” list. The Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake is the reason this nowhere desert town exists. 

China Lake is the United States Navy’s largest single landholding, representing 85% of the Navy’s land for weapons and armaments research, development, acquisition, testing and evaluation use and 38% of the Navy’s land holdings worldwide. In total, its two ranges and main site cover more than 1,100,000 acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. Well, that explains why a newish city of 27,000 plus people is thriving out in the middle of nowhere. 

The last 150 miles of our southern migration was uneventful desert driving on mostly two lane Hwy 395. The last stretch merged onto to Hwy 15 in Victorville where we dropped down into the San Bernadino Valley. Did I say uneventful..well yes, uneventful, until the front shade came unscrewed on the passenger side and dropped down obscuring the windshield. Of course that happen right as we were merging onto busy Hwy 15 but thankfully before were were headed down Cajon Pass. As luck would have it, we were able to safely pull over and engineer a temporary fix with gorilla tape and a mop handle.

We rolled into The Outdoor Resort Palm Springs in the early afternoon. Home again, home again!!!

What a awesome road trip in the new Road House, Hwy 395 is a great alternative to I5. We will definitely travel this route again and that my friends is no BS!

One thought on “The Southern Migration

  1. Wow! You guys saw and did a LOT on your way south! We had intended to drive the 395 route last year, but our plans got all screwed up. It’s still on the list. You are the second blogger in two days to have mentioned Bumpass Hell. I now HAVE to do this hike. The name is just the best thing I’ve ever heard!! 🙂 Lake Tahoe is gorgeous, but I can imagine the sticker shock involved with a visit. I DO love the restaurant warning though. Especially for a place where you want to eat earlier to enjoy the views. We usually avoid the kiddie craziness by eating really late, but at a spot like this, we’d definitely miss out. Good for them for recognizing the needs of all their customers! And good for you for realizing you really can fix ANYTHING with duct tape and a mop! Hahahaha!

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