Exploring the Southern End of Highway 395 – CA

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Although this is my final installment covering our two weeks of outdoor fun along scenic Highway 395, it’s by no means our final visit.  Many beautiful sights remain to be seen, even after our second stay.  As I’ve mentioned before, the area is not only breathtaking but also provides access to several other natural wonders.  One of them is Death Valley National Park, and we decided to take a detour to it, one of our favorite places in the west! Continue reading

Things are still fine in Lone Pine, CA!

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It’s turkey day, but this lucky one got away!

Steve and I are thankful that all of you have continued to jam on down the road with us, and we wish you all the best and a very Happy Thanksgiving!

If you’re fans of old western movies as we are, a visit to Lone Pine, CA should be on your must-do list.


Well, one of Hollywood’s favorite western movie locations, the Alabama Hills, are right here.  It’s where hundreds of cowboy and war movies have been filmed since 1920.  The Museum of Western Film History should be the first stop to not only get your bearings, but also to learn about specific locations of the area’s appearances in Hollywood feature films.  After that, grabbing a self-guided tour book that describes famous movie locations will be the start of a unique day of exploration in the area.

We always get excited when we watch an old movie and recognize the places we’ve seen here, yelling, “been there!” together 🙂 Continue reading

Hiking the Eastern Sierras – Bishop, CA

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Continuing our drive south on Hwy 395, we quickly descended from 7,654′ at June Lake to 4,150′ at the scenic small town of Bishop.  Here the cottonwoods, willows and aspens painted the valleys, mountainsides and meadows in gold!  For us, autumn is the best time to visit, but the area wilderness adventures are gorgeous year-round.  And thanks to John Muir, the area is steeped in conservationist history.  Hiking here leads to majestic granite mountains, alpine lakes, lush forest, pretty desert scrub and spectacular views: Continue reading

A place NOT on everybody’s “Must See” list – Tecopa, CA

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Clay and rock

After days of exploration and fascination at Death Valley National Park its time to say goodbye to one of our favorite places and move along.  We didn’t have a firm destination, but rather a tentative stop in mind before crossing into Nevada.  We took highway 190 E and at the junction turned right onto 127 S, where we traveled through the expanse of the Amargosa Valley.  We initially hesitated to stop at our first tentative destination, for it was in the middle of nowhere and we didn’t know much about it.   But what the heck, lets check out this place called Tecopa Hot Springs.  We saw what looked like a little oasis up on a plateau to the east, so we turned left and followed the sign.  Our GPS directed us to the first RV park, Petersen’s Tecopa Palm RV Park.  At registration we learned we’d be hooking up to natural mineral water, which means it’s not so good for cooking, drinking or using in your coffee.  Also, since we were in the desert there was no cell, internet or tv.  Hmmm, sounds exciting!  So we decided to stay for the night.

Mineral Water Content

Even if Tecopa is off the beaten path, this town seems to be a snow birder’s destination.  As we socialized with folks during the 4pm happy hour we learned that the big attraction here is the natural baths, local hot mineral springs they claim is healing.  There is a public hot springs administered by Inyo County at a cost of $5 per day, where you must shower first then bathe in the nude.  Oh.  Lucky for us, the RV park had their own  private Hot Mineral Baths, natural hot spring water piped into soaking tubs.  The rules are the same, shower first then soak in your  birthday suit.

Hot Tub

The sign says, “Welcome to Paradise”.  Well, maybe if your idea of paradise is scalding hot water!  Too hot for us…

Our planned one-day stay became three days in short order, as the desert landscape and quiteness got to us, plus the natural hot springs.  The mineral water did not bother us much, nor did being off the grid again.  Tecopa is beautiful and has a mix of rolling hills and desert flats.  From our site we enjoyed a 360-degree mountain view, interesting vistas and more.  This place is no Death Valley, yet it has its own character and is worth seeing and enjoying.

View from our Betsy

The view of Tecopa from Betsy

On our second day we hopped in the car and followed the sign pointing to China Ranch, about 7 miles north of Tecopa.  At the end of a twisting road between chalky cliffs cut into desert seemingly barren of plant life, China Ranch came into view.

China Ranch

To China Ranch we go

What the heck is China Ranch? Well, it’s a family-owned small farm in a hidden oasis in the Mojave Desert.  The ranch fills a little valley with groves of stately date palms, stands of cottonwoods and thickets of vegetation, all amid the tranquil sounds of trickling spring water. P1240476

There’s  a bakery with yummy home made bread and cookies made of dates, assorted dates for tasting, a gift shop, landscaping nursery, a one-room museum

and miles of hiking trails.  Mine shafts abound in China Ranch, as the area has a rich history of mining booms and busts.  Lead, Silver, Gypsum and Talc were the primary minerals that were extracted here.

Date Palms

Groves of Date Palms ready for harvest

We were thrilled at  the assortment of hiking trails!  Off we went  without a trail map (the gift shop was not open yet) or drinking water, thinking we’d be back in less than an hour.  In short, we were winging it and feeling adventurous.

Gold Rock

Gold Rock next to Clay hills

Despite the lack of trail markers, this was really a wonderful area to hike and explore.  It is unique, with an assortment of intriguing scenery.  As we were walking along the ancient lakebed sediments, we saw light-colored clay hills mixed in with darker hard “gold rock” mountains.  We also explored a couple of canyons leading between mountain peaks which ended in very high dry waterfalls.  We could just picture the water cascading down those falls and through the canyons we were exploring.

We enjoyed looking at interesting formations and checked out some  veins of gypsum running through the clay hills.  Then we walked down the ridge and flood levee. Rockhounds would love this place with all the colorful rocks strewn in the area.

Waterfall in the desertFinally, we saw a waterfall in the middle of the desert.  Parts of the various trails run along the grade to the old Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, and we found many of the 100+ year old track ties discarded along the way.  As we kept walking and admiring the view of badlands, colorful rhyolitic volcanic rocks, marshes and salt flats we lost track of time and were feeling a little lost in the wilderness.  The half-hour walk became a three-hour trek, and it was pretty awesome.  After arriving back at the park we availed ourselves of the  mineral bath to ease our aching muscles.  Not for long though, that water was super-hot!

The lack of  quality drinking water in Tecopa, a community  built around natural hot springs, does not deter those who seek a destination off the beaten path. Our spur-of-the-moment decision to stop here illustrated that even though it’s NOT on everyone’s must-see list, that only makes it more  alluring.  It was a stop well worth it!

Here are some interesting things we admired along the way.


A break with family and friends, then onward!

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Eagles Nest RV park

The morning we left Tionesta, CA

Feeding Goats

Steve fed the goats before bidding goodbye

Since we are back in CA where we began, we decided to take a break from our travels to visit family and friends as well as unloading some unwanted items from Betsy.  Our drive took us from Tionesta to Susanville, to Truckee in California and finally we parked at Sparks, Nevada.  We followed the Volcanic Legacy highway, scenic byways and along the way we saw beautiful autumn colors on display, huge ranches of happy cows and migrating birds.

CA 89 Happy Cows from California

Truckee is only a 3-hour drive from our old hometown of Tracy, CA, yet we had never visited the Donner Memorial State Park.  We spent a day checking out the park and driving around the lake with our good friends Vic and Pam.  Of course, this was the location where many members of the Donner Party spent their final days.  We had heard about the Donner Party, yet we had not really learned the detailed story.  Their fate is known to be the dark side of the California dream, one of the most gruesome stories of the Old West: The Donner Party.

Pioneer Monument

Pioneer Monument, the base measures 22 ft high, the height of the snow during that terrible winter of 1846-1847

In April 1846, a group of Midwestern families left Independence, Missouri, bound for California. Their wagon train rolled over the Great Plains and through the Rockies, but was seriously delayed when a “shortcut” leading southwest was anything but.  A breakdown in civilized behavior followed: the emigrants quarreled constantly; one man killed another; an old man was left on the trail to die. When their provisions and oxen were consumed, the desperate emigrants finally cannibalized their dead friends and relatives. Eweww!  Forty-one of the 89 would-be settlers perished.

While Betsy was parked in Sparks, Nevada, Steve took care of his doctor’s appointment and most importantly the air chamber leak on our Sleep number bed.  I drove down to the East Bay where we used to have our stick house and dropped off the extra stuff at our storage room.  I spent bonding time with my sisters Thelma and Becky in Pleasanton, nieces and nephews, Joel and Hazel in Roseville and friends Fely and Lita in Sacramento.

Alta Mont Pass

Our old stomping grounds, the Altamont Pass on Highway 580

When the bonding and visiting was over I drove back up the mountain and met up with Steve where our friends Manny and Elvee from Sparks prepared a delicious and sumptuos feast.  We are still enjoying the leftovers!

It was so great spending time with our good friends and family, but because the weather is trying to catch up with us we had to resume our migration to the south.

Here are some snapshots that I managed to capture while having fun.