Migratory Routes of the Pacific NW Snowbirds

The Pacific Northwest Snowbirds can choose between a number of routes as they travel back and forth to the warm overwintering grounds. In this blog I will discuss several of these routes.
But first my credentials: My wife and helpmate of fifty two years and I retired in May of 2004. We married off our daughter, sold our house and went on the road full time that summer. We purchased a used Alpine motor home in September of 2004. Since then we have traveled 119,548 miles on a total of 1170 travel days. If you are keeping track that is an average day’s drive of 102 miles. Some days were less than a mile because we were changing campsites within the same campground, however our maximum day’s drive ever was 345 miles. We officially recognize the 230 rule. That is 230 maximum miles and/or 2:30 in the afternoon; we get off the road and camp for the night. We have only exceeded that 68 times in over twelve years. Only 8 were over 300 miles. Most of these were on our annual trek north and south.

We are having to be more creative to find new and interesting routes each year. Here are some of the basic requirements,

1. Minimize risk of running into snow.
2. Minimize exposure to traffic in large urban areas.
3. Crooked mountain roads especially if gravel is involved are not cool.
4. Cost of toll roads, toll bridges and ferries must be balanced against the fuel needed to avoid them. This can be discounted by the scenic value of the alternate route. Remember: “It’s the journey not the destination that counts.”
5. We try to avoid the big mountain arteries with heavy truck traffic. If you must mix it up with the “Big Boys” on long grades be prepared to run the gauntlet when you come up behind a slow, 25 mph truck, or be patient and poke along behind them to the top of the hill.
6. Consider taking the day off when you encounter “four letter weather” days, i.e. wind, rain and that biggie, snow. Wait for a three letter weather day, sun

Consider this dilema: You are half way along a thousand mile trip. You notice an attraction that is half way there but it is 50 miles off the route. The cost to stop now is an extra 100 miles and perhaps loosing a day on your planned itinerary. To come back from either end is 1100 miles and four days hard travel. Should you stop? Can you stop? If you have reservations you will not stop, guaranteed. Remember: “It’s the journey…”
My point is: Don’t make reservations; stop early; layover often; be flexible. Oh yes, on our northbound trip this year we were unable to stop in the Fallon, Reno, Sparks area. Every campground was full of migrating snowbirds and spring break revelers. The next logical stop northbound was Winnemucca, another 100 miles and two hours away. We were only 100 miles into the day and it was lunch time. We called ahead, but decided against reservations at any of the three camps that claimed to have plenty of room. We had lunch, fueled up and then drove to Winnemucca before 2:30. We found a delightful, brand new, campground, the “New Frontier RV Camp.” It cost us $19 instead of over $40 they were asking in Sparks.
Let’s study the reality of Snowbirding. We will use a nominal migration route from Portland Oregon to Phoenix Arizona. The “Great Circle Route” is the shortest possible distance which is right at 1000 miles. Here are some more practical routes between Portland Oregon and Phoenix Arizona:

Route 1: Take I-5 and SR-58 across Tehachapi Pass, I-40 to Kingman and US-93 into Phoenix. This basic route is right at 1400 miles, and at worse you might have to time it right to cross the Siskiyous between Oregon and California.

Route 2: Take I-5 all the way to SR-138 at the top of the Grapevine. Visit Lancaster and/or Palmdale. From Palmdale take SR-18 and SR-247 to Yucca Valley and sift your way through Joshua Tree Wilderness to I-10 thence to Phoenix. As you blow by, consider staying a week in Quartzsite. Either a campground or just parking it on the desert for free. The distance is also right at 1400 miles.

Route 3: Again take I-5 to Mount Shasta and across SR-89, SR-44, and SR-36 to Suzanville. SR-36 merges with US-395 on into Reno Nevada. From there you can continue right down US-395 through Bishop California. You join up with Route 1 at SR-58 at Kramer. This route also is right at 1400 miles.

Route 4: is similar to Route 3. At Reno you head east on SR-50 and SR-50A to Fallon Nevada then south on US-95 through Hawthorn and Tonapah to LasVegas. Once you get to Bolder it is an easy run down to Kingman on US-93 and finally I-40 to US-93 to Phoenix. Surprise, this route is about 1325 miles.

Route 5: Is different in that it runs up the Columbia River Gorge to The Dalles on I-84. From there take US-197 and US-97 to Bend, Oregon. Now take US-20 and SR-78 to Burns Junction. Take US-95 South to I-80 at Winnemucca, Nevada, and follow I-80 to US-95, which will take you to Fallon Nevada. Follow this into Las Vegas where US-95 and I-40 take you through Kingman Arizona to US-93 and straight into Phoenix Arizona.

Route 6: Follows Route 5 but instead of turning off at The Dalles you continue on to Pendleton Oregon and takes US-395 south to Mount Vernon, across US-26 to John Day and south on US-395 to Burns where you join back up with Route 5.

Route 7: Is our “snow on the Siskiyous” route. Pick a convenient pass through the Coast Range in Oregon to get to 101. Anything from US-30 on the Columbia River to Astoria to US-26 to Seaside or SR-18 to Lincoln City, or US-20 from Albany to Newport. You have a beautiful drive down through Eureka California. It then takes you inland to Santa Rosa California. From there we usually work our way through the Sonoma valley to Napa on SR-12 and back to I-80 and I-680 to transit the “Bay Area.” It adds very little to overall distance, but adds enormously to the required time. We stop in every little town, day use area and assorted ice cream and cheese factory outlets.

Do not, I repeat, do not be tempted to drift off onto California SR-1 into the “Bay Area” crossing the Golden Gate into downtown San Francisco. This runs up against both Rules 2 and 3 big time. SR1 exactly fits the kind of a road my Grandfather was talking about when he said “That road was so crooked that you had to keep the tarp tied down tight on the wagon to keep the mule from grabbing a bite of oats every time you went around the corner.”
Each of these seven basic routes have sub routes thqat either cross over from one route to another or take scenic byways, looping out and back. As long as you stay within the basic rectangle of the Oregon Coast to around Twin Falls Idaho straight down to Phoenix Arizona the distances fall between 1300 and 1500 miles.
Not all routes need to fit within the box. In 2011 we took off from Phoenix and headed up through the “Four Corners” over to Santa Fe and across Oklahoma to Arkansas. We worked our way through Tennessee and Kentucky to Ohio and Michigan, up to the Upper Peninsula and back down through Wisconsin to Oshkosh for the EAA fly-in. On the way back we went through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming. Finally working our way through Utah and Idaho back to Washington where we finally stopped in Sequim to visit Judy’s sister at the end of August. That was nearly 7000 miles in 52 traveling days and only 8 days where we drove over 200 miles and an average drive of 130 miles and 43 days of no travel at all. Remember the rule. “It’s the Journey, not the Destination that Counts.” Most other vacation trips are what I call the “All Americaan Vacation.” You look at your calendar watch and comment “Oh, its Tuesday, this must be Orlando!” Ok, so I am out of date, you look at your smart phone and see that you are in Orlando, so it must be Tuesday.

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