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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Wild west adventures. LA to Big Bend and back.

    We recently set off on our 5th western adventure from the UK and as usual, we had a fantastic time.
    We will cover over 3700 miles, visit 5 States (California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas), 6 National parks, plus National Monuments and State Parks while discovering some history of the 'Wild west'.

    Here follows our Trip report.

    We had always travelled to the USA sometime between mid September and early November in the past, but due to circumstance we missed out on our 2018 tour and was determined to make it during 2019. I kept browsing and 'Day dreaming' about our next trip throughout 2018 and then during an Internet search, right there in front of me was a great value flight from Heathrow to LA departing in February. Sometimes you click on these 'Too good to be true ' flight deals only to discover they are too good to be true and you are directed to an updated page with 'fresh' prices. On this occasion I went to the booking page, filled out all the details and there it was staring me in the face ! What could I do ? I clicked 'Buy now' and that was that. Big Bend was on our 'To do' list and it seemed an ideal time to visit, before Spring break starts and before it heats up too much, so that was the focus of the trip and the full planning begun. I waited for a while for a decent deal to appear on Cruise America's website and then there it was, a mileage reduction charge of 9 cents a mile and a good rental deal of $850 for 17 nights. ( A 9 cent per mile saving doesn't sound much, but the kind of mileage we cover it was a saving of almost $350 !) We decided on a 25ft RV as there was just the 2 of us travelling this time and some of the upcoming roads and campgrounds had length limits starting from 24 feet.

    Day 1. 17th February 2019.

    We had a 10:30am flight departing from London Heathrow, which I think is an ideal time for an International flight. We didn't have to get up too early and with the time difference it gets us into LA around 2:30pm (local time) and by the time you have cleared customs and got to your Hotel it's normally close to 5pm. As beat as we were, we always resist having a lay down and instead have a coffee, freshen up and walk around the block and find something to eat around 6pm. Our Hotel was the Baymont in Lawndale CA which hasn't a great deal to offer in the neighbourhood, but it did offer the furthest free shuttle bus service from LAX that put us the closest to the Cruise America pick up site and offered good value. I had found a nice little Burger bar just a couple of blocks away called 'Corner Burger' that had good reviews and seemed ideal for a couple of tired travellers who had been awake for over 20 hours and who wouldn't really appreciate a 'full on' slap up meal. We ordered our food and sat at a counter, while we were waiting the local fire crew turned up in their fire truck to pick up their food order. Promising sign ! Yep, the Burger and fries were great, so after we walked it off for a few blocks and returned to the Hotel we were ready for a good nights sleep.

    Day 2. 18th Feb.
    The hotel offered a free Continental breakfast which turned out to be pretty good, by the time we had showered our pre-booked taxi arrived at 11am sharp to take us to the RV centre. We hadn't arranged an early pick up with Cruise America (which is normally from 1pm) but I thought we would show up early and hope for the best. They were really good and we had sorted the paper work, loaded up the RV and was ready to hit the road shortly before 1pm. First it was a 400 yard drive to the gas station, the RV was low on fuel and $145 later we were topped up and heading north on I-405. The traffic (as expected) was busy but flowing OK with a few snarl up's close to LAX and where the I-405 joins I-5. The congestion gradually eased and we made reasonable progress before taking CA14 through Palmdale towards Mojave where we stopped to shop for supplies. Snow capped mountains had come into view and the excitement and realisation hit home. We're back !

    Click here for this RTA Library Map

    North through Antelope Valley Lancaster CA.

    We drove through Red rock canyon. It was our intention to stop for a break, but the parking area sign appeared rather quickly, to quick to slow the RV for the turn in. As the time was getting on we decided to keep going rather than turn back. It was good to be driving among Red rocks once more though!

    Highway 14 then merged with US395 and we were on the home straight to our overnight stop, the Olancha RV park. First of all we needed to top up with fuel ready to tackle Death valley in the morning, so we stopped at Pearsonville as scheduled and payed the 'Hubcap Lady' a visit. Pearsonville came into being when the Pearson family started a wreckers yard and grew as a business rescuing stranded motorists in this remote area and clearing wrecks from the road. Lucy Pearson started collecting Hubcaps and was said to have collected something like 80,000 of them and after a couple of TV appearances was dubbed the Hubcap lady and Pearsonvile became known as the 'Hubcap capital of the world'. There isn't much sign of the wreckers yard there these days and it's a bit of a ghost town, but the 'Hubcap girl' still watches the Highway. Another $72 for the thirsty RV and it's on our way.


    So it was a short run to Olancha in the dark. There was no sign of life in the office as we pulled up but there were lights on in the Cafe. The folks that run it were inside but there were no customers. It looked cosy with the log fire burning on this cold night so we asked what time they were closing. They said soon, but if we wanted to eat they would stay open. We said yes please ! We were shown to our site and walked back over to the cafe. They were very welcoming and put more logs on the fire and we didn't feel rushed at all. They brought us drinks while we studied the menu, I decided on steak (no surprise!) and Lezli had Quesadilla with a chicken filling. The food was delicious in this place in the middle of nowhere. Great find !

    Olancha RV park. You can rent a Wig Wam to !

    Olancha Cafe. Great food !

    We returned to the RV as the temps dropped well below freezing (it did get down to -7C) and made the bed up, unpacked our cases, had a hot drink, turned the Furnace on low and got tucked in for the night. I did not connect to the water mains due to the low temperatures which turned out to be a good call, the outside pipes froze overnight but having the furnace on protected the RV lines.

    Todays mileage: 206 miles.
    Last edited by Tom_H007; 05-12-2019 at 12:07 AM. Reason: Corrected punctuation

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default More good stuff on-the-roll

    Looking forward to reading this field report!


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Phoenix, Arizona


    I am as well. Definitely good stuff!


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default To Darwin and Death valley.

    Day 3. 19th February.

    Our bed was pretty comfy but it was a bit of a restless night as the furnace kicked in noisily through the night. It was time to get up, put the kettle on and turn the furnace up to take the cold chill off the RV. It looked as though the RV park was working on a new shower block but the existing one was cold and bit shabby so we washed in the RV. Although it was cold it was a beautiful bright morning so we wandered off to the cafe for breakfast, only to find it closed so we went back to the RV and had some cereal. I checked the oil in the RV and had a walk around checking tyres etc and it was about time to hit the road.

    The RV seems bigger inside, but like I said we got a good price !!

    Oops, wrong photo. Haha. This was the beautiful view we woke up to.

    Click here for this RTA Library Map

    We left the campground and headed a short way up US395 before right turning onto CA190 towards Death valley. The winds were ripping through Owens Valley and buffeting the RV all the way to the junction with CA136, resulting in me having to wrestle the steering wheel a few times just to keep it straight. The views of the snow capped Inyo mountains ahead were wonderful and in contrast to the desert sand blowing across the road.

    Our first stop of the day meant a short detour to the old mining town of Darwin, it's part ghost town but has a population of somewhere between 35 to 50 residents who still choose to live in this remote place. They seem to be made up of artists and people who want to get away from the everyday 'normal'. There were some Internet murmurings that some are none too friendly and they do nothing to encourage visitors to the town which is fair enough, if you choose such a tough life to get away from people why would you encourage them to visit ? I respect that but my curiosity got the better of me and I just had to have a look at this small but historic town. At it's peak Darwin had a number of residents (some reports suggest 'more than 700' while others say up to 3,500) starting out as a tent canvas town and then building permanent structures as the mining boomed, including bars, Hotels and stores. It was also a pretty lawless, rough place to live with regular hold ups and murders regarded as normal during it's Hey days of the 1870's. There is no church and no school and residents drive into Lone Pine for supplies.

    On the way down the road there was a spur road that went up the hill towards some cabins which made up the old mining camp. A warning sign was the only welcome and it was unclear as to whether it meant the whole area, or just the mine road.

    So we cruised on down the road that we thought led to town and it came into sight tucked away down in the valley. Lezli was a little concerned but I reassured her everything was OK, by pointing out that if we can see them, they can see us and no one is shooting at us. (Yeah, I'm not so good at this reassuring thing !) We stopped at the main crossroads in town which must be 'Downtown Darwin' as there is a music hall, post office and a parking lot.

    I turned to the street after taking a few photos and there was a big black dog right there staring at me, poker faced and offering no clue as to what he was thinking. No smiley face, no wagging tail just a cold stare. I have learnt that if a dog isn't barking at you, it's either friendly but needs no petting, or it wants to rip your leg off without warning. So I put the camera down by my side and stepped onto the dusty road with my trigger finger ready to shoot (A photo) and gave him my best Clint Eastwood ice cold stare and nodded my head to acknowledge Black dog. Your move ! He tilted his head, turned and strutted off. Phew ! There was not a sign of anyone around the town and it was time to head off as quietly as we had arrived and leave the locals to their solitude. For those that live there I salute you for having the courage and conviction to do what your heart tells you to.

    We returned to Highway 190 and continued across the Panamint mountains to Panamint Springs. The road climbed and twisted it's way through rock cuts and the views were wonderful. We stopped at Father Crowley overlook which had lovely views over Rainbow canyon, I presume so called for the multi coloured layers of rock. Apparently it's a popular spot for jet fighter pilots to practice and hone their low level flying skills through the valley beneath but no luck for us on that front. There was an icy cold wind that was howling and frozen puddles along the dirt road had ice over an inch thick in them, had we not known differently we would of thought Death valley was so named as people froze to death !

    We returned to the relative warmth of the RV and continued to the Panamint Springs resort where we enjoyed an overpriced hot dog and fries with a hot mug of coffee outside on the veranda enjoying the views. (It was warmer and less windy) We couldn't complain though, a place out in the sticks like this brings different challenges and we were happy of the welcome break and to pay the price it takes to keep it open.

    Father Crowley overlook.

    Panamint Springs.

    Once we have finished lunch we head through Death valley to Las Vegas for a bit of a reunion!
    Last edited by Tom_H007; 05-10-2019 at 03:59 AM. Reason: Corrected map link

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default ..and on to 'Bright lights City' !

    Day 3 Cont.....

    As we walked back to the RV I noticed the gas prices in the Panamint gas station and was glad I had filled up at Pearsonville. It was $5:49 per gallon and is known to be the dearest place to get fuel in Death valley, perhaps the country !?!

    Click here for this RTA Library Map

    We stopped at Stovepipe Wells at the Ranger station to purchase our National parks Annual pass only to find the Station closed for lunch. There was a ticket machine outside so we followed the instructions only to discover it had no option for the Annual pass, only visits to Death valley, so we cancelled it and decided to get one later on. (The annual pass offers great value and starts to save you money after you have visited 3 major parks and as the name suggests, it's valid for 1 year and you can visit as many parks as many times as you like.)

    Back on the road and heading towards Las Vegas for our reunion with Mark and Megan we still had a few stops to make. First up was the Mesquite sand dunes. They looked fantastic with the afternoon sun lighting them up, it's so difficult to appreciate the size of them, that is until you realise that it's people walking across them in the distance.

    We continued to Furnace Creek and onto Badwater basin. On our previous visit to Death valley we hadn't time to see this highlight 'low' point of Death valley. Neither had we driven Artists drive as last time we were in a 30ft RV and there is a length restriction of 25ft, so firstly it was a detour onto this one way drive. It's a 9 mile work of art as you make your way past many multi coloured hills with dips and turns in the road, revealling new shapes and colours around each corner. The highlight being the colours of the Artists Palette, it's hard to believe that it's natural.

    Artists Drive.

    Artists Palette.

    You soon understand why the length restriction is in place. There are some tight sections through rock cut that would be tricky in a longer vehicle, especially with the width of a Class 'C' RV.

    We returned to Badwater road and headed south to the basin, this is the lowest point in the USA at 282 feet below sea level. The further we had headed into Death valley the warmer it had become and now as we walk out onto the salt flat, things start to heat up. I would estimate it to be in the high 60's (F) and quite a contrast to this mornings 19F. I can only imagine what it must be like in the summer when temperatures soar and the heat reflects back up off the floor.

    Hard to imagine standing 282 feet below sea level, but eagle eyed Lezli spotted the sea level sign up the rock face opposite.

    Once again the clock was ticking and we were keen to to see Mark and Megan who had kindly invited us to stay at their pad, so it was back on the road. We continued to Shoshone and through Tecopa Hot Springs to Tecopa and headed east on the Old Spanish Trail Hwy and across the Nevada State line near Charleston view. As we climbed up the hill on 160 we caught a glimpse of Vegas through the hills. We had to slow for road construction and the road had become a bit slick with snow on either side, which was a bit of a surprise to us so near Vegas !

    Just outside of Tecopa Hot springs.

    We eventually rolled into Vegas and met up with Mark and Megan at their 'Pad'. As always we received a lovely warm welcome, it really was great to see them again. Soon after arriving we were off to the 'M' bar, located on the top floor of the 'M' resort and casino for pre-dinner cocktails ! We all had a different cocktail and played 'pass the parcel', having a taste of each. (Mine was the best !!) Looking out of the glass frontage from the comfort of our chairs you could see Vegas lit up like a Christmas tree. As it had been cold and windy the outside balcony was closed, but after Mark had a word they opened it so we could step outside and soak up the view. It certainly was cold but well worth it ! It was time to head back to the Pad where Mark and Megan served a wonderful meal and we shared a few more drinks and good conversation. Us Brits must have brought a little bit of England with us, for there were light snow flurries as Mark was cooking on the BBQ out on the patio. A few drinks later we were ready to call it a night ready for our day out tomorrow.

    The Gang !

    Todays mileage: 280 miles. Total mileage: 486.
    Last edited by Tom_H007; 05-10-2019 at 03:53 AM. Reason: Added map

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Australia

    Default Been looking forward to this report like everyone else.

    Loving the report Dave. Do you think Lezli could take a picture of your Clint Eastwood look? Loved to have seen the standoff. Great to see you both caught up with Mark and Megan. Awesome couple.


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