Spring Break 2002 Road Trip

AZ/CA/NV/CA/NV/UT/AZ/NV/AZ -- 2344 miles -- 6 days/5 nights

{Directory Listing of Pictures}

Day One

Tempe AZ/Mitchell Caverns/Mojave Desert/Baker CA

Leave Phoenix heading west on I-10. Take exit #81 (Salome road) north to the town of Salome. Head west on US-60 a few miles and then turn north onto AZ Hwy-72 and go to Parker. This is an easy drive from Phoenix to Parker. The back-roads are good with minimal traffic.

We hit the California border in about 180 miles. Take CA Hwy-62 west a few miles and turn north onto US-95. Drive 70 miles to Needles, CA. Catch I-40 west. Exit I-40 at the Goffs exit and drive Route 66 to Essex. The car went a short stretch at 115mph on Route 66. At Essex, head north back to I-40 and enter the Mitchell Caverns Natural Preserve. Take a tour of the caves. [another cave picture]

Return to I-40 and go west to the next exit (20 miles) and enter the Mojave National Preserve. Hike the Kelso Dunes. [Every know and then you encounter cow dung on these dunes.]

Continue through the Mojave Desert to Baker, CA. Baker is home of the world's tallest thermometer. [It is 134 feet high and its height is symbolic of the highest temperature ever recorded in the U.S. (134°F at Death Valley).] Baker is not much of a town, but it does have plenty of gas, food, and lodging. We had a good dinner at the Big Bun restaurant. The Big Bun has been business since 1926. We stayed at the Big Bun motel. I had an early morning coffee at Denny's and I admired the patience of the waitress who had to work hard at communicating with her co-workers [she eventually had to go find some aluminum foil on her own]. I had fun observing an order of toast [it sat there for a long time and ended up getting served to a customer; I almost said something, but it was too early in the day to be interacting with other humans]. Note: A couple of the motels did end up with No Vacancy signs. I supect there are times when you cannot find a place to stay in Baker because all the motels are full. [ external US-Parks.com] [Freedom is traveling without using reservations.]

Day Two

Baker CA/Death Valley/Tonopah NV

The orignal road trip plan had us going north through Nevada on US-95. We were going to ignore Death Valley, but that just wasn't possible. I cannot drive by Death Valley and not pay it a visit. But first we had to get there. Leave Baker heading north on US-95. This road is flat, fast, and scenic. During one stretch of road I had cruise control on and it was set at 100mph. Prior to entering Death Valley, we popped into Nevada to visit Devil's Hole. This added about 40 miles to the trip and some of the miles were on bad gravel roads (i.e. slow). I don't think the park services want us going to Devil's Hole anymore. The hole is the only natural habitat of the Devil's Hole pupfish. [Falling into the hole would not have been fun.]

We enter Death Valley and immediately have to visit Dantes View. [ sign] It was cold and chilly and we didn't visit for long. This added 30 miles to the trip and is a good up and down drive [go way up, come way down]. Dantes View allows you to see a huge part of the valley along with Telescope Peak on the valley's other side.

After Dantes View we drove the Twenty Mule Team Canyon. We ignored warning signs and walked into a couple of old mine shafts.

Next stop was Zabriskie Point. And of course we had to play on the rolling hills that are full of color.

The trip north through Death Valley detours south for a visit to Badwater, but first we have to drive out to the Devil's Cornfield. The urge to go out into the cornfield and play is strong, but this area cannot be hiked it is too harsh. The picture shows only a small percentage of the 360 view;

We continue south to Badwater. I didn't take a picture because there were other people around. [Here are a couple of pictures from previous trips: summer at high noon (126°F) | spring break 2001.]

After hiking out into the salt flats we return our norther route through the valley. Stop and hike to the Natural Bridge. The road to the trail-head is rough gravel road. It is not long, but slow.

Continue north and visit the Artists Palette. The hills explode with color all the time.

Continue north to Furnance Creek and stop for lunch. This is "downtown" Death Valley. I bought some gas ($2+ per gallon) and we paid our entrance fee at the ranger station. I was told that the northeast entrance road was good so we visited Ubehebe Crater.

We exited Death Valley at the Nevada border. Drive east on flat and road and catch US-95 heading north (Scotty's Junction) to Tonopah, NV. Tonopah is alive, but a lot of the town has died. We stayed at the Tonopah Motel (cheap) and had an excellent Mexican food dinner. Here is an early morning picture of Tonopah.

Day Three

Tonopah NV/Fallon/Black Rock Desert/Reno/Carson City NV

Don't let the absence of pictures minimize the scenic drive you experience leaving Tonopah west on US-6 for 40 miles and then north US-95. On a return visit, pictures will be taken.

One scenic view after another all the way to Hawthorne. The town is good sized thanks to U.S. military. Head north out of Hawthorne on US-95 and drive along a huge lake. More scenic views and then the farm country of Fallon.

Fallon, NV is a healthy city and we stop for lunch (Pizza Hut). The next stretch of drive is a 200 mile detour to visit Black Rock Desert. At Fallon, go west on US-50 for 30 miles to I-80 and then take NV Hwy-447 north to the tiny town of Gerlach (very tiny). Continue a bit north and then head east. It is the Black Rock Desert -- home to the Burning Man Festival.

The excitement of arriving at Black Rock Desert was overwhelming and in a state of total dumbness I drove the car out onto the desert floor. I quickly realized that this was dumb and decided to turn around, but I turned the car into a glob of mud and we got stuck. Luckily, I had not driven too far out into the expansive Black Rock Desert. We hiked back to the road and along came two young guys out enjoying Mother Nature. They stopped and pulled me out. They were angels. The trunk of the care wouldn't latch so I stopped at a gas station in Gerlach to get something to tie it down. The guy at the station shared some super-twine with me. I offered him some money but he told me to forget it. His twine worked great.

Night three was to be spent in Fallon, NV, but a detour to Reno, NV, was necessary to get new shoes. After visiting a Reno shopping mall, we drove US-395 south to Carson City, NV, for the night and used it as our starting point on US-50 (the Loneliest Road in America). We ate well at a casino buffet. Carson City is the Nevada state capital. It was fun to see the government buildings next to the casinos. Carson City would be a good spot to do Lake Tahoe from.

Day Four

Carson City NV/Ely NV via US-50

Driving west on US-50 takes you through a sequence of huge valley's of nothing. The valley's are great. The road is straight and flat.

The first stop occurs at Grimes Point. A short trail points you to some nice petroglyphs. The view into the valley are nice.

One of the valley's contained huge salt flats and Sand Mountain. [ sign] The hike to the top of Sand Mountain is almost straight up. Located at the entrance to Sand Mountain is the loneliest phone and I made a call.

Twelve miles from the geographical center of Nevada, we stopped in Austin, NV (population 300) for an excellent hamburger lunch.

US-50 doesn't have too many towns. About equal distance between Austin and Ely (our destination point) is the well maintained town of Eureka, NV.

The following are stops we wanted to make but didn't: Hickison Petroglyph [ the access road turned muddy and we didn't want to get stuck]; Ruth Copper Pit [couldn't find it; we drove about 15 miles on US-6, but I didn't take the map with me so this was a missed opportunity]; Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park [the bee-hived shaped kilns could been in the distance, but the trail out to them was covered with snow].

Driving US-50 west-to-east across central Nevada was a scenic route the entire 318 miles. It is a sequence of valleys and mountain passes. US-50 may be considered America's loneliest road, but I didn't find anything lonely about.

Ely, Nevada

Ely (pronounced e-lee), Nevada, has a population of 4400 and a downtown that contains a couple of casinos, an operational JC Penny store, and numerous mural adorned buildings. [The ubiquitousness of the Bell System never ceases to amaze me.] I got up early and went downtown to take pictures. I had coffee at 5:30am inside a casino. 5:30am in a small town and the place had people doing stuff. A guy at a garage in Ely fixed my trunk. I offered him some money but he told me to have a safe trip home. Tyler needed orange chicken for dinner so we found the only Chinese place in town and had a great meal. I asked how their Hot and Sour Soup was and I was told it good but hot. To me, hot is good and this soup was hot. [I sweated bullets.]

More Ely murals: #1 | #2

Day Five

Ely Nv/Great Basin/Utah/Las Vegas/Boulder City NV

The drive from Ely to Great Basin National Park is a great way to finish the US-50 part of the trip. It was fun encountering a cow along the way. Located within the Great Basin National Park are the Lehman Caves. 60 and 90 minute cave tours are available. I took the 60 minute tour and would like to return to take the 90 minute adventure. [ another cave picture]

We left Great Basin at 1:00pm and the drive through Utah on UT Hwy-21 started. The next town was 75 miles away and during this drive through nowhere we encountered bad weather.

This was not a good situation. At times it was difficult to locate the road we were driving on. Luckily, there was somebody in front of us somewhere who was leaving tracks. After an hour or so we caught up to them. [Tyler took the picture because I had to focus on staying on the road.] It was a great relief. A bit later there was a car behind us and that was even a bigger relief. We had no winter materials (e.g. no gloves, no salt, no chains, no shovel, no boots, no window scrapper; we did have food, water, a coat, blankets, and clothing). I do not like driving in winter weather. [Although I did enjoy listening to Grateful Dead during this part of the trip.]

Because of the storm, I did not even see the location of the cemetery at the Old Frisco Mining Town. I need to go back so I can take a picture.

I-15 south-bound was not any better. Now I had trucks and SUVs passing me. Each time they did, visibility would be minimized because of their spray. I could barely maintain 50mph in the right-most lane.

The next stop was suppose to be Cedar Breaks National Monument, but the snow storm was bad and we decided to stay on I-15 south until we got to Las Vegas.

The drive on I-15 was wicked. Visibility was minimal -- it was like a white-out. Road signs were not readable because they were covered in snow. When we finally did escape the snow, then we had to battle strong winds.

Upon approaching Las Vegas we had a halo sky.

For about 30 miles I-15 goes through the northwest tip of Arizona. The whole 30 miles was a scenic route.

In Las Vegas we celebrated the day by pigging-out at the Main Street Casino buffet located downtown. After dinner we spent the our final final night in Boulder City, NV. [7 miles from the Hoover Dam]

Day Six

Boulder City NV/Hoover Dam/US-93/Tempe AZ

I was surprised at the casual security check performed at Hoover Dam.

The return to Arizona was refreshing. We were on our way home.

The drive from Hoover Dam to Kingman is nice and easy; the drive on I-40 east to the US-93 exit is nice and easy; the drive on US-93 between I-40 and Phoenix sucks. There were two instances where my defensive driving helped prevent high-speed accidents. [When the other side of a two-lane highway has passing permission, then beware of people passing who are having a hard time completing their pass. On both occassions, I had to flash these driver's their respective IQs (i.e. I gave them the finger.)]

We celebrated our return to Tempe by having lunch at La Fonda Mexican Food.

External Hyperlinks
Mojave National Preserve, CA
Devils Hole
Death Valley National Park, CA
Black Rock Desert
US-50 | Grimes Point | Sand Mountain | Hickison Petroglyph | Ruth Copper Pit | Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park
Great Basin National Park, NV | Lehman Caves
Did Not Do
Old Frisco Mining Town, UT [cemetery]
Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT
Lowell Observatory | Macy's Coffee House [Flagstaff, AZ]

Author: Gerald D. Thurman [gdt@deru.com]
Created: 01 Mar 2002