Day 4 – Hot Springs, Arkansas 

April 25

We camped at Gulpha Gorge which is part of the Hot Springs National Park. The park includes Bathhouse Row in the historic part of Hot Springs. 

After driving for the last three days, we were ready for a break. So we decided to hike to the historic section and back. 

We crossed over the creek and followed the Gulpha Gorge Trail up the mountain and then took the Hot Springs Mountain Trail that follows the ridgeline. 

There was a great view from the top.

We opted to skip the Observation Deck.

We continued along to reach the Shortcut Trail & then the Dead Chief Trail.

Doing that put us out on the Grand Promenade right behind the bathhouses. It is a lovely, patterned brick, wide walkway. It is easy to imagine couples dressed in their finest strolling along it.

Going to the end put us close to the end of Bathhouse Row. 

In 1832, the federal government set aside this area to reserve the springs. Considering this was before National Parks and the Civil War, it was an unlikely action. In 1921, it became the 18th National Park.

Hot Springs National Park

The architecture of this area is notable. In 1913, there was a huge fire that burned most of the buildings along the main street.

Because of that, the majority of the buildings around this area were built soon after in an art deco style. The details caught my eye. 

And the lines.

The bathhouses were designed to attract the rich and wealthy, so they are build in a variety of styles. 

Quapaw Bathhouse is built in a Spanish Colonial Revival style. It has been restored and offers spa /bath services. Of course, it is closed on Tuesdays.

The Fordyce is built in a Renaissance Revival style. It was the most impressive bathhouse at the height of the Bathhouse period.

It was extensively restored and is now the Visitor Center for the National Park.  

It was early afternoon at this point, so we stopped at the Superior Bathhouse for lunch.

It was built in a Classical Revival style. It is currently operated as a brewery and restaurant. 

Superior Bathhouse

The food was really good and fresh. Jon tried their root beer and found it tasty.

We toured the Fordyce visitor center and museum. The restoration was extensive and there are lots of attractive features.

It was interesting to see what kinds of health therapies have come and gone in the last 100 years. 

Hydrotherapy is still in use.

Physical exercise is still important, just the types of activities. I’m surprised that Cross fit isn’t incorporated traveling rings in their training programs.

After the Fordyce, we continued walking down the main street checking out the sights. 

Once we felt like we had seen enough, we hiked back to the campground via a little less hilly a route. We walked about 7 1/2 miles with a lot of elevation.


Jon and I were both hot and tired by the time we got back to the campsite. So we spent time hanging out, talking with other campers, cooling off, getting organized, etc. 

We are heading out tomorrow. A big storm front is coming through in the morning.

On our way out, we passed by the observation deck at the top of the hill we climbed. We definitely had a lot of elevation to climb on that hike.

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Day 3 – Crossing the Mississippi River

Alabama to Arkansas

Our campsite was relatively quiet until the whippoorwill (turns out it was actually a Chuck’s-will-widow) started calling at 4:30. We were able to get back to sleep, so we had a nice lazy start this morning.

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We continued west on Hwy 278. It is a really pleasant route to take. It reminded us of Hwy 64 in central North Carolina.

We crossed into Mississippi going along I-20 before taking the Natchez Trace Parkway back to 278. 
We took more backroads to cross the Mississippi River at Helena, Arkansas.

It gave us a chance to see a juvenile Bald Eagle and coyote.

Even with the bridge being only two lanes normally and one lane right now due to construction,  we crossed in a timely manner with a chance to enjoy the view.

We stopped at the Arkansas Welcome Center in Helena which is worth stopping at if you happen to be out that way.

We took the backroads across most of Arkansas. The eastern part is primarily agricultural. We saw a crop duster. Other than that, it was pretty much just fields and trees and tiny farming communities.

We stopped for the night at the Gulpha Gorge Campground in the Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

It is an older, moderately densely packed campground. There are lots of mature trees providing great shade. 

We settled in and took a stroll around the campground.  We talked about overlanding with a nice couple in a pretty rugged vehicle and trailer.

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Day 2 – Georgia to Alabama

Driving through Georgia in the Rain


It was raining when we got up. So no photo of our campsite. It rained on us through all of Georgia. We made it around Atlanta with only slow downs, no major stoppages. That is why we tried to get through it on a weekend. 

After Atlanta, we got off the interstate and have been following Hwy 278 through Alabama. The rain mostly stopped by early afternoon. 

We passed by a car that had slid off the road into a ditch deploying all of their airbags. The family seemed to be ok and waved us off. It was a good reminder to be careful on rain slick roads. 

We stopped for the night at the campground at Corinth Recreation Area inside the William B Bankhead National Forest. 

We found a really nice campsite right next to the lake overlook and a trail through the woods.

We stopped a lot earlier than last night giving us time to take a hike in the forest and time to prepare grilled chicken with salsa verde for dinner. 

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 Day 1 – Leaving North Carolina 

Robinson Fuso is underway. We are finally leaving home and heading out West. 

We made it to the South Carolina/Georgia state line tonight. We stayed at Lake Hartwell State Park near Fair Play, SC. We pulled in right at twilight which gave us enough time to pick a campsite and get set up,  but not enough time for photos.

Lake Hartwell State Park 
We woke up to rain. We’re heading across Georgia and into Alabama today. Lots of rain expected. 

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Mugwumps, Nevada – May 29, 2016

Camping at Mugwumps

Camping at Mugwumps

After spending a quiet night at Tuff Campgound in the Inyo National Forest, we started out towards Reno. The Fuso drove significantly better since we swapped out a front tire with the spare tire.

We stopped in Reno to pick up supplies. Now that we were prepared, we headed to the Black Rock Desert. We made a brief stop at the historical marker near the border of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation.

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Jon reading the historical marker.

There was a nice view, too.

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Since we weren’t going to be able to reach the Black Rock Desert until after dark, we decided to do a little dispersed camping in the BLM land east of the highway. We found a spot that was sheltered from the highway noise by a rock outcropping.

Camping behind a big mound of rocks.

Camping behind a big mound of rocks.

We were surprised by the unusual nature of the rocks.

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After getting the camper set up for the night, we went out to explore.

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These rocks are tufa mounds.

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They were formed when this entire area was underwater. Our campsite is below the surface level of the now dry Winnemucca Lake. The landscape looks like it could have been part of an ancient lake bed.

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The mounds were created by springs emptied into the lake below the surface level. The springs contained dissolved calcium with combined with the carbonate in the water created calcium carbonate rock. As the springs continued to flow, the rock built up into the tufa mounds.

USGS Tufas of Pyramid Lake, NV website

 

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You can see a number of other areas with tufa mounds in the background.

Most of the mounds had broken which allowed us to take a look at the interesting forms created by the slow deposition of rock.

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They almost look like the remains of an ancient alien civilization.

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We spent a lot of time walking around.

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Jon found a rattlesnake. We left it alone. Rocks like these are a great habitat for small rodents. And where you have small rodents, you have things that eat them.

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The scenery made for a nice background.

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It was getting close to sunset.

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I fixed dinner and we had a quiet night.

 

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Going North from Saline Valley and through the Owens Valley – May 28, 2016

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Looking back at the Saline Valley Warm Springs

We left Saline Valley on May 28. Before you reach the Saline Valley Rd, you pass by the Bat pole. It is another creative landmark for the warm springs.

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This time we went north on the Saline Valley Road to get back to civilization. The road going north is a much more pleasant route to go into and out of Saline Valley. For one thing, it is much shorter.

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The road is still very rough with sections of washboard and very rough surfaces.

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And there is a significant climb to get out of the valley.

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The mountains are beautiful.

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There was an abundance of wildflowers along  the road, especially once you get up over the North Pass.

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You know you are getting close to the end of the road when you start seeing the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There was still snow at the top.

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When we did reach the road, we saw a sign warning about a bicycle race.

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We passed the bikers a few miles later. There were only about four of them and they were still on the side of the road with their support vehicle.

Once we reached pavement, the Fuso seemed to have all of its tires severely out of balance. We just weren’t able to tell while we were on the dirt roads.  Our tire rotation in Saline Valley seemed to be a bad idea. We couldn’t go any faster than about 45 mph. We plan on doing something about it when we reach a campsite tonight.

We headed north on US 395, the main road running through the Owens Valley. The Sierra Nevada mountains are to the west and the White Mountains on the east. It makes for a very pretty area.

Owens Valley

We stopped in Bishop, CA for lunch at and to check out Mule Days.

Bishop Mule Days

Every Memorial Day weekend, Bishop celebrates the mule with equestrian competitions and festivities. We had heard of the event, but never visited. It took a while to find a parking space.

Once there, we headed directly to Erick Schat’s Bakkery, Home of the World Famous Original Sheepherder’s Bread. We’ve stopped here for bread, but had not ever eaten there. The sandwiches were awesome.

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We strolled through an arts and crafts show that was being held in the Bishop City Park.

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We got back on US 395 and started looking for campgrounds. We were passing through the Inyo National Forest. We stopped at Tuff Campground. It was a fairly small campground along Rock Creek. We found a spot and were quite happy to be settled for the night.

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It was really cold. Even in Bishop, temperatures were in the 90’s. When we arrived at the campground, the temperatures had dropped into the 60’s.

After dressing more appropriately, we walked along Rock Creek that meandered along.

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We passed by a significant number of people fishing along it. We stopped to talk with a few people that were packing up for the day. This area is quite pretty with lots of wildflowers and a picturesque creek.

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And there are some mighty big trees.

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We took a little time to swap out one of the front tires for the spare. We hoped that would make enough of a difference to allow us to continue on in the morning. It was a quiet and very cold night with lows in the 30’s. Quite a contrast to Saline Valley.

 

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Saline Valley, Death Valley National Park, CA – May 24-27, 2016

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This is not going to be an in depth description of the Saline Valley Warm Springs. It would take a lot of time and type to explain the area. We were here in May of 2014 during this same type of trip. You can check out our blog post from our last trip here at:

Saline Valley Blog Post 2014

To sum up very briefly. There are three sets of natural warm springs in this part of Saline Valley.

Camping around the Lower Springs and the Palm Springs (the middle spring) has been going on here long before this area was part of the National Park System.  There is a camp host, a fire pit, vault toilets, and a lawn at the Lower Springs.

A wonderful lawn to nap on.

A wonderful lawn to nap on.

 

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The camp host’s compound and wild burros.

There are several small pools for people to soak.

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The crystal pool, fire pit and sink area.

 

We’ve been visiting here since 2001.

Originally in a Range Rover and a tent.

 

2001 Warm Spring Campsite 2 RR

 

Later in a Land Rover Defender 110.

Jon and I both love the desert and this one is particularly beautiful. I usually take a lot of pictures of the scenery and the vegetation.

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Sunrise at Saline Valley – Oct 2002

 

A view from this year.

A view from this year.

We arrived in the mid-afternoon. We decided to camp at the Lower Springs in the same campsite that we used during our last trip.

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2014

 

2016

2016

 

It is in a fairly protected site.

Even the Fuso is well protected at this site.

Even the Fuso is well protected at this site.

 

It was a good thing in 2014 during a ferocious dust storm.

Massive dust storm in 2014

50 mph sustained horizontal winds in 2014

After setting up camp, we decided it was time to wander around and see who’s here and check out the current condition of the place.

Shower area. Not much has changed.

Shower area. Not much has changed.

In the main social area, there were two burros eating a magazine. A nice guy did take it away from them, always a little dangerous since they are actually wild burros. Oddly enough we saw the same two burros in almost the same place as in 2014.

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Wild burros are a real problem in the Death Valley area. They out compete the native wildlife especially the Big Horn Sheep.

We walked around and talked with people.

We went for a dip in the Sunrise Pool. The weather was hot, so we didn’t stay in the pool as long as we might have under different circumstances.

Jon in the Sunrise Pool

Jon in the Sunrise Pool

There are a number of art projects around the springs.

Including Peace Mountain, a red pumice covered hill with a peace sign on it.

The dark red mound has a peace sign.

The dark red mound has a peace sign.

And all sorts of creatures and patterns made out of rocks that wash off of the surrounding hills.

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And a wrench standing on one end.

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The end of a wrench sticking out of the ground.

Even the wall surrounding the Source for the main pools is decorated.

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Several heart shaped rocks form part of the wall.

Most of the vault toilets have murals on the inside and rock art of the outside.

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We were camping near the Dragon Pool, but it didn’t have much water in it during most of this visit.

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The day we arrived, the clouds came in and threatened to rain, but it fortunately didn’t rain on us.

Jon admires the rain clouds and sunset.

Jon admires the rain clouds and sunset.

 

Close up view.

Close up view.

As important, it didn’t rain on the pass above the warm springs. Water runs downhill and there can be flash floods here even without getting any direct rain.

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On May 25, we had the same clouds roll in around 2:30 when it was about 95 degrees in the shade. The clouds brought just a light sprinkle of rain, but the best part was that it dropped the temperatures by about 30 degrees making it much more comfortable.

A view of the clouds from the hill above the Fuso.

A view of the clouds from the hill above the Fuso.

We spent most of the day just relaxing. With a little time spent getting the Fuso organized again. After a week at Overland Expo, we have a lot of things that need to be organized.

We were buzzed by the occasional jet.

Another jet.

It may look small in the photo, but they are really low to the ground.

They do a lot of low level flights over the valley. The noise is incredible.

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We had a quiet night.

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On May 26, weather was certainly hotter and we didn’t have any rain. Jon and I rotated the tires on the Fuso. Not any easy thing to do considering the size and weight of the tires and the Fuso.

Jon and I rotate the tires.

Jon and I rotate the tires.

Later in the day, the Bells pulled up in their Land Rover. They are friends we met though the overlanding community. Graeme and Luisa Bell with their two children, Keelan and Jessica, are traveling the world in a Land Rover with a roof top tent. They have driven from Argentina to Alaska and are now planning a trip to Asia. Their website is:

A2A Expedition

They camped next to us.

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Luisa grilled over a fire for dinner and the rest of us sat around the fire talking.

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May 27 was uneventful. The weather became hotter. We spent much of our time in the shady areas on the lawn. As we got closer to Memorial Day weekend, more people arrived.

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Incredible sunsets.

We hung out around the campfire at the Bell’s campsite again.

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On May 28th, we decided to head north out of the heat and hopefully to someplace with fewer people. There may be a lot of desert around this area, but the pools, lawn, etc. are a limited resource. It doesn’t take very many people for it to become crowded.

See my next blog post for our drive out of Saline Valley and where we went from here.

 

 

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The Road to Saline Valley, South Pass – May 24, 2016

When we checked into the Panamint Springs Campground last night, we chose to stay in a dry RV spot since we weren’t going to be there long enough to need any services. So it was a real surprise when we woke up to a stream flowing from our site.

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There was a water faucet, but it was part of the irrigation system. The irrigation system had been turned on, but the one at our campground had broken off underground and all the water was creating a stream running under our truck.

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The water faucet is to the left of the open front door.

Except for getting our feet wet at the bottom of our steps, this wasn’t a problem for us. We contacted the office, but they weren’t able to do anything about it at the moment.

We finished packing up and continued to go west on Hwy 190.

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At the edge of Death Valley National Park, we turned onto Saline Valley Road.

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The road follows along the top of the ridge. Joshua Trees love high altitude desert and this part of the road is definitely both.

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Joshua trees silhouetted against the sky.

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There is a turn off for Hidden Valley. Then the road follows Grapevine Canyon which drops it into the Saline Valley.

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There is a lot of wildlife and flora down the Grapevine Canyon due to the spring that runs through the area. At one point, we were treated to the sight of an adult quail followed by a procession of baby quail crossing the road. As we got closer, suddenly there was a tremendous number of quail jumping out of the bushes, flying and running across the road. They all disappeared into the canyon on the other side of the road in moments.

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As we reached the slope leading down into the valley, we heard the sound of a big aircraft close by. After looking around for a bit, we saw a C-130 flying really low along the valley to our left.

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I took a few pictures, but they don’t do it justice. The C-130 is a really large four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft. It passed from behind us to follow the valley. To see it flying so close to the ground for miles was amazing.

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Most of the drive to Saline Valley Warm Springs from the south pass is a very long heavily washboard dirt road. The washboard is truly teeth jarring, especially for the 50 or 60 miles it takes for us to reach the turn off to the warm springs. The Fuso is especially uncomfortable and it feels and sounds like everything is going to rattle apart.

Bone jarring washboard video

We came this way in June one year in our Range Rover. It was 128 degrees along the valley floor. We blew out two tires going down this road to the warm springs. Not at the same time. It was a combination of the heat and the washboard. So we take it easy when we drive in from the South Pass.

I think the mountains make for beautiful scenery.

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Notice the washboard.

There is a mostly dry lake bed/salt flat which shines with the sunlight.

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Eventually, you reach the turn off for the warm springs. It is still a long drive before you get to the bat pole. It is on the far right of the photo below. And the springs are the darker green area with trees that is almost in the center.

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We started out around 8:30 am and arrived around 3:00. It is a long and dusty drive. We set up camp, but that is a story for the next blog post.

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Traveling to Panamint Springs – May 23, 2016

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A view of Panamint Valley at sunset.

Because of all the interest in the Fuso getting stuck in the Black Rock Desert playa, I posted those blog entries out of sequence. Now that those blog posts are done, I’m working on filling in the gap between Overland Expo and going to the Black Rock Desert (May 23-29).

We left Overland Expo on the morning of Monday, May 23. We were planning to go to Saline Valley which is located in the Death Valley National Park. Due to the length of the drive, we were going to camp at Panamint Springs tonight and drive to Saline Valley the next morning.

Death Valley National Park Map

On May 23, we started from Mormon Lake, Arizona (just south of Flagstaff, AZ). We crossed into Nevada by the Hoover Dam. We didn’t see any Big Horn Sheep this time. In previous years, we’ve seen them on the rocky walls right before you get to the Dam. We passed through Las Vegas and headed north on NV highway 160 to get to Death Valley via Pahrump, NV.

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Interesting geology in Arizona

Jon and I have been going to Death Valley area since we lived in California (about 15 years ago). It is a gorgeous area and I love taking photos there.

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Photo from December 2000 – Death Valley

It is all about the light. That is unless it there is a dust storm. We were here two years ago and there was an incredible dust storm that really limited visibility.

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April 2014 – Saline Valley Dust Storm

The drive out was uneventful. We stopped to get gas and groceries in Pahrump, the last town before the national park.

The sun was just beginning to set. There were already a lot of shadows.

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By the time we reached an area with a good view of Death Valley, the sun was setting.

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It was pretty, but not the best conditions for photos. It was also getting late and we were tired.

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To get to Panamint Springs, we had to drive over the Panamint Mountain Range. This is a long uphill drive and we have to take it slow in the Fuso to keep it from overheating.

The view down into the Panamint Valley is really lovely although the light was disappearing quickly.

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We planned on staying at the Panamint Springs Campground. By the time we arrived, it was late and we both were hungry and tired.

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Panamint Springs Resort – Photo from May 2014

The restaurant was closing in a half hour. I staked out a table while Jon checked us into a campsite.

Panamint Springs Campground

After a late dinner, we settled into the Fuso for a quiet night. There are times when it is really nice to have a camper. There wasn’t much we needed to do before going to bed.

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Black Rock Desert, Finally on Firm Ground – June 4, 2016

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When the Bulldozer and Fuso finally reached firmer ground, they stopped to disconnect.

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It was such a relief to finally have gotten the Fuso to a place when it is unlikely to drop through the playa.

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We all stopped and checked over the condition of the Fuso and assessed the situation.

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We stood around and talked for a while.

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Then it was on to the staging area to load up the bulldozer and mini excavator.

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You can see the Semi-truck and trailer in the distance to the left of the bulldozer.

The Fuso drove on this part of the playa just fine. I took it easy and followed so that I could take pictures and watch the Fuso’s progress.

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Everyone made it to the staging area without any problems.

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Willie loaded up the bulldozer.

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Gary had not arrived yet. Willie was going to wait for Gary and they were going to pick up an unoccupied vehicle that had been stuck in the playa.

Jon and I in the Fuso and Carman in his Xterra decided to go ahead and leave to playa. We were going to meet at Bruno’s Gas Station.

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We finally drove on the actual playa road, not just across the playa.

It was very dusty and hot. Thank goodness we didn’t break the windshield. We weren’t able to go particularly fast. The Fuso was running pretty hot. It was over 100 degrees outside.

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We stopped at the entrance to the playa and checked out the signs.

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We also took a good look at the Fuso to make sure that everything looked ok. It was exceedingly dusty.

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Carmen went ahead and we followed.

Jon and I stopped at Bruno’s Shell and Towing in Gerlach.

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Carmen had decided to go check on a stuck vehicle. Willie and Gary arrived shortly after we got there. They had decided to go back later in the day for the vehicle.

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We talked for a short time and we went on our way.

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To sum up:

These are the things we did right:

A) Come prepared. That means plenty of water and food, recovery gear, a shovel, jack, pull-pal, tow straps/cable, etc. Be sure that you can actually access the recovery gear from the outside of your vehicle.

We used to keep the recovery gear in a lower storage box on the passenger side of the vehicle. It is a good thing we moved it, because we really couldn’t reach that box when we sank, plus because of the damage to that box, getting into it would have been exceedingly difficult.

B) Carry an DeLorme inReach satellite two-way texting and emergency communicator with the emergency insurance

DeLorme inReach

C) Pay attention to the weather and find out about the current conditions in the area.

The Friends of the Black Rock Desert in Gerlach is a great resource.

Know Before You Go

 

Things that we didn’t do well.

A) Make sure you have actually have roads that reach all the way to your destination.

B) Follow well established routes across the playa.

C) If you are on a playa, pay very close attention to the surface of the playa. If there is vegetation growing on it, don’t go there. It will be very soft.

D) Just because there are tire tracks across an area of the playa doesn’t mean that your vehicle will be able to drive on it, too.

 

Most importantly:

If you just need a tug and/or digging to get out, contact:

Carman at:

Smith n Tobey in Wadsworth, NV

775-575-7320

smithntobey@outlook.com

 

If you need a major recovery effort, contact Willie of Courtney Rock and Transport

through

Bruno’s Shell and Towing

565 Main Street in Gerlach, NV

755-557-2272

 

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