Reading about travelling westward on the train north

England was beginning to move again yesterday after the Christmas break but not for long as the M6 was completely stationary in both directions last night and other roads were reporting problems. I was glad that I was taking the train this morning. Scotland is recovering from two severe storms over Christmas, while in Northern England we had much less severe wind and rain. We left the house in frosty darkness with all the stars visible as James took me to the station. In the lounge, I watched a TV programme highlighting the benefits recent wet summers and mild winters have had for farmers who have could keep animals outside for longer and cut more hay from the long grass but also the adverse impact it has had on many insects and wildflowers that need shorter grass to survive and birds such as barn owls who cannot see their prey in longer grass and whose numbers are declining. Yet another consequence of climate change.
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Not driving meant that I could dip into a book I found on Tuesday at Cavern Books, Dagfields, near Nantwich: http://www.cavernbooks.co.uk/. It is David Haward Bain’s The Old Iron Road: An Epic of Rails, Roads and the Urge to Go West. In 2000, the author (who is an established non-fiction writer and academic at a Vermont college) travelled along the routes followed by the early rail road, Lincoln Highway, California, Oregon and Pony Express trails with his family. He had more time than we could squeeze out of our jobs on our transcontinental drive and has researched and added much of the associated history along the way, including that of his own grandmother’s family. There is also a selection of old photographs in the book.

He began in Missouri, travelling north up the river valley from Kansas City and Independence where the California and Oregon trails often began. We passed through St Louis on our Route 66 drive before continuing southwest and here is the Lewis & Clark memorial by the river:
lewis-clark-monument-under-eades-bridge-st-louis
At Omaha, his route coincided with the Lincoln Highway on Route 30 and our drive as we entered Nebraska on R30 from Iowa.
One of the things I enjoyed in Nebraska was the prairie grass in the Cottonmill Park near Kearney.
Prairie Grasses 2 Kearney NE 4 July 2016-1
By the time I had reached this stage of his book, dawn had broken in South Lancashire and the sun was fully up well before we reached Carlisle. The Cumbrian hills were covered in frost and mist but there were still large pools of water in the fields in southern Scotland. As I emerged from the station in Edinburgh, it was much milder. The city is gearing up for the Hogmanay celebrations and it will get much busier over the next two days. I shed my woollies and as I walked to the shops from the flat, noticed large numbers of branches on the ground from the surrounding trees. I will be out tomorrow to do a few things in town and looking forward to Friday to meeting friends and celebrating James’s birthday.

The end of the road

Lincoln Highway Western terminus 3 - 1

We finally made it this afternoon to the Western Terminus Marker at the end of the Lincoln Highway in Lincoln Park, San Francisco. Although we only drove around 200 miles, this involved a descent from over 7,000ft at the Donner Summit to sea level and a reduction in temperature from the 99 degrees we were experiencing in Reno and North Tahoe, to 66 degrees, cloud and wind, here on Ocean Beach. We picked up the Lincoln Highway again in Truckee where it runs on US 40, another transcontinental road. We stopped at the Donner Memorial State Park and looked at the museum. I read the account of their journey several years ago and it was interesting to have covered their route across the Great Salt Lake Desert and into the Sierra. The history of the Washoe Indians was also included in the museum display. We drove along the lakeside which was very busy with people fishing and enjoying water sports and then up the winding road to the summit of the pass. Just short of it I was photographing the lake below when five women from San Francisco asked me to take some group photographs with their phones. One then asked us if we wanted her to take one of us and amazed that I had found someone who could operate my camera, agreed. Afterwards we carried on downwards. The names of some of the towns we passed later gave clues to where their emigrants came from: Dutch Flats, Weimar & Heather Glen. Around Sacramento there were endless roadworks and traffic jams at the various major route intersections. In the Central Valley we drove alongside fruit trees. I have been hearing that it has been wet back home so at least my fruit and vegetables should have survived my absence.

Lincoln Highway Bay Bridge 3 - 1Eventually we were in the Bay Area and then over the Bay Bridge into town, to Lincoln Park and then to our motel. I did dip my toes in the Pacific this evening after dinner but decided to delay sunset photography until tomorrow. There were some hardy souls surfing. This part of town used to be called Fog City but was renamed as Sunset. The San Francisco fog phenomenon has the same origins as that along the east coast of Scotland and England: cold air from the sea meeting warmer air on land and condensing. We are used to this in Edinburgh where it is known as the ‘haar’: a name imported from the other side of the north sea. For the next two days we are looking forward to no driving. Our feet and the trams that rumble past the motel will get us to where we want to be.

Lonely roads to Reno and over the mountain to North Tahoe

1280px-Loneliest_Road

Thursday morning we left Elko early to return to Highway 50 and the Lincoln Highway. A short  stretch of I80 took us to Carlin and then we drove south to Eureka. On this quiet road falcons and crows were using the telegraph poles as perches as there are no trees in this upland desert. There were plenty of rodents running across the road. There was so little traffic a farmer waved to us from his tractor while he was working in the field. Nearer to Eureka where we joined Highway 50, we saw several hares. We had coffee at the only establishment  which was open just before 9am in what is billed as the friendliest place on this road. There were a few people inside and a dog snoozing in the corner while his owner played the slot machines. Parked outside was a pickup with an ‘I’m no liberal’ sticker. No surprises there. Back on the road we drove over the first of many summits (there are 17 in total) on this road. It passes through several mountain ranges and one tunnel. There was the occasional flash of green in a valley. It was not totally immune to roadworks as some were being prepared for in one place. Just before Cold Springs, a convoy of six Corvettes zoomed passed us going in the opposite direction and we saw a rare sight on this road: a row of four mailboxes. Salt Wells is close to the Naval Air Range and the Great Sand Dune. The fashion in the salt flats seems to be to write your name in black rocks on the white salt at the road side. Only one person had painted the rocks in different colours. Just outside Fallon, we saw the first cornfield since the Mid West. The northern branch of the Lincoln Highway joins I80 and runs through the mountains alongside the Truckee River. We found our way into Reno and met up with a friend who gave us a tour of the city (we’ve only passed through on the train before) and treated us to lunch. We then found our way to our B&B which is west of the city centre where old motels which went out of business when the interstate opened, have been turned into a gallery and artists’ colony. Just as I finished editing my photographs for today and before I could get them uploaded and copied, my hard drive died. Today we diverted from the Lincoln Highway again, this time down to North Lake Tahoe. I was having some difficulty when I was booking the trip in finding accommodation in Truckee as it is high season so we headed SW out of Reno and over Mount Rosa summit (8911ft) then down into North Tahoe. We had a lazy day by the beach and enjoying the sun. I have been reading John Charles Fremont’s 1852 book: ‘Exploring Expeditions to the Rocky Mountains, Oregon and California’ as we have covered some of the same ground on this trip. He even noted eating seagulls at the Great Salt Lake so gulls have been inland for some time.  The beach was quiet when we arrived but got pretty busy later. As the wind increased and it started to cloud over, we headed to our hotel and look forward to seeing the Pacific Ocean tomorrow and reaching the end of the Highway.

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From the Salt Lake to lonely roads and mountains

The Lincoln Highway runs south from Layton towards central Salt Lake City and then turns west to the lakeshore where it joins I80. Commuters were heading into the city as we left our hotel yesterday morning but we lost them when we turned towards the lake and stopped off at the Saltair Resort Pavilion. There have been four in the last hundred years and this is the only place on the south shore of the lake that there is public access. Dog walkers were on the beach and geese swimming in a pool. Back on the interstate we passed a huge pile of salt very similar to the one outside British Salt in Middlewich in the UK. 95% of our salt is mined under Cheshire with only 5% coming from sea salt. The heap outside the works is used to de-ice the roads in winter. We stayed on I80 for most of the way to Wendover across the Great Salt Lake Desert. There were more southern alignments of the Highway here but they now run through private and military land and permission to travel on them must be requested. Between Wendover and West Wendover we received a welcome from the large cowboy in the middle of the road, crossed the state line into Nevada and the Pacific Time Zone.
Great Salt Lake Desert 2  Utah 12 Jul 2016-1
Welcome to West Wendover NV 12 Jul 2016-1
The Lincoln Highway then takes what is called Alt93 southwest. It travels over the White Horse Pass at 6045ft and at Lages Junction, joins US93 which is also known as the Great Basin Highway. At this point we had a completely blue sky with only one tiny cloud in sight. A few miles before McGill we hit more roadworks and were stationary for a time. We stopped in Ely, explored the North Nevada Railway Museum and had lunch in the shade. I have spent a fair bit of time on trains in several countries and my grandfather was a locomotive engineer so the museum was interesting and the railway in these parts mainly served the huge copper mine just outside the town. Heading out of town, we noticed that all the local sheriffs were inside one café so things must have been fairly quiet. Highway 50 is billed as ‘Americas Loneliest Road’ and it was certainly quiet. We crossed over the Robinson Pass at 7588ft and then switched to an even quieter, lonelier road: Long Valley Road, another diversion from the Lincoln Highway.
The LOng Valley NV 12 Jul 2016-1
This heads north for 67 miles to Ruby Lake and has several gravel sections. We saw no other vehicle until we were almost at Ruby Lake and that was one wrecked car which had been abandoned. A sign informed us that we were also following the ‘California Trail Hastings’ Cutoff’ which later proved disastrous to the Donner Party. As we left Ruby Lake behind us, civilisation gradually appeared and after crossing Harrison Pass, we descended in Elko. We based ourselves here for a couple of nights as a friend who used to live in Reno recommend the Ruby Mountains. This morning we drove up to Lamoille Canyon and hiked from the trailhead at the road end, up to Lamoille Lake. On the way up the canyon, a large group of climbers were getting ready to tackle a steep cliff. Some University of Minnesota geology students were on the first half mile of the trail, examining the rocks and we met several runners heading back down the mountainside. Flowers were in bloom all around, I caught glimpses of some birds and we saw a few chipmunks. We had a rest at the lake and the walked back down talking to several who were on the way up. Lunch was at the side of the canyon road and we saw there had been rockfalls onto the road while we had been walking. Tomorrow we return to the Lincoln Highway and the Loneliest Road.
Lamoille Canyon Ruby Mountains NV 13 Jul 2016-1
Lamoille Lake Ruby Mountains NV 13 Jul 2016-1

Wyoming and into Utah

The first thing to remember this morning was to send birthday wishes to my aunt who is 85 today. We then left Laramie on the relatively short portion of the Lincoln Highway which is on US30. It heads into the prairie where cattle and elk were grazing. We had the Laramie Mountains to the right and the railway and Medicine Bow Mountains to the left. Signs informed us that we were on the Sand Creek Massacre Trail. I had to look this up and discovered that it was a massacre in the American Indian Wars on November 29, 1864, when 70 Colorado militia attacked and destroyed a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho, killing and mutilating around 70–163 Native Americans, about two-thirds of whom were women and children. 
R30 in prairie Wyoming 10 Jul 2016-1
One bizarre sight was seagulls so far inland. This does happen in the UK but we are never too far away from the coast, I did not expect to see some in Wyoming. I also spotted a heron perched on a rock beside a pool and a prairie falcon sitting on a fence post. Leaving Elk Mountain behind, the road all too soon joins the interstate and the Lincoln Highway route is I80 for the rest of the state aside from a few short stretches in towns along the route. It also reduces photographic opportunities. West of Rawlins we crossed the Continental Divide at 7000ft and the road runs just south of the Great Divide Basin. The names of towns reflect the passing landscape: Red Desert, Table Rock and Point of Rocks. We crossed the Continental Divide for the last time (6390ft) and descended past large quarries and rocky outcrops down to Green River where we had a good coffee. The river takes second place to the rocks surrounding the town. The only place in Wyoming I have seen a Lincoln Highway marker was at the museum but of course it was closed on Sunday.
Green River 1 Wyoming 10 Jul 2016-1
Back on the interstate the Wasatch Mountains appeared on the horizon. Near Granger, R30 leaves the Lincoln Highway having been with it since Philadelphia. It heads towards Grand Teton and Yellowstone which I would love to visit but we don’t have time for that on this trip. A small oasis just off I80 at Evanston is Bear River State Park. We had our picnic lunch here and had a short wander by the river but could not explore it fully as we had many more miles to do. I did learn that Wyoming has 31 varieties of willow which chimed with my experience in Australia when I tried to differentiate between the different gum trees before discovering that there are hundreds of eucalyptus varieties and giving up. The strong wind meant flower and plant photography was not possible.
Grass Bear River 2 Wyoming 10 Jul 2016-1
The Utah state line is understated with none of the ‘Welcome to……’ notices seen elsewhere. As we are in the mountains all the first exits have ‘no services’ but gradually we head further into the state. Red rock appears and Weber Canyon is shared with the railway and Sunday kayakers on the river. Signs reminded us that we are again sharing our route with the Oregon & California Trails and the Pony Express. We eventually found our hotel. Most of the surrounding restaurants were closed but an Irish Pub was open and provided dinner. The wind has brought cloud and rain to the mountains but we hope it clears for tomorrows exploration of the Salt Lake.

Driving to Denver

We had breakfast this morning listening the weather reports which were full of storms and tornadoes further east and fires in Elko County where we are heading later. As we left North Platte on R30, all the firework stalls were selling them off half price. In Sutherland we found another mileage fence. Our mileage to Frisco will be a little more than that on the fence as we are diverting down the Denver loop, exploring the Rocky Mountains and the Ruby Mountains in Nevada.
Mileage fence NE 5 July 2016-1
In Paxton we were diverted onto the interstate for a few miles because of roadworks and also had a new experience: Chihuahua in the road. We are used to sheep and cattle escaping onto the road but this was a new one. One of the locals was trying to catch him, somewhat unsuccessfully. We were now definitely in ranch country and saw cowboys on horseback rounding up cattle.
California Hill NE 5 July 2016-1
California hill, just to the right of the road in this photograph was on the waggon trail to California and Oregon between 1841 and 1860. So many travelled this route as the terrain restricts other ways and deep ruts are still visible on the hill. We crossed into the Mountain Time Zone and near Big Springs we switched to R138, still alongside the railway and the South Platte River. After entering Colorado, we fancied a coffee in Julesburg but the first place we saw was shut and looked as if it was out of business. The Old Ford Museum was also closed but we peered in the window at the vintage car and other items inside. It was looking as if only the essentials were open: the pharmacy and the liquor store. James popped into the liquor store who directed us to a coffee shop round the block. The towns in this area do not announce their population on their signs but their altitude. Sedgewick which we passed through is at 3,500ft. I am still adjusting to measuring altitude in feet and not metres. Near Sterling we passed a huge recycling centre suggesting Colorado might be more advanced than some of the other places we have passed through. In the town we picked up a few essentials and the woman on the checkout asked where we were from and then told us that she had had people from Denmark in the day before. Further on we passed two huge factory farms, the first with hundreds of cattle and bison, the second with just cattle. Lunch was on the green at Fort Morgan where families were picnicking in the sun. Some children were setting off fire crackers left over from 4th July celebrations. Nearer to Denver the mountains at last appeared ahead. As we had gained an hour, we diverted to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and wandered about looking at plants, insects, anthills, the odd bird and prairie dogs. A better time to visit would have been earlier or later in the day but that was not possible. While I was taking photographs, James was watching lightning over the mountains and then we continued the last few miles into downtown Denver.
Flower in Wildlifer Refuge CO 5 July 2016-1

Nebraska

The Union Pacific Railway and the River Platte were our constant companions today, driving through Nebraska. The long freight trains were still running despite the Independence Day holiday and just as back home in the UK on a holiday, rail repair work was going on. Another similarity to our bank holidays was the cloudy sky and some drizzle as we left Omaha. The Lincoln Highway leaves the city by R6 (passing through a community called Dundee) and then heads back up to R30 on R275. Here we could see signs of recent heavy rain with pools of water in the fields and irrigation machines standing unused. I overheard a local say that they had had 2 inches last night which was very welcome. Just out of Fremont there were rusting old motel signs by the road and anti-abortion posters which we had also seen in western Iowa. We passed through Rogers (population 95 and the smallest town so far) where for the first time on this trip I had no signal on my phone. Further on, we then crossed the Platte into Columbus and had brunch at the T-Bone Truck Stop. There were no trucks there today, just a few locals.
T bone Truck Stop 2 Columbo NE 4 July 2016-1
There was a speedway circuit nearby but nothing happening there today. We had at last started a gradual increase in elevation, with each town we passed through being a little higher above sea-level. My first view of the Great Plains was from a plane. I had been invited to give a talk in Santa Barbara in 2002 and having not been further west than Chicago before, was very keen to watch the landscape changing below. Our next encounter was on the California Zephyr which takes 2 and a half days to get from Chicago to Emeryville CA. I remember the excitement when an incline and a curve appeared in the track after miles of a straight flat line through the cornfields. Today, the sun appeared just before Grand Island. In the town, Kermit’s Car Wash were trying to sell fireworks and someone in a frog outfit was outside trying to entice customers in. We had another break in Cottonmill Park on the west side of Kearney where people were fishing and boating. It has a prairie reserve which you can walk or ride through. Hundreds of insects were buzzing in the grasses and feeding on the flowers and I saw a red bird which I think was a cardinal bird.
Prairie Grasses 2 Kearney NE 4 July 2016-1
Flowers Cottonmill Park Kearney NE 4 July 2016-1
We now had prairie grass instead of flowers by the road and in Cozad, crossed the 100th meridian. I saw a raptor being mobbed by smaller birds but this was such a quick flash above the road that I could not identify them. Before our stop in North Platte we kept seeing persistent mirages of water across the road ahead and the temperature was up to 90 degrees. We were now in rolling hills with horses in the fields and the saw the first sign for a ranch. Our route also coincides around these parts with the Oregon, California and Mormon trails and the Pony Express. Tomorrow we are taking the Lincoln Highway loop to Denver.