Alex Travels California – Week 5

Alex Travels California – Week 5
Jason Nockels

Written by Jason Nockels

San Francisco to Tahoe 

Finding road trip mates is not as easy as you would think, but after leaving countless posts on Couchsurfing and Facebook I managed to find two guys who happened to be in San Francisco and were planning to go on their own road trips. Meidan is from Israel and had just returned from the John Muir Trail and was looking forward to see more of the Western United Sates, whilst Jarno had just arrived in San Francisco straight from Hamburg, Germany and was about to put money down for a second hand car. It took a bit of an effort to convince both that the opportunity to travel on the RV for free was not a scam, but a lunch meeting with Meidan and a beer with Jarno did the trick.
We went to pick up the RV at Cordelia, where Aldie had done wonders to get it looking like it just rolled off the assembly line. Both of them were definitely nervous to drive such a big vehicle, but I assured them that it would take only half a day to get used to it. Even though the RV had been thoroughly cleaned, we didn’t manage to empty the septic tank when we returned it a week earlier and now had to deal with the smelly consequence. Therefore high on our list was to get to the nearest dumping station near Sacramento and take care of this urgently.
The dumping station happened to have a coin laundry as well, so we took care of everything in one go before hitting the road to our camp site near Lake Tahoe. It was dark when we arrived, but we were not the only ones there. A jeep was parked right next to the lake, a girl was sitting inside and a guy was standing outside with his camera and tripod directed at the Milky Way just above the small lake. “Hi there!” I said to them. “I’m a photographer too!” I quickly added. Gabe turned out to be quite an expert in astrophotography and we quickly began a photo session with our cars, crew and the Milky Way in the back. “It’s awesome to meet other easy-going photographers!” Gabe said, before heading off into the night.

Tahoe to Bodie 

I can’t recall if it was me or Jarno who woke up first, but the important thing is that we got up right before sunrise. The little lake was covered with a thin layer of mist rising up from the water and forming a thicker layer of fog above it. The sun was just peeking through the treetops of the forest behind. The scenery changed by the minute, as the fog became thicker, quickly hiding everything close to the lake. I sent up not drone for some quick shots and continued taking photos with my camera once I returned the drone. You could barely see anything anymore, just the distant treetops and what looked like the edge between the tree-line and the lake. The fog had now completely taken over and the only thing you could see was the white mist that enveloped the entire lake.We left our little magical camp spot and headed straight to Sand Harbor to have a swim and get some much-needed sunshine. I was familiar with the spot as I had been here before and guided the others to the right spot to park our RV.
It was nice being back here, despite the throngs of people lining the shore. It must have been three hours when we decided to hit the road again and headed south towards Bodie. Bodie, an old abandoned western town, was a late addition to our itinerary as Meidan told us about it while we were at Tahoe. As it wasn’t for off from our route we agreed to check it out.
The way there brought us across the Sierra Nevadas and led us south along the mountain range for most of the drive. It was a stunning drive, passing massive farms, small towns, all the while having the Sierras as our backdrop. The sun was setting when we turned off into the side road to Bodie that quickly became a gravel dirt road for the rest of the way. The camp site itself turned out to be a small turn out on the top of the hill, giving us a breathtaking view of the landscape around us.

Bodie to Lunar Crater

I woke up very early to catch the sunrise and Jarno and Meidan decided to join me as well. The sun didn’t make it above the hill yet but its soft pink light, reflected off the clouds had already illuminated the landscape. We bought some camping chairs the day before, and we’re now sitting in them, watching the landscape in front of us. Meidan made the perfect middle eastern coffee to go with it.
It was 8am when we arrived at the gate to Bodie, but found out that we weren’t supposed to enter the State Park before 9am. A perfect time to catch up on the last episode of Game of Thrones. It was an odd sight to see such a well preserved town. It was like stepping back in time to wall around the old shops, saloons and post offices that were still stocked with all the goods, documents and machinery of yesteryear.
We spent at least three hours strolling around Bodie, taking photos and watching other people peeking into the windows. we left Bodie with a sense of awe and excitement before heading south towards Mono Lake and then east straight into Nevada. Bodie was already a dry and desolate place but our drive through Nevada completely changed the notion of those two words. We barely saw any towns on our way and our campsite next to the Lunar Crater was definitely the most remote I had been on this entire trip. Nonetheless it was a truly stunning view to have, nothing but dry hills and extinct volcanoes stretching all the way to the horizon, and we had all of it to ourselves.
Lunar Crater to Salt Flats 
I came down with a severe cold and sore throat the day before and it wasn’t getting any better during the night. I wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating because of the pain, but I could’ve sworn that I heard our door opening, someone climb up to the roof of our RV and moving it from side to side. Thinking it must have been Jarno, who does like to do just that, I didn’t worry too much about it.
When asked if anyone had left her RV in the middle of the night, the following morning, I was shocked to find out that no one recalled ever leaving the RV after we all went to bed. A chill went down my spine, who or what was it? “I think it’s a hallucination.” Jarno said. “I hope it was!” I replied quietly. The morning at Lunar Crater was equally impressive as the evening before. The landscape devoid of human activity, felt so alien yet beautiful, as we sat there in our camping chairs, sipping on coffee and tea.
My sore throat had waned off slightly in the morning but was now back in full force, turning most of the ride into an agonizing affair. I had to stop and get some medicine and painkillers in order to cope, before we continued east and then north towards the Salt Flats. “Look at all that white salt!” I pointed to the salt flats that have finally come into view as we made the descent from the ridge.
The perfectly straight road led us right to West Wendover and the border to Utah. “Two days is not too bad to cross the entire state of Nevada!” I said, followed by “Hello again Utah!” It didn’t take us long to find our camping spot right above the Salt Flats, where Meidan and Jarno decided to do a hike up the hill whilst I got some rest and let the medicine take its course.
Salt Flats to Montpelier 
“Woah!!! It’s incredible!” Meidan said whilst staring out of the window as we drove across the perfectly white salt flats. It was difficult to keep your eyes open as the salt reflected the bright midday sun, instantly blinding anyone who wasn’t wearing any eye protection. I had to hurry back inside and turn my luggage inside out to find those sunglasses I have never really used.
We took advantage of the skewed perspective due to the perfectly flat ground and took some fun shots of us and the RV. Apparently we had just missed a race last week but we could catch a glimpse of one of the racing cars before they packed it away.
It was also the best opportunity to do some drone of videos of the RV driving across the salt flats. It was like watching a car commercial as I flew the drone ahead of us whilst it filmed the RV at the same time.
The battery was now running low and it was time to make a move and head for Salt Lake City for a water dump and then change course north in the direction of the Grand Tetons. It was already Saturday and we wanted to be there a day ahead of the total solar eclipse.
Montpelier to Grand Tetons 
We didn’t really see much of our camp site as we arrived late at night the day before and headed straight out the next morning. We continued north on the 89 past the state line of Idaho and straight into Wyoming. “Two states in a day!” I jokingly said, as I saw the ‘Welcome to Wyoming’ sign zoom past us.
It turned out that I wasn’t the only one who was getting sick on this trip. Meidan was complaining about pain on his chest he had during the night and it wasn’t getting any better as we were driving. I luckily brought my own sore throat under control and led him to the next emergency room in the town of Afton.
“You’re friend is being tended to, do you want a bottle of water?” The receptionist asked me. “So you’re here for the eclipse?” She followed up. “Yeah! We’re heading to the Grand Tetons to watch the eclipse there.” “The only problem is that we still haven’t found any shop that stock the eclipse glasses.” I added.
“We might actually have some, let me check!” And like that she solved our biggest problem by giving us directions to a nearby Emergency Service garage, who still had some glasses to give away. Meidan’s chest pain also turned out to be a strong case of heart burn (acid reflex) that was easily treated with the right medication. With all our issues sorted it was off to the Grand Tetons past Alpine and Jackson.
And there they, were towering over the flat plains of Jackson Hole like lone giants. The Grand Tetons in their full splendor. “I think the camping spot is full!” I said to Jarno, slightly concerned. “How about that small parking spot there?” Meidan pointed at a dirt pullout. “This should do!”
“The view is stunning isn’t it?” Jarno said whilst looking at the Grand Tetons right in front of us. “The perfect spot got the eclipse” I said with a big smile.

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