Sunday, April 1, 2012


Mt. Humphreys, heading north on I-17We have returned to our ex-hometown of Sacramento, California, in springtime each of the 9 years we have been traveling.  (Today begins Year 10 – Happy Anniversary to us!)  Each year, we’ve arrived a bit earlier… and this year we planned our earliest arrival yet, April 2nd.  Once that date was set, the speed and direction of our travels fell in place.  Leaving Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood (click here to read our review), we knew we needed to cover 900+ miles in 8 days – no big deal. 

Our plan?  From Dead Horse Ranch State Park, head up I-17 to Flagstaff, hang a left, and land in Williams, Arizona (motto: Gateway to the Grand Canyon) for three nights (to include a day trip to the Canyon); Williams to the Elks Lodge in Needles for an overnight stay; Needles to Mojave for the night, then on to the Escapee park in Coarsegold, California for two nights – with potential for a day trip into Yosemite National Park if weather cooperated.  A short drive from Coarsegold to the Sacramento area would be the final leg.

OK and LB at CanyonRV travel is very weather dependent!  This time of year, in the southwest, wind is not infrequent… big wind.  We kept a close eye on the weather as we headed north and west.

Our drive to Williams from Cottonwood was short and enjoyable.  After spending the winter in the arid southwest, we felt elated as we headed into the forests of Arizona’s higher elevations.  Snow on top of Mt. Humphreys!  On I-40, we turned west, dropped a little in elevation, and settled in to a site at Canyon Gateway RV Park (review to come later) for three nights… which turned out to be one night too long.  :)

We had beautiful weather for our drive, and more of the same on Tuesday – so we headed off in the Jeep to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  In prior visits, we have camped (with Scoopy) at the south rim; this time, we opted for the day trip, since it is both easier and cheaper to visit by car.  Fabulous day – cool sunshine, manageable crowds.  We walked and walked and walked, ogling the canyon and enjoying major people-watching. 

OK with Elk at Grand CanyonAt one point, sitting on a bench along the Timeline trail, three elk came grazing up the hill behind us, completely unfazed by the pedestrian traffic.  Clots of camera-toting tourists formed, snapped their photos, then moved on… and we got a huge kick out of their guesses concerning the nature of these animals.  "Llamas?  Alpacas?  “Moose, look, moose!”  Deer?  Relaxing on the bench, Odel played senior ranger, providing animal identification to those who asked. 

My favorite “mind’s eye” snapshot?  A skinny, twenty-something male, smoking a cigarette, creeping slowly towards one of the big animals, taking photos with his iPad (or maybe a video?).  Such a funny juxtaposition of nature and technology!

On Wednesday?  Nothing much.  If we hadn’t already paid for three nights in Williams, we would have moved on.  A hike I thought we would like was still under snow… I should have started our taxes, but couldn’t get motivated.  Ho, hum… :)

Time to check on the weather again.  The report?  Needles, our next stop – and only 175 miles away – was considerably hotter.  While we enjoyed cool sunshine at Arizona’s higher elevations, California’s low Mojave desert was hot; the forecast for Needles on Thursday was pushing 90 degrees.  Ugh.  What a place to spend the afternoon!

Saturate Before UsingDriving through southern California’s desert areas on I-40 is one of my least favorite routes.  It probably was interesting the first time we did it, maybe even the second and third.  Now, though, it is a long, usually hot, slog.  Heading west, I-40 dips down from a couple thousand feet above sea level at Kingman, Arizona, to a couple hundred feet above sea level at Needles, on the Colorado River, then climbs up and down the arid mountain ranges that march across the landscape.  Tiny towns, deserted service stations, closed rest stops (not all, thankfully), wild tire skid marks cutting across lanes… lots of scrub, plenty of heat.

Where I-40 ends at I-15 in Barstow, we pick up highway 58, even more boring.  Four Corners, Boron, Mojave… flat, pale, scrubby.  At last, 58 begins climbing up to Tehachapi through a pass populated with giant windmills – a clue to high profile vehicles drivers that this isn’t a good place to travel during a wind storm.

To avoid the heat of Needles, we decided to stay in the upper elevations as long as possible.  On Thursday, we drove a mere 100 miles, from Williams to Blake Ranch RV Park (review to come later) a dozen miles short of Kingman, AZ.  We’d have a longer drive on Friday, but better weather for any sightseeing we could dig up on Thursday afternoon.

And we found some GREAT sightseeing near Kingman!

Heading west on I-40 From Route 66 towards Oatman

With such a short drive, we were set up in our new site by noon.  We headed back out on I-40 and into Kingman, Arizona, taking the turnoff onto old Route 66, once THE route to L.A. from the east.  After a quick lunch stop, we were on that famous road, heading up over Sitgreaves Pass towards the revitalized mining ghost town of Oatman. 

The drive was FANTASTIC!  Twisting, turning, climbing and descending.  The interesting sights we discovered along the way piqued my curiosity, and I found a great website detailing this stretch of Route 66 when we returned home – I especially enjoyed the part about Model T’s backing up the slope, and about the Shaffer Fish Bowl (I climbed those steps and photographed the bowl).  Oatman, our goal, was not of much interest to either of us – too touristy – but we were happy that it had drawn us into this lovely, historic drive.

Shaffer Fish Bowl
View from the fish bowl.
Above: I climbed the cliff side steps to the Shaffer Fish Bowl, captured from a seep from the rocks.

Below: the “ghost town” of Oatman had too many tourists and shops for us.
Above:  the view from the fish bowl ledge.

Below: The Garmin’s route map of the road to Oatman – very accurate!
Too many tourists for us! Twists and Turns

Early Friday morning, we pulled out of Blake Ranch RV Park and headed west again, planning a drive of almost 300 miles to Mojave, California.  The forecast was great (though a little warm): sunny and calm.  But a change was coming, with high wind warnings posted for all the passes in southern California, including the wind tunnel of Tehachapi Pass.

When we hit Mojave at 2 pm, we just rolled on through, and ended up posting our highest one-day mileage record, 375 miles.   We took advantage of the calm winds to climb Tehachapi pass, roll down through Bakersfield, and continue on to the big, flat parking lot at the Elks Lodge in Wasco.   The entire, boring Mojave desert drive was behind us and we had just a short hop up to our next stop.  Yippee!

Half Dome in snowAnd now, we’re safely settled at the beautiful Park of the Sierras, the Escapee RV park in Coarsegold, California (review to come later).  Our drive from Wasco to Coarsegold was wonderfully uneventful; by the time the forecast wind and rain hit us, we’d finished setting up camp and taken a short walk.

I was up early this morning to check the Yosemite webcams, wondering whether we should venture up Highway 41 to the national park.  Ha, ha, ha!  Yes, the road is open (chains required)… but I don’t think we have the right clothing for the park today (photo from the Sentinel Dome webcam).

Tomorrow, we’re off on the last leg of our winter travels, back to visit family and friends in Sacramento.  Maybe we can slip back down to Yosemite before we head out for our summer travels.