Camping in BC can be pretty expensive, but it is also fairly easy to find free camping spots as long as you are not on the islands or the coast. We used a combination of iOverlander, Park4night and Campendium (where I posted many reviews years ago about many spots in Northern BC) and were able to not pay for a site once after leaving the island. Granted, there were quite a few parking lot and industrial area nights, but as soon as you get North of Prince George, there are many rest areas and pull outs on the side of the roads where you can sleep for free, all the way to the Yukon!
We have decided to camp at Texas Spring Campground, since it is the cheapest and the more beautiful. There are no services and a no generator rule. There is a dump, water and toilet on site. Note that for 5$ per person (during the week, $10 on weekends), you can access the hotel warm fed spring pool and showers. The pool was just too cold - 85 F - to be comfortable when we were there (it was cold and windy that night). Note that you only need one card ($5) to enter the pool and shower area and that there is no lifeguard or staff on duty there, so decide accordingly ;)
There are more hikes and sights to see in Death Valley, but some were closed when we were there since the recent rains had washed out the roads or there were closures due to construction. We wanted to hike Mosaic Canyon, check out Scotty’s Castle and bike Titus Canyon, but couldn’t.
We passed on the Mesquite sand dunes since we had just been at the Kelso dunes in the Mojave desert (that are bigger and more impressive) and the Racetrack (those moving rocks that have left tracks behind them) since it is located at the end of rough dirt road and is an adventure in itself.
*Be advised that exiting Death Valley through the west (road from Stovepipe Wells to Panamint Springs) requires driving a very long twisty downhill section that could be hard on your brakes if you tow a trailer or drive a motorhome. We separated the Westy from the bus for the long climb and descent and it still was a bit nerve-wracking, glad we have a brake retarder on the bus. A friends’ brakes caught on fire there. Be warned and drive slow.
Interesting facts about Death Valley:
Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the Lower 48 at a whopping more than 3.4 million acres.
The highest recorded temperature in the world was recorded in Death Valley’s Furnace Creek at 134 Fahrenheit in July, 1913. For almost one hundred years, a false recording made in Libya overshadowed Furnace Creek’s claim to fame. In 2012, however, the record went back to Death Valley after it was concluded that the Libyan recording was made in error.
Death Valley is only 76 miles from the highest point in the country, Mt. Whitney, which tops out at an elevation of 14,505 feet. In other words, the lowest and highest points in the contiguous U.S. are less than 100 miles apart!
There is every year an ultramarathon in Death Valley called the Badwater 135, which links these two points! The race organizers description goes like this : Covering 135 miles (217 km) non-stop from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, CA, the Badwater 135 is the most demanding and extreme running race offered anywhere on the planet. The start line is at Badwater Basin, Death Valley, which marks the lowest elevation in North America at 280’ (85m) below sea level. The race finishes at Whitney Portal at 8,300’ (2530m), which is the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit, the highest point in the contiguous United States. The Badwater 135 course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600’ (4450m) of cumulative vertical ascent and 6,100’ (1859 m) of cumulative descent.
From this blog.
One of the things your learn after many years on the road is that if you find a gem of a secret spot to camp in, you don't share it on social medias or camping sites/apps. Another thing that you learn is that if there is a long weekend coming, you stay put. Even if you would really like to go climbing at Owens River Gorge and take advantage of that long weekend yourself (because no, we do not make our work schedule and have full days off only on weekends). On long weekends, you stay around camp and explore less popular spots. For your own sanity.
There is a lot to do in the Mammoth Lakes ares. There is an awesome bike resort with lots of amazing trails. Mammoth Mountain closes mid-September, but the trails remain open for riders to enjoy. At 9,000 feet of altitude, it can get cold at this time of year. We went riding in 3 degree C weather (that's 35 F). There is also a great brewery (Mammoth Brewery), perfect for an after-ride brew and delicious meal.
There are also many hot springs in the areas, the most popular being Hilltop (aka Pulkey's) and Wild Willy's. These are often full of people. The thing is, most of the springs are bathtub size and can sit 4 to 5 persons at most (Wild Willy being the exception, there are a few pools there that can accommodate more people), so if you get there and they are full, the courtesy is to leave (not wait there or worst, try to squeeze in). Many of these are clothing optional too.
We really liked Rock Tub since it is right by the little parking area and you don't have to hike to find out if it's full or not. The first time we tried to go to the hot springs, on a very cold night after our bike ride, we found it full, so we turned around, checked out Hilltop and Wild Willy's which were also full... It's the reality of it... It's high season here and there are not secret spots anymore. So we came back the next day in the afternoon and lucked out as the man bathing there was just done. During the hour we were there, 3 or 4 cars drove in, saw that the tub was busy and turned around. The water gets pretty dirty from all the people (even if there is a constant flow in and out. There is a plug at the bottom, so you can empty the tub and let it fill back up. You can also bring a brush to scrub the slippery algea that covers the bottom if you want. Obviously, don't use any soap in the tubs!
We also explored Shepard's Tub and the Crab Cooker, that are *a bit* less busy. We ended up camping there for 2 nights and enjoying Shepard's Tub and the Crab Cooker morning and night. It was heavenly after a day of climbing! If you decide to go camp near a hot spring, remember that this is a public place and do not hug the tub (or park very near it). People will likely come and go every hour or so (and at every hour of the night on weekends!), so be warned.
Hot Creek used to be a hot spring in the 60's and 70's. We met a man at Shepard's who used to be a guide and would bring tourists there. He said there was a huge pool where there was always 50 to 60 people. It has been closed for 15-20 years because too many deaths happen there. He told us that most deaths were caused by people trying to rescue their dogs who had fallen in the blue pools of death (the beautiful Icelandic blue pool in the picture above) which is and has always been scalding hot. It is nonetheless a geological wonder where the cold water from the glacier meet the bubbling water from the underground volcanic activity. The ground is unstable in the area because of fumaroles and occasional geyser action also.
Devils Postpile (a National Monument) is an unusual rock formation of 60 feet high basalt columns. It looks like a tidy lumber pile created by OCD giants. They were formed when lava erupted in the valley nearly 100,000 years ago and filled the area to a depth of 400 feet. Then, glaciers overrode the fractured mass of lava. As you can see on the pictures taken from the top, the glaciers cut the hexagonal basalt towers, leaving behind something that looks like a tile floor. The John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail merge into one trail as they pass through the monument.
Obsidian Dome is not your typical cone-shaped dome, but more like a big pile of shiny black rock. It is indeed volcanic glass that was formed by an explosion (a Phreatic Blast) when magma reached the water table, turned the water to steam, cooled and then turned to rock. There is not much else to do there than to simply scramble up and look at the beautiful obsidian formations (be careful, it is slippery). Obsidian is the sharpest natural material known to man, obsidian rocks have played a significant role in the evolution of homo-sapiens' tool-making ability. During the Stone-Age and beyond, obsidian rocks have played a major part as primary cutting tools in many cultures.
Such clear water!
I am unclear about how to handle social media right now. It seems like the blog is more and more a rehashing of what I have published on Instagram and Facebook in the last week or so... I am really enjoying the My Story feature on Instagram right now (the bubbles at the top, where you post little blurbs that disappear after 24 hours, yes, a copy of Snapchat) and this is where I feel more compelled to post. I feel like the IG community is more active now than the FB one... So where does the blog fit in that? Not too sure, but I know I want to keep it up and going. Let me know what you think or what you would like to see more on the blog.
This is a text I published on my personal FB page and on Road it up Instagram. You might have read it already.
As we drive through rows of black spruce, the girls fight over iPad charging cables. I put my earphones back on, close my eyes and go back to the Masai Mara in Kenya with Tsh Oxenreider. I'm listening to her latest book, At Home In The World, the retelling of her year abroad with 3 young kids. She discuses with expats she meets along the way about how intense it is to be with her kids 24/7. I've never known anything else. I've been with my girls day in and day out for 13 years straight. As crazy as it may sound to some, I wouldn't want it any other way. Even on hard days. There were hard days when I worked in an office too (many more!). I smile as I now hear the girls laugh in unisson at a movie on which they finally agreed. I am back in Venice, eating gelato twice a day and drinking an afternoon macchiato with Tsh and her family when I spot a black bear scratching his back on a tree on the side of the Alaska Highway. We're home. Or rather, one of our home. But we're always home in our bus. The outside might be less familiar, but we feel home anywhere.
I pause Tsh’s book and look ahead, lost in thoughts. What is home anyways? A familiar bed? A favorite mug? A sense of safety and comfort? A smell we recognize and that makes us smile? The way the light filters through the tall branches of trees at 10:30 pm?
I dig my face into the Yukon moss. Yes, I am home, indeed.
When we left Maple Canyon, we quickly worked our way up towards Bend, Oregon, to spend a few days with our friends. We had such a good time, that I didn't take a single picture! We went mountain biking at Phil's trailhead and ended up hiking a part of it in ankle deep snow (tourists!) and shared great meals and drinks! Bend has the most incredible selection of beers and I tasted one of my favorite IPA (RPM from Boneyard Brewery, on tap only). It took me a few years to really enjoy an IPA. For a while I called it skunk pee beer, but I now truly enjoy many IPAs.
I remember my dad telling me that there are some food that you need to taste 10 times before you start appreciating them, as he proceeded to give me a slice of baguette with a tiny piece of Roquefort. There was also brain, frog legs, sweetbread (ris de veau sounds much tamer in French), mussels... and the yearly lobster feast where everybody exclaimed when they cracked open the lobster and found that green stuff that they ate with great delight.
Let’s be honest here, none of this is a love-at-first-sight food, but they do grow on you – some of them at least - to the point that you’ll pay quite a bit of money for it. Think caviar. I’ll always remember the first time I tried black caviar (brought directly from Russia by a client of my family when I lived in Italy)... or when I had risotto al nero di sepia (Italian rice cooked in squid ink... and yes, it’s black).
So what makes a delicacy a delicacy? Is it simply that you have tasted/eaten it enough time with people you loved and that appreciated it that you end up loving it too? Is my brain reminiscing all the joyful dinners with interesting adult conversations that I was allowed to participate in when I was a young teenager and when I could have a little sip of delicious port with the blue cheese? Does my mind remember the pleasure my grandpa had in sucking the lobsters’s little legs that people had left in a pile in the middle of the table covered in newspaper? Do all these memories collide in that one first bite? What do you think?
If you are planning to drive North, I recommend that you come up through Glacier National Park (crossing near Babb), check the Canadian side of Glacier (Waterton Lakes National Park) and head towards Calgary on Highway 2, then to Canmore on the TransCanada Highway (spend some time there, it's a super cool city, lots of biking, hiking, climbing), then a stop in Banff and Lake Louise, and then onto the Icefield Parkway. That's a must! Know that there is no connexion at all in Banff and Jasper National Parks, but there is some in Lake Louise, in Banff and Jasper (town). There are tons of nice hikes to do in these two parks. Our friend Melissa who knows the area pretty well recommended these hikes: Cirque Peak, Parker Ridge, Fish Lake (2 days), Bow Falls, and the little stops like Peyto Lake, Sunwapta falls and Maligne Canyon. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to do any of these this time, but are planning to take some time off work next time to explore more.
Then, take the 16 to Prince George and head North on the 97 to Fort St. John, and all the way up to Whitehorse! The drive between Fort Nelson and Liard is the nicest. Make sure to do it by day as you are likely to see many animals. There are pullouts along the road where you can spend the night. There is a nice flat pullout just before Summit Lake and a few more between Summit Lake and Muncho Lake. There is no signal from Fort Nelson to Watson Lake (you'll get some in Steamboat a little after Fort Nelson). Then, no signal from Watson Lake to Teslin. Make sure to have enough fuel or carry a jerry can of gas with you since the gas stations are far and few, some are closed and some are sometimes out of gas.
I am publishing this post from Teslin, 3 hours from Whitehorse. We'll be there tonight! So excited to be back!
All the regulars were there: the stone sheep at Muncho Pass, the bison herd near Coal River, the shiny black ravens everywhere along the road. By Watson Lake, we had stopped counting the bears…
There was the tasting of the first fireweeds and a happy dance as we entered the Yukon and recognized the familiar smell of the northern air. “It’s our birthplace!” Mara exhorted. Ahh! The feeling of home. I hope they always feel this way when they come here.
There were barely any bugs at Liard Hot Springs this year, which made for a pleasant soak as we chatted with another traveling family from Quebec. And at 9 pm, the sun was still high in the sky as we inched towards Whitehorse.