If you are a whitewater kayaker and you are not familiar with the Otter Bar Lodge, you should learn more about it. This off-the-grid wilderness lodge in California’s northwest corner is not your typical kayaking school. For the last 25 years, Otter Bar has been the premiere destination for whitewater kayak instruction. Its seven-day, all-inclusive program takes paddlers from the flat water of their backyard pond to the surf waves of Class III rapids.
When we went to Otter Bar last year, we flew to Sacramento, rented a car, and drove to the Otter Bar Lodge in Forks of Salmon, CA for whitewater kayaking. This year we decided to drive since we wanted to bring our own kayaks. The trip to Otter Bar from our home is 2000 miles or so, all of it highway. We set aside four days for the trip, driving 8 or more hours each day. On the way home, we set aside five days because driving 8 hours each day is extremely tiring.
The road that leads to the Otter Bar Lodge is Salmon River Road. The website “dangerousroads.org” describes Salmon River Road as one that “tests the skill, and courage, of any driver. It’s definitely not for anyone suffering from vertigo or a fear of landslides. One mistake and it’s a free fall to your death. Below is a picture of a “good section” of the road.
You DO NOT, for one second, try to sight-see while you drive. This is a scary road on which 15 miles per hours seems like speeding.
Anyway, a description of our trip follows.
I-10 all the way. The highlight of this part of the trip was the Pecos County rest stop near Fort Stockton, Texas. I’m not kidding. It is a 5-star rest area!
The parking area is very large, with lots of room for RVs and travel trailers. There are bathrooms inside the building and also outside and they are super clean. Unusual for a rest stop is the fact that the building has a series of large art pieces and metallic sculptures. There is also a little nature trail you can wander around in, although when we stopped there was not a lot of nature to see except for some beautiful flowering plants.
Texas, in general, has great rest areas, but this one is, by far, the best.
A “lowlight” is driving through El Paso, where we spent our first night. It was crowded and the traffic was miserable.
Another lowlight was the hotel we stayed in – the air conditioning stopped every once in a while, the room got hot, then it kicked in again, stopped again, and so on. Hard to get any rest.
Once again, the highlight of this part of the trip was a rest area – the Texas Canyon Rest Area near – well, it is not near any city, really. It is, however, conveniently located at the top of a rise in between sections of nothingness. The rock formations in this area are spectacular. Be sure to take the time to stop even if you don’t need to. Take note that there are rattlesnakes, tarantulas and scorpions in this area, so be alert.
The other “highlight” of the trip is the abundance of signs warning you of dust storms and giving you instructions what to do if one comes up. Fortunately, one did not come up, but seeing the signs certainly kept me alert and awake.
We stopped in Blythe, California for the night. The temperature was 111. Not kidding.
A lowlight, again, was the hotel we stayed in. The floors were laminate, which I think is better than carpet. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of walking around barefoot. The bottoms of my feet turned black! Also, the hotel’s web site advertised free breakfast. When I asked what time it was served, the receptionist said, “Oh. We don’t do that anymore.” Great!
This was a straight shot up I-10 and I-5 to Sacramento. It’s interesting how terrifying traffic makes the time fly. The day before I was exhausted after driving only three hours. This day, after dealing with brake lights suddenly going on, insane drivers weaving in and out of traffic, motorcyclists riding the white lines, I was filled with energy after 4.5 hours.
The picture blow pretty much describes the traffic flow. Thank goodness for the HOV lane, which we were able to use to bypass a lot of the barely moving cars in the other lanes.
I don’t remember stopping at any rest stops, although I am sure we did. The highlight of the trip was the hotel, a Homewood Suites in Sacramento. Clean, cozy, full kitchen and really good breakfast!
After a white-knuckle drive on Sawyer’s Bar Road and a short stint on Salmon River Road, a trip of about 36 miles that took almost two hours, we arrived at Otter Bar. Yay!
Sawyer’s Bar Road, by the way, is much safer than Salmon River Road. You can go actually 20 miles per hour or so on occasion.
FIVE DAYS AT OTTER BAR LODGE
At the bottom of this blog you will find a video showing the kayaking we did, at least some of it. After two days of kayaking, though, we had a half day. Donna and I went hiking on the Wooley Creek trail in the Klamath National Forest. We wanted to get to a spot where we could scramble down a hillside to a pool of very cold water. We remembered the hike taking one hour each way – it took two hours each way. I really need the break to soak my feet in that pool of water when we reached it.
We decided to go through stop in Reno, Vegas, Tucson and Van Horn (Texas) on the way home, taking 5 days instead of 4. It was a wise decision – the roads were less crowded and the scenery better.
An interesting spot along the was NAVSEA in Hawthorne, Nevada. This facility is used to store and maintain naval mines and other munitions. In 1978 the name was changed to the Naval Undersea Warfare Engineering Station.
Hawthorne is also the home of the Hawthorne Army Depot, which stores reserve ammunition to be used after the first 30 days of a major conflict. As such, it is only partially staffed during peacetime, but provision has been made to rapidly expand staffing as necessary.
There are a lot of bunkers in Hawthorne, one of which I show below.
I used to get reports from this site when I worked at NSA. I always wondered why there was a Naval facility in the middle of a Nevada desert. In addition to storing munitions, it is also a site that forwards communications.
There is a nutty conspiracy theory that suggest that California and Nevada sit on a shelf underneath which lies an eastern portion of the Pacific Ocean. Supposedly the Pacific Ocean extends under that shelf to Hawthorne Nevada (and even further?). When Elon Musk said that he was going to start a tunneling project in Hawthorne, all the conspiracy theorists felt vindicated. Unfortunately, they did not realize that Musk’s company is in Hawthorne, California. No matter, right?
There were interesting road signs along the route, the types of which I have never seen before. One is a sign for Big Horn Sheep crossing, and the other is for horse crossing – horses without riders.
We didn’t see any sheep, but we did see what appeared to be wild horses lounging in the prairie. They were really quite beautiful.
Somewhere along the way our F-150 GPS was unable to find some roads. This is the display we got followed by a picture of the road we were on.
This happened a few times. It turns out that, to get the latest maps for Sync, you have to buy them. Instead, my wife hooked our phones up to Sync and used Google Maps. It is a much better system.
A couple of highlights along the way were Raley’s supermarkets and Smith’s supermarkets. Both are huge and have really good prepared meals and sandwiches. One of the Smith’s stores had a full bar inside it, along with great wine selections. Better yet, all the Smith’s had “bargain carts” that contained marked down wines.
I was able to get a Napa Cellars 2015 Chardonnay for $12.35. That’s about $7.00 below normal retail. We were also able to get a Piper Heidsieck Brut champagne for about $35. This champagne gets a 93 from Wine Spectator and normally sells for about $50. We are saving that one for a special occasion.
The final highlight, other than getting home, was the Roadrunner Rest Area Scenic Overlook in Las Cruces, NM. It is very high up and gives a great view of Las Cruces. It also has adobe-like covered areas with tables and a unique sculpture. It is a very nice place to stop and to take a break before heading on.
VIDEO OF WHITEWATER KAYAKING
Here is the link to my video on YouTube: