09-20-2021 Baker Nevada to Torrey Utah

I enjoyed driving on this gorgeous clear day

Traveling east through Utah on Highway 50 is pleasant enough, but not nearly as lonely and dramatic as the Nevada portions of the historic highway.  Still, there are some lovely views.  The highway crosses a large flat basin, with many large farms and ranches dotting the landscape.  Highway 50 merges with I-15 for a few miles before continuing east at Scipio.  The mountains were beautiful and crystal clear.

Once we were on Highway 24 the signs for Capitol Reef National Park were posted every few miles.  This is the main route to Capitol Reef from the west. 

We saw what appeared to be a nice rest area on the north side of the highway and were delighted to find plenty of parking for both our rigs, a beautiful view, and a nice picnic table in the shade.  However, the wind made the weather a bit nippy we didn’t linger long.

When approaching Torrey from the west on Highway 24 it is always thrilling to see the first views of Thousand Lakes Mountain.  The mountain looms from 7,000 feet, where the terrain is craggy and rugged, to alpine meadows and forests at its peak elevation of 11,306 feet.  Thousand Lakes Mountain is notably flat at the summit, which offers up expansive views of the Henry and Tushar mountain ranges, Capitol Reef National Park and the Aquarius Plateau.  When the Fremont River crossing that accesses the back roads to Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef NP, there is another way to get there.  We hope to travel across this mountain sometime during our week in Torrey to see Cathedral Valley.

The first views of red rock cliffs appear a few miles west of Torrey, and while they are beautiful, they are just a tiny taste of what we will see in the next few days as we explore the park.

Dan had made reservations for two sites at Thousand Lakes RV Park many months in advance, and even then there were no sites with full hookups with 50 amp power available.  We were assigned two great sites on the north edge of the park with a gorgeous view and 30 amp power.  We don’t have sewer at our sites, but there are two dumps in the campground. 

The park is quite nice, well maintained and clean, although the sites along this north edge are quite close together.  No matter, since our entry door is very close to our neighbor’s slide, and our neighbors happen to be Dan and Chere

The sites may be close together, but the view from the back of the sites where there are picnic tables and camp fire rings is gorgeous.

Taking Mattie for a short walk around the perimeter of the park I found this lovely desert globe mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua. Sadly, most of the open land just north of the park is privately owned and walking freely requires driving north to get to BLM land.

We settled in to our sites with plenty of time for me to prepare dinner to share at our table.  I made green chile chicken enchiladas back at home so supper was quick and easy.  Chere and I have discussed sharing responsibility for evening meals on this trip, taking turns and sometimes simply eating on our own.  The plan seems to be working well, and it is nice to have a break from dinner cooking sometimes.

It is great to have a chance to share this place with family and we are all looking forward to the next few days here in Torrey as we explore Capitol Reef National Park.

09-19-2021 Fallon to Baker Nevada Highway 50

The sun is shining brilliantly into  the east windows as I write this on Monday morning.  Such a delight.  To the west, the magnificent island of mountains of Great Basin National Park rise from the desert reflecting the morning sun. 

Last night when we settled in here at the Border Inn RV Park we had no idea whether the skies would clear for us.  The smoke from the fires near Sequoia National Park in California was thick and the air quality was over 150 throughout half of Nevada and almost all of Utah.  It was a sobering moment when we topped a pass west of Ely to see the thick brown cloud filling the valleys and obscuring the mountains.

The day started in Fallon on a positive note. The smoke had cleared and the sky was mostly clear except for a few high clouds.  The high winds of the previous day had dissipated by the time we got on the road at 9.  Highway 50 officially begins in California going through Carson City and intercepts Interstate 80  at Fallon.  Traveling east from Fallon we were officially on the Loneliest Road in America.

I love Highway 50.  We have traveled this route several times over the years and it has never been disappointing.  On this day the skies were dramatic as always, with big puffy clouds racing across the brilliant blue sky.  The morning sun made the mountain shadows dark against the horizon.  The rabbitbrush was in bloom most noticeably along the roadsides, lighting up the landscape with brilliant yellows.

As we continued east toward Austin and Eureka I texted Dan and Chere to see how they were doing.  All was well, and they had departed Winnemucca at 9 as well.  We had 181 miles to go to Eureka and they had 191 miles.  Funny thing, they arrived at the intersection of highway 278 and Highway 50 just ten minutes after we did.

The stretch of the highway between Fallon and Eureka is especially gorgeous. The pavement stretches for long distances, with sometimes miles of straight road without another vehicle visible.  Traffic was minimal all day, with a few RV’s on the road and more than a few souped up, stripped down, very tough looking back road vehicles heading for the wide open spaces and sand dunes perfect for ATVs.

Basin and Range is just that.  The ranges trend north and south and if one is traveling east or west the drive includes many long basins, and many steep, winding ranges.  Traveling Highway 50 is all about ups and downs.  Austin is such a charming little town, nestled into the side of the mountain on one of those “ups”.  We have traveled through Austin, but never stopped for more than a quick photo before continuing.  I made a note on our calendar that on the way home in a couple of weeks we need to plan to actually stop in Austin and explore some of the charm.  It is an historic mining town with a cemetery that even from the road looked like it would be a great visit.

We were communicating the Chere and Dan as they neared Eureka and decided that it would be a good place for a lunch spot.  The road through downtown is two lanes wide with a large parking lane as well.  The town was quiet, and an entire block of parking lane was open right in front of the town Senior Center.  We parked and Dan and Chere were parked behind us within minutes.  The skies were so blue and the sun so bright it was blinding.

We took the dogs for a short walk in an open area between buildings and discovered a group of picnic tables behind the closed Senior Center.  Perfect! It was the official beginning of our shared trip to Utah and we all feeling happy about the good weather.  Seems as though Dan and Chere had encountered some serious storms and narrow roads on highway 278 that connected Interstate 80 to the north with Highway 50.  They were happy to be in the sunshine.

We continued east with a plan to fuel at the Love’s station in Ely,  easy for us and for Dan with his big diesel rig. The uhoh moment came as we got closer to Ely when the thick smoke blanketing everything to the east appeared.  I checked the smoke map to discover that the thick stuff was emanating mainly from the huge fires in California and extended all the way east to Colorado, with an especially dark plume covering the area along the Colorado River.

I had been checking for smoke over and over before we left for this trip, encouraged that it hadn’t reached the far southeastern corner of Utah where we were headed.  It was a sad moment.  After we fueled up and continued south toward Baker, the gorgeous mountain ranges around us were completely invisible.  When we stopped for lunch, the four of us agreed that it might be nice to unhook after we settled in and take a side trip up the roads of Big Basin National Park.  When we got to our spot for the night, the smoke was so thick I had to get out my Big Basin NP book to show Dan and Chere what the view was to our west.  Not a good day for a side trip to high mountains completely shrouded in smoke.

Dan and Chere insisted that we join them in their rig for supper, even though we had each planned our own meal.  Chere contributed home made sweet n sour for our pre dinner cocktails, and we enjoyed visiting and catching up with them, talking about our plans for the next ten days.  Dan agreed, that smoke or not, he wasn’t missing out on his long awaited trip to Southern Utah.

We went to bed in high winds, but during the night the winds dissipated and a couple of times when I woke I could see the nearly full moon shining into the rig.

Morning came with another wonderful surprise.  The smoke was gone.  Not just a little bit, but completely gone!  The mountain range of Big Basin NP to the west was gorgeous.  I checked the smoke map again, and while there is still a long plume heading into southeastern Utah, we have mostly clear skies ahead of us as we travel the last leg of our trip toward Torrey.  Amazing how clear skies can shift my mood.  I am really looking forward to this day and to once again arriving in one of my favorite little towns in the west.  I do love Torrey, ever since my first trip through there in 1991, it has been a special place for me.

09-18-2021 First Day on the Road

I woke at 4 am this morning, listening for the rain.  I thought I needed a good soak in the hot tub for achy legs. By the time I undressed and opened up the tub, the rain was pouring.  It wasn’t a light rain, it was a deluge.  Something we so desperately need here in the Rogue Valley, and all over Oregon and the West for that matter.

In spite of the big drops splashing my face and wetting my hair, the tub felt good.  I love traveling, but I will miss my early morning soaks, and evening  dips with Mo under the stars, watching for airplanes.

We were well prepared for our departure, loading up clothes and food over two days, making the process fairly easy.  I cooked several items for the freezer for the journey.  Mo and I much prefer eating at home in the rig rather than at restaurants, especially in these day of Covid.  Freezer meals make things nice and easy in the limited space of the MoHo.

We were on the road just after 8am, driving south on I-5 from Grants Pass in the pouring rain.  Traffic was light, and I didn’t have to worry much about the blinding spray thrown onto our windshield when traffic is heavy.  It poured all the way south, over Siskiyou Pass, next to invisible Mt Shasta, and for many miles after we turned east on Highway 89.  Since we have moved to Grants Pass, the route between I-5 and Susanville toward Highway 395 is most often our chosen way to cross the mountain ranges between us and the desert. 

I had been tracking road closures along Highway 89 and Highway 44 north of the huge Dixie fire, burning for almost  two months now and decimating almost a million acres of forest, homes, and small communities.  Just two days before our scheduled departure I saw on Caltrans that highway 44 was once again open, with delays and some areas of one way traffic due to the fire.  The alternative would be to travel north toward MacArthur, adding more than 90 minutes to our travel time as we headed toward Reno.

The smell of fire was strong as we drove through thick smoke toward Susanville.  Mt Lassen was shrouded and completely hidden from view.  In some areas the ground was still smoldering, but we made the crossing with only a short delay of 20 minutes. 

Once east of Susanville, as we approached Highway 395, highway signs were flashing and notifying us of reduced visibility due to smoke and dust from high winds.  An app I use called Ventusky showed we were traveling through winds of 46 mph with gusts to 59 mph.  The canyons on the east side of the mountains funnel winds downslope and make for some scary driving.  I had driven 4 hours or so almost to Susanville through all the rain, but I think I had it easy compared to Mo’s stint driving 395 in the high winds.  Nice part about the winds, however, is that they blew away the smoke.  However the dust and sand that we drove through battered the rig terribly in some places.

By the time we reached Fallon we were definitely ready to hunker down.  Once again we boondocked at the Texaco station on the east side of town that is owned by the local tribe.  As long as you go inside and enter your information in their book, the tribal police will leave you alone for the night.  When we arrived the winds were still very high, and yet it was warm enough we needed to open the windows a bit.  A fine coating of sandy dust quickly covered everything. Reminded me a bit of a book I read recently called the Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah.  Her descriptions of life during the dust storms of the 30’s were harrowing.  A little desert wind and dust is nothing compared to life back then.

We had a light supper of salad and a bunless hot dog and within minutes I was ready to hit the comfy bed.  I think it was only 6 or so when I went there to read while Mo stayed up and caught up with some of her internet business.  There is a great Verizon signal here so our phones work just fine.

We talked a bit with Brother Dan who was hunkered down in Winnemucca with Chere.  They decided to eat out, and were concerned that a huge accident east of Winnemucca that was closing the interstate for several hours might not be cleared by morning.  Hopefully all is well and we will meet them tonight in Baker, Nevada.  We will be camping once again at the Border Inn RV Park in Baker.  Tomorrow we will point both rigs toward the east, crossing Highway 50, the Loneliest Road in America, toward  Capitol Reef NP.  Dan made reservations for 4 nights at an RV park in Torrey, so instead of boondocking at Fruita as we often do, we will have hookups for our time there.  I am looking forward to sharing some of my favorite spots in Southern Utah over the next ten days with Dan and Chere.  It is their first time to see the red rock canyons and a few of the big national parks in Utah.