Traveling home from canyon country requires a commitment of at least three days for us. We usually can travel 350 miles in a day, but prefer 150 to 300 and have been known to cross 500 miles or more when the conditions require it.
There is much to see along the route home, but after 10 days exploring miles and miles of such a magnificent red landscape, it is hard for me to get excited about dallying in the vast expanses of the Utah and Nevada desert that are part of the Great Basin.
We have visited Great Basin National Park in the past and had no desire to camp there this time of year. Many of the wonderful wildflowers are past peak bloom season and the fall temperatures make the nights quite cold. We thought maybe we would enjoy a leisurely stay in Eureka or Austin, but when push comes to shove, we are simply ready to be home. As I have said before, that horse to the barn thing is inescapable.
The night before our departure from Moab great loud thunderstorms crossed over the valley, lighting up the sky and rocking the MoHo in the wind. Heavy rains pounded on the roof and when we woke in the morning it was still raining. By the time Dan and Chere pulled out near 8am, the skies were clearing and we could see snow on the highest peaks of the La Sals.
Their route would be different from ours. They planned to drive north through Price toward Salt Lake City, camping in Snowville, Utah on the first night and on the Oregon/Idaho border at Farewell Bend State Recreation Area on the second night before returning home to Beavercreek on the third day.
We planned to return the way we had come, after traveling north to I-70, and west to Highway 50 at Salina, then toward Delta and crossing Utah to the Nevada border at Border Town RV Park. Our original plan was to continue west on Highway 50 to Fallon and then north to Susanville, crossing the mountains from Susanville to I-5 at Mt Shasta and then north to Grants Pass. We have traveled this route many times returning from trips east and south from our home.
By the time we reached our camp site at Border Inn we had decided that we would go home a different route this time. Traveling from Border Inn on Highway 50 we would exit at Highway 278 north toward I-80, then west toward Winnemucca. There we planned to stay the night at the RV Park that Dan used on his trip south, New Frontier RV Park. We would then travel north on Highway 95 to Highway 140 and west through the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge, Lakeview, Klamath Falls and then home over the very familiar High Lakes Pass to Medford and then the last few miles north to Grants Pass and home.
This route would be about 30 miles farther in total than our original plan through Fallon and Susanville but we were both happy to do something a little bit different. It also would give us a chance to pass through some favorite refuges, including Upper Klamath Lake NWR very close to where we used to live in Rocky Point on the west side of Klamath Lake.
09-30 Moab, Utah to Border Inn RV, Nevada 322 miles
Once on the road from Moab, the clear skies gave way to heavy rain as we approached Green River on I-70. The black clouds hid the views and the windshield wipers were on full speed as we crossed the gorgeous San Rafael Swell. The overlooks weren’t very inviting in the pouring rain so we forged on west.
Once we crossed the high point of the swell the rains let up and we could see the last of the Colorado Plateau landscape as the highway dipped toward the west and the edge of the Great Basin.
Above is a map of the Great Basin, dominated by the ups and downs of Basin and Range landscapes. Once on the flat basin west of Delta the road opened up and the vistas expanded far and wide with only a few ranges to climb between basins.
We arrived at the Border Inn around 5 and settled in easily. This park is a funky, dusty place in the middle of nowhere with a sketchy Verizon signal that only works well before 6am in the morning or after midnight. We still love it. The open space and low key vibe of the place is very relaxing after a long drive.
There is a café and casino which we have never tried, happy instead to simply enjoy our own space with fresh breezes and very few people around to bother us. Sometimes there are very big rigs with very large oversize loads that stop and stage at this location before continuing north toward Ely.
After settling in by late afternoon we cooked a very simple meal that was incredibly delicious. The burger is from our Grants Pass butcher shop, cooked on the grill with my favorite seasoning, Weber Chicago Steak Seasoning. The scalloped potatoes were stored in our freezer for the trip. The tomatoes were from Chere’s garden. All topped off with blue cheese crumbles and dressing. We couldn’t believe how good it tasted!
09-30 Border Inn to New Frontier RV Park Winnemucca, Nevada 331 miles
When we left Border Inn around 9 the skies were crystal clear and gorgeous. The night had been chilly, but not so much that the little space heater we use on cold nights when we have hookups couldn’t keep up.
Within a few miles, we found ourselves behind a huge flotilla of rigs with official police pilot cars in front of and behind a huge “thing” being hauled on the highway. The big box thing took up almost both lanes and no one was allowed to pass in either direction. The front pilot car traveled at least a half mile in front of the wide load and moved all oncoming vehicles off the road before the big thing approached. We traveled about 20mph over the steep ranges but on the flats the whole group could go almost 45 miles per hour. Made for an easy relaxing drive to Ely where we broke away from the trail to fuel at the Love’s where we fueled on the way east two weeks earlier.
Something to keep in mind about fuel in Utah and Nevada; the price posted is for the lowest octane fuel, sometimes only 85 octane. We ended up paying over $4.00 per gallon for 87 octane. We found that gas was priced as high throughout Nevada and Utah as we were used to paying in Oregon, and almost as high as the stations we passed when traveling through California.
Once west of Ely we lost the slow wide load and continued over the passes without incident. There were a few cars parked in Eureka but I saw no sign of a bakery, which is something I had been searching for since we were in Moab where none were open early enough in the morning for us to enjoy.
Just beyond Eureka we turned north on Highway 278, the route Dan took from Winnemucca toward Baker on the way south. We noticed that a northward trending route like this one lay between ranges and traveled through a long basin. We didn’t have to cross a lot of high ranges as we did on Highway 50 which travels east and west. However, the route north was terribly boring, with very little change in the view. By the time we reached I-80 Mo needed a driving break and I took over for the last 100 miles or so west to Winnemucca.
Once in Winnemucca we easily found the huge New Frontier RV park and settled in quickly before dinner to relax a bit. Full hookups, cable tv, a dog park, and showers that we never bothered to use made it a nice stop. We were thrilled to discover that it was a Passport America park and we paid half price for our site, a total of $21.69 with tax. Can’t beat that.
The dog park was roomy but the space was all deep rounded gravel. Mattie didn’t seem to mind and still always seems to know where the dog park is when we go there for the first time. She has the routine down well, and runs right to the gate of the park, even when she has never seen it before.
The night was cold, with the temperature reading 27 degrees F when we woke on Friday morning.
10-01 Winnemucca to Virgin Valley Campground, Sheldon Wildlife Refuge, Nevada 127 miles
This was to be the day that we planned to push hard to drive 411 miles and reach home by late afternoon. Instead we languished a bit this morning, both of us feeling a bit tired and a bit lazy. We fueled at the Flying J, where gas was a few pennies higher than the nearby Pilot. More importantly, the Flying J had a Cinnabon kiosk and I was really wanting something bakery sweet so I didn’t mind paying more for fuel.
Once on the road north on Highway 95 we settled in to the wide open landscape of Northern Nevada. Here the distant hills are barren, not a juniper in site, not a leaf, not a shrub or a tree for miles. The wide basins are thick with low sage and very little else. About 29 miles north of Winnemucca we turned west on Highway 140. I wish I could have taken a photo while driving because I am pretty sure this is the longest, straightest stretch of road that we have encountered on our entire trip. I know that Highway 50 has the reputation for being the loneliest road in America but I would say that Highway 140 in northern Nevada has it beat. We drove for 100 miles with absolutely nothing to break the monotony.
At the Denio Junction, Highway 140 makes a sharp turn west toward the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge. The landscape is still open and empty but the landforms begin to shift. In the distance the mountains have a bit more shape and shadows and I could see huge black lava flows on the horizon. We stopped at the information kiosk at the entrance to Sheldon NWR and looked at the map.
I would have been perfectly happy to stop right there and spend a night listening to the silence and watching the skies. We decided that we would drive north and west a bit more into the refuge and explore the free Virgin Valley campground.
Turning south on the refuge road, we were bummed that it was graveled and the washboards were intense. With all the shaking and rattling Mo forged ahead 2 miles till we reached the tiny campground. What a treasure! The campground is open, with little shade, but there are picnic tables and wide open sites that are quite level.
There is an old rustic stone bath house with water flowing all the time from the nearby spring. The warm spring pool is clean with a ladder to enter and clear water that stays about 87 degrees. Not hot, but warm enough to be enjoyable.
The shower comes from the same spring and is a steady 87 degrees. Not hot, but definitely not a cold shower.
We settled into our site, put out the slides and relaxed with cool breezes. The evening was perfect for a walk around the campground, a dip in the pool and a nice warm shower.
For most of the afternoon and early evening we were one of a very few campers in the campground. After supper, as evening approached, quite a few more campers appeared. It was a night for campfires and stars. I stepped out at midnight to see the stars and saw a few campfires surrounded by people quietly enjoying the night.
I have yet to learn how to take photos of stars so will have to remember how clear the night was and how magnificent the stars were in that desert sky.
The next morning we would get on the road one last time heading for home.