If you are ever in Laughlin, Nevada and find yourself in a blank stare, mesmorized at a slot machine in front of your face, wondering ‘why the hell am I here?’ – RUN for the doors & take in the warm desert sun & scenery. There is plenty to do around here for sightseeing & Route 66. Oatman, Arizona is just one favorite option.
A lively, rustic town in the Arizona desert, with a silly commercial twist. Tourist trap to some, but entertaining to others. A meeting spot for travelers, an ideal lunch stop, and conveniently located on paved roads near major highways and close to Interstate 40.
OATMAN town began as a small mining camp and grew into a large town. Many residents that live here today are shop keepers or retirees. Located near the Colorado River, with Laughlin and local indian casinos nearby.
The amount of visitors or tourists can vary depending on time of day, there can be a motorcycle club rolling through, or a meeting of hot rods. Both classic cars and bikes are popular in this desert region. Tour buses and guides also bring their guest here as a good stopping point along their desert whirlwind travels. Holiday weekends & festival weekends can get crowded as well. Centrally located, Oatman sees lots of traffic, so don’t expect a desolate ghost town atmosphere.
The town streets have very limited parking & bringing that huge RV up the hill via the narrow road is not recommended. It may be possible to take a shuttle bus from a nearby hotel.
Souvenir shops, diner, saloon, western town walkways. OATMAN ghost town is super easy to get to. Only 12 miles off the main drag (AZ 95) Mojave Hwy. South of Bullhead City, AZ. Situated up on the Black Mesa above Mojave Valley, Oatman is a modern, developed, touristy ghost town (as ghost town standards go).
BUT, NO GASOLINE IN OATMAN
elevation: 2710′ population: 128
Desert mountains, canyons.
SouthEast of Laughlin, NV
Mojave Valley – in Arizona
@ Nevada / California borders
Off Interstate 40, Route 66
When traveling in the deserts, consider more stretch breaks (mini hikes). Short hikes and viewpoints offer time for relaxing, snacking and exercise.
Remember that finding a great camp site before dark is of utmost importance, if you are not hoteling it; but bottoming out your rig, or getting stuck is another kinda adventure. No fun. Have topographic maps of the region you plan to explore, on foot, or off-road.
Primitive camping on dirt backroads is plentiful and FREE. SUV back road exploring just north of town. Silver Canyon Wash, a graded, dirt road continues back down to Bulhead City. A decent little loop drive (for those needing to get dusty to have fun). Since we’ve been writing about this road, a huge residential neighborhood has sprouted back here, so watch for private property signs. Don’t camp within eye-sight of a home, or you could have the local Sheriff out to move you (at 11pm)
Camper Trailers & RV campers should be very cautious about venturing too far down any dirt road. Wash outs can change the road annually, so it is best to get out & walk it first. The California Mojave is filled with bitchin back road camp sites, and yes, some are very accessible – even with a huge motorhome.
(Not to be confused w/ Panamint Springs, CA which is NW, along the main Highway 190 on the west side of DVNP
Panamint Valley, Death Valley NP
Inyo County, NE of Ridgecrest
East of Hwy 395, south of Hwy 190
Hard to reach ghost town / abandoned mining camp on the mountainous edge of Death Valley National Park. Access via dirt road and steep trail, off the paved Trona Wildrose Road. Panamint Valley, west of Death Valley
best time to visit:November – April
Triple digit heat is common in the warmer months, so spring, autumn and winter time is best for this region, but beware of winter storms.
Snow is common on the peaks, and at higher elevations (like this place) during winter (DEC-APRIL). If you see trees on the terrain – joshua trees or pinyon pines, that indicates that snow falls here often enough. Snow is possible around Death Valley, down to 3000′ elev. during coldest of winter storms.
Surprise Canyon Wilderness BLM– Desert mountains, steep rocky terrain w/ peaks and very few trees. Surprise Canyon can become a waterfall, during heavy desert rains. The canyon is the only access up to reach this hidden town
NO MORE 4×4 Hike or backpack up Surprise Canyon No 4WD access!
Gotta hike it, on foot now.
This desert destination used to be a very popular off-road trail, where Jeeps would wench and crawl up the narrow, rocky passage; but all that changed with a wilderness designation (1994) and no longer are machines allowed in this specific canyon area. No vehicles (engines) and no mountain bikes. No wheeled anything.
Off-roading and free-wheelin is still allowed and abundant in neighboring canyons of Nadeau Road & Panamint Valley – Pleasant Canyon, South Park Canyon, Jailhouse Canyon, Goler Wash, Isham Canyon
Ballarat ghost town has a camper bathroom w/ showers and a fee to go along with that. Panamint Springs has a small motel and a big restaurant, plus a large campground (across the highway) which can accommodate tents, camper trailers and RVs.
Death Valley National Park boundary means developed campgrounds are a few miles away up Wildrose Canyon.
Boon-docking, dispersed, FREE, open camping is allowed almost anywhere in Panamint Valley and the neighboring desert canyons. Campfire permits are required and are available at BLM office in Ridgecrest. There is no firewood collecting around these parts, so bring your own.
Nadeau Road has abundant flat spots for RVs; Well stocked 4x4s can find secluded camping further up the canyons, but must be a self-sufficient camper and bring water, plenty of ice, extra gasoline, food and firewood.
Locating a ‘real bed’ near this remote desert region will require some driving. The closest option in Panamaint Springs, which only has a few rooms. The next closest, would be Stovepipe Wells inside the National Park.
Central Sierra Nevada Mountains
Sonora Pass CA 108 / Ebbetts Pass CA 4
Stanislaus National Forest
The Sierra Nevada mountain route that usually closes first and opens last, due to snow and rock slides . Sonora Pass snow is epic, but often unaccessible most of the year. Snow melt can be slow and this route may not open by until mid-summer. (Quite typical on this highway). Check Cal Trans Hwy Reports. Summer and early Autumn is the time to visit this region, so plan accordingly.
This Big Sierra River is so far reaching that it covers areas from two different Wilderness Areas and two Sierra highway systems: Sonora Pass 108 & Ebbetts Pass Hwy 4.
The North Fork of Stanislaus River starts up at Highland Creek (below Highland Lakes) and parallels the Ebbetts Pass pavement westward down the mountain. Numerous lakes and parks along this steep northern fork, all lined with impressive granite rock. Spicer Reservoir, Elephant Rock, Summit Lake, Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Stanislaus National Forest.
Middle Fork of Stanislaus River, overview
Clark Fork flowing from the Dardanelles in Carson Peak Wilderness, become the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River. Numerous Campgrounds, RV camps, horse camps along Clark Fork Road. California Highway 108 may still have a real old fashioned pay phone at this intersection. Go look.
Kennedy Creek comes in from the south side of the highway and creates Kennedy Meadows, a horse packing ranch; Not to be confused with the Kern Kennedy Meadows, way down south.
Eagle Creek and Kennedy, plus the Clark Fork are the main headwaters to Stanislaus River making up the Middle fork of this river. Traveling southwest thru the forest, with numerous Reservoirs and plenty of campgrounds.
Middle Fork comes together near the Fence Creek Campground @ Hwy 108. Flowing downhill to join Donnell Lake, then 10 miles of ‘really rugged wild river’ down to Beardsley Lake, then to Sand Bar Flat Campground further below, and on towards the county line @ Calaveras.
South Fork Stanislaus, the shortest of the forks, flows down from Pinecrest Lake, Dodge Ridge Ski Resort and the Emigrant Wilderness Area. Then hits Lyons Reservoir (4228′ elev) near the community of Long Barn, CA Italian Bar brings it right down to Historical Gold Camp, Columbia.
Eventually the massive Stanislaus River ends up in the San Joaquin (Central) Valley, like most of the Western Sierra rivers do, growing the food crops for all. California is a huge agriculture state.
Backpacking Big Wilderness
With Wilderness making up the majority of the landscape around these river canyons , there is ample opportunity for day hiking, creek fishing and backpacking adventures. May as well plan for a full week off of work, if you wanna explore in some depth. Many trailheads have small parking lots located on dirt roads, which are usually passenger car accessible.
PCT = The Pacific Crest hiking trail cuts right across the tallest Sierra Nevada mountain pass – Sonora Pass 108 @ 9625′ elev.
Black Bears are common in this region and several areas have bear boxes for proper food storage. If not available, you’ll need a bear canister or learn to properly hang your food in a tree.
Winter closures due to deep snow is common more than half the year up here. Check Cal Trans for highway conditions and w/ local rangers to find out what back roads are open, and which ones are too muddy. 4WD may be needed to reach certain destinations, if snow & mud are still present. Winter SNOW CAN LAST UP HERE: on the peaks all summer long; And snow can start falling as early as October, so know the forecast before you set out on a major backcountry trip.
Wilderness permits are required for overnight stays in the backcountry. Stop by a ranger station to get the latest details before your big trek into the woods. USFS web sites are not always so up-to-date. A phone call or personal visit may be needed to get accurate info.
The Wilderness boundaries on each side of the pavement (CA 108) along with giant granite walls, steep cliffs, boulders, wild raging rivers and dense forests make dirt road accessibility somewhat limited along the Sonora Pass Highway. Ebbetts (CA 4) has more dirt road accessibility, especially beyond Beardsley Lake.
County Line Road #6N06 will take you past a developed NFS Camp called Fence Creek Campground. The dirt road climbs into the forest meadows, with 2 trailheads to be found within a few miles. Horse Corral at Wheats Meadow. Numerous primitive campsites for backpackers, car campers, horse campers. Lush meadows, hidden forests, boulder outcroppings, dead end roads.
Back behind Pinecrest Lake & Dodge Ridge Ski are several dirt road loops w/ primitive camping at Bell Meadow Crabtree
Campfire permits are Required for camping outside of developed NFS campgrounds. Obtain a free campfire permit before you build a fire. Have a bucket and shovel at camp, always; attend the fire at all times.
Levitt Lake @ 9556′ elev, on the eastern slope of Sonora Pass has rocky road to wonderful scenery. Mid summer snow melt, so bring the good jacket – even in summer. High elevation camping, hiking, kayaking; rock scrambling at tree line. This alpine lake best reached with high clearance vehicle.
Union, Utica, and Spicer Reservoirs have a few dirt roads to explore off Spicer Rd #7N01, with abundant trails for hiking and mountain biking. Tons of firewood, free for the cutting. Bring your saw!
Kayaking and canoeing are popular at both Union and Utica. Dirt road access. No motors on lake. FREE LAKE CAMP: Shoreline camping is possible, but summer crowds – can get downright insane. Nothing like a traffic jam in the middle of nowhere. Big families camping out all week long w/ all their toys, tents, multiple vehicles. Try to visit in the off-season for the best experience at these 2 lovely lakes. Spicer has developed campgrounds w/ fees, but has real boat ramps and can also accommodate RV campers.
OHV Trails Stanislaus
4×4 camps and dirt bike trails can be found at Niagra Creek, on the south side of Highway 108, before Clarks Fork.
Union Reservoir has a popular 4WD trail that connects up to Lake Alpine @ Ebbetts Pass.
BACK ROADS TIP
Regular dirt roads can become “4WD needed” with any decent amount of snow or heavy rains, especially on the steeper sections. Remember: No guard rails on the dirt roads. If you plan to camp ‘way back in there, in the boonies’ – make sure you know the weather forecast and have a vehicle that can get out; no matter how sloppy the road gets. Thunderstorms are possible. Snow is 75% of the year.
The remote town of North Bloomfield is part of Malakoff Diggins State Park, an old mining operation inside of a dense forest. Located in Northern Gold Country, North of Nevada City, CA – the Yuba River region attracts tourists and locals alike. Far enough off the beaten path, that many do not make the extra trek, more than a dozen miles off NB Highway 49. Save it for next time and decades will pass.
Autumn colors can start as early as September and last through October. Maple trees line the small Main Street, turning orange, then a brilliant red during fall.
Antique buildings w/ furnishings. A graveyard, schoolhouse, viewpoints w/ benches. Impressive trees and old shacks. Hiking trails throughout the park.
State Park w/ ranger lead tours, daily. Cabins, saloons, museums, a picnic park, a few private homes, and a campground, (reservations recommended).
This region was a hydraulic mining camp from 1852 to 1884, until it was shut down by environmental laws… the first environmental law in California. The rocky debris and silt washing down river was so excessive, that orchards and towns down stream were being buried and many ruined.
A few full time residents still live in this tiny mountain community called North Bloomfield; please respect their privacy as their homes are located right on Main Street
North Bloomfield Road (the long way) leaves Nevada City, paved and it winds through a neighborhood, then crosses the river at Edwards Crossing, hairy one lane bridge built before 1900. Road becomes dirt and steep, dusty in certain sections. Camper vans okay, but no camper trailer or RVs!
1 mile uphill, a BLM Campground for South Yuba River is a cheap, small campground w/ vault toilets. Left loop is ideal, but no campsites are located “on the river”. Near the river, but still a really steep hike.
The long dirt road of North Bloom Field continues northbound, past the campground up into the pine forest. Out to the meadows that used to be Lake City, then onward, veering right to the State Park boundary.
Tyler Foote Road (the paved way), also known as Tyler-Foote Crossing Road and Tyler-Foote Xing Rd. Leaving Nevada City on Highway 49, northbound many miles. Road is paved the whole way and required for those driving RVs or motorhomes.