8/9-8/10 Two Days in the Desert

In the days of pioneers, gold rushers and cow punchers, the desert could either make or break you. For the past two days it tried to break us, but we persevered.

Day 1

Making a concerted effort to eat a chunk of Nevada, we chose the highway. Heading toward Reno, the moonscape of this state was endless. The day heated up early and never quit. I entertained myself by reading  lisence plates, looking at the underguts  of tractor trailers and counting cars on the ever present trains. Not seeing much train action at home, I am fascinated by the number and length of these transporters that we see in our travels. Carrying everything from hogs to canola oil, they are our constant companions as they parallel the road.

 A rest stop where the table canopy offered the only relief from the sun for our lunch, gave us a "small world" moment. A woman who had checked out our plates, came over to us and said that she was from NJ. After "where are you from", etc. we found out that she taught the children of very good friends of ours. A meeting in the middle of the desert and there was a connection-a random event to add interest to the day.

We stumbled into Winnemucca, a small gambling town  and dove into the shower.

Day 2

After a breakfast in the casino attached to our hotel, we gambled on another day in the desert, and this time we won. Storms in the night had cleared the air, and riding 80 was almost pleasant. For miles the landscape was unchanging. Signs warning not to pick up hitchhikers preceded 2 prisons set miles back off the road. These jarred my memory back to my teaching years when we read the adolescent novel "Holes".

Slowly the landscape changed. Rock formations similar to those in Zion began to appear. Some areas were thickly vegetated with scrubby trees and there was more to observe than our reflection in the hubcaps of passing tractor trailers.

Any discomfort I had on this ride ended when a sign at a rest stop reminded me that Route 80 follows the path of The California Trail. From 1843 to 1869, approximately 250,000 emigrants walked this path from The Missouri River to California. They crossed the desert in July and August, covering at best 20 miles a day. For the rest of the ride I imagined dusty and worn families and seekers of gold plodding through this unforgiving terrain to find a better life. Looking at mountains in the distance, we calculated the miles to reach them and then I started calculating the days it took the pioneers to walk to them, the horizon never seeming to get closer. Every crossing we make of this vast country reminds me of these brave heroes who opened up the West and I am humbled.

Salt announced the state of Utah and the Great Salt Basin rode with us for the next 40 miles. White and desolate, this wasteland stretched to the mountains shimmering in the distance and into the horizon before us. At first a shock, the scene soon becomes mesmerizing and constant signs caution drivers to stay alert. Again my imagination pulled up scenes of wagons followed by tattered emigrees, struggling to stay alive across this sea of salt.

As the salt flats ended, the mountains closed in and the lake began. We settled in Tooele on the outskirts of the city, at the base of the Oquirrh Mountains.

Perspective is a daunting point of view. Through my eyes, these two days of heavy highway travel were endless and only a means to get through to the East. Two days would have been two weeks for those thousands of strong men, women and children who struggled against the elements to reach California. Their patience and endurance makes our small moment of distress seem petty, so we will buck up, hit the road no matter what and be home in less time than it took them to cover 100 miles.Two days in the desert taught us humility, forbearance and a profound respect for all those who traveled before.

Nevada desert


3:10 to Yuma?

The Ponderosa?

Route 80 stretches so far into the horizon you can almost see New Jersey

Zionesque formations

Vegetation appears for a brief moment

Nevada goes out in style

Salt flats

A 40 mile wasteland


Closing in on Salt Lake City 


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