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Road Trip to Tahoe 2010
Posted On 10/17/2010 11:25:45 by Aktray

Road Trip to Tahoe



It’s a well known fact:  What we plan and what we get are often not the same - especially when you embark on a family road trip.  We became all too aware of that on our latest journey to the Lake Tahoe area.  Here is our story of plans gone wrong and making the best of what we had. 



The Plan:  Drive the motor home to an old spot we used to camp at.  It is up a little creek in the high Sierras just outside of Markleeville.  We would dry-camp for a week and pump water out of the creek giving us all the comforts of home in the middle of the wilderness.  A mile up the road was a “secret waterfall” we could hike to and swim. 


Reality:  The “camping spot” was no longer there due to a flood that wiped out the road.  The road was re-formed by the Forest Service.  Some parts were so narrow, with a 100 foot drop off to the creek, that passing in a small car was dangerous.


 We got there at night and when it became clear I was risking everyone’s lives and dumping this $80K coach in the creek, it was too late to back out.  I needed to wait until daylight.  So I carefully crept it up another mile to the first area I could wedge it off the road.  I backed it into a small wide spot, set the jack stands, slid out the tipouts, cracked open a beer, and called it camp.  Knowing that it was luck that got me past the narrow parts of the road, I figured I would wait until the other part of our party from Oregon got there so they can help guide me back down.  If I dumped it in the creek below, at least they could go for help. They weren’t due for a few more days, so there we camped.


We discovered the next day that because we had to drive farther up the road, we were only about 100 yards from the secret waterfall.  So we set up a spike camp near the creek.  We put up a mosquito shelter and built up the fire pit.  Back at our “base camp” I used a hatchet to hack away the brush around the front door and the generator exhaust.  I laid out the fake grass, staked out some solar powered yard lights, set up the portable table and barbeque, and settled in.  Our 34 foot coach looked quite odd tucked away in the brush where one should not be.


RV Camping


We had fun at the waterfall swimming in the hot afternoon.  Mosquitoes were as bad as ever so we kept a steady layer of Deep Woods Off on our skin.  My son, Zach, was recovering from a broken arm and wore a removable cast which he had to take off to swim.  I was worried that he would slip on the rocks without his cast and we would be stuck in the wilderness with no way to get him to a hospital.  I’d have to get my hunting knife and a couple sticks and do wilderness surgery.  Hey, I’m no doctor; I just play one in my own mind!


Secret Swimming Hole


Secret Falls



We left our water shoes and floaties down by the creek since we were the only ones crazy enough to be up there.  The next morning I found that some critter took a liking to my Tevas and ate them for dinner.  Nothing left but the Velcro and the rubber soles!


Plan:  Use the onboard water pump to draw water from the creek for hot showers, cooking, and washing dishes.


Reality:  Because we had to go past the “camping spot” and camp up the road a mile, we were about 200 yards from the creek and straight up hill.  There was no way the onboard pump can draw water that far and straight up… even if I had that much hose.


We ran out of water on day 3.  The term “dry camping” took on a whole new meaning.  We tried to hike up to a high spot on the mountain to get cell signal so we could tell our friends from Oregon to bring more hoses, but could not get signal.  On a good note, we managed to snag satellite signal and could watch the Burn Notice season premier.  It almost made up for having to take ice cold creek baths.  But not quite.


Plan:  On mine and my wife’s 11th anniversary we would mountain bike up to the secret waterfall and have a picnic.  I brought wine, a table cloth, finger foods, and iPod packed with romantic music.


Reality:  Because we were now only a short walk from the secret falls, it made no sense to leave the kids at the motor home and bike into the falls.  They would just show up a few minutes later wanting some finger food.


Instead, we stuck a bottle of wine in the backpack and hiked up the mountain to a high spot overlooking the camp.  There was no romance as it was very windy and cold.  But we did have some good conversation which is not normally possible with the kids around.  The view was spectacular and we enjoyed the time together.  I promised her that I would not drag her out in the woods on our anniversary anymore.  Next time we will take a cruise to Mexico or the Bahamas.  I don’t think she believed me, but I plan to surprise her.  Any woman that can follow my country butt through the woods on these special occasions is one to keep around.  Its time I give back a little and take her somewhere nice.


The Plan:  When family from Oregon showed up they would camp with us in a tent.  We would share the grand campfire and have fun visiting and talking of old times.  The comfort of TV, electricity, and hot showers just inside.


Reality:  Because we were in a very tight spot off the road, there was no room for a tent.  They ended up camping in the spike camp down by the creek near the secret waterfall.  I don’t think its secret anymore.  Since we were out of water, it was icy cold creek baths for everyone.


They arrived at night and we helped them set up camp.  I started a big camp fire to help light the area.  The next day was a lazy day.  We decided that instead of buying hoses we would buy water jugs and carry the water to the RV and draw that water into the tanks.  Problem is, there ain’t much at the Markleeville general store except a rude lady that cared little of our predicament.  Little did she know that millions of people would be reading about her and the store.  Just shows you, if you are in a position of customer service, at least pretend to care about your customer.  You never know who is going to ask you a question.  The beauty of the Internet is that it quickly brings to light the failures of those who don’t try as well as the success of those who do.  Next time you’re in Markleeville, tell the rude lady in the store (probably the owner) that you read about her on adventurousfamily.com. 


So we left the store with two cheap collapsible 2 gallon water tanks.  Try filling a collapsible in a creek.  Kind of like trying to push a cat into a bathtub.  I got soaking wet and scratched up, and only got about a gallon in each tank.


The Plan:  Drive to the Charity Valley Trailhead and hike into Hotsprings Waterfall.


Reality:  Friends from Oregon had no intention of hiking anywhere.  They wanted to head an hour and a half into Virginia City instead.


At first I thought that was the craziest thing I’d ever heard.  Would you rather hike into 50 foot waterfall or drive an hour and a half drive to Virginia City?  We took a vote and I was defeated in the primaries.  I should have made some campaign signs and bribed some family members.  Oh well, we needed supplies anyway.


Virginia City was the same as it was in the 70’s, except there were cell phones and the slots had little buttons along with the pull handles.  After several pushes of the button I walked away with $42.  I started feeling better about this Virginia City.  So I paid for the whole group to sit and watch a gunfight show.  We had lunch at the Delta Saloon on Main Street.  I played it safe and got chicken strips which are hard to screw up.  My daughter, Katlyn, did the same.  She got sick an hour later but I was spared.  I was starting to feel like this was my lucky day.  I should have played more slots!






On the way back we picked up ice, water, and six 7.5 gallon water jugs.  Why were they 7.5 gallons?  I don’t know - these things confuse me.  Back in the day you got a 5 gallon jug and that was that.  Now there’s metrics involved.  I thought just us rednecks with standard tape measures went camping, but I guess it’s popular with other folks, too.  My brother-in-law picked up a tent shower.  Guess creek baths were not part of his wilderness enjoyment agenda.  It actually turned out pretty nice.  I wanted one so later I went here to get a nice one at a very low cost.


Plan:  Spend all day at the secret falls, just chilling.

Reality:  Spent all day at the secret falls, just chilling.



Wow, we actually did something according to plan.  All day of swimming, talking, visiting, drinking, and having fun.  I got to spend some quality time with my nephew.  He is growing up way too fast. We all had a great time.  Hangovers and sunburns to prove it.







Plan:  Slow cook a ten pound prime rib over a bed of charcoal.


Reality:  My son and I are the only ones that care for rare to medium-rare beef so feasting on prime rib was kind of out of the question.  Instead, I improvised and chopped it up into thinly sliced ribeye steaks (except mine and Zach’s were thick).


We were all pretty toasted by the time the steaks were done.  Sitting by the crackling campfire – laughing and being crazy.  I probably speak for only myself; but these had to be the best steaks I had ever cooked!  Slow broiled over charcoal with just the right seasoning.  My brother-in-law cooked baked potatoes in an outdoor oven to go with them.  It was quite a feast by the campfire out by secret falls up a no-name creek in the middle of the Toyabe National Forest.  Hopefully, it will be one of those memories we will all look back on someday.


Plan:  Go to Lake Tahoe on July 4th and see the fireworks over the lake.  Then camp somewhere back up near Markleeville.


Reality:  Finding a campsite over the 4th of July holiday?  I don’t think so.


I guess it was a bad idea to think we could camp somewhere over the 4th of July weekend near Lake Tahoe.  I was shaken up by the near death experience of taking that motor home down off the creek with my brother-in-law guiding me from outside.  One wrong move and people would be shaking their heads at the mess I made on the Six O’clock news!  I was just happy to be out of there, but we could not find a vacant spot anywhere unless we wanted to pay a pretty penny for it.  We went to Markleeville Campground – our rig was too big to get in there.  We went to Indian Creek Reservoir – they wanted $30 a night and it was over-crowded.  We went to Grover Hot Springs – again rig too big.  We passed right by Turtle Rock, which we knew would be too expensive.  So we decided to make our way to Tahoe and keep an eye out for a wide spot or campground.  All were full or too small for us.  People everywhere.  Folks of all ages, sizes, and nationalities were lined up along the Carson River throwing fishing lines over each other.  Dogs and kids running everywhere.  We high-tailed it out of there as fast as possible. 


Once we got just outside of Tahoe, my brother-in-law’s pickup broke down.  Luckily, we never found a campground up until then so instead of being stranded, we all piled into the motor home and waited for the tow truck.  We got lucky and found an auto parts store that was open on the 4th.  He picked up a new fuel filter and installed it right there in the parking lot.  We fired up the rigs and off we went to the Nevada side of the lake.


Improvised Plan:  Camp in a casino parking lot.  Watch the fireworks, grab a cheap buffet, and gamble a little.


Reality:  No chance, buddy.  Lots were full.


It was like spring break.  Half naked people walking, cruising, and yelling out phone numbers to each other.  Lawn chairs lined along every open spot possible.  It looked like fun.  If I was younger, had more hair, and didn’t look like I just crawled out of the bushes along some creek!


On the fly, I hit the Internet with my Blackberry while at a stoplight.  Looked up KOA and found one about 9 miles back down the road by where we broke down earlier.  I called them and told them we’re a commin’, so make room for us!  They stuck us in an over-flow area with no hook ups and still managed to wrangle $80 bucks from me.


Once we were set up, we jumped in the pick up and headed back to Tahoe.  We decided to eat at the Hard Rock Café.  We wolfed our food down just in time to run out and watch the fireworks.  Then we put my teenage daughter in charge of the boys at the arcade and headed to the slots and blackjack tables for an hour of fun.  I managed to pull $175 from the tables.  My gambling luck was strong on this trip.


‘Round about midnight, we rounded everyone up and headed back to KOA for some much needed sleep.  Our family from Oregon would head out the next morning.  Meanwhile, we would be on our own to do as we pleased for another four days.


The Plan:  Camp somewhere in the Markleeville area and fish the Carson River.


The Reality:  Every place was full or too small to accommodate us.


Now that we were on our own, I was determined to backtrack and do some things on my original plan.  We headed back to Markleeville and had lunch at the Cutthroat Saloon.  Then drove out to Grover Hot Springs to hike into Hotsprings Creek Falls. 


I didn’t know exactly where the trail was, so I stopped by the campground guard building to ask.  The gentleman manning the station was about as excited to help as a post office employee.  He was downright irritated that I was standing there asking questions.  By the time he finished answering me, he was so condescending that I just stood there and smiled at him in disbelief.  Once I pried the answer out of his miserable pie hole, I said, “thanks buddy”, and went back to the motor home and parked it on the side of the street.  I put some water, snacks, and night crawlers in a daypack and headed up the trail along with my wife and son.


We made it to the falls.  It was beautiful and worth the 2 mile hike in.  After taking some pictures, we through the line in and caught a couple browns that were too small to keep.  My wife found a rock with some shiny stuff on it so we broke it apart and put it in our pack figuring we would test it for gold later.  The way my luck was going it could be worth millions.






We made it back to the motor home about an hour before dark.  Time to find a spot to camp.  I hadn’t gotten a chance to fish the Carson River yet, so we looked for a wide spot by the river. 


The Plan:  Camp on the Carson River for a few days and fish.


The Reality:  I couldn’t find a spot that was big enough for our motor home.


Just couldn’t find a spot I felt comfortable pulling into.  The earlier experience up the creek left me a bit more cautious than before.  I bought a 34 footer so that it would be big enough for a family of four to live in, but small enough to get into some remote areas.  Turns out, it’s too small to live in and too big to get it in to the good spots.


So we headed up Monitor Pass which was on the long route home.  Right at dark we found an aspen patch about a half mile off the highway.  We headed out across the sagebrush on a double rut dirt road and parked her right at the aspens.


Once at the aspen patch we found a pretty nice campsite with a fire pit and some old pellet stove someone left out there.  That night was actually pretty fun.  We had a huge campfire, roasted hotdogs and drank wine.  And right in the middle of our fun, a deer walked through camp.  We named her Little Abbey because in my wine-induced intelligence I thought we were on Abbots Pass.  We were actually on Monitor Pass, so we should have named in Monty or Mona.  Oh well, it was neat that it walked through our camp.  When all the stories were told and the air grew cold we headed to bed.



The next day we woke to find that we had managed to camp in an amazing aspen patch that stretched for miles.  The old road continued up the mountain behind us so we made a daypack and headed up the road on our mountain bikes.  Zach had a broken arm so I installed buddy pegs on mine so he could ride with me.


We made it to the top and found an amazing thing.  The jeep road became a trail which ended on a cliff.  Standing on that cliff, one could see the entire valley below including Topaz Lake to the left and the Mono Lake valley to the right.  We had a view of about 300 miles in every direction.  You never know what you’ll find unless you take the time to stop and explore.  A dirt road into an aspen patch, then a mountain bike ride up the hill, a short hike to the cliff, and then a breath-taking experience.






On the way back down, my wife headed out ahead of us on her bike.  It was steep so I was standing on my peddles to give me more balance.  After all, I had Zach as a passenger. I noticed she was sitting on her seat when she disappeared around the corner.  I looked back at Zach and said, “She’s gonna wipe out and hurt herself”.  When we made it around the corner, sure enough, she was sitting on the ground covered in dirt.  Her bike a tangled mess beside her.  She had roadrash on her knee and shoulder and was spitting out dust.  Aside from being shaken, she seemed OK.




So Zach, Roadrash Kim, and I walked our bikes the rest of the way to camp.  She took a hot shower and slapped on some Neo-Sporin.  Meanwhile, I picked up camp, slid in the tipouts, and raised the stands.  Time to go.


The Plan:  Head down US 395 to Convict Lake to camp and fish.


The Reality:  Convict Lake campground was full.  Fishing was poor.


I had read in a fishing magazine that Convict Lake was stocked regularly with trophy sized trout.  I also heard from a friend of mine that it was a beautiful lake.  Well, he was right – it is a phenomenally beautiful lake.  Perched beneath a cliff on one side, a glacier on the other, and a pretty nice campground below it, the lake was definitely a sight to see. Which is why the entire state of California was camped there.  We decided to drive five miles back up the highway into the forested areas and camp on one of the old dirt roads we saw on the way down.  We could then come back the next day to snag a newly vacated campsite and fish all day.


We found our dirt road and set up a quick dry camp.  I barbequed the remaining ribeye steaks.  Zach found a patch of pine trees and built a fort.  While showing it to Kim, they spooked a bear cub (heard it call for momma bear).  I’ve never seen Kim run that fast!  I’m not even sure their feet touched the ground.  The bears ran just as fast the other direction. 


The next day, we headed back to Convict Lake.  Still no campsites.  So we parked her in the day use area and spent the day fishing.  We got skunked at the lake.  Not even a bite.  So Zach and I headed down the creek.  We spent all day wading and bushwhacking and managed to catch one scraggly little rainbow planter just big enough to keep.  We decided that Convict Lake sucked.  Fishing was poor, camping was over-crowded, and now we had to find a spot to sleep before it got dark.





We blasted down US 395 with the music playing – enjoying the scenery of mixed sage, pine, and distant alpine peaks.  Around midnight we couldn’t keep our eyes open, so we turned off the road to Goodale Creek campground just north of Independence.  It was empty, we were tired, and this looked like a spot to rest.


The next morning we woke to find ourselves camped in an empty campground out in the sagebrush next to a tiny creek that was swollen with snowmelt.  The Eastern High Sierras glistening in the distance.  The morning temps were already reaching 100 degrees so I figured it would get up to 110 out there in the sagebrush by noon.  Yeah, this oughta be fun, I thought.



We were hot and miserable.  Zach was complaining all the way to the creek.  He decided that he wasn’t a “country-boy” like his Dad and this bothered him.  I told him that he should just be himself.  If he doesn’t like camping on the road for 2 weeks, then that is OK.  Not everyone gets excited about the open road, or deep woods camping.  Not everyone’s eyes light up at the thought of bug spray and bushwhacking.  He needs to be his own person and do the things he likes to do.  Meanwhile, I need to be more sensitive about dragging everyone out on my harebrained adventures.


We got to the creek and it didn’t look very promising.  Very small, deep and fast.  More like a drainage ditch overgrown with brush.  Just for the heck of it, I pulled out enough line to drop a worm and bounce it down a few feet.  WHAM!  Pulled out a huge rainbow planter!  Dropped in another worm and caught another.  Then another.  We walked about a mile up the creek and found ourselves limited out on planters.  I even had a very large native brown on, but of course it got loose.  We brought the fish back and had them for dinner that night.


We be-bopped down the dirt road back to 395, then headed toward home.  We made it to Boulder Creek RV resort.  This RV resort is out in the middle of nowhere, but it was the first time in 2 weeks that we had full hookups.  Plus, there was a pool!  After the 2 weeks we just had, we felt like we were staying at the Ritz.  We had a 50 amp, water, and sewer.  The AC buzzed, the showers were hot, the TV was on, and Zach and Kim swam in the pool all afternoon and the next morning.  What a nice break, and the price was very reasonable at $35 a night.


We headed out the next morning for the final leg of our trip home.  We made it home before dark and enjoyed long showers and a home-cooked meal.  It

Tags: RV Camping Tahoe Carson Markleeville Toyabe



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