It’s 4th of July weekend and time to Airstream again! For the next few days we’re up here at Prescott’s White Spar Campground. We already did an extensive review of this area here, so instead we’re using this time to blog about what’s new – in this case, more mountain biking!
The Wolverton Mountain Trail is rated as a blue-black and after comparing notes on the ride we agree with this rating.
This 10-mile (16km) out-and-back begins across from the campground and immediately slaps you in the face with aggressive sustained climbing that meanders anywhere between 5% and 10%.
I think the trail might be better named “Touched by Fire”, though. The climb takes you through dense scrub and evidence of a terrible forest fire sometime in the past.
One thing that caught us off guard climbing here was the exposure – there is so little foliage, and so much dead-fall, the temperatures already hit low 90s (33C) by 9AM.
By the end of the ride we’d both worked our way through most of our water.
The climb consists of moderately technical surface though much of the trail is steep off-camber single-track and crushed rock like this. It never occurred to me why the campground was named “White Spar” but it turns out the term “spar” refers to any bright crystalline substance.
We only made it 4mi (6.4km) in before turning back, the altitude and heat was getting to us.
On the descent you are greeted with an extraordinary view; San Francisco Peaks visible in the distance.
Also we took some time to smell the flowers.
And… enormous private telescopes?
We’ll absolutely ride Wolverton Mountain Trail again, probably on Tuesday. By then we should be adjusted to the altitude and we’ll head out a little earlier. Seen you soon with more Airstream updates!
In the late Spring of 2017 I was beginning to hear signals from my employer they would want all remote workers back in the office. We made a trip from Colorado down to Arizona so I could take a meeting and at the end of that fateful day we found ourselves with a sad decision to make. The die was cast – we would only have a few months left of precious freedom before going back to cube-land. Full timing was near its end.
So how best to spend the time?
California of course! We’d always meant to go there, it was close, and full of our favorite thing – mountains. While we were in town we driveway surfed at Fred’s house. That evening drinking beer and sitting by the pool Fred said, “Why not Mammoth Lakes?” We’d never heard of it. A quick trip to the Google revealed an alpine village chocked full of mountain biking and skiing. The destination was set!
For our stay in Mammoth Lakes we decided on New Shady Rest Campground. For reasons we don’t entirely understand, this campground seems to be first come first served for most of the summer. We arrived at the beginning of June so the sites had just opened up and we got a sweet spot at site #93. Later in the year, reservations can be made at the federal portal here.
Like any mountain destination that early in the year, Mammoth Lakes was beautiful one moment.
And brutal the next. That is snow.
By any measure this is an enormous campground, and that doesn’t even include Old Shady Rest Campground across the street. Sites are somewhat narrow but heavily forested and well groomed. All pads and roads are well maintained pavement, though the roads are nerve-wrackingly tight and we witnessed more than one 5th wheel scraping the trees. Traffic was moderate and noise was middling. Oddly we found campfire smoke from surrounding sites to be especially bad here, but we did stay on the east end – maybe prevailing winds take the smoke there.
Water is available in a number of locations along with an RV fill-up and dump station at the entrance to the campground. Bathroom facilities were old but well maintained and clean. While we were staying there the dump station was temporarily closed but a self-service station is available at the Mammoth Lakes Community Water District just down the street.
On the reservation front, I can only speculate, but I wonder if the no-reservation policy is to keep booking fair, since Mammoth Lakes is essentially between the two megalopolises of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Whatever the case, it worked to our advantage and we had a glorious two weeks there.
Choose Your Path Wisely
In all our time towing the trailer, I think we’ve really only had two genuine misfires. One time was getting ourselves stuck in a rural road in Moab, and the other was my fateful decision to follow the “scenic” route from Phoenix to Mammoth Lakes.
Little did I know that CA 168 was a curled up intestine of death worthy of only the most hardened RVers. I found out, of course, when we crossed from Nevada into California and I started to see signs like, “Vehicles over 30′ not recommended”. By then we were committed so we soldiered on.
Though obviously we lived, that drive was some of the most intense mountain driving I have ever done with the Airstream, even more intense than the Rocky Mountains. The road alternately shrank to one lane and offered up sharp corners and steep inclines. Thank god it was little traveled so I had plenty of room to maneuver. If I had to do it again, though, I would take the Los Angeles route, trading near death cliff-diving for horrible traffic.
Amenities & Activities
City of Mammoth Lakes
The City of Mammoth Lakes is a remarkable little Ski/Mountain Bike town characterized, for me, by the extremes. On our drive to Mammoth Lakes we drove through Bishop and it was 110° F (43° C) and entirely given over the cactus and desert.
In 20 minutes we were in pine trees and aspen groves at 72° F (22° C).
That June had also capped off a record setting snow season. So much so, Mammoth mountain was entirely off limits to bikes because of this stuff.
Incredibly, just a short way down the mountain the snow was gone and trails were open. This water was of course, going somewhere – look at this intense whitewater we saw when we left Mammoth Lakes.
Mammoth Lakes is a tourist town but it seems to get rather sleepy in the summer months. Still there are plenty of restaurants and shops waiting for customers. We found good pizza at Giovanni’s Pizza, even better at John’s Pizza Works and good coffee at the Looney Bean.
Footloose Sports near the campground offered a very good selection of mountain biking gear and rental bikes. Directly next door you can find Rite Aid for your apothecary needs and a DIY Home Center for your hardware needs (ahem, rivets).
Laundry facilities were found at the Mammoth Lakes Laundromat and excellent grocery shopping at Vons. Keep in mind by California law you must buy plastic bags so it pays to get some reusable ones.
Curiously Mammoth Lakes forms part of the Los Angeles water shed. I find that amazing because LA is hundreds of miles away. But anyone who’s lived out west knows Whisky’s for ‘Drinkin and Water’s for ‘Fightin.
Ah yes, mountain biking – my favorite topic. Owing to the strange snow season Mammoth Mountain and the surrounding trails were closed. Still we found plenty of options that made for a thoroughly rewarding set of rides.
Big Smokey Loop
The Big Smokey Loop is a 15 minute drive east of town and slightly lower elevation than Mammoth Lakes. We discovered one constants about riding the Sierra Nevadas is sand, lots of it. We struggled through unending piles of the stuff on this ride, which taught me a 29+ might be the better way to go next time (see Fred’s review of the Trek Stache 5).
The trail is all fire roads and is rated at blue-green. I would normally consider this is green ride but the loose sand, squirrely climbs and steep descent near the end pushed it into blue territory.
In retrospect it was an interesting ride but I would likely stick to the Knolls Loop area and explore more there next time. It was hardly a waste though, the view of the distant Ansel Adams Wilderness et al was second to none.
Mammoth Creek Trail
Mammoth Lakes has a splendid bike path circling the entire town and Mammoth Creek Trail forms the southern leg. The ride in total alternates from trail to bike path to streets and offers a great tour of the city. Though rated green I found the climbs totally satisfying as the altitude does make pedaling a little harder. It’s also fun to see how the other half lives as you climb through some exclusive neighborhoods and ski resorts.
Knolls Loop was our go-to trail while staying in Mammoth Lakes and we rode it easily a half dozen times. The trailhead is found just outside of camp and takes you on a 10 mile (16km) tour of the Inyo National Forest.
As with Big Smokey Loop the trail consists mainly of forest road and lots and lots of sand. When takes clockwise, however, we found most of the sand to be on the downhill sections making a ride on standard 29ers thoroughly enjoyable.
The eastern portion of the ride is somewhat of a lung-buster but rewards the intrepid rider with awesome views.
The roads back in this area are incredibly complex and it pays to take a mapping application such as MTB Project or a printed map. There’s also a serviceable map of this hairball here.
What Could Go Wrong
Strangely we discovered our satellite dish died at the beginning of the Mammoth Lakes stay. We talked it over and decided we did want it fixed before our return to Phoenix in three months so we called ahead to Bay Area Airstream Adventures. This led to an unplanned week-long stay in Vacaville and a couple trips to the dealer to get things sorted out.
Bay Area Airstream Adventures
Even though I was annoyed at being blown off course, this was pretty cool. Have you ever seen so many Airstreams?
Also I think I saw the second Airstream love of my life there.
I’ve always thought it would be awesome to get a 35′ Airstream and refurbish it. They’re relatively uncommon though. Speaking to one salesman I learned the long frames have a tendency to crack and the triple axles make them hard to park. The models with slides also had uneven tire wear due to the odd weight distribution.
Besides all that just look at it – gorgeous!
Also a quick shout out – these guys were so nice and accommodating. We waited in the lounge with our dogs all day and they kept checking on us and making sure we were ok. Very cool customer service.
Vineyard RV Park
While alternating between taking the Airstream in for repairs and waiting for parts we stayed at the Vineyard RV Park. In all ways this was a great park with friendly people, good staff, excellent sites and a nice pool.
Also, we met Nola the pig there!
Another kick about staying there was the wild turkeys and their babies.
We even made it into San Francisco for a day.
Alas the Airstream was eventually fixed and we went on our way to the Redwoods, but that’s a story for another blog.
Mammoth Lakes was awesome. We’re even mulling going back there this September – we’ll see if the winds of change allow that to happen. But we thoroughly enjoyed the people, the campground and the riding. Mammoth Lakes definitely has “it” and we highly recommend it.
As for the satellite repairs – in retrospect, our temporary path through Sacramento/Vacaville was a hoot. We enjoyed the hell out of our stay and we got to meet Nola! So I guess it played out in the end.
My heart is heavy as we are now back in Phoenix….and therefore, not Moab. As I work my way back into my professional life, it occurs to me there are a few additional thoughts to share about Moab from previous trips, so enjoy some random musings.
What’s In a Name
I find it totally fitting that even the name Moab is somewhat mysterious. For me the Paiute origin story, referring to the word moapa, meaning “mosquito”, has the most resonance. Still if Moab was instead named Vina or Uvadalia I suspect it would have exactly the same energy and feel.
But keep in mind – all of Moab and surrounding area is amazing. Do you really need to pay for it, when everything is amazing? For example, drive up Utah 128 from Moab to Interstate 70 along the Colorado River, it’ll blow your mind. Or, Utah 313 to Dead Horse Point. I happen to find the drive through Canyonlands more rewarding, and the view at the point equal to the task (though yes you do have to pay for that too). Or for free you can ride the Zephyr trail (mentioned later) that crosses into the north end of the park.
Still, we stayed in Arches one time (see the featured image) because, well, everyone said it was the thing to do. The park has essentially one road that you can drive for an out-and-back, at the low low fee of $25, or, you can pay the low-low fee of $25, drag your trailer all the way to the end of the 28mi (45km) road and maybe get a camping spot.
A year ago we made a point to get to the park early and found the front gate can’t (or won’t) tell you whether the campground is full, so we paid the stupid fee and drove the 28mi (45km) and we discovered that almost no sites fit the Airstream, and ones that did were occupied. You can’t mountain bike the park, you can’t take your dogs out anywhere except on the streets & campground and cell coverage is terrible.
Despite these setbacks the campground host took pity on us and offered us a one-night stay in the host’s spot because they were staying in the ranger’s cabin. For this we are profoundly grateful, but my take on Arches National Park is that the park is pretty cool but the fee is outrageous for what you get.
Mountain Biking Pipe Dream
Pipe Dream is a blue/black trail that runs directly along the western edge of town. I found this trail more black than blue so I never got any zen here owing to the habitual dabbing and dismounts. I can still see it being a handy go-to trail if you lived in Moab as an excellent “work on your skills” destination.
Mountain Biking Zephyr
Zephyr is considered more of a connector than a destination trail, but nevertheless we rode it once to see what’s there.
The oddity about this trail is is crosses briefly into Arches National Park for free, and it offers some truly heart-stopping landscapes such as these. Though this looks like an undulating landscape of routine slickrock, look closer and you’ll notice the beginnings of a verdant canyon filled with water, green trees and birds. Though the trail itself was, for me, entirely forgettable the “Planet of the Apes” like scenery absolutely made it worthwhile.
La Sal Mountain Range
The La Sal mountains just blow my mind. I just can’t get over the juxtaposition of looking up at the mountains and seeing snow when it’s 100° F (38° C) in the canyons.
Also I don’t know why this amazes me, by the La Sals are considered part of the Rocky Mountains and a source of Uranium.
Fred and I rode The Whole Enchilada a couple years ago, which starts high up in a snowy aspen grove and bottoms out on the Colorado river. We caught a shuttle from the previously mentioned Poison Spider Bicycles, but honestly, the shuttle should go two hours earlier – it was hot as hell and I wound up with early signs of heat stroke at the end of the ride.
Overall we both found the ride a little too extreme for our sensibilities, and agreed that the Porcupine Rim portion of the ride was the most enjoyable and least deathy. The final segment down to the river, though, was way more than either of us would do again.
Still, it is pretty amazing to start a ride in snow and wind up over 100°!
I forgot to mention Milt’s Stop N’ Eat in our previous blogs. Milt’s is a kitschy actual 50’s era diner located on Moab’s former main drag. They serve exactly the right food for after mountain biking including delicious burgers and yummy salty fries. We highly recommend the experience, though sadly they’re closed Mondays.
But Emily, you didn’t mention the most Moab of all Moab mountain bike trails, Slickrock!
I’d have some pictures for you if my crappy Buffalo NAS hadn’t taken them to the briny deep, but I’ll commit heresy here: We didn’t like Slickrock.
Stone ● Cold ● Silence
Here’s why – the trail is blue/black. Fred and I tried Slickrock a few years ago really before we should have. Specifically, Slickrock is steep – like 100% grade steep. That requires massive fitness, and we found we just didn’t have it at the time. And fitness is important when you’re pumping your way up this massive incline with your eyeballs exploding out your face and there’s just no place to bail. If you stop your’re sliding to god knows where.
Someday we’ll do it again, especially now that we have the fitness and the skills. But I still remember it, and I suspect I’ll like Klondike Bluffs better (gasp). We’ll see!
And that, my friends, is what Moab is all about. There’s always more to come back for and great stories to tell (someday ask me about Magnificent 7 and almost dying in a Uranium tornado).
It’s that time of the year again. You know the time. The trailer’s been in hibernation – the days are getting a little longer and that tiny light behind your eye begins to blink drawing you northward. Along with all the other RVers we felt the clarion call as well, so today I bring you a live blog from Prescott, AZ.
For our stay in the high country we are blogging to you from White Spar Campground just south of Prescott, AZ (locals pronounce it “press”-“kit”). This is a fairly large campground and availability can be searched and booked on the federal portal.
Sites are spacious and deeply forested as the campground lies just inside the Prescott National Forest boundary on U.S Route 89. Traffic is moderate to high and all pads are located on high-quality tarmac. Water is available at strategic locations as are vault toilets and dumpsters. There is no sewer or power, cellular service was middling (even with the booster) and noise highly variable (though no surprise, things calm down during the week).
Amenities & Activities
City of Prescott
The city of Prescott is a rather astonishing 40,000 souls but much of that habitation is in the northern reaches. We prefer to wander around the southern courthouse plaza area where delicious ice cream, pizza and shopping is found aplenty. Conveniently laundry can be done at The Cleaning Machine just a couple blocks east on Gurley St.
Goldwater lake is located south of Prescott. This lake offers picnicking, kayaking, mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking. Via the Goldwater Lakes Trail #396 the lake can be reached on mountain bike in less than an hour.
Ah yes, mountain biking – my favorite topic. We’re only here a few days and sadly I was sick two of those days. Still, we managed to squeeze in a couple rides on several of the local trails.
The Airstream behaved pretty well on this trip. As of late one of the decorative finishing strips has been separating so I’m going to have to install a replacement finish. I think the torment of the Arizona desert heat did its worst.
The service technician also recommended against using 6 volt batteries in the Airstream as well as discouraged running the Airstream’s 1000W inverter while hooked up to shore power. Hopefully these recommendations will stop the long run of converter controller failures.
We’ve been to this campground several times and we highly recommend it primarily due to its access to unbelievable mountain biking, proximity to town and fair price. This campground definitely has “it”!
Unlike the previous Florida state parks we’ve blogged about, this campground is in a national park and therefore searched and booked on the federal portal. The park is located in the Ocala National Forest in north-central Florida which places it within easy driving distance of Orlando, Ocala and Gainesville.
Due to this urban proximity we found this park to be exceptionally busy and loud. As you might expect, most of the action takes place over the weekend as visitors let off steam, then it quiets down during the week. Despite the high traffic the park is quite expansive so we found one site for a week with no issues. Cell phone service was very strong and fast, which was a desperate relief from Manatee Springs.
Amenities & Activities
Alexander Springs Recreation Area sits off of a relatively remote portion of Florida County Road 445, which winds its way haphazardly around the southern part of the Ocala National Forest. The drive is beautiful and surrounded on all sides by sand pine, and longleaf pine and numerous water features. The entrance is closed at night and secured with a code supplied at check-in time.
Pads were asphalt, campsites were very sandy and there were no services – though our loop had strategically placed water taps that could be reached with a long hose. We only stayed a week so we used the dump station on our departure day. There were a variety of bath houses placed centrally to most loops but no laundry facilities. Satellite reception was easy owing to the tall thin pines around camp.
As with Manatee Springs the primary reason we visited this park was the springs.
Alexander Springs is a first magnitude spring and produces 100 million or more gallons (378 million L) of fresh water daily. The water offers a constant temperature around 72 °F (23 °C) making it thoroughly enjoyable with our 3mm wetsuits.
Snorkeling the springs was very different from Manatee springs, which offered stairs and a steep approach to a relatively small body of water. Here the expansive body of water started warm, clear and shallow at the shore and stayed that way for quite a distance until dramatically dropping off into a deep abyss.
The spring itself gushes out of a violent gash in the underlying white limestone and offers endless diving opportunities and creature watching. A thick and vibrant forest of sea grass formed habitat right at this boundary attracting a wide range of fish and turtles. I spent quite a bit of time just zenning out to the complex light patterns cast on the waving grasses.
Alexander Springs offers a wide range of other activities including scuba diving, kayaking, hiking, bird watching and my favorite, mountain biking. Also serving somewhat as a study in contrast, though Alexander Springs is very busy it is also remote when it comes to groceries. We drove to Umatilla for fuel and groceries, which took well over an hour round trip.
The mountain biking at Alexander Springs was exceptional!
There’s also a small connector between the Paisley Woods trail and West trail at the mid-point which breaks this trail system into a crude hourglass shape. This hourglass connector made these trails ideal for quick(ish) lunch-time loop rides, which I did every day.
The entire trail system bobs and weaves mostly between softwood longleaf pine and then playfully dips now and again into small hardwood clusters.
The trail was sandy single track and certainly would be best enjoyed on a 27+ or fat tire rig, but was still easily ridden on a standard 27/29 2.3″ tire. As with all my riding in Florida the trails we entirely bereft of riders. This was fine by me and allowed me to selfishly soak up my alone time with the forest.
On a parting note, one of the more amazing features of this trail system was the climbing, which you wouldn’t normally expect on a Florida ride. The trail glides among and ancient island ridge and you would be forgiven for thinking these were rolling hills belonging more appropriately to southern Arkansas. You won’t find intense climbing here of course, but it really was magical.
What Could Go Wrong
Strangely not too much went wrong at Alexander Springs, at least not RV-wise. Instead an unexpected family emergency forced us back to the desert southwest, so this was our last retreat in Florida.
As I mentioned previously, Alexander Springs was extremely busy and quite crowded on the weekends. But the water was enjoyable and the mountain biking the best we had in Florida. And jumping in the water after mountain biking, now that was priceless. I wouldn’t exactly say Alexander Springs has the “it” factor, but I definitely would say that about the mountain biking. That said, I would easily recommend staying here, or even anywhere close to the trails, the riding was truly amazing and left me wanting more.