Thursday, June 12, 2014

New Mexico to California - Boondocking and Hot Springs

In mid-May I (Greg) took a trip to California.  Karen flew into Oakland and I met her in Concord California a few days later for a family camp out.   She returned to New Mexico with me through California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado.

The goal of the first part of my trip was to see if I could be comfortable boondocking in wild and Urban areas.  As a future full-time RVer, it is important to be comfortable with being out on your own in both types of environments.

Humphrey's boondocking spot in the Hot Creek Geologic Area, Mammoth Lakes, California.

I left Los Alamos, New Mexico early on May 6th.  My goal was to make it to Kingman, AZ.  I had researched places to "blacktop" boondock in Kingman Arizona.  I used the Overnight RV Parking website to find a good place.  I settled on parking overnight at a Denny's that is inside the Flying J Truckstop in Kingman. 

According to Overnight RV Parking, this Flying J allows RV's to park overnight in the Denny's parking lot. It's best for vehicles that fit into parking spaces, which Humphrey the White Whale does. There were about three large RV's that were taking up multiple parking spaces.  One guy there was working for an RV sales company, moving a travel trailer to a new location.

Here is a Google map of the Denny's location. I parked in the corner parking space next to the tree in the grass area (center of map - red car spot).  The larger RVs were parked behind me in multiple parking spaces on the south side of the Denny's lot.

My drive to Kingman was overly exciting as I very nearly ran out of gas.  I thought I had enough to make it to the next gas just outside of Kingman. There is no gas for a very long stretch between much of Flagstaff and Kingman.  Humphrey (Nissan NV 2500 High Top) gets about 15-16 mpg, but there was a fierce wind out of the west and it was slamming straight into Humphrey and really reduced his mpg.  He was on fumes as I pulled into the first available gas station I saw.  This excitement caused me to be paranoid for the rest of the trip and I filled up whenever the tank was half-empty. 

My first stop in Kingman was the In-and-Out Burger.  I am partial to their burgers and especially their natural, sliced on site, gluten free french fries.  I am gluten intolerant (I just hate that stuff so much!), so I brought my own pre-toasted gluten free buns.  I ordered a "protein" burger (lettuce instead of buns) which I then put on my own buns.  Delicious!  (I find that toasting gluten free breads make them hold together better.)

It was dark by the time I finally arrived at the Denny's.  Another place that Overnight RV Parking mentioned was a Walmart that is just up the street from Denny's.  There was an RV near the front curb at the Walmart, so I assume that overnighting is OK there.  I felt this Walmart was too open with car access for my comfort and so I went back to the Denny's.  I parked in the Denny's lot close to the truck parking area in a corner parking spot and setup the new bed.  (There is also a Walmart Super Center in Kingman.  It might be nicer for overnighting than the older Walmart up the street, judging from the Google satellite image.)

(UPDATE: reports that overnighting at the Kingman Supercenter Walmart is not allowed - I believe by city ordinance. Is the ban enforced?  When you look at a Google Map of the parking area there appear to be many RVs, so I would assume it is not actively enforced.)

There was some noise from people chatting loudly at the entrance of the Denny's and from Flying J employees on break, but overall it was quiet and I felt comfortable there.  I slept well and woke up to the sounds of a lawn mower trimming the adjacent grass.  The next door trucks were running their reefers all night, but that doesn't bother me - it's calming white noise.  I would return. 

(Another good overnight spot that Karen and I used a few months ago was a Denny's just east of Gallup in a truck stop. Restaurant parking lots in truck stops make good overnight stops, and then you can get breakfast before you head out! [Location])

The town of Kingman officially does not allow overnight RV camping unless you're a trucker, but they do not actively enforce this policy unless police are called out by a property owner.  It appears that both Walmart and Flying J do not call the police on RVers.

After a nice breakfast at Denny's, I prepped Humphrey for travel and set out after filling completely up with some good old Flying J gas.

My next destination: Vegas Baby!

I headed up US-93 North.  I stopped at a parking lot/hiking area a few miles south of the new bridge at the Hoover Dam. [Location.]  It was time to fly my light weight quad-copter that has a very light weight video camera attached to it.  [Flight Video]

The sign at the parking area described a hike to a hot spring near the Colorado River.  NOTE TO FUTURE SELF: Return to take this hike and soak!

Click for a better view of map and description of the hike.

After a successful flight it was back to the road.  I have eagerly followed the construction of the new bridge over the Colorado for years and now I was able to finally cross it in Humphrey.  It's nice not having to stop at a security checkpoint anymore.
"New Bridge at Hoover Dam" via Wikipedia

My plan in Las Vegas, Nevada was to blacktop-boondock in the back parking area of Bally's Casino on the strip.  Overnight RV Parking noted that Bally's allows RVs in the back lot. I arrived at Bally's and found the back lot near the pool area.  It is a busy area with lots of employees going in and out.  I felt that all the activity would make it safer.  There were a couple suspicious looking folks "skulking" about, but it's an urban area and you're going to have people about.  I kept my eyes open when walking around this back lot/employee parking area.  Overnight RV Parking noted that there were homeless folks in the area.  I didn't see any. 

I'm not a gambler, but I love to people watch and walk around to see the new sights.  After parking in a place I felt was a good spot (not remote, in a corner, plenty of traffic that would see if someone was messing with Humphrey) I headed out for a walkabout.  First, I chained up my mountain bike on the back of Humphrey.  That bike wasn't going anywhere!

Hunger was mounting, so a trip to the nearby Chipotle was called for.  Next,  I wanted to see the new High Roller ferris observation wheel that has cabins that hold 32 people at a time.   

On a previous trip to Vegas, I watched the High Roller's construction for a bit.  It's huge at 550 feet tall.  It's the biggest one yet, larger than the London Eye (only until they finish a planned wheel in New York that will be 630 feet tall).  The spiffy new outdoor LINQ mall leads to the sky wheel from the Vegas strip. All the "cool" people were there waiting their turn to get on the wheel.  I noticed that all the cool dudes in Vegas do not tuck in their shirts - just an observation!  I slyly pulled my shirt out - just to fit in better.

High Roller Ferris Wheel in the new LINQ shopping mall
The wheel is massive

I moved Humphrey to the big, new, well lit LINQ parking lot directly north of the High Roller, but the security there was super hyper-active.  The policy is no blacktop-boondocking, and it is enforced!  If you park an RV there you must have a hotel room there and get a official overnight parking form from the LINQ casino/hotel to displayed on your dashboard.  Humphrey sadly went back to Bally's. [Location] 

After another long walkabout, I went back to Humphrey and climbed into bed.  I slept well with no interruptions.  It's not perfect, but I would return.  (My other option that I looked into was to stay at the nearby Sam's Town RV park.  It's not on the strip but it has hookups, a pool and showers.  It sounds fairly nice.  They have a shuttle to the strip.)

Humphrey parked overnight behind Bally's and the Paris parking structure.

In the morning the Bally's back lot was nearly empty, but employees began showing up in short order for a brand new day of casino operations.

Next, it was on to Death Valley and then up US-395 to the Mammoth Lakes area where I would boondock at a natural hot spring area. 

This section is the greatest drive.  Death Valley is totally amazing and the drive up 395 is just incredible. It is my favorite drive of all.
Gas was expensive in Death Valley!  I probably could have made it to Lone Pine, but I was fuel paranoid.

I stopped briefly at Keough's Hot Springs just south-east of Bishop, CA. [Location.] It's a private family oriented hot spring pool that has a nice little campground for RVs and tents. It looks like a nice spot and I plan to return and stay a day or two with Karen.  It also has a couple of really cute permanent tents for rent. Below the official hot spring place there are also warm natural pools were you can soak for free.  There are always people in them, but they are not really that great.

A nice electric spot at Keough's is $28 and a dusty dry camping spot is $23.  It's $10 for a swim in the hot pool. The place looks like it hasn't changed in about 80 years.  The electric RV hookup area has a lot of pleasant grass and shade. The area was very quiet and peaceful, at least while I was there.  Maybe it perks up on weekends?

Keough Hot Spring Pool

My next stop was the natural hot spring area near Lake Crowley and Mammoth Lakes known as the Hot Creek Geologic Site or Area.  This area is known to be extremely geologically active with many tremors and earthquakes.  As a result there are many natural hot springs.  I had scoped out the area on Google maps and knew where to go to find a nice flat boondocking spot.  Wheeling It had boondocked in the area previously.  Their post about the area gave me confidence that I could camp out there, by myself.

After driving up a bumpy dirt road that turned west off Benton Crossing road, I passed a fifth wheel in a dirt clearing.  Down the road a bit I found another smaller dirt clearing and pulled in.  [Location.]  It's a beautiful flat plain landscape with small scrub brush (see the first photo of this post) surrounded by impressive mountains. 

I flew my quadcopter to get a video of the area I was boondocking in, but it was pretty windy and not that great of a flight.  [Flight video.]

A nice hike led to the area where the hot springs are.  Unfortunately people were at both the nearby hot springs spots, so I hiked back to Humphrey, made a nice meal on my new butane burner and prepared Humphrey for the night.  

This butane burner is the greatest.  It's easy to setup and lite.  Much easier then our Colman propane stove.  I am able to safely cook in the van with the sliding door open for air.  The butane fuel comes in cans that look almost exactly like spray cans.  They can be purchased cheaply at most Walmarts.  (Click the butane link above to purchase the burner at our Amazon Store. It's under $30 and we get a dime or two.)

The sunset was spectacular and I felt completely comfortable out there all by my lonesome. 

A couple of beat-up trucks came by.  I kept a close eye on them as they passed my camping spot.  It looked like young local couples heading to the hot springs.  They left when they too discovered that both nearby pools were occupied.

People were camping directly next to the hot springs, which I thought was rude as it made it uncomfortable to approach the springs with them hanging out right there.  These campers should have camped further away to allow others to enjoy the small pools.

As I climbed into the comfy new bed I thought about bears and bogeymen, but then I told myself that I wouldn't have to worry about any of those.  I got on Facebook for a while.  Our Verizon cell phone hot-spot was working well.  I fell fast asleep and didn't wake till morning light.
Bears and Bogeymen.  Oh My!

In the morning, I made some peanut butter and jelly toast on the butane burner.  After breakfast, I headed out to check out the nearby hot springs. 

The campers at the first spring were still there. This one is called Shepard's Hot Spring.  I decided I was just going to walk up and look at the spring, despite the rude campers that were still there.   I passed their truck that was open with camping stuff hanging out.  They were soaking in the pool.  It was a middle aged couple and the guy was obviously not happy that I was walking up on them while they were soaking.   I told them I just wanted to see the pool and that I was moving on to the next one. 

It's an incredibly beautiful area with lots of little marshes and ponds.  I found the next hot pool in short order.  The night before there were a couple of folks who appeared to be bicycle camping next to this spring.  They were gone now.  This one is called called "Crab Cooker Hot Spring." [Google Satellite Map of Spring]

It was a good time to take a dip.  It felt great.  The birds where chirping and it was a beautiful day.  I really enjoyed my time there.  It was still early and no one else showed up while I was there, thankfully.   The peaceful beauty was just fantastic.
Toes enjoying the view at the Crab Cooker hot spring in Mammoth Lakes, California.
I call them "natural spring pools," but the hot water is piped out of the actual springs that are a bit up hill from them.  The pools are all man made with rock and cement.  It seems pretty darn natural to me, anyway.  Talk about relaxing!

The internet says that locals maintain the pools in this area.  Thank you locals!

After the hike back to Humphrey, I made him road ready and headed out.  On the way out of the area I checked out another hot spring pool where I had seen three RVs the previous night. [Location.The multiple RVs were all gone now.  

Hot spring closer to US-395.

Hot Creek Geological Area is a nice overnight boondocking area and I would definitely return.

Next up was the beautiful drive to Mono Lake.

Mono Lake was as incredible as ever.  I stopped at the Whoa Nellie Deli which sits at the bottom of the road to Yosemite (Highway 120 - Tioga Pass road), overlooking Mono Lake.  Whoa Nellie has a gas station, convenience store and an incredible restaurant.

The story is that a fantastic chef got tired of his urban life and bought this fairly remote gas station and convenience store about ten years ago.  He has turned it into a popular, must visit restaurant overlooking Mono Lake. 

I had a pork chop and mashed potato plate for lunch.  The pork chop was covered in a fantastic berry glaze.  Oh man, soooo good.  What a treat!

Whoa Nelly Deli Pork Chop Plate.  Oh Man - that's hard to beat!

There is a Veterans' Memorial just up the hill from the Whoa Nellie on a bluff overlooking Mono Lake.  I am wondering if it is possible to park there overnight.  There were no "no camping" signs so maybe it would be OK.  If not, Overnight RV Parking notes that there is a free boondocking dirt lot area down closer to Mono Lake itself.  In any case, the view from the Memorial is outstanding.

Now it was on to Minden/Gardnerville then over Hwy 50 to Tahoe, up to Truckee and then 22 miles north to Sierra Hot Springs.

Sierra Hot Springs was previously known as Campbell Hot Springs.  Karen and I once lived in South Lake Tahoe.  We never made it up to Sierra Hot Springs.  Back then it sounded overly hippyish and wasn't our kind of thing.  It sounds like the hippies that run the place now have kinda mellowed out with age.

There is a very pleasant meadow area with tall trees where they allow camping and tenting.  I found a nice spot between trees with a picnic table, made dinner, setup the bed and then headed out to experience the hot springs. 
Sierra Hot Springs Camping Spot

There are two hot springs pools that are spread very far apart.  I used my mountain bike to get to them.   The first area is way over on the north-west side of the property up a dirt road on a hill.  There is a nice hot pool and a meditation dome with an extremely hot small round pool.  Your not suppose to talk while in the meditation dome.  There is also a small sauna room next to the big pool.  There is a big wooden deck here that overlooks a beautiful sierra meadow where cows are lazily munching on tall delicious green grass.  It's a pleasant soaking place.

After enjoying that main pool area I jumped back on my bike and headed towards the camping area to the "meadow" hot springs that is on the south-east side of the property.  This pool is out near a meadow under tall trees in a peaceful spot.  It's not a natural pool but it was built too look like one with rocks, cement and sand on the bottom.  A hot spring bubbles in from the sandy bottom.  It is a very pleasant spot.  After a nice long soak and feeling somewhat water logged,  I biked back to Humphrey and fell fast asleep.  [more photos of pools]
Meadow Hot Spring Pool

There is also a massage building in the middle of the property that has two large brick lined hot spring bathtubs inside.  You must fill the tubs up.  It takes 30 minutes to fill them, according to a note on the wall.  I didn't try them.

Next up:  Chico California area & Rolling Hills Casino, Red Bluff Bike Ride,  California Coast, Urban Stealth Boondocking in Santa Cruz, Sacramento Visit and Bike Ride,  Concord California,  Samuel P. Taylor State Park, Back to Sierra Hot Springs, The Loneliest Highway through Nevada, Great Basin National Park, Salt Lake City area, Orvis Hot Springs in Colorado.


New bridge at Hoover Dam license information CC by 2.0 Aerial by Doc Searls.

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