Tuesday, October 25, 2011
It was getting late as we got into the car up on Tennessee Pass. I had really mixed emotions. The day so far had been a real roller coaster. Seeing the site where GGPa Ready bought it was a bit eerie, but at the same time, left me a bit flat, a bit sad, a bit pensive. We also still had a long haul to Green River, Utah for our next stop. Nothing for it then, but to press on.
The drive down Highway 24 (well, it’s up, as in north on the map, but downhill so you figger it out) is a great piece of road. Not a lot of traffic, great scenery and wonderful small towns. We were liking Colorado more and more. You could easily spend weeks exploring the back roads and little bergs that dot the map.
The weather was turning a bit foul as we neared I-70. We stopped to take a pee break and it was Marianne’s turn to drive. Bad luck for her. I-70 west is not your typical interstate. Yeah, it does bypass all the towns, but as a road, it’s pretty spectacular. Much of it follows the Colorado River (yes, that Colorado River) so they both twist and turn down a pretty narrow canyon. Then there’s the tunnels. Massive tunnels! Then the rain hit. HARD! Most of the way to Grand Junction was ugly. I have to give full props to Marianne, she handled it beautifully. Even passing semis that throw up rooster tails of spray, obliterating what little vision we had. As things leveled out, we were slammed with a couple of thunderstorms that made things even worse, but she pressed on, never freaked out (at least externally-she admitted that she was pretty tense for a lot of it) and pressed on regardless.
It was around 8:00PM that we rolled into Grand Junction, and using the handy dandy Triple A Guide and the now very handy dandy GPS, found a place to eat. WW Peppers was touted as a place favored by locals, it wasn’t a chain, it was right off the Interstate, it was late. We went. Sometimes, when it’s getting late, you’re tired and you just dive into a place, you get crap food. This was not the case. This place was really pretty good. Standard menu, lot’s of steaks, nice Wood and Ferns Decor that was right out of the 70s, but a friendly and efficient staff and tasty food made for a good stop. There are probably better places and I’m sure there are a lot worse ones, so we’d recommend it as a good, solid bet for food. By the time we were done with dinner, we were knackered. Green River was at least another hour or more away. Screw it! There was a Motel 6 down the street. Nuff said.
The next morning, we loaded up and headed off for US 50 (The Loneliest Road in America) and Ely, Nevada. Again, I-70 did not disappoint us! Into Utah we were treated with canyons and buttes and scenery that was really spectacular. Turns out not stopping in Green River was a good call. Not a lot there! We gassed up there and got some muffins and such for breakfast, thinking that we needed to make up some time headed back to the road.
Around Salina, UT, we headed north on US 50, then south on I-15 (yep the same I-15 that takes you to Lost Wages), then west again on US 50 towards Ely. this was indeed a lonely road. Nothing for miles and miles but miles and miles. This is alkali desert. It’s flat. The road has a few kinks but is mostly straight. I set the cruise control to 95 and just kept it pointed straight. This kind of driving makes you think. The historian in me couldn’t help but wonder at what it must have been like hauling a Conestoga Wagon over this to get to the Promised Land where fist sized gold nuggets were just sitting around to be picked up. Here we were, clipping along a 95 per hour, when on a good day, a wagon train might make 20 miles in a day!!!! Do the math. We could cover in an hour what might take them the better part of a week. Or more. They had to haul their own water for them AND their animals as there isn’t anything drinkable out there. And we DARE to whine about anything in our lives. puh!
Anyway, we hit Ely and headed for the train yard. Ah, ya knew there had to be something like that to take such a detour. Yep, the Nevada Northern Rail Road, aka “The Ghost Train.” This railroad was built to serve the Kennecot copper mine in the area and when operations were shut down, everyone simply put down their tools, closed the books, parked the equipment and locked up and left, leaving a treasure trove of railroad history. In 1984, it was reopened as a tourist railway, the old steam locomotive was fired up for the first time since 1964 and they haven’t looked back. Again it seems that the de facto theme of this trip was Time Travel.
This place is amazing and well worth the trip. Visitors are free to wander the yard and take pictures and they run a daily train up to the mine site and back. On weekends, they run the steam engine. Pretty normal for a tourist road. But Wait! This is one of the few places that (for a fee-a kinda hefty fee) YOU CAN DRIVE THE LOCOMOTIVE!!!!!! Yeah! Really! No, I didn’t. Still…
We did find a couple of nice t-shirts to help support them. I surprised Marianne with one that says “My Train of Thought Derailed….There Were No Survivors.” We ate some of the last of our salami and cheese and bread for lunch, then headed for Wells, Nevada, our next planned stop.
From Ely, we rocketed up to Bonneville and out on the Salt Flats. Yes, anyone can drive out there, but be careful. The salt will cake up under your car and eat it to pieces. One guy we talked to said his rental car company, when he said he was going to Bonneville told him that there would be a $300 charge if he brought the car back with any salt on it. One van we saw coming in off the salt had cakes of the stuff hanging off the wheel wells. The salt flats are neat though. And huge! REALLY HUGE! It’s not just the part you see that runs up to the mountain that Buckeroo Banzai ran through with his Over Thruster. It spreads out for miles and miles and miles! The part they use for racing is not even one-tenth of the area!
After being properly awed, we headed west on I-80, managed to resist the questionable delights of West Wendover, and blitzed past Wells. It was pretty early, Wells seemed to have nothing to recommend it, so we headed for Elko.
This is one of those object lessons on Road Trippin’ that is important. We didn’t make reservations at either Green River or Wells, figuring that we didn’t want to be locked into a specific schedule. If you recall, for Cameron and Durango, we’d done just that and as it turned out, that was a good call. NOT making reservations for these two nights was an equally good call.
Elko, Nevada is a neat town! It, Wendover, and Winnemucca were major stopping points at one time so there is plenty of motels and restaurants to choose from. We opted for the Motel 6 (again) and once we explored the town wished we hadn’t. There wasn’t anything wrong with the 6, it’s just that there were better options. Like the Thunderbird! This place is a classic and is pretty much near the center of town so all the cool stuff is in walking distance. Next time…
The real find was dinner. Good Ol’ St. Serendipity was watching out for us! The AAA guide showed a couple of Basque restaurants in town. OOOHHHH! Basque=LAMB! We picked one, punched it into the GPS and tried to find it. Trouble is, the main drag of Elko was being torn up, there were detours and we were getting hungry and impatient and all the GPS could do was “recalculate.” We also noticed that there were several Basque places! Elko it turns out is a center of Basque/Americans. Who knew! This was also cool because part of Marianne’s family was Basque! Then one caught our eye. The Star Hotel. While the others looked a bit empty, this place had cars parked all around it. On a Wednesday night. Always a good sign. We managed to park and walked in. WOW! The bar was packed, the Tour de France was on the TV over the bar and everyone was in great spirits. We must have looked lost and one guy told us we needed to get our name on the list and pointed the way. Cool. We were soon called and seated.
Now, I’m betting most of you have never eaten at a Basque place, so let me give you some of the skinny. ALL Basque places are Family Style. That means that you are seated at a long table with lots of other people. You get to talk with them. When they bring out the food, it’s like eating at home for Thanksgiving. Everyone gets the same sides, you only order your main course.
First came the Tub O’Soup. This vat of steamy vegetable soup (what ever is fresh and in season-this time it was carrots, cabbages, potatoes and such) is passed around and everyone ladles some into their bowl. If the tureen empties, they bring another. Then comes the Tub O’Salad. Same deal. Don’t dare and even think you’ll get “dressing on the side”. It’s not an option. Enjoy. Finally, came the main dish and the side dishes. I got the roasted lamb. Huge chunks of lamb, falling off the bone and roasted with red bell peppers. Marianne had the beef (lamb and her don’t get along too well). The platter (yes, I said platter) was piled high with this tender lamby goodness. Then came the platters of sides. Ya gotcher green beans with garlic, ya gotcher plate of spaghetti, ya gotcher kidney beans, garlicky roasted potatoes, and ya gotcher fresh baked bread. Ya need yer hand truck to wheel ya out of there when you’re done! The saddest part was that since we were on the road for two more days, we couldn’t doggy bag any of it! Oh, and yes, there was dessert. No, we didn’t. With wine and beer, this all came to under $50. For the two of us.
The next day dawned bright and clear, we hit the I-80 (yeah ok, more interstate, I know, how evil of me to embrace the dark side of Road Trippin’--but sometimes, yah don’t have a lot of choices) and turned north out of Winnemucca on US 95. This is a pretty neat road ( it’s also an example of how enlightened Nevada is and how repressive Oregon is--speed limit in Nevada=70; Oregon-yep 55!), and famous as the route of the fictional open road race depicted in the classic Tony Curtis movie “Johnny Dark.” Get a copy, it’s pretty neat. They special built the cars and they were the focus of a special place a Pebble Beach a while ago. Anyway, I digress. We were headed for Redmond, Oregon to see a cousin of Marianne’s. We spent a nice night there, then headed to Olympia for my dad’s 86th birthday. It was nice to be able to have time with extant family after all the time we spent with bygone relations.
After a week in Olympia (where we managed a small road trip out to the coast at Westport, finding a roadside sausage stand where we filled up with all manner of brats, landjagers, and assorted other meat in tubular form) we headed back home. We naturally went US 101 and instead of our usual night in either Eureka or Crescent City, we opted for Orick. This is a wonderful wide spot in the road. There are several places that sell redwood carvings and I’ve always wanted to stop. So we did. No, we didn’t try and load a totem pole or eight foot tall bear in the car, but I did find a neat carved bowl with a turtle on it. Cute. We stayed at the Palm Motel. In the midst of the redwoods, the Palm Motel. This place is one of those original motels that used to fill the highways. It’s a bit tired. I had to use my shoulder to open the door, the place had settled so much. We had to but a towel under the door, just to keep out the draft from the two inch gap. It was great. They also had a cafe. We had the best burger of the whole trip. Surprisingly good food.
From there it was home. One shot, down 101 and for the first time, the radar detector was working over time. Seems the CHP is trying to singlehandedly balance the budget. Coming out of King City, I almost got nailed. Saw him in my mirror coming down the on ramp. Backed it down and got followed for a couple of miles until he got bored. Remember, just because the Chippies can use radar, doesn’t mean they do. Our boys still like to nail you Old School. So back it off, let a rabbit streak by to flush them out and watch your mirrors.
All in all, this was an epic trip. 4300 miles. Seven states. Great roads and even better scenery. Great food and so-so food, and above all, friendly people. We traveled not only back roads but back in time. We connected with family in the here and the then. THIS was what Road Trippin’ is supposed to be about.