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A Towing Adventure on Route 120
After consulting my Mountain Directory West before leaving Nevada, it appeared I had an easy trip! I’d take 375 to 6 to 120 east, with no apparent steep grades according to my maps. But, every now and then, my atlas will miss one…
When I turned onto 120, I was immediately concerned by the hairpin curves and abundance of pull-offs. These were clues my little 318 was going to have a tough 40 miles to Lee Vining. The grade didn’t appear particularly steep, at first. But, in drive, I simply couldn’t find any momentum. Just one mile into the journey, I was starting to overheat — with 39 miles to go!
I pulled over. Would I really attempt this? I really didn’t have much choice. Turning around on this little two-lane was hairy, at best. I let the little engine cool down, put it in low gear, and crawled up the hill. I made the pass about 20 miles later and could immediately tell I was in Yosemite country. Shortly after, I was rewarded for my efforts in Lee Vining — it snowed for about 10 minutes! (I love snow).
Mono Vista RV Park
This little campground is on the edge of the small town of Lee Vining — population 350. Mono Vista is the perfect name for it! From my campsite I could gaze down at Mono Lake in one direction, and enjoy gorgeous mountain views in the other. Surprisingly, our garbage cans were not exactly bear-proof…
When you arrive, you’re presented with gold tokens — two per night. You protect them like they’re gold, too. These are your shower tokens. Each one is worth 5 minutes of hot water.
Even though Mono Vista feels nothing like a city park, it’s directly behind one the town’s two gas stations…
I had a great time visiting with all my neighbors. All of them were fantastic and seemingly in a good mood. It was good to see tent camping and smell the aromas of cookouts and campfires. This is the stuff I always look forward to when I hit the road again.
Near the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite is a recreational drive called June Loop, featuring several lakes, lodges, and restaurants. I was pleased to begin my drive spotting certain areas where the previous evening’s snow actually stuck…
Just a little further down the road is a town called June Lake…
Silver Lake is popular fishing spot with spectacular mountain vistas…
So Much to Do in so Little Time
It almost seems absurd that I was right on Yosemite’s front porch and wasn’t going to visit one of my most favorite parks ever! But it was clear. I only had 4 days, one of which I had to switch campsites. Mono Lake and Bodie Ghost Town (see previous posts) were must-sees, and I didn’t want to wear myself out — relaxation was also on the agenda.
A Quest for Wi-Fi
It had been nearly a week since I’d had wi-fi. The internet at the campground was pointless and my hotspot got nothing. When I spotted Latte Da, I was filled with hope!
It’s hard to beat the ambiance at Latte Da. There’s limited seating indoors, but plenty on the porch and several spots on the lawn. But their wi-fi stinks!
Finally, on Day Four, I found what I’d been looking for. Embarrassingly, it was under my nose the entire time! Across from Mono Vista is a high school with a somewhat-concealed public library on the same property. They offer high-speed internet and excellent wi-fi. Additionally, they keep the signal on 24/7 so people can sit outside and use it after-hours. I keep forgetting libraries can be excellent resources for travelers as well as locals.
Salt + Water + Baking Soda = Tufa
Well, something like that. I just think they’re beautiful.
You may not want to wait too long to see the tufas. After a long battle with Los Angeles (seemingly way far away), a mandate was ordered to restore the lake to certain water levels. This may take awhile but, it’s possible that someday the columns will be mostly underwater again (this is where they are formed).
A Photographer’s Dream
I’ve been a lot of places in this wonderful country, but I’ve never seen so many photographers (50-60) converge on one spot. I feel like quite the amateur without my tripod (I forgot), high-powered lens, filter, or remote-control.
Fun’s Not Over at Nightfall…
I overheard some of these photographers mention what a shame it was we wouldn’t have a decent sunset due to the cloud cover. I don’t know…
And the Grand Finale…
Dodging Cows on E.T Highway
Highway 375 is a lonely stretch between Alamo and Warm Springs, Nevada. While most U.S. residents are unaware of it’s fame, people from all over the world come to visit the back gates of Area 51 and have a meal at The Little Aleinn in a town of 53 residents — Rachel, Nevada.
This is open range for cows. During my many years of traveling, I’ve come across many signs for animal crossings — but never at regular 100-foot intervals! Apparently there’s good reason for this. Sadly, in a stretch of less than half a mile, I saw 3 dead cows along the side of the road. I took the warning signs seriously and slowed down considerably whenever I spotted a herd within a hundred feet of the road.
The Little Aleinn
As you can imagine, a town of 53 residents doesn’t look like much. There are just a few trailers and small houses spattered across this small patch of desert. And each one seems to be accompanied by at least 3-4 junk cars or empty campers. Truth be told, it looks like a deserted junkyard worthy of it’s own horror film. It’s a classic setting befit the lonely highway behind Area 51.
I knew I was going to like it here. I was greeted with a warm reception by the folks in the diner as they complimented me on 48 Ugly’s recent paint-job. My waitress pointed me to my campsite. It appeared there were only about 4 sites among some breezy little trees next to the motel rooms (trailer-style). For $20 you get electric and water. There’s also a dry-camping lot where you can park for free.
The restaurant is about what you’d expect of a diner in the middle of the desert — and I wouldn’t want it any other way! There’s the counter, where most of the locals visit and lost tourists get directions to the Area 51 gates. There are a few tables, where other tourists keenly observe everyone who walks through the door. And, of course, there’s the gift shop, where your really can purchase some fantastic memorabilia (I chose a couple bumper stickers).
The People Who Stare at Gates
So what does one do out in the middle of nowhere on Highway 375? Well, after you get proper directions to the top-secret military facility/tourist attraction, you drive 20 minutes down a dirt road to stare at a gate. Then you take a couple pictures and off you go! It’s great fun. And folks from all over the world come to do this.
As you can imagine, observing the People Who Stare at Gates is even more interesting than the gates themselves. When you sit out front of The Little Aleinn, you quickly realize that every single vehicle traversing these hills on Highway 375 stop at this little cafe. It’s a fantastic place to people-watch!
And there’s a good chance you’ll run into Smitty and Riley. Smitty was the other lone resident in the RV park during my stay. He’s a full-time RVer on a seasonal 3-stop circuit — Washington, Quartzsite, and Rachel. He loves people, and he’ll greet every new tourist that pulls up. Oftentimes his dog, Riley, will beat him to it. That’s when Smitty might call out something like…
“Hey, get back here! They ain’t gave me 2 dollars yet so you’re still my dog!”
When is a Lake No Longer a Lake?
The funny thing about this region is that there are many lakes — lakes with actual names — that have absolutely no water. In fact, Groom Lake Air Force Base (Area 51), uses Groom Lake as their landing strip!
I’m not sure this particular lake has a name. It’s kind of nice me, Smitty, and Riley had the whole place to ourselves…
This one is definitely worth another visit.
The roofs of parking garages in Las Vegas offer some of the most spectacular views you’ll ever see. Most of the garage rooftops are virtually empty, so most of the time I can observe the chaos below in complete solitude and silence. The top of Venetian employee garage is no exception.
I don’t always get to park here. On certain days I need to drive my over-sized van. On these occasions I park next door at The Linq, home of the “High Roller” observation wheel (yes, it is the largest in the world).
But on days I get to ride my scooter, I park near the top floor and oftentimes, after a shift, I’ll zip up to the roof and pause for a few moments of reflection. This being my last shift at the Venetian for a few months, it certainly seemed like an appropriate time for some “rooftop therapy.”
It’s been a tough year with the demise of Jeepers, perplexing health issues, and challenges with my vehicles. But strangely enough, despite the difficulties, I’m starting to feel excited again! It seems my health issues are going to be manageable, I have work lined up, the van seems fine, and I have a full slate of travel destinations through January.
I have been busy with home improvement. But hopefully, if my schedule eases up, I’ll be playing some warm-ups tonight in preparation for a satellite tournament tomorrow into a major event at The Wynn. If I qualify for the event I’ll stay in Vegas a an extra few days. If not, I’ll leave Saturday.
The Venetian has been good to me [pictured below left, sister casino Palazzo on right, Trump Tower middle]. I’m very grateful to be a seasonal worker here and have had the opportunity to work 3 events here per year.
But I know the wise thing to do is branch out and take on a few traveling gigs. As these events start lining up, I’m realizing there is a distinct possibility I may not even work in Vegas again until next summer! Now that’s a wild thought…
My severe dry eyes are now improving a little with treatment and I’m now able to wear my specialized contacts longer. This is the best vision I’ve had in years — and with fewer of the extreme symptoms like headaches, dizziness, nausea, and constant triple-vision.
I may have to live with other side effects for the rest of my life (for example, extreme starburst at night), but these are more minor symptoms. I’ve developed a routine for the insertion and removal of these contacts (you actually have to use tools) that I’ve finally got down to under an hour and — I’m feeling productive and alive, again!
Life is Good.
Tragedies Happen at Campgrounds, Too!
On Sunday I was witness to a horrible tragedy. A little girl had her arm mangled by a dog. I heard the attack not far from me and ran to help, but it was too late. I made sure the little girl was safe from a second attack, but there was no loose dog in sight.
She was rushed to the hospital for surgery. The fate of her arm is still yet to be determined. It is a terrible, terrible situation.
I was the only adult outside in the area and the closest person to witnessing the actual attack. I’m now caught in the middle of a very confusing and messy situation. While certain folks are ready to take responsibility and do the right thing in order to assist in the investigation — others aren’t. In fact, now things have gotten very quiet here as the less-cooperative types are seemingly developing a scheme behind closed doors. (One of the prime suspects are friends with the guardian of the child. A less-likely dog is being held in quarantine for 10 days because the guardian pointed a finger at it, instead).
I’m so sick for the little girl and pray that her arm can be fixed.
And I’m sick about the behavior of the people who are hiding the truth about suspect dogs while others suffer and potentially put others’ safety at risk. I would never expect this from my fellow RVers — not even the resident-types. Unfortunately, if lawyers get involved, it’s likely I’ll get called back from my trip to give more statements. Which means, maybe I should leave a little sooner…
In light of this incident, I’m debating whether I’m going to run away from town next Monday or simply move to another park for a few days while I move forward with the poker adventure I had planned here in Vegas.
The most exciting new development is that I landed a job in North Carolina late November and am in the beginning stages of travel arrangements. The only thing I’m certain of is that I’ll hit Atlanta on the tail-end of the trip to see a Thursday Night Football game between the Falcons and Saints and then fly back to Vegas from there.
December and January are definitely shaping up to be Southern California/Arizona adventures with a possible work stint in Atlantic City.
A couple weeks ago I got to experience the best vision I’d had in years when I put in my customized contacts. No matter what time of day I would put them in, the lenses would stabilize my cornea and I’d have 20/25 vision. No more headaches, nausea, or dizziness. No more trying to figure out which pair of glasses to put on for each individual task throughout the day.
But I knew something wasn’t right. My severe dry eyes were interfering. Even with the specially-designed suction tool to remove them, it was taking longer and longer each night to dislodge the lenses. Eventually, I ended up at urgent care to have one blasted out.
Additionally, because of the severe dryness, my vision takes a full 24 hours to recover before I can switch back to glasses (normally it should take 2 hours). For these reasons, I won’t be able to wear them on days I work for the next 3 weeks.
It’s going to be a process. For now, I’m going to be starting a 3-month treatment for the severe dryness and just wear the contacts sparingly on my days off. Eventually…eventually…I may be able to lead a somewhat normal life, again.
The good news is, there may not be any doctor’s appointments to hold up my trip. I should be able to leave at the end of September or first week of October as I originally planned! This should give me plenty of time for some random adventures in rural Nevada and the Yosemite area.
Once I get near Reno I’ll be watching the extended weather forecasts. I could stay an entire month there and drive up-and-down the hill to Tahoe for 2 weeks. Or, weather-permitting, I could tackle Donner Pass en route to my membership campground in Emigrant Gap near Tahoe. Or, I could head to a nice casino-campground in the Carson Valley for the Tahoe portion of the trip. All of them sound like fine ideas — weather and economics are the determining factors.
But rather than head towards the Northwest afterwards, there’s a fair chance I won’t feel comfortable straying too far from Vegas for very long the next few months. I sense there will be more followups and necessary adjustments, not to mention all the glasses subscriptions that need to be changed.
So, Plan B : Southern California and Arizona. There’s still some campgrounds near San Diego and L.A. I’d like to visit. Palm Springs would be a great place to stay active and exercise for two weeks. And Cottonwood, Arizona would still be a neat destination for the holidays.
I’m completely on the fence at this point. The Oregon Coast is calling me, but if I stay south just until after the holidays, there’s still some time to make my way up there before I have to get back to Vegas in late spring. I’ll have a better idea once I get going.
I’m seeing the eye doctor on Friday. After 3 years of suffering — and, finally a diagnosis — there’s a possible solution on the horizon. It’s a customized hard contact designed to fit my flat corneas snugly and hold them in place. It could change my life, something I’m very desperate for and extremely nervous about it. If it doesn’t work, my last option is a risky operation that my current surgeon won’t even perform. I’m near the end of my rope here. If you believe in prayer or the power of positive thoughts, please send them my way. I need some luck here!
Time for Poker
For the next 3 weeks I am focused on health by day and playing poker by night as I await my September job. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to spend this much time playing poker in Las Vegas (it seems I play more when I travel), and it’s good to get back into the game! I’m off to a decent start. And I’m quite proud that I’ve resisted alcohol for over 2 weeks now (alcohol is easy to come by when you’re gambling in a Vegas casino).
My plans haven’t changed much. Depending on how many adjustments are required for the contacts, I’ll be shoving off late September or early October. I’ll start with my random adventures in rural Nevada, work 10 days in Reno, play poker 2-3 weeks in the Tahoe area, settle in somewhere to store my home, and fly out to work either in Florida or North Carolina.
Beyond that, I’m planning to find snow for the holidays and apply for a January job in Atlantic City. I’m hoping home base will be somewhere nice in Northern California or the Oregon Coast.
I’m doing my very best not to do much planning for the rural Nevada portion of the journey. I really want to be completely spontaneous. However, I do know I’m going to see the Valley of Fire, some touristy Area 51 spots, and Mono Lake (CA?).