Hot Creek Back to Mono & The NEW New American Nomads

October, 24-259854For our last morning along Hot Creek, we got up early and finally walked down to the creek itself for a look. From our campsite above, we could see steam rising every morning at dawn that quickly dissipated once the sun warmed the air. This place was a huge tourist draw back 10 years or so ago. It is called Hot Creek because of the super hot water that bubbles up at various points along the stream. It mixed with the cold water of the creek and made perfectly heated hot tubs – for a time. During a particularly active seismic period, the water temperature spiked, making the tubs too dangerously hot for the public to use safely. The park service fenced off the area to everyone except fishermen and the party was over. We walked the path along the fenced river, photographing the steam, and water, and plants.
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9830At one point, I looked up along the canyon rim and saw the moon as it was setting. I shot off a quick one, then thought, maybe a slightly different composition would make a unique Christmas card. I moved around a bit to get the right angle and got this:
9834Does this say “Merry Christmas”?

10079But now it was time to leave Hot Creek, and we were soon on the road back to Mono Lake to spend our last 2 days before going home. We headed directly for the campsite we had originally stayed at above the lake edge, but were a little dismayed to find another rig already sitting there. The dispersed camping site is pretty large and is supposed to accommodate from 3-5 sites. We decided to pull in and share the space. No sooner had we pulled in, then the campers were out to meet us. They were Jason and Nikkie Wynn and were only too happy to have neighbors. More about them later.9877Our main reason for coming back to Mono for our last two days of the trip, was to return to a little out of the way spot we discovered a couple of years ago. It’s located off CA 395 just a little west of Conway summit. We were at the end of a fall trip up in the eastern half of Oregon and Washington on our way home and thought we’d drop down to the eastern Sierra’s before heading west to San Francisco. We got here late in October and all the leaves had pretty much fallen. We were a little too late. But looking out west over a wide view from the junction of Virginia Lakes Rd and 395, I could see one particular grove of aspen still in full color. There seemed to be a primitive road off 395 leading to the grove, but when on 395, it was almost impossible to see. We drove up and down precariously looking along the edge until we finally did find the it. It was a bit rough, but nothing we couldn’t handle in the Rav. Ground clearance was the only issue, and we had just enough to make it down to the grove.
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9917When we got there, we found a really nice little stream running through it. Beavers had done their best to dam parts, and that created some really nice still water spots. It was very cold that day, and ice had formed along the edges of the stream, and frost on many of the fallen leaves. I guess the grove, being down in the canyon a bit, was protected it from the winds that would have blown the leaves off the trees. It was a wonderful surprise and we photographed for a couple of hours in this little gem of a place.
9928When we were here three weeks ago, the grove was still green when most everywhere else was at or past peak. We were hoping the color would still be here when we got back. It was, and we spent another couple of hours photographing.
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9981I really thought we were done for the trip, but on the way back to camp, we decided to stop in at the Mono County Park. The poplar trees there are tall and usually pretty nondescript. But in full fall color, they are impressive. We photographed them, then walked down the boardwalk to the shoreline. We used to be able to walk all through the tufa in this area before it was protected, the whole time battling the “Mono Muck” which could result in a lost shoe from sinking in to the knee unexpectedly. Now, due to the rising lake level and sensitive nature of the marsh, it is much more restricted. Ultimately a good thing.9975

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10039Since we were again at Mono, and had really nothing else left on our agenda for the late afternoon of our last day, we thought we return to a couple of the spots we’d visited many times before. First we took the road from the campsite down to the South Shore Tufa Grove. But instead of going to the grove itself, we continued a little east to Navy Beach. Way back when, there was a really nice hot spring down that way, but it is now under water. Another attraction that not a lot of people know about are the sand sculptures. We always called them sand castles, but we wondered if they had survived since the reserve was created. The sculptures are formed much the same way the tufa was. While the area was once underwater, calcium carbonate would bubble up, mixing with the sand-like ash. It would then harden. As the water receded, wind and weather would erode away softer layers leaving some wonderfully delicate formations. A little searching, away from the designated trail, revealed them to us once again. They are still wonderful.10019

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9999We finished the day at the tufa grove. Instead of milling about with the other throngs of visitors there for sunset, we walked the other way and had most of the western end to ourselves for a nice quiet sunset.10038

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We returned to camp and our neighbors arrived back soon after. We had been hoping to get together with them at some point for a happy hour or morning coffee, but we’d both had other stuff on our agendas and didn’t finally get together until this last evening. Once Jason and Nikki wrangled their two cats back into their Monaco motorhome, they stopped by for drinks and conversation (Yes, they let the kitties run free around their camp – and they actually kind of stay nearby and almost come when called).

When we first pulled in a day earlier, I saw right off they had Texas license plates. It is often a tip-off that if the plates are Texas or South Dakota, the owners are full-timers. No RV registration fees in those states. Full-timers can register in any state they want, so why not do it in a no fee state? Turns out they are full-timers, but they actually did live in Texas originally. They are also probably the youngest full-timers we’ve ever met. They came to a point where they looked around at their life in Dallas and could no longer think of why they should stay there. They did their research, and through some rather funny adventures, eventually found themselves full-timing in their Monaco.

They’ve found a way to live and work on the road using their audio/visual skills to land jobs all over the U.S. I feel really fortunate to have met and gotten to know them just a little in our short visit. Working on my photo project these past 3 years, I have come to think of the full-timers I’ve met as a group of “out of the box” thinkers in terms of how they approached living their lives. They ARE new american nomads. But perhaps they are just the first wave. Nikkie and Jason might be the second. They’ve not bothered to wait until retirement to hit the road.

This couple have not only embraced the new RV technologies, but have appropriated others for use in motorhomes. While we were visiting, I got a look at the composting toilet that Jason installed. It uses no water and requires no black tank. It only needs a little 12v power to run a small venting fan and the proper composting materials. This is a significant water saver, and seems like a more ecological way of dealing with one’s poop – and no smell! The’ve also added some supplemental solar cells that I need to talk with him a little more about. A nice little compact 120 watt unfolding and portable supplemental panel would be another huge money and time saver. You can real a lot more about their travels and motivations on their Travel Blog: Gone With the Wynn’s. The blog is filled with good advice learned from their many experiences over the past few years.

Of course I had to ask if they would let me photograph them for my Nomads project. They were extremely good sports about it. I often prefer a less posed, more relaxed settings to help convey what the full-time lifestyle is about, so in the morning before we left, we got together again. We sat outside, around their little table with our coffee and biscotti chatting and enjoying the morning. It was a perfect casual picture. I loved that Nikki was comfortable enough to come out in her bright fuchsia robe and sunglasses. Jason was maybe just a bit uncombed, but looked very natural and comfortable as well. I was especially pleased that they allowed me to photograph them that way. Of course when you are in your early 30’s (my guess) you simply cannot look bad. Most people will only allow pictures to be taken when they are at their most made-up and best dressed. I just love the resulting shot. I hope they approve.10077

We then said our good-by’s, packed up and were on our way. A good thing as it turns out, because of the storm that closed Tioga Pass just a day later.

I have one final short post to do to wrap up this fall’s trip about our overnight visit to friends Jeff and Betty in Merced. Stay tuned…

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