Summer Travel Map

Monday, March 30, 2015

March 7-30: Rally Ho!

As always, feel free to click on any image to enlarge it...

Contrary to our habits over the past few years, we made a short trip with the motorhome during our “winter hibernation” in Arizona. In fact, the last time we ventured out was December 2009/January 2010.

We decided to take advantage of a couple of rallies being put on by two related RV groups. Our travels first took us to Pahrump, Nevada, for two weeks, then to Pomona, California, for a third week before we headed back to Arizona.

We intentionally built an extra week into our stay in Pahrump so that we could explore the area. We passed through the area last October on our way from the California Coast to the Grand Canyon. While there isn’t a huge amount to see and do in Pahrump proper, it’s a reasonable base camp from which to explore Death Valley National Park. I tried to make campground reservations inside the Park, but didn’t come up with anything satisfactory, so Pahrump, about an hour to the east, was a good choice.

In keeping with our more relaxed travel approach these days, we broke the route from Peoria to Pahrump into two driving days. We could have done it in one, but it’s fun to explore a bit along the way. In this case, we chose to make an overnight stop in Lake Havasu City on the way.

Our departure route was pretty familiar territory. From our winter base, we headed south on AZ Loop 101 to I-10. We’ve traveled on I-10 westbound many times over the years but this time we jumped off about 45 miles from the California border and cut northward to Vicksburg where we picked up AZ-72 to AZ-95 into Parker. Continuing on AZ-95, we followed the path of the Colorado River north to Lake Havasu City.

Lake Havasu is actually formed by the Parker Dam, built in the 1930s as one of a series of hydroelectric power generation sites along the Colorado River. Lake Havasu City was created in the early-1960 when Robert McCullough, the chainsaw guy, bought an insane amount of land, 16,000+ acres, on the cheap to create a “destination resort”. He’s the one who had London Bridge transported and rebuilt in the 1980s. 

We stayed overnight at one of the RV parks in town because we couldn't get a reservation at the State Park on the water. Apparently, in addition to a lot of the snowbirds not yet having flown north, there is a bluegrass festival in March that fills things up. Like a lot of places in Arizona at lower elevations, this place is a magnet for RVers from “up north” trying to escape the cold weather. BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho are popular places to be from here.

Since we were all parked and set up before 2:00 PM, we took the opportunity to explore a bit. We found the local Elks Lodge (largest in Arizona by membership) and looked around on and under London Bridge. It’s not clear if the area is in a slow decline or a slow rebound from the Great Recession. Let’s just say things weren’t “hopping”.

"London Bridge" in all its glory...

Up early the next day, we were able to get on the road right on schedule. We continued north on AZ-95 to I-40, then west into California before turning north again on US-95 (AZ-95 and US-95 run parallel to each other on opposite sides of the Colorado River). 

Once on US-95, we soon came to the somewhat infamous railroad crossing where we bent a tow bar back in 2009. Suffice it to say that we ignored the “20 MPH” warning and crawled across the tracks at about 5 MPH.

"Vegas, Baby"!

Our route took us through Searchlight, Nevada, (Harry Reid’s hometown) and up to Boulder City where we merged with US-93 and then I-515 down into Las Vegas. Having stayed in the area before, we took a shortcut to Blue Diamond Road (NV-160) on the south side of town. We stopped for lunch in a shopping plaza (“tar-jay”) then continued on NV-160 up and over into the next valley and our destination in Pahrump.

When we visited Pahrump last fall, we stayed at an Escapees park to get the lay of the land. This time, we booked a week at the Wine Ridge RV Resort, on the property of Pahrump Valley Winery. The sites were well spaced out and we had a nice view of Mount Charleston from the park.

All settled in at Wine Ridge in Pahrump.

I guess this would be the "back side" of Mount Charleston. Las Vegas is on the other side.

For the Albertville fans, right in the Pahrump Valley Winery vineyards...

It wouldn't be the Southwest without a nice sunset...

We made two day trips into Death Valley National Park, which I’ll write up separately in another Blog post or two. We also made a day trip to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which is back toward Las Vegas. We had “saved” that one from our last stay in the area and it was worth the drive. I’ll write that up separately as well.

We also had a surprise waiting for us when we got to the park: our friends Wayne and Eva were up from their winter place in Indio, California, for a few days in Las Vegas, so they drove in a few days early and stayed in one of the park’s “cottages” for a few days. Similar to us, they did day trips into Death Valley. It was nice to catch up as we haven’t seen them since last fall.

This RV Park is located right on the edge of a designated wilderness area, so it’s a favorite of the “off road” crown. Customized Jeeps, ATVs, and Dirt Bikes were parked at most of the sites. They had organized rides leaving from the park most mornings. We even had a “fly by” from some sort of motorized parasail contraption. Apparently, strapping an engine and large fan to the back of a lawn chair hanging from half of a parachute is somebody’s idea of a good time. It takes all kinds…

After enjoying Wine Ridge for a week, we moved about 2 miles up the road to the Preferred RV Resort, which was one of the parking locations for the first RV rally we were attending on this trip. As is often the case, the definition of “resort” can mean a lot of things. But, it was another decent park. The facilities for this rally were mostly in the Nugget Casino next door, so we used the Rover to get back and forth for the most part. We were fortunate to see several sights in and around the park, as well.

We have this kind of cactus in AZ, too. Very short-lived blooms.

It's always fun to look for "faces" in weathered wood...

Apparently, there was a balloon festival in Pahrump. Neat!

We had a good time, caught up with folks we hadn't seen in a while, met some new people who enjoy the same travel lifestyle, had some good meals and enjoyed some fun entertainment. We ended up staying an extra couple of days to get the timing right for arrival at the next rally!

Our next destination was in Pomona, California. We left Pahrump on NV-372 which soon changed to CA-178 at the state line. At the wide spot in the road called Shosone, we turned south on CA-127 which took us to I-15 in Baker. Heading south, we crossed several passes before exiting onto I-210 west toward Pasadena. We took CA-57 south for one exit to Arrow Highway and were soon pulling into the LA County Fairplex. 

We could see our friend Wayne waving in the distance, as he had volunteered for the parking crew. We were soon parked and relaxing. We were "boondocking" for the first night since electric service wasn't turned on until Wednesday morning. At large gatherings like this, most of the electric service is provided by contracted temporary generators spread throughout the grounds. With over 1,100 motorhomes involved and probably 65% opting to pay a little extra for electrical service, that's quite a few generators.

Wayne and Eva had their coach parked with the volunteers, but we weren't too far away from them. Overall, we had a good time, didn't spend too much money with the vendors,  and had some nice dinners. 

On Wednesday, we joined a group called the "Eastern Gourmands" at a local banquet facility. The other nights, we ate at local places with Wayne and Eva, and their friend, Scott (also an RV owner). We actually made it a “Pomona Reunion Tour”, eating a all the places we did the last time we rallied in Pomona, Spring of 2008. We had Mexican at La Paloma (“Home of the Kitchen Sink Burrito”), Sushi at Fukuya (“All You Can Eat”), and Pastrami at The Hat. And it was all good.

Once the rally wrapped up, it was time to head back to Arizona. We got a nice, early start around 8:40 AM and were quickly heading east on I-10. We managed to make the 331 miles in reasonably good time, arriving back at our winter place about 3:15 PM. We knew that the weather had turned warmer, but weren’t quite ready for the temperatures when we got back to the Phoenix area. Even recognizing that the sensor in the RV might be off by a few degrees, it was still pretty warm.

We unloaded a few things and headed for our traditional pizza at the local Grimaldi’s, saving the rest for tomorrow. Overall, another great trip!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Day Trip: Death Valley National Park

While we were in Pahrump, Nevada, for a rally in March, we added a couple of days (OK, a week) on the beginning of the trip to allow some time to explore the area.

One place that I wanted to visit was Death Valley National Park. We had visited the Park once before, almost 20 years ago on one of our first “RV Rental Vacations”. That trip was in June and we realized after one evening that we were there at the wrong time of year, so we cut that visit short. I (correctly) calculated that March would provide a much better chance for temperate weather!

On this trip, we actually made two day trips to Death Valley from Pahrump. Our tours of Scotty’s Castle are written up separately.

March is usually a nice time of year for visits to the deserts of the southwest US. If there is sufficient winter rain, wildflowers are likely to be in bloom before the summer heat arrives. This past winter wasn’t overly wet, but we were still treated to several areas where wildflowers had appeared.

Geology is a constant companion in Death Valley, bounded by four mountain ranges and created as several faults have allowed plates to overlap and tilt large sections of rock both upward and downward. There is also evidence of volcanic activity throughout the Park.

Ubehebe Crater was formed by volcanic activity, and some scientists predict future eruptions are likely!
One of the most interesting features of the Park is Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. If any rain falls in the Death Valley basin, it eventually ends up there if it wasn’t absorbed into the sandy soil first. We even saw a little water there, but mostly it’s dried mud and salt flats.

Geri enjoyed the low altitude, which helped her breathing!

Although there is a boardwalk, visitors are permitted to venture out into the salt flats for a distance.

Sea Level is actually about halfway up this rock cliff.

Just a little water was present on the day we visited.

I sent this picture to friends and family in the Midwest and Northeast, hoping they would think the salt was snow.

Just north of Badwater Basin is a loop drive called “Artists Drive”. We enjoyed the number of different colored rocks layered into the hillside, each representing a different chemical composition that has corroded away over thousands of years.

Quite a bit of hiking is involved to access various spots along Artists Drive.

I was intrigued by the triangular shapes left in the Panamint Mountains across the valley as erosion has occurred over long periods of time.

Each chemical element in these rocks leaves a distinct color behind over time.

Although Death Valley is one of the warmest and driest places on earth, water does play a role in shaping the geological features. As rain from the mountains flows into the valley, channels are cut into the rock and emerge as alluvial fans, sloping away from the cliffs. One of these channels has a natural bridge that is accessible after a short hike of moderate difficulty. It was interesting to see the shapes cut into the rock by the force of the water, which of course would have a lot of rock debris in it when flowing.

Rushing water from mountain rains created this enclave in the rocks near Natural Bridge.

A tour bus must have arrived right after I started this hike. The people give a sense of scale to the rock bridge.

A lone flower was clinging to the rocks along the trail.

Our last stop in the Park was at Dante’s View, well up in to mountains overlooking the valley floor. At this overlook we were actually quite close to Badwater Basin, just several thousand feet higher with excellent views.

Dante's View is actually a series of outcroppings connected by a trail.

"No RVs Allowed" signs must not apply to the RV Rental crowd. I'm surprised they didn't bottom out on some of the dips in the road.

Beautiful view looking northwest from Dante's View.
The salt flats at Badwater Basin are the little white strip in the lower left.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Travel Stop: Scotty’s Castle

Scotty’s Castle is a historic site managed by the National Park Service in the northeast corner of Death Valley National Park. We visited during March on a day trip from nearby (a relative term in these parts) Pahrump, Nevada.

Death Valley Ranch, also known as Scotty's Castle, was built in stages from 1922 until well into the 1930s.

Like many popular sites, it's often difficult to get photos without tourists in them. :-)

Several Joshua Trees are found on the property, but they were probably
imported as they don't appear to be native to Death Valley.

We visited in March, and the Joshua Trees were ready to bloom.

Actually named Death Valley Ranch, the property was built in the 1920s and 1930s in a blend of Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival styles. Many of the materials were sourced from well beyond the local area, but were purposefully blended in to create an aura of authenticity. 

The main gate shows the attention to detail and craftsmanship involved.

The dinner bell was used to alert guests to meal times.

Much of the iron work was actually fabricated in Los Angeles and shipped in by rail.

When you take a tour of Scotty’s Castle, you quickly learn that most everything you might think is probably wrong. Walter Scott, the guy the place is named after, was a master storyteller and con man. He convinced a couple from Chicago that he had a gold mine on the property (nope) and told so many people stories about “his” castle (not his) that it eventually took on his name.

Docents in 1930s costume “channel” the personas of people actually involved in the development and maintenance of the property “back in the day” and do an excellent job of describing the history of the place in a very entertaining way. 

The docent on our House Tour (center, right) was narrating from the point of view
of a newspaper reporter sharing what he learned while writing an article about Scotty's Castle.

Originally developed as a vacation home, Death Valley Ranch became a destination resort
after the Great Depression left the developers, Albert and Bessie Johnson, in financial difficulty.

Depression or not, the Johnsons still managed to "get by". Several collectible vehicles were used on the property.

The interior blended "rustic" with elegant, and incorporated some innovative design elements.
The stone wall in the lower left of this picture was turned into a water feature during warm
weather, and acted like a built-in evaporative cooler.

Impressive fireplace!

The Battery Room got my attention on the Underground Tour. These Nickel-Iron batteries (there
is another rack below) were charged by a water-driven generator and used to supply even power throughout
the house, much like the systems in modern RVs. 

Albert Johnson liked to fiddle with new technologies, so the generator room has several examples. The original water-powered generator is in the lower left of this picture, and still works.

Although long decayed in the harsh environment, this was a solar hot water heating and storage
system that was somewhat ahead of its time.

Visiting Scotty’s Castle is a half-day adventure for those staying in the Park, but can be a full-day trip for those staying in Pahrump or other local towns outside of Death Valley. Multiple tours are available depending on the time of year, and the combination of the House Tour with the Underground Tour is designed to provide the most information. 

Tickets for the tours are available online and we highly recommend buying them in advance, even if it ties you in to a schedule. 

Parking is available for cars, RVs, and tour busses, and it fills up quickly on busy days. Although there are no specific restrictive signs, parking for large RVs over 30 feet is probably not going to be easy, so making this a day trip in a tow/towed vehicle is the best approach.

There is also a nice shaded picnic area near the parking lot. Depending on the time of day, tour busses use this as a lunch stop, so grab an open table early if you can.

Tour info: