Lonely roads to Reno and over the mountain to North Tahoe

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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.
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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.
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Lamoille Lake Ruby Mountains NV 13 Jul 2016-1

Leaving Las Vegas

……..with a sense of relief. It’s not really my kind of town. We were on the road fairly early and were on I-15 down as far as Barstow as it has replaced R66. We had two more iconic American road experiences: a dust storm (which made me think of all those folks in the 30s who drove along this road to escape the dust bowl) and tumbleweed blowing across the road. I used to do a clinic in Lochgelly, Fife in the late 1980s and it was so deserted on a midweek afternoon, I could imagine the tumbleweed blowing across the street. We were now in the Mojave Desert and Joshua Trees have replaced the sunflowers. South of Barstow (no obvious coffee stops), the old highway loops away from the interstate and passed the work of another R66 eccentric: The Bottle Tree Ranch (see photos). There were some French bikers there at the same time as us but otherwise, the road was very quiet. Shortly afterwards we found a mini market that sold coffee and had a pit stop. We passed the huge cement works at Oro Grande but then had to rejoin I-15 to go over Cajon Summit (4190 feet) . Just past the summit we spotted a park that would do for our picnic lunch before we hit the Greater LA freeways. It was a lovely quiet spot away from traffic. I had worked out a route through LA that would be fairly easy to follow and allow us to drive down Santa Monica Boulevard which is the last few miles of R66. We have finally made it!

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From Arizona to Nevada

We woke on Monday to a clear blue sky and the first frost of the season. After breakfast we packed up and set off down R64 to connect with Route 66 again in Williams. We saw the deer crossing the road just before we left the National Park and it felt just like Scotland as we were still in the pine forest. There are a few photo opportunities in Williams, Seligman and other towns along R66. Seligman is a real tourist magnet for some reason but we enjoyed the drive away from the interstate all the way to Kingman. We left R66 there and headed north along the Colorado River for our next diversion: Las Vegas. Not really my kind of town but the approach through the mountains was spectacular and we also got a look at the Hoover Dam. Also weird were the signs advertising machine gun shooting. I still can’t get over being able to buy a gun in Walmart but not a bottle of wine and being asked for ID in one store when I was buying wine. I did enjoy getting an ‘over 50’ discount in one outlet store we visited in Las Vegas. James was keen to see the strip at night so we had a wander but other than some shopping we spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool.

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