Wednesday, May 6, 2009

From the Loneliest Road in America

I spent the last week traversing "The Loneliest Road in America," a title bestowed on Hwy 50 by Life Magazine in 1986. Today the State of Nevada and the Chambers of the small towns that exist along its route, love to advertise it as such and will even give you a survival certificate.

It is exactly my kind of road. Once I left Fallon, there were just three towns, and one little crossroad's community. I could stand in the middle of the highway and photograph the big open spaces with no traffic. It's not quite no traffic. About every 15-20 minutes I would meet a vehicle or one would come up behindme, wanting to rush by. I don't know why they were in a hurry. The vistas span out ahead of you, there is an occasional pronghorn or coyote sighting, and this time of year there is still snow on the mountain peaks.

This is an area of old mining communities. The buildings of Austin, Eureka and Ely look like mining communities from the late 1800's.

Fallon is becoming a bedroom suburb of Reno-Sparks. But once you leave there, the road stretches out in old west style. There are a few ranches. Austin, 110 miles east of Fallon, has no grocery store, although the convenience store in the gas station carries a few necessities. Eureka is only slightly larger, but does have an independent grocery store which had a notice posted that they are now getting fresh deliveries of produce a couple times a week. Ely is good sized at 9,000 people. It is the crossroads for travel north and south along I-93 from Vegas and Hwy 50 western Nevada and Great Basin National Park, which I visited two years ago. There is still active mining in nearby.

One of my favorite stops along Hwy 50 is Spencer Hot Springs. I soaked twice this trip. I might have soaked more but one day I got out early as an electrical storm approached. The next day I stayed home, in my cozy motorhome, while it rain and blew. I had some photo organizing work to do so an inclement day was a good thing. I have no problems soaking in a light rain, but heavy winds are no fun. The next day I had another soak.

I camped at a quiet, free, little U.S.F.S. campground a couple miles before the turn off to Spencer. It's another 5.5 miles on well graded dirt to the springs turnoff and then less than a mile to the first of the soaking tubs.

Unfortunately three RVs were parked practically on top of the large cattle tank. It made it uncomfortable for anyone else to use it; you felt you were in the middle of their campsite. I don't understand why they couldn't have left a little space. But I had the upper pool to myself. It is more natural with large flat rocks lining a dirt pool and a small wooden deck built by volunteers. Nice distance view of the mountains still with snow. The source is 165 degrees F. By the time it comes through a pipe into the pool it is okay for short soaks.

The last time I was at Spencer, it was a long "weekend" outing from Bodie State Park where I worked. My housemate Rebecca,and I made the trip. In one of those small world stories, there was only one other person at the springs and he is from Ajo, Arizona where I spend part of each winter. I see Tim whenever I am in Ajo. In honor of that experience, I played his CD (he writes folks songs and sings) and sent an email to Rebecca.

I've gone through Ely, NV in the past but never spent any time. This year I parked in a casino lot right in downtown for a couple of days and explored. The steam train is only running on weekends this time of year so I missed that, but I visited the station and museum. As the only one visiting, I was told to wander anywhere I wanted. Men were working on trains in the engine house.

I got a private one-hour tour of the upstairs of the depot where the State of Nevada has a museum. All the old office equipment from the days of the Nevada Northern Railway and Anaconda Mining company are still in place. Although the railroad hauled people and general freight, its major purpose was to serve the copper mine. Despite some modernization before closing down, Kennecott Copper left things like the old roll top desks, safes, wooden filing cabinets upstairs. Getting them inside in the first place must have been a major undertaking and so they never removed them.
..........From the second floor window I watched a Great Horned Owl in her nest in the old coal shute across the tracks. The museum staff has been watching the family and report there are two chicks which I didn't see nor the father bird.
.........On Wednesday morning I drove south in the car to Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park. It was built to create charcoal to smelting ore. They were a great photo op and a chance to work more with the new camera I bought a few weeks ago. Nearby is the town site of Ward and the cemetery. There are a few headstones, a couple of wooden grave enclosures that look like they have been rebuilt fairly recently, and one ornate metal fence around a stone. The town site is little more that a few rock lined basements and old tin cans, glass and broken pottery. But with my Bodie experience, I can't pass up old mining towns.

And the new camera bought a few weeks ago brings up what I was doing at the time. I was in Petaluma CA for my annual visit. I completed all my routine medical and got another two year certificate to accompany my CDL. I saw my Aunt Aloha, Lin's older daughter and her offspring, my cousin Bonnie and her son, Caddy, daughter-in-law Corinne and 2 year old Maxfield, who is a delight. I know, two-years- olds are not noted for delightful, but he was.

I saw a number of old friends. and two new babies. I won't list them all, but its always good to get caught up and keep some of those ties to childhood, high school, summer camp counseling, early career, and Lin's old friends. I didn't see everyone. It is never possible.

I attended the 50th birthday party of Redwood High School. No, I wasn't there when it opened. I saw about a half-dozen people from my class, a few of my teachers, and a couple people from classes before and after me. Most fun was a gathering of the BARK, the newspaper. Three staff journalists, not from my time, have gone on the win Pulitzer prizes. It was fun looking through old editions which they have had bound. The only sadness was that one set was missing and that was my year.

I must soon make a decision about my route. I can go north into Idaho and into the west entrance of Yellowstone or I can go thru Salt Lake City. Confronting urban traffic after the quiet, slow pace of The Loneliest Highway is a dreadful thought but there are some places I would enjoy exploring south of the park. Decisions, decisions.

I expect my next post to be from Yellowstone where I will work for the summer...well, at least May 23 to October 1. The weather may look more like the winter to some of you.

If you wonder why some paragraphs are separated by double spacing and two of them simply have dotted lines, it is because this program refused to recognize double spacing in those instances. I am not sure why. I also don't understand why the first photo is more pixilated than the other two. I used the same downsizing (required for the blog) method for each. My poor Luddite brain does not understand.