I woke at 2:45. The rain had stopped, and the clouds had cleared, displaying a beautiful carpet of stars. I fell back asleep, and woke at 7:30 Friday morning, August 26th. Had I really slept for 9 hours?
Outside, the eastern sky was a pale blue. A light, chilly breeze drifted through the tall trees. Crickets chirped. Was that an owl I heard? It was all very soothing—a peaceful morning. I took a shower: four quarters for four minutes, and 1 quarter for each additional minute up to 15 quarters. Was that 15 on top of the first 4, or all together? I guess there are people in the world that need 19 minute showers. Outside, people were up. A man walked his dog. A Labrador sniffed his way around the campground, his dog tags jingling. I got a cautious “good morning” from a nervous lady taking trash to the dumpster. The family across the way sat down to a big breakfast at a picnic table. I checked my cash, and was doing better than I thought I was doing.

I checked Satori’s oil level—it was okay. I pulled out of the campground at 8:37 (CT). Local farms had stacks of hay bales the size of shipping containers waiting in the fields. One farm had new bales of hay sitting in rows like soldiers on parade, waiting to be picked up and stacked. I stopped at the Conoco station in Loma, just outside Fruita. I had to move the van when I accidentally parked next to the diesel pumps. A guy filling up his speedboat said it was a beautiful day. “Might get some rain later on,” he added. I filled up Satori’s tank on Visa. It looked like when the gas gauge read one quarter tank, it really only had one gallon left. Beside the little road, a boy in a striped shirt waited for the school bus. In many communities, the school year had already begun. I got on Interstate 70 and headed west. Signs announced a “music event” up ahead. I could see cars and tents off to the north. I remembered seeing a couple of guys with EVENT STAFF t-shirts back at the gas station. One section of road was adopted by “Friends of Coffee Mugger.”

The westernmost 10-mile stretch of I-70 in Colorado is the Wade Oglesby Citizen Hero Memorial Highway. When you cross over in to Utah, it becomes the Grand Army of the Republic Highway. I searched through the stations on the radio going from Christian to country & western. I finally found a station playing Meatloaf songs. There was a commercial with a voice-over by Sam Elliot, and I wondered why he’d never done an album of songs. The road took me up through a series of steep grades, surrounded by wide, open spaces. The land was barren, desolate, but not empty. A sign told me I was about an hour from Green River. Traffic was slim.

It was way down the road when I realized: I forgot to pay that extra day use fee at the park. Oh, gee.

 About 10 AM I made a pit stop at the Thompson Travel Center, and spoke to one of the ladies inside. The air was very comfortable. To the north, railroad tracks turned and twisted through the surreal landscape. Crows sat on fenceposts, complaining at me. There were some impressive cliffs off to the north. The radio station started playing “American Pie,” and I sang along as I pulled into Green River, just after 10:30. A sign warned there were no services for the next 110 miles.
Just outside of town, I took Exit 157 and headed northwest on Highway 6. Salt Lake City was 180 miles away. Highway 6 was a wide 2-lane road, with comfortable shoulders. It was familiar territory. I’d been this way before, just going the opposite direction. A car and a truck followed close to my tail for 10 miles until we came to a section with a passing lane. A ferret-like creature skittered across the road in front of me. The skies were mostly clear. I passed a big RV and accelerated to put some distance between us; I didn’t like the idea of something big like that tailgating me. 
There was a steep climb at Mile Marker 269, with a rest area nearby. It was a quarter after 11 when I crossed the Carbon County line. I found an NPR station, but it soon faded away. It was almost 11:30 when I got to Wellington, Utah, where I got off the highway looking for a gas station. The road took me past some impressive rocks and strip malls, but no gas stations, and it was 10 minutes later in Price when I got back on Highway 6.
When I crossed over the Price River, it was 120 miles to Salt Lake City. Stone cliffs rose on both sides of the road. When I got to the town of Helper, there were three police cars helping a guy in a pickup. Helper is a tight fit between tall, rocky cliffs. It was the other side of Helper where the highway dove into some impressive mountains. Highway 6 followed the Price River where it dug deep into the Wasatch Plateau. The road swept and twisted up the canyon, paralleled by railroad tracks. My ears popped, and the cellphone kept going in and out of service. Price Canyon might not be as big as Glenwood Canyon, but the towering cliffs were just as impressive.

Just after noon, I finally climbed out of the canyon about Mile Marker 221. The highway widens into a comfortable 4-lane road  when it passes the exit for Scofield State Park, then goes back to being a 2-lane road again. It was 50 miles to Provo when a police car got behind me and followed me for a mile before pulling off the road. Right as I got to Soldier Summit (elevation 7,477 feet), Satori clicked over 261,000 miles. She was a trooper. I pulled over at the Summit Station, a little convenience store right at the summit. A sign said the phone lines were down, so they were only taking cash purchases. I bought a Dr. Pepper. Out front, a biker sat in the shade next to his motorcycle, trying to check things on his smartphone. (I would've taken a picture, but he was kinda scary.) I was able to check my messages, too. A friend responded to the problems Satori had getting over the Rockies. He posted that the van’s computer would eventually compensate for the altitude. The Sun was bright, and the air was very cool.

From Soldier Summit, it was downhill all the way—literally—for the next 24 miles. There was an Amtrak train waiting on a siding for a freight train to pass. I waved at the passengers. A couple of emergency vehicles passed. As I neared the northern entrance to the canyon, the vanes of a wind-powered generator swooped between the canyon walls. It was right up 1 PM (Central Time) when I emerged from the mountains at Spanish Fork. It was still 54 miles to Salt Lake City.

There was lots of construction going through Provo. Traffic was also tied up because of an accident up ahead. I got passed by an emergency vehicle labeled INCIDENT RESPONSE. A sign advertised the “world’s largest dodgeball game” coming up September 16th. I saw some fancy miniature golf courses, each with miniature versions of famous landmarks. The name of the Salt Lake City minor league baseball team really was the Bees. It was just before 2 PM when I got to Salt Lake. Traffic was kind of scary. I was almost out of the city when I thought, it would be a shame to go through and not see anything. So, I pulled off the interstate and drove around. I couldn’t find any parking places, which was good, because it meant the downtown area was doing a lot of business. I drove past the old Union Station and saw some of the vintage architecture.

There are some fancy crosswalks in Salt Lake City. I got back on the highway and headed north on Interstate 15. Traffic thinned out a little heading towards Ogden. A truck pulling a boat named Poverty Express passed me. Near Mile Marker 330, a sign said that mile of road was adopted by the Starfleet chapter USS Ticonderoga.

It was a quarter after 3 when I pulled off the interstate at Exit 365, and headed west on Promontory Road. That took me through the sleepy little town of Corinne, where the speed limit was 40 MPH. The Bear River Country Store was doing a good business. That was where I got on Highway 83; a sign told me I was 29 miles from the Golden Spike. I drove past a big Walmart distribution center, and then found myself surrounded by farmland. The lonely 2-lane asphalt road took me by some salt marshes and small lakes. A signed warned that there were no services ahead. Except for a pokey pickup which I easily passed, I was alone on the road.

About 20 miles from Corinne, I turned off onto a desolate black top road, which led off into the distance. I made a stop at the Big Fill, one of the last projects before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. From the picture below, you can see how even the top of the hill is: the natural dip of the landscape was filled-in, to make a flat, even grade for the railroad tracks to lay on.

At this point, I want to explain something that will forever change your life. 

When engineers build railroads and highways, they sometimes build bridges and dig tunnels, but most of the changes they do to the landscape can be explained as cuts and fills. A cut is when the earth is cut away to allow an even grade. A fill is when earth is filled into a space to allow for an even grade. Every highway has cuts and fills. 

You will never look at another highway the same way again. You're welcome. 
From there, the road took me through some lonely hills. Off in the distance, in the middle of a low, flat valley, I could see the buildings. That was where the Union Pacific met the Central Pacific, and the United States was united by railroad. This was the Golden Spike Natioal Historic Site. There were about a half dozen cars and one very nice RV in the parking lot when I arrived at the visitor center.
Out back were the two locomotives, parked face to face like in the famous pictures. The Jupiter was owened by the Central Pacific Railroad, while Number 119 was osned by the Union Pacific. They met at Promontory Summit on My 10, 1869. Together, the two companies laid 1,776 miles of track. One of them was all fired-up (literally) and ready to move. You can't ride them, but you can watch the locomotives move twice a day. I have to admit, those were two of the prettiest locomotives I'd ever seen.
Inside, it was wonderfully cool, and exhibits told the story of the Transcontinental Railroad. I was glad they told the story of the workers, and not just glorified the railroad bosses that profited so much from the venture. There were memorials to the Chinese and to the Irish that helped build the railroad, which many consider the greatest engineering feat of the 19th century. 
It turned out that years after the Golden Spike was laid, both engines were sold for scrap and torn apart. They even pulled up the railroad tracks for the metal. It wasn’t until the 1970s that somebody figured out it was a historic event that needed to be commemorated. So, they put back the tracks (which they had to make in 19th century style, since tracks had changed since 1869) and rebuilt the locomotives from scratch, down to the smallest detail. I imagined they must have been fun to build.
I got some souvenirs and headed back the way I came. Leaving the historic site, the road was a lot steeper than it seemed going in. I got back on Highway 83 and turned northwest. Signs advertised ATK Space Systems, “Igniting the Future.” I soon passed their big factory. It turned out this was where the solid rocket boosters for the Space Shuttle were manufactured. It was ironic that I would pass their facility the month of the final launch of the Space Shuttle. The empty road took me through some open range areas, I saw the interstate a long time before I got to it, just past the little town of Howell.

It was just after 5 PM when I got on Interstate 84 headed north. It was 91 miles to Burley. Construction near the Blue Creek exit slowed traffic down for three miles. Off to the side, a distant tractor kicked up a cloud of dust. Acres of wild sunflowers made the hillsides golden. I didn’t stop in Snowflake, but I noticed that gasoline was 10 cents cheaper a gallon that it was in Colorado.

I was keeping an eye on the gas gauge, but I figured I had enough to get me to Burley, 72 miles away. At 5:41, I crossed the border into Idaho for the first time. A rest area at Mile Marker 270 also featured a geological site. Idaho reminded me of northern Nevada: vast expanses, but carpeted with grass and brush. In the western sky, clouds obscured the Sun. Right before 6 PM, I topped Sweetzer Summit, elevation 5,520 feet. Down the road was the exit for City of Rocks State Park (not to be confused with New Mexico’s City of Rocks). A gas station in the middle of nowhere looked like it was charging over $4 per gallon. Of course, where else were cars out of gas gonna go? Down the road, I passed a van and trailer I’d passed way back in Colorado (Washington tags).

Exit 228 led to Declo, where I had thought about crashing for the night. It was hot out; my back was all sweaty. By the time I got to the Pocatello interchange, I was needing to stop for gas soon. The gas gauge was reading ¼ tank.
I took the next exit and pulled into a gas station. By coincidence, it was Village of the Trees RV Resort, where I had also thought about spending the night. It was a pool, a laundry, showers, a hot tub and lots of shade, but it also looked really crowded. It was also $32 a night. If I was on my return trip from Burning Man, it would’ve been way more appealing to me. A church group was ahead of me in line, checking in. 
I got $20 worth of gas and headed north towards a state park. Almost right away, I found myself going over the Snake River, which was running high and wide. To get to the state park, I turned west for two miles to Rupert, and then back east, following an irrigation canal. I went through the little village of Acequia, where I saw a couple of people riding horseback along the canal. Crossing back over the canal and some railroad tracks, it was another six miles until I got to Lake Walcott State Park. Being so out of the way, I had the idea there wouldn’t be many people there. I was a surprise when I pulled up the to office and saw dozens of cars all over the place. The park ranger told me they were hosting a disc golf tournament that weekend: dozens of Frisbee golfers had taken over the park. All the tent spaces were taken (and walk-up, anyway), so for $10 he let me camp in the parking lot. I pulled Satori up under a big tree that offered a lot less shade than it appeared.
I got settled in and called home. Everybody was okay. There were some restrooms at the other end of the parking lot. I found the showers, which were in a different building about a five minute walk away. I took a shower, but inside the stalls there were no hooks or anything to hang stuff up. At least the showers were free. I found the nearest water spigot, for my canteens. It was blue and near the dumpster, next to the little rental cabins facing the lake. I figured the campers would have to just deal with me filling them up in the morning.

I pulled out the propane stove and cooked up a can of tomato and pasta soup. Flies and bugs were everywhere. I kept swatting at them as I ate. As the Sun went down, the mosquito attacks got worse. Everything cooled down when darkness fell. It got very quiet in the campsite—and very dark. There did not seem to be any lights anywhere. On my smartphone, I looked up the weather forecast for Gerlach that week: highs in the 90s, lows in the 60s. I drove 490 miles that Friday. (Google Maps had said it would be 456.)

Prologue Aug. 24  Aug. 25 Aug. 26 Aug. 27 Aug. 28 
 Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday
Sept.6 Sept. 7 Sept. 8  Sept. 9 & Epilogue
Original content (c)opyright 2011 by Tim Frayser
If your image appears on this site, and you'd rather it didn't, drop me a line and I'll remove it. Pictures appearing on this website are for personal use and are not for sale. 
Links: Price Canyon Recreation Area  Lake Walcott State Park 
Idaho Mountain Passes Transcontinental Railroad