Laguna Seca Trip: Day 7 – Thunderhill Raceway

Friday, July 15

Now the vacation shifts gears, so to speak.

It’s a quick 15 minutes from the motel to the track. The facility is pretty nice; they have two large canopies to park under. The one nearest race control, bathrooms, and meeting rooms was already full when I got there, so I had to park at the farther one. Late arrivals were out of luck when it came to shade. This can be quite important as the day progresses. It ended up being about 100 degrees, so shade is important to some semblance of comfort.

Checked in. All cars are required to have numbers. Evidently, that’s some sort of rule in the region, not just for this event. I could use painters tape to make a number, if I could borrow some, or I could purchase a set from them for five bucks. That’s a sticker for each side of the car and a smaller one for the windshield. I got #29.

GBMC6478sThey have an official photographer there – gotbluemilk.com. They have a trailer (“with triple air conditioning!”) full of monitors where you can view what they’ve shot. Pictures for the day are $75. For two-day events, they charge $115. Chatting with them, I discovered they would be in Laguna Seca on Monday, so I told them to bring today’s photos with them on Monday and I’d buy both days for the 2 day event price (even though it’s two one-day events, not a two-day event).

Hooked on Driving (HoD) runs four run groups. A and B had their drivers meeting together, then A went upstairs to a different room and had ground school. C and D were the advanced groups. HoD runs five twenty minute sessions. I’m used to 30 minute sessions and prefer fewer longer sessions than more shorter ones, even if it works out to be the same amount of track time. Fewer longer sessions means fewer in and out laps and more fast laps. Each group is limited to twenty five cars, which is a reasonable maximum. Twenty five cars over a three mile track means we’re generally well-spaced and had a good chance of getting a few unobstructed laps each session.

For the A and B groups, “download” sessions were held after each track session. We went over subjects such as the proper line for various turns, proper gear selection for a couple of the tricky places, and so on. The instructor in charge of the group went on track to get video of the cars in the group to illustrate the good and the not so good.

The first couple of laps of our first session were run under yellow flag with a number of instructors out leading us around. This lets us newbies get an idea of the proper line. I really enjoyed the track. It’s quite challenging with the blind crests and off-camber turns.

I make it a point to meet the other Lotus drivers at these events. Today we had two. Tony was there running his S1 Elise. He says it’s not street legal. It’s a race prepared car from the factory with roll bar, fire suppression, fuel and electrical cutoffs. It’s Lotus Racing Green. It’s left hand drive, which surprised me. Tony says it was sold in the French market. Rover engine, very similar in power to the Toyota in the Federal Elise.

Bo has an orange Elise. He’s had is about a year. Big wing, race seats, after market wheels, bigger diffuser. We were all running in the same group, so we sat together at the classroom sessions.

I don’t think all five groups were fully subscribed. At least one of the drivers in my group would normally run advanced instead, but those were full. For the most part, it was not a dissimilar group of cars to what you’re likely to see at HPR – the usual mix of Mustangs, Corvettes, Porsches, and so on. One car that stood out for me was a Ferrari race car, complete with pneumatic jacks.

IMG_2184sThe track is quite challenging. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, like HPR, so there is plenty of room if you make a mistake. If you go off, you just mow some weeds. It has a nice mix of high speed and low speed turns, off-camber turns, and blind crests. The facilities are nice as well, with air-conditioned classrooms and plenty of shade for the cars and drivers.

GBMC1197sI ran five sessions and improved my best lap each time. I was quite slow the first session; every lap in my second session was better than my best lap in the first session. If we ignore that first session, my time improved by five seconds a lap over the course of the day.

One of the great extras that HoD provided was the presence of a performance tire company. When we exited the track, we could pull into their area of the paddock and they’d get the pyrometer and pressure gauge, collect all the relevant data, and recommend changes. I struggle with setting my tire pressure; I think I got some good tips from them, it just remains to be seen if I put them to good use.

Like yesterday, it was quite hot. I don’t know what the official high temperature was for Willows. As I said, it was close to 100 degrees. This is the first time I’ve been at a track where they had a relaxed dress code. I wore my suit for the morning sessions while everyone around me was in shorts and short sleeves. I lost the suit for the afternoon and was much more comfortable. But it did feel a bit odd.

I stayed to the very end and was one of the last cars to leave the track by the time I got all packed up. I gassed up in Willows before heading south on I-5 to the Bay Area. I’m staying with friends the next two nights in Danville. It was almost exactly a two hour drive, hitting a number of interstates (I-5, 505, 680) before successfully placing me in front of my destination.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day. The track was challenging but not frustrating, HoD ran a great event, and I always enjoy socializing with people with a common passion.

Here’s my fast lap:

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 6 – Lassen to Willows, CA

Thursday, July 14

Today will be an easy day. It’s only about three hours to the motel in Willows. So I took my time getting packed up. Chatted with a fellow from Huntington Beach who used to own a Porsche Speedster. The car gets a lot of attention on the road, but very few people approached me to talk about it in the campground.

With some time to kill in the park, I decided to hike to Terrace Lake. There are actually two lakes here, almost adjacent, the other being Shadow Lake. On the map, Shadow Lake looks pretty big and the trail goes right along the shore. Should be tough to miss. I head down the trail, encountering quite a bit of snow. At times it’s a little tough finding the route. A few minutes later I arrive at a trail sign: Terrace Lake is .3 miles down the trail to the right.

I head down the trail to the right. I hike quite a long way without seeing any lakes at all. Before long I figured I’d gone a mile but I decided to carry on. I soon reach another trail junction. This one says Terrace Lake is 1.7 miles up the trail I’ve just come down. Clearly, somebody moved these lakes. You’d think somebody capable of finding more than eighty lakes in RMNP should be able to follow a trail to a couple of lakes here. How can both signs be wrong?

Shortly after turning around my mind wandered back to the question of “what if it erupts now?” This time it would take me an hour to get back to the car, but everything is in the car, so that’s good. I’m amused that I went down this line of thought once, let alone twice. The chances of this thing going off are orders of magnitude less than of me getting hit by lightning or getting in an auto accident. I never ponder those things.

There’s a large down tree that crosses the path; a section has been sawn out. The diameter of this tree trunk is four and a half or five feet. I was curious how old it was but the cut was old and rough so I couldn’t tell. Gave it a good look both times I passed it; it may have been the most interesting sight on the hike.

I arrived back at the trailhead just as a guy is starting down. He had spent the night at the same campground, but Loop A instead of Loop B. He hiked as far as Cliff Lake yesterday, said it was the best hike he’d been on. He asked me what I thought of Terrace Lake. I told him I couldn’t find it. He aborted his hike. I’m sure he’ll find it eventually, as he lives in Red Bluff, only about an hour away.

I stopped at the visitor center on my way out and bought a shirt. Still no cell service here, but another text message arrives. I’ve heard quite a few odd accents and foreign languages so far on this trip. A German family was in line in front of me. I’ve heard Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Polish, Korean, Japanese and probably a couple more.

On the road again, I turn right on CA 36. Very quickly, two motorcycles and a giant truck catch me. I’m only doing 5 over. The bikes pass me on double yellow. They pull off at a country store a few miles later so the road in front of me is clear. The big truck is getting big in the mirrors. I pull over and let him pass. It’s a big timber truck, with no cargo. He’s carrying his rear wheels rather than pulling them. Before long he’s out of sight. We hit a series of increasingly tight turns: 35mph, 30mph, 25 mph. I finally catch him but when the road straightens out, he’s pulling away again. At an intersection he pulls off to the right and waves at me as I pass, then he makes a left turn (where a fully loaded timber truck is arriving).

By now the road has fallen about a mile. The high point, at the summit parking lot, is about 8,500’. Now we’re around 3,000. No longer in subalpine forest we’re in widely dispersed scrub oak and yellow grasses. Still falling, we drop through vineyards. In the end, we fall to almond orchards and olive orchards fifty feet above sea level. We may as well have fallen all the way to hell: the sun is harsh here, and hot. And the air is hot. I’ve been cold quite a bit so far on this trip; I haven’t complained because I knew I’d remember it fondly.

I have lunch at the Applebee’s in Red Bluff. I sat at the bar. Everybody knows the bartender and waitress; they’re all locals.

It’s hotter than hell here. My phone says it’s 87, but it’s gotta be more like 100. I have 45 miles of Interstate to deal with next. I-5 is heavily traveled and carries lots of trucks. Most of the cars are left-laniacs, never getting out of the left lane. Before long we arrive at a construction zone. Right lane closed, I think it said, but there was only one sign. I’m in the right lane. I figure I’ll do a zipper merge when the lane is actually closed. Only a few of us attempt this; we pass about a half mile of cars.

Check in at the Motel 6. No carpet, no shampoo in the bathroom but no worries, I brought my own. First on the agenda is a cool shower. Need to wash off several layers of bug spray, sunscreen, and sweat. Next is laundry. Somehow I manage to forget to wash any of my shorts, but the shirts, socks, and underwear clean. Except one pair of hiking socks cleverly hiding in my hiking shoes. Dang.

This is the closest motel to the track. There are two or three more within a quarter-mile, but this is the cheapest one. I took a short walk, not much to see. There’s a State Trooper office and two restaurants that appear to be closed in addition to the other motels. When I got back I took a look at the cars in the parking lot. A couple of nice Audis, a Corvette, an old Mitsubishi with some stickers on it. I would likely see all these cars tomorrow.

I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to see Bumpass Hell. That was number one on my list. I understand they’ve been working on it quite a while, and still have a way to go before they’re finished. Comparing Lassen to Bryce or RMNP, it’s more like Bryce. It’s all about the volcano. It encompasses the volcano and a few surrounding features. The road probably couldn’t have been better sited to allow access to all the interesting features of the park. This has the effect of making many of the hikes “upside down”. Many of the trails descend from the road – you hike down when you’re fresh and it’s cool, you do all the work after you’ve walked quite a way and it’s hotter. All the Bryce hikes were upside down, too.

There are 150 miles of trail in the park, 17 of which Pacific Crest Trail. Based on the amount of hiking I log in RMNP, I’d be able to hike every mile of the Lassen trail system in two summers. I really enjoyed my short stay, and I’d still like to see Bumpass Hell.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 5 – Lassen Volcanic National Park

Wednesday, July 13

I awoke about 5:30 but didn’t want to get out of the warm bag. By 6:15, rising was mandatory. The campground was quite still, no one was moving, no one was making any noise. My breakfast is in the bear box, and I was never able to open it without quite a clang so I was an early noisemaker. I had my usual camp breakfast, an apple and protein bar. Then off to hike.

I started with Kings Creek Falls. The guys I talked to last night said I could get there from the South part of our camp or I could take the easy way from the Kings Creek Falls trailhead. I elected for the easy way. It’s marked as 1.4 miles each way. Before starting, I was going to take a picture of the map at the trailhead. Figures, the SLR isn’t working today.

The trail descends from the road. Early on there are signs of recent trail maintenance. Then we get to a broad meadow. There’s a nice view of Lassen Peak from here, when you’re on the return trip. After a half mile there’s junction. Proceed down the cascade section of the trail or take the longer, less steep horse route. But there’s no choice – the cascade section is closed for trail maintenance. Two tenths of a mile from the falls there’s another junction, this one to Bench Lake.

At the falls they’ve built a viewing platform. I poked around a bit, looked at it from the platform and from creekside, but there wasn’t much there to hold my attention. I headed back to the last junction and took the trail to Bench Lake. It was a nice walk, but the lake is more of a puddle, snow fed, with no inlet or outlet stream. It’s surrounded by trees and lacks a view. It also lacks an comfy place to sit and relax, so it was back to the car. Nearly back to the trailhead the work crew, five guys, passed me heading to work. When I first arrived at the trailhead, there was only one other car parked here. Now it’s starting to get crowded – several cars there, with corresponding groups of people heading down to the falls. I reckon this hike to be 4.8 miles total.

Next was Cold Boiling Lake. The guys last night said I shouldn’t bother. I went anyway. First, it’s not like I had a full day of hiking planned. Second, the Bumpass Hell trail is closed. That was definitely on the list but has to be scrubbed. There’s a trail from Cold Boiling Lake to Bumpass Hell. I wondered how far up that trail you can get. So I went to find out.

Cold Boiling Lake is as the guys said, not really worth the bother. And the Bumpass Hell trail from this end is closed a hundred yards above the lake. But the trickle of gasses bubbling out of Cold Boiling Lake is the first sign I see of active volcanic processes. This hike amounted to 1.4 miles round trip.

2016-07-13 10.49.22s

How big is it?

As expected, there is a rich insect life in the area. The bug spray was definitely a sound investment. Here at this rather drab little lake there was an abundance of dragon flies. Walking along the shore the hiker generates a cloud of dragon flies, like Pigpen from Peanuts. All around you for a short radius is a riot of dragon flies. I’m used to seeing maybe a handful of dragonflies in one spot at home. Here they were countless.

I continued south on the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, stopped at the Lassen Peak trailhead and again at Lake Helen and Emerald Lake. I briefly considered hiking to the summit. It’s 2.5 miles and about 2000 vertical feet. Difficult, but doable. I made up two reasons not to do it. There’s a lot of snow on the mountain and I didn’t have any spikes. Plus, I could do it tomorrow morning if I want to change my mind.

Just below the peak trailhead are Helen and Emerald lakes. Helen is still half frozen, deep blue water. Emerald is, well, emerald colored. I stopped at the Bumpass Hell trailhead hoping the overlook actually overlooked the place but it doesn’t. You have to hike down the canyon and around a bend to actually get to the place.

Next stop is Sulphur Works. There used to be a spa and sulfur mine here. The road goes a sidewalk’s width away from a fumerole. You park in the lot and take the sidewalk up a few yards to view it. It’s not just a view – you get a lungful of steam and sulfur. The parking lot is also the trailhead for Ridge Lakes.

After finding a shady spot to snack on my trail mix, I put my hiking shoes back on and headed up the trail. Not far from the trailhead I ran into a couple from Denmark. I asked if the trail is this steep all the way. They had only gone a short distance farther to view another bubbler. We discussed where there were hikes that yielded views. I told him that so far, the best views seem to be from the road. The answer to my question, “does it stay this steep” is “No, it gets steeper.”

2016-07-13 13.20.05_stitch_crop_resize

Ridge Lakes

It seemed to take a long time. I stopped quite often. Even so, I was maintaining a two mile per hour pace and caught up to a family very near the lake. At first I saw just the two boys, the older, bigger one chasing the younger with a stick. As I entered the shade they were resting in they were getting ready to continue. “Do you think it’s much farther?” Mom asks. I tell them I think it’s just over this next rise. She’s skeptical; they thought that two rises ago.

I was right, the lake was just over the rise. It was a quite gratifying hike, 2.2 miles round trip, climbing 1,045 vertical feet. Quite steep, but short and surprisingly free of people. I’m accustomed to hiking ten miles to see only six people over a three hour span. The family didn’t stop at the outlet but went in search of a nice place to sit. They took perhaps the prime spot. That’s okay, I wandered around a little.

The lake was quite scenic. Clear water, fed from melting snow. By now I was wishing I had more water. I considered getting water (and using the Steri-Pen) at the lake’s outlet. I was thinking this water would be some of the best water you could get. But I was concerned about it. The Steri-Pen will handle the biological problems, but are there chemical problems? Frankly, it troubled me how clear the water was. A few tufts of healthy looking grass grew with an inch or two of water over them, but I saw nothing growing or swimming in the water. I’d hate to ingest a bunch of arsenic or something. If I was going to fill the bottle, though, it would certainly be here, before it flows through the sulfur canyon below.

2016-07-13 13.32.24sI sat at the lake nearly an hour. A few interesting things: I saw some dirt tubes. I’ll call one a negative, one a positive. The positive are like small speed bumps, solid mounds of loose dirt. The negatives, I think, may have been tunnels but are now trenches. Are they the paths of melt water running underneath the snowbanks? Or did some creature have a network of tunnels under the snow?

I could stay as long as I wanted, thirty minutes or until dusk. Sitting, watching the world go by, sometimes the mind wanders. I pondered the emergency of an eruption. Here at the lake, I could be back at the car in thirty minutes. Quickest way off the mountain is to continue south. I’d have to abandon everything at the campsite, leaving with only the car, the electronics, and the clothes on my back.

In a gross sense, the trees and ground cover are similar to what I see at home, a mountainous pine forest with networks of streams and lakes. The trail is much smoother, though, with far fewer roots and rocks. Much of the ground cover is different. I saw no ferns and lots of Mule’s Ear, a broad leaf flower.

The family outlasted me; I headed down the trail after an hour, more or less my usual visit to an alpine lake. From Sulphur Works I continue downhill to the visitor center at the southern entrance. I got water there, washed my face and hands. I took a quick look at their terrain model of the park but didn’t browse the gift shop.

Heading back to the car I see that a guy is unloading a pallet of freight eight or ten spots downhill from where I parked. No big deal to walk the slope, but not so fun to pull a pallet jack up. I had a pull through spot, saved me the trouble of backing in to a spot. If I’d parked somewhere else, this guy would have had an easier time of it. “Don’t they let you use the loading dock?” The truck entrance is a few yards north of the parking lot entrance. “There’s already another truck there, and besides, my trailer is too long.”

One thing I wanted to do was see if I could get cell service. I almost forgot. I was about to start the car when I remembered. No cell service, but somehow I was able to receive and send text messages. Done with what communication I could perform I retraced my steps back to the campground, getting there just after three.

A lazy evening in camp, being off the trail so early. I relaxed for a while, read some of my book. For dinner I had one of the freeze-dried meals I brought: Chana Masala. The package says it serves two, but the guy at REI said it’s a decent meal after hiking all day. Whereas the rice and tuna was just short of a meal, this was more generous.

Last night we had a few bats chasing flying insects through the campground at dusk. No bats tonight. The only notable guest I had in my spot was a pretty little bird – red head, black and yellow body. Didn’t sit still long enough for a picture.

While looking for bats, a car pulled into the spot across the lane from me. A Mitsubishi Eclipse, a sporty coupe. She was the driver, blonde, skinny. He was the passenger, tall, lanky, with long dirty hair, scraggly Van Dyke beard. Not your stereotypical campers.

They got about eight big grocery sacks of stuff out of their car and spent some time trying to figure out the bear box. Their neighbor seemed to be giving them advice. I kept thinking I’d be putting the tent up if I were in their shoes. Turns out they didn’t have a tent, slept in the car. They built the biggest fire in the park. At one point, they had flames standing eight feet tall. I wondered what the heck they were going to do with all that food.

What with all the light and smoke from campers fires and the growing moon, it didn’t look to be a good night for stargazing. No matter, what else do I have to do? I wanted to listen to Holst’s The Planets but I don’t have a version of that loaded on the iPod. I do have Manfred Mann’s Solar Fire, which is partly based on Holst, so I listened to that. To cap the evening’s program off, it was Astronomy Domine by Pink Floyd.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 4 – Ruby to Lassen Volcanic Nat’l Park

Tuesday, July 12

When I awoke, I noticed that the neighboring SUV never got anything set up. All they had accomplished was to lay out a large tarp. They spent the night in the car. That made it easy for them to leave – they were gone before I even started packing up.

I was on the road by 7:45. The town of Lemoille butts up against the wilderness area. Before seeing it, I imagined more high desert. Instead, it’s more or less a bedroom community for Elko, houses on one acre lots. A much nicer place than I imagined.

After yesterday’s events, we can add a new rule to cross country drives: Rule #3: Never pass a gas station in Nevada without topping off. I don’t care if I just filled the tank two blocks back on the other side of town – stop again anyway. So I gassed up at the last gas station in Elko before getting on I-80. There was a group of motorcyclists at this station. One said his son-in-law in Denver just sold his silver Lotus. I asked what his name was but didn’t recognize it. I’m guessing he wasn’t a LoCo member.

Today is another massive drive day – 537 miles if I don’t make any more navigational errors. First is an eighteen mile blast west on I-80, to the junction with NV 278. I take this south to junction with US 50, which I’ll take more or less to Reno. After that, US 395 to Susanville, then a couple of CA state routes to Lassen.

This first section, I-80 and the first miles of NV 278, is fairly mountainous. I-80 navigates a bridge/tunnel complex here. These miles of I-80 are out of character for rest of the road, an interminable drive that makes I-80 through Nebraska look short in comparison. It’s apt that it happens here, so close to the Ruby Mountains, which is also out of character for Nevada.

There are a number of ranches along the northern miles of NV 278, but not much traffic. Eventually the road straightens and levels, quickly leaving the ranches behind. We’re headed south through one of the many north/south valleys. About ninety miles south of I-80 we get to US 50, America’s Loneliest Road. Ironically, it gets more traffic than the road I used to get here.

The junction with US 50 is a few miles west of Eureka. There’s a mine there called the Fad Shaft. This is the site of the second richest mine, behind the Comstock Lode. The Fad Shaft was started later, went down 2,465′ where it flooded. The Fad Shaft never produced any ore. Today the site is an operating heap mine. Gold bearing rock is crushed into pebbles and piled onto a thick plastic liner. Cyanide dissolves the microscopic gold which leaches into collection tanks.

It’s already clear that Rule #3 is a good policy. The last gas station I saw was the one I filled up at. That was a hundred miles ago. There have been no signs indicating how far to the next services, and no signs directing me to any services which might exist. I’m a few miles west of Eureka. I assume there’s a gas station there, but that assumption isn’t backed up by any signage.

US 50 cuts across these many north/south valleys one after another. This is the Basin and Range province of the Great Basin. The floor of each valley is a few feet lower than the previous. Eventually, we come to a pass between these valleys that is more like a true mountain pass. The economy of signs is evident here: at the foot of the pass, there’s a sign: Curves ahead, 30mph next three miles. This is repeated at the summit. In those three miles there might be three curves that slow, but you never know when they’ll appear.

At the summit I pass two bicyclists headed the other way. These guys are nuts. There’s nothing but nothing until Eureka. I assume they’re doing this for fun. I’m not sure how fun it sounds. They didn’t seem to be carrying much gear and no support vehicle was evident. I wouldn’t even want to cover this ground on a motorcycle.

Half way down the other side is the small town of Austin. A billboard fifty miles or so back says “What happens in Austin gets bragged about.” I apply Rule #3 here, but it’s too early to eat. At the gas station, I ask how far to the west before I get to a town with a restaurant. 112 miles. That town is Fallon.

Between Austin and Fallon, we continue to traverse the valleys. The plant life varies from valley to valley – generally the pale green sage dominates. Sometimes it’s dry yellow grass. In some places, the ridges look like a sort of biological Neapolitan ice cream: yellow layer on the bottom, green pine forest in the middle, pale grass on the tops.

Later on, the vegetation on the valley floors disappears entirely to be replaced with alkali flats or salt flats, not sure which. Nothing grows there, and there are some sort of mining operations in places, working the surface.

There are occasional rest stops, but in keeping with the signless theme of the state, they are unmarked. At 75 mph they’re hard to see, blink and you’re past. They’d be invisible in the dark. They’re just rest stops, no latrines, no water. A place to sleep if you can’t make it the 100 miles to the next motel.

This route is the old Pony Express route. How far can a horse run? That’s how close together the stations need to be – about ten miles apart. There’s no evidence of water anywhere, with the exception of one spring I saw several miles from the road (a clump of trees at a gash in the ridge.) One of the old Pony Express stations is called Sand Springs. My mental image was a spring that seeps sand rather than water. Turns out there’s a large dune there.

Just like Utah, Nevada is largely federal land. In Utah, it’s largely parks and wilderness. In Nevada, big chunks of it are military. A few miles before reaching Fallon I pass a sign: US Navy Centroid Facility. A two track dirt road on the right leads a short distance to a small structure surrounded by a chain link fence. A few minutes later I see signs on the left for B-17 Range, another US Navy property. Finally, a sign that ties it all together: US Naval Air Station Fallon. This is the TOPGUN school.

Fallon marks the return to civilization. There are cultivated fields here: corn, alfalfa, hay. You go through several miles of this before actually getting to town. I stopped here for lunch at Julio’s Mexican and Italian Restaurant. I found it a little odd to have chips and salsa placed at your table in an Italian restaurant.

From Fallon to Fernley much of US 50 is four lane divided highway, heavily traveled. I get back on I-80 for 33 miles, then take US 395 north out of Reno, again a four lane divided highway for quite a way. Eventually we arrive in California. All traffic is stopped for “inspection”. Most vehicles were just getting waved through, including me. Would they have confiscated my apples?

I gassed up in Susanville. I didn’t realize at the time, but this was the last time I’d have cell service for a couple days. This town is on the cusp between desert and mountain. Leaving town, the road rises immediately into fragrant pine forest. I pulled over here to finally take the top off the car.

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First sight of Lassen Peak, 10,457′

Remembering the mosquitoes, I stopped at a small gas station/general store just outside the park to get some bug spray. There were a couple of guys there with backpacks. Perhaps hiking the PCT, I decide in retrospect. I should have asked them. This is another case of not doing my homework – I didn’t realize at the time that the PCT went through here, although it should have been obvious.

The park entrance was unmanned, and the visitor center was closed. A sign at the entrance announced that one of the trails I want to take, Bumpass Hell, is closed. Stopped for a wander through the Devastated Area. This is the path the eruption took back in 1915. This is what the area around Mt St Helens may look like in another 70 years or so. Lassen and Mt St Helens are the only two volcanoes in the 48 states to erupt in the 20th century.

I arrived at the campground, navigated to my spot, and got set up fairly quickly. The campground has bear boxes for every campsite. My site is right next to the bathrooms. Probably not the best choice, but so it goes. The place is pretty crowded – tents and RVs large and small. Being next to the bathrooms, lots of traffic passes by. Surprisingly, very few people approach me about the car.

I walked a lap of the campground to check it out. One site had two small tents and some hiking shirts laid out on the hood of an SUV. Two young guys were there. I asked them if they were local, or knew the area. We chatted for a few minutes. They’re disappointed that Bumpass Hell is closed and believe the boardwalk is being rebuilt. They recommended a substitute hike, King’s Creek Falls. The also said not to bother with Cold Boiling Lake.

For dinner tonight I tried the four cheese rice with the lemon pepper salmon. Not bad, but reinforces my thought that it’s not sufficient after a long day of hiking. I mixed up some trail mix for tomorrow. I don’t know exactly where I’ll go, but I should be able to hit a number of short hikes.

Didn’t listen to music tonight. Lots more activity in this campground than either of the other two. Ruby was very quiet. Here, many people sat around their little campfires talking. Many of the RV people retired indoors but there was still quite a bit of noise. Plus there’s the bathroom traffic.

The campground is in a forest of tall pine trees so the stargazing is not good. I found a place where I could see the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn all at the same time. That one spot was near the right rear tire of the car. By the time I retired, it had moved to a few feet left of the driver’s door. The other direction, I found a place where I could hang the big dipper from the top of a tall tree. I’m sure I looked odd, in gray sweats, gray hoodie, standing in the dark next to my car.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 3 – Bryce to Ruby Mountains Wilderness

Monday, July 11

Another good night’s sleep: I woke up a bit before 6 but managed to stay in the sack until 6:15. Got everything packed up and was on the road by 8:15 or so.

Red Canyon is the first stretch of road; half a dozen miles or so from the summit (where the campground was) to the floor of the Sevier River valley. Made my way to UT 21. Left a small town with about 3 or 3.5 gallons left in the tank, saw a sign that said “No services next 83 miles”. I can easily make 100 miles, so onward!

The road goes generally east-west. The valleys it goes through generally north south. The Sevier River valley has a river (obviously). The next several had no rivers, not even sign of flowing water – no gullies, the road has no culverts. The valleys are shallow and wide – the road goes straight across. At the top, a couple of curves then straight road nearly to the top of the other side, then a few curves again. Repeat several times.

It’s tempting to put the hammer down and go like mad. But the road isn’t exactly billiard table smooth, and there are cattle guards periodically. I didn’t want to hit any of them at more than 30 or so. Not much traffic on this road, and most of it passed me.

These are valleys of theoretical cattle. Plenty of cattle infrastructure: there are cattle guards and signs warning of free range cattle, even a holding pen and well. But no sign of any actual cattle, valley after valley. No deer or antelope warning signs, either, so one would think there’d be fewer of them than cattle. If that’s possible.

Not much plant life here. In many places it doesn’t reach more than a few inches off the ground. But the terrain does seem to support a healthy rodent and rabbit population, judging by the roadkill. Based on how little traffic seems to use this road, it must mean a fair probability of hitting an animal.

It has been a while since I passed that sign, “No services next 83 miles.” In fact, it’s been about a hundred miles and still no sign of an an open gas station. Needless to say, I was feeling quite anxious. I passed through two towns, both looked like ghost towns. Either I missed the gas station or the sign was wrong. When the fuel warning light had been on for 30 miles or so, I went from anxiety to resignation. I no longer had any doubt I’d run out of gas.

This would not be a happy experience, but I was thinking it wouldn’t be much more serious than a delay of a couple hours. Although not heavily traveled, there were cars passing in both directions so I shouldn’t have to wait long. Also, I was confident that the car gets so much attention nobody would fail to stop if I was out there waving my arms.

Topping the next ridge, the road was quite steep on the down side: 8% grade next 5 miles. I shut off the ignition and coasted at speeds sometimes over 80mph. Probably coasted 4 miles. Going up the other side of the valley I see a billboard in the distance. Perhaps there’s a gas station there? By now I was thinking I wouldn’t even make it that far. I did manage to get there, to find a country store. Only it wasn’t a store, it was a bar. A sign next to the door said “Plan your next party here!” This place is 50 miles from nowhere. I stopped and went inside. It’s dark as night; a bar with a pool table. A gal comes out of the back room, dour and smile-free.

“How far is the nearest gas station?”

“25 miles.”

“I’m not going to make it.”

“He can sell you some gas, 5 gallons for $40.”

“Take a credit card?”

“He prefers cash.”

I have no idea who “he” is, but it doesn’t matter. Eight bucks a gallon is a bit much but I’m not really in a position to bargain. Not the most expensive gas I’ve ever bought, but close to it. She tells me to pull up to the pump and exits the back. The pump is on one of two white tanks on stilts, without labels. Hopefully, one is gas and the other is diesel. “Can I buy two and a half gallons for twenty bucks?” “No.”

Her dog, penned nearby, is excited and barking. “Oh, shut up! You’ll get the goats excited!” Sure enough, a drove of goats arrives to see what the dog is all excited about. She’s pumping gas, but the meter isn’t running. She’s clearly done this enough to know how long it takes to pump five gallons and when I start the car, the gas gauge reads as close to half a tank as you can imagine. I’m soon back on the road, anxiety in the rear-view mirror.

I find Ely the described twenty five miles up the road and stop for fuel and food. Here I leave US 50 until tomorrow and head up US 93. When I arrive at the junction of US 93 and ALT 93 confusion sets in. I seem to remember needing to take an ALT route. Memory tells me I want to keep going straight, which ALT 93 does here, but it’s not in my notes. I stop here and fire up Navigator, but of course there’s no cell coverage. I throw the dice and take ALT 93. This turns out to be wrong – I end up in Wendover. I get a nice view of the salt flats, but I’m farther from my destination.

No big deal, hop on I-80 and head to Elko. This eliminates the need to use the offline maps I downloaded last night as I easily get service in Elko and have navigation right to my camp site.

Snow Lake Peak, 11,142'

Snow Lake Peak, 11,142′

Ruby Mountain Wilderness is a neat little hidden gem, shall we say. When I was researching camp sites I found this oasis of green on an otherwise drab and barren map of Nevada. Alpine, snow capped, and glacial, it’s out of character for the area.

I get camp set up. It seems I’m not in a tent site but one for an RV. There’s room for a small camper and a short, steep path to a concrete pad where a picnic table and fire ring stand. I have no suitable place to pitch the tent. I make do, but I’m on a bit of a slope. We’ll see in the morning how it worked out.

I hiked up to a little lake. Pond, really, or perhaps Puddle. It’s two miles each way. I’m almost always starting my hikes in early morning so it feels a bit odd to be starting a hike at about 5pm. I’m usually done hiking by then. This little glacial valley is oriented north-south, so it’s already partly in shadow. By the time I get to the lake (surrounded by vegetation, no suitable place to sit and take a break) it’s fully in shadow and starting to get a bit cool. I turn right around and head back.

I was back in camp by 7:15. Now I finally get to try my camp cooking. I grab a package of Basmati rice and Spicy and Sweet tuna. This dang stove heats up so quickly, I burn a layer of rice to the bottom. It’s not a bad meal, though. Even though it’s two servings of rice, it might be on the light side after a strenuous day of hiking.

It’s 8:20 and the sun has basically set. Still too light for stars, but a bit different than the last two nights. Here, we’re on the eastern side of the Pacific time zone while in Bryce we were on the western edge of the Mountain zone. Should be getting dark soon. Time to select some tunes and get ready for the show.

Settled on Ronin for sunset. But it was getting too cold for me to sit in my chair, so I retreated to the tent. Through the flap I had a view of the sunset. An SUV pulled into the next spot and four people piled out – mom, dad, two teen-aged daughters. I thought they were getting set up; they made a fair amount of noise. One of the girls walked up the slope behind their site, not realizing she ended up right next to my fire ring and picnic table. Once she saw me she sheepishly said “hello” before retreating.

Not being a camper, mosquitoes were not much on my mind when planning this trip. It wasn’t until tonight that I gave them any thought at all. They were a minor nuisance here, but I guessed I might want to stop somewhere before pitching the tent tomorrow for some bug repellent.

I turned in, expecting an uncomfortable night.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 2 – Bryce Canyon

It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow. — Ebenezer Bryce, 1875

Sunday, July 10

I woke up about 6:15. I’m surprised I managed to sleep that long, being my first time sleeping on the ground in living memory. I had an apple and a protein bar for breakfast and went back to the park to hike.

I’ve been having intermittent problems with the SLR and managed to charge one battery yesterday while writing up my notes. With the freshly charged battery, the camera still refused to work. I played around with the battery pack, swapping positions of the batteries, even tried to use it without the pack. No joy. Eventually, I somehow invoked the proper magic spell for it began working again. It doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. For much of the day, I supplemented the SLR with the cell phone.

The turnoff for the Fairyland Canyon parking lot is before you get to the entrance station. Amusingly, it is only signed for people exiting the park. So I missed the turn and had to flip a u-turn just before the entrance station.

The parking lot holds about 15 cars. I arrived a bit after 8 and was on the trail by 8:15. The trail descends through a few layers of hoodoos then makes its way around the prominence that is called Boat Mesa.

On the way down, the faces of the hoodoos in front of me are in shadow. It’s common that these hoodoos are like giant fins, long and thin. In places, some of the hoodoos seem to be glowing. In fact, the shaded face of one hoodoo is illuminated by the sunny face of the one next to it, giving it an unusual glow.

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Translucent hoodoos

There are quite a few ground squirrels along the rim. I saw one family, a mother and three children, cross the path in front of me. I don’t recall seeing a group like that before. As you descend, the squirrels disappear and are replaced by lizards. One of the birds in these parts is a familiar friend from RMNP – Steller’s Jay. I also saw a small dark blue bird, but she didn’t sit still long enough for me to get a picture.

This is a dry hike. I saw no flowing or standing water. Most of the erosion is due to the freeze/thaw cycle. Water gets in the cracks and when it freezes acts as a wedge. About 200 days a year are both above and below the freezing point. The ground is limestone which is normally white. Here it is tinted different colors by various minerals.

After descending about six hundred feet we get to the bottom of Fairyland Canyon and the base of Boat Mesa. Although water doesn’t normally flow anywhere around here, it clearly does on occasion with enough force to carry a fair amount of material out of the canyon. The ground is like an un-cohesive concrete with too much gravel, seemingly held in place by gravity and friction. Flowing water undercuts it easily.

Dozens of ridges radiate away from the base of Boat Mesa and the trail works its way past a number of them. Here, the trail is visible for a fair distance both ahead and behind. The trail alternates between rising and falling, but looking at the trail from the adjacent ridge, it seems they’ve made it as level as feasible.

I can’t help but notice that, traveling the loop clockwise, I can see more of the trail behind me than I can ahead of me. In that way, it’s like real life: we know our past better than we know our future. It must be interesting taking the trail the opposite way, having a clear view of a significant portion of trail ahead.

I met three couples hiking the opposite direction. The first looked to be in a hurry; we just exchanged greetings. A few minutes later, I chatted briefly with a second couple. They said they’d left the parking lot at about the same time I did. I failed to think to ask which parking lot. The ranger suggested I start at Fairyland Canyon and go clockwise, so I was thinking it was the “normal” way. You can start there and go counter-clockwise. Or, you could start at Sunrise Point and go either clockwise or counterclockwise. You could also take advantage of the shuttle and skip the 2.5 miles of Rim Trail that connects the two parking lots.

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Spur pano

I found myself at a point where there’s a spur on the ridge. A line of rocks discourages hikers from following the trail to the point, but clearly it’s often visited. This point gives a beautiful panoramic view of the curving canyon below. I could also see the trail drop steeply below, to what is perhaps the low point of the trail below Sunrise Point. At the bottom there’s a group of signs. Tower Bridge is 200 yards downhill and Sunrise Point is 1.7 miles above.

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Tower Bridge (right)

I went down to a spot with a nice view the Tower Bridge and took a short break here. Munched my tail mix and meant to slather on a second coat of SPF. I got distracted by the view and made my way a quarter-mile up the trail before I remembered to apply more sunscreen.

This truly is a fantastic landscape. It’s only human nature to see things in these formations. There’s the Queen, of course. But I saw a Buddha on an altar, a fat chef with a big floppy hat, busts of forgotten ancient Roman senators. There are castles and cathedrals, too, if you care to see them.

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China Wall

Near here I ran into four twenty-somethings coming down. “Are you starting or finishing?” they asked. I told them I’d started at Fairyland Canyon. They said that’s where they were headed. They wanted to get an earlier start, but one of them works in the park and had to work late yesterday; “So it goes,” they said. When I started this morning it was sunny and cool with brilliant cloudless blue skies. Now, it was sunny and on the hot side, the sun relentless and sky still cloudless. At least we had a nice breeze to take the edge off. I’m glad I got an early start.

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Rim view

On the section of Rim Trail between the two parking lots I ran into the couples from earlier. The first, the ones I didn’t chat with, I asked, “Didn’t we pass each other down below?” “Yeah, we remember you. We’re doing the loop, too.” When I came upon the second couple, they laughed as soon as they saw me. Some time ago they realized neither of us had asked where the other had started. They assumed I’d started where they did; I assumed they’d started where I did. The two couples were still only a few minutes apart – although not together, they managed to keep up almost identical paces.

The Rim Trail isn’t that spectacular, compared to the rest of the hike. This trail gives a few views much like many of the places you can drive to but much of the trail has a view to the west instead. Campgrounds instead of hoodoos.

I arrived back at my starting point at 12:30, having covered 8 miles and 2,309′ gross elevation change in four and a quarter hours. Net elevation change looks to be more like 900′, with a 400′ climb between the two lowest points and the usual ups and downs. I felt like I was taking my time; didn’t feel rushed to have kept that pace. I made it a point to pause often to take a good look around, enjoy the moment.

I stopped here for a rest, snacked on some more trail mix and drank plenty of water. Two liters turned out to be plenty; I’d barely had more than one, which matched the ranger’s prediction. The third couple I met down below came by when I was resting. I said “Hello again” but they didn’t seem to recognize me.

I was back in the car by 1:00. I decided to enter the park, take the road to the very end, then stop at each of the overlooks on the way back. By now, many of the views were beginning to look the same. Inspiration Point stands out, though. It is above perhaps the densest collection of hoodoos in the Park. On the west side of the road is a short stretch of area burned by recent forest fires. Research tells me this fire was in 2009.

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Natural Bridge

This survey of all the scenic overlooks took me until about 3pm. About this time I decided that instead of eating my camp food, I’d grab a bite in one of the restaurants. A bit early for dinner, but I’ll have the remainder of the day’s trail mix ration for a late snack.

We had a bit of high cloud cover last night. The moon will set even later tonight, so no Milky Way (unless I decide to set an alarm in the middle of the night) but perhaps things will be marginally better without clouds. As of 5:15, still not a cloud in the sky.

I’m a bit concerned about navigation on tomorrow’s drive. Yesterday, when I wanted to see if I’d missed the junction with UT 12, I had no cell service and thus had no maps. I suspect a similar fate may befall me tomorrow, so I’ve downloaded that section of maps to the phone. We’ll see how off-line navigation works.

Took a shower just before dark, then sat watching the sky change. Listened to Dhafer Youssef while the sun set, Phillip Glass as the stars lit up. Saw a satellite pass over, even saw a shooting star. Hit the sack by 10:40. Campsites on my row faced the highway, maybe forty yards away. You’d be surprised how many motorists hit those rumble strips.

Bryce Canyon National Park is an interesting place, but it’s a bit of a one-trick pony. It’s all about the hoodoos, and although you see a few hoodoos in other places, Bryce has the fantastic concentration of them. That’s all BCNP is about and this concentration is not vast, so the park is pretty compact. From the entrance station to the southernmost overlook, the road is only 17 miles long. The Park isn’t very wide; just some of the plateau above and not far below the hoodoos. I think you could hike every mile of trail here in two or three visits. It’s not a place I would want to visit often, bud I’d certainly come back here again. I’d hike Navajo trail again with pleasure. I’d like to spend some time in the other parks in the area, so passing through here again is fairly likely.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 1 – Denver to Bryce Canyon

Back in December I was working in San Francisco. I reached out to a few Golden Gate Lotus Club members in an attempt to get together for dinner or adult beverages. For one reason or another I was never able to visit with anybody. In the course of these emails and phone calls I learned GGLC would be having a track day at Laguna Seca in July.

I started planning almost immediately. The plans changed many times, but the central idea of the trip was lapping at Laguna Seca. In its final form, the trip would include several National Parks, three race tracks, visits to six states, and driving something like 3,500 miles.

Saturday, July 9

It’s here, it’s finally time to hit the road. I will be covering a lot of ground, literally, in the next two weeks. We start off with a big mileage day, and we start by violating Rule #1: No Interstate Highways. I’m on I-70 westbound until some miles after Green River, UT.

If you’re going to drive on the interstate, I-70 west of Denver is as good a place as any to do it. It’s quite scenic, as interstates go, what with the climb to the Eisenhower Tunnel, Vail Pass, and Glenwood Canyon. I left the house at 5:40, so it was still quite cool at high elevations. I wanted to run Glenwood Canyon topless but I waited until Avon to pull over and take the top off. It only took a few minutes for me to turn the heat on full blast. I kept thinking, as I was shivering, that this chill would be a fond memory in the heat I expected later in the trip. I didn’t complain about the cold.

The short canyon between Debeque and Palisade is a preview of what the Colorado River does a few hundred miles down stream.  Here the canyon is not deep but it has a bit of the character of the Grand Canyon and what I might see when I cross it again in a couple of weeks near Page, Arizona. This canyon section is only a few miles long and dumps us in Palisade where the almost otherworldly cliffs on the north side of the road contrast with the precise grid of the peach orchards on the south.

I gassed up in Fruita, last gas in Colorado. Most of the exits between the state line and Green River offered no services. At Green River there’s a sign that said “No services on I-70 next 106 miles.” I only had to go a short distance longer before exiting, but even on UT 24 there was nothing until Hanksville where I stopped for lunch. Utah has long stretches of desolation. Between I-70 and Hanksville I saw one small red outcropping of hoodoos, a foreshadowing of things to come.

It was now the heat of the day in the high desert – I put the top back on at my lunch break.

At Hanksville the character of the road changes from high desert to mesa and canyon. The road goes along the Fremont River; the bottom of the canyon is green and the canyon walls vary from nearly white to dun to red. There’s even a layer of green that almost matches the color of the sage brush. This is iconic old-Western landscape, the stuff John Ford movies are made of.

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Petroglyphs

When planning the route, I was so focused on Bryce Canyon I didn’t notice that I’d be passing through Capital Reef National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. There are no entrance stations for these parks, just drive right through. I didn’t even know I was in Grand Staircase-Escalante until I met a ranger who gave me a map after I answered questions about my car.

Capital Reef is red sandstone, carved by water. It supported the Fremont people as much as two thousand years ago. They lived in pit houses (dug into the ground, with thatch roofs) and natural rock shelters. Several petroglyphs can be viewed just a few yards from the road. The park is much bigger north-to-south than east-to-west; the road passes through only a few miles of the park and certainly gives only a brief glimpse of what’s to offer.

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Chimney Rock (extreme right)

A few miles after leaving Capital Reef we arrive at the junction with UT 12. Here we turn south and enter Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. When I was eating lunch back in Hanksville, I overheard a couple at the next table talking about this road – they didn’t like the drop offs. A bad road for an RV might be a good road for a Lotus. The road starts off quite pleasant, running through a section of the Dixie National Forest, with scenic overlooks every few miles.

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Grand Staircase-Escalante

After a while I get to the stretch of road the couple was talking about. The road goes along the spine of a narrow ridge, just a bit wider than the road itself, with steep drops off both sides. I stop here to take the top back off; it has cooled down a bit. We’ve climbed to over 9,000’ above sea level.

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Lotus road!

Utah is a bit of a geological marvel. Pretty much the whole place is interesting. I always joke that Wyoming is only interesting around the edges, and that about half of Colorado is interesting. In the last few miles I’ve passed through two National Parks and a National Monument. What isn’t park or monument is Indian Nation or Bureau of Land Management land. Just about all of southern Utah is federal land in one form or another, and it contains many wonderful views.

I get to Bryce Canyon Pines by 5:30, get checked in, assemble the tent, empty the car by 6:00. Then I head into the park to scout it for tomorrow. It’s a short drive from the campground. In the visitor center, I chat with a ranger about which trails he recommends from my list.

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Hiking in the hoodoos

He says I have plenty of time to do Queen’s Garden and directs me to Sunset Point (not to be confused with Sunrise Point). I have a couple of hours of sunlight left so I head down the Queen’s Garden trail. It’s a fun little trail. Queen’s Garden, it turns out, has a hoodoo that looks, in silhouette, like a famous statue of Queen Victoria. Near here the trail connects with a trail to the Navajo Loop. This was recommended by the ranger, so rather than return the way I came, I follow the Navajo Loop trail. I could have gone left or right at the junction; my choice to go left turns out to be the correct choice.

It’s 1.4 miles back to Sunset Point. The trail is very narrow in places, squeezing through the hoodoos. Before long I find myself standing at the foot of dozens of switchbacks heading up, up, up. I was back to the top and in the car by 8:15.

There are some high clouds; not sure what sort of sky we’ll have tonight. In any event, I won’t try any astrophotography.

Plan tomorrow is to hike the Fairyland Loop – 8 miles, 2300’ elevation change. That shouldn’t take more than 5 hours, I’m guessing. I’ll need to ask at the visitor center for another short hike now that I’ve already done the one that was suggested.

Back at the tent, it was quite late and I didn’t want to bother with trying to figure out the camp stove in the dark, so my first camp meal will have to wait. I did mix a batch of trail mix for the morning and had a small sample of it as a late snack. The sun doesn’t fully set until after 9:30, and with the waxing crescent moon the Milky Way was not visible. I hit the hay a bit after 10:30. One problem – I neglected to scout the bathroom situation before it got dark. They’re porta-potties, not actual bathrooms. I made a half-hearted search for one in the dark. It wasn’t until morning that I found out the map has the one nearest to me on the wrong side of the road.

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The camp site