Up the corridor, into Oregon...

There's been significant driving since my last post. I emerged from Death Valley with a craving to see the Pacific Ocean. But logistically, the California coast appeared like it might be a headache for a camper-van to explore. I had driven the California coast once before, so I decided to skip it and head directly to Oregon, via Interstate 5. This corridor runs medially up California. Everything on it below Sacramento is nasty and industrial, but north of that, its quite pleasant and pastoral.

The Pacific Northwest comes on very suddenly. I went from this:

to this:

... in what seemed like a relatively short time. Rain, cold, swamps, and trees, trees, trees. I was a little discouraged at first by just how swampy and drab the southern Oregon coast is. Houses seem to be melting before your eyes. There's no beach - only a marsh-like disintegration of land into saltwater. The towns appeared impoverished and empty. It was depressing.

But as I inched northward along 101, the landscape improved. I spent 3 nights at the campsite pictured ABOVE. I don't recall the name. It was a state park. I was driving by and I saw it had a vacancy sign, so I pulled in just to see. It turns out that this is still considered the off-season by Oregon State Parks so the rates were lower. And although the park system uses the abomination
that is ReserveAmerica for booking campsites, if you just show up, there are some sites you can claim in person without paying the reservation fee. This campsite was $12 a night. That included electricity and water, and access to a dump station and hot showers. And these were REAL showers, with scalding hot water - not those bullshit Nevada showers which mist you with lukewarm water and charge 25 cents a minute. So all around it was a good deal.

This campground had a recreational lake, pictured ABOVE. I went for some pleasant walks around it.

As I continued north on 101, I still hadn't seen any real shoreline. It was still swamp. Then, all of a sudden, I turned a corner, and...

That's the van in the bottom center. Just over that guard rail loomed the Pacific shoreline I'd been hoping to see. Feeling refreshed, I continued up the coast and camped at some different sites. I've included some Oregon beach pictures below. The best campground was Beachside State Park. I was within 30 feet of the beach and could look at the ocean from the window of my van.


Nevada, Spam, and onwards...

OK, after Utah, I drove west along southern Nevada. This was the most direct route to Death Valley, although it was also the most barren. 150 miles of this trek included the "famous" Extraterrestrial Highway, where supposedly a lot of people see UFOs. I didn't see any UFOs, but there was a sonic boom (or whatever its called) when a military craft zoomed by. Scared the shit out of me.

ABOVE: The amusing UFO display outside "Little Aleinn", a motel/bar/diner in Rachel, NV, along the ET Highway. Aside from this place in Rachel, there really isn't anything on the ET Highway.

I spent a night at a tiny state park along the way. The modest campground is pictured ABOVE. That nasty picture of the caterpillar web is also from there. While camped there, I decided to try Spam for the first time, out of curiosity.

Spam comes in a vaccuum-sealed can. When I peeled it open, I expected a foul odor; but in fact, it just smelled kind of salty. It wasn't any grosser than how canned beans smell when you first open them. Consistency-wise, as you can see in the picture ABOVE, it's really jammed in there, and as you fork it out, it breaks up into shreds.

I decided to combine it with corn and carrots in a tortilla. The label on the SPAM can instucts you to simply fry the Spam in a skillet "until golden brown", which is what I did.

It wasn't good or bad. It just tasted like salty gook. I only needed 1/3 of the can to fill me up so, on the plus side, a little goes a long way. But no, I don't recommend it. You can get a can of beans for $1.50 less and get more nutrients and more taste and less salt (and less weirdness in general, too).

I spent a night parked in casino lot in Beatty, NV, then scooted through Death Valley. This is the optimal time to visit Death Valley due to the mild weather and blooming wildflowers. It was pretty cool to see it all, although by this point, I feel a little National Park-ed out (especially tiring are those $20 entrance fees).

I'm in California now and about to drive northward to Oregon. I've included below pictures of two really cool RVS camped at parking lots with me. The first appears to be some kind of custom job... it looked like a truck with one of those cargo units on the back, with a cab-over unit stuck on top of that. The next one is a rare Tiger Motorhome, built on a truck chassis (I've always only seen them on a van chassis).


Snowed in...

I think the above-picture says it all as far as my state of mind. At the time of the picture, I was in good, goofy spirits, having just departed from a sojourn in Page, AZ. The weather was crisp and sunny and the driving was going by easily. I cut westward through the lower regions of Utah, toward Cedar City.

In the mountains of Rt. 14, however, I screwed up. There was a succession of 4% - 8% downgrades and I rode the brake all the way rather than engine braking. Why? Inexperience with mountains, I guess. I knew vaguely about how you're supposed to shift to 1 or 2 in order to slow the engine and relieve the brakes, but I didn't know enough to implement it (this website has since educated me: http://thefuntimesguide.com/2005/07/downhilldriving.php). So somewhere near the bottom, the brakes started to smoke. I pulled over and it took 15 minutes for the smoking to stop. When I got into Cedar City I took it to a garage. Well, here comes a $500 repair bill, I thought grimly as I waited at a nearby coffee shop. But, the mechanic called and stated that although the brakes had overheated, it seemed I'd stopped just in time, and he didn't see any permanent damage (I'm sure, of course, I took months, maybe years, off those brake pads).

By that point, it was close to 6 PM, but I resolved to continue to my original destination, that being the Three Peaks Recreation Area, outside of Cedar City. I had it in mind that the campsite might be full since it was a Thursday night and so late in the day. But when I arrived, I found it to be completely, utterly deserted. Not a soul in sight. As I approached each bend I anticipated the familiar white box shape of a trailer. But no. For some reason, nobody wanted to camp at Three Peaks Recreation Area.

As an aside, I don't like camping in such isolation. I like to have folks around. I don't usually want to talk, look, or interact with them in any way, but it's comforting to know they're there. So no, classic hermetic images like Walden's Pond don't excite me, and this barren scene at Three Peaks made me uneasy.

Why was it empty? Was it closed? Was this the off-season? But even that seemed peculiar, because the weather was very fair. Well, when I woke up the next morning, I got my answer:

It snowed for about 48 hours. I'd guestimate that close to 5 inches fell. This made it impossible to maneuver the van out of the campsite. The roads were already dirt and designed for 4x4, so with soft snow atop, my wheels just spun away in vain. I decided to wait it out. I had plenty of fuel, water, and food.

I had to kind of laugh, as well. This whole trip I nuerotically avoided getting snowed-in. But it being April, I assumed I was in the clear, and wandered off into the mountains without checking the weather. Gotcha! says Mother Nature.

ABOVE: The little outhouse near where I was parked. This seemed like a very nice *free* campground, if not for the foul weather. Developed sites, drinking water, trails, and decent outhouses.

While I waited for it to melt, I did some snow-hikes, made some snow forts and snow men, and mostly read and listened to NPR.

On Saturday, the sun beamed the snow, and it melted enough for me to make an escape. There were a few close-calls as far as getting stuck but I made it to the concrete road and zipped onwards to Cedar City.

I've been in Cedar City since. It's a nice little town with a splendid public library with free internet and a fine view of the mountains (below). One half of Cedar City is kind of old-fashioned and charming, and the other half is a weirdo shopping plaza themed after Providence, RI (yes, you heard me correctly). But in this plaza was a 24-hour Walmart where I was allowed to park at night.

So now I'm contemplating where to go next. I've ruled out going any further north as all forecasts seem to indicate meteorological nastyness that way. I think I'll head west...