dry car camping along highway ca-89

A sweet lil’ tune on the banjo.

(This trip occurred in Spring 2019)

One way to get to the East Sierras from the Bay Area is through Highway 89. Most people’s destination lie past this highway and along highway 395 somewhere but I argue to take a stop along this highway to enjoy the beauty this area has to offer. CA-89 goes through a goo size portion of California and for this post I’ll be talking about the part of the highway south of highway 50. Along this section of the highway you’ll make your way along the West Fork of the Carson River which I’ve never fished but have heard of good fly fishing and often see many lining this section of River.

Section of CA-89 we travelled.

Where 89 meets CA-88, if you turn right and head East on 88, you’ll see pull outs for a couple miles that offer access to fishing the West Fork of Carson River. This adventure had us turning left and continuing on 89 through the cute town of Markleeville. Right after the turn about a 1/4 mile up and on your right is a bakery/cafe worth stopping at (Hope Valley Cafe).

West Fork Carson River past the Hope Valley Cafe.

As you travel further down the road, you’ll drive right through the town of Markleeville. Markleeville is a quaint town and is the start of the Death Ride, a bicycle ride that transverses the passes. Those who finish this ride will have travelled 125 miles and climbed 25,000 feet in elevation. I’ll save my legs this time around but I do plan to do this ride some day! You can stop in town at the deli cafe for a breakfast burrito or sandwich or take a peak inside the information center to learn more about the town. There’s also a small post office and general store. The river follows the highway until 89 turns off and heads East. Along this stretch of the highway, it’s worth stopping for a break and a nice walk around Heenan Lake. Heenan Lake is full of heritage trout, if you wait long enough around the shores of this lake, you’ll see schools of very large trout, quite the scene. If you happen to visit in spring, you’ll also be given a nice wildflower show that coats the hillside.

A view from the hillside at Heenan Lake (June).

Between Heenan Lake and 395 is where we pulled off and tested the off road capabilities of my 85 Toyota Van. We were lucky to find a spot that was private, although not close to water, it was located around some beautiful woods with great bird watching and day hikes. It’s amazing what you see when you pull off the highway, park your car and take hikes over tops of mountains. Valleys filled with quiet except for the birds that scatter amongst the brush and blooming scrub.

A view we were treated with on a day hike from camp.
The colors of wildflowers were beautiful. The camera never captures the full beauty.

We spent a beautiful 3 days here, waking up, watching birds, playing the banjo, and taking day hikes to see what others can’t see while driving on the highway. We ate simply and enjoyed the slowness of it all. Cool mornings, morning coffee and allowing ourselves to sit in one spot til the birds became comfortable with our presence is something that was so refreshing and energizing. It was lovely time of relaxation and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

A view of our campsite along CA-89.
Buster doing his morning yoga.

upgrades to the toyota camper van conversion (vol. 1)

1985 Toyota Camper Vanwagon
Off Highway 89 somewhere.

If you’re doing a van conversion or some kind of camper conversion, I recommend creating a very basic set up to start with not a lot of screws or time spent doing it. This is what I’ve learned through various builds. You don’t know exactly what you want until you go camping, you spend time in it and become aware of your own needs. It’s hard to understand our needs in life and that’s the same for building out a van.

I realized I haven’t shared any updates on the my 1985 Toyota Vanwagon Mashin’ Machine. The van has undergone some changes since the original build. I’ve been lucky to take her on a quite a few trips this year and after each trip, I came back with a list of changes or supplies that needed to be added. This is another tip I recommend, when going on weekend trips, create a running list of what’s not comfortable, what would be nice to have, what you don’t need and so forth. You’d think you’d remember everything but after a few years of partying too hard, it’s best written on paper so I can revist when I’m back in a place I can make modifications.

I was able to keep most of the design from before (the folding bench seat and frame). I made a decision to keep the bench seat in bed formation all the time. This saved the hassle of not having to unfold or fold the bed every morning and night. I also gained a ton of storage room below. I made the drawer out of plywood and 2x2s then drilled a couple holes to put some rope through for a handle.

Bed Toyota Vanwagon 1985
This bed doesn’t interfere with accessing the engine compartment.

In the back of the van, I created a divider wall. This was now going to be the area for the electronics, fridge, stove, water, and other various supplies.

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Here is the back of the van, “the kitchen” with the divider wall.

Added 12v fairy lights, you can buy these anywhere from Amazon to eBay for 5 bucks or less. I really like them and I hope to put them on a dimmer switch. They are bright enough to read under, it also helps to run two strands across the van where you’ll want extra light. I did that in the back where the kitchen is and by the seats in the front where our heads rest and we can read.

Back of Van at Night w/ 12v Fairy Lights
Back of Van at Night w/ 12v Fairy Lights

58183079700__30657fda-ca19-4506-b305-392a7ca1a122Upgraded the stove from a Coleman two burner to a cast iron Camp Chef Ranger II Blind Stove. Stays in its place well, has a really night flame, and has a flexible hose for the propane instead of the rigid Coleman attachment.

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A mistake I often make is that before I participate in something, I get all excited about it and I start to research what I think is the best things to buy are and I start trying to figure out everything before actually partaking in that activity. For example, if you take up running, you may not want to research best running shoes, best water bottle, best visor (is that a thing?). Only after running will you realize what you truly need; shoes with more padding, a water bottle with a strap so it’s easy to hold onto, a visor instead of a hat because a hat makes you sweat too much. This relates to building out a van.

I have built out a truck camper shell (see other posts) and a cabover but each vehicle is different. Until I took enough trips in the van, I wouldn’t know what exactly I would need. Taking it slow and easy is the best approach, it’s about the process and not trying to get everything done immediately.

Complete list of revisions so far:

  1. Added a second solar shower (scored one for cheap on Craiglist). Also, it helps to have back up water as well as water to rinse dishes when dry camping.
  2. Added a shower nozzle to one of solar showers. (post coming)
  3. Created a divide for the kitchen and bed.
  4. Inserted plywood sheet to extend bed to the back of the seats.
  5. Made two large pull out drawers, one pulls out from the side and one from the back.
  6. Added a fuse panel. (post coming)
  7. Mounted the inverter.
  8. Added a storage shelf.
  9. Mounted an ARB awning. (post coming)

1985 Toyota Van Forest Road
Down some forest road.