Road Trip#1 – Part 3

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.

Road Trip#1 – Part 2

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.

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?