Sunday, May 29, 2022

5/27 - 5/29 Adventure in Mammoth Lakes, CA

As the end of the cooler months approached, we wanted to spend one last weekend outdoors before the summer sun hit. So, we took the long weekend for Memorial Day to drive up to Mammoth Lakes in California. We packed up the Bronco with the 3 of us (Winston came too of course) and left Friday morning. 


Mammoth was a 5 hour drive from Vegas without any real highway to get there so we had to take multiple single lane roads. This wasn't an issue except for route 168 as it went through the Inyo National Forest. There were two mountain passes with winding roads that caused Nina to feel a little sick. Unfortunately, the detour to avoid this route would have taken us far out of the way so she had to suck it up both there and on the way back. I would not want to take route 168 in the winter with the risk for ice or snow. 

Once we got past that, we stopped in Bishop which was a cute small town. Little did we know that Bishop was celebrating their annual 'Mule Days' week long holiday. That meant that the whole town was full of mule related activities from learning how to pack a mule to gift shops full of mule related items. Apparently, Mule Days in Bishop is the biggest celebration of mules on the planet. Who knew! After we took in Mule Days over lunch at Looney Bean, we made the rest of the drive up into the gorgeous mountains around Mammoth Lake to check in to our hotel, the Mammoth Mountain Inn. 

Once checked in, we found that our room was a first floor room with our very own deck and a view of the ski slopes. Winston immediately went on the deck as Winston showed us that our deck was shared with all the other rooms on the first floor. Thankfully, none of the other guests had their doors open otherwise Winston would have ran right on in. Once we corralled him back and unpacked, we hit the village to walk around and take in the sights. 

The village was on a single street with plenty of parking. Nina loves to shop in these mountain towns and every store was dog friendly so Winston was able to shop with us as well! With it being the end of the season, all the stores had 20% sales on winter gear which we took advantage of to get Nina a new beanie and Winston a new bandana. I did not get anything sadly, I never seem too...Anyways, we came across a cute restaurant called Campo Mammoth and we stopped for a few meatballs and some drinks before turning in to our hotel room for the night.


We had plans to go kayaking on a two seat kayak (and a seat for Winston in the middle, he even packed his life jacket) on Convict Lake Saturday morning so we got up early and headed out to the lake. We quickly realized that it was a very windy day at Mammoth. We drove past the regional airport and I noted that the wind sock was maxed out meaning the winds were at least 25 knots. The lake was beautiful and tucked in a valley surrounded by mountains but even on the small lake, there were white capes on the waves. Due to the high winds, our reservation was cancelled and we got our money back but we were still disappointed we weren't able to go. Thankfully, the lake had a nice trail that went right around it so we decided to do that. 

Once on the hike trail, we immediately noticed the contrast between hiking in greenery with trees and foliage and the hikes we are used to doing in Vegas where it is all brown and rocky. We agreed that we liked green more! On the far side of the lake, the water runoff from the nearby mountains created an area with little waterfalls and babbling brooks and a small wooden bridge to cross it. Winston enjoyed playing in the mountain water while Nina and I had a famous stick race. My stick won of course. As I took in the scenery, Nina and Winston pushed on ahead across the bridge without me. With Winston's wet paws, it wasn't tough to figure out where they went. 

As we made the turn to head back toward the marina, we realized how calm the winds were at the back side of the lake. This is no surprise since we were in the shadow of the mountain but as we continued, the winds picked up again foreshadowing a weekend full of winds. This part of the trail became more groomed allowing locals to get close to the water to fish. Since there was no boating today, many people were out fishing. Once our hike was concluded, it was time for lunch so we headed back to the village to get some za at Mammoth Pizza Co! 

After lunch in the village where Winston got plenty of pepperonis, we headed out to another popular lake called June lake. June lake was much bigger than Convict lake and even had a small town on one side. They had numerous camp grounds and a big beach for us to walk around. The high elevation combined with the mountain winds made for a very cold visit to the beach but Winston went in the water anyways. After a brief visit and a coyote sighting, we decided to head back to see the Earthquake Fault and the Scenic Loop.

The Earthquake Fault was something right out of Minecraft! There was a deep crack in the ground as deep as 25 feet in some places. The ground around it seemed completely undisturbed. It even knocked over a few trees. The whole place was very eerie. Despite the fence around the area, Winston wanted to go in and made a run for it but we pulled him back before he disappeared forever!                                                                                                    After the Earthquake Fault, we drove the Scenic Route that was close by. There were signs for the Inyo Craters nearby so we decided to take a look. Although we weren't planning on hitting dirt this weekend, I'm not gonna say no to a chance to get some dirt on the tires so we turned off! It was about a mile on a groomed dirt road before we came to a parking lot which was the start of a short hike up to see the craters. We decided to take a look and 3/4 of a mile later, we found the crater! Very exciting and again, kind of eerie.

After the crater, we continued on the scenic loop and I noticed how much dispersed camping there was in the area. I definitely made a note of that in case we ever wanted to come back and camp in the area. There were also dirt roads seeming to go all directions so again, making a note for any future off roading trips up here in the mountains! 

When we went back to the town for dinner, we found that Mammoth hold an annual 'Mammoth Yacht Club' event once a year near the end of the season where they host teams from all over the world who create boats out of cardboard boxes, put them on skis, and ski down the easy portion of the slope. The whole town really got into theme with this because they had a concert in the village by a band dressed in sailor uniforms and boat shoes. The locals all had boating hats on! It was unique and a lot of fun. 

After a small dinner (we were still full from lunch), we headed back to the hotel and witnessed the Yacht Club skiing down the nearby slopes. There was a large crowd and apparently, it really is quite a big event. Although, after our full day, we decided to head in a little early and rented the movie Castaway from the front desk and had a chill night. Winston was pretty tired so he didn't mind! 


We had big plans for Sunday when we went to bed on Saturday night but I woke up in the middle of the night with the chills and looking very pale. So, due to me not feeling well, we decided to call it a trip and head back a little early. Nina and I were sad to not take full advantage of our 2nd day since it was a long drive, but I just really wasn't feeling it. We checked out of our nice hotel, packed up and headed back. We stopped in Bishop for brunch at a really nice bakery called Erick Schat's Bakery and had some tasty baked goods. It was the last day of Mule Days back in Bishop so we did some shopping while there but didn't get anything. 

After leaving Bishop, we again hit route 168 and Nina got sick again. She was a trooper and pushed through and we got home a few hours later. The big takeaway from our trip to Mammoth was that we went too early in the year. Devil's Postpile National Monument was still closed so we were unable to do the Rainbow Falls Hike and a few others. It opens early to mid June every year so I think in the future, we would go a few weeks later to get a little bit warmer weather and ensure that Monument was open. But overall, Mammoth Lakes was great and we highly recommend it! 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

4/29 - 5/1 Off-Roading and Camping in Kingman, AZ

After months of driving the Bronco without a camping trip, it was time to change all that! My brother Lou and I hatched a plan to spend the weekend camping and off-roading out in Kingman, AZ. I invited my dad and Uncle Tom to fly out to Vegas and join in the adventure and they readily accepted. Lou brought his son, my nephew, Noah for his first overnight overlanding trip! Long time friend and FJ driver Beardo was also invited so we had a 3 truck convoy headed out! 

As the trip date got closer, the 3 of us sent many texts back and forth about what the plan was. We all seemed to hope that someone else had it planned out and ready to go. Thankfully, Lou and I had done a trip in Kingman back in 2019 and ran a couple of the trails so I took our previous Gaia tracks, made some adjustments and slapped it on an itinerary. I'm a big believer in having a shell of a plan so even plotting coordinates on a picture of the area coupled with links for the KML files for an overview of the trip made everything run very smoothly. 

Once the plan was approved and the week of the trip arrived, Pa and Uncle Tom flew into town on Wednesday. Since we weren't departing until Friday, we were able to get some quality time sitting in the backyard just catching up as I don't get to see them as often as I'd like. On Thursday, they helped me prep to sell the Tacoma after I upgraded to the Bronco. It was a bitter sweet moment selling the Tacoma after so many memories and so many trips but it was time to say goodbye. Here's the last photo of the Tacoma off road taken a few months back out in Utah. 


As Friday morning arrived, the three of us finished some last minute propane tank installs, packed up the Bronco, said our farewells to Nina and Winston and headed out! Since Beardo is also a Vegas resident, we met up with him in town before the trek out to Kingman. The plan was to meet up with Lou at the trailhead to Sleeping Princess at 1500 but the drive from Phoenix was a bit longer than the drive from Vegas so we had a few extra minutes spent chit chatting. After we rolled out, we meet up with Lou right at 1500 as we both turned down the same dirt road at the same time. As Hannibal Smith likes to say in the movie A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together!"

After the initial hello's, we aired down and got ready for the trail! The weather in late April in Kingman was a bit windy but low 80's. Perfect for getting some dirt of the tires! Our first stop on the itinerary was a longer trail called Sleeping Princess. The first few miles of the trail is really mild but all the changed when I came around a tight corner and was face to face with a big ole bull that was napping. Upon seeing the bright red hood of the Bronco, he stood up and was staring at us. I thought that this was the end. After what seemed like minutes, we drove by slowly as he glared us down. Close call! 

As we rolled up to the waypoint I labeled as "Great Campsite", it quickly dawned on me that I was a roof top tent camper back in 2019 when I made that waypoint. As a ground camper now, I had concerns about the number of rocks all throughout the flat areas of camp. But, since it was such a great location, we decided to stick it out anyways. I unpacked the Bronco and attempted to set up my first ground tent in over 7 years. Thankfully, my new Gazelle T3X tent was easy and quick to set up so that wasn't much of an issue which left me more time to get some drinks going! The rest of the night was spent sitting around the fire, eating snacks and kicking back without cell phone service. Perfect! 


Even though we had 2 trails ahead of us today, none of us were in a hurry to get up and going so we took our time packing up. I made oatmeal with chocolate chips for breakfast for Pa and Uncle Tom. Fancy, I know! After breakfast, we rolled out of camp around 0900 and headed back to the trail for the harder, more technical sections. Sleeping Princess starts as a gradual climb to the top of the ridgeline overlooking Laughlin and the scenic desert surrounding Kingman. Great for stops and photoshoots! After that, it hits an apex and starts a nasty right descending turn as you come down off the peak. This afforded me a chance to try out the crawler gears on the Bronco in 4Lo and they did not disappoint! It was very helpful managing my speed using engine RPM instead of having to ride the brakes constantly risking skidding. At the base of the descend is where things get interesting. We elected to take the optional extensions called Bob Miller's Extension and Hell's Half Mile. Both were sporty and I ended up scrapping a fender flare on a rock during a tight squeeze. Although frustrating, that's part of the sport so I pressed on. After the tight squeeze, the trail opened up and we were able to complete the rest of it quickly. It was 40 miles to the next trailhead so we opted to air up before hitting the highway!

After our short drive (and a short nap for my passengers), we arrived at the start of the Devil's Dip trail. The plan was to run the trail backwards so that it would end at the beginning of our next trail. Even though Lou and I have done this trail twice before, doing it backwards was completely different! We aired down and headed up the hill with Pa driving the Bronco. This climb was rough - it was lose rock, small ledges and not much traction. Despite that, Pa did a great job ascending the hill even after a tough section where I had to spot him. After a solid push to the top, we took a break for lunch in the shade of the lone tree. We broke out the PB&J with an apple for dessert. 
The way down was very washed out from rains resulting in many off-camber lines through the middle of the trail. This gave us a chance to test out the sway-bar disconnect on the Bronco but we got tippy a few times maxing at 22 degrees roll on the worst one. As we finished Devil's Dip, the three of us decided that we probably would not do that trail again. It was too washed out and too bumpy for it to be enjoyable especially for the passengers. 

The trailhead for Hualapai Mountain Trail was only 7 miles of highway away so we decided to make the run aired down. This trail is a groomed 2WD trail that winds through a small town before breaking out into a campground and finally following the ridgelines along the countryside. There are a few forks in the road so as long as you take the right before the campground you'll be on the trail. We, of course, missed the right, drove through the campground just to find a dead end and had to retrace our steps. No biggie! 

Once we were back on the right trail, it was time to start looking for a campsite. We had a location scouted from last time but someone had beaten us there and were already settling in so we pressed on. We found another great spot right on the ridge overlooking the valley but quickly decided that would be best for roof top tents since it was rocky and on an incline (none of us wanted to do that again). Another few miles up and we found the best site out there! It was a right off the main trail and put us in a forested flat area with a pre-existing fire pit and even a brand new swing on a tree, perfect! We settled in, got set up and had a fire going in no time at all. 


Sunday morning was chilly! Myself, Pa and Uncle Tom turned in early the night prior so we were up around 6:30. It didn't take long for us to decide to get a fire going for warmth. Once we had our fire roaring, we attempted to make breakfast and pack up without making too much noise waking the others. However, I don't think we succeeded as everyone else was up soon after, sorry! With everyone up, we spent the last few hours of our trip around camp just hanging out and enjoying the quality time. Once packed up, we said goodbye to our awesome campsite (after I made a waypoint of it of course) and headed back to the trail. We continued to mosey throughout the trail taking in the views. Unfortunately, it looked like the area endured a forest fire within the last 3 years since Lou and I had been there as much of the forest was burned. That's always tough to see but it already had signs of growing back. T
he trail descended off the ridgeline until we came upon an old mining operation where we decided to have lunch. Lunch concluded, we headed back down the trail as it took us back to the highway.

As we came to a stop at the highway, it marked not only the end of the trail but the end of the weekend as well. It's always great to get the band back together but the time never seems quite long enough. We aired up and said our goodbyes as we headed back our various ways all of us ready for a shower and to sleep back in our own beds.