Monday, May 26, 2014

Onward to Oregon

Leaving Las Vegas and the place I worked that never was, we headed up lonely Highway 95 through the worn and dusty towns of Beatty and Tonopah, and spent a night at Mina (population:  small).  Then on through Hawthorne to join I-80 at Fernley, and finally, a stop at Sparks and one of our favorite parks, the Sparks Marina RV Resort.  We’ve spent time here before and written about our travels in the area (click here), and so this time we relaxed and watched as our water heater tank, finally eaten through by the Texas water, was replaced by a mobile technician.  Then we were off Mount Shasta1again, up the Eastern side of the Sierras, where we spent a night in Weed, CA in the shadow of Mount Shasta.  Rising 10,000’ above the terrain to just over 14,000’, the mountain Shasta from RV Parkdominates the skyline with it’s beautiful shape and snow covering, although this year the snowpack is well below normal, another sign of the drought in the area.  We drove a number of mountain roads, and every turn revealed another view, always a bit different, of the mountain.  As we traveled, we were Cone-shaped Firamazed at these perfectly cone-shaped trees.  Surely, we thought, they’re trimmed to look like this; but then we saw them everywhere and well into the forest.  We can’t find any reference to them – do they grow like this?  Is there a secret  army of tree trimmers out there? 
After a rather unsettling stay at the inappropriately named “Friendly” RV Park (our review here), we headed North on I-5 for an overnight at one of the finest RV resorts in the area, Seven Feathers RV Resort.  Then we were off to Coburg, a small town just outside Eugene where we were scheduled to have our windshield replaced.  RV Glass Solutions is an efficient, professional organization that occupies what used to be the Monaco Motorhomes factory.  They had hookups for us, a comfortable lounge area, and a Keurig in the coffee bar – obviously a first class operation!  Our windshield was installed on time, and we headed west for the coast, for a week’s stay in Waldport’s McKinley RV Park.  Windshield View Waldport This is one of those parks that getting the right site can make it an outstanding stay, and we managed to snag the best site in the park.  Watching the tides and the shorebirds was something we could have done all day, but we needed to explore the area since we’d never spent much time here.  Ferns and MossDriving the back roads we were struck by how green everything was.  After a winter in Texas it was like going from black & white  to color TV – the vibrant green after all the months of Texas dull brown was almost Old Newportpainful.  But we’re getting use to it.  After a stop in Newport’s waterfront area for lunch at Moe’s  (pretty good chowder and fried clams) we headed to Tillamook for a visit to the Tillamook Cheese Tilamook Cheese SignFactory.  We’ve always enjoyed their cheese and figured we could get a better price at the factory plus learn something from the Tilamook Cheese Factorytour.  It was a weekend, so the production line was mostly shut down, but there were videos throughout the viewing area that described the cheese process and how the cheddar curds were packaged and put into storage for 90 days where Tilamook Cheese Factory2they turned the familiar deep orange/gold Cheddar color that we’re used to seeing.  And we did buy some cheese, happy to find a large block of their smoked cheddar – enough to last us through next month.  Maybe.  If I hide it from Brenda.
Oh, and thankfully I didn’t grow up in Tillamook and attend the high school.  How would you like to be a teen in a high school with the name “Cheesemakers”?  At least they could change it to the “Fighting Cheesemakers” or “Maniacal Cheesemakers”……or something. 

The views from Highway 101 as you drive the Oregon Coast are amazing.  On a back road high above Cape Perpetua we looked down on the highway below:

Cape Perpetua View
There are so many state and federal parks along the coast.  While Cape Perpetua is a US Forest Service park, Yaquina Head Natural Area, just down the road, is operated by the Bureau of Land Management and includes an incredible new visitor center and historic lighthouse.
Yaquina Lighthouse
Yaquina Lighthouse2
Finally, as we drove through the little town of Yachats, we were lucky enough to view this very rare mammal, a burrowing lawn whale!  These shy, seldom seen creatures are migrating to the cooler lawns of the Pacific Northwest this time of year…..You can believe me, after all I’m a volunteer naturalist, with a vest, cap, and official name tag!
Burrowing Lawn Whale
That’s it for this chapter – we have more pictures and stories of the coast to share with you, so check back!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The E.T. Highway, and Where I Used to Work That Wasn’t There

Years ago in my Air Force days, we lived in Las Vegas where I commuted each week to my workplace.  Which can’t be named, can’t be talked about, and didn’t exist.  It was a difficult time – I’d come home after four or five days and Brenda would ask “So, what did you do all week?”, to which I’d reply “can’t tell you”.  Not the best way to start the weekend!
And so after all these years, I was able to take my bride to a place that’s the closest in distance and farthest from reality to where I worked.  And it all starts with a trip down the Extraterrestrial Highway…..
Heading north out of Las Vegas on Highway 93, we drove for a couple of hours Extraterrestrial Highwayuntil passing the little town of Alamo, then turned west on highway 375, which if it isn’t the loneliest highway in the state, is (pardon the expression) damn near.  Known as the Extraterrestrial Highway for its Area 51 Signproximity to the place that (ahem) doesn’t exist, it doesn’t take long before you run into enterprising establishments, like the Alien Research Center, complete with a lifelike alien guarding the entrance to it’s multi-dollar building..

Area 51 Store
Across the road is another place where you can “drop your toxic waste” and buy beef jerky, apparently from cows beamed up by flying saucers – makes your mouth water, doesn’t it?Jerky Sign
From this mecca of shopping, it was 40 miles of driving through an area where even the jackrabbits carry canteens until we entered the outskirts of our destination, Rachel, where those who believe in alien spacecraft and captured alien space technology come to watch the skies over Area 51, have a beer and share conspiracy theories.
Rachel Sign
Not much farther down the road, in a area of run down mobile homes, abandoned cars, and dead trees, was our destination, the famous Little A’Le’Inn, where you can chow down on an Alien Burger, buy alien Christmas tree ornaments, and schedule a tour of Area 51 that place….well, at least to the big warning signs and armed guards with mirrored sunglasses.Little A Le Inn  Check their web site (linked above), if you’d like to rent a room ($45) or an RV site ($15).  They advertise that you can walk in, drive in or fly in, and they must expect fly-ins judging by this sign:
Self Parking Sign
They even offer a tow service if your vehicle breaks down….any type of vehicle:
Alien Tow Truck
We’d have like to stay a while, but it was late in the day and we had a long drive home.  So we headed back, and on the way I pointed out to Brenda a peak known as Bald Mountain, and where I worked might be on the other side.  If it existed, that is.Bald Mountain
Although it’s a desolate, dry, and forbidding area, every once in a while we’d come across a place that almost made us forget how miserable the area was.  So I’ll leave you with this image:
Joshua Tree
I’d tell you more about where I worked, but on my last day two guys in black suits and sunglasses showed up, held up a little boxy thing…..and the last thing I remember is a flashing blue light…..
Rachel is an interesting place, lightly populated but with intriguing people.  So if you’re ever in the area, make a trip, buy a green alien ornament, have a burger, and remember……the truth is out there!
We’re still traveling, stay tuned!

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Las Vegas–The Other Wild Side

We always enjoy a stay in Las Vegas, but not for the usual reasons.  We’re not interested in fighting the crowds on the “Strip”, breathing the cigarette smoke-soaked air in the casinos, or even dining at the overpriced buffets.  Nope – we stay in the Desert Eagle RV Park on Nellis AFB and stay busy visiting old friends and exploring the surrounding area.  Nellis is a vibrant, busy base, with jets arriving and departing throughout the day, and has a Thunderbirds on Rampgreat commissary where we stocked up on groceries.  It’s also home to the Thunderbirds,and as we toured the base we came across their parking area.  The RV Park at Nellis provides great security (you need it around here), is quiet except for the sound of jets during the day, and the air is far less polluted – as the view South from the base shows.Las Vegas Smog
Mt Charleston HighwayWe enjoy visiting  the Spring Mountains, an area in stark contrast to the dry desert of Las Vegas.  Still snow covered this time of year, Charleston Peak at just under 12,000’ dominates theMt Charleston View skyline Northwest of town.  When we lived here in the late 70’s, it was a quiet area of campgrounds and picnic areas, but now with the population of the Las Vegas climbing to over two million, it  has many homes and of course, more traffic.  Still, it’s a place to cool off in the heat of the summer and the smell of pine trees is a nice change from the valley below. 

Mt Charleston View2
From the high altitude of the Spring Mountains we traveled to the lowest point in the area, Lake Mead.  The lake, formed by Hoover Dam, is the largest reservoir in the United States, but for the last few years has been dropping as water supplies from rain and snowmelt diminish.  Many of the boat ramps now end a hundred or more yards from the water, and two major marinas have been relocated.  The lake furnishes around 90 percent of the water for the Las Vegas area, and the water level is forecast to drop another 20 feet this year.  It’s easy to see where the water level is supposed to be by the white ring around the lake.  But it’s still a crowded area, with packed campgrounds and RV parks, and busy marinas  and boat launches.Lake Mead Marina
Pahranagat NWR SignDriving north from Las Vegas on Highway 93, we drove through landscape that resembled the lunar surface until coming to Pahranagat National Pahranagat NWR1Wildlife Refuge.  Suddenly we were in a green valley with Cottonwood lined streams and finally, two large lakes.  The refuge has camping  areas, picnic shelters, and hiking trails.  We saw a number of ducks and coots, and were surprised at how green and cool the area was, all thanks to a series of springs further up the valley.
Pahranagat NWR2
Desert NWR Visitor CenterJust 15 miles Northwest of Las Vegas is another oasis, the Desert National Wildlife RefugeDesert NWR Visitor Center RearMore than twice the size of Rhode Island, this refuge is largely a desolate mountain area. The visitor center is one of the best we’ve seen and the surrounding area is a lush area of trees, ponds, and trails.  An artificial spring is home to the last remaining Pahrump Poolfish, an endangered species which lost it’s habitat when the springs in the Pahrump area dried up due to groundwater pumping.  Walking the trails, we came upon one of the volunteers with a spotting scope set up on a distant tree.  Almost hidden in the fork of the tree was a mother Long-eared Owl and her three chicks.  The light wasn’t the best, but I managed to get these images.  Sadly, it looks like the small owl chick in front won’t survive, but hopefully the other two will grow to be the rodent-eating machines that we like to have around.  Long-eared Owl with chicks
Long-eared Owl with 3 chicks
We’ve another trip here to tell you about, so check back!