Travelogues from TheTraveler
Tales of exotic adventures, humorous anecdotes, and musings from The Traveler... The adventure awaits...
Day 3 - Cheyenne, WY to Littleton, CO (with highlights from Wyoming)
- Littleton, Colorado -
The Return Journey
Part 2 - Glenwwod Canyon
UT to Ely, NV -
Ely, NV to San Francisco, CA - The Loneliest Road in America:
The Road Dog Tour
Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, California
A Road Dog Defined:
For the purposes of this travelogue, I present my definition of a Road Dog:
A Road Dog is a loner. This does not necessarily mean that he is anti-social. It does mean that a Road Dog gets quite enough social interaction in the course of managing his life, and yearns for the quite, lonely places. Solitude is sought after and not avoided.
A Road Dog loves to drive - but not so much in the city.
He is happy in the angled light and long shadow of early morning and late afternoon. He is happiest in the fading light of twilight, when the mysteries of the land are reveal themselves, only to be swallowed up, too soon, in the darkness of oncoming night.
A Road Dog finds comfort in the desolate two-lane blacktop, with the rhythmic pulse of the broken white line slipping underneath his wheels.
A Road Dog prefers the open window to the air conditioned cabin.
His left arm is sunburned, his right arm is white.
To a Road Dog, it's just as much about the journey as it is about the destination.
8:30AM - It starts with a magnificent ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. After a blustery, wet, and cool spring, Mother Nature rewards The City's patience with a brilliant and warm spring morning. The bridge was radiant in the early morning sunshine.
"Oh, yeah... so that's why I live here!"
But it's time to get out of the few square miles that inhabit most of my perception and move out into the great wide open of the American West.
It isn't until a little beyond Auburn, about 45 miles east of Sacramento, that I am not reminded by some street name or offramp that I regularly used in my career as a road dog.
It is when the climbing road rounds a bend and the majestic snowcapped peaks of the Sierra Nevada spread magically across my windshield that I think
"Oh, yeah, that's why I'm doing this"
In one morning I see out my moving window two of natures most powerful tugs on my psyche - The Sea, and the Tall Mountains of the American West.
Beyond Tahoe and I am on road that I last rode when just a lad of twelve and our family was moving to the Bay Area from Colorado. Only now it is in the opposite direction, thirty-two years later, and I am driving back to Colorado and toward family.
Well, I just made all that up obviously. But I've always been fascinated by the tragic story of the Donner Party. I ride in respectful silence coaxing my "little truck that could" through the mountain pass that proved so impossible to that party of men, women and children, and to all those that struggled for months to reach the other side of the Sierra Nevada.
Road trips weren't nearly so much fun back then.
1:45pm - About 80 miles east of Reno (which was known as Truckee Meadows when the Donner party passed through), I stop at an arid and treeless rest stop for lunch, which Jayne had meticulously packed for me. After lunch and a short stretch of the legs I amble back to "the little truck that could" (you may see this henceforth referred to as "tlttc") just as two large pickups with long vented trailers slowly roll in near me. The trailers are obviously designed to haul animals, but I don't see any. My ignorant city mind is wondering where the horses are when unseen from the rear trailer a sheep blats a plaintive hello. I am starting to learn a little bit about this country, though I don't yet realize it.
About forty miles east of lunch I approach Lovelock with a sign describing the area as Cowboy Country. The country is beautiful but in a rugged, forbidding kind of way. Coming into the western edge of town I see on my right some cranes and pipes and silos and conveyors and stacks engaging in whatever industrial process supports the land of the cowboy, on my left is a church steeple. Life here in this alkali desert looks hardscrabble.
At the west end of town I come upon a ruggedly handsome man, his tanned face belies many hard hours on the road. He is sitting with his back against a lamppost at the end of the last onramp out of Lovelock, intently reading a book. He seems unconcerned about getting a ride, as if he knows that a ride will surely come. I imagine what stories he might have of adventures on the road. But TLTTC has room for only one human with my old road dog writing desk installed in the passenger seat.
Then I wonder if there are any prisons nearby.
Only to drive by a very serious looking sign about forty miles later stating that I am in a "Prison Zone - No Hitchhiking Allowed".
Well at least the sign didn't say I was in "The Twilight Zone".
Only a couple of minutes later I am passing an 18-wheeler and I suddenly notice the sign attached to the rear of the trailer that says "It's not a choice, it's a child". Flying along in the middle of the vast Nevada desert in the hot afternoon sun, my mind doesn't automatically make the leap that the trucker obviously wishes me to make into this moral and political hot potato...
But what's this? An American flag strapped to the side of an SUV? And then a highly charged political statement slapped on the back of a tractor trailer? Well, that's it then; I'm getting out my "Impeach Bush" flag...
Only joking of course.
Back to the top
Last night I made a snide remark about Elko, as if there would be nothing interesting going on here.
Well, there's the Cowboy Poets Convention, and the Northeastern Nevada Museum. The official Elko website tells us that Elko is the "best small town in America". Right now as I sit at my open hotel window I can see the lights and hear the announcer as a hotly contested little league game is in progress at the neat and trim ballpark across the street, giving the place that small town America feel that the town leaders lay claim to.
Elko is also a center for Basque sheepherders, who immigrated here in large numbers in the 1870's to the mountainous region surrounding Elko, taking up a solitary and simple life. The town is known for many unique Basque restaurants. Next door is one of them, which I shall visit in the morning.
But right now I must study some maps and get some sleep. Tomorrow is a long drive of almost 670 miles before I make Cheyenne, Wyoming.
This is your roving reporter, out in the Great American West, singing off for now.
Day 2 - Elko, NV to Cheyenne, WY
I don't know how much I'll get written this evening. I lost an hour at the Utah border and they won't give it back until I cross back into Nevada. I'm also shaking off the gangrene that has begun to set in my right leg (don't let anyone tell you that cruise control is a luxury when you're driving trough the west). After all that and almost 700 miles, I'm a bit weary, but the drive offered some scenes of breathtaking beauty, and even some whimsical humor, so I'll do the best I can.
The Little Truck that Could is glad to get a clean windshield; I am happy for a clean bathroom and a chance to - well, you know, walk off the gangrene. (for the record for those that would tend to worry about such talk - I'm joking! Really!)
The Flaming Gorge -
Originating near the Continental Divide in the Wind River Mountains, the Green River begins its journey toward the Gulf of California passing through Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Interstate 80 skirts the northern tip of Flaming Gorge. And for that I am most grateful.
About thirty miles or so east of Little America the land seems to rise all around me, at times culminating in massive buttes, layered in streaks of brown, rust, and gray. They rise up in miraculous castle-like formations. I come upon a very short tunnel through a sheer slap of orange-red rock. It is mid afternoon, about 3:00, and the sun is starting to angle down toward sunset. Suddenly I am in the tunnel bathed in artificial halogen light, and just as suddenly I shoot once again into the slanting light as it reveals the most glorious rock formation yet on the trip. A landscape of an immense, gaping, multi-colored gorge, flaming color in the angled light - Flaming Gorge.
The landscape is so vast that it feels as if it will swallow up the road, with me in my little truck (that could) consumed by this magnificent gorge.
There are worse ways to go.
Such is the case at around 500 miles with my eyes telling me that I see a biker on the shoulder up ahead, a few dozen miles, at least, from even the nearest empty rancher's shack. I immediately start to dismiss it as a mirage when my eyes insist that what I am seeing is a biker. I'll be damned; but wait, there's something different about this bike... it's... what the...
In the few seconds that I have to really get a good look I see that it is a man in a yellow coat, blank pants (I think), and round black cap or helmet. The back of his coat says something in big black letters but I am not able to make it out.
The man is riding what I would call a circus bike. The kind with a real curvy frame, the rider sitting right on top of an oversized front wheel, with an undersized back wheel trailing behind. The best example I can think of is the kind of bikes used on the old 60's TV show "The Prisoner".
How this guy keeps that thing upright in the middle of the undulating Wyoming countryside, even while wave after wave of 18-wheelers speed by leaving a powerful rush of wind in their wake, is a mystery to me.
Not to mention why...
Amidst all the grand monuments of nature is a little man on a circus bike.
Man is a funny beast.
9:43am - How luxurious! Here it is almost 10:00 already and I'm just here lolling in my room getting a head start on today's writing. I've got most of it behind me now and with only 120 miles or so to go, I can take the time to sit and relax a bit as I look out of my balcony at tall pine trees and enjoy a glorious morning here in Cheyenne.
I will start by filling in what I didn't get to last night about yesterday's drive through the Great Basin, the Salt Flats and Great Lake Desert Range, the Monte Cristo Range northeast of Salt Lake City, then onto the Great Divide Basin, Red Desert, Buttes, Flaming Gorge, majestic peaks and grand vistas of Wyoming.
Some highlights from yesterday:
It is on to the Evanston and the Wyoming border.
The Continental Divide actually divides in this area - the Continental Divide divide. Actually known as the Great Divide Basin, it encompasses the Red Desert, which appears to be more shrub brush and low trees, more greenish brown than red.
Back to the top
Cheyenne to Littleton...
I get off Interstate 25 at Fort Collins and take the route into Littleton through Loveland, Berthod, Longmont, Broomfield, and on into Lakewood and then Littleton.
The going is slower than the Interstate, of course, but provides a chance to see some of the smaller towns that make up northeastern Colorado, with their wide main streets lined with red brick storefronts, tree lined side streets, and grassy parks.
the small towns aren't immune to the strip malls and massive chains
that seem somehow diametrically opposed to cozy Main Street America.
There is where the Foremans lived, and the Trimbles; and there it is; the trees that Dad planted have grown up tall and green, the house has weathered well the decades since it was a frame shell of a house on a dirt plot with a sign in front telling the world "This house is being built for the Schuenemans".
We left that house thirty two years ago with a tearful goodbye for our journey to San Francisco. I now sit in front of the house, having retraced the steps that led to my current life in San Francisco. I want to tell that scared, skinny kid with coke bottle glasses that there will be some rough years and a lot of stupid mistakes, but it will all be okay. Life, work, love, and happiness are waiting in San Francisco. I want to tell that scared skinny kid these things, so I do. He isn't quite so skinny anymore, but he says thanks.
My parents left California in 1979, the last move of a successful career with the federal government. (my dad played a role in helping to create the Continental Divide Trail fromCanada to Mexico, just to name one of numerous achievements), and settled once again in Colorado.
I now leave my childhood home behind and travel the last few miles to my parent's home in Littleton...
Supplemental - Littleton, Colorado
What the Hail?
San Francisco has its fog.
And the front range of eastern Colorado has its afternoon thunderstorms.
But in all cases, Mother Nature sometimes likes to throw us a curve.
Mother Nature threw me a direct curve and it really smarted!
We started the day with an outing to a museum called "The Wildlife Experience". A new facility located in Lonetree, about six miles southwest of Denver. The Wildlife Experience was financed entirely with private money (the founder ReMax real estate) and features interpretive displays of a variety of animals and their habitat, using various media, including painting, sculpture, photography, and taxidermy. The exhibits regularly change, so if you don't find everything to your liking on your first visit, come again! There is also an Imax type theater currently featuring "Ocean Oasis" about the unique ocean environment around Baja California in Mexico. National Geographic also had some multimedia displays discussing various environmental issues.
I like the idea of any venue supporting worthy artists and their vision of the natural world while helping to educate the public of these wonders and the environmental perils we now face.
Wealth in pursuit of a commendable goal; A note to Nike - do you really need to spend 90 million dollars for a teenage kid who hasn't sit foot on a pro basketball court (let alone a college classroom) in order to hawk your shoes? Maybe you should consider paying the workers that put your shoes together a little better. Just an idea.
Anyway, at 9:30 in the morning we meet my cousin and his wife to catch the 10:00 showing of "Ocean Oasis" and to check out the rest of the facility.
After lunch it is on to Parker, a few miles from Wildlife Experience, to tour my cousin's new house and spend more time visiting.
By late afternoon the darkening skies portend an oncoming thunderstorm, creating a childlike sense of excitement - "Oh, boy! Thunder and lightening!" (we don't get thunder and lightening very often in San Francisco)
Soon the rain is pounding down on the roof in sheets. But suddenly the sound of the rain intensifies, as if the house is being bombarded with tiny little cannonballs, which it is - little cannonballs of ice.
This stops our card game as we all go to the windows to watch the intensifying hail storm. Parker appears to be ground zero as pea and marble sized hail inundates the neighborhood. After a few minutes it looks as if the hail storm will subside, but then it comes back, stronger than ever.
At this point, we become concerned for my dad's Honda sitting in the driveway. My cousin starts to search for something we can cover the car with; the hail keeps coming more intense than I've ever seen before.
Holding a large sheet of cardboard over my head, I venture out into the tempest still a little excited to experience such unusual weather (for me anyway). I reach the car as the hail eases up just a bit and throw the cardboard over the top of the car. Even though less intense, the sky is still raining down little balls of ice. Several score direct hits on my shoulders, arms, and back with a sting. This is no gentle caress of springtime rain, this is "ouch!".
It would make sense that little balls of ice dumped from the sky in dump-truck size loads every few seconds would smart, but in my child like glee (camouflaged by a "heroic" attempt to save my dad's car from a multitude of little dents) this is a lesson I need to learn first hand.
By the time my dad, cousin, and I get the car completely covered, the storm has subsided for good. In the neighborhood all around, folks are standing in their garages and at their front room windows looking out upon the thirty minutes of havoc nature has just wrought. The storm gutters in the street flow like muddy little rivers.
While my dad's car comes through unscathed (a testament to Honda), it appears as if there is some damage to my cousin's house, as his air conditioning unit has stopped working.
And this was only marble-sized hail.
When my parents and I get home, about twenty miles away, it is apparent that there was not a drop of rain in my parent's neighborhood.
And I thought only the Bay Area had micro-climates!
we never did get much thunder and lightening.
Day 1 - Littleton, CO to Moab, UT
Part 1 - Over the Rockies:
When your parents live over one thousand miles away, you don't get to see them that often, and it is always sad when a visit comes to an end. Perhaps this isn't true for everyone, but it is true for my siblings and I, bittersweet as that may be. At 8:30AM I wave a melancholy goodbye as the Little Truck that Could and I start our journey over the Rockies toward the fire-colored rock canyon country of Moab, Utah to explore Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
As soon as I swing west off of C470 as it circles around the southwest edge of metro Denver onto Interstate I70, the (poor) Little Truck (that Could) is gasping for breath. The little engine is tuned for sea level; we start off at around 5600 or 5700 hundred feet and head up out of the gate. But the engine is young and doesn't falter, even if she is underpowered and mistuned for the mighty Rockies.
In just about an hour I summit the road at 11,013 feet and pass through the 1.7 mile Eisenhower Tunnel - the highest auto tunnel in the world.
Here are some more interesting tunnel tidbits:
The pilot bore was drilled in 1964.
The west-bound bore (which originally carried two-way traffic) began construction in 1968 and opened for traffic on March 8, 1973.
The east-bound bore began construction in 1976 and opened for traffic on December 21, 1979.
The tunnel has a staff of 50 employees that offer a range of services from emergency response to tunnel washing, fan maintenance, tunnel sweeping, and snow plowing.
The tunnel is never closes except for emergencies.
The maintenance bill comes to 1.25 million dollars per mile.
About an hour after leaving Littleton TLTTC is chugging through this civil engineering feat.
This is mildly astonishing to me. This trip through the mountains is much quicker than I remember from childhood trips over the mountains - having left in 1971 we always had to drive over the Continental Divide on Loveland Pass.
The day was warm when I left Littleton, as I enter the tunnel, snow fields lay along the side of the road. Though still warm for this altitude, the air is crisp and the light is sharp and a little ethereal, as it is only at high altitudes.
On the other side of the tunnel, the road heads down and soon I am at the 8,150 summit of Vail Pass.
All through the mountains, the countryside is vertical - towering snow-capped peaks; through Vail the land starts to level out just a little. Across the road runs a valley of green spring time color, running into a sheer rock face covered with the darker green of tall pine trees. At the very top of the cliff the orange-red rock pokes through. A waterfall cascades down between the Pines onto the rock below.
West of Vail I drive through narrower canyon once again along Eagle Creek and the town of Eagle. On the opposite side of the stream, railroad tracks hug the side of the canyon.
As I continue to descend, the jagged rust colored rock smoothes into brownish gray and soon I pass by the town of Gypsum. The extent of my research is to suggest that the name of the town is indicative of the change in the color of the rock.
Between Gypsum and our next town of note, Dotsero, the color of the landscape has changed back to orange-red. At Dotsero I cross over the Colorado River. I'll lose count the number of times I cross this big, wide, meandering, muddy river.
Just west of Dotsero the land rises into brownish-red hills, vertically rutted like a series of ridges and valleys turned on their heads. A few more miles and the distant hills change to sheer, rust and gold colored rock walls hugging either side of the road. I am entering Glenwood Canyon.
Native Americans and early settlers preferred to go over the mountains than through this steep, treacherous, and beautiful canyon. The Colorado River has carved a sixteen mile stretch out of the granite; a magnificent testament to the sublime power of nature, which is easily enjoyed via one of the most modern, environmentally sensitive, and well designed roads ever built.
The first attempts at"taming" this canyon came in 1887, when the Denver and Rio Grand Railroad completed the first rail line, hugging the south side of the canyon. (In 1983, Amtrack routed its California Zephyr through Glenwood Canyon, four years too late for my ride from Denver to Martinez, CA on the Zephyr line; something I am determined to amend one day.)
In 1902, the first road was built through the canyon, nothing much more than a gravel, rutted affair with some improvement made in 1914. In 1938 paving and widening improvement where completed and the road through Glenwood Canyon remained pretty much unchanged through the ensuing decades. In 1975, it was decided to complete Interstate 70 from Denver west into Utah.
Other routes where considered diverting from Glenwood Canyon, but none proved satisfactory; Glenwood Canyon would be the route for the interstate freeway.
The section between Dotsero in the east and No Name to the west would present the greatest challenge to completion. Fortunately, an attitude of "do it right" was adopted early on. All parties concerned, from the local communities of Glenwood Springs and Dotsero, to environmental advocacy groups, government agencies, and construction contractors did their part to complete this true marvel of large scale engineering with environmental sensitivity as a guiding principal.
The roadbed was diverted around individual trees. Construction techniques never before used in the United States were employed to construct an interstate highway that blends in with the surrounding natural beauty. A paved path for hikers and bicycles runs from Dotsero to Glenwood Springs.
From the extent of my research, I can't find anyone that is not happy with the result here. This extent of little more than a dozen miles of roadway was completed in 1995, finally completing the Interstate Highway System.
If anyone where to ask my opinion, it was all worth it; the road through Glenwood Canyon is an example of the right way of doing things.
The trail leads up along a tributary, its rushing water falling into the much broader and less turbulent Colorado. I look up and above me several hundred feet is the highway, following the contour of the canyon, magically suspended along its northern wall.
I can say
unequivocally that this is the best interstate highway rest stop I have
I stop in Glenwood Springs and have a quick lunch sitting inside the truck. I am back on the road heading toward Grand Junction and the Utah border by half past noon.
The landscape is broad, open, and warm in the early afternoon sun. The vertical walls have spread out into rolling hillsides, carpeted with green pine trees to almost the top, with the last bit of hilltop rising almost vertically, treeless and gray, to a wide and flat mesa at the peak.
Continuing on toward Grand Junction and the hillside continues to flatten out in what I immediately call "table land"; broad expanses of land covered with desert shrub brush. Snaking through it all, meandering to the left of the road, and then back to the right is the Colorado River, wide and slow and mighty. It is the river that is the common thread throughout the landscape from Glenwood Canyon on to my final destination of Moab, Utah. This is the start of the wide swath of land through the southwest that is shaped by the river - the Colorado Plateau.
About forty miles east of Grand Junction the highway is riding the southern side of a wide canyon. To the north are some small lagoons and pools jutting off at a slight bend in the river. The area is a Colorado State Park and I impulsively head off the road and pay the five dollar entrance fee to have a look-see and take a break.
Cruising through the camping area filled with campers, trailers, and RV's the only human I see is a man braving the afternoon heat instead of sitting comfortably in his air-conditioned RV, adjusting his satellite dish for optimum television reception. The scene invoking such profound irony as to escape adequate words to describe it; or perhaps I am too much a cynic and the man is actually adjusting his connection with nature...
In any case, it is worth the price of admission.
I park at a trail head between the lagoon area full of happy picnickers and the slightly spooky area with the lone humanoid adjusting his satellite dish. Just over a small embankment is a path running alongside the river. I walk a few hundred yards down the path toward a small stand of trees, alive with the sound of birds. Along the path are numerous little spurs off the main path leading a few feet right to the edge of the river. I can get my shoes wet in the muddy Colorado if I want to. I investigate some of these spurs, looking for that unique angle to photograph the river, with questionable success.
After sauntering about the river for twenty minutes or so, I eye the interstate to the south, climb back into my truck, and make my way back to the freeway.
Soon I pass by Grand Junction, Colorado. I don't really see the town, off to the north somewhere, but the area immediately surrounding the road loses its slightly parched appearance and turns into a fertile greenness that gives a sweet smell to the air rushing by my open window.
Moving past Grand Junction and on toward Utah, cumulus clouds build on the horizon to the southwest, at times hiding the sun. More desert, low shrub brush; thinking the Colorado River has moved off in a different direction only to cross it one more time.
Eventually the river moves off to the southwest and I finally cross into Utah. I stop at a friendly and well staffed rest stop full of brochures and information about all the wonderful things to do in Utah, and it looks like there's plenty. I pick up several brochures and booklets about Arches and Canyonlands and make my way back out into the afternoon heat.
About five minutes after getting back on the freeway I am at the turn-off for route 191 and the thirty mile drive south to Moab. Just off the interstate, the landscape is low and flat with sparse vegetation. Further south the land begins to rise in sharp angles of fiery red.
It is only about 3:30 when I come upon the entrance to Arches National Park, and the visitor's center is clearly visible from the road. Since it is the policy of the National Park to allow reentry for up to seven days after paying your entrance fee, I decide to make a stop at the center to scope things out a bit - and get more books and brochures - before making my way to my accommodations four miles further down the main highway.
I emerge from the center armed with maps and booklets, ready to find my base of operations and spend the evening studying my material in preparation of tomorrow's adventure.
I turn south back onto route 191 and within two minutes I am once again crossing over what has become a familiar friend - the Colorado River.
just a little corner of what is considered the Colorado Plateau, and
I am eager to explore it.
The Return Day 2
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
5:30 in the morning comes early, as it usually does, but the hour finds me stumbling into consciousness, prepared to make the most of my day in the canyon land of southeastern Utah, of which Moab is the heart.
After a fine and speedy breakfast at the local Dennys, I am off to Arches to catch the park in relative coolness and quietness. But most especially to try and capture the morning light...
"Photography is not about capturing images of objects, it's about capturing images of light on objects" Thus is the advice in the Arches Visitor Guide, and fine advice it is.
The ranger manning (or womaning, as the case may be) the entrance to the park waves me through when I show her my receipt purchased yesterday afternoon and I am up the road into the park taking my first photograph; of the Moab Fault, a huge wall of layered sandstone, radiating red in the early morning sun. It's 7:10am.
I had read in a guide book purchased at the visitor's center yesterday that the Window Arch hike was fairly easy with great scenery - and that it is usually a perfect example of overcrowding in the National Parks; best to get there early for a good warm-up hike.
Happily, there are few cars in the parking lot as I ease TLTTC into a parking stall and prepare for my first hike. As it turns out, the only people I see on the trail are coming down just as I start up a shallow incline of steps toward Windows Arch and Turret Arch.
The path soon demands a decision, and I take the right fork toward Turret Arch. Turret Arch is, of course, supposed to look like a turret. Or at least as much like a turret as a large sandstone monolith is likely to look. The naming of natural wonders does get a bit whimsical at times.
The trail loops around, giving me more photographic opportunities in the shifting light and shadow, heading toward South Window of Windows Arch.
I find I am on the 1.5 mile Windows Primitive Trail instead of the 0.9 mile in-and-back trail I had started on, which is just fine by me. The sound of my own breathing, the soft whistle of the wind in the low desert brush, an occasional call from a hawk as he lazily rides the rising warm air, and the almost imperceptible scurrying of a small lizard or two are the only sounds I hear.
Primitive Trail runs around "the back" of Windows Arch (as the guidebook describes it), and I revel in the view and in the solitude. I have no regrets for getting up at 5:30 in order to enable this moment of peace, as I gaze upon this remarkable process of evolution that, to our limited perception, appears to be standing still.
In our computer image generated world it may be a little too easy to take the most fantastic images for granted.
"A huge red rock sticking up out of the ground with big holes in the middle like windows - cool..."
My God man! Think of what it took, over 300 million years, to create what is looming before me!
I am humbled, and realize that my paltry powers of description and photography are no match for the slow, persistent, and awesome power of nature. But obviously I am still trying...
I come back toward TLTTC and notice a trail leading to a lower parking lot a few hundred feet to the north with a sign that says "Double Arch".
I walk down to the ¼ mile long trail leading into the Double Arch from the lower parking lot just as an older couple is coming out.
The trail is lined with juniper and withered looking oak; occasionally I see a small flower with about five or six violet pedals and a cream colored flower that is perhaps the state flower of Utah - the sego lily. And while we're on the subject of Utah, does anyone know where the state got its name? It's derived from native human inhabitants - the Ute Indians.
In any case, I am approaching the Double Arch and the size of it is suddenly impressed upon me. It is the third largest opening in the park, and looks as if an entire butte has been hollowed out with two archways starting from the western side and spanning across to the other side, one arch to the northeast, the other to the southeast.
I get in close, tilting my head up in order to see openings, the angle of the double arches create a pattern of brownish red interspersed with the deep blue of the cloudless morning sky. One of nature's unique examples of angular geometry and contrasting color, the whole thing looking like a massive construction in the sky.
All that for a measly ½ mile walk; once again I'd like to sing the praises of the National Park System and I wouldn't mind one bit if instead of the government giving me a "tax break" they use some of the money to help maintain the oft times beleaguered parks and their employees...
Woops! I guess I snuck a politically charged statement in there somehow!
Cars and people are becoming more numerous when I return to the parking lot. This becomes the modus operandi for the rest of the day, with varying degrees of success - stay ahead of the crowd.
But sometimes the crowd is already there when I arrive, and many times I choose to move on.
This isn't the case of the Delicate Arch Trail, however. The crowds are there in force, but I stop anyway. This is my intended Big Hike for the morning.
Part 2 - Hiking the Delicate Arch Trail
The guidebook describes it as "moderately strenuous". I'd like to suggest that in merciless sun with ninety-plus degree heat (even though when I start it is still only 8:50 in the morning), it's a little more strenuous than moderate.
But I'm game for a hike, even in the heat, even with the crowds, and even if it does get me huffing and puffing. (The first two can be tolerated; the last is good for you)
The parking lot is busy with activity; people coming off the trail, looking a little hot and sweaty; others, like me, getting suited up for the hike - water, shoes, sunscreen, hats, backpacks, cameras...
Of all these items, the only one you really need is water, with sunscreen (and maybe a hat) coming in a distant second. After all, without water in the desert, you'll die - quickly.
This is why the Park Service regularly reminds everyone to bring water in with you whenever you walk in the desert.
I suit up, my fanny pack equipped with one liter of water, a snack, a camera and a roll of film; that, sunglasses and sturdy shoes, and I am ready for the desert hike.
The trail starts near Wolfe Ranch, next to Salt Wash, a slightly alkaline creek and the only source of water for miles. John Wesley Wolfe had an injured leg and wished to live in a drier climate; so in 1888 he settled here with some livestock and lived a very isolated life in this harsh and desolate place. Things got a little better in 1906 when he brought his family and built the cabin that stands today.
I can't help but think that he may have gone to extremes in choosing this place to mend his ailing leg. Nonetheless, this pioneer made a go of it for 22 years - I am hoping to survive a mid-morning hike.
In any case, his bare, one room, dirt floor cabin still stands near the trail head to serve as a reminder that we have no idea what it means to truly "rough it" Just beyond the cabin, a swinging bridge crosses over Salt Wash and the trail begins in earnest.
Surrounding Salt Wash is a thick patch of green - made up mostly of Tamarisk, native to the Middle East, introduced to North America in the 1920's as an ornamental and to help control erosion. As is often the case when man carelessly fools around with Mother Nature, this is a poor choice for the native plant life here. Tamarisk aggressively chokes out and dries up the native willow, greasewood, common reed, and salt grass.
The trail immediately leads up a moderate rise leading out into the rocky desert. At the top of the rise the trial flattens out for a bit and I pass by to large boulders of chert. Then the trail turns to the right to begin its long slow ascent up across sandstone "slickrock". Ahead of me I see a ribbon of people curling up and down the escarpment like smoke willowing up from a flame. Despite the amount of people making this hike, things are well-spaced and generally orderly. Some people saying "hi", others asking where I am from, and so I'd ask back; then there are some that pass silently by. One couple tells me they are from "here" (I assume by "here" they mean Moab), and I realize that this is just a morning stroll for these folks. San Francisco does have its hills, but I doubt I will be mistaken for being from "here" as I begin to huff and puff my way up the hill.
The guidebook suggests that I stop frequently and enjoy the "far-off vistas". I think this is a fine idea and stop several times on my way up to look southwest at the cliffs and jagged sandstone peaks shimmering in the morning sun, and then to the southeast to see the snow-capped La Sal Mountain, hazy in the distance.
The trail for the fist part of the ascent is wide and well defined, with cairns (markers) showing the way. As I get higher up, the trail is mostly slickrock and less clear.
At one point I find myself somewhat isolated on a ridge. Ahead of me is an impenetrable cliff. I notice some people down below the ridge so I make my way in that direction, thinking that the trail must be down there somewhere. The guidebook warns me that the cairns and the trail are harder to find as the trail progresses, and it is right.
While it isn't as much of an issue while walking on the slickrock, there is some soil and vegetation around here and I have no desire to run slipshod through this delicate desert ecosystem. Stepping on a small, almost invisible plant here is perhaps analogous to going in and cutting down a tree in the forest. And I'm just one of hundreds of people on this trail today...
I make my way around below the ridge and run into the people I saw earlier. They are looking for the trail as well.
They decide to head up to the ridge from which I had just come, and I determine to head straight toward some cliffs overlooking a huge bowl-shaped "pothole" (several hundred feet deep). There are people relaxing in the shade underneath the cliffs, it looks from here that the trail may lead along these cliffs above the pothole, and I am certain (to this day) that I see cairns leading me in this direction. So off I go.
I am soon upon the folks hiding from the sun in the shade of the cliffs and proceed to the right of the shady cliffs along what at first appears like a trail along a ledge. To the left is sheer rock wall and to the right is the abyss of the pothole. The "ledge" soon becomes only a few inches wide as I step gingerly on the slickrock (which fortunately is not slick unless it's wet). I get myself about halfway out onto the rock face and stop when the ledge becomes a little wider and I can lean against the rock - and there it is, Delicate Arch off to the southeast.
Of course, I realize that I am not on the trail, and have wandered into a somewhat precarious situation. But for the moment I am fine and I figure that I'll be able to get some unique shots of Delicate Arch from this perch, so I snap a few pictures.
The guidebook told me that while it was possible to walk right up to and stand under Delicate Arch, it may not be the best idea. Delicate Arch is one of the most photographed Arches in the park, and standing underneath or near the arch probably means that you're standing in someone's picture.
So here I am, thinking to myself, "Excuse me folks, but here I am clinging to the side of this rock face, with a drop of several hundred feet into a "pothole" below, so I'm wondering if you wouldn't mind, well, getting the hell out of the way so I can take a picture?!?"
They soon do and I take my uniquely angled picture. (Delicate Arch is photographed best in the late afternoon, a compromise that works out for the best, as we'll soon discover)
I make my way back across the ledge that is barely there, aware this time of how perilous wandering out here may be; but soon it is behind me and I think, "Ha! I bet there aren't too many people that do what I just did!" If I had been thinking about it beforehand, I never would have done it either. I just innocently (which is occasionally interchangeable with "stupidly") walk out on this thin little ledge, look around and realize what I have done, take a few pictures, and walk off; Pure innocence; (stupidity)
I am glad I did it, as I sit here writing about it. I can't really recommend it.
My legs feel a little wobbly as I start down the path, hooking up with the real trail, which goes around the other side of the sandstone mount that I had just clung to. If you ask me, the other route is for sissies, I see no need to go around that way. I've blazed my own trail, thank you... And continue down.
Many people are now trudging their way up, looking at me imploringly for reassurance that it is all worth it. I feel especially sorry for the several fathers I see coming up the hill with forty or fifty pounds of playful, giggling child on their shoulders, making my huffing and puffing going up seem pathetic.
I try to signal that it'll be fine, just don't do what I did...
At the bottom of the trail, just before crossing Salt Wash, I take the little spur the leads to a cliff overhang adorned with petroglyphs from the Ute Indians.
I enjoy my moment of solitude and frame a picture of the rock drawings and soon realize that people are coming up behind me.
In order to stay ahead of the crowd I move on toward the truck, checking out the Wolfe cabin, somewhat disbelieving of the immense changes between his world and mine - a span of only one hundred years.
And now I want to sit down, so I gladly heave my full weight into TLTTC, finishing the last of the now warm liter of water.
Time in was 8:50AM; time out is 10:27AM
I've done the Delicate Arch Trail - my way.
Hiking the Delicate Arch Trail was only one-and-a-half miles each way, three miles total. But that combined with a hot, unrelenting sun, a steep climb, and my own version of "rock clinging" and I was ready for a motor tour to the end of the road at Arches National Park, with a few photo stops along the way. The end of the road is at a place called Devil's Garden. From the parking lot it looked like a trail leading through numerous towering fire-colored walls of sandstone called "fins". The guidebook tells me that the trail leads to Landscape Arch - possibly the longest free standing arch in the world - and Double O Arch, as well as numerous smaller arches and other rock formations.
My eyes tell me that the parking lot is full. I reserve the right to come back her later in the afternoon and move on back toward the visitor's center.
At the visitor's center, I am happy to pay one dollar for a cold bottle of water, fill up my other water bottle, and drive into town for two more things I need before driving thirty-three miles to Canyonlands National Park - gas and sunscreen.
In an effort to always appreciate random acts of kindness, I am duly grateful when an older man, in his sixties and wearing a cowboy hat, offers to use his discount card for my purchase of sunburn products, thereby saving me over four dollars. Moab folks are right nice! (And yes, it would have been better to have purchased the sunburn products before I ventured out into the open sun for half the day, but as we have seen, wisdom does not always come easy by me).
In any case, it is on to the "Islands in the Sky" district at Canyonlands National Park, to see what God and nature has wrought.
About ten miles north of Moab on US route 191, I turn onto state route 313 heading southwest for the entrance to the park about twenty three miles away.. A couple miles in, the road begins a moderate ascent, twisting and turning through the sandstone landscape.
The road reaches a plateau and I stop to walk a short trail to a scenic overlook to view the Monitor and Merrimack, two rust colored buttes surrounded by a flat brown plain, splotched green with random patches of desert shrub brush. The buttes do bring to mind the Monitor and the Merrimack, the iron-clad ships of civil war fame.
As I snap pictures of these rocky buttes, another car pulls into the lot, and I make my way back to TLTTC - staying ahead of the crowd.
The rest of the way to the park entrance is flat, the brown soil covered with grass and shrub. Soon I am pulling into the visitor's center.
Though Canyonlands is a much bigger park than Arches, it is also much more isolated; I notice this immediately upon entering the visitor's center. The business and noise of the center at Arches is replaced with the quiet of a library, an occasional comment between the two employees on duty and the quiet buzz of the air conditioner are the only sounds, I scan the displays telling of the geology, biology, and history of the area, notice a sign on the drinking fountain telling me in no uncertain terms not to fill my water bottle from here, and go back outside were it's warmer...
I purchase another cold bottle of water from a vending machine, and go to the truck to study my map and nibble on something.
My plan at this point is a little ill-formed, but I decide to start by driving to the Green River overlook, about six miles down the one secondary road in this part of the park. I am amazed that I am the only one in the lot when I arrive.
Seize the day!
I am off down the short path to the overlook, snapping pictures of desert trees as I go.
I crest a gentle rise in the path and a breathtaking panorama slowly spreads across my vision and enters my brain.
"Oh my.... Wow", I utter to myself and to the gentle breeze blowing across the vast expanse of sheer canyon walls and buttes striped with rust, brown, and gray. Through the center of this deep and enormous canyon a narrow channel is etched, snaking across the flat canyon floor. At the bottom of this channel, unseen, flows the Green River, which I originally met in Wyoming, just out of the Wind River Mountains, as it cut its way through Flaming Gorge. Here the river is only a few miles away from its confluence with the mighty Colorado.
Eons ago, this was all a flat, featureless plain; The slow, silent, and patient power of these rivers to transform the earth are abundantly clear looking out over this dramatic scene spread before me.
very small in the presence of this grand stroke of carved and colorful
I am troubled as to how I can fit all this into my camera, but I try anyway.
Soon the sounds of people interrupt my reverie and it is once again time to, yes indeed, stay ahead of the crowd.
I finish exploring this side road and head toward Grand View point, at the end of the main road, about twelve miles away.
Grand View point is, as the name implies, a grand view of the rest of the park to the south, east, and west. At this point sheer canyon walls fall hundreds of feet, with tall buttes, fins, and monoliths in the distance. There is a reason that this district of the park is called "Islands in the Sky" and if it hasn't become apparent why before, it is now. The sky itself blends with the earth; tall rocky monoliths in the distance reaching toward the towering cumulus gathering to the south. It is all so very large.
An elderly lady asks me if she can see the Green River from here, and I explain that there is an overlook, but it is several miles away. She then asks where I am from. When I tell her I am from San Francisco, she says she thought so because of my accent, (she is obviously from the south). I inquire about my accent and she tells my that the accent is really no accent; "people from California, Oregon, and Washington always sound so... nice"
I have to assume that she didn't mean people from southern California...
In any case, I walk a little of the ledge trail at Grand View Point (yes, it really is a very fine trail along a ledge, unlike my earlier forays onto ledges), sit and contemplate my relative insignificance for awhile, and then head back down the road, stopping at one or two scenic turn-outs along the way.
By the time I am leaving the park it is about 3:30 in the afternoon. I have consumed more water than I normally do in a week, and I am drowsy with the heat and sight seeing. I am therefore unsure whether I will venture back into Arches for one more look; but I am a free man, and decide not to decide until later.
Part 4 - Arches in the Afternoon - Hale Arches!
It is shortly after four in the afternoon as I turn TLTTC left off route 191 for one last look at Arches National Park.
The sun is hiding behind a mountain of cumulus, so the much touted fiery afternoon glow of the rocks is a little more subdued than I had hoped for. But the bluer cast on the rocks this afternoon offers a slightly mysterious air about the park, so I am not disappointed.
The park ranger at the gate smiles and says, "Welcome Back!" when I show my receipt, and I get the feeling he really means it.
My plan is to drive down the main road about nine miles for the turn-off to the Windows and Double Arch areas. I had noticed this morning a vista point turn-off to the "Garden of Eden". It looked earlier like a good spot to get some pictures, so off I head off in the gray-blue of the late afternoon, looking for the Garden of Eden, thinking whimsically what a nice thing the Garden of Eden would be to discover...
The Garden of Eden is a collection of tall spires and columns arrayed as single towers of rock or more tightly packed groups of spires; somewhat resembling a "garden" of sandstone.
I walk up into the area about a quarter mile and snap pictures, the spires silhouetted against the cumulus sky set my mind to thinking of medieval castles.
A gentle breeze is blowing from the southwest as I look for more angles to try and photograph, the quietness and relative coolness of the overcast sky pervades me with an alert calmness - the drowsiness of earlier is gone.
the photographic opportunities, I see that I have one exposure left
on my roll of film; it is about 4:45. I decide to go on down the two
miles or so, back to Delicate Arch and get one last picture of the arch
from the vista point, a mile or so beyond the trailhead from this morning
on Wolfe Ranch Road.
I clap of thunder sends an excited chill through my bones as I make my way back to the lot; a blue flash and then another rumble in the sky - perfect timing.
Tiny, intermittent rain drops begin to appear on my windshield while driving back down Wolfe Ranch Road. The drops turn larger and more numerous as I turn left, back onto the main road for the twenty minute ride back to the park entrance, forcing me to roll up my windows.
About a minute later there is a pounding on the truck roof and the visibility in front of me is suddenly reduced to almost zero. I am in a hail storm!
I creep along the road as the hail clangs on the roof and hammers on the windshield. As I look for a good place to turn out the hail stops, as if passing through a curtain. The road is now completely dry and I'm out of the storm, the small hail stones starting to melt away where they have collected at the bottom of my windshield.
I roll my window back down enjoying the fresh clean air, smiling contentedly...
What a perfect way to end my day exploring what some salt, sandstone, and water can do after a few million years.
And when I come back here someday, there'll still be plenty left to explore!
The Return Day 3
Moab, UT to Ely, NV
Finding Ely on a Saturday night:
What is there to do in Ely on a Saturday night?
Humming "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" as you wonder aimlessly around your slightly dingy, low-ceilinged hotel room comes to mind.
Not that there isn't stuff to do. After all, here I am at the Ramada Inn and Copper Queens Casino, in Ely (admittedly, by way of Manti, Utah; but I'm here), and it is really hopping over there at the casino/indoor pool, bar, café area. My view while eating my lasagna at the terrace café is that of children playing in the pool and only feet away adults smoking and drinking and gambling. Ya-Hoo it's Saturday night!
In any case, I can offer several reasonable excuses how I manage to drive about forty miles in the wrong direction in an attempt to hook up with route US 50 in Utah. Relying too much on the fuzzy logic of Maps.com trip planning (it gets confused when following routes with multiple route designations and freeway onramps and offramps, to be exact). But I already know that, so that's no excuse. Ironically, I make the correct left turn in Salina, but a big rig blocks the highway marker, so I think it is a wrong turn, so I make what I think is a correct turn, but it was really a wrong turn...
That's hardly an excuse.
Apparently I didn't study my map well enough because if I had, I would know that entering Gunnison means I am going the wrong way.
So I guess I really don't have any excuse. And that is hard for a road dog to admit.
Finally, entering Manti, about forty miles from where I had made the right turn but thought it was the wrong turn so then make the wrong turn, I get serious and study the map.
It didn't feel right anyway. And once again I learn the same lesson over and over. If it doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't - trust your instincts.
Today's lesson costs about an hour and fifteen minutes. But once I get on 50 west, I hug it like a lost puppy that has been found - and I settle in to my Road Dog ways, out on the two-lane blacktop.
In my hotel room I stand in the mirror, curious as to what is looking back; Faded jeans and an un-tucked shirt. A mop of brown... well, okay, silver and brown hair after 446 miles of open truck window. My shirt sleeve is rolled up so I can spray Solarcaine on my left arm. The left leg of my jeans is a little more faded than the right leg. My face is ruddy except for the bridge of my nose and around my eyes - I'm a little scary looking...
I'm a road dog; I feel it once again -
Now I can go home.
What better way to end the Road Dog tour than with a nice healthy 545 mile drive. Not too long, but long enough to feel like you've accomplished something. And, ironically enough, 545 miles sits me right square in midtown San Francisco, right there in my own flat, giving my sweetie a hug...
Hotel rooms are good places to be alone - but it isn't the same as walking alone in the peaceful morning solitude of nature. There is joy in such solitude. The solitude of the hotel room is one of loneliness - yearning for the dawn and getting back on the road toward home.
So I will be out on the highway early in the morning. I'll have my camera ready in case I feel a need to use it. But I'm here in Ely, Nevada and I'm driving US 50 west to California and home; that is the principal objective of this road dog.
Maybe I'll take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Canyons, arches, mighty mountain peaks and yes, flaming gorges - and right down the street from my home is San Francisco Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and the Golden Gate Bridge. The exotic and extraordinary are all around us, when we take the time to look for it. There is little in this world that can be taken for granted.
Okay, everybody ready? On the count of three:
One, Two, Three...
"I left my heart -
In San Francisco..."
Ely, NV to San Francisco, CA
The Loneliest Road in America:
Part 1 - Into Ely
I study the clock with barely open eyes - 4:45AM.
Dawn comes early to Ely, just a few dozen miles west of the boundary between Mountain and Pacific Time. It will take another a few more minutes for the gray light outside my window to reach San Francisco, 550 miles further west.
This is my goal today, San Francisco, and I am eager to reach it. I will drive all the way to Reno on US route 50, and then hook up once again with Interstate 80 for the ride through the Sierra Nevada, the Central Valley, and home.
As I have suspected since finding it yesterday, US route 50 is officially "the loneliest road in America" - which is, of course, a reason to love it.
Yesterday's drive from Moab had been interesting, despite the brief episode of confusion resulting in wayward travel.
Starting in Moab with it's high desert canyons of the Colorado River Plateau, then hooking up with Interstate 70 west through Green River, the San Rafael Reef (with the Capitol Reef National Park to the south), and then over the Fishlake Mountains and Fishlake National Forest - a combination of desert and mountain.
Through the flat land, the ground is grayish-brown and dotted with light green shrub brush. Then as the mountains ahead grow closer, jagged canyon walls draw in toward the edges of the road, eventually falling away to rolling hillsides covered with tall pine trees.
After leaving Interstate 70 and finally getting set on Route 50, the road northwest out of Salina skirts the north eastern edge of the Pahv Ant Range through a valley carpeted with green grass.
West of Interstate 15, the road starts to tell more of its lonesome ways; the narrow two-lane road stretching for miles through flat, desolated plain covered in tall grass; the one car visible in the rear view mirror disappearing down some lonely side road.
Passing through the small agricultural town of Delta, I cross over the Sevier River; soon the tall grass is gone and the road heads straight out into the gray and brown alkaline desert. A dozen miles later I pass a sign directing me to a historical marker for the "Gunnison Massacre", this grisly sounding event the last reminder of other humans I will see for many miles, save the ribbon of two-lane road on which I ride.
About 70 miles later I notice in the distance to northwest whirlwind swirls of dust rising from the desert floor, like ghostly apparitions - dust devils.
My attention is next drawn to a shimmering on the horizon to the southwest; a white expanse of salt flat reminiscent of the Great Lake Desert region to the north: the Sevier Lake Bed.
Just beyond the lake bed, the landscape begins to change and TLTTC begins to climb. I pass through high canyon walls, the road winding its way through the House Range and Confusion Range.
And then finally it dawns on me: I'm driving through the Wild West! To help enhance this realization, I put the album "Desperado" by the Eagles on the CD player. Listening to musical tales of Wild West adventures gone bad, I ride my mechanical steed through desert and mountain, just looking for a place to lay my head...
On through the Nevada border, and off to my left sits a life size painting of tall, white-capped mountains; around the peaks hang massive cumulous clouds, a billowing mountain in the sky. The contrast of sun and shadow on the tall mountains reaching up to the clouds is like a perfect painting - but of course it's real, even in the almost unreal beauty of this moment as land and sky, light and shadow play out its silent drama to my great fortune and delight.
Ely is close now, through the Humboldt National Forest and Conner's Pass topping out at 7722 feet, down the other side passing roadsigns of what looks like a tap-dancing deer to my road-hypnotized brain, and on into the sad little town of Ely.
The highlight of this day is certainly the journey, and not the destination.
And so it is morning, the empty streets from last evening are still quiet. I make the crucial left turn onto US 50 west down the street from my hotel (and cheerless little casino), a bit relieved to find that there is a little more to Ely than was apparent to me last night.. The first two miles of my 550 mile journey pass by green parks with tall oak trees; a stately, columned courthouse with small golden dome, brick storefronts with stenciled lettering in the windows and cloth awnings in muted colors over the sidewalk.
Okay, maybe my second impression of Ely, in the clean light of morning, is better than my first impression from yesterday; but I am still glad to be leaving and heading home to San Francisco - and glad to have one last long drive on the Loneliest Road in America.
Soon I see the last of Ely fading in my rearview mirror and the surrounding terrain rises and falls like a crumpled blanket. Hills of gold scattered with the typical low, green shrub brush cover the landscape. The road goes through a small canyon carved out of the rock and off to my right an old railroad track tunnels through the hillside, perhaps a remnant of the old Nevada Northern Railway that came to Ely in 1906, converting it from a sleepy silver mining camp to a bustling little town. When Ely converted from silver mining to copper mining, things really took off, with the population jumping from 500 residents to 3500 in only one year.
Right now, however, other than an occasional pick-up truck or RV speeding by in the other direction, I am the only human for miles.
I have entered the "lonely zone" of highway 50.
A pattern soon develops as I trek across Nevada; Low land, usually desert, sometimes grassland, alternating with a series of mountain ranges and passes. I make notes as I pass through each range - ever the Road Dog.
Robinson Pass through the Grant Range - elevation 7607 feet - at 7:05AM.
Little Antelope Summit through the Butte Mountains - elevation 7438 feet - at 7:25 AM.
Pancake Summit - elevation 6517 - at 7:40AM,
Pinto Summit through the Diamond Mountains - elevation 7376 - at 7:50AM
Passing through the small town of Eureka (at 8:00AM), a sign announces that I am now in "the friendliest town on the loneliest highway in America". I can attest to the later, but not to the former. Slowing as directed through the center of town, I look for signs of friendliness. A green park with clean benches along the edges and a whitewashed gazebo in the middle, red brick buildings with tall, neatly trimmed windows, the Eureka Opera House, a museum... Take away the paved road and the cars and parking meters, and put up hitching posts and I'd think I had gone back in time 100 years...
Okay, why not? Eureka is the friendliest town on the loneliest road - at least it's a handsome little town, so I decide to give their claim to friendliness the benefit of the doubt as I slip past the center of town toward the next mountain pass.
Between Eureka and the next rise of mountains I pass across an expanse of desert; in the distance on all sides are mountains, in front of me the mountains rise to white-peaked summits. But right here is straight road and flat desert.
Soon enough the road begins to twist and turn a little as TLTTC chugs up the increasing elevation. Once again the mountain passes come:
Hickinson Summit through the Simpson Park Mountains - elevation 6546 - at 8:35AM
I climb into the most scenic pass thus far today, in the Toiyabe Mountains and Toiyabe National Forest. The snow-capped mountains I saw in the distance outside of Eureka are now off to off to my immediate left as the road twists and turns through forest and rolling green hillsides. At 8:47 I make Austin summit - elevation 7484 - and navigate the hair-pin twists and turns into the town of Austin.
Eureka may have some competition as the friendliest town on this desolate highway; making a pit stop for gas, I am greeted by a smile and neighborly wave from the local sheriff as she pulls in next to me - no one in Eureka smiled and waved. Of course, I didn't see anyone in Eureka either.
By 9:00 I am pulling back onto the highway and pass the first confirmation of what until now has been purely anecdotal (and hinted at in Eureka): A colorful highway marker stating "US Route 50, The Loneliest Road in America".
Now it's official.
Outside of Austin I am in the Reese River Valley, which I learn later has a well documented fault line running through it. The road skirts along a ridge with desert valley falling away on either side of the road.
But it isn't long before the road ascends and mountains rise up around me:
New Pass Summit - elevation 6438 - at 9:20AM.
Just over the summit the road cuts through high canyon walls of red rock, reminiscent of the landscape around Moab, about 200 feet high.
Ever onward for this Road Dog, the next range of mountains, the Desatoya Mountains, looms ahead; they're getting taller now, more snow-capped peaks. It's 9:35AM.
Avoiding the highest mountaintops, the road veers to the southwest toward the lower mountains:
Drum Summit - elevation 4600 - at 10:00AM
Looking back in my rear view mirror to the east I see the land through which I have come this morning; Wave after wave of undulating mountain ranges, purple in the morning light.
As a kid, I'd always thought the lyrics to "America the Beautiful" a little odd when it mentions "purple mountain majesties" - and now here it is, spread out in my rear view mirror. Perhaps I could stop and turn around to get a better look, but there really is no place to do that on this narrow, lonely road; and besides, I am a Road Dog on a mission - Reno by noon.
The mountain passes between Ely and Reno are now behind me. The desert turns a little more barren with less shrub brush. I pass through the Fallon Naval Target Range, an expanse of salt-white, table-flat dry lake bed. I wonder what it is they would be shooting at in the vast expanse of white flatness... "Hey look Charlie! I got this little blue pick-up truck in my crosshairs! HA! That guy's a sitting duck!"
Shortly I hit the eastern edge of the town of Fallon, a military and agricultural community of 6400 residents. This is where, instead of heading into Carson City, I hook up with the short spur of Route 50 that takes me to Interstate 80 about twenty miles east of Reno. It is also where I realize that I am no longer on the loneliest road in America, as my solo journey across the great landscape of the West becomes crowded with stoplights, cars, campers, and eighteen-wheelers.
For a Road Dog, this morning's drive was a blast; through flat desert, rolling green hills, deep canyons walls, and high mountain passes - and mostly all by myself. A marvelous way to spend the morning of the last day of this Road Dog tour.
I make Reno at 12:05 - right on schedule for the ride through the Sierras and toward the cool Pacific coast.
the circle and rejoin Interstate 80, soon passing a worn-out mile marker,
humorously altered, that tells me "Mustang 1 Smile" before
I realize that the best part of the drive is now behind me. The desolate
two-lane blacktop is history for this road trip.
Truckee Meadows - now Reno - is the place where early settlers rested and fortified themselves for the grueling trip over the mountains
I try to imagine what the small, isolated groups of pioneers that arrived here must have felt when they "rounded the bend" and saw the Great Mountains looming before them. After all they'd been through to get this far, and now faced with this:
"Oh, Damn", or some such sentiment, many a pioneer must have said under their clenched breath as the realization of what lay before them sunk in.
As I make my way out of Truckee Meadows - er, I mean Reno - and up into the mountains, a kidney-rattling bump in the road brings my attention back to the present. Still, a lesson in history can sometimes be a lesson in gratitude; I am grateful for this great ride through the mountains, in spite of the traffic and lumpy road.
Coming down the other side, the green, mixed with occasional white, turns to gold passing through the old mining towns of Placerville and Auburn, then down into the Sacramento Valley.
Huge arteries of traffic swell through metropolitan Sacramento and doesn't let up as I pass through Dixon, Vacaville, and Fairfield - a great migration westward.
In keeping with my quest to end the journey crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, I leave Interstate 80 at Vallejo and take route 37 through the tidal marshes of Solano County, over the Sonoma River and a small corner of Sonoma County, into the fields and meadows of Marin County.
In Marin I join US route 101 in Novato for the trip south through San Rafael, Tiburon, Mill Valley, and Sausalito.
My Nissan "Little Truck that Could" is surrounded by Volvo wagons, Lexus sedans, and all manner of SUV's - Marin being too hip for its own good.
I emerge from the Waldo Tunnel and the north tower of the bridge looms into view as San Francisco shimmers in the late afternoon sun across the bay.
Just as on the day I left it, the City basks in clear blue sky and warm sunshine. I am glad to see home.
The rolling Pacific Ocean is on my right and the picturesque City-by-the-Bay is on my left - and the toll booth is up ahead; I get my $3 ready for the toll...
A flashing red neon sign reminds me that the toll to cross the Golden Gate Bridge is now $5, something I had forgotten since it was enacted some months ago.
Five dollars! To cross a bridge!?!
Ah, well, if there ever was a bridge that I'd pay five dollars to cross, it'd be the Golden Gate Bridge; nobody said living in San Francisco was cheap.
And that's what a Road Dog goes looking for when he takes to the open road. Through the deserts, over the mountains, into the canyons, following the rivers; it's the land, the countryside, and the narrow road snaking off toward a horizon on fire with the setting sun. That's what the Road Dog is looking for.
I arrived in front of my city flat at 3:44PM; with 559 miles traveled for the day, and 2375 miles traveled for the Road Dog Tour.
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