I recently returned from a stunning four-day RV trip that took us on a journey from the Pacific Northwest through the rugged mountains of California, through Death Valley National Park, and to the desert oasis of Las Vegas, NV. As I sat there for hours upon end staring out at the vivid landscape that zipped past me for four days, I once again, as I always do when I’m out and about traveling, began to yearn for a life that allows me to see more of this great world.
As we started our journey and continued further south, the various landscapes opened up and constantly transformed right in front of me. The wilderness seemed to be never-ending like looking up into space at the galaxy. The wonder and wanderlust constantly tugged at me, as the realization that I was seeing just a fraction of what else is out there, set in. What’s deeper into that thick forest of Douglas-fir, Western Hemlock, and Ponderosa pines? What’s just beyond that ridge, past that beautiful mountain lake, and past the end of the road?
Cutting Through the Mt. Hood Wilderness
We began our trip just south of Seattle in the city of Tacoma, where we picked up our 34-foot behemoth. It was a Wednesday afternoon and our mission was to reach Las Vegas by mid-afternoon on Sunday to drop me off for a flight back to San Diego. Once firing up the RV, we started our journey heading south through Olympia, WA, along the I-5. Unfortunately, because of the heavy cloud cover that had arrived the day before, we were unable to see the majestic mountains of Mt. Ranier or Mt. St. Helens, but I could feel their presence just beyond the thickness of the clouds. Once we reached I-205 just outside of Portland, OR, we veered to the southeast before picking up the I-26 that cuts through the Mt. Hood wilderness. Again, because of the cloud cover, the 11,250-foot peak was not visible, but once again I could feel its strong presence as it loomed just above us. We climbed up over the mountainous pass, zooming past thick woods and raging rivers before descending through Warm Springs, OR, and finally into Bend, OR, where we spent our first night.
Deer, Bald Eagles, and Snow Plants in Mt. Shasta and Lassen National Forest
As we continued our pilgrimage southward from Bend,OR, the morning fog eventually gave way to the mountains of the Willamette and Umpqua National Forest. Along the right-hand side of the vehicle, we could see a volt of turkey vultures, and crowded in the middle of them was a large bald eagle that appeared to be twice as large as the buzzards. Like the king of this forest, he pecked away at the carcass while simultaneously demanding respect from the low-life, scrounging scavengers.
Staring us down from a distance along the right side of the RV, a range of snow-capped mountains began to come into view, before disappearing around the time we passed through Klamath Falls and crossed over into California. Once in California, we approached the beautiful small town of Weed, CA, featuring Black Butte, a perfectly, inverted cone-shaped mountain that looks exactly like the generic type of mountains I used to draw as a child. Finally, as hints of blue skies finally began falling down on us, we detoured off the road to take a short hike down to McCloud Falls.
The easy, wide trail that in some portion is actually paved led us parallel alongside the McCloud River for about a mile and a half back to the wide, single tier waterfall. Along the way, we came across a single, whitetail deer grazing peacefully. As we approached the falls, we could hear the crashing of the water, signaling its power and presence. As we came around the bend, we were confronted by the natural strength and beauty of this marvelous site. With the mist in our faces and large boulders surrounding the river and falls, we explored and stared in awe. For me, it’s always amazing that this amount of water can continuously come barreling down the mountain for 24-hours per day. Despite recent droughts in California, the amount of water that feeds over the edge is mind-boggling, and almost unfathomable.
For the evening, we found a nice RV park called Hat Creek in Old Station, CA. We scored the perfect camping spot just along Hat Creek, within a few steps from the rushing water. The power and serenity of this place blended together in a spiritual way, as the towering ponderosa pines filled the gaps between the camp sites, and swayed in the whispering winds.
Resting alongside the creek, I noticed this peculiar red plant that seemed to pop up out of nowhere, as if it didn’t belong. The snow plant, as it’s referred to reminded me of the book, Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. As the skies darkened and evening set upon us, we feasted, with nothing but the sounds of food being devoured, the breeze slicing through the pines, and the creek keeping the rhythm of the night.
Lassen National Park, Quincy, and Lake Tahoe
Back on the road for another day of cutting through the California wilderness led us through portions of burned-out forests along Lassen National Park, from a 2012 fire called Reading that burned 23,958 acres. However, below the charred trees, life continues as the undergrowth of green shrubbery and flowers have broken through to begin their new lives. As our home on wheels barreled, aimed in the direction of Lake Tahoe, the skies continued to clear, making way for soft white clouds, crystal blue skies, and the ability to see the surrounding snow-capped mountains.
The drive down from Westwood, detouring slightly westward for a few miles around Lake Almanor was every bit as impressive as anything we had seen along the journey. The large lake, flanked by a mix of the Sierra Nevada granite and the volcanic Cascades, makes for a stunning visual. As we curled around the lake and began winding down the mountains along I-89, and headed southward along I-70, we sat high up on the mountainside, looking down on raging rivers and a range of rolling green mountains. Old rickety bridges crossed flowing rivers, traversing the saddles of the opposing mountains, and resting so powerful in contrast against the backdrop of nature.
Along the way, we cut through Quincy, CA, a quaint, seemingly perfect type of small mountain town. Rolling down Main Street, we passed the Plumas County Courthouse, some small bakeries, pubs, cafes, and shops, before parking the rig and grabbing a delicious meal at Pangea Café and Pub. With grub in our bellies and a mission to reach Lake Tahoe by evening, we were on the road again, heading east.
We arrived in Lake Tahoe by mid-afternoon, greeted by bluish skies, a stunningly beautiful lake, snow-covered mountains, and a winding, switchback road that led us toward South LakeTahoe, and our campground. We spent the evening here, trekking around the woods, hopping around a marshy area like frogs leaping from one lily-pad to the next, and taking in our surroundings. Breathing in the fresh air, staring out at the wilderness, the river, and the mountains gave me a sense of calmness and respect for how vast and powerful our surroundings were.
The Sierra Nevada to Death Valley
As we headed down the mountains from Tahoe into the flatter lands, the fog and rain had me gritting my teeth in the back of the vehicle, praying that we would not end up with a runaway RV. Thankfully, we made it to the bottom, before climbing once again along the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada. The further south we traveled, the more the snow began to cover the mountains around us, and the granite peaks began to come into view. They were jagged and majestic, towering above flat basin that rested to the east. Just as I thought it could not get any better, we were spat out around Lee Vining and Mono Lake, whipping us past the turnoff to June Lake, Mammoth Lakes, and eventually Yosemite. Oh, the urge to make a right and venture into the wilderness of Yosemite was tugging at me so frantically. But not this time. This trip must wait.
Heading south along I-395, we made it as far as Lone Pine before taking the I-136 that fed us onto I-190 toward Death Valley. To tell the truth, I wasn’t expecting much from this part of the trip, but I could not have been more wrong. As we wound our way down the mountain through a series of twists and turns, the dark clouds in the distance contrasted so beautifully against the orange, pinks, browns, yellows, and various colors of the mountains. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that we had spent the last few days barreling our way through the pine forests of lush green terrains, but there seemed to be something so unique and magical about descending deep into the depths of Death Valley. As we dropped to the desert floor, we found a campsite in Panamint Springs, where we spent the evening chucking rocks, building a mighty fire pit, and collecting root balls for kindling.
Slicing Through Death Valley to Las Vegas
“What are we doing out here in the middle of the desert?” These words from Hunter S. Thompson always creep into my mind when going through long stretches of vast desert lands. Our final stop before exiting the National Park was the lookout at Zabriskie Point. The dried up remnants and sediments left behind by what was once Furnace Creek Lake has created this beautiful, colored ripple effect throughout the area. On this early May morning, the sun was shining, the weather was perfect, and here I was, standing atop a hillside looking out at the desert as if it was part of another planet.
As I was dropped off at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, and by buddies disappeared, rolling forward in what was my home on wheels for four days, I immediately began to miss it. I didn’t want the trip to end, for I knew that there is so much more out there. Since then, my wanderlust has begun stirring up inside of me once again. It is a strong, powerful feeling. It’s a feeling that does not seem to subside. A feeling that aches in my belly. One that pulls me and tugs at me, begging me to listen and take action.
“The Wild still lingered in him and the wolf in him merely slept.”
― Jack London,