The Call Of Hwy 395 & The Mountains
Every fall around this time (actually, usually much earlier) we feel the call of the mountains. The weather changes, the first nips of winter bite at our heels and we dream of the drive down Hwy 395 on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada’s. We’ve tried to resist (truly we have…purely to do something different), sometimes pushing our drive down to the very last months of fall, and yet we get called back every time. There’s something about the high desert land, the wild, jagged mountains that soar to 14,000 feet and long walks in pine forest that lures us. It’s become our annual transition from the moist, green PNW to the low, dry deserts of the SW and somehow our souls are bound to it.
This time around we’re really on the edge of the edge. November is a late and fickle time to be out here. The first snow storms come through (a big one just hit last week-end), temps vary wildly and you’re always at risk of getting caught in the weather. Also, most of the fall colors are gone, so anyone who was lured by the yellow aspens has already passed by. Yet, here we are…and we’re mad enough to drag along our buddies Technomadia for the drive. Why not, eh?
We started our drive early this week, right after our new inverter install at AM Solar. Hwy 395 (historically called the “three flags” highway because it originally spanned 3 countries, starting on the CA/Mexico border and ending on the WA/Canada border) is one of the most spectacular drives I know. Skirting along the “dry” Eastern Side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains it passes by some of the lowest deserts (Death Valley) and highest mountains (Mt.Whitney) in the US. We typically catch the highway just over half-way down in Reno, NV and take it close to it’s current end in CA.
Mapping The Drive
From our starting point in Eugene, OR, Google maps gives multiple alternative routes to get to Reno, NV each spanning ~460-500 miles and a total of 8-9 hours drive time by car (Note/ you should always plan to tag on several extra hours by RV). The most direct route is via Hwy 97 and Klamath Falls which we’ve done twice before. It takes you by some interesting petroglyphs, through the Lava Beds National Monument & lovely Eagle Lake. However the road is on the bumpy side, and in the past few years we’ve preferred an alternative route on Hwy 5 down to Shasta followed by Hwy 89/44 across to Susanville.
Both routes are easy driving with plenty of open BLM & forest service land (= free overnighters). As with any drive we do we’ll look at Google maps to see how curvy it is & check our Mountain Directory West book to see if there are any warnings on the way. The next thing we check is stopovers (where we want to overnight) and gas stops (using our handy GasBuddy app to see pricing and Google street-view to check for big-rig access). Our usual driving pace is around ~150 miles/day (preferably no more than 200 miles), and typically we’ll stop for several days rest along the way. Given the lateness of fall (errrr…earliness of winter?), however we decided to make it 3 drives in 3 days so we could get to Reno in a reasonable time.
See how RV planning works?
Passing The CA Agricultural Inspection
The last thing to be aware of on the drive is that passing into CA involves an agricultural stop. There’s very few states that do this kind of thing, but CA, because of it’s extensive farming community, is particularly strict and every major road into the state will involve a stop at one of these stations. California has a ban on certain imports including citrus and butternut squash (from everywhere) and many other fruits/veggies (depending on where you bought them). The full list of restrictions is HERE (pdf download). When you get stopped, the agent at the station will usually ask you if you are bringing in any fruits or veggies and if you say “no” they’ll typically just wave you by. However they are absolutely within their legal right to stop & search your rig (AND fine you if you’re lying), so it’s worth knowing what you can and can’t bring into the state.
And The Beauty Of Just Doing It….
That’s all the technicalities of the drive, but what is it actually like??
What can I say? The drive down here is RV road-tripping at it’s best. The OR/CA border part of Hwy 5 is (IMHO) the absolute nicest section of that major artery taking you from the lush, green hills of Oregon to the rolling forests and a spectacular view of 14,179 ft white-topped Mt.Shasta. As you veer off 5 onto the 2-lane relaxation of Hwy 44 you enter a rich pine forest that meanders through the corners of the famous Pacific Crest Trail to streamed valleys and panoramic overlooks. The final section of the drive takes you through small towns and high desert until you finally see the teasing peaks of the Sierra Nevada’s in the distance. Relaxed, easy, gorgeous -> this is what RV driving is aaaaaallll about, my friends!
We ended the 3-day route at our favorite 395 staging point, the lovely Washoe Lake State Park. This little hidden gem is only a few miles off 395, yet feels like it’s miles away. Large, spacious RV sites with 360-degree views amidst a crazy, intense aroma of sweet sage. Humidity has dropped from an Oregon 90% to a mere 45% and the skies are a rich turquiose blue. Our summer on the coast already seems a long, long way away. Dry lips, high desert and the lure of the mountains. As I say every year….let the magic of 395 begin.