Ian and Margaret's RV Adventures travel blog

Lake Abert, an alkali lake in The Great Basin.

The southern end of Lake Abert, showing part of the Abert Rim,...

This was what we saw as we approached our campground -- smoke...

This little stream ran through the ranch where our campground was located.

Max the Great Hunter (see the twitchy tail) stalks a chipmunk.

This was one of the "attractions" on the ranch tour road --...

Lots of neat grasses around, all going to seed as autumn progresses.

A nostalgic view of all that remains of an old homestead on...

Long view of the campground -- a very peaceful setting.

The second day of the burn -- the smoke is spreading out,...

Our new friends, Betty and Joe Choate (on the right), with whom...

Some of the "historic" buildings in Susanville CA.

The nicest building we saw -- the Elks Lodge! Even it is...

One of the largest murals we saw in Susanville.

This one was just a wee bit scary.

Our plans for the next couple of weeks really revolve around working our way south into California, staying east of the Sierras, visiting a couple of a favorite spots from past visits and then turning east to Arizona, stopping off to visit our friends the Wishnies at their camp-hosting job near Cottonwood AZ sometime after the first of October. So our next couple of stops were picked mostly for proximity to Highway 395 (our route south) and reasonable travel distances. Sometimes it works out great, other times . . . not so much.

We left John Day and headed south, through the last of the Blue Mountains, into much more typical high desert country. Very few towns (in fact, almost none – we were glad we didn’t need fuel or food – it would have been hard to find either!) and not much of anything else to look at either. But as we approached Lakeview we began seeing a large lake to our west – a look at the map confirmed that it was Lake Abert – all that remains of a huge lake that covered over 400 square miles at the end of the last ice age. It’s an alkali lake (with a high concentration of salt and calcium carbonate) so there are no fish and no recreational activities allowed. It is, apparently, a great area for bird watching, but we didn’t see any birds when we were there. It was absolutely still, reflecting the surrounding rim and hills. Even though it was hazy (probably, we later realized, with smoke from a prescribed burn south of there), it was really remarkable to see.

Our stay at just-past-Lakeview worked out great. We found a small campground about 10 miles outside of town that turned out to be one of the most comfortable places we’ve been in a long time. It wasn’t fancy, or huge, or luxurious, but it was friendly, everything worked and we had great views of the surrounding area, which included a small reservoir, complete with waterfowl.

The first evening we were there, as I was beginning to put together some things for dinner and Ian was sitting outside relaxing with a glass of wine, a couple stopped by and asked if we were Ian and Margaret. Although I thought we should have denied it until we knew exactly why they were asking, Ian jumped right in and said “yes, we are.” It turned out that they are fellow users of the Datastorm internet satellite dish that we use. There is a great users’ forum which also includes a map on which many Datastorm users record their current location. Betty and Joe Choate had seen our names on the map at the same location where they had just pulled in (just a few sites down from us, as it turns out) and came over to say hello. We had a great conversation with them and, in fact, spent several hours, including deep and insightful political analysis, with them over the course of the next couple of nights. It was great to meet them and we look forward to keeping in touch and seeing them again down the road somewhere. Meanwhile, we will always know where they are by consulting the Datastorm map!

Betty and Joe did save us one fruitless search: One of the advertised attractions in Lakeview is “Old Perpetual”, Oregon’s only hot water geyser, which has sent water 60 feet into the air every 30-90 seconds for 90 years or so. Betty and Joe went in search of it one day while they were in town and, after encountering a couple of people who had never heard of it, discovered that it is no longer erupting. So much for “perpetual”! Apparently either the drought or a nearby geothermal project, depending on who you ask, has dried up the geyser. So when we heard about that, we were able to cross that attraction off our list, which left us with . . . well, nothing.

One of the things we liked about the campground (which is located on a working ranch) was the hiking trails around the ranch. We went on a couple of hikes and one drive around the “ranch tour road”. There were a couple of “sites” of old homestead houses, cabins, Indian camping grounds and other stuff, but mostly we didn’t find any of them. Never mind, we just enjoyed the great weather and calm, quiet surroundings.

The only problem we had was that the Forest Service had begun a prescribed burn in a forest area some miles away. Although most afternoons and evenings were pretty much smoke-free because of prevailing winds that blew the smoke away from us, during the night and early morning the smoke drifted in our direction and basically settled near the ground. I had moderate but annoying allergy symptoms for a couple of days, but by the time we left, the smoke had pretty much gone away and my allergy symptoms with it.

We loved our stay in not-quite-Lakeview; we had lots of time to relax, read books and catch up on routine stuff; and we made a couple of new friends. What a life!

But, all good things come to an end. Although we might have stayed another couple of days, we couldn’t because the campground had a reservation for our site. So we took off, and drove 165 miles or so, continuing on Highway 395, to Susanville, California. Again, no special reason, just that it was on the way (and not a lot of stuff is, in that part of the country). The drive was, actually, fairly boring – there is just not much going on in this part of the world. There were a couple of small, mostly defunct, towns but nothing of any substance. The highlight of excitement was when we were stopped at the agricultural inspection station just after we crossed the state line into California. Usually when we’ve gone through these places they just ask if we have any fruits, we say no and we go on our way. But this time I guess business was slow, so the guy asked to see the food in our refrigerator. Glad that I had cleaned the refrigerator within the last couple of days, I gave him a tour. He confiscated three limes that I had forgotten about and sent us on our way. We didn’t need the limes right away (which is why I had forgotten that we had them) but, still, I hated to lose them. Oh well . . . .

We got to our campground in Susanville at 12:45 p.m., only to find the office closed with a sign saying they’d return at 1:45. Fortunately, after a little bit of swearing and wondering what we were going to do for an hour, we realized that we had been given a site number when we made our reservation, so we just found our site and set up. While we were setting up we watched two large motorhomes come in. They must not have had reservations because when they found the office closed they just sat there, very nearly blocking the entire entrance – if anyone else had come in, they would have had to park in the street! Not a great way to run a campground, we think, but we’ve seen worse.

Susanville is a pretty sad-looking place, we thought. There are recreation things around (a couple of state and national parks) and that seems to be the major attraction. We walked around “historic” Susanville one afternoon and did enjoy seeing the murals around town (what is it with the Northwest and their murals? We’ve seen them in almost every town!), but otherwise we were not impressed. The “old” buildings had mostly been ruined with modern storefronts and many of them contained closed businesses. We did have a nice chat with some people at the local historical museum and visitor center (they were just sitting around having coffee and I think were glad of the company!)

I think the big employer in Susanville is the prison system – there are two, one high security and one minimum-to-medium security, just outside of town. When I looked up the population of Susanville, there was a note saying that the population was 13,600+, and that “[f]or accurate figures on City of Susanville non-incarcerated population, you must exclude the institutional population.” I guess that’s legitimate, but it just struck me as strange.

Anyway, we were glad to leave Susanville and continue our journey southward, next stop just south of Carson City, Utah.

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