Crossing the Desert

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Yosemite NP to Cedar City, Utah, 495 miles

0902 Yosemite to Cedar City 495

Map credit: Google Maps 2017, courtesy AAA

Saturday morning, we were not in a huge hurry to get going, as we planned to use our breakfast vouchers at the Majestic, so we got packed up and made our way down to the dining room.  While we would have preferred to order from the menu, it was pretty clear that having the buffet would be the thing to do, so we surrendered.  The buffet was good, and the food was fresh since there were a lot of people getting it, too.  Just one problem – the eggs Benedict was a very popular item, and it was out almost the whole time we were there.  I finally got one just when I was about to give up, and had the egg over the delicious lox they served.  It was time to say goodbye to Yosemite Valley, though we would still be in the park for quite a while longer.  After one last look at the lovely old hotel, we hit the road – turning east for the first time….

Our route would take us back out to California Highway 120, which would take us completely across the northern portion of Yosemite, and then we would take US 395 south for a bit.  It was a pleasant drive through parts of the park that we hadn’t seen, and there were lots of people hiking, camping, swimming, and hanging out on this holiday weekend.  We drove past Tuolumne Meadows and then caught a glimpse of Mt. Dana, the second-highest peak in the park, which still had snow on it!  Kim was getting her first practice at winding mountain roads after a few days of no driving at all.

We were almost out of gas, and we had heard all about a little gas station that had a great restaurant in it, but somehow we missed seeing it.  We went into the town of Lee Vining hoping to find it, but no luck.  We did find Lake Mono National Park, so we stopped there to see what it was and to find out about the gas station, which turned out to be just inside the park.  We had a look at Lake Mono, which is a big saline lake with some volcanic islands in it, and it’s a great place for birding.  It was already getting hot, and we had a lot of ground to cover, so back we went to the Mobil station (home of the Whoa Nellie Deli) to fill up, and then we were off, ready to cross the desert that is Nevada.

While US 50 across Nevada may have earned the title “Loneliest Road in America”, we would beg to differ with that opinion.  At least it had three little towns on it!  This southern route was much more deserted!  If not for the horses, cows, and extraterrestrials, we would not have seen any living things.  We saw not a single other car going in our direction!  Early in the route we went through the town of Tonopah, home to the creepy Clown Motel (calling David M!!) and then we saw not much else except the ‘town’ of Rachel (which was pretty much a trailer park). We enjoyed the Extraterrestrial Highway, but we disappointed not to have any (live) ET sightings. We stopped for gas in Caliente, the smallest incorporated town in Nevada (population around 1100) and admired the depot (which is also the library, town hall, and museum) that was across the street from the Sinclair station. We finally made it to the Utah border and found our way to the Holiday Inn Express in Cedar City.

Even though it was Saturday night, we barely made it to Centro Woodfired Pizza before it closed at 10 PM; however, the host seated us cheerfully and our server, Jacee, could not have been friendlier.  We shared a pizza – Kim had Fennel Sausage and I had Pollo Bianco – and had a beer and both were delicious!  The thin crust pizza was done perfectly and the toppings were plentiful and good.  We were enticed by the Nutella Piegato for dessert – “pizza dough filled with creamy Nutella, folded (Piegato) and baked in our wood fired oven until gooey and delicious. Finished with whipped cream and a nutella drizzle.”  Oh boy, was it good!  And we saved enough to give Jayce a couple of pieces, too.

We didn’t even try to blog or do pictures tonight, because tomorrow would be a LONG day and we needed to get some rest.


Carson City, Colin, and Cozy Cabin

Monday, 28 August 2017

Carson City, Nevada to Lake Tahoe, California, about 35 miles

0828 Carson City Tahoe 33

Map credit: Google Maps 2017, courtesy AAA

We awoke to a bright sunny day in Carson City and decided to have some of our French silk pie from the night before for breakfast.  My, was it good – rich and chocolatey – and we didn’t even eat the whole piece.  Our plan for the day was to go see the capitol of Nevada and explore Carson City a bit and then drive the short distance to Tahoe early enough to enjoy the lake a bit and to get there before Happy Hour!

Carson City is not a big place, so it was easy to find our way into town, and we parked in a public lot behind the State Supreme Court, which is next to the silver-domed capitol building.  In between the court and the capitol is a lovely shaded greenspace full of monuments and lined with an arcade of leafy trees.  It was so cool and attractive there, especially on a hot summer day.  We saw a statue of Abe Curry, founder of the city, and Kit Carson, for whom the city was named.  There was a memorial to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty and a statue honoring the miners from this state, which probably became a state due to the wealth of mineral deposits found and mined here.

The capitol building, completed in 1872, is a Victorian building made of sandstone quarried from a local quarry (owned by Abe Curry) using prison labor (no extra cost to the taxpayers) and whose cupola was topped by a real silver dome, back in the day.  Today’s dome only looks like it’s the real thing.  It’s not a big building, nor is it lavishly decorated.  The walls are made of Alaskan marble and there is an interesting painted border at the top of the walls that honors the many different minerals, metals, and rocks that are (or were) so plentiful in the state.  The original Supreme Courtroom here was big enough for about a dozen people to sit in.  The legislative branch is no longer housed in this building, either, but the House chamber was still set up as it had been.  The Senate chamber is now a museum about the capitol and Nevada’s history, so we spent some time in there.

While in the museum, we ran into a young man in biking clothes, so of course, we started talking to him.  Turns out he is riding his bike from Boston to San Francisco (and moving there) and we’re pretty sure he is the biker we passed on Highway 50 yesterday.  His name is Colin, and his blog is called No Edge Lines.  As I am writing this post, he is likely riding victoriously into San Francisco to the cheers of his friends and family.  Way to go, Colin!  We also met a Carson City resident and author named Don (check out his blog HERE), who told us about the city and some places to be sure to see and places we might want to eat.  Since it was getting on noontime, we decided it was time for lunch, so we walked a few blocks down to the Union, a new brewpub that Charlotte at the Hampton had recommended to us.  Good choice!

We sat outside (under shade) and started off with a shared flight of beer samples –  Peach Ale, Taco Truck Amber, Cherry Berliner Weisse, and a stout called Redheaded Stranger  – and a most satisfying heirloom tomato salad.  For lunch, Kim had a pepperoni and homemade sausage pizza, and I had a BLTA sandwich and a cup of onion lentil soup.  Our server, Heather, was so friendly and nice – we enjoyed chatting with her and with the two other tables of women out on the patio.  Since we were in no hurry, and since we were going to Scoups later for ice cream, we took time to enjoy another adult beverage.  Kim had a peach ale and I had the special of the day, a lavender lemonade (with a bit of gin).  One of the women next to us suggested that we go to the Nevada state museum, so when we were done, we headed that direction.  Sadly, it was closed on Monday, so we followed the blue line on the street per Don’s recommendation and went to see the home of Orion Clemens, former Secretary of the Nevada Territory and brother of ne’er do well Samuel, who became famous as Mark Twain after moving in with Orion to serve as his secretary and to get his act together.  Samuel went on to become a newspaper editor in nearby Virginia City, and well, you know the rest of the story!  The home is now a law firm, and was across the street from a sweet little Episcopal church which had won an award for the best stop on the Wine Walk.  My kind of church!

We were getting pretty hot and it was getting late, so we walked on down to Scoups, which is famous for its ice cream and for its soups, hence the name.  Kim splurged and had a brownie sundae with salted caramel ice cream and I just had a scoop of salted caramel with chocolate sauce.  Oh boy, did that hit the spot.  The ice cream parlor was right next to a splash pad where a mom was watching her two kids run through it in their bathing suits.  I was still so hot that I made them (and anyone else watching) laugh as I ran through the cold water, fully clothed.  Gosh, did that feel good!  And my hair looked great afterwards…

We walked back through the arcade on the capitol grounds and got ready to go to Lake Tahoe.  Laura had warned us to be sure to gas up in Nevada, so we made that stop on our way out of town, and it wasn’t long before we saw the huge blue shimmering water between the trees and mountains.  We also passed Colin going up the mountain, so we honked and waved at him.  If you have never been to Tahoe, I highly recommend it!  I had been here several times before, but it was a new experience for Kim, and it was new for me to have such a perfect place to land for a few days!  Thanks, Laura and Don!


Our first glimpse of Lake Tahoe

Laura is one of my Facebook friends who I had gotten to know via pixels2Pages, and it just happened that she saw a post about our trip one night a couple of weeks ago.  When she heard we were headed west, she asked if we would be coming to Tahoe, and since it was a big part of our plans, I answered affirmatively.  She insisted that we stop by to meet her and talk to her about what to do, as she has been summering in Tahoe for her whole life!  The Sassy Sisters never turn down an invitation like that!  As it turned out, it took us so long to get there that we ended up being invited to stay with them in the most delightful cabin directly on the beach of the lake!!  It could not have been a more perfect place to stay! Laura is a great cook and Don is a fab grill master, and we even got to do laundry!  We slept like logs and woke up to the most spectacular sunrises over a lake that looked like glass.  We had cocktails every afternoon at five and we delighted in the ducks and dogs that frolicked nearby.  We met neighbors (lifelong friends of Laura and Don) and we had a blast sitting by the lake sharing stories and becoming ‘old’ friends.

I had read Colin’s blog to Kim as we were driving to Tahoe, and we knew his plan was to stay a day or so here, so we contacted him and invited him to join us for dinner.  Laura suggested a place called Freshies that was not far from where Colin was staying, so we left Don watching football and took off to meet Colin.  Freshies was awesome – fantastic healthy and fresh food as well as wine and beer – and Kim, Colin, and I all had tacos, and they were so tasty.  Laura, Kim, and I peppered Colin with questions about his ride, his new job, his old job, his schooling, etc. and he was a good sport and filled us in.  It was quite dark by the time dinner was over, so we offered Colin a ride home in Laura’s Santa Fe (just like Kim’s).  He took the wheels off his bike and we crammed it in the back of the car and dropped him off at his motel.


Back at Laura and Don’s, we gave Don his stir fry (I’m sure he was about to gnaw on his arm by then!) and we just sat and chatted and looked at photos and blogged a bit until time for bed.  What a fabulous day!


Staying on the Straight and Narrow

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Orem, Utah to Carson City, Nevada  ~570 miles

0827 Orem to Carson City route 570

Map credit: Google Maps 2017, courtesy AAA

We tried to get off to an early start (you may be noticing a pattern here) and were excited about going to Guru’s for breakfast before hitting ‘The Loneliest Road in America”.  It was amazing how little traffic was on the road in Orem and Provo, compared to what we had seen the night before.  We pulled up to Guru’s and found a primo parking place; alas, it was closed on Sunday.  As was almost EVERY place around!  We decided to move on, wishing we had taken advantage of the free breakfast at our Hampton, and were just about to get on the highway when we saw a diner that was open.  Hold the bus!  We didn’t even have to wait to get seated at Café 300, housed in a gleaming chrome building just like diners of the past.  Soon we were fortified and ready to tackle the desert.

We still had quite a way to go to get out of Utah before we were actually on US 50 in Nevada, and we knew we needed to start that part of the trek with a full tank of gas, so we went ahead and filled up in Nephi, UT with plans to fill up again in Ely, Nevada.   At the gas station in Nephi, we ran into a whole group of antique car owners who had been to a big rally in Bryce Canyon.  Man, those cars were something else! We drove through the smallish town of Delta in Utah, where we picked up US 50, and saw some decent-looking motels – we were a little bit sorry we hadn’t kept driving the day before, until we remembered our wonderful dinner at Communal.  Driving along US 50, we passed a couple of interesting looking brick structures, so Kim u-turned it so we could check them out.  The highway sign said they were ‘Burining Pits”, but we are pretty sure that was a typo. The beehive-shaped charcoal ovens were used from 1876 through 1879 to help process rich silver ore that was discovered in Nevada. Once mining ended, the ovens were used to shelter travelers and even had a reputation as a hideout for stagecoach bandits. We were glad we stopped to investigate!  It was a warm sunny day, and one of us, not the driver, may have dozed off for a little bit…  The road was long and straight, except when it wasn’t, usually because we were going through a mountain pass.  We stopped briefly at the Nevada state line to take some pictures (but not to play the slots) and then went on to Ely and stopped to gas up.


Ely (pronounced eely) looked like a neat little town, so we went to the historic district and walked around a bit until it started raining on us.  There was a pretty park, some great murals, a duck pond with a man on a bike with a big sack of bread for the eager pigeons and ducks, a library, and the semi-famous Hotel Nevada.  It was nice to walk around a bit!  Ely is also the closest town to the Great Basin National Park, which we considered visiting until we realized how far off the route it was.  We definitely got the feel of being in a great basin, ringed completely by mountain ranges.  It reminded us of the Midland/Odessa area of Texas in the Permian Basin.

The only towns of note between Ely and Carson City are Eureka, Austin, and Fallon, so we didn’t anticipate too much excitement today.  We passed one bicyclist and two different walking people (who looked like they were walking across the country), and there were more cars than we expected, but it was a pretty uneventful drive.  We saw a huge archway made of antlers and we passed a large windmill farm.  We stopped in Austin because there was a little restaurant advertising “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner” and ice cream; unfortunately, it closed at 4 PM (early dinner, I reckon!) and it was 4:20 when we arrived.  Fortunately, the door was unlocked, and when we and a local father/son combo came in, they relented and sold us some cones (only vanilla, only small cones!) so we did have a little break.  Between Austin and Fallon, we passed some really sandy areas with some dunes and a lot of quicksandy-looking places right next to the road.  We didn’t stop to see if they were really quicksand though!

Fallon is the home of the NAS (Naval Air Station) made famous by the movie Top Gun.  We drove right past it but didn’t get to see any fancy flying going on.  We did get behind a driver who was either drunk, sleepy, or texting though – we kept our distance and finally called 911.  It was pretty bad! Fallon also had a unique irrigation system full of small dams and spillways right next to the highway.

Sooner than we thought, and before dark (YAY!), we arrived in Carson City and made our way to the Hampton Inn.  They even had covered parking there, and in the light of day, it appeared that the covers were actually solar panels.  Very clever!  We got a great recommendation for dinner and showed up slightly underdressed at Glen Eagles, where there were white linen tablecloths!  We sort of got a dining room all to ourselves, and we had HUGE portions of pasta Pomodoro (Kim) and scrumptious pork chops (not one, but TWO) perfectly grilled chops for me, along with mashed potatoes and veggies.  I could only eat one chop – so good!! – but we did get a French Silk pie to go and then didn’t eat it that night!

We were excited to spend the next morning exploring Carson City before meeting our new friend Laura, who had invited us to stay at her place at Lake Tahoe!  Our excitement was tempered by seeing the reports coming in about the horrible flooding taking place in Houston and the area between Houston and Galveston, as well as much of southeastern Texas.  I’d be lying if I said I wish I had been at home, but it sure seemed surreal but very believable and sad to see the damage and reports from afar.