April 20, 2015

Kelso Dunes

"I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs and gleams..."  
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince 1942

The drive from Pahrump, Nevada to the Kelso Dunes offered the standard scenic, "Nevada Desert" sights. It got interesting though when we arrived in Baker, CA., crossed I-15 and jumped on Kelbaker Road. For 34 miles, the distance to Kelso Depot, this road made every effort to dislodge every brain cell from our cranium cavity, drop all overhead cabinets in the Fox to the floor and flatten anything with the name Goodyear on it. Talk about a "trial by fire" and one of Caltrans' forgotten highways.

Kelso Depot began operation in 1924 and served as a train station, restaurant, telegraph office and employee housing for Union Pacific Railroad. Then in 1994 Mojave Scenic Area passed into the hands of the National Park Service. Renovation of the Kelso Depot began in 2002 and the building reopened to the public as the new visitor center and museum for the Mojave National Preserve in 2005.

photo courtesy of Melinda Stanfield

The Dunes are located 7 miles south of Kelso Depot and then 3 miles west on a "graded, don't drive faster than 10 mph" dirt road. You can see them for miles, as creosote bush, which only conceal jack rabbits, dominate the Mojave Desert landscape. Desert Solitude. That is what you would come to expect when you venture into a 1.6 million acre park. But with over a 1,000 miles of dirt roads open for exploration and the attraction of Kelso Dunes, we did come across a "handful" of fellow desert lovers, especially when our targeted campground features the only tree(s) on this moonscape. Leave it to Dick and Melinda to find us the campsite with the One Tree by the dune. Other than some minor distractions and passerbys, we were alone.

Kelso Dunes were created over the course of 25,000 years by winds carrying sand grains from the dried Soda Lake and Mojave River Sink. Nearly 700 feet high, they are among the tallest and most extensive dune fields in the United States. And during our brief stay, they provided us a strange and unique phenomena when ever visited by hikers. They produce a cool "booming" or "singing" sound every time sand slides down the steep slopes. Sydney did not think it was that cool, but fortunately dozens of lizards kept her mostly distracted.

"Boondocking" for a few days was pretty easy this first time. But we were mentored and watched over by some awesome veterans who are capable of taking boondocking to the next level. The Arctic Fox tank holding capacities were awesome, dual pane windows and insulation kept the rig pretty snug and with our solar, batteries never got below 90%. We feel confident to experience two weeks+ without hookups for our next adventures.

A huge "highlight" of this trip was witnessing "the kids", Melinda, Carol, Dick and baby Imkelina summit Kelso Dune (Woody and I were given the stressful task of keeping the white wine chilled...so we had to return to camp). At almost 700 feet to the top and slogging through soft sand a foot deep up it's steep slope, it was no easy accomplishment for this dedicated group. They did however get warmed up by hiking over 1 1/2 miles over, down and through ravines and small sand dunes just to get to the base of that big bad boy.

Then they had a blast sliding down on their derrières, all the while initiating the booming and singing of the dunes. Naturally the belly aching dunes freaked out Sydney, so she rode down on the laps of Melinda and Imkelina, a hilarious visual that could only be interpreted as a desert hump.

"Mountains compliment desert as desert compliment city, as wilderness compliments and completes civilization." 
Edward Abbey,
"Desert Solitude"

After a brief few days together, we had to bid farewell to Woody and Carol who had to head back north. No doubt we will again be sharing a few meals, campfires, one or two glasses of wine to fuel our storied yarns. And for the rest of us, time to pack up the wagons, hook up the mules and reluctantly begin our journey home.

At Waypoint 34.925893°-115.729736°

April 18, 2015

If You See A Tree...Chances You Are Not In Nevada

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them
I've looked around enough to know
That you're the one I want to go
Through time with
Time In A Bottle-Jim Croce 1973

Leaving Oregon's Farewell Bend State Park, we began a non-eventful drive (boring, to the driver who was ready for a break) of almost 300 miles. There is a god though...for it mercifully ended with our arrival for the night at Winnemucca's New Frontier RV Park. Actually, the drive was fairly interesting to the co-pilot and she questioned my description of Winnemucca as heavenly. We both agreed that the stop for respite after many miles was indeed heavenly. As this park is relatively new, it was still immaculate...including the laundry, showers and community center. Super long pull throughs worked perfect for our early departure the next morning. But the best feature of this park is that right next door is Winger's Roadhouse Grill. The specialty at Winger's are CHICKEN WINGS...reputed to be awarded The Best Wings in America. We highly recommend the hand battered wings with the Sweet Red Chili Pepper Sauce. Soooooo Gooooood and huge! For those of you that are in the BlaNicS circle know that one of us is addicted to those tiny poultry appendages, heavenly and an eatery that would make any rv park great.

We have been looking forward to our next destination since we began this long trip. Many of our fellow bloggers have mentioned staying at Sportman's Beach at Walker Lake Recreational Area and most have been very positive. Campground offers great views, quiet and a mere $6.00 for the night. Well, those reviews were all true...Walker Lake is the beautiful turquoise jewel in the Great Basin of Western Nevada. Miles of remote desert landscape surround the lake with very limited flora...sand is what you see...sand is what you get. Only one other camper was at the lake, so our grade for isolation was high. Campsites are pretty nice...pull through, standing shelter, picnic table, fire pit and a vault toilet a short distance away. Great place to relax, veg, walk and shut down the mental hard drive. Our Weber Grill lost it's virginity this day...results were delicious!

The next day was CELEBRATION DAY. We were heading to Pahrump, Nevada to connect with our dear friends Dick and Melinda and Woody and Carol. They have been eagerly waiting for us to show up...what better entertainment in the middle of the day, than to watch us attempt a back in maneuver into a rv site. The park they chose for our reunion was Lakeside Casino and RV Park. We had some well needed time to catch up, wine taste, share adventures and enjoy some tasty "Woody" meals, 

And...we had some rest time. For after driving every day for a week, we welcomed a multi-day stay at this oasis in the desert to soak up some rays, roll in the grass and strengthen our 12 oz. bottle grip.

Our next stop..."dispersed camping" for a few days in the Mojave National Preserve at Kelso Dunes.

At Waypoint 36.132537°-115.958563°

April 14, 2015

Back in the Saddle Again!

"Got the sun shining on me like a big spotlight
So I know everything is gonna be alright
Ain't no telling where the wind might blow
Free and easy down the road I go"
Dierks Bentley

This day truly did arrive. We awakened with excitement and a few butterflies, as we had purchased this rig sight unseen, relying on manufacturer and dealer photos toward our decision. We were emotionally prepared just in case the "real deal" did not match the stellar reputation of the manufacturer or meet our high expectations of fit, finish and workmanship. But as it turned out, the trailer exceeded every expectation in design, quality and livability. We were thrilled with the introduction to our new Northwood Manufacturing  Arctic Fox 25P and the service of Thunder RV and staff.

We chose to put our rig through a two week shake down cruise with a diversified menu of camping experiences from rv parks to boondocking on BLM wilderness areas. Not only did we want to test every function of the new trailer, these two rookie tow buddies needed some consistent practice hitching and unhitching, parking, backing up...and towing down desolated single lane dirt roads. And practice we did...we're just not perfect yet!

Our first night in the rig was spent at Eagles Hot Lake RV Park on the outskirts of La Grande, OR. A beautiful park offering some panoramic landscape views of the Wallowa Mountains, one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon. A long and wide pull through made parking a breeze. But, our first solo attempt at unhitching our weight distribution hitch proved to be a trial by fire...but eventually achieved after a call to our salesman reminded us we were missing a critical step. That evening, our Fox provided us a snug, warm and comfy home...standing firm and stable through a night of heavy wind gusts.

The next morning we went on the Northwood Manufacturing factory tour to view first hand the manufacturing process of Arctic Fox trailers. As we were the only ones signed up for the tour, Colby of Northwood Manufacturing was able to spend more time explaining each phase of the process, answering every question we had and taking more time to note the difference between a Northwood product and it's competitors. We ended our tour convinced we had purchased an exceptionally well built trailer, worthy of it's stellar reputation. We are confident that our rig will provide us years of adventure and enjoyment.

After our cool tour, it was time to start our trip south. But we decided for our initial official road trip we would take a "baby step", a confidence builder... and motor down the road a short distance to Farewell Bend State Park. We love Oregon State Parks,..."Go Ducks"... and as former Camp Hosts, we always try to support the state's park system whenever we can. Farewell Bend, located on the Oregon/Idaho border is on the banks of the Snake River's Brownlee Reservoir. The site is quite historic, for it is here on the river bend that Oregon Trail Pioneers rested after following the Snake River for 330 miles. They would bid farewell to the Snake and begin the more rugged phase of their trek away from the river...wagon ruts are still visible to this day. On this day though, Farewell Bend provided these contemporary travelers an easy place to park, a quiet, relaxing setting and the soothing lullaby of rustling leaves as we nestled in for the evening. Tomorrow, no more baby steps...we put the big kid panties on.

At Waypoint 44.306723°-117.224399°