Death Valley Trip 2017 Notes

For this trip I tried to update my notes every morning and evening. This is the slightly formatted but mostly unedited version of those notes.

13 December 2017

Even though I was up an hour later than usual and spent some time preparing my new laptop for the trip, we still managed to be on the road shortly after 9. Traffic was stop and go on 101 at first, but thinned out to merely heavy. We encountered several construction zones, but none slowed us down noticeably. I drove first. Jeanne drove to the RV park.

The checklist worked, and we have everything on aboard. Both Jeanne and I meant to bring items not on the routine checklist, and we both left some behind. She forgot the gear she uses for physical therapy on her knee, but says she’ll be OK without it.

I forgot the USB keyboard I was going to bring with the laptop. Blender really needs a keypad, and I had intended to use this keyboard because it has a nice one. It turns out that the laptop, contrary to my memory, does have a number pad.

I didn’t set the GPS up in the usual way, downloading a trip route. I loaded it into the RV the night before. I didn’t set it up before we left, since it wouldn’t be needed for the first leg. When we stopped in King City, after we had lunch, I search for it. Jeanne helped. Neither of us found it.

I was certain I had loaded it, and could even remember doing so. This made we worry about my mental health. While Jeanne was driving, I probed my memory. I realized I had not put it on top of one of the boxes, but inside. When we arrived at the RV park, I opened the box. Of course it was inside.

The night before, I waited until Jeanne went to bed. I wrapped her birthday present and placed it in an Amazon bubble wrap envelope to disguise it. Her birthday would happen when we were on the road. So, of course, I left it behind. I missed it more than the keyboard.

As we approached King City, Jeanne checked her phone for “restaurants near me.” Several were clustered in a small area along Broadway. We saw a Mexican restaurant and decided to stop. I pulled the RV into a side street and parked.

We had each spotted different restaurants. Neither of them were open.

I checked with Siri and found Tacos la Potranca de Jalisco was two blocks away and had good ratings. We discovered it to be a place with a takeout window. Since we were walking with Googie, this was a good thing. We got burritos and returned to the RV to eat.

Jeanne had a regular grilled chicken. I had a super carnitas, without rice. They were both good. There was a small package included with the meal. It turned out to contain two slices of lemon and a bunch of pickled carrots. We’ve never had pickled carrots before, but we both thought these were good. We took Googie for a short walk along Broadway street and then returned to the highway.

California highway 46 heads east from US 101 at Paso Robles. Jeanne drove 101 from King City and turned east on 46. An hour later, we pulled into the Lost Hills RV park. There was a sign saying the store was open, but it was obvious nobody was there. There was another sign saying the credit card machine was broken, so cash or checks only. A third sign said to use the night checkin. A final said they would return at 5:30.

We took a checkin envelope and found a site. I filled it out, except for the payment information. It asked for a credit card, check or cash, but did not have a way to obtain the Good Sam discount. We decided to wait until 5:30. I walked up to the store at 5:45, paid and go the discount. The woman, who lives in a trailer next to the store said that their boss won’t change the night checkin forms because they have to see the ID card to give the discount.

We were concerned. There are several truck stops adjacent to the park. 46 is very busy nearby and Interstate 5 is only a mile away. We slept fine despite that.

I walked to the 7/11. It is across 46 from the RV park. The stop light was not functioning. It was an interesting crossing. On the way there I saw a taco truck in a shade shelter that also contained several permanent tables.

On the way back, I watched a semi driver who was behind an SUV become increasingly frustrated. The stop light was flashing red. The SUV wanted to turn left, but appeared to be waiting for the light to change. The driver beeped lightly, then beeped with the air horn and then gave a long toot on the airhorn. The SUV didn’t move. The semi driver finally got out of his truck, walked to the SUV, and I assume, explained what the flashing red light meant.

It was in the 60s when we arrived in the park, with a clear sky. Lost Hills is on the edge of the dessert. It dropped to a low of 28 over night.

We attempted to use the RV’s oven for the first time to make salmon with garlic butter. We had both lit gas ovens before, but were unable to light this one. Jeanne found something in one of the manuals that said it would be hard to do the first time. We’ll try again later, but I was concerned that the oven, now long out of warranty, wasn’t working.

We microwaved the salmon. It was OK, but had the slightly rubbery texture that fish gets in the microwave. I might have tried preparing it on the stove, but I wasn’t sure I was up to it.

After dinner, for the first time ever, we used the DVD player. We watched an episode of The Avengers. The sound from the TV was unimpressive. If we are going to do this in the future, I will need to attach speakers. We had some trouble with the remotes, as the batteries for the DVD remote were dead. Since we were going to watch the first episode, we simply let it play through.

I had bought a batch of LiOn AAA and AA batteries and a charger, but had not used it before. I tried to charge two of the AAA batteries, but forgot to set the charging rate to low. They’re going to have to be recycled. Later I charged four overnight at the low rate. They seemed to work fine, but after 12 hours, the charger reported that they only had small charges.

None of the mobile devices could receive signal from the wifi. The laptop, with its larger antenna was able to connect. The access point software then claimed that we had to load a Java applet that would scan for antivirus. I decided not to. Instead, I used the iPhone as a hot spot. We had good signal so it worked OK.

14 December 2017

Lost Hills RV park review:

  • there is a dog park
  • the location is unfortunate, near 5 / 46, behind a cluster of truck stops.
  • the credit card system was down, so we had to pay cash.
  • the pool was closed for the winter
  • the men’s room was in ok shape, but 2 of the 4 stalls were out of order.
  • the store was tiny and poorly stocked.
  • power and water worked, although the water quality was questionable, even after being filtered. Water pressure was low but adequate.

I slept in until 7am. Jeanne had already walked Googie once, but he insisted on going out again so I walked him. When I got back, Jeanne had dressed, so she took him to the dog park while I ate breakfast. We used my phone as an access point for a while.

We packed up around 11, since we had a short day ahead of us. The Love’s truck stop had $2.74 / gallon gasoline, so we filled up there. They also had an Arby’s attached. We were lazy and got takeout from Arby’s. We drove a short distance down 46 and pulled over into a large dirt lot.

Jeanne drove from Lost Hills to Red Rock Canyon State park. We stopped at Hanson Canyon and took the two mile loop trail. We spent some time in the RV. We discussed whether to go to Panamint Springs, or to Lone Pine. We decided on an RV park a few miles south of Lone Pine, The Boulder Creek RV resort. I drove from Hanson Canyon to the RV park. We arrived at 4:30, checked in, and leveled the RV. While Jeanne walked Googie, I set up the power and water and extended the slide out.

When they returned Jeanne made chili from scratch, our first scratch meal in the RV. It turned out well, which was good because there was enough left for another meal. After dinner, we watched another episode of The Avengers, washed the dishes and retired for the evening. Jeanne read while I updated notes and worked on my laptop. WiFi reception was good.

Later I took a brief walk. The sky was clear and moonless. Despite local light pollution from the RV park, it was full of stars. I had forgotten how much I missed dark nights. Unfortunately, it wasn’t dark enough to see the milky way.

15 December 2017

Boulder Creek RV Campground review

  • nice location
  • great view of Mount Whitney
  • great dog park
  • Nice store
  • Water pressure ok
  • Nice well stocked store
  • Clean men’s room

I screwed up and turned the water pump on instead of the water heater. Jeanne noticed at 8:30, so we had to wait until 9 for the water to be hot enough to shower. It was 10:30 before we left, but the day’s drive would be short. We drove into Lone Pine and spent 90 minutes going through the film museum. It was well worth the $5 admission, and Googie loved it as well. We watched a 15 minute video about filming around Lone Pine.

We walked a few blocks to a “Texas BBQ” place and shared a half rack of ribs, with coleslaw. It was the sweetest Texas style BBQ we’d ever had. We walked the four blocks to the other end of town and then returned to the RV. We fueled up and headed to Death Valley. I would drive the entire day, as it was a short trip.

My memory from previous trips was a bit off, so I thought we were descending into Death Valley when we were heading to the Panamint Valley. We climbed from there and then down to Stovepipe Wells. We stopped at the Ranger station and paid the fee. We discussed whether to stop there or go on to Furnace Creek, where we had camped before. Deciding to go on led to an extra hour travel, a bit of a goose chase, and a round trip.

I had been worried about finding an RV hookup in Furnace Creek on a Friday. It turns out that the campground we had stayed at before was full. They suggested we try the RV campground at the resort.

It took a while to find the campground, which was not well marked. We parked and I went in search of a place to register. At the General Store they directed me to the hotel registration building, about 1/4 mile away. They informed me that they did not have hookups. I returned to the RV and we called the private RV campground in Stovepipe Wells. They had hookups available, so we made the 25 mile trip back to Stovepipe Wells.

We managed to get the RV set up just before it got dark at 5:00. Jeanne made curry chicken, paneer and garbonzo beans. After dinner, we watched another episode of the avengers and then retired for the evening. We were surprised by how slowly it cooled down, being used to the high desert cooling quickly after sunset. It was 67 when the sun set. At 8:30 it had only cooled to 54.

We had suspected that we would not have internet connections while in the park, and were not surprised when there were none. Jeanne read her book, while I caught up on my notes and spent some time reading The Roadside Geology of Southern California, which does not cover Death Valley. Southern California, in the East, appears to extend no farther north than the Mojave Desert, at least to geologists.

16 December 2017

Stovepipe Wells RV resort review

only stay here if there is no alternative

  • Unpaved lot
  • Sites close together
  • No landscaping
  • No place for the dog to play
  • Bathrooms attached to general store
  • Showers across the street in the hotel pool area

I got up at 7:30. Jeanne had been up since 6:30. We dressed and she walked the dog while I made more soda and refilled the filtered water pitcher. She made bacon and eggs, the first hot breakfast we had in the RV.

After breakfast, I shirked my share of chores and walked the few hundred yards to the ranger station. We wanted to visit the Keene Wonder Mill and Mine. The park map said it was closed, the park paper said it would open in November 2017. We wanted to know if it was open yet and if the road would be suitable for an RV. The ranger station was closed and there was no indication when it would open.

I returned to the RV and updated my trip notes. Jeanne walked Googie. When she returned we prepared the RV and went to see if the ranger station was open. It was, as was the road to Keene Mine, but RVs not allowed. Jeanne drove. We went to the Borax works interpretive trail and took turns on the 1/4 mile trail. By the time we were done it was 11:30, so we made a lunch of smoked salmon, brie and crackers before taking the short drive to the Furnace Creek visitor center, where it was 75F with a stiff breeze.

We took turns at the visitor center. Jeanne read while I walked around the Oasis. The private facility was being torn down and rebuilt. Nothing remained from our visit 6 years earlier. When I returned, Jeanne drove us to Shoshone where we parked for the night.

The wind was steady in Shoshone, but not cold. Jeanne walked Googie. She came back and reported that the nature trail was nice, so I went and walked it. From the nature trail I walked the “quarter” mile (more like half) to the general store and bought cookies for Jeanne. We had egg plant lasagna and watched another episode of the Avengers.

We reviewed our plans for the next three days, selecting places to stay in Mojave and Paso Robles. I brought my notes up to date and then spent some time using the laptop.

For some reason I didn’t sleep well last night, so I updated the GPS route to the final choices for RV stops in Mojave and Paso Robles. I also updated BaseCamp to reflect that we went to Lone Pine and Stovepipe Wells rather than Panamint. I also copied the map from the GPS to the laptop so that I could use BaseCamp without the GPS attached.

17 December 2017

Shoshone RV park review

  • nice people
  • cramped location
  • but nice landscaping
  • great nature trail
  • clean bathroom and showers
  • no dog park
  • the wind never stopped blowing
  • good wi-fi, but slow
  • No store
  • Good water pressure

I rose at 6:30. Jeanne walked Googie while I had breakfast and filled water bottles. When they returned, she had breakfast while I read my email. We spent some more time using the wi-fi

A note about cell coverage: As expected, there was little coverage along the way. Weirdly, in Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek there was good signal strength but no data connection. Shoshone had no cell coverage at all. wi-fi was poor in Lost Hills, where we used the iPhone as a hotspot, good in Boulder Creek, not available at Stovepipe Wells, and good at Shoshone.

We broke camp earlier than we needed to. I drove. From Shoshone to Baker the road was very lightly traveled. At Baker the gas was $3.99 so we elected to go to Barstow, where we found gas for $2.89, at an ARCO about 1 mile out of the way. I15 traffic was heavy, but moving at the limit.

We had never been to a Chester’s Chicken, so we gave it a try. It turned out to be at a Love travel stop, that was on our original route. Gas was cheaper at the Love, of course. A note about Chester’s Chicken: they only serve breaded chicken strips. They aren’t bad, but I prefer pieces of chicken.

Jeanne drove from Barstow to California City, near Mojave. Electing to skip various tourist attractions, we arrived at 1:15. The office at Sierra Trails RV camp was closed until 2, so we sat in the RV until we could check in.

We were given a back-in site, our first for the trip. The site was very tight. Too far one way by a few inches and the cabin door wouldn’t open without hitting the picnic table. Too far the other by a few inches and we would run over the sewer opening and hit the utility pole. We definitely need practice.

We spent the afternoon and early evening online. Dinner was the remaining chili. We watched an episode of The Avengers. We had finished the ‘66 season at Shoshone, so this was the first of the ‘67 season, which was in color, and broadcast into the US by ABC. We hope the season improves.

The sky was clear, so we took turns walking down the road to find the darkest place we could. Like Boulder Creek, there was too much light pollution to see the Milky Way.

I hadn’t had a chance to exercise, so I took a walk to a Shell station about 1/2 mile away along a dirt road. I bought a soda and spent a while chatting with the attendant. Another customer came in so I walked back.

We spent the evening in the usual way. Before going to bed, I cleared the table and placed the two trinkets I had purchased at Stovepipe Wells.

18 December 2017. Jeanne’s birthday.

Sierra Trails Review

  • back in sites
  • no real store
  • no dog area
  • dirty showers
  • very low water pressure
  • quiet
  • No store

We rose at 6:30. While Jeanne was in the bathroom, I snuck into the dining area and turned on the lights. When she came out I sang Happy Birthday and let her discover the trinkets.

We had breakfast and then spent the morning relaxing. Jeanne read while I caught up on my email, added some tasks to my To-do list, and caught up on my trip notes.

Jeanne drove to Bakersfield where we had lunch at a Black Bear diner. From there we went to Von’s in a failed attempt to obtain brie. I drove to Paso Robles where we found an Albertsons that had brie. It was a zoo, with 6 of the 8 checkouts backed up five deep and a line at each of the self checks. The person in front of me was nice, and let me go before her.

I drove from there to Paso Robles RV ranch and campground. The GPS sent us down 4th street to riverside but there was a detour. We finally got onto 101 and drove to the exit for the RV park. I made a wrong turn when we were nearly there, because I usually have the GPS set to ‘route up’ but it was set at ‘north up’. After a brief detour, we arrived.

Since it was Jeanne’s birthday, I checked in, set up the RV alone while she walked the dog. Later, I fed the dog and prepared our simple meal of salmon, crackers and brie. We would have Jeanne’s birthday dinner later, at a restaurant of her choice.

I cleaned up after dinner, we watched an episode of the avengers, and spent the evening in the usual fashion.

It was 71 when we arrived, so we opened the overhead vents for the first time on the trip. Shortly after sundown, it was down to 58 so I closed up the RV.

19 December 2017

Paso Robles RV Ranch review

  • just off 101 but quiet
  • pull through or back in slots gravel with grass off paved road
  • dog area is about 10×10 in size
  • dog run is down a steep hill
  • good wifi signal
  • no store
  • good water pressure
  • clean bathrooms

I got up at 6 and walked and fed the dog. Then I checked the clock again to find out it was 5. I read my email, and comics, updated my notes, and played Talos. I ate my breakfast while I was doing that.

Jeanne got up at 7(?), walked the dog again and ate her breakfast. We broke camp early and headed home. I drove first. We stopped at The Garlic Shop in Gilroy and Jeanne drove home. There was, of course, a 10 minute long slow down near the golf course.

We got home, parked the RV, put the dog in the house, and headed to lunch.

It was a fun trip, but I was glad to be home.

After lunch, I unloaded the RV while Jeanne put things away. Since this was the last trip of the year, there were many more things than usual to unload. Anything that lives on the RV but we use regularly, such as the dishes and utensils was removed to be cleaned and returned.

Two hours later, drove the RV around the block and then parked it, with Jeanne directing. It would still need to be cleaned, but our trip was over.