Homeward Bound

Bidding a fond adieu to our gracious host and Cousin Dan and wife Marie, Mila and I headed north towards Tonopah where, according to the waitress at the Dinky Diner, there was a Dollar Store worth the price of admission. I have only recently become acquainted with the variety of wares on offer at these stores. I don’t know why they are called “dollar” stores, maybe it’s like Motel 6. At one time, supposedly, it cost $6 for a room at Motel 6. At any rate, I found a two-pack of soft, light weight leggings perfect for sleeping in on cold camping nights, priced at $12. At the cash register, they rang up at $3.50. Looking back on the purchase, I’m thinking that I would fit right in with the hoarders of Goldfield as I probably already own twenty pairs of leggings.

Heading west towards California, we crested Montgomery Pass, 7,160”, and began the descent into Chalfant Valley, a verdant slice of land between the Silver Mountains and the White Mountains. There was an inspection station that straddled the road, just one lane wide, it looked more like a drive-through garage, where a wind-blown young woman questioned us about any fruits, vegetables or plants we might be importing to California from points east. After admitting to being in possession of oranges we had brought from California, she said we were fine as long as we had purchased them from a store in CA. We didn’t feel compelled to admit that we had picked them ourselves and they could very well be infested with California bugs.

In Bishop, we stumbled upon a lovely community park while looking for a place to park the rig while we ate lunch. There was a fenced dog park adjacent to a cottonwood-shaded people park, with a stream coursing between them. A large pond, with a resident duck population was surrounded by tennis courts, a skate park, horseshoe pits, jungle gym,  picnic areas and a community garden. We walked the dogs around the park and then left them in the car, parked in the shade at the dog park, while we went to lunch. We had thought we might spend some time shopping in Bishop, but decided to head directly to our campsite just south of Big Pine, Tinnemaha Creek.

The campsite at Tinnemah was not disappointing only because of our low expectations. We positioned the trailer in the shade of some spindly trees and went off to explore and photograph the area.

Seemingly ubiquitous mining equipment
The Sierra Nevada at sunset

Back at camp, I chatted up neighbors to find some ice for our wine. Our fellow campers consisted of fishermen who were there for the opening day of trout fishing so it was a pretty good bet that there would be ice aplenty.

We were settling into our beds, Mila to watch a Netflix movie and me to write in my journal, when Mila asked me to look at something she felt on the back of her neck. There was a big, fat tick, making his way towards her hair. Soon I found one on my own neck and a night of paranoid itching ensued.

Tinnemaha Campground proved to be an adequate place to stop for a night, but we agreed we wouldn’t consider it again. Clustered beneath high-power lines, were about 30 campsites. A stream flowed past some of the sites but ours was some distance away which proved to be advantageous when the campers along the stream grew boisterous and ran their generator through the night. By 6:22 A.M. I was ready to pack up and head down the highway when a bearded, portly fellow fired up his quad, bedecked with an American flag, to awaken his cronies, but which also served to annoy those who were still enjoying the stillness of the morning. I had been awake at 3:00 A.M. to walk the 50 yards to the pit toilets and enjoy a view of the rarely seen Milky Way. I’d forgotten my glasses so the bejeweled sky was a mess of pin-prick lights. The Big and Little Dippers were obvious, but my poor vision and scant knowledge of astronomy limited identification of anything further.

When we finally crawled out of our warm beds, we agreed that making coffee in the confines of the trailer, which by now looked like someone had tossed a hand grenade in, was too labor intensive. We fed the dogs, packed up the trailer and headed for the Alabama Hills Café.

Yes, it tasted as good as it looks!

We stopped briefly at the Manzanar internment camp. The first two tar-papered buildings that had been reconstructed to display the office and living area for new arrivals was so disturbing that we found neither of us were inclined to further explore the barracks, canteen, hospital, etc. I have toured the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and, while what was done to the Japanese in this country doesn’t compare with what the Jews suffered under Hitler, the emotions evoked by the two memorials felt very similar.


The flagging spirits of the end-of-trip, dampened by the uncomfortable memory of Manzanar, made further exploration along the way unappealing, so we skipped Fossil Falls and headed for home. Note to self: don’t end a trip with a visit to a memorial.

Goldfield, Nevada

The town of Goldfield

In the morning, I was ready to walk the girls up the hill to the outskirts of town when our host, Randy asked if he could join me. Mila decided to come along too, so we moved a bit more slowly than the girls are used to; but, they managed to hold out until we got out to the burro trails to do their business.

There’s a herd of feral, black donkeys that live around and in Goldfield and they use the natural spring above town for a water hole. The hills are crisscrossed with their paths, all of which lead to the canyon with the spring.

After our walk, we all met at the Dinky Diner for breakfast. The service was great but the kitchen was slow, even though they weren’t busy. Fortunately, the conversation distracted us from our hunger.

Our hunger satiated by the comfort food of the Dinky Diner, we walked over to Cousin Dan’s place to see Marie’s new motor home and Dan’s progress on the renovations to the mobile home he had purchased some years ago for about $2,500, including the lot on which it lists. One of the interesting things about Goldfield is that, having been at one time, a prosperous city and the county seat of Esmeralda County, it is now nearly a ghost town. Two fires leveled almost all of the structures built of wood, leaving only impressive stone and brick edifices standing as testimony to the wealth the mines of the area generated.  Save for an eclectic group of individuals who share a passion for hoarding, the town is empty of the trappings of civilization even though it’s still the county seat. There is no gas station, no grocery store, not even the ubiquitous convenience market. The nearest necessities are in Tonopah, a half an hour’s drive north.

Refurbished House

Some residents, like Randy, hoard old mining equipment and western memorabilia, while others hoard derelict cars, trucks, trailers, rotting motor homes and sundry recreational vehicles. Blending in with the hoarders and collectors are generic white trash slobs who just live in squalor. These eccentrics are possibly some of the friendliest, most hospitable folks on the face of the earth. They aren’t preoccupied with appearances and I would guess that many of them are far more affluent than their humble lifestyle would suggest. Some wear their politics openly, even a bit belligerently, with banners hung on fences and flags waving from the porch. My cousin had to explain to me what FJB meant. Wow! I’m shocked that adults would make such a vulgar display. Color me naive.

How did these come to be stranded in the desert, far from any subway?
Two of the long-term residents.
Inside Randy’s saloon with one of Goldfield’s most eccentric, my cousin Dan.
Randy’s Choo Choo
Good Advice.
Mining Equipment – treasure or trash?
Inside the abandoned bank.

Remarks of an Unremarkable Trip

The second trip to Goldfield, Nevada, with my cousin Mila, went off without a hitch…except for the one connecting the Wanderlust to the car.

As is typical, I spend a couple of days preparing the trailer, packing gear, etc. Each trip seems to have its own special requirements, meaning I remove the unneeded items, weight being the primary consideration, and install things that make a guest more comfortable, like the heavy memory-foam mattress that fits the front bed, normally used by the girls when I travel alone.

The 350 mile trip would take a normal person about six hours to drive, but never one to be in any hurry, it took us more like ten hours, which included some interesting stops to visit places that Google Maps had identified as well…interesting.

Transcribing from my journal will necessitate this being related in several chapters. It will prove to be stultifying to anyone who wasn’t actually riding along, but, since I anticipate that Mila may enjoy devoting some time to reliving the experience from my viewpoint, here goes.

We had nicely pulled into the parking lot at the Mad Greek (in Baker) and walked the dogs to a well-used pee spot, when the thought of restroom facilities excited our bowels. What wonderfully trained things these mature bodies are!

Despite the restaurant’s dramatically Covid-abbreviated menu, Mila zeroed in on a veggie quesadilla that sounded appealing to both of us. The dessert case held an even more limited assortment of sweets but Mila ordered a small box of mixed treats, cookies and baklava for $25. Immediately curious as to what these expensive items would taste like, we bit into one of the powdered sugar-coated cookies. All conversation ceased as we attempted mastication. Muffled sounds of distress ensued until we managed to wash some of it down with iced tea. As luck would have it,we had invited the girls to join us on the patio, and they, having no need of any chewing, happily gulped the remainder of our cookies down and even offered to eat more of them.

Back on the road, the miles passed quickly, even at our trailer-towing modest pace of 60 mph…oops! I mean 55. The speed limit in California is 55 for autos towing trailers. Interestingly, the laws of physics that mandate this maximum speed, are somehow more forgiving in Utah and Nevada.

The Mojave Desert is stark and seemingly infinite. Traffic was mostly non-existent. The hills that rimmed the valley, through which the road sliced straight to the horizon, provided comforting relief from the immensity of the panorama.

Salt Hills provided a timely break in the drive. The girls and I hiked a couple of miles to what was purported to be “the oldest standing structure in California”. I’ll let you be the judge of the use of the word “standing”. Mila relaxed in the shade of an Athel grove, trees imported from the Middle East that thrive in the Mojave wherever there is a water source.

As usual, each curve in the trail beckoned me further. At one point, I texted Mila to ask if I should return, but she didn’t respond, so I took that as permission to continue. Of course, there was no cell signal but this didn’t seem relevant to my decision.

Our next stop was about an hour and a half up the road, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. The visitor’s center entailed a six mile drive down a ribbed gravel road, so we were astounded to find a beautiful LEEDS (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) awarded building and a mile-long boardwalk that meandered along a spring-fed stream.

The spring is 15′ deep and produces 2,500 gallons/minute

We relaxed in the shade beside the spring, enjoying the bird songs and the tranquility of the clear pool. After about 15 minutes, another visitor came by and acted apologetic for intruding on our enjoyment of the space. We moved on to allow him the solitary experience.

Naturally, I had researched places to eat along the way and found a small Mexican diner, El Valle, at a wide spot in the road just a few miles from Ash Meadows. A whiff of stale grease greeted us at the door, but the underwhelming décor inside boded well for good food. It looked like the mother/daughter team was proficient, with mom in the kitchen and daughter covering the dining room.

Chips and salsa were served; the chips weren’t remarkable but the salsa stood out, which made me optimistic that the chile relleno I’d ordered would be good too. Indeed! A sweet poblano stuffed with quality cheese and smothered in a savory sauce was cradled in freshly simmered beans, refried with the perfect amount of salt and lard, along with the requisite fluffy rice. Mila’s juevos Mexicana were deemed very good as well, though they didn’t look nearly as tempting as my dish.

The last couple of hours driving into Goldfield passed pleasantly as we enjoyed our tired legs, full bellies and the spectacular desert panorama unfolding ahead of us.

“When I go, you go.”

A silly spat, of unknown origin, with the grumpy old man pushed me into an evening walk with the girls. Suffice it to say, he was at fault and I, of course, was entirely blameless, innocent of any wrong doing, in my own wine-besotted mind for sure.

The post office is a short walk from home, and as luck would have it, I had a bill to post providing me with an excuse to stroll through my neighborhood. An unincorporated community with few sidewalks, it is incumbent on a pedestrian to look sharp and beware of distracted drivers, especially when crossing Highway 38. “Highway” is a bit of a vainglorious name for the two-lane, main drag of Mentone, with a posted speed limit of 40 mph. That said, few drivers pay any attention to the posted speed limit, so it can be a bit of a trick to get across as there are no signals or stop signs. Thankfully, most people see the dogs and brake accordingly, dogs being far more dear to their hearts than drunk, old women, staggering off the curb.

Having posted my mail, I was standing at the intersection waiting for a break in the line of traffic zooming uphill to their gentrified neighborhoods, drivers eager for their supper and social media, when a small, age-worn car pulled up to the stop sign next to me. The driver, seeing me looking up and then down the road, gauging the speed of the cars in relation to the gaps between them, called out to me in the chopped vowels of his native Spanish, “When I go, you go!”

Photo by Thomas Chan on Unsplash

Signaling my understanding that he intended to run interference for me, I stepped confidently into the road at the next gap in traffic and he cruised beside me as I trotted, or tottered, briskly across the street.

Do I need to describe the feeling of community this simple act of empathy inspired? This immigrant man, whose life was probably a daily struggle, recognized his own abuela (grandma) in me, a white woman whom he did not know at all, and compelled him to instinctively protect.

I understand that folks who live in vanilla bubbles may fear the people who are immigrating to this country, but I’m here to say, fear not! They are humans, like us, who have much to contribute.