The Loneliest Highway: Route 50 through Nevada

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Our first night in Nevada was spent camping in Baker. Although at 5000 feet elevation, Baker remained very hot (mid 90s) until dark. It was a dry heat though and all we needed was a bit of shade to be comfortable.

 

First called the “Loneliest Highway” by Life Magazine in 1986, Route 50 through Nevada does indeed offer plenty of solitude. Beginning in Baker (population 68) and then ending at Carson City (over 50,000), Route 50 also contains one amazing national park, several mountain passes (we lost count after six), and many historical or just plain weird features. And in the end we find ourselves a stone’s throw away from Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

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Rising 8000 feet above Baker (and 13,000 feet above sea level) is Mount Wheeler which is within Great Basin National Park. We camped at around 10,000 feet which allowed us to easily hike up to a bit of snow (and a killer view of the desert below).

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The historic and recently restored Eureka Opera House. Gold mining continues to be the life source for this very friendly and remote town.

 

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The Stokes Castle in Austin, NV was built by a very wealthy banker and railroad magnate for his wife in 1897. They spent one summer in the castle and never returned.

 

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The Pony Express went through parts of Route 50 including near Cold Springs, Nevada where there now sits a nice gift shop/bar/café.

 

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Seasonal wild fires burn the sage brush and weeds. This scorched earth appeared just east of Cold Springs.

 

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Our second sand dune of the trip, we had Sand Mountain entirely to ourselves. The mid 90s heat though kept us off the sand.

 

 

 

 

 

People We Meet Along The Way: Abby and Danny

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We met Abby and Danny at a gas station/Burger King in Green River, Utah which is just off Intestate 70 and a little west of Moab. Leaning against the window was a makeshift stroller loaded with assorted camping gear and a jug of water. Dressed with almost as much dust as clothes, there was no mistaking the owners of that stroller.

Beginning from Long Island, NJ in March, Abby and Danny have been walking across the country 20-30 miles a day. They hope to reach San Francisco in mid-September. For most of their journey they have walked the backroads, but since entering the west (which allows people to walk the interstate) they have taken to the shoulder of the highway. The heat right now can be a killer which has forced them to walk more in the relatively cool morning. On the day we met them they were hunkering down at a motel. Most nights, however, have been spent camping on public land, in backyards, and wherever else the road leads.

This journey is in part an effort to raise awareness and fundraise for the homeless (Abby and Danny first met while working with a non-profit via AmeriCorps).  But they are also walking in order to meet people, gain insight into our country, and for the mental and physical challenge. From their webpage (walkacrossamerica2017.com) they also seek to slow down their experiences and call walking the “poetry of transportation.”

Among the many funny experiences they have had while walking the road has been repeatedly being upstaged by a goat. Apparently a man, with a goat, recently walked across American. Several times at the beginning of their trip, Abby and Danny walked into a town recently visited by this unusual pair. Each time the town folks asked is they were traveling with any animals and then were disappointed when told they were not.

After meeting Abby and Danny, the three of traveled the one hundred miles or so between Green River and Salina, Utah where we stopped for ice cream and coffee. Other than several rest stops, there are no services on this lonely stretch of Interstate. The speed limit is 80 miles per hour. It will take Abby and Danny at least four and likely five or six days to cover the same distance. We worry about whether they will find good shelter as well as water and food. In doing so, we also cannot help but think of the millions of homeless living both on the streets of the U.S. as well as in refugee camps around the world. Maybe, just maybe, their voyage will raise empathy as well as money.

 

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Route 50 in Utah (imagine walking this stretch for days)

 

You can follow Abby and Danny’s amazing journey via their webpage here. You can also follow them on Facebook or help the homeless by donating to JOIN: Connecting the Street to a Home which is a non-profit serving the Portland, Oregon community.

 

 

 

 

It took us a little over two hours to travel the one hundred miles from Green River to Salina, Utah. This stretch of Interstate 70 has several rest stops, but no other services. It will take Abby and Danny at least four days to travel the same distance. Whereas we sped along at 80 miles per hour on the good four lane highway, they will be walking along the shoulder. Between them they have a modified stroller which is overburdened with essential gear such as sleeping bags, a tent, and lots of water and food. Every two hours or so they trade places pushing the stroller along.

 

 

 

Santa Fe to Ouray, CO

 

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At Meow Wolf

 

Before leaving Santa Fe we visited Meow Wolf which is sort of like a fun house meets contemporary art meets the Upside Down World from Stranger Things. It was awesome.

Afterwards we drove about ten miles and camped above Santa Fe in Hyde Park. Despite being just a crazy downhill bike ride from the Plaza, the state park felt remote and offered up many cool trails into the mountains. There was no running water but most sites had a pretty nifty three sided picnic shelter. While camping there we discovered two tears in the rain flap. Not good. But a few days later we bought Henna a sewing kit and she fixed the problem. Thanks Mrs. Cecilia!

Then we headed to Ghost Ranch where Georgia O’Keeffe completed a lot of her work. A lot of movies including Silverado and City Slickers were also filmed here. It’s now a sprawling campus of multiple museums, lots of trails, and a lot of different ways to spend the night. We though chose to move along and drove some of the loneliest miles we have ever driven to Bloomfield, NM where we camped at a former KOA. The place was nice but was surrounded by too many angry/barking dogs to be peaceful. And then we drove to Ouray.

 

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Hiking at Ghost Ranch

 

The Million Dollar highway, so called either for its views or for the value of the ore extracted from the surrounding rock, drops down from Durango to Ouray. It is a scary white knuckle ride even in the best of conditions. We began in a light rain that soon turned to hail and a downpour. Waterfalls ran heavy to the road and I hoped the AWD would keep the car from skidding. Worse were the rocks which came down in one section and cracked our new windshield and dented our hood.

 

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The former mining town of Silverton which rests at over 9,000 feet

 

The rain continued in Ouray and we sat a long time at the KOA debating what to do. At one point I went to the bathroom (individual unisex stalls) and was locked in. It took a few minutes of me banging on the wall before someone was able to get me out.

 

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Along the Perimeter Trail in Ouray

 

The rain eventually stopped and we had a great dinner at a Brew Pub. We also, for the first time in a week and a half, spent two days in one place. It felt good holding still.

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Taos and Santa Fe: Pueblos, Earthships, and Motels

 

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One of the more whimsical Earthships located just outside Taos, NM

 

After a sandy morning we left Great Sand Dune National Park and then had a killer breakfast in Alamosa. Refreshed we drove south to Taos where, just outside the city limits, we stopped to tour an Earthship. No, we were not smoking any Colorado weed. Earthships, unlike Starships, are very much real. First conceptualized by architect Michael Reynolds in the early 1970s, Earthships utilize recycled materials such as tires as well as solar panels and water filtrations systems to create completely off the grid homes. Rain water, for example, is funneled from the roof into a system that uses the resource multiple times. Much of the living space is also below ground which helps regulate the temperature. The model we were allowed to tour was comfortable, cool, and had a very hip southwest feel. It is hard to pin down exactly how much one of these cost but a quick google search found a 1900 square foot home selling for half a million and a much smaller Earthship priced under $200,000.

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Taos was a bit too crowded for our tastes. And overbooked. Regrouping we opted to “plan ahead” which meant that I called a motel in Santa Fe that the three of us stayed at over a decade ago. They only had a few rooms available so we “made reservations.” Knowing then that we had a place to stay we decided to check out the Taos Pueblo where we lingered a bit before taking the very dramatic 70 mile drive south.

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Ruins of the original church built by the Spaniards in 1619 but then destroyed during the Spanish Revolt of 1680. Later rebuilt it was destroyed once more by the United States Army in 1847 which at the time was at war with Mexico.

In Santa Fe we showered, went to bed at a reasonable time, and then spent a wonderful day wandering one of America’s oldest city. At night we chilled in the Plaza and listened to some great music by The Battle of Santiago who describe themselves as a “Canadian Afro-Cuban post rock band.” They had us dancing in our lawn chairs.

 

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Hard to take a bad picture in Santa Fe

 

So now we are rested and one week into our trip. Tomorrow we will be…. I don’t know. And it feels good to say that.

 

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Henna at our temporary home, the Garret Desert Inn in Santa Fe

 

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park

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The clues were as follows: a citronella candle, a few sticks of firewood, a half finished “Polynesian” flavored barbeque bottle, a bottle of bug spray, and a bit of charcoal. All items were found within the campsite’s bear box (a metal box with a trick lock that both frustrates hungry bears and, due to it’s loud creaky noise, is guaranteed to wake up anyone sleeping within a seven campsite radius). We took a pass on the sauce, but the firewood came in handy. What did we do to deserve such generous gifts?

The campsite’s other riddle was easier to solve. To our annoyance, several very large boulders were scattered about like Stonehenge exactly where we hoped to set up our tent. So first we had to move the rocks, then we set up our tent, and then we attempted to stake it all down. But sand makes a very poor foundation and, thus, we had to pick up those same pesky boulders, which by this time where heavier, and use them to keep down the tent.

So back to the clues. After a long day of sand hiking, sand sitting, and sand staring we proceeded to make a fire. Dinner was fine and then, like a plague out of Egypt, the mosquitoes descended upon us. The smart one, Henna, retired to the tent but Corey and I valiantly lit our one citronella candle (thanks Tim and Linnea) which seemed to do nothing but irritate the little buggers. Defeated we joined Henna.

A few hours later came the winds. Powerful winds that blew sand into our tent and at times actually seemed to almost lift the tent a millimeter up. Our poorly grounded rain flap became unbound and flapped like a loud bird. Corey and I had to yell to be heard and twice we courageously ventured outside only to return with sand in our eyes. It was immediately after one of these episodes that we suddenly understood the true nature of the objects. They were not gifts so much as objects left behind in fright.

 

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Kansas City to Dodge City

 

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Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve located in the Flint Hills of Kansas

Man we have never seen fireworks like we did last night. The city of Dodge, Kansas puts on a great show (which we saw seated in lawn chairs while Henna tooled around in the Best Western parking lot on her long board). But starting a couple of hours before sunset and then lasting past midnight the citizens of Dodge launched a non-stop onslaught of professional grade fireworks. OK, we are from Illinois where fireworks are harder to purchase than firearms, but a man from Indiana (home of cheap gas, tobacco, and, yes, fireworks) told me had never seen this type of fireworks in the hands of amateurs. It was insane. And fun to watch.

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Dodge, by the way, is a pretty laid back kind of quirky little town. All within a few blocks is the nicely restored Front Street (which sells the typical Western touristy things) and Boot Hill. The latter was once an informal paupers cemetery where frozen to death buffalo hunters, gun fight victims, and “dancing girls” often were buried without a coffin. The skeletons have long since been interred elsewhere and now is a recreated cemetery/mini town that features frequent gun fights and a nightly variety show.

Other things to do in Kansas include visiting the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Made possible by the Nature Conservancy, the preserve consists of the largest remaining strand of never plowed over native tallgrass prairie. Keeping the system in check are prescribed fires and a bison herd.

 

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A Texas horned lizard

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Springfield to KC

 

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Henna begins the hike up Monks Mound in Cahokia Mounds (just north of St. Louis on Interstate 55). The Cahokia settlement was a pre-Columbian city estimated, in the 13th century, to be larger than then London. As of 2017, admission is free.

 

It’s raining south of Kansas City. Yesterday, not too far from here, we met a couple outside a gas station. They saw our plates and wanted to talk about the Cubs. He, a friendly fellow dressed in overalls, told us several stories about him and his relatives catching the Cubs nearly a decade ago when they played the Royals in inter-league play. His pick up truck had a Cubs border around the license plate. And he also has a signed Ron Santo rookie card. Nice people.

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Born outside Cork, Ireland in 1837, Marry Harris “Mother” Jones endured the Civil War, the Chicago Fire, and the death of her husband and four children to yellow fever. A champion of miner rights she was once called the “most dangerous woman in America.” She died in 1930 and was buried along side many of the victims of a late 19th century labor strike/massacre.

Near the end of our conversation, with dark clouds forming above, a crazy looking man with a Scooby Doo inflection in his voice (like the cranky caretaker when he pretends to be a ghost) asked us which way the clouds were heading. The man then kind of chortled when I said had no idea and then, kind of like a prophecy, he warned the fourth may be ruined. I guess maybe he was right.

I have to admit I was a little skeptical when Corey first broached her “no plan” idea for this summer. But yesterday, with no commitments in our future, we stopped several times at places we might have otherwise driven by. And thank you Tom, the Bird Man of Edison Park, for recommending we check out the Mother Jones Monument and Cahokia Mounds. The latter was truly awesome and should be considered on par to Mesa Verde.

 

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What to do when your local high school closes? How about repurposing the building as one giant, permanent flea market. That’s what they did in Livingston, Illinois and it makes for a pretty cool stop.

 

The rain here does not seem willing to move on. But we are. Will catch you up when we get there (wherever that may be).

 

#takingitasitcomes

Yep, our taking it as it comes summer road trip as officially begun. We know one thing, well actually two things for certain. One, we are heading west to the mountains, and two Henna has decided it will be through Kansas.  Yes, Kansas.  After that, anything goes. We will make it up Day by day, with probably the weather guiding us as it looks like it is pretty hot everywhere but the coast.  Yesterday we got a cleansing send off as we pushed through an awesome rain storm, which ended with the most amazing double rainbow.  That’s always a positive sign.  Corey

Talking Politics in Texas

From Galveston we drove to San Antonio where I was lucky enough to be able to write a review for Splash Magazines. This entailed us staying at a luxury hotel and dining at a very hip restaurant. So dedicated where we to the story that we even had breakfast in bed. Almost as much fun as camping.

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Along the San Antonio River Walk

We also made time to check out the River Walk which is located one story below street level like some sort of subterranean mirror image of the above downtown. At night it is lit up with Christmas lights and people crowd the cafes to sip coffee or cocktails. Strolling along the river bank it was easy to think we were in Europe. Then we walked into a gift shop that sold toilet paper with the President’s image on it and we knew exactly where we were.

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Street art in Austin. Works for us.

Next day we drove to Austin where we saw a pickup truck with a bumper sticker that read “Not my President.” We were confused about the owner’s politics (sticker could have referenced either the current or future President). Other stickers, like one for the Human Rights Campaign and several for Hillary, were less confusing. Digging the progressive vibe we checked out the shops on South Congress Street. Later we went to the Texas Capitol and were greeted by the Confederate Soldiers Monument which celebrates the Texans who “died for state rights guaranteed under the constitution.” This is followed by a lot of propaganda on how the brutal north suppressed the noble southern wish for sovereignty. There is no mention anywhere about slavery. Must have been an oversight.

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Wanting to fit in we sponsored a bill limiting a woman’s access to birth control.

Politics aside, the capitol is impressive and the people working there, as is true with almost everyone we met in Texas, are friendly. One attraction that caught my eye was an exhibit celebrating the fifty-two African Americans who served in the Texas legislature immediately following the Civil War. After Reconstruction, however, it took until 1966 before an African American was elected to the Texas Senate. No reason is given for this extended absence, but my guess are the usual culprits of ignorance and racism. That and a healthy dose of voter suppression. Something to consider as states across the country are currently attempting to limit early voting and enact stringent voter identification laws.

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Deep in the heart of Texas exists the amazing Buc-ee travel marts. Like Wall Drug only without the robotic dinosaurs.

After Austin we headed north to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Housed in a former book depository (yes, that book depository), the exhibits first focus on the Kennedy presidency before delving into his assassination. It is very tastefully done and left us with many “what ifs?” like “what if his motorcade sped up as it approached the expressway?” Leaving Dallas we continued to think deep thoughts and I thought of how big our country really is. Sometimes I think that the amazing thing is not that Americans are so divided but that we ever come together at all. But then a national tragedy occurs and suddenly people feel a kinship to people who vote and think differently than ourselves. What if more people were able to drive instead of fly across America? What if that led to more open conversations? What if indeed.

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Looking down at Dealey Plaza from book depository

 

 

Galveston, Texas

Seawall Blvd. wraps along the Gulf side of Galveston. On one side is water, a sliver of sand at low tide, and the rocks which make up a tentative barrier against the sea. All the hotels are on the other side and in between are four lanes of highway. There are precious few ways to safely cross the street so we ended up driving across the street. As far as beach towns go we were not that impressed. The next morning though we found the quaint downtown and the quiet state park where we spent most of the day hanging out at the beach. Sometimes it takes a little while to get to know a place.

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Hanging out at Galveston State Park. Campsites on the beach as well as on the bay are available.

First founded as a “pirate kingdom” in the early 19th century, Galveston evolved into a very important and rich port city that was then nearly wiped out by a hurricane in 1900. The worst natural disaster in U.S. history, somewhere between 6,000-8,000 people were killed. Galveston was rebuilt and fortified in part by an influx of immigrants including approximately 10,000 Eastern European Jews. Over the past few decades Galveston has experienced many hurricanes with Ike the most recent uninvited guest.

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Sacred Heart Church, Galveston

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The Star Drug Store first opened in 1906 and has survived several hurricanes and one fire. A counter top place with a few tables, they serve excellent food as well as classic fountain drinks. Hennacornoelidays approved.

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Pleasure Pier is one of several piers jutting into the gulf.