Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Tale of Two Parks

Great Basin National Park - Baker, Nevada: An undiscovered treasure

Weekends and holidays are the bane of a full-timer's existence; trying to find boondocking sites or campgrounds that are not already fully occupied is a challenge.  So when we decided to visit Great Basin National Park in Nevada over Memorial Day weekend, we anticipated the need for at least several days advance encampment to assure us a spot during the holiday.  However, Great Basin National Park is a park in the way that an eariler generation remembers national parks.  As "advertised", the park is one of the least known and visited areas in the West.  Even over a summer holiday weekend, we hiked trails all by ourselves, enjoyed the solitude of an awesome boondocking site, and basically saw only the park rangers, even then on an infrequent basis.

Route 50 leading to Great Basin NP,
aka "The Loneliest Highway"
The location of the park, in east-central Nevada near the Utah border, is hundreds of miles from any metropolitan area so visitors don't just come for a weekend getaway. And because of its location, the air quality of the park is the best in the continental US; with visibility exceeding 120 miles, star-gazing is beyond compare!  Of course, cell phone reception is non-existent and news of the real world comes a day late, but the opportunity to join with Mother Nature of her terms and experience a slower pace cannot be better experienced than here.  The Great Basin appeal has to do with silence and space, with the grand lonesome sweep of the country itself, and with long vistas and clean air...and entry is free.

Boondocking site on BLM land, 5 miles from Great Basin NP
Designated as a National Park in 1986, the name Great Basin is derived from the landscape's theme of alternating basin and range -- broad basins hung between craggy ranges, from the Wasatch Mountains of Utah to the Sierra Nevada of California, in seemingly endless geographic rhythm. The entire basin region covers more than 200,000 square miles, as much area as the combined land mass from Maine to Maryland.

However, far from a wasteland, the Great Basin NP is a diverse region that includes 13,000-foot Wheeler Peak; 5,000 year old bristlecone pine trees growing on rocky glacial moraines (one of the world's oldest living things!); a six-story limestone arch (or is it a natural bridge??) and over 30 spectacularly beautiful marble and limestone caves, most notable Lehman Caves. Hiking opportunities abound throughout the park, many not for the faint of heart, as they follow ridge lines or canyons and elevation rises to subalpine lakes and the bristlecone pine forests can be as much as 1,000-feet per mile!  Not dissuaded by those challenges, we were truly rewarded on our hikes by the desert's solitude, lungfuls of sagebrush, juniper, and pinyon pines, and dramatic views so expansive and crystal clear it was as if the Park provided complimentary polarized sunglasses!  Although we did encounter several higher-elevation trails still covered in snow, the weather during our visit was quintessential--sunny, mid-70's during the day and bright starlit skies, low-50's at night.

Wheeler Peak, highest point at 13,063 feet, offers a Scenic Drive to take in the views...
...or you can hike it...

...and experience the many exquisite subalpine lakes on the way to the top!

Exhibiting the diversity of the Park......

A grove of ghostly aspens awaits Spring at higher elevations...
....while Spring has already sprung at lower elevations

Some hikes are through the arid desert, complete with its ecosystem....
...while others are through lush canyons, brimming with flora and fauna

Trails leading to the bristlecone pine forests at over 10,000-ft elevation stymied us with snow.....

....while others were a "walk in the park"

Naturally-formed Lexington Arch, a 6-story limestone arch, stunned us with views from the trail....

...and from the Arch

Even the more "ordinary" sites....
...were extraordinary!

Taking time to smell the flowers took on a whole new meaning in the Park.
Ever wonder where pine nuts come from?
Pinyon pine trees in the Great Basin are the most significant source in North America

Crater Lake National Park - Oregon: A discovered treasure

Great Basin NP took our breath away by its solitude and space, truly a highlight of our travels and an undiscovered treasure.  Crater Lake NP is arguably more breathtaking, but it does inspire the awe of thousands of visitors during the summer season, surely a road more traveled.  Even though the northern half of the 33-mile Rim Drive was still closed due to snow when we visited in late June, the pullouts, viewpoints, and hiking trails that were open were filled with lots of eager visitors getting a jump on the season.  Still, if ever there is a place where pictures say more than words, this is it!  

Overnighting in eastern Nevada on our way to Crater Lake...
even the Walmart parking lots are scenic!

Petroglyphs at Grimes Point Archaeological area near Fallon, NV
Situated right next to Highway 50, aka The Loneliest Road, meant the
 free BLM campground, cool hiking trails, and an abundance of petroglyphs were for our eyes only!

And now what you've been waiting for.......

A massive volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago left a deep basin the place where a mountain peak once stood. Centuries of rain and snow filled the basin, forming a deep blue lake whose waters are of unmatched color and clarity.  It is also the deepest lake in the United States.  


After snow-melt, a popular excursion is a boat ride to hike Wizard Island...we'll be back!!

In the meantime, we found a secluded overlook to enjoy our lunch.....
peaceful contemplation.....
and time to breathe.....

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Tails from the Back Seat: BLM & Free(dom) for All

We like to travel with John and Susan, but when we pull into a campground, we have to admit, our hearts drop...that means we have to be on leashes, we have to be quiet, and we can't do our business just any ol''s kind of a drag.  
But when we hear them say BLM, it means a free for all...oh, we mean freedom for all :-) !!!  Fortunately, since we've been out west, BLM is the norm and campgrounds are few and far between! 

We know the acronym stands for Bureau of Land Management, which to John and Susan means freedom from the grid (and free camping), but to us it means a free for all, Barking Loudly and Madly as we get to chase squirrels, rabbits, and each other...generally creating all kinds of mayhem as we roam freely to our hearts content!  BLM spots always have interesting sights and smells, as well as interesting tastes (although those usually get us in trouble), and miles and miles of land and water to explore.  Of course, we are never allowed out of sight, but just knowing we could be if we wanted to is the best freedom we could ask for!

We hope you experience our "free for all" through the following photos taken on BLM land near the Great Basin National Park in Nevada...can't you just hear us Barking Loudly and Madly??????!!!!!
Oh, there's a trail I'm supposed to be on??

Yes, Jake, get over here!

Come on, John, catch up!!!
We can really use a drink...

...and a swim!!

OK, Susan, we'll pose for a photo...

...or two

Until the next time....

Monday, July 8, 2013

Boondocking Paradise

Being outfitted to camp without hook-ups for long periods of time makes us work hard at finding spots to camp for free. We spent most of the last year in Michigan, Canada, and the northeast and southeast parts of the country. It was really hard finding good places to camp on public lands. We managed to find good spots in some national forests (Hiawatha, Oconee, Ocala) and even on some private property (Rhinebeck Aerodrome, Inn at Little Washington), but for the most part we were stuck at campgrounds. While campgrounds sound like fun to a lot of people, they really aren't that great to us. There's usually too much noise, too many campfires, too many barking dogs, too many people, and too many dollars paid for few to no facilities.

Now that we're finally back in the west, we can't believe how easy it is to find great places to camp. Where we used to search for days to find one decent spot we now routinely find multiple spots within a few hours. It's like life is one big Easter egg hunt now. We haven't hooked up to an electric outlet in six weeks and may not for the rest of the summer. Finding free places to dump our tanks and fill our water tanks is also easy.

Even this roadside picnic area in Texas gave us great views and a quiet evening before moving on the next day. Even if staying over one night isn't really boondocking, you can't even find places like this on the east coast where you can spend a pleasant night.

In Nevada, basically the entire state is a boondocking opportunity. While we were in Great Basin National Park, we found free sites all over the place in BLM, National Forest and even in the National Park property.

This spot next to a stream and a grove of silver aspens worked well for us for two and a half weeks.

There was more hiking for us and the dogs than we could cover in a year. We went hiking on one of the most popular trails in the park on Saturday over Memorial Day Weekend and didn't see another person.

We also had a nice dinner view in the backyard.

One of the many sites we found for boondocking near Great Basin in Nevada had some abandoned pavement in the middle of a BLM sagebrush desert at the foot of the mountains. This spot would handle just about any size rig or a group.

In Oregon we stayed mostly in the southeastern part of the state. There were ample boondocking spots all around Crater Lake and Klamath Falls. We'll definitely be back to finish some hiking we didn't get to at Crater Lake.

One place we lingered for a while was a nice little spot right next to the Williamson River.

Idaho offers so many places to stop for a night or multiple days that I'm not sure why anyone would use a campground here unless they absolutely had to. Here are a few examples.

Although part of the reason to boondock is to find those out of the way places where you're all alone (especially at night), we're finding spots where we could easily camp with other people. We'll eventually be looking for kindred spirits people who like to camp off-grid, do some fishing, go on day hikes, grill local products for dinner and sit around a campfire at night.