It was on Hwy 21 headed southeast out of Great Basin that we finally crossed the Utah state line. Great, we were going from one desert to another. The good news is that we were headed to 5 different Utah National Parks. But this desert happened to have 5 national parks! Thats right, good ol’ Utah, USA.
Instead of doing a seperate post for each national park (because you know we had to go to all of them) I’ll just make this a longer post with different sections and loads of pictures, of course. Before I continue I should say that at this point the van has been running good ever since the first little overheating bout. I just put oil and tranny fluid in it every couple weeks and it keeps moving down the road. Oh yeah, and gas, we put a lot of gas into it! It’s a blast to drive though. Anyways let’s get started with Utah National Parks numero uno….
Utah National Parks Breakdown
Scootin Utah; Pt. 1: Zion National Park
I gotta say right off the bat, this park feels a little like Disneyland to start. People are everywhere. It’s funky because to access most of the hikes and other cool things, you have to Continue reading →
We took the loneliest highway in America all the way to Sacramento Pass BLM area. Sweet free campground to pull into right around sunset and only a few miles away from Great Basin National park. We setup camp, Bailey made her always delicious chili, I made a little fire for heat, and we enjoyed ourselves for awhile before heading to bed.
So there we were, driving the old 1985 van in the heat of the desert toward Spencer Hot Springs, when I looked down and noticed the temperature gauge reading hot. I continued to drive for another few miles before I pulled over and let ‘er rest in the only bit of shade I could find amongst some old decrepit buildings that were covered in graffiti at a weird intersection out in the middle of nowhere. The artwork wasn’t bad though…
One of the multiple murals painted on these old buildings
First, It was right about this time when I began to question myself on this whole idea. Why had we bought a 30 year old vehicle? What made us think that driving around the country in a vehicle older than me was a good idea? We were barely into the trip before we were getting hot on the highway. I had checked fluids and everything. I didn’t know what to do and I was really starting to get worried.
Driving to Spencer Hot Springs
After a little while of exploring the abandoned buildings and letting the van cool down, we hopped back in and continued on our way. We made it to Tonopah, NV where we pulled into the gas station to reload on fuel. This is where I noticed coolant bubbling out of the overflow and I had a mini breakdown.
Should we continue the trip? What could happen in all of these miles if we are already overheating in the first leg? Should we make it back to Hwy 50 and turn around back towards California? Bailey and I discussed life and talked options. We talked about how hard we had worked to get this far with the van. We decided to head to a local park to cook some dinner and, as a bonus, I was able to throw 9 holes of disc golf that was in the same park!
Bailey made us salmon and green beans with cucumber and hot sauce
Fun short 9 holes of disc golf in Tonopah, NV. Bonus Rainbow!
While at the park, we decided we would continue on with our mission of road tripping while only driving at night time so the temps would be cooler for the van. What an idea… we waited at the park a bit longer for sunset before heading out on the last 100 miles or so to make it to Spencer Hot Springs. We drove all the way to the hot springs that evening with no problems at all. Well, except for the headlights flashing randomly here and there. That definitely shouldn’t have been happening. Still gotta get that figured out. At any rate, the van was running cooler and my nerves were calming.
Finally getting to Spencer Hot Springs
We parked in the first decent spot we saw that night when we pulled in because we had never been there. We made a little tiny fire and then passed out. I set out in the morning exploring to find all of the different tubs. Turns out there are about 4 different tubs at Spencer Hot Springs, all ranging in temperature. I found an awesome tub that was almost bathwater temp, with a big school of goldfish in the overflow pond. Yes, goldfish in the desert folks. This particular tub was nice because it was hot as hell here in the desert during the day, and it cooled us off.
We found a better camping spot and reparked the van there. We stayed here for about 4 days exploring the area and enjoying the tubs. Desert area with loads of sagebrush. Pretty much zero trees for shade. Amazing deep sunsets. We were able to hike to the top of a nearby hill to see the most amazing sunset. While waiting for the sunset we observed multiple packs of burrows, the desert donkey, grunting and groaning and drinking from the small goldfish-filled pond. I was also able to ride my mountain bike down this hill as a bonus to all of this. On top of all of that, we got to hit the hot tub again before tucking into bed for the night.
Bailey in the “bathwater tub” with overflow goldfish pond.
Here we are enjoying one of the natural tubs.
Me in the first tub you see when arriving to the area. We tried them all.
This was our camp setup, complete with rain fly sunshade. It was hot.
Getting ready to bomb the sunset hill on the hardtail.
Panorama picture test. Click it to check out our full sunset view.
So we basically hung out here for 4 days playing in hot tubs, riding bikes, exploring mine shafts, and playing checkers. It was hot and dry. We did good on our water here. We did not run out the whole time.
After our stint in Spencer Hot Springs, we decided we were having too much fun to call the trip. We would push on with the van. The two of us had worked to hard to get this far to turn around now. We camped in Austin, NV right up the road from the springs while waiting for a national park pass from my great buddy Dan Deemer. Big shouts out to him for riding his bicycle across the USA. Read his whole adventure with pictures included here. Bob Scott campground was the name of the place, We did have to pay $10 for the 2 nights we were there but we were able to use their toilets and refill our water jugs.
This one was hot. Beautiful sunset here. Now you’ve seen all 4 tubs.
Bailey skating into the sunset on “the loniest highway in America”
Mountain Biking with the cows in the desert across from where we camped.
It was a great time hanging out in the desert, but it was hot and we were ready for some new scenery and for our first National Park of the trip. Finally, Great Basin National Park, the only national park in Nevada, is where we were headed. We packed everything back in the van exactly where it belongs, hit the local gas station to fuel up, and hit the highway!
On the 3rd of July we headed over Monitor Pass from Tahoe to Highway 395 south towards Mammoth Mountain. After record breaking snowfall this past ski season Mammoth is still open and operating daily. With a chance to cross skiing on the 4th of July off our bucket list, we were extremely excited for the upcoming shred session.
We pulled up to one of our favorite campsites at crab cooker hot spring off of benton crossing road that night around 11:00PM. Its a free campsite on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and we have camped there multiple times before, the first time being on our first road trip across the country 2 years ago. We decided that night to get to sleep so we could get on the mountain early the next day. We got up the next morning made bacon, eggs, and coffee then donned our America flag bathing suits we’d be skiing in that day, then headed towards the mountain.
Heading to Mammoth in The Van
By the time we got to the mountain we realized that we were not the only folks that were crossing skiing on the 4th of July off of their to-do list, and we were in for a party of a day. The parking lots were full and the ticket line at Stump Alley was off the charts long. We ended up pulling the van into Lot C and threw our boots on, smeared sunscreen on our bare spots hurriedly and caught the next bus to the main lodge.
On June 30th, after a night out at the bar with my Mom, we set out on our grand adventure. The first stop was The Rubicon trail outside of Placerville to visit our friends property at Wentworth Springs for some good old fashion Independence day celebrating. The thing about the property is it is about three or four miles in on one of the gnarliest trails I’ve been on in any vehicle, let alone our 1985 van.
Getting to Wentworth Springs
Being the go-getters that we are we thought we would get the tough stuff out of the way before setting out on a 3,000 mile trip. We met my Dad and Uncle Mike at Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and went to meet up with the rest of the crew at another property called Camp Ten up the road. They were towing in an excavator to do some work on the property and had to pick it up over there.
To start, we met up with the owners of the property who are good friends of our family, we all made our way to the Rubicon via Wentworth Springs road.
The Van at the entrance to the Rubicon Trail.
The trail start with about 100 yards of water crossing; luckily the van is pretty tall and the water was not that deep.
My Uncle Mike’s Jeep mid water crossing.
When we first got to the trail we attempted to get the van in 4 wheel drive. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the hubs to lock. We decided to push on in 2 wheel and see what would happen. Seems like the best way to go, we thought. This usually goes one of two ways, it works out or it doesn’t. Fortunately, we made it 90% of the way in with no trouble. Unfortunately, The last 10% of the trail into Wentworth Springs is the hardest part; you end up running into a hill where the road is mainly made up of river rock and large boulders. Furthermore, after a large winter and plenty of water run off this part of the trail had been made even worse this season.
4 Wheeling on the Rubicon Trail
We brought up the rear of our pack and we were last one’s to attempt the hill. We had watched more experienced drivers and better built rigs struggle, so needless to say, we were slightly apprehensive. Justin drove the Van and My Dad and I hopped out and played spotter.
Justin had a hard time getting the van over the first few boulders without the front axle being locked. He made it three quarters the way up without four wheel drive. Eventually we gave up and Uncle Mike pulled out the recovery strap and pulled us up the rest of the way.
The Van and my Dad as spotter trying hard to get over some huge boulders.
Uncle Mike and the crew preparing the Recovery Strap. We got pulled to the bridge seen in this picture and drove the rest of the way in ourselves. Thanks for the help Uncle Mike!
Once we made it to the bridge, we continued on to Wentworth Springs and set up camp. Everyone went back to fill in the spot where we got stuck later in the day. We rode our bikes down there, which was also some of the roughest mountain biking I probably will ever do. We spent the rest of the afternoon fixing the road and filling holes by throwing rocks into them. My dad rolled out big boulders with the excavator. All in all, after the road work we probably could have made it up no problem in 2 wheel.
Relaxing at Wentworth Springs
We spent the rest of weekend relaxing, swimming, celebrating, and wheeling in my Uncle Mike’s jeep on the Rubicon. Unfortunately, we were having to much fun and forget to take pictures of anything else after the ride in. You’ll just have to take our word for it.
We had an awesome time at Wentworth Springs. We would definitely go back with the van (we did, read about it here) and even the jeep for some playing around. Special thanks to Nancy, Colby, Fio, Morgan, Steve, Sandy, and the rest of the gang for inviting us to come play! Come Monday morning it was time for us to make our way out to our next destination: Mammoth Mountain for 4th of July Skiing and Riding!
The van made it out pretty easy on Monday morning. We followed my dad out and said our goodbyes at the bottom of the access road. From there, we made our way to Tahoe for a quick stop and stocked up on food and also bought a bike rack for our bikes!
We stopped at Kiva beach to see the water level in Tahoe which is crazy high! The beach was almost non existent!
Kiva Beach Lake Tahoe looking FULL.
In conclusion, the first leg was challenging but a great time!