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.