We retraced out first day in reverse for the final leg of our trip, heading east on US40 and then I-70. Cloudy skies bring light rain to the Yampa Valley and Steamboat Springs. We’re surprised at how much autumn color still adorns the hills and mountain sides. Know from reports and photos that we’ve missed one of the best Colorado fall seasons in years.
Approaching Berthoud Pass newly fallen snow dusts slopes and rain becomes more constant. Resembling steam, clouds drift out of the valleys. As I drive Bob takes several windshield photos.
We left a month ago under rain and dense fog and return to the Denver area under a downpour. As we pull into the driveway the trip odometer reads 6,005 – miles traveled through nine states, two Canadian providences, countless experiences and memories.
We spent the first night of our grand Northwest tour in Vernal, Utah. Now, on night 28 we’ve come full circle and spend our last night on the road in Vernal, Utah – a journey of over 5,000 miles. Tomorrow we’ll complete the final leg back home and our own bed-e-bye.
With limited highways across this area we broke our goal of limited Interstate driving, taking I-80 and I-15 from Elko to Orem, Utah. I know that previously when I’ve driven this road I’ve said, “It’s so boring”. Today I appreciate the diverse geography, cloud formations and geology. Once across the Utah state line the topography flattens and we experience the mirage effect of light, shadow and reflection. Is that a lake ahead or a glistening dry salt flat.
Our route crosses the California National Historic Trail several time. We discuss what it would have been like to be walking alongside a covered wagon day after day, month after month. They dreamed of new opportunities, were determined, dedicated and probably at times delusional. Today signs along the roadside warn of driver fatigue, encouraging stops at rest stops. A sculpture along the north side of the highway breaks the flat horizon and elicits comments.
Although we’re simple trying to cover mileage today we make a slight deviation from a direct route heading south to Orem to access Provo Canyon. We’ll connect to US 40 in Heber City. Mountain foliage in every color and shade associated with autumn covers the slopes making the scenic drive even more spectacular. Numerous parks and viewpoints present opportunities to stop, stretch and admire the canyon or take a short walk to the base of Bridal Veil Falls.
The thin light line bisecting the valley floor and reaching towards New Pass Summit is US Highway 50, labeled the Loneliest Road in America. The route spans from the shores of Lake Tahoe across central Nevada to Ely and the Utah state line. Heavy commercial traffic traverses the state on I-80 further to the north. A series of towns and settlements line the first 60 miles from Carson City to Fallon. Then the traveler begins to understand the lonely label. Services, habitation and bathrooms are few and far between. I’m sure I wasn’t the first traveler to be desperate at the first mini-market in Austin.
Since our lodging reservations were in Elko on I-80 we left the Loneliest Road and headed north on State Route 305 – even lonelier. We saw not a single car the first ten miles so decided to wager how many we would see on the entire 86-mile length. Bob said 10, I estimated 12. The total was 22 (plus I passed 2 vehicles). Most of the traffic was the last 15 miles near Battle Mountain because of active mining operations.
As we left our hotel to go to dinner we caught the shades of sunset in the wispy clouds. A not so lonely end to the day.
Our homeward route was determined when we found that we could touch base with a friend from years ago. We wound our way from the Oregon border southward through northern California. For the first 75 miles we had occasional peaks of Mt. Shasta standing almost twice as tall as the surrounding mountains. They were long distance views but a treat with recent snowfall and cloudless skies.
We drove through ranch lands, potato fields and pine forests. Reaching the Truckee area we headed to the north shore of Lake Tahoe to find traffic congestion, road construction and detour mazes. However we couldn’t be this close and not have at least a peek at the deep clear waters of the lake. I was amazed at the distance covered by a paddle boarder in five minutes as I watched from high above the lake. I expect he felt the day was close to perfect.
We had reservations in Minden, Nevada, south of Carson City, so that we could spend the evening with a friend we first met 50 years ago. At our age I suspect one could offend by using the term “old friend”. She picked us up at our hotel to give us a tour of the area including the oldest town in Nevada, Genoa; and, Nevada’s oldest thirst parlor. Would love to come back sometime to explore the historic town, Mormon Station State Historic Park and perhaps quench a thirst.
On our way into Carson City for dinner we spotted several deer dining on the tender grasses of a green yawn. As we stopped so that Bob could snap a picture two of the stags decided it was time to establish territorial rights. Nice shot Bob!
On day 24 it’s time to set the navigation arrow to east by southeast and make the journey home. We’ve been blessed to see and do so many items on our wish list. Portland was the final check off. Two blue days on the Oregon coast were exceptional; we’ve spent whole weeks in Cannon Beach without as much sunshine. And, the temps were warmer than many a summer day. We’ve only plotted a day ahead planning to cover some new territory along the way, making the trip in four or five days. Home will look good – except for the neglected lawn – however, we’ll never regret this trip. Praying for continued safe travels.
Sahalee Falls, McKenzie Pass, Crater Lake Nt. Park
A wonderful day driving through the heart of Oregon, scenery spectacular with amazing variety. From Portland to the state capital of Salem we’re reminded of how productive the Willamette Valley is – vineyards, Christmas tree farms, berry patches, nurseries, gardens, vegetables. We share memories to previous visits to tulip farms in March, peony and iris farms in June and the botanical treasure of Oregon Gardens.
As we climb into the Cascade range autumn-hued ground covers and shrubbery color the landscape in contrast to the deep, deep greens of the western slope coniferous forest. After 2 1/2 hours of drive time we take a break at the Sahalee Falls Viewpoint. Fifteen minutes out of the car for the short walk to see the falls does the body and mind a world of good. Sahalee is only one of a series of falls along the McKenzie River.
I’ve read and seen pictures of the McKenzie Pass road for years, today is the day to see it for ourselves. Vehicle width and length restrictions are enforced on 22 miles of the scenic byway. We soon understand the limits, the road is very narrow and winding with sharp turns. This isn’t the route for travelers in a hurry, it’s slow going but worth the time required. Atop the pass a 65-square mile lava flow creates an other worldly landscape; trees pushing their way upward from the volcanic debris and twisted dead trunks bleached nearly white.
A slight detour takes us to Crater Lake National Park. We’ve been here two times before. The first was more than 20 years ago in late March. There was 27-feet of snow on the ground; we literally walked trough a snow tunnel to a viewing platform on the edge to see into the lake. In 2001 we had reservations for two nights; our first morning was 9/11. At that time there were no televisions in the park and radio reception was spotty. We spent the day driving around the lake finding high spots where we could listen to the awful news.
Todays visit was perfect, although too short. Sky and lake were blue, blue, blue and windless; creating incredible perfect reflections of the steep caldera sides in the calm waters. Truly a priceless gift to see the park on such a day of amazing scenery.
The morning dawned clear and blue; tide and waves were higher than the last two days. Tough to say goodbye to a favorite site along the Oregon Coast, I want more time here but it’s unfortunately time to head homeward.
We had family living in Portland for four years and chalked up numerous trips. Highest on the list of places we want to revisit is Bob’s favorite restaurant for Vietnamese noodle bowls – Pho Van on 82nd SE. Yes, we’re on the eating trail again. Two #51s and a pot of Jasmine tea for lunch.
Each vermicelli noodle bowl is topped with shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumbers, onions, pickled carrots and daikon and peanuts. Our favorite adds skewers of pork marinated in honey and lemongrass, grilled over an open flame and crispy spring rolls filled with minced pork and shrimp. Served with Muoc Mam.
It’s been five years since we visited Portland, it’s gotten nothing but larger, busier and traffic nearly impossible. With clear skies and temps in the 80s everyone is out and about. Lanes of traffic backed up for blocks at traffic lights, Interstates creeping and drivers impatient. I already miss the relaxation found along the coast – goodbye ocean, hello Portland.