Thursday, October 17, 2013

Day 3, Elko, Nevada to Provo, Utah via the Mormon Trail

Ugh, Nevada. Beautiful in its own way.
After a quick fast food breakfast I continued on to Interstate 80 and my eastward trek. Pretty much the same as yesterday, scrub-sagebrush and mountain range-valley-mountain range scenery all the way to Wendover. Wendover seems like quite the desert hot spot with all the casinos. I had no interest in stopping at this over-commercialized sin city called Wendover. From what I could tell the place was jumping from all the cars and tour buses.

Today's route was, I 80 to Utah State Route 196 for 183 miles. Then down UT SR 196 for 19 miles and turning left onto UT SR 199 for 22 miles. A right turn at the small town of Rush Valley onto UT SR 36 for 39 miles. UT SR 36 ends and a left
Yellow highlight marks Day 3's travels
turn onto US Hwy 6 for 24 miles going through the towns of Eureka and Santaquinn, Utah. Finally a left onto I 15 N to Provo (19 miles) and my planned stay at the Sleep Inn Motel. I chose this route which avoided Salt Lake City for several reasons. One, was I wanted to avoid Interstate highway driving as much as possible. It is just so boring. Two, I wanted to avoid the high stress driving on Interstate highways when in cities. There's just too many cars and trucks driving, entering, and exiting the freeway. And three, it would get me to Provo too soon - well before check-in time at the motel. What was I supposed to do while waiting in a city that I was unfamiliar with? Sure driving this route was farther and slower but it would meet my objectives and be more interesting.

Driving from Elko to Wendover was, in a word, boring. Endless sagebrush and only very distant mountains. I consumed at least a couple of cups of coffee to stay alert. It was at this point when I started listening to country music radio. There were no rock-n-roll stations that came in clearly. The only other radio stations that seemed to come in clear were religious. Ugh, I decided to take the lesser of two evils - country music. It wasn't long when I, believe it or not, I started to like it. What the? Country music? I found that country music told a story in song. I liked that.

Coming down the hill into Wendover you could see the impressive salt flats stretching for miles. Water
Bonneville salt flats as viewed from I 80
on the salt flats was shimmering in the morning sun. I didn't expect to see so much water. It didn't look deep, only a few inches. Then I thought well duh, that's how the salt flats got there. I was enamored with gawking at the salt flats that I missed the exit to the Bonneville Speedway. Surely I thought there would be another exit but I was wrong. There wasn't another exit for 22 miles. So all I could do was observe from the truck the endless salt flats. There was no highway right-of-way fence preventing you from cutting across the median or driving off the freeway. You could see that several others had done so. I chose not to, because I didn't want to risk getting stuck, so on I drove. I noticed that folks had scribed in the salt-sand-mud things. There was even some primitive artwork of bottles, sticks, and junk stuck into and arranged in various patterns alongside the Interstate highway. I did so want to touch or drive on the salt flats. I guess I'm going to have to come back another time.

Interesting stone arch at the Wild Horse Hills rest area
I pulled over at Wild Horse Hills rest area just on the eastern edge of the salt flats. Rocky and I took a short walk to some rocks in the distance. A sign said, "Beware of rattlesnakes and scorpions" which had me a bit more observant on walking through the rocks and brush.  Rocky enjoyed the romp-about. We saw no snakes or scorpions, nor did we see any wild horses.

We continued on I 80 which was absolutely boring. So at the first chance to get off and take a scenic route I jumped at it. The opportunity came to go south on Utah 196 or Skull Valley Highway. It was just what I needed a narrow two lane road with a beautiful range of mountains that had a fresh topping of snow off to my left. Off to my right was a scrub-sagebrush valley. I saw an interesting road sign that warned me off free range buffalo. I never saw any buffalo but did see some prong horn antelope. The road turned without warning right into the US Army Dugway Weapons Proving Grounds. The only other structure was a large Latter Day Saints church. No other buildings. Weird I thought, but then I am in Utah. Rather than approach the gate I did a U-turn right in the middle of the road. As I completed my turn, I noticed I could go onto Utah 199. Huh? No sign or anything indicating Utah State Route 199.

Utah SR 199 looks like a 'road to no where'
Utah 199 seemed to go straight into a mountain range. I started humming the Talking Heads song, "I'm On A Road To Nowhere." For miles you couldn't see any sign of the road going over the mountains, but the road did. The road went in to a canyon climbing and twisting through a juniper forest until once again you came to pass. Just east of the pass there was a small campground but it was empty. The road steeply and twistedly wound its way down to the valley below. What I didn't realize was that I was on a road called "the Mormon Trail." The road or trail ended in a small town called Rush Valley. 

I turned right on to Utah State Route 36 going towards Vernon, Utah. To my left was another US Army facilty the Tooelle Weapons Storage Dump. It looked very similar to the Army weapons storage dump at Hermiston, Oregon - half underground bunkers arranged in rows. I later found out that Tooelle was not pronounced "too-lee" rather "too-ell-lah." Perhaps the residents didn't want to be known as living in the "too-lees" because it looked like you should pronounce it like that. Highway 36 wound its way past Vernon (a former Pony Express stop) and through sparse sage and juniper country until it came to its end at US Highway 6.

I turned left onto US 6 and once again started a climb up and over a small mountain range. This time at
A pass looking into another valley on the Mormon Trail
the summit was the town of Eureka, a small former mining town. The town proudly displayed some mining equipment to celebrate its history. Curiously there were large gray rocks, about the size of baseballs neatly distributed everywhere - hillsides, along the road, around the school, in tiwn around businesses, and even around homes. I wondered what mining would result in that rock as a tailing? The rock did not resemble the surrounding rock. I pulled into a garishly painted bright yellow and red cafe called the "3 Prospectors Cafe." As I entered there was a vigorous conversation going on about chainsaws, chainsaw chains, and cutting wood. Seems that juniper is tough wood and wears chainsaw chains down rapidly. So, if you are going to cut juniper, bring spare chains. I ordered the special - beef tips, gravy, over noodles. It was quite good and better than a hamburger. I asked about the rocks all over town. They explained that gold, lead, and other metals were mined in Eureka. The mine petered out in the late 60's. Tests showed that the resulting tailings were toxic to people and the environment.  They thought of cleaning all the tailings up, but decided the cheapest thing to do was bury it under rock. Wow, that's a lot of rock. I asked what keeps the town alive now? Hunters and tourists.

After Eureka, US 6 dropped rapidly into the Utah Valley. The seemingly impenetrable Wasatch mountain range towered over and framed the eastern side of the valley. The valley contained Utah Lake as well as several towns and cities, namely Provo my destination. I drove through Santaquinn and turned left onto I 15 headed for Provo. Once again it took me a minute or two of adjustment from traveling two lane roads at 55 mph to four lane roads at 75 mph. Also from no traffic to bustling traffic of cars, trucks, and semis.

I made it to my motel, checked in, and prepared for the next adventure of the day - a collegiate hockey game. I had traveled over 306 miles and once again saw sights and scenery that was all new to me.

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