Monday, May 29, 2017

Black Rock Rendezvous
Memorial Day Weekend

First of all, I'd like to remember all of our veterans who have sacrificed so much and have given us the ability to enjoy this long weekend in their honor.  

This is what it's really all about.

The Black Rock Rendezvous is an annual event sponsored by Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Friends of the Black Rock/High Rock Canyon and the Nevada Outdoor School.  It's a three day camp outing that's held on the Black Rock playa, a couple of hours northeast of Reno, NV.

Most people start arriving on Friday afternoon and get their camp set up and the event officially begins the following morning.

Presentations were given on Saturday morning and included:
  • Welcome & Camp Housekeeping – Michael Myers, Friends of Black Rock-High Rock
  • Introductions from organizations – Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Nevada Outdoor School, BLM
  • Invasive Weed Control – BLM
  • Outdoor Ethics Presentation – Jessie Snaman, Nevada Outdoor School
  • Pika Conservation – Jane Van Gunst, NDOW – 15 min.
  • Artist-in-Residence, Artist Introductions – Michael Myers
  • Rocketeers – Peter Clay, AeroPac
  • Trego Management Plan – Chelsea McKinney, BLM
  • Emigrant Trails – Ken Johnston, Oregon California Trails Association/Trails West
  • Public Lands - Richie Bednarski, Nora Kaufman and Friends of Nevada Wilderness staff
  • Burning Man Update – Will Roger Peterson, Burning Man
  • Invasive Weed Control-Dwayne Coleman – 15 min.
  • Helping Nevada Pollinators – Kathy Cadigan – 15 min.
  • Safety/Fire - BLM Fire
  • Stewardship Project Overview - Project Leads - BLM, NOS, FBRHR, FNW
After the presentations, you could chose from a number of different activities or just go out on your own and explore this beautiful area of Nevada.

Some of the tours offered this year were:
  • Petroglyphs
  • Plant ID Hike
  • Planet X Pottery and Art Studio: (Self-guided)
  • Guru Road Walk: (Self-guided)
  • Petrified Canyon Rockhounding Hike: Tour Leader: Jean Black, BLM
  • Mormon Dan Hike: Tour Leader: Brian Beffort
  • Lund Petrified Forest: Tour Leader: Jean Black, BLM
  • Nobles Trail: Tour Leader: Ken Johnston

My trusty dog "Dexter" and I arrived Friday afternoon, just in time to find one of the few level spots....just kidding, the whole place is flat as a board.  

We got settled in and had our traditional first night's meal of steak bites, fried potatoes and a salad.  After dinner we took a long circuitous walk around the whole camp area and enjoyed the perfect weather of the playa.

That evening, an amateur astronomer who comes to the event every year, set up this beautiful telescope.  He invited everyone to stop by after the night sky was completely dark and catch a glimpse of Jupiter.

We went over after dark and saw Jupiter and three of her moons and it was amazing.  It just looked so "celestial."  We were all invited to hang around and see Saturn, but she wasn't going to make her appearance until after midnight, so we passed on the offer.

The next day, we attended all of the morning presentations, which ended just in time for lunch.  After lunch, Dex and I just lazed about, walked a bit, read, napped and just took it easy for the afternoon.

The playa has a beauty all of its own and it reminds me of what I think the moon's surface would be like.

Saturday evening is always the Dutch oven cook-off and pot luck dinner and it's a great time to mingle and meet everyone.  I saw a lot of familiar faces from rendezvous past.

Two years ago, I took first place in the Dutch oven cook-off's main dish category, with my New Mexican Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, so I entered the same dish last year and didn't even place.

This year, I decided to enter a side dish and in keeping with my New Mexico roots, I entered my Hatch Green Chile Macaroni & Cheese.

Entrees must all be turned in no later than 7:00 pm, so timing and logistics are part of the planning and the fun.  This is about halfway into the cook.

Over at the main camp, teams were getting their Dutch ovens fired up and the area had a kind of chaotic buzz about the place.  

Everyone always has fun, but some cooks are seriously focused on this event.

Dutch ovens lined up and even stacked on one another.

These tables will soon be filled from end to end with Dutch ovens and other playa fixins.

And the long line starts forming...

Trust me, you don't want to be at the back of this line because the food goes fast and those who straggle along late will be scraping the sides of the ovens for a morsel or two.

And the food hits the table...

And about 15 minutes later, only the food than can't be pried of the sides of the pans remains.

Everyone is settled in and enjoying the food, the camaraderie and the beautiful setting of the Black Rock.

Shortly after dinner, Will Roger (one of the founders of Burning Man) makes about five gallons of his very powerful and very good margaritas to share with the camp.  What a great way to end a wonderful dinner.

While everyone's sipping on their margaritas, they announce the winners of the 

2017 Dutch Oven Cook-Off
and what do you know...

I took first place in the Side Dish category!

Now, I could let this go to my head and say that I'm a force to be reckoned with, but being that I only know how to make three dishes in my Dutch oven, I'll just stay quiet for now.

That evening the camp is all a buzz with fire demonstrations, fireworks, musical instruments, campfires and telescopes pointed at the little sliver of the moon that's visible.

It's been a great day with a lot of great people in a magical place.

The next day, we made the short drive over to Planet X Pottery and Art Studio.

At the main barn, they had Great Basin beer on tap as well as some of the best roasted jalapeƱos, freshly fried chips and salsa.

It was a hot day and this was the perfect oasis at which to hunker down out of the heat.

Memorial and Labor Day weekends at Planet X are busy and that's also when
they have their biggest sales of the year.

Last year I had over half of my Christmas shopping done by Memorial Day
by stopping by here.

Planet X now has a beautiful oil painting gallery and studio and most of the art is 

After we left Planet X, we made our way over to Trego Hot Springs.

Since most of the playa has standing water on it and is a large shallow lake, we weren't able to drive across it to Trego, so we had to go back to Gerlach and take Jungo Road to the springs.

The water was the perfect soaking temperature, but it was such a hot day that a soak was out of the question.  Still, it's always nice to see a spot like this in the middle of the desert.

After spending a good chunk of the afternoon exploring the area, we headed back to camp for one last night on the Black Rock.

By the time we got camp set back up, the full fury of the afternoon heat was upon us.  There wasn't much to do but take shelter in the camper and wait for the sun to go down.  Luckily, there was a bit of a breeze and that kept things somewhat bearable.

Our last night in the desert and you can't tell by the picture, but Dexter had a nice layer of playa dust all over him.  It was especially evident when someone would walk up and pet him and the dust would really fly.

The Black Rock Rendezvous is always a fun time with a lot of great people.  Everyone at the event has a deep love for this place as well as the environment in general.

I can't thank all of the people from Friends of Nevada Wilderness and Friends of the Black Rock enough for their tireless efforts in pulling off this event every year.  

Their next even on the playa will be the Perseid Meteor Shower camp out and there aren't many places on the planet with better views of that space dust streaking across the sky.

This will be my parting shot for this trip.  I don't think it needs an explanation...

Sunday, December 11, 2016

December, 2016

The beautiful Inyo Mountains, as seen from Saline Valley Warm Springs

As winter approaches and the days get colder and colder, I'm always looking for a little respite from the chilly air and strong Sierra winds that howl through Reno this time of year.  I'm so lucky to live in an area where, even in the dead of winter, the desert and Death Valley are less than a day's drive away.  

I've felt a very deep connection to Death Valley ever since my first trip there in 2005 and I never tire of the clean, dry air, the crisp light and haunting smells the desert offers up each day.

This time, I was leaving Reno with a predicted snow snow storm right on my heels.  The night before I left, I had 90% of the camper loaded and ready to go.  It would be about a seven hour drive to the springs and I wanted to make the entire trip in the daylight, so I left just after 8:00 a.m.  As I loaded those last few things, my hands were chilled to the bone and I was just hoping that Saline Valley would be a lot warmer.

As I made my way south on the awesome U.S. 395, it was sunny and clear outside.  It even looked hot outside, but all I had to do was crack the window a little for a reminder that winter was definitely at my doorstep.

I stopped at the vista point that overlooks Mono Lake.  Not only did I want to take in the views, but Dexter was getting restless in the back seat and was anxious to stretch his legs and "water" some bushes.  I think what this rail needs is a few Wander the West stickers... 

I made incredible time on this trip.  It must have been because I was traveling on a Wednesday AND the summer tourists were gone and ski season hadn't yet hit high gear.  I topped off the tank at the Indian gas station in north Bishop, grabbed a quick hot dog off of their hot roller thingy and hit the road.  The whole thing kind of felt like a NASCAR pit stop, but I had a one track mind at this point: a tub full of hot water in the desert.

I had read on the Saline Valley Forum that the north pass road, which I would be taking, was in excellent condition this year.  Excellent, however, can be relative.  Last year, the road was super rough, had a big washout and was officially CLOSED by Inyo County.  

Dex and I stopped at the Saline Valley turnoff and I must say I was quite relieved to find the road open. 

I knew I was just ahead of an incoming storm and I really hoped snow removal would not be an issue on my way out...and it wasn't.  I think a WTW sticker is all but mandatory here...

And so we began the slow, rough, washboard infested trek down into the valley below.

 Upon seeing this cairn overlooking the Saline Valley below, I had to make a quick pit stop.  This was about an hour in from the highway intersection.  As I got out of the truck, I was hoping to feel a much warmer temperature than before, but it was not to be.  It was still downright cold.  

At this point, I stopped hoping for warmer temps and began doing something that more closely resembled praying.  I knew there was still a respectable amount elevation I would lose as I dropped down into the valley, but I was pessimistic if it would be enough to make a significant difference.

Ahhhhh, I've arrived!

When you see this totem, you know you're only 15 minutes away from being neck deep in pure 102° desert water.  I didn't know what to expect as I opened my door here, but I was completely stoked to feel the much warmer air hit me in the face as I got out of the truck.  It wasn't balmy by any means, but it was enough warmth that I could work with.  I would estimate it to be about 64°.

On the approach to the springs, fighter jets were whizzing about in all different directions.  Sometimes you could see them and sometimes you could only hear them as they conducted, what looked to me like, aerial dog fighting maneuvers.  The part that was really cool was when they would fly right above the deck and their approach would almost be silent until they were right over you and then you'd hear their thunderous BOOOOM.  

Once I got there, I wasted no time getting set up.

The whole way here I was hoping that the site I had last year would be available.  I guess sentiment was part of the reason, but the other reason was that last year's site was so close to a really nice tub.  Well, I was in luck!  Not only was my old site vacant, but 99.93482% of the springs were vacant.  

I noticed a Tacoma/Flippac rig to the east, a tent rig to my south and one vehicle up above at Palm Spring pools, but that was it.  

Just look at the awesome spot I have for the next three days!

By the time I got everything set up, the sun had sunk below the Inyos and the light would be fading soon.  For this trip, I decided to re-read Edward Abbey's "Fire on the Mountain," which is my second favorite Abbey fiction, after "The Monkey Wrench Gang," of course.  "Fire on the Mountain" is set in the very area of New Mexico in which I grew up, so it would be the perfect read on this trip.

I soaked and read until the light faded to the point I could not longer see the print.  I made my way back to the camper and fixed Dexter and I our traditional first night out steak dinner.  I was just so glad to be here and after a nice camp meal, I felt totally at peace.  I glanced at my watch and was shocked to see that it was only 6:45 p.m.  I still had a lot of time on my hands before bedtime, so I put an old Humphrey Bogart movie in the DVD player, stretched out and just relaxed.

After the movie was over, it was still early, so Dex and I dashed out into the cold desert air and I had soak #2 under what appeared to be about a half moon.  Even at only a half moon, the desert was brilliantly lit up, so much so, that I could have almost read more of my book with just the moonlight.  

After soaking and getting my core up to a very balmy temp., we headed in for the night.  I had time for one more movie (I knew I could sleep in the next day), so I lit the heater and watched Key Largo, with my trusty hound dog stretched out before the warm glow of the ceramic heater.  

That night, as usual, the coyotes started yipping and yapping, but this time I swore one of the yappers was right outside the camper.  As I peeled back the Velcro of the upper window to look out, I saw a lone coyote skampering away...I guess they don't like that tearing sound either.

The next morning, after breakfast, Dex and I went on a little walkabout.

Here's the main pool area...still not a sole in sight. 

The main pool is so inviting and a great place to soak when the sun's directly overhead. 

Lee, the volunteer camp host, had a fire going every night, just outside the main pool.  

Here's the little one person pool that I've never seen anyone actually use. 

Please shower before you soak... 

I don't know what this was, but if the point of the wire was to hold the pole together, 
I'd say it was an epic fail. 

Lee has five or six solar panels to keep his house running.

The entire time I was here, my day consisted of waking up around 9:00 a.m., eating breakfast, taking a soak, going back to the camper to read, then nap, then lunch, then a soak, then a hike, another soak, dinner and yes, you guessed it, another soak, before turning in for the night with a movie and a glass of bourbon.  Three days was not enough.  Next time, I'm taking the whole week!

A pretty popular design around Saline Valley. 

Another great place to take it all in.  A camper told me that Lee often sits here and feeds the coyotes. 

Dex and I eventually made our way up to check out the Flippac. 

Mark, an engineer, (on the left) lives in Baltimore, MD.  He stores his rig in Las Vegas and takes advantage of the cheap Southwest Airlines flights to Vegas, where he grabs his rig and sets out for the desert and Eastern Sierra.  Mark definitely got the award for Most Miles Traveled.

I forgot the name of the gentleman on the right, but he was in a new FWC and had just arrived, via the Lippincott Pass road, from Death Valley and The Racetrack.  He too was traveling solo.

On the second evening, I saw a little Cessna flying low around the springs (he kind of had to dodge all of the fighter jets whizzing around) and he eventually landed on the nearby strip (The Chicken Strip).  Later that evening, we all enjoyed a soak together and the pilot said that he had flow in from Flagstaff, AZ, for just one glorious night at Saline Valley.  He was gone before 8:00 a.m. the next morning.  I must not be the only one this place calls to.

Well, every good thing must come to an end eventually.  My time was up, but I wanted to stay so badly, that I promised myself, next time I'll do a week here.  I was able to run around in shorts and a T-shirt the entire time and it was so nice to have "extended" the summer for just a few more days.  

After one last morning soak, I got everything packed up, stowed and latched down for the long drive home.

Oh, just sleep right on the road why don't you...

This guy must have pulled in late the night before and just said "to hell with it, I'm going to sleep right here."  I guess he wasn't worried that some yahoo might come barreling through here in the middle of the night and run him over, but he did look comfortable, so I'm guessing no one wanted to wake him.

The totem from the east side; marking my departure from this oasis.

The drive out was uneventful, albeit a long trek.  As soon as I popped out onto CA 168, I could see the storm clouds over the Sierras.  It looked soooo cold over the mountains that it made me appreciate my S.V. trip even more.

I had to make a stop in Big Pine for some of that famous Copper Top BBQ.  

After visiting here for the first time over Labor Day, I had to make it back.  

Copper Top had just gotten back from their fall vacation two days prior, so my timing was great.

You won't find better BBQ this side of Kansas City and even then, you might not! 

Just about ready... 

Four beautiful tri-tips slow cooking over mesquite and almond wood in the Copper Top's
Santa Maria style cooker. 

I'm not one of those people who posts a picture of every meal I eat, but I have to make an exception for such incredible BBQ.  Here is the Sierra Sampler, which has three pork ribs, tri-tip. 1/4 chicken, potato salad, chips and a drink and all for under $20.00.  There was so much here that Dexter got a very nice doggy bag (don't tell the cook!).

As soon as I started up the hill north of Bishop, the cold rain and horrendous wind started in an it didn't let up all the way home.  I arrived back in Reno to a wet, almost freezing drizzle and decided I'd unpack the next day.

I'm already thinking that another "cheating winter" trip to D.V./S.V. is in order for around March!