Friday, June 24 (continued)
The wildfire on the hillside north of Lee Vining, CA burns merrily. I’ve determined that I’m not in any immediate danger, but this puts a serious crimp in my plans. I can’t go anywhere in case the wind changes and threatens the trailer. So much for visiting Bodie State Historic Park today.
Neither can I simply hitch up and keep moving north. Shortly before 10 am the fire makes the news when it shuts down 395 between Lee Vining and highway 167. The detour coming from the south (I’m just south of the blockade) is to take highway 120 east to Benton, then get on Interstate 6 north until it hits route 360. 360 ends at I95. At Hawthorn get off I95 onto 359 going west, which becomes highway 167. It’s a long detour, but early reports are optimistic that the closure won’t last long. Tioga Lodge is on standby for evacuation but Lee Vining itself seems safe for now. The fire now has a name, the Marina Fire.
Shortly after 10, Lee Vining Airport, just a few miles away, becomes a maelstrom of activity. Helicopters land, then take off again with a large bucket on a cable suspended underneath. They must be here to combat the fire, help has arrived!
There are small planes buzzing overhead too, although those must be picking up their flame retardant from somewhere else as I never see them land at the airport. The peace and quiet of the boonies is a thing of the past, the Casita echoes with the roar of aircraft constantly coming and going. Occasionally the flames leap high enough that I can see them from camp, even without a camera that zooms.
The afternoon winds rushing down out of the mountains cause spot fires to cross 395 (which is still closed). Despite the firefighters best efforts the blaze is growing. The Marina Fire is 350 acres as of 2 pm and three buildings (including the Tioga Lodge) have evacuated. Lee Vining and Mono City are now on standby for evacuation. Lee Vining is between me and the fire so if they evacuate, I will too.
A smear of bright red catches my attention. It’s something being dropped by the planes. I take a poor quality photo, but here’s a much better one captured by a fellow who goes by the Twitter handle BartsheMiller:
And another one by BartsheMiller of a helicopter putting out a spot fire near Lee Vining.
As the sun sets behind the Sierra, the wind starts to die down. The helicopters and planes continue their runs until the last light dies. They’ve been working all day and it makes me wonder what their hours are like. How long is a shift? Do they get lunch breaks? What happens overnight when no one can see to fight the fire? Watching them work today, I have the utmost respect for the service they provide. It’s been a privilege.
A new report comes in shortly after sunset. The fire is around 600 acres now and 395 will be closed at least until 6 am. Over 300 personnel are working on the fire, a Type 2 management team is being flown in tomorrow (don’t know what that means exactly, but it sounds impressive) and the fire is 5% contained. Lee Vining and Mono City have not had to evacuate.
Fires are destructive, but they’re beautiful too. The mountainside glows with hundreds of tiny orange dots, mere pinpricks from a distance. If you forget about the fact that the color is wrong and it’s parallel instead of overhead, it looks like a field of stars on an exceptionally clear night. That’s really pretty, but you all better stay put and not come any closer.
My camera is incapable of getting a picture of it, but here’s one shared on Twitter by a gentleman with a real camera, Jeff Sullivan.
Saturday, June 25
The longer the fire burns, the worse the air gets. Everything is a smoky haze in the morning, breakfast tastes off because of the smell. It’s time to go. I don’t want the carpeting in the Casita to smell like smoke and the sky is too fuzzy to get photos.
Reports say 395 is expected to stay closed until the afternoon at the earliest now. Detour it is. Curiosity has me driving into Lee Vining to see the blockade first though. Semis and RVs line the streets of town, waiting for the road to open. I don’t envy them, the smell is even worse here.
I turn around and head back south on 395, past the turnoff for my boondock to where 120 heads east to South Tufa. My GPS informs me that the detour is going to add nearly two hours on to my travel time, all to bypass a four-mile section of highway. Ugh.
Driving through a bit of Inyo National Forest on 120, I make the decision not to go back to 395. I’ll see Lake Tahoe some other time, it’ll be busy this time of year anyway with the holiday coming up and the free camping near there doesn’t have a phone signal, which I’m going to need to launch my guide. How freeing, to be able to to change plans as circumstances dictate on a moment’s notice!
This is some very isolated country. At Benton I turn north (east) onto I6 and keep driving. And keep driving. I lose my 3G (yes, I’m still on an old 3G phone) almost immediately upon leaving the Mono Lake area and don’t find it again until I get to Ely, NV, nearly 250 miles away. Once I drive an hour with no phone signal at all.
For a girl who comes from east of the Mississippi, country like this use to scare me. What if something happens when I’m in the middle of nowhere? What if I don’t find a gas station in time? I6 isn’t the Loneliest Road in America (that title belongs to I50, which parallels I6 to the north) but it might take second place. I stop in Tonopah, NV to eat lunch and get gas. I drive the next 170 miles and only see a single gas pump, and that at a sketchy looking place that appears closed. Good thing I get at least 200 miles per gas tank when towing, heh. I think the best thing you can do is fill up every time you see a gas station, no matter how much you still have since even if you have an app or something that’ll show gas stations, you might not have a signal to use it (although maybe offline maps exist that can be downloaded…).
There isn’t a lot of traffic along I6, but I start paying attention and usually the gap between cars coming the other direction is 10 minutes or less. I take good care of Bertha and Cas so a breakdown is unlikely, an accident even more so, but if the worst should happen while in a dead zone (signal-wise) I trust that someone would stop to help. In fact, I see a SUV towing a pop-up camper pulled alongside the road at one point and slow down to see if they need help, it looks like one of their camper tires is shredded. But the husband is on the phone talking, so I keep driving knowing they’ll be okay.
Most mountain ranges in the United States run north to south. This means that when you’re on a north/south road in mountainous country, you’re less likely to have to cross passes than when you’re on a east/west one. I6 is a east/west route, and I do scale several passes on the way from Benton, CA to Ely, NV. None of them are very severe though. The steepest grades are only 6%, and 7,100 feet the highest elevation. Bertha has no problems towing the Casita. In fact, Nevada has some of the nicest roads I’ve ever driven on, probably due to a lack of wear and tear from regular traffic.
At one point I come down into a valley to see cowboys herding cattle across the road. One of the men tips his hat to me and I wave as I drive past. A line of trees signals a creek running past. It’s nice to see signs of life in what is a pretty barren land. From what I’ve seen of Nevada so far, it seems to be mostly sage desert, with sparse pinion/juniper forest on the mountains. Signs of habitation are rare.
I fail to get a picture of the place I stay tonight, Valley View RV & Mobile Home Park. I’m too busy getting groceries, dumping and filling tanks, and checking out possible boondocks. There are two places near Ely in the mountains west of town that are high enough elevation to be out of the worst of the heat and close enough to town to get a phone signal, but the roads are currently impassible to my truck (let alone the trailer) due to erosion. One of them was highly rated on freecampsites.net, I’m guessing the road washed out after that. I do get a picture of a neat old ruined building near it though.
Sunday, June 26
I make use of the park’s free WiFi, and wait to leave Ely until noon. There’s a national park not far from Ely (Great Basin National Park) that has Bristlecone pine forests and a nice cave system according to reviews, but the forecast high of 100 degrees has me making a beeline north on highway 93 instead. This road does have a few small towns along it, but remains pretty empty.
The welcome sign for Idaho looms, I don’t pull up my phone fast enough to get a picture. I end up in Twin Falls for the night at a Walmart. My neighbor is a couple in a Bounder class A. I have a talk with the husband, who was a professional rodeo clown for 23 years on the weekends between his regular day job. Traveled all over to entertain folks. You meet the most interesting people on the road!
As proof that you don’t need to be in a wilderness, a fancy resort, or prime tourist area to enjoy a good sunset, let me present this evening’s, seen right from the parking lot.
* * *
For those who are curious, as of this posting, the Marina Fire is 654 acres and 89% contained. 395 opened up on the 25th at around 1 pm for guided one way traffic, and later in the day opened fully. It was human-caused, and an investigation is under way. The government website to see updates on it can be found here.
* * *
Lastly, The Little Guide To Dreaming Big is now live! (click the name to go to the info page). Thank you everyone who has purchased and I hope you get a lot of use out of it. If you’ve finished reading it and would like to do me a big favor, you can review the guide on Amazon which will make it more visible to people who don’t read my blog.
Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments below! And if you feel so inclined, I’m looking to collect a few testimonials to put on the sales page, so if you don’t mind your comments being posted on the site, make a note of that too (I won’t put up people’s comments unless they give permission).
And as always, thank you everyone for following along on this adventure and for reading IO. This guide, and this blog, would be nothing without you. 🙂
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