Monday, September 17, 2007

Great Basin NP and Western Utah

Sept 17, morning/early afternoon:
We have a lot of driving to do again today, partly because we stopped last night in Ely, rather than going on to Great Basin National Park as I’d originally thought we might. That proved to be a fine decision, however, because we really appreciated the hot showers at the KOA after our stressful day; and the KOA store had ice cream, too!

Ely, although the same size on the map as Tonopah, turned out to be a bit larger, and we spent a little time looking for a garage which could do a lube and oil change on Mo. There were several places in Ely, but only one set up to take RVs, and we would have had to wait for a couple of hours. Plus, Joe wasn’t too impressed with the guy running the place. So we decided to wait another day, and look for a garage in Moab. We may even consider making an appointment if it seems to fit in with our plans.

Ely’s other advantage was that for the first time in days, my phone had cell service! I was able to talk to Beth for the first time in 3 days, and then, as we were driving away from town, the phone actually rang! It was our friend Ben M. with great news—he and Miriam are engaged! Now we are doubly looking forward to seeing them next week in Nashville, and delivering congratulatory hugs in person! He reached us at the precisely right time—the phone cut out on us just as we were completing the conversation.

So we headed back onto US Route 6, which joins up in Ely with US Route 50. Route 50 across Nevada up until Delta, Utah, is nicknamed “The Loneliest Highway in America”, and I must say it seems to deserve the name. West of Ely there are some towns, although not large and not close together. But we have been on this road going east from Ely since 9:15 a.m., and we have only passed one town, Baker, NV. Baker isn’t even ON Route 50; it is 3 miles off the route, but we went there anyway, because that is the gateway to Great Basin NP. I wanted to at least just stop in there and visit the Visitor’s Center so we could see what the park was all about.
Scenic Road in Great Basin National Park

Great Basin is a new national park, and is the only one in Nevada. I was very glad we didn’t push on to get there last night, because besides the fact that they have no showers in their campgrounds, we drove over some more steep mountains before we arrived there. I wouldn't have wanted to do them in the dark. We went up to the visitor’s center, but really we couldn’t see or do much. The park has two main “attractions” other than its beauty: a 30 mile scenic drive to the top of the mountain, and Lehman Caves. We had just missed an 11 a.m. tour of the caves, and didn’t really want to wait another 90 minutes and then take a 90 minute tour; that would have killed all chance we have of getting to Moab tonight. As for the scenic drive, it goes up 10,000 feet into the mountain at an 8% grade, and they don’t let vehicles over 24’ drive it. Since Mo is 27’, the most we could do was drive up a couple of miles to one of the campgrounds, and then turn around. Frankly, I am not too regretful that we missed out on coming back down an 8% grade! Too bad we couldn’t stay there—the campsites are very nicely done, spacious and secluded from each other. It would be a lovely place to run away to for a weekend, fx; except where the heck would you come from for just a weekend?? I guess you’d have to live in Ely!

So after a brief visit, we got back on Route 50 and are now (as I type) driving across Utah. We went through some really pretty mountains yet again, and are now driving on a flat road through flat land which is very much like the Nevada alkaline flats we drove across a few days ago (last week? When WAS that? Time is getting very blurry!) The two interesting sites on this road were a cliff face called “Notch Peak”, and a large white body of something called on the map Sevier Lake. I have a really good book on Utah (part of a series called the Benchmark Series, which is wonderful for map aficionados) which describes the state in several different sections: including one for landscape, and one for recreation. The recreation map told us about Notch Peak; it is “often compared to El Capitan” (not in my book!), and has a 4,450 foot face. We stopped in a pull-out and had lunch across the highway from it, and Joe took some photos.

Basic western Utah roadside scenery

Notch Peak

As for Sevier Lake, it looks like a lake on the recreation map, but to my mystification, there was no information about it under “Fishing and Boating”, “Natural Wonders”, or even “Other Attractions”. As it came into sight and Joe said, “What’s THAT??”, it did seem to look like a lake, but then it turned out to be white in color. I looked on the “landscape” map, and there, too, it is colored blue, like a lake. But the answer to the puzzle appears to be in the little box printed on the lake, which says, “Caution: Muddy. Overland travel not advised.” LOL! Who would have considered “overland travel” on something identified on the map as a LAKE?? We decided it was yet another huge salt flat, and it is too bad we don’t have the time to drive down one of the gravel roads which appear to lead to it, and indulge our scientific curiousity!
At last we passed Delta, UT, and the "loneliest road" became a bit more picturesque. By the time we arrived at Salina, we were starting to see signs of mountains, more green, and much more civilization. We picked up I-15 briefly, and soon after that, I-70. And at that point, we entered a whole new world.
Entering Salina, Utah

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