Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sept 24 - Sept 28 - Southern Nevada to Catalina Island

After bidding our Nevada family farewell, we headed south on Scenic Route 395, also known as ‘El Camino Sierra”, snaking down along the East side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, through Nevada into California.  This is Mammoth Mountain - elevation 11,030 feet.
It is a beautiful drive on a road, originally built in 1920, built under California’s first highway construction bond.  

The road crests several summits in the 8000 foot range, and we did get a great view of what we think is Mt. Whitney - elevation 14,494.

The road was incorporated into the US Highway system in the 1930’s.  There are many places to stop and stretch one's legs.


There are more than a dozen small towns along the way, each with their own personality.  We could spend more time on this path.

We stop for an afternoon at the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area.  There is a visitor center, and a walking trail through the ‘tufa’ formations.  

The lake harbors a thriving sensitive ecosystem of plants and animals, some found nowhere else in the world.

The Native Americans who lived in the basin collected the abundant alkali fly pupae and used them as a main source of food.  Walking along the water line, there are boggy patches with TONS of flies.

Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes in North America, at about 760,000 years old.  There is no outlet to the lake.  Water flows in from snowpack melt and mineral streams.  

Natural evaporation concentrates the minerals resulting in water with twice the salinity of the ocean.  No fish can live in the water due to the extreme alkalinity, but it is one of the most productive lakes in the world in that it supports trillions of brine shrimp, alkali flies and migratory birds.

The tufa, strange spires and knobs, are formed when fresh water springs containing calcium bubble up through the carbonate rich lake waters.  The combination of these waters form calcium carbonate, a whiteish limestone deposit.
Unpredictable winds make boating hazardous.
Braving the Los Angeles freeway system, we make our way ALL the way over to Long Beach.  Traffic flowed, there were a few snags, and it took about two hours to cross from one end of the city to the other.  We are already glad we don’t live here and we haven’t gotten out of the rig yet!

We have a site in an ‘urban’ campground, which turned out wonderfully.  It was clean, full facilitied, with a swimming pool and hot tub.

We hopped on our bikes to explore Long Beach.  It’s a great waterfront area, with well established bike paths, marinas, shops, and long expanses of sand.  We rode for miles and miles, stumbled onto the filming of the TV show NCIS LA, featuring LL Cool. 

We took and afternoon harbor cruise ride around Long Beach harbor, 

spotting seals on buoys, 

...and the Queen Mary ... flagship of the Cunard line from 1936 to 1946, retired to port in Long Beach, now serving as a full service hotel.  

... and industrial cranes unloading a cargo ship.  Long Beach and LA Ports combined are the busiest in the country, and one of the busiest in the world with over 1 BILLION dollars worth of cargo flowing through every DAY.

The sunset reflected beautifully on a nearby office building.  It may be urban, but it was pretty.

Bright and early the next morning, we battened down the hatches on the RV, leaving Stinky behind, and hopped on the ferry for a two night stay on Catalina Island.  Tom’s cousin, Paul had recommended that we try to get out there if we could make time.  It turned out that there were pretty good mid week ferry/hotel packages. 

On the ferry ride over, we saw a couple very large pods of dolphins that swam right alongside our boat. 
We were very excited coming into the ferry dock.  The island immediately reminded us of a small European village built into steep seaside hills, rising quickly to an elevation of 2100 feet. 

The red roof tiles and the glazed decorative tiles were manufactured on the island in a plant established by Wrigley.  The products were made using local clays and mineral pigments.

The water is clear and clean. 
We took the town bus up the Wrigley Memorial and the cactus garden.  The 130 foot tall memorial to Wrigley was completed in 1934, nearly all from local on-island materials.

William Wrigley (think chewing gum empire) was instrumental in establishing Catalina Island as a tourist destination.  He truly loved the island and generated numerous improvements: public utilities, new steamships, a hotel and the world famous casino.

The cactus garden has the mature and unusual plantings.

Prior to modern times, archiological evidence shows human inhabitation nearly 10,000 years ago.  The first European set foot on the island in `1542.  By the 1830’s, the entire native population had moved to the mainland.  By the end of the 1800’s, the island was almost entirely uninhabited.   William Wrigley purchased the island in 1919 for about three million dollars.  Starting in 1921, the island was used as the spring training grounds for the Chicago Cubs (Wrigley owned the team).  During WWII the island was closed to tourists and established as a military training ground. 

Now, 90% of the island is owned and managed by the nature conservancy (deeded so by the Wrigley’s).  Our afternoon jeep tour took us along trails lined with eucalyptus trees planted by William Wrigley's wife, Ada to the Pacific side of the island.

There are buffalo on the island!  In 1924, a Hollywood film crew brought 14 buffalo to the island for the filming of Zane Grey’s “The Vanishing American”. By 1969, there were more than 400 on the island.  Following a scientific study on the interactions between the buffalo and the plant communities, the herd was reduced to 150-200 bison.   

The bison are a beloved to the island community, though not native to the island.  The story of bison on Catalina is an example of how contemporary conservation management practices consider ecological as well as cultural, social, historic and economic values when making a conservation plan.

Bringing eagles back to Catalina was interesting.  During the years when DDT resulted in non-viable eggs (the shells where too thin), an innovative egg exchange program was initiated.  The scientists removed the thin-shelled eggs from the nest and replaced them with substitute dummy eggs.  The real eggs were taken to an incubation facility for hatching.  The newborn chicks were later returned to the nest where the eagles raised then.  The program was successful and now there are many breeding pairs of eagles on the island.

We saw many acorn woodpeckers, and this wonderful tree, nearly pecked to death.  They peck the tree to insert seeds, stored for the winter.

There are at least 61 species (and subspecies) ‘endemic’ (they are found nowhere else on earth) to Catalina Island, including 8 plants, five mammals, three birds, and 45 invertebrates. 

The casino is not and never was never a gambling casino.  The word casino gets it’s name from the Italian word, meaning ‘gathering place’. 

The award winning building was completed in 1929, at a cost of $2 million, with art deco and Mediterranean revival styling throughout.  There are 105,000 roof tiles and 2500 tons of steel in the building.  The light airy design of the interior was achieved using cantilever designs – there are no visible pillars or posts on either the first floor theater level, or the second floor dance floor level.

Movie tycoons DeMille, Goldwyn and Mayer would come by yacht to preview their newest films.    Theater pics:

The dance floor is 10,000 square feet and can accommodate 6000 dancers.  
The balcony overlooks the harbor below.
The big bands popular in the 1940’s and 1950’s played here.  At 140 feet tall, the casino was the tallest building in Los Angeles when it was built as that was the legal height limit at that time.
One of several paintings in the outside vestibule of the building:

The walk-about around town gave us a good feel for how charming this island is.

1926 Zane Grey Hotel

Bell Tower - melodic chimes ring every 15 minutes from 8a.m. to 8 p.m.

Beautiful house on hill

We had a good time on the island, there is a lot to see and explore.  Returning to the Long Beach Port Authority parking lot,  were very happy to see that Stinky fared well camping on his own.  He was thrilled to see us come home and enjoyed his supervised outside playtime.

Night Night

Next Post – Los Angeles

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sept 18 - Sept 24, 2017 - Moon Craters to Little Juniper

Craters of the Moon is one strange place.  It’s our last planned stop in Idaho, and a bit off the beaten path.  This national park was established in 2002.
It got it’s name from a geologist who described the surface as that of the moon through a telescope.  
The area is nearly destitute of vegitation.
The volcanoes in the area last erupted about 2000 years ago, leaving vast fields of lava flow, fissures, caves, tunnels, and exhausted cinder topped cones. The lava formations are very sculptural, patterned, colorful and fragile.  

Big Cinder, at 700 feet tall, is one of the world’s largest purely basaltic cinder cones. 
We hiked to the top

There are patches, or blobs, of solidified lava that formed when clots of pasty lava stuck together and fell back to earth and there are fragments of cones.  These verticle piles of lava are very brittle. 

We walked into a couple of caves that were once tunnels through which hot lava flowed.

Some of the lava rocks are very colorful.

It takes a very long time for enough dirt to accumulate among the cinders for a plant to take hold. These are dwarf buckwheats
Craters was interesting, but now it’s time to make some serious tracks south and west.  
We stay off main highways, and enjoy the drive on secondary roads, finding a state campground in the middle of nowhere, without water, electricity, or phone service.  Quiet, private, and beautiful … what more could we want?

Tom inspects the undercarriage and lubricates the automatic step. NO ... Kris did NOT run him over!

We are working our way toward Reno and follow Route 50 – described as the ‘loneliest road in America’ to see several old Nevada towns and some not-so towns
The town of Eureka was settled in 1864 by silver prospectors, but the town quickly found its niche primarily in lead mining.  

To establish itself as a tour town, several of the classic 1880’s buildings have been restored.  

The town suffered the usual fires, booms, busts and dwindled until recently, when mining has taken renewed activity.  See this map with each old mine claim numbered. 
After 1873, the law required the registration of livestock brands at the courthouse.  This courthouse had an exhibit with some very old brands, including this one registered in 1873.
We were encouraged to walk around the courthouse, including the courtroom, sit in the judges chair, and view the judge’s chambers.  There wasn’t another soul around.  They are all very casual.
This part of Nevada is very remote.  There are long stretches of desert, followed by a row of mountains to cross, then another patch of desert.  This repeated several times across the state until we hit Reno.

Through the eyes of an artist, these are beautiful shapes and colors

We stayed at Sand Mountain for overnight.  

Sand mountain is nearly 5000 acres of steep dunes, about 200 feet high, set aside for recreation including off road vehicles, hikers, and sandboarders. 

The dunes are a build-up of sands deposited by southwest prevailing winds.
There was a pony express stop here in 1860.
We had a classic desert sunset and wildly clear skys to see the Milky Way more clearly then we ever remember seeing it.
There are many petroglyphs scattered across the Nevada deserts.  We stop at two locations with good hikes and interpretive trails to see the petroglyphs and pictographs. 
These petroglyphs date back 7000 years or more and likely represent information about game trails.  

That long ago, this land was moist and marshy, supporting game and other wildlife suitable for hunting.  River otters, large ground sloths, and bald eagles were common.  

When the first non-native explorers entered this area, it was the home of the Northern Paiute People, known as the Cattail Eaters.  Houses were built of cattail and tule bundles. Tule bundles tied together with cattails were used to make boats.  Clothing was made from twined fibers of sagebrush bark.

We hiked a trail up into the hills, and saw a few residents along the way.

Back on the road again moving toward Reno.

The town of Fallon is the last stop before Reno. As a military town with the Top Gun flight training school, there are modern amenities, plus a historic downtown.  The old jail (foreground), built in 1906,  and courthouse (background) are on the list of national historic buildings.  

The jail was used until 1973.
Main street is quaint.  

Some people live well, and some … not so much.

The town of Fallon is trying to bring comedian Jimmy Fallon into town.

Moving closer to Reno - more expansiveness.  Nevada is a really big state.

We arrive Reno midday, and pull into the reserved in-town campsite.  

It has full amenities – whoo hoo !  Electricity, running water, and sewer hook-up and real showers.  We are in happy campers, now ready for a few more civilized days.  We gave some thought to staying up the mountain with Becky, but there was not good parking for the rig, AND, it was going to be very cold. 

We had 4 great days of fun and family with Becky, John and sweet little Juniper.  We went to Yoga and climbing class.  The little pouch on her waist is to carry the small animals that have been scattered around the walls.  She has to gather them up as part of her 'training'.

She makes shadows during short movies at the art museum and feeds the ducks in the Truckee River that runs through downtown Reno.
We drive up to their house for dinner through … you guessed it, snow (in September … really???)
We spend a glorious day at a local farm where the girl practiced (on a fake cow), her best milking technique, and went for a pony ride and played with Papa learning about old fashioned water pumps
Tom and Becky got into a father daughter lassoing war
We had a great visit with the Nevada crew, had a long girls hug, then hit the road again.

Night Night

Next Post – Reno south to Los Angeles