September 30 The Loneliest Road in America

Ely to Reservoir (3) In July of 1986, Life Magazine described Nevada’s Highway 50 from Ely to Fernley as the “Loneliest Road in America”.  Life said that there were no attractions or points of interest along the 287 mile stretch of road and recommended that drivers have “survival skills” to travel the route.

Things have changed a bit, but not much.  The biggest change is in the vehicles we drive along these roads rather than the roads themselves.  I remember desert driving and the days of vapor lock, overheated engines, flat tires, and no air conditioning.  Cars seem to be made better these days, and we cruise along at 70 miles per hour without a thought about our survival. There really is quite a lot to see in Ely, and we plan to return, especially to visit the Great Basin National Park on the eastern edge of Nevada.  We also want to come back to check out Ely’s treasure: The Nevada Northern Railway Museum,  touted by the Smithsonian as the most complete authentic railroad complex in the country.

Ely to Reservoir (6) That is what we are doing today, cruising along, covering the distance on US 50 instead of I-80, enjoying the eyeball stretching vistas of the high Nevada desert.  There are a couple of towns between Ely and Fernley where we will turn north toward the Black Rock Desert.  Eureka and Austin are both historic mining towns from the heyday of Nevada history in the late 19th century. We will stop and take photos, enjoy the stories, and the time travel provided at these outposts before moving on down the road.  At Gerlach, we will pass the sandy roads leading to the Black Rock Desert where the wild ones have their Burning Man festival every year.

Ely to Reservoir (21)Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we saw a large group of road bikers pedaling up the long grades, supported by a couple of vans in pursuit.  At the same time, we saw a lonely man walking in the opposite direction up another grade with some sort of sign on his back.  Then nothing again but low sage and rabbitbrush and the distant hills. The air again is smoky, not in the concentrated way that it was yesterday in Utah, but high hazy widespread smoke that extends as far west and north as we can see, even from the summits.  We are traveling west again through basin and range, so the MoHo is climbing the ranges and dropping into the basins repeatedly shifting gears as we go up, then down, then up, then more down.  Glad I am not on a bike!

Ely to Reservoir (37) This morning in our full hookup park, I took the time to cook a good breakfast and clean the house a bit.  In the process of cleaning the toilet, adding extra water to help with the black water flush to come, I suddenly dropped the large cleaning washcloth right down into the holding tank.  Ugh!  I freaked out, but Mo patiently bent a hanger, fished around in there, and got the thing out of the tank before anything got terribly clogged up. Kind of amazing that we actually had one simple wire hangar in the closet among all the fancy lightweight things I have for our clothes. I got all teary and realized that the stress of dropping a washcloth into the sewage holding tank shouldn’t be THAT bad, and thought, gee, maybe I am sad about the trip coming to a close. 

Today and tomorrow we will continue our trek across the deserts and over the Warners into the Klamath Basin, to the base of the Cascade Mountains.  Home.  I am sure it will take a bit of settling in to really appreciate being there and not here, traveling along some highway with ever changing views out the windows. 

There are a some more photos for this day linked here>

September 29 To the basins and ranges of Nevada

DuckCreek to Ely (1) I woke this morning to the amazing smell of aspen leaves that are sending out their last breath before they fall.  Sweetened by high mountain air and spruce it was one of the better fragrances on the planet, maybe only surpassed by rain on dry dust in the desert. As we drove west, however, the skies were darkened by smoke from the huge fires in the mountains of central Utah.

Today was another travel day, as the rest of the trip will be until we are back in Rocky Point on Friday.  Again we took back road, avoiding the major interstates and trying to manage a blue dotted road at every opportunity.  Our route today took us through Cedar City and rather than the fast route north on I 15, we went farther west to the Scenic Highway 93.

 DuckCreek to Ely (10) The landscape of Nevada and several other states is the west is dominated by alternating basins and ranges formed by tectonic processes that trend generally northwest.  When traveling directly west, as we did a few years ago when returning to California from Utah, the road was a continuous grade, either up or down, with just a bit of basin between the mountain ranges.  These Nevada mountains aren’t small, either, and the grades can be dramatic. 

Highway 93, however, follows a dominantly northern track through the state, and as a result the grades are few because the road usually follows the edge of the basins.  We took time to stop and enjoy a surprise state park, Cathedral DuckCreek to Ely (17)Gorge, and met some interesting travelers from England who have traveled 49 states in our country, and were showing the west to another couple from England. We took a side road to explore the historic mining hamlet of Pioche, sitting high on a fan above the wide open basin. 

We reached Ely in early afternoon, partly due to the change to Pacific time, gaining an extra hour.  We decided that electricity was on the list of desires for this night with the possibility of cable seductive enough to pay a ridiculous high price for the Ely KOA.  Our pull- through site was too short to keep the baby car hooked up and still reach the utilities, but once I quite grumbling, and we settled inside with the air going, I felt better about it. 

DuckCreek to Ely (53) Before supper we took a little tour of the area, checking out the Ward Charcoal Ovens about 18 miles southwest of Ely on a long gravel road.  It was worth the trip, and the ovens are some of the best preserved we have seen.  The story of converting huge amounts off local wood to charcoal is interesting.  It took 35 cords of wood to fill each huge oven, and then it was burned for 12 days to provide charcoal for the smelters in the nearby mining towns. Until the coming of the railroad and the availability of coke for smelting, the surrounding hills were nearly completely denuded of timber.

Once back home, I poached a chicken breast in spices and chilis, and made quesadillas for supper.  Yum. I was happy for unlimited water for cooking and dishes, and the thought of a hot shower this evening is enticing.  Boondocking and dry camping are great, but it’s fun to hook up and forget about conserving every little drop of water for a night here and there.

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here>


September 28 Highway 12

A LOT of photos for this day of traveling Highway 12 are linked here>

Torrey to DuckCreek (15) Today was a driving day.  We weren’t sure where we would end up, and only knew that the route would follow Scenic Highway 12, one of the most dramatically beautiful drives in the west.  I have traveled this route before, on other trips, but each time it is a new experience.  Each time the aspens on Boulder Mountain are a different shade of green or yellow, the canyons varying shades of clarity, red or hazy.  Today there was a lot of haze and smoke and I wondered if possibly there were forest fires going on somewhere.  We haven’t watched TV or listened to a radio in many days now, so I really have no idea what is going on out there.

Torrey to DuckCreek (22) When we left Torrey this morning it was windy and chilly enough for long pants and sweatshirts.  Gasoline cost a staggering 3.29 per gallon, with the advertised 3.09 per gallon only for 85 octane ethanol, not something we want to put in the MoHo.  We never would have made it up all those grades!

The road is two lane, very rough along much of the way, with many steep grades and curves, including the hair-raising 14 percent downgrade off the hogback.  We thought we might like to hike Calf Creek Falls, both the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls have trailheads not far south of Boulder.  But it was hot, much too hot to leave the cat in the MoHo Torrey to DuckCreek (30) without air conditioning even if we could take the dog.  The white hot heat made hiking seem much less attractive to us anyway, so we decided instead to make it a looking and driving day instead of a hiking day.

Bryce Canyon National Park is on this route as well, a few miles south of the highway ,and we decided against braving the crowds to be tourists at the overlooks.  We both have hiked Bryce in the past, and most of the trails are steep and hot, even though gorgeous. Even outside the park, however, the colors of the hoodoos are every possible shade of orange sherbet, pink, cream, white, and red.  It’s pretty to look at, but not inviting to hike because the rocks are soft red claystone, crumbly and shifting underfoot.  My soul love is slickrock, and solid cliffs of Wingate, so I am content to enjoy the colors and the hoodoos and move on.

 Torrey to DuckCreek (67)I spent part of the drive reading aloud to Mo about 90 different hikes in Canyon Country in the WOW hiking guidebook I bought back at the Capital Reef Inn.  So many of the truly great hikes in this part of the plateau involve many miles of rough driving down the Hole in the Rock Road just north of Escalante.  The road is the gateway for many famous slot canyons and the canyons of the Escalante River, but they will have to wait for another time for us.  I read about backpacking the 38 miles through Pariah Canyon and wondered if I have a trip like that still in me.  It’s all downhill, mostly on the canyon floor wading in the river, with slots so narrow you have to carry your pack in front of you to slide through.  Maybe someday.  It could be a lifetime trip like my Cataract Canyon raft trip turned out to be.  Who knows.  But today, driving highway 12, I added it to my bucket list.

Torrey to DuckCreek (81) After a short break and walk at Red Canyon, we turned south on Utah 89 toward Kanab, and then turned west on Highway 14 toward Cedar Breaks National Monument and Cedar City.  At the top of the pass, again at 10,000 feet of so, is the lovely Navajo Lake where I camped a bazillion years ago when my kids were just little.  It was a different time of year, with the green aspen I remember so clearly all now fiery yellow, gold, red, and peach.  We stopped for the night at Duck Creek Campground in the Dixie National Forest since the Navajo Lakes camps were closed for the season.  Tonight we had our last campfire in the mountains to accompany a card game before we watched the night sky darken.

I am amazed at how quickly the landscape shifts as we travel.  It often isn’t a gradual change, suddenly we are in desert, then in spruce aspen high mountains, back to sage, red rocks to cream and buff clays, and back again.  Tomorrow we will leave the mountains behind as we enter the Great Basin landscape of the west.  Once over this last mountain, the basin and range will meet us on the way through Nevada and finally home to Klamath Falls where Basin and Range meets the Cascade Range.

Torrey to DuckCreek (108) A favorite book in my library is “Basin and Range’ by John McPhee.  It’s the Sand Creek Almanac of the west, only better.  If you ever read it, the wild spaces of Nevada will never bore you.

September 27 Hiking in Capital Reef

The rest of the photos for this hiking day are here>

Capital Reef (1) The wind blew most of the night, bringing fresh, cool, dry air with it.  The humidity must be under ten percent and the moon was brilliant even though it is now less than full.  I couldn’t sleep last night, in spite of the fresh breezes, and stayed up writing and looking at photos.  For some crazy reason, the wireless connection that didn’t work at all earlier managed to work fine after midnight.  Now, at 8 or so in the evening, I still have no wireless.  I don’t plan to stay up till midnight again tonight posting photos, believe me!

Morning was cool and breezy, perfect for a hiking day.  Our camp hostess gave us the number of a dog groomer who was also willing to board Abby for the day so we could hike without worry.  In spite of the cool morning, we turned on the air conditioner for Jeremy, left behind safely in the MoHo. 

Capital Reef (28) Breakfast at the Capital Reef Inn and Cafe was light and perfect and we traveled back along highway 24 east to the park entrance. One of the first park trails after entering the park is the Chimney Rock Trail, and as many times as I have been here, I never bothered to hike this one.  However, a great hiking guide book I found at the cafe this morning discussed Spring Canyon, just beyond the Chimney Rock Loop trail, and we decided that it would be a perfect days hike.

I have too many photos of this canyon.  Photographers far better than me with equipment far finer than mine still can’t capture the grandeur and majesty of these canyon walls.  We hiked about 4 miles into Spring Canyon, through narrows with walls 400 feet tall on both sides.  It certainly didn’t qualify as a slot canyon, with the narrowest corridor maybe 50 yards wide, but it filled my heart’s desire to walk between massive walls of Wingate sandstone and feel the color red.  You don’t see red in these canyons, you feel it.

Capital Reef (67) Of course, after eight miles and less water than I should have carried, I was feeling red in a different way, and climbing out of the fairly easy hike into the canyon just about did me in.  It was only in the mid 80’s but the sun was intense and the breezes were sporadic.  When we finally reached the switchbacks half a mile from the trailhead, I looked down and wondered how in the world we actually climbed up that that thing!  I was glad for my hiking sticks, believe me, and my knees were grateful, too.

Capital Reef (74)


Eating in Torrey, Utah

When Mo and I traveled through Torrey in 2007, we discovered a great restaurant just across the street from our RV Campground west of town.  Cafe Diablo boasts “southwestern cuisine”, and the first time we went there, it was a quiet place, fairly new, and nearly empty.  Our meal was a fabulous treat, completely unexpected in a place like Torrey, and we were excited about eating there again on this trip.

Blanding to Torrey (67) Blanding to Torrey (70)

Cafe Diablo is open seven days a week, and since we wanted to eat in the patio, I called for reservations just after five.  Even that early, on a Sunday night, the place filled up before we even placed our order.  The gardens were gorgeous, the menu was filled with fabulous creations, and the wine list was huge. 

Blanding to Torrey (68) Blanding to Torrey (72)

A special treat included complimentary tapas, fresh vegetables from the garden, marinated in various delectable flavors, presented beautifully.  As the evening wore on, however, and the place filled to capacity, our server was too busy with larger tables of four to pay attention to us. 

Blanding to Torrey (74) Blanding to Torrey (75)

Our meal took forever to arrive, behind other diners who arrived much later than we did. When it did arrive, it was great, actually a fascinating piece of edible art, but then again, we were ignored for much too long. Considering the price range for entrees, we did expect better service.  It took more than an hour to get our after dinner coffee, and when Mo asked for the check, the waitress basically ignored her. 

We had looked forward to this particular dinner, so were pretty disappointed with the service.  We won’t go back.

Capital Reef Capital Reef (77)

In contrast, another place in Torrey, just a half mile or so down the road, is the Capital Reef Inn and Cafe.  I first found this place in the early 90’s, and always manage to stop in at least once when I am in Capital Reef.  There is a small motel adjacent to the restaurant, and beautiful stone paved gardens filled with native and non native plants.  The small store in the restaurant has canyon stuff, including maps, guidebooks, tee shirts and sweat shirts, the usual, but it is all so much fun to look through.  In the dining room is a large mural of red canyons, and my favorite little treat is a display of dozens of vials of various colored sands collected from throughout canyon country.

Capital Reef (55) Capital Reef (66)

What makes all this even more worthwhile is the fabulous, fresh, healthy tasty food, all at completely reasonable prices.  I have had breakfast and lunch at this great inn, and last night I wished I had tried dinner there as well! The service was fast and efficient, and usually friendly. 

There are other restaurants cropping up in Torrey, and some smaller establishments associated with newer hotels are appearing. But for me, the Capital Reef Inn is the perfect compliment to my time in Torrey.