Road Trip#1 – Part 1

I’ve taken many road trips, even since starting this blog. Quiz: what’s the name of the blog? Anyway, I decided to write a short story because I haven’t written one of those yet. So, let’s get started.

It was the right time of year to be driving through Nevada.  We drop south at Battle Mountain. 

   I always liked that name, Battle Mountain.  Which battle, who won?  It’s the tallest around, is that where the gods worked out their problems?  The answer is probably something like Jake Battle was the first settler.  That’s why I don’t stop and ask.  

Snow graces all of the peaks, on both sides of us.  There isn’t any chance of it reaching down to us in the valley.  It is sunny, blue skies, great company.  A quiet has descended on the conversation, as it can on long road trips.  By quiet, I don’t mean silence.  There are the usual car noises while traveling at 70 mph, wind, tires, rattles.  The radio can’t pick up anything interesting and more advanced technology has been banned.  As far as being a long trip, we had started from North Idaho.  To here already qualifies as long.  We are on our way to Tucson.  And back, of course.

Unlike most trips that have their timelines and schedules, this one doesn’t. It had to start in Portland for my brother’s birthday but the only other objective is to get to Tucson to visit with my daughter.  Time and route are all negotiable and this time we mean to stop along the way.  Driving in the West covers vast distances with enough interesting places that giving into temptation may mean you’ll never get to where you are going.  Most trip schedules lacked enough discretionary time to stop.  Not this time.

First deviation was to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  What an outstanding place for birds to land on their way from here to there.  And there they must be because they aren’t here.  It is a big place and takes a lot of driving to confirm they aren’t here.  But the weather was perfect and the scenery and hikes make it worthwhile.

Exiting at the south end of the refuge we need to turn right to continue south on to our destination.  But there is a sign that says if we turn left we can go to Diamond Craters.  I look at her, mention something about diamonds and babes and we agree to go for it.  Driving in my usual confidence that I have never been so lost as to never having been found again, I begin to suspect that we missed some sign somewhere.  Since this whole trip is about adventure, I continue on using my dead reckoning skills.  Sure enough, I find the place and we enter from the back side.  In case you are holding your breath, no, we didn’t find any diamonds.  Interesting lava flows.  The most memorable take away from this place was the start of a new meme for this trip.  We are in a place where we can have sex in the middle of the road, during the day, with no intrusion, no interruption, no restraint.

It’s back south to a stop in Winnemuca and hang a left to Battle Mountain.  We exit I80, not stopping to learn why this town is named so, and head south between two majestic mountain ranges.

Did I mention that it is late April?  I had a choice of tire selection for this trip.  My studded snow tires were still mounted but I had another set of wheels with normal tires on them.  I knew our trip would start in North Idaho, where there is still snow here and there, and go down to Tucson, where I was pretty sure there would be no snow.  However, in between, there were some pretty impressive mountains and the weather could be uncertain.  Sometimes I amaze myself with my forethought, even though she is always telling me I’m an idiot. I left the studded snow tires on.  My reasoning?  This was, for sure, the last season for these tires.  Although most of the studs were still with us, it was really questionable if they were doing their task.  And there was plenty of tread left to get us where we needed to go, even knowing that winter tires would wear pretty fast in the heat of the Sonoran desert.  In other words, I am cheap and I wanted to get the most out of this set of tires before they are replaced.

Have you ever stopped to see “The Thing”, somewhere along the I10 in New Mexico? Nor have we, but there are a bajillion signs for it.  Along most of our highways there are signs for jerky and lingerie and lawyers.  One of the things we like about cruising the two lane roads in the west are the absence of most of those signs.  So, in the quiet of cruising south of Battle Mountain we see one of those little brown signs, pointing right, with the name: Ophir Canyon.  We quickly look right, seeing a dirt road leading directly into the mountains, with nothing else in sight.  We then look each other in the eyes and smile.  I hit the brakes, turn on the right flasher, or vice-verse, and exit the road.

We pull into a small dirt clearing that actually has an historical marker. Usually road signs also indicate the presence of these historical markers. Maybe there were budget issues.  We quickly read:  “Well up into the canyon above, the massive stone foundations of a costly and splendid stamp mill as well as the stone walls of an elegant office and mansion are visible.  This is the site of Ophir, now a ghost town.”  Wow, with inspired writing like that and a wide dirt road leading on, how could we not go visit?

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