21 October (continued)
Tonight was, shall we say, one to remember.
We did our homework, checked the weather (no precipitation for 5 days’ forecast), and decided to stay up on top of the Cedar Breaks NM plateau. It’s upwards of 10,000 feet, but with good weather it’s just cold, no other issues. Hmmm, not so easy to find a camp…. all the facilities are closed, and there aren’t many anyway. We end up spending the better part of 2 hours scouting around, including a gnarly drive all the way up to the peak at Brian’s Head, 11,300 feet and spectacular 360-degree views of the terrain. But even there, no obvious place to spend the night, not to mention 30-40 knot winds and pretty cold too. We checked out a decent flat spot up near the NM border, but we’ve been spoiled, and it just wasn’t esthetically sufficient for our jaded tastes.
Finally, we find a USFS camp site, just outside the ski community and with a nice little meadow and a view of the ridges to the west. All to ourselves, as usual. Double-checking the forecast, because we’re out on a dirt road at 10,000 feet and we just don’t want to have to deal with mud or snow tomorrow. Forecast is windy but no precip. Great.
Nice evening, but blustery, and we have a pleasant time reading and get to bed around 10PM. By midnight the wind is rocking Howie pretty good, but more perturbing is the splattering sound that starts around that time. Karin thinks it might be pine needles blown by the wind – – but after 3 or 4 metric tons of pine needles have hit us, I know it’s rain.
I’m sleeping fitfully, and beginning to wonder:
- How much rain will we get?
- Are these roads like others in Utah that turn into gumbo when wet?
- If the road gets that slick, will Howie hockey-puck off the hill when we try to leave tomorrow?
- Will the rain turn to snow, like happened last February in Arizona and we had to make our exit at 2AM?
All of these thoughts do NOT serve to lull me to sleep; by 4AM, I’m checking out the window for snow every half hour (still just wet). Finally, I manage to convince myself to deal with whatever problem(s) may arise, in the morning, and I fall truly asleep – – around 6:30. First light at 7 shows a dark, bleak sky, but fortunately with the rain slacked off and still no snow even though the outside temp is at 32F.
A fresh check of the weather shows a couple of things. First, the 5-day forecasts are indicating a major system working its way through Nevada, Utah, and our intended areas of exploration. Highs and lows have plummeted, with some mid-week numbers like 36/18 in some areas. We agree that the wild horses are going to have to wait. Second, the next 40 hours or so are going to be windy, as in 25-35 gusting to 55mph. Too windy to haul rocks, as a friend used to say.
Satellite moving maps confirm the whole sordid mess, it’s obviously no time to make a camp beneath damp, wobbly pine trees – – and we realize it is now time to tuck and RUN.
We blast off the mountain, tail between our legs, and scream downhill 5000 feet into Cedar City (nice town), anxiously watching the temperature creep up to 10 degrees above freezing. By the time we hit I15, the winds are in full force. The truckers and I are in a spastic dance, because they want to haul ass at 75mph and get the day over with, while I am creeping along at 55mph thrashing the steering wheel madly to stay in my lane, gripping it to the point of leaving my fingerprints in the vinyl whenever a crazy working truck driver comes careening by me, and trying not to have Howie become a 14,000 pound kite sailing across the Utah scenery.
I seriously consider just getting off the road for a day, but I figure if I can tough it out for 30-40 miles, I’ll work my way down below the fierce edge of the front, and the winds will abate. This actually works out, and by St. George we are dealing with only a normal gusty day, no problem.
By late afternoon, we’ve researched and identified a lonely little spot over to the east of Lake Mead, away from the madding crowds on the west side of this popular destination. Out of Utah, cut across the corner of Arizona, zip into Nevada and exit I15 at Mesquite. SR170 takes us to Gold Butte Road, and out into the Nevada boonies.
Gold Butte is indicated on the map as paved – – but to call Gold Butte “paved” is like calling the Peanuts’ Pig-Pen character “groomed”. The pavement has not been touched in probably decades, and the Nevada sun has rendered it to the smoothness of volcanic talus, with tire-sized potholes the exact same color as the road (can’t see ‘em ‘till you hit ‘em). We’ve had smoother rides on rough, washboard 4WD roads. Howie vibrates and rattles desperately across the rough roadway, bordering on imminent self-destruction and, as a Texas friend once quipped, “That old boy is shakin’ like a Chihuahua crappin’ a peach pit”.
Dauntlessly, 21 short/long miles later, we come to Wilson’s Pockets, a really charming area named for the water-worn cavities in some of the local sandstone.
We are bemusedly reflecting on the amazing changes that can be affected in a single day. This morning, we were shivering and layered up against 32F temps and 40 knot winds, covered with gray skies and daunting, foreboding weather. This afternoon, we’ve re-converted to shorts, sandals, golf shirt, and have had to turn on the air conditioning for most of the drive down Gold Butte.
As so often happens, we find ourselves, by a combination of luck, experience, and perseverance, in a pretty nice camp. Here in Nevada, the formations are different than any we’ve seen, and we spend some time checking them out as the day fades.
The retreating weather leaves some high-altitude cirrus with its characteristic rainbow iridescence, and its companions of sky, rock, and sun help to bid farewell to a truly multi-hued day.
For the first time in quite a while, both of us sleep through the night without “wakeful” periods. At first light (6:30AM), we’re pretty wide awake, and out of bed by 7. It’s 64F in the coach and 55 or so outside, a gorgeous morning with no wind and just the desert calm and space.
Later after breakfast, we are hugely entertained by a bit of local coyote-food, a tiny little chipmunk (his body is maybe 4” long). We are inside Howie, and he is oblivious to our presence – – so we get to use up some megabytes with a long string of photos.
By mid-morning, neither of us have any urge to move, and we realize it’s time for a “chilling out” day.
We lounge around camp and just enjoy watching the day go by.
Well, okay, I can’t just let the ENTIRE day go by. Howie has developed a glitch, and the slide-out doesn’t slide. Out or In, it delivers up a flashing error code 11. “Front motor no current sense” is the decode. My suspicion is that the rough road(s) have loosened up a connector somewhere; Winnebago construction is generally good, but they use latching Molex connectors whose latches are kind of spongy. At first, I discover a half-pulled-out pin on one connector at the motor, but this does not fix the problem. After about an hour of troubleshooting and reading the incredibly arcane wiring diagrams, I find – – sure enough – – a disconnected coach Molex connector. Voila!, sliding resumes. Matter of fact, most of the time we have not been using the slide-out. If we are moving the next day, we might not bother with it. And if it’s really cold, we keep the slider in to minimize coach heat loss.
After this “win”, I decide to exercise my ankle a bit. Turns out (I knew this), going up is lots easier than coming down.
A clear blue sky is, generally, somehow considered holy, a venerated occurrence signaling benign weather and sunny climes. Well, it’s not always the truth, but “clear blue skies” does somehow carry the ring of a blessing of sorts.
For me, clouds are the blessing. In moderation, of course. Clouds give a sky character, dimension, a sense of depth and beauty that are not available from the pure blandness of endless azure.
Tonight, after an evening walk, we are pleased to see some cumulus and cirrus adorn the heavens with a pattern of hundred-mile-long brush strokes, painting the darkening backdrop of azure/blue/indigo with blazing whites and oranges and grays. The lighting changes, the shapes change, the entire sky changes, and each minute brings a new view of the bliss overhead.
In this sequence (it took up around 10 minutes), Howie is hidden by the exposure contrast. He’s lurking in the shadows to the lower right of the frames, facing the colorful adieu of the setting sun. I’m certain he is as appreciative as are we.
The West Side Story
We know it’s going to be different. Here on the east side of Lake Mead, it’s hard to get here, the roads are really rough and in some cases impassable for even 4WD vehicles (soft sand near the shore). There are no facilities, no Internet, and there are no signs to tell you when you have reached the designated tourist attraction. Really, our kind of country.
The west side of the Lake looks like it’s going to be entirely different. Plenty of paved roads, boat ramps, campgrounds, and ease of access, all fueled by travelers from Las Vegas and California. Think Disneyland versus the far side of the moon. But we need to be migrating westward, and we’ll soon need a dump/fill, so we head back up the Gold Butte road today, going generally in the direction of the western shore. Valley of Fire SP is a possible destination, and we prepare ourselves for the culture shock of being surrounded by people and stuff. In this east-side camp, we are about 40 miles (as the raven flies) from Henderson, NV – – but it will take us 120 miles of travel, 20 of it fairly punishing, before we pass through that town.
Cruising down SR169, we pass the Overton area (beach access road closed), and we find that we need to choose between Valley of Fire SP, which is inland, and some more water-adjacent camp along the shoreline. Lake Mead beckons more strongly, and we end up at Stewart Point.
Here is another pleasant surprise – – this area is nearly deserted, with loads of flat spaces and campfire rings. Some go nearly down to the shoreline. I suppose at some point it’s densely populated (there’s plenty of trash around to testify to that), but for now our nearest neighbor is about a quarter mile away.
It’s a bit of an odd place – – a rec area, not a park or monument. One of the significant differences soon becomes apparent, as military helicopters use the lake for various practice runs. Strangely, we do NOT find this all that objectionable. I’m guessing that we both prefer helicopter motors over teenagers’ shouts… In any case, we have a lot of peaceful space to ourselves.
Our camp is free, spacious, and unencumbered by people, rules, restrictions, or whatever. We spend a pleasant afternoon just kicking back and reading, catching up on emails (3G 3 bars), and whatnot. The weather is superb, with moderate temperatures and light breezes, so we use up some of our remaining firewood (none to be found or picked up hereabouts) to make a dreamy little campfire. After dusk, some more choppers come around, doing some kind of night ops over the lake. One of them cruises past our camp at about 300 feet, maybe 100 yards away. After dark, two more make a spooky pass just inland from us, nav lights giving just the most basic indication of their orientation to us. Again, it’s more interesting than obnoxious. When they leave, the camp is even more peaceful, and we stoke the fire for a while and just enjoy the evening.
Today we lazily break camp and wander down the western shore area of this huge lake. At Echo Bay, we stop for a dump/fill and talk to a local who says the season will be picking up soon, a few weeks at most. For now, although there are plenty of signs of occupation, the place is only sparsely populated.
A pleasant easy drive takes us over into the Las Vegas area to Henderson. Here, we are able to re-acquaint ourselves with such trappings of civilization as Costco, 3G (or even 4G !!!), Whole Foods, and other such niceties. Here also is our main target, our second visit to the adorable Giovana (and of course her parents).
Family and Home
The tiny little girl has a fine time with Karin, and vice versa. We are only a few days from home now, and are sort of getting back into the swing of things by stopping off to see family on our way through. We spend a few days in Henderson (near Vegas) and Auberry (near Fresno). Our last day on the road will be a short trip home on Monday, 29 October.
It’s been a restful, exciting, interesting, educational, enlightening, absorbing, never-dull trip. I hope I have given you a sense of it all with these lengthy ramblings; in fact, I hope you’ve had even half as much fun reading this as I have had writing it.
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