We got an early start today, thinking we may push on all the way to Oakland, but not sure. With a generally overcast sky with some pockets of sunlight on the distant mountains we turned westward again when we reached the highway. The temperature was floating up and down in the forties as we crossed from broad valley bottoms to passes. The roadway traverses a series of mountain ridges that run north/south across the sate. He started in the Steptoe Valley, and by 10:00am had crossed four passes; Robinson Summit (7,600 ft) , Little Antelope Summit (7,400 feet), Pancake Summit (6,500 feet) and Pinto Summit (7,400 ft). In between the snow dusted summits are broad, and barren desert valleys – often 30 miles across. It was easy to imagine this was what the congested and productive Livermore, or San Joaquin valleys of California looked like before irrigation and development. Without the omnipresent signs of our current times I felt myself slipping in and out of time, back 100 years, then forward again as I looked down at the space age cockpit in which I was sitting. At one point we looked across and saw a horseback cowboy rounding up black and brown cattle on the open range.
They certainly don’t call this highway “The loneliest road in America” for nothing. Here, the passage of time is not measured by the towns we go through, since they are few and far between. Instead, the vast open areas are identified by their geographic names – Pancake Range, Monitor Range, Toquima Range, Toiyabe Mountains, Shoshone mountains. In the flat areas, the roads make no turns – not even slight bends. It’s as if the pavers lashed the wheel and took a nap for 30 mile stretches at a time. Besides the low scrub, sage and dry grasses at the side of the road there are patches of white salt deposits along the way where undoubtedly, winter precipitation puddles have leached minerals from the soil, until evaporated by the dry air and steady wind.
Out here we need to project distances between towns (and fuel) carefully. We are getting between 18 and 20 miles per gallon (depending on our speed, the wind, and the slope of the roadway) – with a range of just less than 400 miles on a tank. We have been warned about putting bad diesel in the tank (fuel with water in it) so we’ve been trying hard to fill up at more reputable stations, or at least those that look like they get lots of truck and farm vehicle traffic. Diesel is costing between $3.11/gallon up to a high of $3.59 /gallon so far– so we are driving conservatively to reduce our expenses.
Westward we flew today, one mountain range after another. It seemed like Nevada would never end, and then, all of a sudden, we arrived in Fallon, NV and stopped for a quick lunch at the city park, watching the youth throw tricks at the skateboard park. In one 25 minute episode, our trip changed from that of exploration and discovery, to driving home from 2 weeks away. The barren openness of Western Colorado, Utah, and Nevada were instantly replaced with the fast food signs, big box stores and the rest of the clutter we almost take for granted motoring through any metropolitan area. We hopped on 80 east of Sparks, NV and joined the swarm of humanity and goods traveling west on the Interstate. The scenery became instantly recognizable as we passed into California and our familiar stomping grounds north of Lake Tahoe. As we moved ever westward, the crowds grew and we were carried along through Auburn, Sacramento, Davis, past Travis Air Force Base, and finally through the Caldicot tunnel and into Oakland. Our seven day odyssey had suddenly come to an end. 4,000 miles with fond memories boiled down into a dirty laundry bag, a bag of recycling, a few words in this blog and a camera filled with snapshots. Everything here is as we left it – thankfully.
Now its time to start planning our next big adventure….