Archive for January, 2009
The next leg of my eastward trek crossed the landscape of cinder cones and volcanic rock debris leading into Lassen National Forest. Under better weather conditions, I would have lingered at Mt. Lassen. Unfortunately, my timing was off as, for the second time in two years, my plans for a visit were scrapped due to somewhat hostile weather. On this occasion, the roadway was lined with low snowbanks and the entire area looked deserted. I made some brief calculations of time and distance and decided that a side trip into the park was probably a nice but bad idea. This day’s plan, hatched the previous evening at my friends’ house, was to travel east to Susanville, then turn south, roughly heading for Carson City while looking for a park or campground along the way. Unfortunately, that turned out to be something of a fool’s errand as the weather was much colder than anticipated – even to this canuck who is known to have little respect for the cold. As I traveled south, the snow-topped peaks of the sierras to the west reminded me that it was getting a little late in the season to consider camping, even in this region.
Eventually, I broke down and decided to find a motel room in Carson City, Nevada. That night, shortly after dark, Sabrina insisted on going out for a walk. Other than the busy boulevard, there was no nearby place to walk other than in a desolate lot — the kind you seem to find next to almost every urban motel across North America. While attempting to avoid countless shards of broken glass and very nasty stickers, I managed to drop one of the two keys to my van which I had, thus far, worn like a sacred talisman on a sturdy cord about my neck. The next morning, after discovering this grave loss (for so it seemed), I spent a good half hour wandering around in the lot trying to find my key before checking out of the motel. Alas, despite searching almost every square foot of that depressing area, during which time I discovered such delightful objects as empty whisky bottles, a number of condom wrappers, and no less than three empty packages of deer urine “guaranteed to attract a big buck”, my key remained MIA. I wondered if there might be some lurid connection between the found objects noted above, but decided that was far too bizarre to contemplate.
Feeling a bit shaken up by my stupidity at having lost one of my precious van keys (for once I had pocketed it rather than putting the cord over my neck), I finished loading the van and stopped by the office to check out. On the off chance that someone might have turned in my key, I asked the clerk if he had seen a key like the one in my hand. He looked puzzled and mumbled something that led me to realize that he couldn’t speak much english. I then pointed to the cord on my travel wallet, and held my hands apart to show how long the cords was, then pointed to my key once more. Comprehending my meaning, he broke into a happy grin and pulled my key on its cord out of a drawer beneath the counter, and cheerfully handed it to me. Although he was unable to tell me the story of how it was found, my best guess is that some fine soul, probably a fellow wayfarer attempting to walk his dog through the broken glass and stickers, must have discovered my key and turned it in at the motel office. As I got into the van, I told Sabrina that maybe, just maybe, our luck was changing — hopefully for the better.
From Carson City, we continued south on 395, crossing back into California by Topaz Lake in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest region. We stopped to stretch our legs at a picnic area along the Walker River (above photo), once a place renowned for its population of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout (see top photo of interpretive sign – click on it for a larger view). As on so many occasions along the way, we had the place to ourselves — one of the positive aspects of traveling a little off the beaten path so late in the season.
From the outset of this entire journey, I had it in my mind to try to visit Bodie, a ghost town up in the mountains about 50 miles north of Mammoth Lakes. Passing several signs announcing snow closures of roads through certain mountain passes, I realized that there was a good possibility that the road up to Bodie would also be closed for the winter. In truth, due to the time wasted searching for my lost key, and then the route taking longer than expected — a fact of life that I was now getting used to — stopping to wander around at Bodie was beginning to seem like a side trip that I should probably leave for another time.
However, when we reached the Bodie turn-off, there were no closure signs at the highway and the gates were open a mile or two up the access road. I checked the time and decided to give myself two hours to drive up to and tour the town before resuming our southward trek. Thinking ahead, I had made reservations at a motel in Ridgecrest, which looked to be a comfortable day’s driving distance allowing for the side trip to Bodie (wrong!). A sign on Bodie Road noted that the pavement ended some 9 miles further along, and that it was rough road beyond. Once again, my time calculations went out the window as we hit the dirt section and found that it was like a washboard. Sabrina has a great dislike for those kinds of roads and has a very unique way of letting me know. If I don’t respond to her decidedly sad face, ears held to the sides with tips drooping (how in heck does she do that?!), she resorts to poking her head over the console between the front seats, then repeatedly lifting and dropping my right arm with her long nose. She was doing that steadily up the last 3 or 4 miles of Bodie Road. Somewhere along the way, I stopped to snap a photo of the Bodie Range (see below). At this altitude, somewhere around 8400 feet, there were remnants of a recent snowfall. I wondered if this might be one of the last days before the access road would be closed for the season.
(coming up next — photos of Bodie).
Leaving the redwoods behind, my journey turned east on a path that would eventually lead to Arizona. It was now the ninth of November, and I was becoming increasingly concerned about possible encounters with bad weather on the route that I would follow for the next few days. Although there were quicker and less risky ways to reach my destination, on most of these days, I chose solitude over speed and convenience.
In my last post, I mentioned retracing a little of the previous day’s route in order to cross the Shasta Trinity National Forest region. After leaving Scotia and Rio Dell, I headed north and then pulled off the highway at the junction with Hwy 36. A couple of friends who are familiar with the region had emailed me the night before and both wrote something to the effect of “whatever you do, *don’t* take 36 east through the mountains.” No explanation, just a cryptic warning. Under other circumstances, I probably would have taken those warnings as challenges, but the weather was looking pretty iffy. I knew that there was always the possibility of encountering snow at elevation. Although the first stretch of visible highway looked innocuous, I noticed a warning sign stating that trucks with tandem axles and anything over a certain (very short) length should not use that route. With some regrets, I drove back through Eureka and Arcata to catch 299 heading east along the Trinity River.
In retrospect, I probably made the right decision. Although the higway was winding with occasional changes in elevation, it was a good drive. But on the westward end , as we ascended into the mountains, we passed through heavy mist and light rain — the kind that makes you wonder if you’re actually driving up into the clouds. If the temperature had been a few degrees lower, that mist and rain would have been snow and ice, making the drive treacherous. For once, we were in luck as the weather remained above freezing. As we continued eastward, the sun broke through, leaving only the highest mountaintops shrouded in mist. To the north, the Trinity Alps dominated the landscape. I would have loved to take more photos, but there were precious few safe turn-outs along the route, so I restrained myself from taking any chances for the sake of a few pictures.
At one look-off, there was a terrific view of the Trinity River far below (see photo above – click on all images for larger views). I was tempted to drive down one of the steep river access roads, but decided to save that for another time. I will return. Of that I am sure. But next time, it will be earlier in the season when camping would be a little less dodgy.
On the eastern side of the range, the change in climate soon became apparent. The air was much drier and warmer. The conifers of the western side gave way to live oak, madrone and manzanita. As we descended the countless curving switchbacks above Whiskeytown Lake, the sun broke through and a certain gloominess in my spirit began to lift. I’d been avoiding thinking about my state of mind for several days, but now that I was in the warmth and sunlight, I realized just how much the rain and cold had been weighing me down. Another hour of driving and we arrived at the house of friends, one of whom is another brave C-warrior (you know who you are). After an evening walk, dinner and catching up on the latest news, Sabrina and I caught a few hours of sleep before continuing on our way…