There is a fierce storm overnight and our off-roading trip today is cancelled. We head out across the barren Utah landscape with the road stretching in front of us.
Our original idea for today is to go to Great Basin National Park via some dirt roads, spend some time at the park and then head to Ely and spend the night. As we enter Nevada and see the Pacific Time Zone sign we realize that we didn’t factor in the gain of an hour today. Maybe we won’t have enough to do to fill the time until check-in at Ely.
We get to Great Basin National Park before 10 AM and look inside the Visitor Center. Things to do here are a cave tour that you need a reservation for, a two mile hike to an arch, and the scenic road up towards Wheeler Peak. We watch a film about the Park and decide that maybe we could do the drive and then perhaps take a walk on the Bristlecone Pine Trail.
We take the scenic ride and stop at the overlooks. At one overlook there is a plaque honoring Stephen T. Mather, first Director of the National Park Service. John’s high school is named after him. Their team is the Rangers. Of course, we have to have our pictures taken with the plaque.
Up and up we go. We pass elevation signs. The hike at the end of the trail is seeming less likely.
The huge peak is looming larger and larger in front of us.
We get to the end of the road which is over 10,000 feet. Leaving the car the wind is blowing and the temperatures are in the high 40’s. We are dressed for 60 degree weather. We walk over to the description of the various trails. I really would like to see the Bristlecone Pines but the nearest one is a mile and a half away. I am not sure that I can hike mostly uphill for three miles in thin air and cold weather. We retreat to the car and drive back down the road.
Now it’s shortly before 11 AM. We are in Ely by noon. What to do? We cancel our reservations and decide to spend the night in Reno. We head off down the loneliest road in America. We reach Reno around 6 PM and finish our trip home the next day.
Before leaving this morning we have an early breakfast at Hell’s Backbone Grill. Everything
seems a bit super-sized, giant toast, thick bacon. We are quite full from what we could eat of it.
Good thing because circumstances transpired to keep us from lunch until 3 PM.
Our original plan had been to take a combination of scenic byways and dirt roads to Beaver, UT. When he was checking out John asked the proprietor about the condition of the dirt roads due to some rain recently. He was warned not take the dirt roads due to extreme downpours in the region. so now we have to rethink our day.
We start off traveling north on UT-12. As was true yesterday the scenery is spectacular . We pull into many viewpoints where as usual people feel compelled to talk to me. Tidbits from today – one woman is so excited that we are from St. George because she is from Cedar City. Cedar City is 50 miles north of St. George. We are not neighbors. Another lady who was in the lady’s room at the same time as I explained that towels were better than hot air machines since the air can blow the flora from your hands up to six feet away. She also mentioned that she was a scientist. I have some weird attraction that makes people want to talk to me. They can’t help themselves.
Any way, the trip over Boulder Mountian is beautiful and we see deer and chipmunks scurrying across the road and cows on the verge looking at us balefully.
Our new plan is to visit Capitol Reef NP. We stop for photos along the way and drive the scenic drive. We have to avoid the washes since there are flash flood warnings.
The only other place we stop at on our ride to Beaver is Antimony because who can resist a place named after an element. John thinks the town motto should be, “Antimony-It’s elementary.”
We drive and drive and drive. There is no place to eat lunch. Reaching Beaver around 3 PM we have a quick lunch and scope out the town. There is no place to eat dinner. We finally decide on a trip to the local liquor store, Beaver Liquor, and the grocery store and end up eating dinner in the room.
Today we start to take the long way home. I am the first driver. As we head north on I-15 and past our usual exits I notice a sign that I have never seen anywhere – speed limit 80! Now I am no stranger to pushing the legal speed limit to somewhere between 75 and 80 but now I am allowed to? It seems too fast to be allowable.
After a quick breakfast in Cedar City, Utah, John takes the wheel. He always drives when there are high places involved and as we will be climbing UT-14 to 9000 feet, it is possible that I could get a little freaked. As we ascend we get our first glimpses of Cedar Breaks National Monument.
We stop at an overlook to view the panorama looking back towards Zion NP. We are at the top of the staircase that starts with the pink rock of Cedar Breaks and Bryce Canyon and ends in the ancient rock at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
By noon we reach Bryce Canyon NP. After a quick stop at the visitor’s center so John can get his National Parks book stamped we head out to Bryce Point. The park is fairly uncrowded. Most of the visitors appear to be Europeans as American children are back to school and have already been assigned to write what they did on their summer vacations. We take the walk out to the point. At 8300 feet we notice we are a bit breathless negotiating the small hills. The views are astounding. The rock formations called hoodoos fill the colorful landscape.
We decide to have lunch at the Bryce Canyon Lodge. We have managed to arrive at the moment when the computer goes down. We wait over half an hour for a salad and a sandwich which are mediocre. Certainly the time would have been better spent looking at the incredible formations in Bryce Canyon.
Lastly we take a look at Fairyland Canyon. Once more there are beautiful views. As we turn around to head back to the car, the sky is looking ominous. Being out on an exposed point with an electrical storm approaching is not a good place to be.
We hop back in the car to finish the drive to Boulder, UT where we will spend the night. Along the way there’s more fabulous scenery and REALLY scary stretches where the road is on a spine between two canyons. The two lane road takes up the whole space between the canyons. We stop once to look at Powell’s Point. On his second expedition Wesley Powell mapped this area. It was the last area in the continental U.S. to be mapped.
We make it to Boulder just as the rain drops start to fall. We are staying at the Boulder Mountain Lodge. There is a restaurant here called the Hell’s Backbone Grill. After resting up for a while we go to dinner. By Utah standards the dinner is really outstanding. What is especially good are the vegetables that they grow on their farm a mile or two down the road.
Tomorrow we hope to do some off-roading on the way to Beaver, UT
After having typical night-in-a-motel kinds of sleep, we are up early to continue on to St. George, UT. There’s no fear of traffic jams today as we will be traveling through some of the most uninhabited land in the West. The good part is that you can pretty much go as fast as you want on the roads. Only thing to watch out for are cows wandering across the street.
We are off around 7:15 AM after a less than impressive breakfast of pre-made rubber western omelets, sausages with a lot of filler, toast from the anemic toaster and coffee with milk which is just a little too old. There’s really nothing much to keep us in Tonopah. (Pah in Paiute means water. There are a lot of names out here with “pah” in them such as Pahrump, NV. A natural hot springs spa near St. George is Pah Tempe Hot Springs.)
I love being on the road early in the morning. It really speaks of vacation to me. We head east. We are the only ones on the road which stretches out like a thin silver ribbon through the desert.
Since this is John’s first long car trip since his hip replacement we are careful to stop about once an hour to stretch and change drivers. Our first change comes at Warm Springs, NV. Warm Springs was settled in 1866 but since has become a ghost town. There is a stream that runs through this old town that is full of minerals and is steaming in the early morning temperatures.
Turning the corner here in Warm Springs we leave U.S. 6 and begin our ride on NV 375, The Extraterrestrial Highway. This road skirts Area 51. It used to have Extraterrestrial Highway signs at both ends and in the middle. The only sign left is the one in the middle near Rachel but it is so covered by stickers and graffiti that it is unreadable.
We tear along the road towards Rachel. The suggested speed is 70. John is driving now so we are closer to the posted limit. I will make up for that later. All along the road are the warning signs of “Open Range” with jaunty looking cows. Open range means that there are no fences and the cows can wander across the road. I keep a sharp eye out. If you hit a cow and survive, you have to pay the rancher. I guess if you hit the cow and both you and the cow die, your estate has to pay the rancher. There are two types of cows on the signs. In Nevada they are mostly jaunty beef cattle. In California and Utah they are drawn as stolid dairy cows with udders. You’d think from a survival point of view that beef cattle would be a little less happy looking.
Sixty miles have come and gone. Time to change drivers at Rachel, Nevada’s newest town founded in 1973. It’s claim to fame is the Little Ale-e-inn. There’s lots of E.T. and UFO kitsch here.
I’m the driver now and we really zip along to our next stop, Crystal Springs. Things out here don’t change much so it is pretty exciting that an Alien Research Center has been built here recently with a giant alien out front. Crystal Springs is also the best place to get E.T. Fresh Jerky.
We’ve been on the road about three and half hours when it is definitely time for some coffee. Being creatures of habit we always stop in Caliente, NV at the Sinclair station for a mixture of coffee and cappuccino. Caliente is famous for its hot springs and its Mission Revival style train station. Once trains became diesel-powered Caliente was no longer a stopping point. The train station was turned over to the town and has been repurposed. In another bit of notoriety, according to testimony given in the criminal case, Utah v. Warren Jeffs, the Hot Springs Motel located in Caliente is the site of several forced marriages between under-aged girls and older men. Hot times!
Yay, we’ve reached Utah! And what’s that in the corner of the picture? Yes, a stolid dairy cow!
We decide to take a side trip down the main street of Modena, Utah. Modena is a former railroad town and home to the Righteous Branch, a fundamentalist sect of Mormonism. It’s pretty dilapidated.
We are getting close to St. George now, only about 45 minutes away. We pass by the entrance to Mountain Meadows. This is the site where 120 men, women, and older children on their way to California from Arkansas were killed in 1857 by a Mormon militia. The Mormons in the Utah Territory were afraid of an invasion and had been educated to fear outsiders. Seventeen young children were spared since they would not be able to remember what had happened.
One more town to go before we reach St. George. The town of Veyo in volcano country is known for its cindercones.
We are traveling down Utah 18 now and coming around a bend we are treated to spectacular views of Snow Canyon. Snow Canyon State Park is about a mile from our house and has scenery and hiking that rivals the bigger national parks in the area.
We head through the gate and turn onto our street. We’ve been away for over two months and I am always a little apprehensive until I see the house. Everything seems in order, though, and we are happy to be in our home away from home.
(Update: Everything was not quite right unfortunately. Our air conditioning system broke and has to be replaced. With temperatures forecast in low 100’s this weekend. We are hoping that the new system can be installed quickly.)
Sometimes a drive is just a drive, but sometimes it is a ROADTRIP! John and I have probably made this trip 50 times over the last 11 years, but there is always something new and interesting every time we go. Today’s trip starts at home and ends up in Tonopah, NV. We will go the rest of the way to St. George, UT on August 11. Rather than a lot of text, our journey is narrated with pictures.
Time for bed. We still have about 5 hours to drive tomorrow!