Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Road from Elko ~ Homeward Bound ~ Feb 5th-6th

Our friends Ken and Betty have been on a different track most of the Gathering so we've hardly crossed paths except for a couple of meals. We get a chance to catch up at Sunday morning breakfast before we all head in different directions: the Idaho Five to the north and us to the west. Our first timers are hooked so Leland, Trisha and Linda will be returning to the scene of the crime next year to join us.

On the way to Elko you just want to get there so Interstate 80 is the obvious choice from northern California. Coming home we choose the roads less travelled. We head west on I80 for about 35 miles and then turned left at Carlin and start the 88 mile climb up Hwy 278 to reach Hwy 50 and Eureka (elevation 6,500 feet) nestled at the southern end of Diamond Valley in the Diamond Mountains. It is the largest settlement in Eureka County. The population for the town and surrounding areas is about 1,100. The nearest centers to the west are Austin (71 miles) and Ely (77 miles) so when you make your shopping list here, you really do check it twice!

Storefront Fixer Upper

It's around noon when we get to Eureka so we decide to stop for lunch. The streets are quiet except for the Owl Club Cafe, so that's our option. We walk up to the front door just as it opens. The man standing in the doorway and I do a double take and then suddenly realize we sat next to each other at Baxter Black's show. His sister was in Baxter's HS graduating class. I'm no stranger to these types of serendipitous moments, but they never cease to amaze me.

In July 1986, Life magazine published an article that gave US 50 in Nevada the name "The Loneliest Road in America". The article portrayed the highway, and rural Nevada, as a place devoid of civilization. Officials decided to make the best of the publicity and convinced state authorities to do the same. Jointly, they began to use the article as a platform to market the area for visitors interested in desert scenery, history, and solitude. It is rich on all accounts.

The highway roughly parallels the Pony Express Trail, remnants of which are still visible for much of the way. Many ghost towns and historical cemeteries dot the area. There are other unusual sites such as the Charcoal Ovens State Park or Hickison Summit Petroglyphs to visit. Fishing abounds at Iliapah Reservoir, Cave Lake State Park, and Comins Lake.  There is truly something for everyone.

The desert is a place of wonder: light and dark, soft and hard, a fickle mistress who can be a lover or a spiteful vixen. You take your chances here, and you love it or leave it. This amazing road travels through snow-mantled mountains reaching 11,000 feet, across 17 mountain passes and miles of high desert. The crest of each pass reveals yet another breathtaking vista.

Here's an obscure tidbit: In 1991, Stephen King was on this road as part of a cross country trip. He stopped at Ruth, a ghost town near Ely. He wondered about the fate of the last residents. He had heard a local legend about how the ghosts of Chinese miners, who died while trapped in a cave-in, can be seen crossing US 50 to haunt the city of Ruth. He merged these details into a story, including references to The Loneliest Road in America, that became the novel Desperation. I may have to check it out of the library.

We make it back to the Silver Legacy in Reno, threw our stuff in the room and head down to the Casino to watch the second half of the Superbowl. They had flatscreens everywhere, so you'd hear a cheer or a groan and look up in time to catch the replay. Our friends at home enjoyed our 25th annual Superbowl Party without us. The house was cleaner than we left it and there was even dessert in the refrigerator when we got home. Guess it will be the same next year as the Gathering is Jan 26th~Feb 2 and the Superbowl is Feb 3. 

Monday morning after breakfast we head west on I80 to Immigrant Gap and turn right onto Hwy 20. This drops us down out of the mountains through Grass Valley, Colusa, and Clearlake, then Hwy 29 to Calistoga and home the back way: little civilization, beautiful country, no traffic, my kind of blue highway. It was a week well spent, but it was sure nice to get back home and into our own beds.