I will end this road trip saga here. Yes, I did make it back safely.
I enjoyed this writing exercise whose only purpose was entertainment.
Fine, for that I’ll be leaving California. We head back through Tonopah and turn south for Las Vegas. Neither of us cares to stay there so we turn north for a little distraction at Valley of Fire State Park. Passing Lost City Museum we decide to stop. These little museums, out in small towns, usually haven’t caught my attention. But that is unkind. There are always stories to tell, some are larger and some are smaller and all of them take the effort of people willing to share. This museum covers the history of the local peoples, which dates back further than I expected. We are impressed with the presentation. Highly recommended, but maybe not in July.
Into Valley of Fire. If you haven’t been rock hopping in southern Utah or Northern Arizona then this is an impressive park. And it is a very interesting park, until you throw in the tourists. I know, I know, they don’t speak English well so signs like “Stay on Path” and “Stay off rocks” don’t mean much to them but it hurts. The desert is actually quite fragile and does not recover quickly, if at all. I’m bummed and want to leave. She’s accepting and we start to head out. Then I notice the full moon and start looking for favorable compositions. Finding what I think will work we park and wait. We talk to a couple of ladies from Germany for a while with the conversation eventually coming around to why we are waiting there. They decide to wait longer. Finally the moon does rise enough to get the shots I want. I scramble around on some rocks (that have no signs) and eventually also in the road. No, no sex, but little traffic. With enough bytes recorded it is time to leave. While I was shooting I had noticed an older Asian gentleman stop and take some pictures of the ridge we were looking at. It was pretty with the setting sun, but I could tell he didn’t have the right angle to catch the moon rising (a much better shot). He then got in his car and starts to go past us. I (carefully) flag him down. I could tell he was flustered for a moment but I simply point to the sky, he looks, pulls over and was himself soon in the middle of the road. I felt better.
And possibly in apology, just before we hop back on the Interstate, there are fireworks going off behind us. We stop and watch.
It is back through Las Vegas for us, but no stops. Our choice of spending our hard earned money is not consistent with this town’s. No matter. We quickly come to the realization that our Rand McNally is aging and may not be the reliable partner it once was. I am driving on the I11. The I11? It isn’t on my map and wasn’t here the last time I was through. Ah, but progress marches on and leaves memories in its wake. I remember when you drove over the top of Hoover Dam. My dad remembers when it wasn’t even there. My kids, I wonder what they will remember?
It is time to find the next green dotted road. As we enter Kingman we could jump on the I40 and speed into our future. Instead we jump on Route 66 and speed into the past. What a hoot. Windows down, it would be a great time for a convertible, we cruise the 50’s and 60’s. Past year’s detritus is scattered endlessly along the shoulder of this road. And rummaging around in it are tour busses disgorging endless curious interlopers. We drift through.
We continue to follow the green dots. Seligman offers a chance to jump on the interstate, but not for long. At Williams we can turn north and we do. It is time to visit the South Rim. And if you have to ask, that means the Grand Canyon. And if you aren’t impressed then you are probably from Mars. This green dotted road ends in Tusayan, sort of. You can park in the park, but I don’t recommend it. Yes, it is crowded. It is far easier to park in town and catch one of the shuttle busses into the park. They have set up a really good system. Much easier. And it is easy to spend many hours wandering the rim, taking trails down and back up. I am also anticipating trying to catch the full moon in this wonderful setting. Finally, sitting, waiting, talking with the crowds; she rises. Very impressive to be there, but I’m not sure the pictures will do justice. Back to town; avoid the elk browsing, grab a bite to eat and we are again cruising.
To our final destination, Tucson. We did return, but that is another story.
Back to the highway, hang a right and south it is. One good thing about having someone ride shotgun is they can be studying the map, maybe planning the next stop. We approach the Lincoln Highway with a stretch to the west called the “loneliest road”. We pass it by.
My 2011 edition of the Rand McNally Road Atlas points out many points of interest. I greatly enjoy studying it. It specifically points out the Lewis & Clark Highway, Lincoln Highway and Route 66. Living and driving in the Northwest you crisscross the Lewis & Clark Highway all of the time because Lewis & Clark crisscrossed the Northwest a lot. And who hasn’t heard of Route 66? But the Lincoln Highway? Honestly, did Abe travel over any of this road? Certainly not in Nevada. We flipped over to the Illinois map and at least it is there also. So is Route 66 and the L&C is so close, like a stone’s throw across the Mississippi, that I’ll give it to them.
Nothing stops us before we enter Tonopah. Here we eat dinner but should we also sleep here? There is no town bigger between here and Las Vegas. Rand McNally points out a green dotted road turning off just south of town. So, raise your hands. Who would rather wake up in the morning staring at a green dotted road or Tonopah? Us too. It is getting dark as we leave town.
I find a dirt road leading away from our green dotted road. Driving a ways I then find a smaller one. And then a place to park for the night. Among the great things about being out in the middle of nowhere, especially in the desert, is the sky. It is huge. It is sprinkled with a multitude of lights, some dim, some bright, some colored, some twinkling. Some even move. We are moved.
In the morning we are greeted by a huge desert. Huge mountains with a threatening cover are all around. I spend some time capturing the local plants in celebration of spring. By the time we leave she and I agree we have found another spot that fits our meme. We wind our way back to the green dotted road and continue the adventure. We travel through a very picturesque little valley with one little problem. The road we are traveling on dips, for a very short way, into California. And this valley sits in that other state.
If you haven’t noticed, I have a few peculiarities. Some I was born with, some I create. One of my current ones is a near boycott of California, at least in my driving. Let’s just say that having been born and raised there I no longer feel it supports my soul. But this road laughs at me and takes me there anyway, for a few moments. The highest peak in Nevada waves at us as we climb out of this little valley. If your life isn’t ironic, then what’s the point? Our green dotted road is about to end. We quickly consult Rand and decide to go back into California. Having lived in LA I had drunk plenty of Mono Lake, but I have never visited. Time to remedy that.
First we pass through some Michelin man hills, you know those kinds of rolly polly rock formations that you are just waiting for the eyes to open and a huge rock guy to stand. Up into a beautiful high altitude pine forest and then we are looking down on Mono Lake. The sky, battling as it is with the clouds is deep blue. Those clouds vary between white puff balls and gray storms. The lake is green. Google, if you were to ask, would tell you the lake is highly alkaline and very salty. Not normal. But if it were normal then we wouldn’t be here to gaze at the tufa towers, which we are now viewing. Amazing.
Mr. McNally is telling us we are just a stone’s throw from Yosemite. I look to the west, see some of the mountains but the rest are being hidden by an ongoing snowstorm. I look at her and smile. Remember, we are still rolling on snow tires. Further, I’d bet we still have at least half the studs still with us, even if their service may be a bit lagging. I vote yes, she abstains and mutters something. You can’t be this close to Yosemite and not visit. And we are on another green dotted road! It is not very many miles before snow is batting at our windshield. It is not very many more before I have to stop. Much to my displeasure there is a barricade stretching in front of us with the news that Tioga Pass is closed for the winter. I yell at it that it is the end of April and Yosemite is just 11 miles further on. She tells me to get back in the car.
With the wide dirt road stretching ahead of us into the mountains we figure this should be a fun little side trip. Arriving at the foot of the mountain we find another dirt parking area with a sign at the other end. To this point pretty much any car could have made it as long as they were ok with the car wash that would be needed afterward (from the dust). Now we are looking at a sign that says the road narrows and you should think twice before committing your beauty to this path.
I guess I should explain my beauty at this point as a matter of perspective. She is sitting in the passenger seat; 5’8” brunette, green eyes… Ah, my car. It is a ’10 Subaru Outback with a lot of miles on it (isn’t that surprising). All Subarus are AWD (all wheel drive, all of the time). They also have pretty high ground clearance for not being a truck. Because of a peculiarity of mine, my Subaru has a manual transmission. It also has heated seats, for which I have become very appreciative of in North Idaho, and a sunroof which I have never opened. I should also mention that my snow tires are a +1 setup which makes them a little more forgiving in this rough environment. Further, their days are numbered so I don’t have a lot of luv left for them. In other words, my car is good to go up this narrowed trail, how bad could it be?
Looking her in the eyes, which I can never get tired of, I grin as I say “let’s do this”. We head up and in to the canyon. It narrows quickly as does the road, which also grows rocks and ruts. One advantage of the smaller Subie is I can drive around some things a larger truck just has to take on. A couple of things are immediately clear. This is a pretty time of year to be in this canyon. The other is I sure hope another admirer is not done with their admiring and on their way down. Our narrow corridor soon has a turn in it hiding a little stream. Given that only two wheels will be in the water at once and that it all looks flat I proceed on through. Up some more, cross the stream again and up some more. That last stretch was a little rockier; we were going a little slower. And now I’m looking at a crossing that will put all wheels in the water. The exit is steeper and looking at the road beyond shows it even rougher. I bravely chicken out and declare the end to our driving. Although we have no clue how much further Ophir is, we’ll be walking the rest of the way because we say, what the hell, we made it this far. And besides, where do we really need to be? Actually, we’ll be walking a little further because I can’t leave the car here. It is taking up the whole road and there is nowhere to park. With no room to turn around I have to back down this narrow, steep, rocky road until I find a place I can stuff the car away. When we aren’t crossing that little stream it has been running parallel to one side of the road or the other. And there is usually a 5-10 foot drop off along the side. Backing up a car is not that hard, right? How about downhill, on a narrow crappy road, which you can’t see because of the incline and little margin to keep from rolling sideways into water. I thought it was fun. She asked if it would be better if she got out. I said sure, but since the doors couldn’t open because of all the brush she would have to go out the sunroof. I knew it was good for something. She decided to stay. It only took about 100 yards of backing before I found a spot that I could get the car off the road.
We squeezed out; brush still being a problem, loaded up supplies for a picnic, grabbed my camera and headed uphill after also grabbing a blanket. She said, trust her, we’ll need it. It was uphill, a sunny day and an elevation of at least 7000 feet. Turns out it was a tougher hike than expected. But, pretty company, pretty scenery and lots of butterflies. There were two kinds and they were flitting all about.
We figured we were the first humans up here this year as there were several snow banks still covering the road, with no tracks in them.
Ophir sits in a charming little valley. This is a great place to hike or even ski in the winter. Quads or snow mobiles would be a better way to start. Mostly there are only foundations left. There are a couple of examples of cabins built up out of rocks. Sorry, no ghosts, nor many places for them to live. But as far as having sex in the middle of the road, during the day, no problem. In fact, you now had a whole town available.
Interestingly, as we wandered around we came upon about 7 head of cattle, one pretty small. They were not happy to see us and stampeded up the canyon, the little one bouncing behind. Had they wintered up here or come up earlier in the spring? We saw no evidence of them while we hiked in.
The day grew long and our time grew short. Done with all that we intended we headed down. The car was where we left it. We packed up and drove out. As soon as we exited the canyon proper two conflicting things happened. One we spotted a small herd of Pronghorn Antelope. Second, my phone spotted its carrier. We hadn’t had much connection since we left Battle Mountain, but for some reason, up here on the shoulder of this mountain, my phone could find home. Yes, I had messages.
Parts of Malheur Wildlife Refuge