2020-10-29 So Far, So Good!

Emigrant Trails Plaque - Scenery
I saw a windmill driven pump along a stretch of “The Loneliest Road” (Hwy-50) in Nevada that caught my attention and I had to turn back to investigate. This humble plaque celebrated a traveller’s memory of passing through this place in 1867. 

On Saturday (Oct-24) I drove from June lake to Fallon Nevada, where I spent the night in the Walmart parking lot. Many of the roads I took once I entered Nevada were very scenic and rugged, but by the time I reached Fallon, open sagebrush country dominated the landscape. I drove on US-50, named the Loneliest Highway, and headed east towards Eureka Nevada, where I planned to turn north and make my entry into Idaho. 

By now the weather was cooling. When I got up Sunday morning, it was 37°F. A few miles east of Fallon, the terrain transitioned to vast fields of sagebrush, and I later crossed an enormous expanse of what looked like a muddy lake bed. It became apparent why in 1986, Life Magazine called this The Loneliest Road in America.

Continuing east, I climbed Sand Springs Pass and stopped at a windmill with a dripping stone water tank to stretch my legs and look around. I saw a covey of Chukar flying about a hundred yards away, but they didn’t seem like they wanted anything to do with me. Later, a Horned Lark came to take a drink, and I captured a few images. Then a first winter White-Crowned Sparrow showed up to take a gulp, and a Bewick’s Wren popped up from some nearby sage brush to voice its displeasure with my presence. I’d have stayed longer, but I had all those “miles to go before I sleep” before me. I completed my eastward push at Eureka and got gassed up before turning north on Nevada 278. By the time I reached Elko, it was time to reel it in and get stationary for the night.

Bewick's Wren - Thryomanes bewickii
Aside from this bold Bewick’s Wren, I saw sparrows, larks and Chukar during my brief stay there.

After spending the night in Elko Nevada, I continued my push north. I noticed the mercury had tumbled to 18°F, reminding me that the days of summer were long gone for this year. Later on my drive, white flakey frozen water began swirling through the air, but thankfully not sticking to the highway as I drove northward. I brought tire chains with me, but I had no desire to put them on. 

Most of the scenery before me was classic basin and range sage scrub that went on for mile after mile. As I started running out of Nevada real estate, I skirted the shores of a large reservoir at a location called Wild Horse State Recreation Area. The road continued north past the dam, following the Owyhee River, and sliced through a narrow, but scenic canyon, before popping out in a wide plain called Duck Valley. 

Soon the basin and range topography of Nevada gave way to the wide valley of Idaho’s Snake River, where natural calamities of the geological past had left scars on the land we can still see today. The super volcano that now sits under the steamy caldera of Yellowstone Park, chewed through this terrain six to sixteen million years ago, leaving a wide valley that funnels weather from the Pacific Northwest into the mountains of eastern Idaho and northwestern Wyoming. 

The churning of the continental crust by the volcano wasn’t the end of the havoc nature held in store for this valley. By the end of the last Ice Age (14,500 years ago), Bonneville Lake had reached its largest size (~32,000 square miles). As water will, it found a weakness in the geology at the present day Red Rock Pass in Idaho and breached the earthen berm there, causing the water to flood into the Snake River Valley. A 400+ foot wall of water poured out of the lake at a rate of 33 million cubic feet per second, acquiring speeds up to 70 miles per hour. The resulting flood carved a 600 foot deep canyon through volcanic rock, where today’s Snake River flows. The worst flooding lasted for weeks, but water continued to drain from the lake for years.

I pulled into Payette last Sunday (Oct-25), glad to have dodged the worst of the weather this country has to offer. I’ve sorted out my propane delivery problems and got the kayak I brought to give to my friend put together. Next week I have an appointment to get my generator seen to, which will put the final dots on the eyes, and crosses on the tees. Then I’ll make plans for my route out of Idaho, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be heading north. The days have been sunny and bright during my stay, but that can’t last forever. The nights have been cold, and soon the days will be too.

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