2.8 Travel advice sought

Soon I will be heading out of the Bay Area toward the Southwest.  I will be aiming for Quartzsite to see how the festival atmosphere has changed in the six weeks since the RV show.  I will also look for Roy and will report on any next chapters from that encounter.  I will head for the very spot where the Trek Rally took place since I sense that Trekkers treat it as a squatters’ caravansera.

In recent months I’ve traveled I-5 enough to last a lifetime.  There are great stretches where the road surface is terrible.  At anything above 50 mph, the Jolly Swag’s truck chassis rattles its complaint.   The noise is as loud and fear-visiting as pounding to windward into square seas in a thin-skinned plastic sailboat.

I plan to do my southing on rte 99 to Bakersfield.  I plan to slip back into throttle-down mode and average 150 miles per day or so.  And here is where I need some help

A look at the map shows precious few indications of parks, historic or scenic spots,  and no hints of out-of-the-way places to overnight or even stop to do a little hike or bike ride.  All suggestions welcome.

From Bakersfield to Barstow populations will thin out and serendipity will be my guide.  About 10 miles ENE of Barstow I see something called Calico Ghost Town Regional Park, a restored mining town that officially died in 1907.

I’d welcome any idea for the 150 miles between Barstow and Needles.

I plan on taking I-40 out of Barstow for the 50 miles to Ludlow and then drop down onto the old rte 66, now known as the National Trails Highway.   In this 100-mile stretch, I expect to find a number of small towns, home-made muffins, strong coffee, and a Desert Rat with a story.  There are some ghost towns along the way and I expect to sleep in the shadow of one of them.

So, fellow travelers, let’s work on the Lonely Planet supplement for this leg of my route.

10 Responses to 2.8 Travel advice sought

  1. Christine Thomas says:

    Al- Your spirit of adventure and learning just amazes me. Kudos to you!
    In ALL my travels, both those I had to do for business, and others of my own choice for just fun, I always speak with the locals. a) it gets you onto easy ‘advice’ conversations, b) you never know what you will learn, and c) I think it is a gracious way to go.
    When I did the Maritimes (Halifax, Nova Scotia) to PEI aboard a lovely double ender-custom built yawl, I always spoke with the Canadians, and yes, I learned a lot. The owner of the boat-a yuppie Yalee, just “could not bring himself to stoop to their level”..guess who had more fun!! (Seems all of the Canadians had terrible teeth, so much for socialized ‘medicine’…and swollen ankles…).
    Huell Howser who hosts a travel show on PBS just about California towns, always speaks with the locals..guess this is pretty standard…other than this, I am not familier with the areas, bad enough I had to go to Fresno and Bakersfield…with all the homes having bars on windows….just keep up on your Spanish…
    Keep having fun!!!
    I am still in the horrible throes of vertigo since Jan 2..yes, am officially “a dizzy blonde”..no fun…

  2. We visited Calico Ghost Town during our honeymoon in 2003, on the way to Utah. It’s a theme park town, one of those recreations of the Old West, probably more entertaining for kids than real history buffs. We hurried through that area as quickly as possible.

    Bad as I-5 is, I find 99 even more hideous, like driving through Milwaukee or sections of Northern New Jersey; if you’ve ever been a smoker, you’ll feel like you’ve started again.

    Once you get out of the valley and up in the mountains–around Bear Mountain–it gets lovely again. We only traveled Rt. 66 on the way home and were in a hurry, so I don’t recall much about it. The Mojave Desert is along the way, though, and that should be spectacular.

    • allevenson says:


      I am glad I asked. I did note that Calico has been restored by the people from Knott’s Berry Farm. That should have been a clue.

      You comments about rte #99 have me re-thinking that route altogether even in the absence of easy alternatives. My third choice is 101 to Paso Robles and go east from there. Fourth choice is to go all the way to Tahoe and south on 395. I know nothing about that and suspect there will be some cold nights along the way.

  3. Michael says:

    The three scenic routes south are Hiway 1, which is gorgeous, and there is small state park on the beach about half way between Carmel and Morro Bay, Hiway 25 from Hollister south is very scenic, 2 lane, nice, but don’t recall any parks along the way, and it ends at 198 with a choice of east to Coalinga and across the valley, or west to 101. 49 is sweet, lots of nice stops, but you’ll wind up around Oakhurst then using very secondary roads south eventually ending up on 58 east. Nice country. 58 east is pretty from Bakerfield (a good climb) to Mojave, then desert. There is a rest stop before Barstow we’ve used a few times. You might want to google the wild flowers in Death Valley which should be coming on soon. There are also some wonderful wild flower vistas listed at http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/prog/recreation/wildflowers.html. Enjoy your voyage!

  4. The Tahoe/395 route is absolutely the best, BUT at this time of year it’s likely to be dicey, especially with the Swag. I had an adventure that way with our Rav4 during the winter of ’05 I wouldn’t want to repeat again. You’d want to wait until late April-May for that route though people do do it, especially sportspeople.

    I’d go with safety and boredom, at least for now.

  5. Colleen Rae says:

    When my parents retired in Earp, CA (just across the river from Parker, AZ) I used to drive from SF down 101 to the road to Bakersfield (can’t remember the name of it). It has a large truck/tourist stop with restaurants, quickie food, gas, motel, etc. at the turn-off. Then I took the road over the Tahatchapi Pass to Mohave and from there to Barstow. Very rural, two lanes roads, but very pictureque, especially crossing the Pass. From Barstow I would get on I-40 to Needles. Not much between the two places, but lot of places to pull off the road and do an over-night. It’s about an 8-9 hour drive from SF to Needles, probably slower with an RV. I think there are one or two places to stop atop the pass; camping places. There is a lovely lake outside of Bakersfield, Lake Isabella. Just before you start up the Pass there is a sign to the lake. It’s probably 30 miles or so off the main highway.

  6. Alex says:

    Good idea, Al,
    to have second thoughts about Hwy99, unless you want the full taste of San Joaquin Valley spring farming. It’s time to plow and disc the fields (think dust clouds) and burn stubble (ditto smoke clouds). Stir gently and inhale. You’ll never catch sight of the Sierras in the distance like you once did.
    I agree that 395 and the back side of the Sierras is the most spectacular drive, but even the Donner pass is a crap shoot this time of year. Hwy 101 has the benefit of getting to stop at Mission San Miguel – probably the least tarted-up of the missions – but Hyw 5 gets the drop to Bakersfield over with more quickly.
    I love the drive over the Tehachapi pass, but you might want to consider 138 through the Antelope Valley for a stop at the California Poppy Reserve. If interested, do check with the park to see if the flowers are in bloom, however, because the route between Gorman and Lancaster is a balance of pretty and tedious – and you’d still have to make the 25-30 miles north from Lancaster on hwy14 to Mojave.
    Don’t like the camping possibilities in Mojave? You might consider stoping under the crenelated walls of the Red Rock Canyon recreation area another 30 or so miles north of Mojave on hwy14. (Near the junction of the road to Randsburg. You could go out that way – rather than backtrack – to Red Mountain and then south on 395 to Four Corners where you’d turn east to Barstow.
    Unless the nostalgia thing is pushing you to rte66, you might avoid the Barstow-Needles ordeal by dropping south from Barstow on 247 to Lucerne Valley and Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms. You could camp you way through the Joshua Tree National Monument with its different vegetation and people and pick up Hwy10 at the south gate for the run to Blythe and Quartzsite. (I’m tempted to try to push you further south to the Salton Sea and the interesting dessert rats in the Anza Borrego – but I think that’s too far out of your way and I know you’re itchin’ to get back to your mountain man.)
    So many choices; but then, you have the time. Happy trails…

  7. Alexa Aho West says:


    We have spent the last five weeks in the Salton Sea area and have encountered much beauty, many stories, and a few desert rats.

    If you haven’t encountered Leonard Knight at his painted Salvation Mountain and Slab City across the road, you might want to google this area near Niland, California, on the east side of the Salton Sea. As someone commented, you might not want to go that far out of your way, but Leonard, who still paints every day, is a loving man who told me, “God loves everybody, I love everybody. People should be nicer to each other because nice can grow.”

    If you do get into the Joshua Tree area, I highly recommend a look at the Desert Queen Ranch run by the park. It’s a look into ranch life in the 30s and 40s and the rangers who accompany tourists are very good storytellers, particularly Ranger Rob.

    May gentle winds blow you in exactly your right direction.

  8. Leanne Nelson says:


    I’m not near a map right now, so I’m not sure if it’s on your route, but Miracle Hot Springs along the Kern River outside of Bakersfield is really nice. There’s a County Park and camp ground next to it that you may be able to stay at. I dipped there on the return leg of a Green Tortoise Death Valley trip. Perhaps you’d consider rerouting through the Peppermint (name?) Mtns. and catching a bit of Death Valley. This is one of the cooler times of year to visit.

    If you’re anywhere near Loglin (?) NV and heading to AZ that way the relocated London Bridge further along that route might be interesting to visit.

    Good journeys and tailwinds,

    • allevenson says:

      Anything with a name like Miracle Hot Springs automatically make the list. Thanks for the other suggestions. Death Valley is definitely on the itinerary and so is the London Bridge but I dont know when.

      Thanks for the good ideas.


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