Posted by: glenswatman | October 21, 2007

200710 – 1- USA California Nevada



MONDAY 1 OCTOBER 2007 – Pick our route across
country towards Reno and find a nice scenic one past many lakes.  It’s nice to drop down to desert and warmer
weather once again.  Park up about 25
miles from Reno at Hallelujah Junction behind the petrol station.



TUESDAY 2 OCTOBER – Wake to a cold and frosty
morning and it takes a long time before the blown air heating warms us up
enough to crawl out of bed.  After
breakfast we both have hot showers then start the generator for me to dry my
hair but it cuts out part way through. 
Steve takes a quick look but can’t fix it so our next best bet is to set
off driving with me drying my hair using the cab heating vents – an ideal
recipe for the scarecrow style!  Reading
the generator manual it sounds like it is a fuel problem as we are low on gas
(waiting to fill up in Nevada where it is cheaper) and it runs from the same
tank.  Cross into NEVADA most obviously
a desert state but at least it is sunny and getting hot.  Arrive in Reno “the biggest little city”
where you can stay on Sands car park free for 72-hours. It’s just a couple of
blocks away from the strip so should be quieter.  We are not keen to gamble but want to find out what all the
casinos offer by way of shows, meals and freebies.  Sands holds no appeal, unless you call $1 back for every $500 put
in the slots a good deal!  Eldorado,
Silver Legacy and Circus Circus are linked on their second floors and we begin
in Silver Legacy, signing up gets you entry into a prize draw.  Circus Circus club gives you one entry into
a 10-minute slots competition plus they do free circus shows every half
hour.  Eldorado seems the best with free
entry into a gold rush every 2-hours with a guaranteed prize each time, our
first draw bags us both pens.  At the
theatre they are showing Dancing Queen, an Abba musical that appeals to
us.  En route to the ticket office a
lady accosts us.  It’s obviously some
sort of vacation club but for 90 minutes of our time we get free tickets to the
Abba Show, a $50 gaming voucher and 3 nights accommodation in a resort, so sign
up for the 2.30 presentation.  Back at
Circus Circus for the slots competition we sit at a machine and continuously
hit the play button for 10-minutes, utterly boring.  The top 5 scores of the session go through to a final tonight and
luckily we don’t attain that status.  I
don’t know about encouraging you to gamble we both think it is enough to put
you off for life!  Back to Eldorado for
a second gold rush (more pens) then their lunch buffet, $9.99 (£5) an
incredible selection including Mexican, Mongolian, various Asian and roasts
plus a huge dessert bar with no end of tempting looking gateaux.  The price includes non-alcoholic drinks so
we spend well over an hour gorging and drinking ourselves silly.  The “Worldmark by Wyndham” presentation is
without pressure and our saleslady soon realises it is not for us so lets us
off with the briefest talk possible. 
With vouchers for everything we opt for tomorrow nights show as there
are better seats (a saving of $16.50, £8.25 each), use our $50 gambling voucher
and get cash back then read that we must send off for our 3 night
vacation.  A couple of hours well spent
in our books.  Finally make it further
along the strip; Fitzgerald’s give us $5 (£2.50) for signing up and a daily
free prize, sewing kit for Steve and dice for me.  Exploring the rest of the strip makes us realise how much Reno is
dying, no doubt due to the ability for other states to have casinos on the Indian
Reservations.  Hop around for the rest
of the day doing different prize draws and some Circus Circus shows.  End the day with a hoard of key rings,
playing cards, dice, pens (handy to give to the kids in Mexico) and we are also
$60 up on the day.  Just about worth all
the working and noisy smoky casino torture!



WEDNESDAY 3 OCTOBER – Having not been in the
van during the day we failed to spot an underground train line running between
the hotel and car park but find out about it at night when we get a tornado
like whoosh then vibration.  Reno must
have huge fire, crime or health problems as we hear numerous sirens throughout
the night.  The local buses offer free
wi-fi and the circuit by the casinos has a free loop so we spend ½ hour doing
our Internet on the bus, weird.  Steve
catches the first half of his Liverpool match at Eldorado but moves over to
CalNev for the second half and their beer and hot dog $1.50 lunch.  Early evening we head off for a stroll and
get 50c beers with taco chips in one of the bars before gong to the show.  The cast are all from London and they add a
bit of other 80’s music in with the Abba. We enjoy all the music and the show
is good but not outstanding.  The
slightly amateurish performance makes us understand why they are now appearing



THURSDAY 4 OCTOBER – After picking up our
daily freebies we ride the bus for the Internet but get off for a look around
the area by the courthouse.  There are
TV cameras around as the trial is going on of a local millionaire who shot, mutilated
and murdered his wife and then shot a judge. 
Visit Harrahs for an early lunch using the Thursday buy one get one free
voucher.  Normally $10.99 (£5.50) each
it’s excellent value with even more variety than Eldorado including steaks and
prawns.  Think our stomachs must still
be too full from over eating as we are soon struggling.  Leaving town we call in at Atlantis Casino,
a massive affair with the car park over the road and a sky bridge with gambling
and restaurant connecting it.  We spin a
wheel for free play, Steve gets $7 and I get $3 but could have won up to
$100.  There are lots of motorhomes on
the car park and they say we can stay over and confirm that the disco music
piped through the parking lot stops around 1am.  Nearby Peppermill is even more stunning.  The place is full of neon signs and the
themed Ocean Restaurant is incredible. 
The freebie is that any money lost on the slots up to $100 during the
first hour is credited back to your gaming card for you to repeat the
process.  I lose $5 in about 5 minutes
but when it is credited back I manage to win $10 and cash in and leave.  Guess I am just not much of a gambler or
maybe I have better things to do with my time than to spend all day in a
casino.  Back on Atlantis car park we
enjoy listening to the music, as it is mainly 60’s and 70’s with lots of
soul.  In fact had we been parked up
with people we knew we could easily have had a dance party between the
vans.  Nice as the music is we are not
impressed when it continues right through the night and would not have stayed
had we known.  Maybe it did stop around
1am but if it did it started again soon after, so here I am at 4am typing my



FRIDAY 5 OCTOBER – Manage to snatch another
couple of hours of sleep before we leave. 
It’s not a very nice morning and getting worse.  Snow is beginning to fall and we have to
abandon our plan to drive up to Virginia City, the scene for Bonanza, as it is
up in the mountains and we can’t even see them.  Arrive at Carson City and find free RV parking behind Golden
Nugget casino.  I know we said never
again but we can’t resist their lunchtime buffet at $6.75 (includes 10%
discount for over 50’s).  There’s a
smaller selection but it’s actually the nicest food we have had.  Spend the afternoon catching up on some
sleep which we needn’t have done as we have a quiet night.



SATURDAY 6 OCTOBER – With the overnight
temperature dropping to –5C we made the right decision not to push on to
Yosemite, which is about 3000 feet higher. 
There’s an Oktoberfest going on here today and a special party day at
Cactus Jacks casino.  Begin at the
casino where we enter a free poker machine contest then various draws of raffle
tickets whilst we are having free drinks and dropping the odd $1 into the
slots.  Walk out to the Oktoberfest but
it’s really pathetic and takes about 5 minutes to roam around.  There’s a laundry in the motel opposite us
so we take the chance to catch up on the washing before returning to Cactus Jacks.  They are now handing out free beer,
champagne and other drinks like they are going out of fashion and also doing
prize draws every 15 minutes.  By 7.30pm
the smoke is getting to me so I head home but leave Steve enjoying his
beer.  He returns at 10pm after they
close complete with a huge bag of goodies that he has won including 30 cans of



SUNDAY 7 OCTOBER – We make an early start, as
we want to visit Lake Tahoe then do the scenic drive to Yosemite.  Leaving Carson City the road climbs steeply
to Lake Tahoe, one of the highest, deepest, coldest and clearest lakes in the
world.  Cross the pass at Spooner summit
by Spooner Lake then drop down towards Tahoe. 
It’s very attractive and enhanced by the snow-capped peaks around
it.  The main town of Stateline, the
border into CALIFORNIA, is incredibly busy and touristy and we pass through
quickly.  Turn off onto highway 89 and we
are immediately rewarded by superb views. 
The trees are just beginning to change colour so we see various shades
of green through to orange with the occasional speck of red.  Our journey takes us up and over too many
passes to mention but with heights up to 9,000 feet it is slow going.  The early snow combined with the autumn
colours make it a breathtaking journey and it remains the same once we drop
down to join main highway 395 heading south. 
Having climbed up over a few more passes we turn a bend to find the
magnificent site of Mono Lake below us. 
In our opinion this is an even more impressive than Tahoe as it has two
volcanoes in the middle of the blue water. 
Drop down to the lake level and learn about the tufa formations at the
visitor centre.  These are like white
stalagmites that rise up out of the water and are formed by underground
springs.  If we had more time we would
have stayed and explored properly but we know that Tioga Pass over Yosemite was
only re-opened this morning and may close again at any time leaving us stranded
at this side of the Sierra Nevada. 
Enter Yosemite National Park (pass saves us $20, £10) at the 9945-foot
high Tioga Pass.  This is totally
different scenery to what we have already come through with lots of small
mountain lakes, alpine meadows but more unusually many huge granite rocks by
the road, and I mean huge as in mini Ayers Rocks.  We must get over the pass before dark and it’s also a bit cold
for hiking so we press on but take in most of the scenic viewpoints.  Finally drop down to join the road to
Yosemite Valley and emerging from a tunnel we get our first dramatic view of it
from above.  There are one-way roads in
the valley and we just have time to do the short walk to the impressive single
strand Bridal Falls that tumble off one of the high rocks.  The valley is surrounded by these massive
rocks and very impressive.  Both the
campgrounds show full but at the reservations centre they find us a spot.  Steve is shattered after a full day of hard
driving so settles down straight after tea.



MONDAY 8 OCTOBER – It’s Columbus Day and a
national holiday so the park remains busy but the good news is that the shuttle
bus is still running.  After moving onto
a day car park we take the bus and first check out the Ahwahnee Hotel opened in
1927.  It’s a very grand building with
some really impressive rooms including a lounge with fireplaces big enough to
stand in.  At the main visitor centre we
watch a short film about the park then stroll around a reconstructed Ahwahnee
Village “out back” before exploring the displays inside.  A short walk takes us to the Yosemite Falls
trail and although the walk is good the 5th highest falls in the
world at 2,425 feet have completely dried up. 
Bus it back to the van for lunch then catch the next shuttle to the end
of the valley to hike up to Vernal Falls bridge.  It’s a really strenuous walk almost totally up hill but we do get
great views down the valley and into a side gorge with a waterfall.  Reaching the bridge we get glimpses of the
Vernal Falls, which are flowing, but not in full splendour.  Hiking out is considerably quicker and we
are back in the van mid afternoon. 
Vehicles our length is not allowed out through the western park gate so
we must had south towards Wawona. 
Climbing out of the valley we stop at a viewpoint just before the tunnel
and get the most fantastic views back into Yosemite. Once again the road is
winding, narrow and climbs and falls many times before reaching Wawona.  Here we take the shuttle bus to Mariposa
Grove to see the Giant Sequoia trees. 
The ones near the car park impress us but the bus driver tells us they
are mere teenagers.  Hiking, up hill yet
again, into the Grove we reach “The Grizzly Giant” estimated to be 1,800 years
old.  California Tunnel Tree had a hole
cut through the bottom in 1895 to allow horse drawn stages to pass
through.  There are many other
outstanding specimens and we are amazed at how different it is to when we saw
the giant redwoods on the west coast. 
Returning to the van we leave the park and a few miles further on find a
turning to an area for off road motorbikes. 
Early evening the car park is empty and will do us for the night.



WEDNESDAY 10 OCTOBER – We need to gather info
for our on going trip so made enquiries with some hosts in Fresno.  In Oakhurst we get wi-fi but find that the
person we contacted has not been into his Hospitality Club account but does
have a phone number.  We call David and
he is absolutely amazed to hear from us as he is at the point of pressing the
“enter” key on his computer to send us a message saying please come and visit –
how uncanny is that?  It takes us an
hour to get to Fresco, a big city by our standards with almost ½ million
people.  David’s directions are good and
we soon find his home.  He is disabled
but works from home as a hypnotherapist. 
Both he and his Labrador Pecan greet us and Harry is soon parked on the
drive and hooked up to electric.  We
chat to David and he tells us he has a client coming in the afternoon but in
the meantime we are to make use of his facilities.  I’ve been waiting for a chance to put a colour on my hair and
somehow we always find washing to be done so make the most of the
opportunity.  Steve is having problems
with his mouth at the moment; on top of a few ulcers he bit his tongue whilst
chewing gum so added to his recent hard driving trips he is ready for an
afternoon in bed.  In the evening I cook
a pasta meal to share with David.  We
learn that at 18-years old he dived into water that he knew should be deep
enough but on that occasion a sand bank had appeared and he went straight into
it and did damage to his spine.  A
tragic accident but almost 40-years later he is making he best of the situation
and lives alone with a full time and part time carer to help.  He’s an interesting guy, very cheerful and
enjoys having guests to stay.  Knowing
the area very well he is able to advise us not to bother with Kings Canyon and
Sequoia National Park after seeing the same type of trees in Mariposa
Grove.  He agrees Lake Isabella is nice
but can’t give us a definitive answer on how to get there in a motorhome.



WEDNESDAY 10 OCTOBER – Although David’s carer
arrives at 8am it’s almost 10.30am before he is ready for visitors but Steve
appreciates the enforced lie in without me nagging him to get going!  Armed with some maps from David we have a
better idea where to go and take off towards Bakersfield on the main
highway.  It should only be 3 or 4 hours
to Lake Isabella but everything we do seems to take longer than expected to the
extent that in the single lane queue for gas at Flying J the pump breaks on the
man in front of us!  At a rest area we
make a final change on our planned journey as we confirm that the direct road
is steep and winding almost all the way. 
Opt for a more main route via Bakersfield swapping steep and winding for
narrow and winding through a gorge. 
It’s almost 5pm when we arrive at the Lake so take the first free
camping site at Auxiliary Dam Recreation Area. 
It’s a pleasant spot just below the dam but very open and exposed and
difficult to get a level as you are actually on the banks of the dried out part
of the receding lake and it is all sloping. 
Just about to give up when we spot a track higher up with potential and
manage to get level enough for the night. 
It’s very nice looking over the dam where about a dozen motorhomes are
camped along the shores.


$5 (£2.50) night May-September or $35 (£17.50) for the
season but FREE in winter


THURSDAY 11 OCTOBER – Pleasant as it is here
it’s too exposed for us to have a chance of stripping off but we know of a few
other free camping areas along the lakeshore. 
Sure enough just a couple of miles further on we find South Fork Marina
where no one else is camping and there are just a few day visitors.  At the far end of the site there are some
high bushes giving us protection from the wind and a modicum of privacy.  The toilet block is open and there’s a fresh
water supply so we are well pleased.  In
no time at all we have set up camp and stripped off to sunbathe in the front of
the van.  It’s a very scenic spot and we
are both happy campers.  By late
afternoon everyone else has gone and we have the place to ourselves to sit out
and enjoy.



FRIDAY 12 OCTOBER – Wake to a much stronger
wind, shame how the really nice places always seem to have a downside. No
matter as we have lots of odd jobs to do and this is the perfect
opportunity.  We’ve had a leak under the
shower tray since day 1 and logic tells me that the Moturis mechanic piling
silicone on top of the plug isn’t the answer. 
Having unscrewed the plug fitting we put some special rubber putty stuff
around the hole under the plug and then screw the plug back down onto it.  In theory creating a better seal but time
will tell.  The days goes really quickly
in between pottering around, reading and playing cards but the wind never drops
and in fact we get a couple of brief showers in the evening.



SATURDAY 13 OCTOBER – Get up early to make a
decision about the day and there is no wind at all but by the time we have had
breakfast it is quite breezy so we decide to press on.  Once again we have a high climb on a winding
road to get over to the main 395 highway. 
This is the one we came down to enter Yosemite and signs tell us that
once again Tioga Pass is closed.  At the
dried up but attractive Olancha Lake we turn off towards Death Valley and
immediately see a coyote cross the road. 
True to form the road makes a steep climb over the mountains but we get
fine views of Rainbow Canyon from Father Crowley peak before dropping down to a
desolate valley.  However this is not
Death Valley and we must make another climb up over Towne Pass, 4956’ before
getting our first glimpse of Death Valley on our descent.  At least the barren scenery is made more
attractive by many colourful rock formations. 
Half way down the hill Emigrant Camp is a free campground with fine
views of the valley although no shade at all. 
Having parked the van to create our own shade we set about having lunch,
taken on the picnic table with a stunning view.  In the evening we join fellow campers Bob & Linda who invite
us over to taste some of their recently acquired wine.  This evolves into a long session with us
sharing their beef stew then me providing after dinner hot drinks and
snacks.  We manage to help each other as
they have spent lots of time in Mexico but now want to know more about travelling
full time in a motorhome and in other countries. 



SUNDAY 14 OCTOBER – Once we drop down to the
hill to Stovepipe Wells we are at sea level and the road drops further putting
us below sea level as we cross Death Valley by some sand dunes.  Beside the road is an area called Devils
cornfield but it looks more like mini haystacks.  Head north up the edge of the valley where the minimal vegetation
decreases and the few boulders give way to nothing but flat gravely land.  Arrive at Death Valley Ranch more commonly
known as Scotty’s Castle.  During our
$11 (£5.50) 1-hour visit we learn all about the buildings intriguing history
based on a man called Scotty who conned, amongst many others, the owner Albert Johnson
but they ended up becoming friends.  The
“holiday home” is magnificent in Spanish style.  Built in the early 1900’s it was way ahead of its time with solar
power and other energy efficient systems. 
Sadly the project was never completed and a magnificent swimming pool
remains unfinished.  Retracing our steps
we stop for lunch at Mesquite campground but it’s not great so we continue to
Furnace Creek and the parks main visitor centre.  Park fees of $20 (£10) or your pass must be shown here and there
are good displays and a film.  At the
nearby, below sea level, campground we get a spot next to Bob & Linda to
carry on where we left off last night.


$12 (£6)


MONDAY 15 OCTOBER – Not only are we getting
some warm evenings but it also stays warm all night now.  Yesterday the ranger disappointed us with
the fact that many of the parks sights and hikes cannot be accessed in
motorhomes over 25’ long.  We are now
reduced to doing just one hike and one viewpoint but begin in earnest at Golden
Canyon.  It impresses us immediately
with the early morning sun highlighting the rock colours.  Remains of an old road can still be seen but
we can’t imagine where the road may have gone anyway as the canyon soon becomes
very narrow.  A mile or so along we
reach the point with a view of “Red Cathedral” and it was definitely worth the
walk.  At the end of the trail we meet
Mike & Laurie and begin chatting. 
On a mini holiday they leave from Las Vegas tonight but plan on whizzing
through the park to do the other highlights before leaving and offer us a
ride.  Back in the car park we stash
their big suitcase in our van in order to use the back seat of their rented
convertible Mustang.  It’s great fun
driving through the dessert with the warm wind in your hair.  Artists Palette reveals the most colourful
rocks in the park and is really amazing. 
Devils Golf Course is a bit of a let down as it is just a very rough
area of salt cones.  The hike into
Natural Bridge is also good and beyond it we reach the end of the trail at the
bottom of a beautiful dried up waterfall the base of which is green and red
shiny rock.  The others clamber up it to
explore a little further but my shoes have slippery soles.  I’m glad I don’t do it when first they
report little to see and then Laurie has great difficulty getting back down the
rocks.  Return for a picnic lunch beside
Harry then drive in convoy to the base of Dante’s View where we get back in the
car for the steep climb to the summit. 
Views in both directions of the valley are superb and we are directly
above Badwater, the lowest point in the park at 282’ below sea level.  We’re very sad to part company as we feel
like we have known each other for ages but may catch up with them again in
Washington DC where they live.  They
drive off into the distance with us chugging along behind. Pahrump is the first
town over the border in NEVADA and has a few casinos but more interestingly for
us a campground at a winery that offers 3 nights free stay and a meal in
exchange for doing a 90-minute presentation. 
It’s very late when we arrive but our initial reaction is poor as the
sites are all on gravel in a row like a car park. Drive the 3 miles back to
town to check out a few casinos but don’t stay long, no point in getting casino
burn out with Las Vegas coming up! 




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