Under the Weather

Friday, December 14, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

WESTWARD HO, Days 40-411
Ely, NV to Beaver, UT
After our journey down the so-called Loneliest Road in America on Wednesday, we decided to pause for a day of rest and recovery (and catch-up blogging) in Ely (pop. 4,288) yesterday.  It was a good choice.  We watched the snow showers from our hotel room, blogged, zipped out to find a local letterbox, blogged, tried unsuccessfully to find a pizza for lunch, blogged, fueled up the car, blogged, and shopped at the nearby grocery store and blogged.  By that time, we were caught up on our blog and ready to move on this morning.
Like yesterday, we awoke to snow showers this morning.  Consulting the Nevada DOT web site for road conditions, we surmised that we might not need to use the tire chains today.  This morning chains were mandatory on some of the mountain passes to the west that we traversed on Wednesday, but there were no warnings to the east.

Visiting Great Basin National Park and planting our Nevada letterbox were the main items on our agenda for today, so we drove east on our old friend US-50 (pictured above) to Baker, NV, and the entrance to the park.  Established in 1986, the park encompasses a desert mountain island, a limestone and marble cavern, an alpine glacier, and what we were most interested in, a grove of ancient bristlecone pines whose ages are measured, not in centuries, but millennia.  In fact, a bristlecone pine found in the park was documented to be 4,950 years of age.

Clearly, not a clear day
Driving into the park in fog and snow, we were not overly optimistic about seeing some of the great vistas for which the park is known.  "Not a great day for a visit," the lonely park ranger confirmed when we arrived at the visitor center.  Since we had been without cell service and driving through mixed snow and rain for the previous hour, we asked if she had any information about Utah State Highway 21, our route to tonight's destination.  Unable to locate any information about the current conditions of 21, she asked if we'd like to take a one-hour tour of Lehman Cave.  "It's very dry in the cave," supplied another ranger who had just returned from the cavern.
Ancient bristlecone pine (photo from Great Basin National Park web site)
Without a good idea of what we were facing on the remaining 120 miles to our destination for the night, we declined the cave tour and asked about the bristlecone grove.  "Sorry," the ranger replied, "the grove is above 10,000 feet, and the road leading to the trail is closed due to snow."

"We came all the way from Georgia, and we're not going to see a bristlecone pine?" we asked.

"Oh, sure," the ranger replied.  "See that nice pine tree out there in the parking lot?  That's a bristlecone that was planted when the park opened."
A 26-year-old bristlecone pine still considered an infant
Not exactly what we had in mind, but we had seen the only bristlecone we would see today.  Just before we exited the park, we left a little memento of our own—our Nevada letterbox.  Then we headed southeast to learn first-hand what the road conditions were on UT-21.

As it turned out, fog and a wintry mix of snow and light rain continued to be the weather theme for the day, but the road conditions were excellent once we got into Utah.  That Life magazine writer who thought US-50 through Nevada was the loneliest highway should have explored Utah State Highway 21 (SR-487 in Nevada).
Utah's State Highway 21
In the 120 miles from Baker, NV, to Beaver, UT, we saw a grand total of two other vehicles and passed through two tiny towns.  When we arrived at the slightly larger town of Beaver (pop. 3,096), the motel desk clerk asked where we had driven in from.  We told him we had come from Ely on Highway 21.  "That's a lonely road," he replied.  "You'd hate to break down on it.  It would be a long time before another car came along, and there's no cell service on most of it."  Sounds eerily like what happened to the guy from Life.

Tomorrow we'll continue making our way east, stopping for a couple of days in Moab, Utah, where we're hoping for better conditions for visiting the nearby national parks.

Gateway to Horns-a-Plenty, an antler art business near Ely
Always a good sign when the snow plow coming toward you has blade up

The front is in front of us.

A homestead we passed near Baker

A mountain-eating cloud