Sunday Travels

We got up early and showered and got ready for church. The ward in South Lake Tahoe is pretty small and it was a small building. There was not much parking so we went early to make sure we could get our big van in the parking lot, but we ended up parking on the street. There was a missionary homecoming so there was a big group (200?). The missionary liked to talk. He was the only speaker and went 20 minutes over.

After church we changed and started heading north along the west side of Lake Tahoe. The road weaves up and down and back and forth along the shore line and sometimes high above the shoreline. It is very beautiful, and Eva was able to enjoy it. I was too busy trying to stay on the road and avoid all the traffic and bikers.

We were heading north along CA89 to Lassen Volcanic National Park. It was about 200 miles and we wanted to camp close so we could get an early start in the park in the morning.

The drive north was very pretty. It would alternate between deep forested areas where you went over the mountain passes (4-5000’) and then drop into big grassy valleys with ranches and farms (at about 3-4000’) and a couple of small towns. It was a pleasant drive with a nice road that was not too steep.

A few miles from the park we found a forest road that cut off the main highway. We followed it about a mile into a deep canyon that was filled with trees. We found a nice camping spot next to a little creek.

After setting up camp, Eva used the Instant Pot to make another delicious dinner.

Adventure Van Expo

We got up and ate breakfast and cleaned up. We left the campground around 9 am. It was a 40 minute drive to Homewood Resort, on the west shore of the lake, where the Adventure Van Expo is held. This is an event where they have a lot of vendors displaying their equipment and campervan conversions. There were about 100 vans on display, but most were built by professional builders.

They also had a DYI van build contest. We entered our van, so for much of the day we stayed at the van and answered questions from the people that were browsing the area. We were just about not in the contest. The guy in charge thought it was built by a professional company. Eva had to catch him and tell him that we built it from scratch.

It took about an hour for the judges to come by, and then it was another hour before they announce the winners. We won the grand prize for the best finished van. The grand prize was an expedition kit from Aluminess. This is a shovel and ax kit with a mount and lock that mounts to the back of the van. It was something that I wanted to buy, but it costs $275 so I was not planning to buy it. So we were pretty glad that we won. I also won a Pantagonia puff jacket, a thermal cup and a couple of tee-shirts. Our van was well above the other vans on the contest so we would have been disappointed if we did not win.

We were at the expo until about 6 pm. They had some free food, so we ate dinner there. On the way back to camp we stopped at Inspiration Point to overlook Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe. On the way to Homewood in the morning the road was very crowded and all the parking areas were over-filled. Coming back in the evening there was a lot more space to park.

Back at camp we rested and talked the rest of the evening.

Lake Tahoe

We were up and going by 8:30 am. We left Illipah Reservoir and continued west on Hwy 50 to Eureka. We wanted to stop and use the WIFI at the church so I could send the blog posts, but the Eureka branch building ended up being 10-15 miles out of our way, so after about 5 miles we decided to continue in the right direction.

We stopped at the church in Austin, the next town. We parked close to the church, but apparently they have changed the default password, so we could not connect. Both Eureka and Austin are old mining towns and looked similar to Eureka, UT.

We kept driving and finally made it to Fallon. This is a fair sized town with a Walmart and other stores. They have 3 church buildings and we stopped at one and got pretty good WIFI when we sat on the steps of the Family History Center. We stayed about 30 minutes sitting in the shade, until a few ladies came to open the FHC.

We took off and went to Walmart. We ate lunch in the van sitting in the Walmart parking lot. After eating we went shopping and bought some food and a few other things.

From Fallon it was probably 90 minutes to Carson City. This was close to the start of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We topped of the gas tank and continued about 30 more minutes up the mountains to the camping spot we had identified. This was a large sandy lot about 1.5 miles off the highway. We were there with 3 other RVs, but they stayed in their RV and we never saw any of them during the time we were there. Later we determined that we were camping in the middle of the Pondarosa Ranch, from the TV show Bonanza (if it were a real ranch).

We made another Instant Pot meal. The Creamy Alfredo Chicken was pretty good. We ate dinner, cleaned up and then talked and read the rest of the evening.

The night went pretty good. We kept the windows closed, so the temperature inside was just right. By morning another van had pulled in and camped 50 feet from us. They must have come real late and very quietly.

We left early, around 6:30 am and drove the 40 minutes to the Fallen Leaf Campground, just west of South Lake Tahoe City. The camp office did not open until 8 am, but we were the second in line, which was good, because they only had 3 spots open for the night. We were able to get 2 nights for $35/night. It is just a normal Forest Service campground, but it does have showers. This was the cheapest campground at Lake Tahoe.

While waiting for the office to open we met Tom, a guy from central California. He was first in line, but he forgot his wallet, so we lent him $35 so he could pay for his site. We walked over to his campsite so he could repay us. He also told us a few spots to go on our trip on the coast of CA and Oregon.

Since we could not take our site until 2 pm, we headed to the LDS church in South Lake Tahoe. We found it, but our WIFI password for LDS Access did not work. This is the second church that had changed the password from the default. While in the church parking lot we ate breakfast and cleaned up.

Next, we parked in the public parking area and walked the path along the shoreline and through town. We also stopped at the public library and used the internet and bathrooms. On the way back to camp we washed the van the best we could at the car wash. We mainly wanted to get some quarters so we had some quarters to use at the campground showers.

Back at camp we read and talked for a while. We took showers around 4 pm and then cooked dinner later in the evening. Eva made taco soup using the induction cooktop. It took about 10% of the battery power.

The rest of the night we relaxed and read. The sun goes down around 7 pm and it is dark by 8 pm.

Great Basin National Park

We got a late start from home. Since it was Tuesday, we were tending the two little boys and then Alyssa had a dentist appointment so we waited a little longer to watch Everett, since he was taking a nap. We also had to get everything packed, and that took a little longer than planned.

We left home at 3:30 pm and went south through Utah County to Nephi and then headed west through Leamington to Delta. We topped off the gas tank and headed out into the Great Basin desert. By 6:30 pm we found a place to camp near the Utah/Nevada border. There was a turnoff that we took on the north side of the highway and drove out about a mile to a nice spot in the sand and cedar trees.

For dinner Eva tried her new 3 quart InstaPot. She cooked barbecue chicken and it took about 25 minutes. It also used about 20% of our battery power, but that should be made up in the morning with a few hours of the Nevada sun.

It was a very warm night so after eating we sat outside and looked at the stars. This area has not cities or houses close by, so there is no light pollution and so you could see a lot of stars. It was also a great night to sleep in our van. We opened all the windows on the top and had a nice cool breeze all night long. I think I had my best night sleep in the van.

The next morning we were up with the rising sun. We ate breakfast and cleaned up camp. The drive to Great Basin National Park was about 30-40 minutes. The park headquarters are in Baker, Nevada. We stopped at the visitors center and learned a little bit about the park. We had a Lehman Cave tour at 1 pm, so we had some time to explore before the tour.

We drove the Wheeler Peak Scenic drive. This is an 18 mile drive that starts at 6000’ elevation and ends at 10,300’. We stopped at the scenic overlooks and campgrounds on the way up. Coming back down the road we stopped at the Upper Lehman Creek Campground and ate sandwiches for lunch.

Eva with Wheeler Peak in the background.

Wheeler Peak
Looking east across the Great Basin
For Zac, the picture above zoomed in on Notch Peak.

We met at the Lehman Cave Visitors Center 15 minutes before the tour and had an orientation meeting. The cave tour is about 0.4 miles long and takes about 1-1/2 hour. It was interesting and our tour guide was pretty entertaining. The cave was discovered about 130 years ago and for many years people would break off the formations to take home. The motto was “If you can break it, you can take it.”

Once the government took over, better protections were put in place and the cave was better developed and controlled. There were man-made entrance and exit tunnels created to allow better access. The cave tour took you through 4-5 rooms that are open for public access.

The cave really didn’t have all the colors that you see in the pictures, but the came out that way in the pictures.

After the tour we worked our way out of the park and started the drive to Ely. It was about 60 miles from the park to Ely. At Ely we filled up with gas and the found the LDS church. We expect this will be our best access to WIFI while on our trip. They have a smaller, older chapel, but we found a place to park where we could get some WIFI access. We didn’t stay long, we just wanted to test it.

From Ely we drove about 40 miles west and camped at a free campground overlooking Illipah Reservoir. It was another very nice evening with warm temperatures and not many bugs. As soon as it was dark the coyotes started howling. There were dozens of them all around the reservoir. They started howling several times through the night.

September 2019 Road Trip

We are on our first big trip with the van. We plan to be gone for 3-4 weeks, depending on how fast we go and how much we want to see. The plan is to go west on highway 50 (The Loneliness Highway in America) to Great Basin National Park. From there we will continue on highway 50 to Lake Tahoe.

We plan to stay a few days in Tahoe. From Tahoe we plan to continue northwest to Lassen Volcanic National Park and then further north to the Columbia River Gorge. At that point we will turn south and go down the coast of Oregon, stopping at the beaches and lighthouses.

We will continue down the coast into California and visit the Redwood State and National Parks. From there we will turn east and work our way back home. I am not too sure how long we will stay at each place or how long it will take to travel,so we will see how it goes. The agenda is pretty rough.

Green River Kayak Trip – June 2019

Here is an article that I wrote for the Sea Eagle Adventure Blog. They gave me $400 of store credit for publishing this article.

Labyrinth Canyon in Sea Eagle FastTrack 385s

Labyrinth Canyon

After owning our FastTrack 385s for a year, it is now time for a multi-day adventure. The premier flatwater river trip in the western US is floating the Green River through Labyrinth Canyon, in southern Utah. The canyon stretches 46 miles from the popular put-in spot at Ruby Ranch to Mineral Bottom, just north of Canyonlands National Park.

There are several alternate start points that can stretch the river miles to almost 70 miles, but those extra miles are through rolling hills of sage brush and farms, not quite as picturesque as the high red sandstone walls of Labyrinth Canyon. Floating this section of the Green River requires a free permit from the Moab office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This can be obtained through contacting the BLM office, or on-line. The permit requires carrying specific gear (portable toilet, fire pan, safety equipment, etc) on your boat, along with other stipulations to help ensure safety and maintain the back-country conditions of the area.

The flow of the Green River varies widely based on the annual precipitation and season of the year. Ranging from 2000-4000 CFS (cubic feet per second) in late fall and winter, to over 20,000 CFS during the spring runoff. As we monitored the flow in the weeks leading up to our trip, the river flow ranged from 13,000-15,000 CFS. A little high, but within the expected flow rate for an early June trip. However, just days before our trip was scheduled to start, the water managers at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, 300 miles upstream, significantly increased the output from the dam. The purpose was to lower the reservoir level enough to make room for the expected snow melt runoff. It takes about 3-4 days for increased flow from Flaming Gorge to travel downstream to Labyrinth Canyon, so 2 days before our trip the flow of the river jumped from 15,000 CFS to 25,000 CFS. This was a slight concern, but after a call to a local river guide and the BLM office, the trip continued as planned. The main downside of the increase flow was a significant reduction in the available campsites along the river and increased difficulty of exiting and entering the river due to the flooded river banks.

Sea Eagle 385ft Fully Loaded for 3 Day Trip

The 385ft is the perfect boat for this type of trip. The carrying capacity is adequate for hauling camping gear for a multi-day trip. The geometry and style of the boat allows for easy paddling and control, even when it is fully loaded. The portability of the inflatable kayaks increases the options for setting up the vehicle shuttle for this multi-day trip.

For this trip my wife, Eva, and myself each paddled our own 385ft kayaks. This provided plenty of room for the gear required by the permit and all the other niceties that makes for a comfortable camping trip. We chose to launch from Ruby Ranch, a working alfalfa ranch south of the city of Green River, Utah. After a 40 minute drive on gravel roads from Green River City, we arrived at Ruby Ranch. The ranch owner charges a nominal fee ($10/boat + $5/person) to park and launch from their river access. There are also camping sites ($5/night) and a picnic area at the boat launch.

We dropped off our kayaks and gear at the ranch and proceeded to set up the vehicle shuttle between Ruby Ranch and the takeout point at Mineral Bottom. For our shuttle, we chose to use an ATV (all terrain vehicle) as a second vehicle. We left Ruby Ranch and trailered the ATV to Mineral Bottom. This leg of the trip was 20 miles of pavement and 50 miles of dirt road. We parked our vehicle and trailer at the overnight parking site at Mineral Bottoms and rode the ATV on 40+ miles of dirt backroads back to Ruby Ranch. The entire shuttle setup took almost 4 hours to complete. We made it back to the launch point and were on the river around 2 pm.

Entering Labyrinth Canyon

The river was running high and fast and we covered quickly covered the 2-3 miles to the start of Labyrinth Canyon. As we entered the canyon, the riverside terrain changed from flatland desert to sandstone cliffs on rising on both sides of the river. The cliffs continued to rise as we floated deeper into the canyon. The canyon was true to its name and the river wound back and forth between the high cliffs. The beauty of the canyon increased as we traveled down the river. The river flow was such that paddling was only required to keep the kayaks pointed down the river.

The unusual high flow of the Green River reduced the access to many of the campsites, but did have the advantage of flooding the side canyons. Normally these side canyons are high and dry above the main river. Seven miles from Ruby Ranch are the three canyons of Trin-Alcove bend. Where you would normally need to hike into these canyons, the river was backed into the side canyons leaving calm waters to paddle up the canyon to explore. These side canyons felt like a jungle river as we paddled through the tree tops, with the canyon floor buried below the waters. This was a completely different experience from those who travel the river during lower flow rates. We continued until we found the campsite for the first night on the river. We camped on a sandy bench below a high sandstone cliff. We enjoyed a quiet night as we watched the sunset create a glow on the red sandstone surrounding our camp.

First Night Campsite
Sunrise at Trin-Alcove Canyon

The next morning we broke camp and got an early start on the river. The rising sun on the walls of the canyons met us as we left the side canyon and entered the main channel. I estimate the river was running at about 4-5 mph so little paddling was required to move down the river. After several more miles, we took a side trip down 10 Mile Canyon. This canyon wound through the thickets of tamarisk until it opened into a deep walled canyon. We paddled about a mile down the canyon until we found a nice shady spot to beach the boats and have lunch. Again it was a beautiful area as we watched a Blue Heron fly around the canyon, and we were visited by a family of geese as they paddled down the creek.

Exiting 10 Mile Canyon

Hey Joe Canyon was the next stop. This was the site of a historic uranium mine and we explored the abandoned equipment and mining site. There were many other points of interest along the river, but the high water level kept us from finding a place to beach the boats and explore.

We did make a stop at Bowknot Bend. This is a location where the river flows alongside a high sandstone cliff. Over the next 7 miles the river makes a 180 degree bend and flows back to within 1/2 mile of itself on the other side of the cliff. We were able to find a spot to get off the river and complete the hike to the top of the Bowknot saddle and view the other side of the cliff and river.

View from BowKnot Bend

After 23 miles of travel, the second night’s camp was in Spring Canyon. The entrance to this canyon is similar to the others, but it quickly turned into a tamarisk jungle. The tamarisk were so thick it quickly became too difficult to move forward, but there was also no place to turn around.

Tamarisk is an invasive species that has invaded many of the western US waterways. The species was introduced in this country to combat erosion, but has quickly taken over the banks of many western rivers and lakes. Tamarisk chokes out the native species and prevent other plants from growing. Each tamarisk can produce 200,000 seeds each year, and spread quickly along the shorelines. Along the Green River, tamarisk has blocked shore access along much of the river. The tamarisk is so thick that it can be impossible to pass through.

The entrance of Spring Canyon had 2-300 yards of thick, thick tamarisk. I went in first while Eva waited at the entrance. It took 20 minutes to fight my way through the overgrowth of tamarisk, not paddling most of the time, but using branches to pull myself hand-over-hand and weaving the kayak through the mess. The FastTrack kayaks again performed great. The tough skins of the kayak were not damaged at all by the sharp branches of the tamarisk. Once through the thicket, the canyon opened up into a beautiful campsite below the high sandstone walls with a clear pool to park the kayaks. The night treated us to a dark star-filled sky we watched through the mesh roof of our tent.

Flatwater of Labyrinth Canyon

Day three was another beautiful day with perfect temperature, no wind and clear blue skies. We only had 15 river miles to go until we arrived at the Mineral Bottom take-out point. We didn’t want to miss Mineral Bottom as the nex takeout point was 4-5 days and 60 miles down river. We were having such an enjoyable time, we did not want to hurry down the river. We rafted the kayaks up and floated the last miles of our trip, with a stop at Horseshoe Canyon for lunch and to explore Hell Roaring Canyon.

The final miles of Labyrinth Canyon was as picturesque as the rest of the canyon. We paddled into the boat ramp area of Mineral Bottom at around 3:30 pm. We broke down the kayaks and loaded the gear to make the trip back to Ruby Ranch to pick up our ATV before heading home.

Takeout Point at MIneral Bottom

The Sea Eagle FastTrack kayaks were perfect for this trip. They easily held all our camping gear and supplies, with room to spare. They were easy to paddle and control as we explored the tight side canyons. The durability and high quality construction was evident.

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