Sunlight woke me up just before 7 AM, Tuesday, September 3rd.
I got about four hours of sleep. After hitting the bathroom, I put together
a bag of dirty laundry to wash. A woman with a huge trash bag of laundry
was ahead of me, and she might’ve taken all the available washers if I
hadn’t been a gentleman and opened the door for her. She said she only
needed to do three loads of laundry, but she did four. I figured I only
had time for one load.
|Breakfast was an apple, courtesy of the commissary. When I dropped
my notebook on the laundry room table, a little cloud of playa came out.
I had been worried all week that the roads south would be closed due
to wildfires, but a Google search revealed no restrictions on the highways.
I folded away the clean clothes, packed up the stuff still dirty, and took
another hot shower, because they never got old.
I pulled out of the Desert Rose at 9:18 and headed back towards Fernley.
There were several other burners camped in the RV park and they waved as
I left. It was turning into a bright, sunny day. I stopped at a store for
some cans of soup and a quart of oil to put in Satori. They didn’t have
any Dr. Pepper. There were a lot of dirty cars with dusty bikes in the
parking lot, playa dust everywhere.
After putting in $30 worth of gas I headed south on Highway 95. It
was 13 miles to Silver Springs. A sign said it was already 86 degrees out.
I found a classical station on the radio. I passed the high school and
Dump Road (that was really the name). At 10:30 I passed Ft. Churchill.
Buckland Station campground was nearby. The hills had a golden hue to them,
with blue mountains to the west. Horses and goats grazed under short trees
at farms along the road.
||I passed the skeletal remains of an old movie drive-in. When I passed
Yearington, southbound on Highway 339, I was on unfamiliar ground, a road
I’d never been on before. A huge mountain range rose to the south. The
road turned west.
|The Sun was bright as I drove into high-walled canyons. On the radio,
the news reported Burning Man generated an extra 30,000 travelers through
the Reno airport that week. The skies were clear. A shallow river gushed
alongside the road as it wound through a tight valley. Stone cliffs rose
hundreds of feet over the highway.
I pulled over at the Wilson Canyon rest area. There were shade trees
and picnic tables, but every trash can had a swarm of flies around it.
I ate part of a sandwich I picked up back in Fernley. A woman sat in a
car at the other end of the rest area, as if she were waiting on someone.
Westward, the rugged country turned green as headed into Smith Valley.
Bales of hay sat in neat rows out the fields, patiently waiting to be picked
up. It was a beautiful, fertile valley. I passed a little store that advertised
“Hardware & Toys.” I missed getting a picture of the place next door;
the lettering on the window read BAKERY ARCADE. The only businesses open
all seemed to sell farm equipment. The community was proud of its 1898
schoolhouse, still preserved. The little village of Wellington seemed to
be nestled in the palm of the mountains. The road climbed a steep grade
to the Jack Wright Pass, 5,485 feet. Dry hills greeted me at the Douglas
||Highway 208 ended when I got to the wide lanes of Highway 395 at a
quarter to noon. It was a nice 2-lane road with wide shoulders. Topaz Lake
up ahead greeted me as I came over the next hill. That was where all southbound
traffic had to slow down for vehicle inspection. The officer waved me through,
saying, “Thanks, have a good day.”
With that, I was in California. The waters of the lake were calm, and
the local fire danger was “High,” according to a roadside sign. I was in
the Antelope Valley, the highway following the East Walker River southwards.
It looked like it was an area with a lot of vacation places. Coleville
had an impressive United Methodist Church, the road lined with pine trees.
I heard an odd thump from the roof, so I stopped down the road in the town
of Walker, “Home of the Walker Burger.” The rest area sign took me a block
away from the highway, but there were trees, green grass, bathrooms and
a playground for kids. I made sure the stuff on the roof was secure.
A cool breeze blew down the valley. A sign on a local hotel said PRAY
FOR RAIN. The highway turned south, taking me into the San Gabriel Mountains.
Tall trees lined the road on both sides. Scenic views offered amazing vistas.
There were lots of little campgrounds along the way. As I climbed to a
6,000 ft. pass, I smelled smoke. I could see it in the air. The wildfires
in Yosemite had not yet gotten under control. A pickup loaded down with
PVC pipe and a dusty bicycle passed me. I noticed clouds building up ahead
when I passed the Marine Corp training center turnoff.
Ahead, I crossed Devil’s Gate Summit (7,519 feet) just past 12:30. The
road widened to a 4-lane road for a mile and a half. The first people to
come this way must have thought the mountains went on forever. I descended
into a wide valley. There was lots of grazing land all around. A sign announced
Highway 120 to Yosemite was closed due to wildfires. I heard another thump,
which meant the stuff tied down on the roof was flopping around. Past the
turnoff for Bodie State Park, the steep grades made me slow down to 40
MPH, and then 35. I could see amazing mountain scenery, but the overcast
skies made it impossible to get good pictures.
It was just past 1 PM when I crossed the Conway Summit, 8,138 feet.
When I planned out my trip, I did not realize there would be so many mountain
passes to cross. Satori didn’t like high places any more than I did. It
was coming down from the Conway Summit that I pulled over at the vista
point for Mono Lake. All I knew about Mono Lake was that it was the location
for the Clint Eastwood movie “High Plains Drifter.” In the movie, the landscape
was pretty bleak, but I found the land around Mono Lake to be diverse,
lush and vibrant. The air smelled like sage. Several cars were stopped
at the overlook, taking pictures. The guardrail was covered with hundreds
of bumper stickers.
The road sweeps down to the shores of the lake dropping a thousand feet
in a couple of miles. A sign said it was 340 miles to Los Angeles. Once
past the lake, it climbs sharply out of the basin to Lee Vining, a tourist
town full of shops, motels and restaurants. A Highway Patrol car had a
burner vehicle stopped beside the road. The highway leveled out to a long,
wide 4-lane road. By 1:34, I was back up above 7,000 feet. I kept climbing
into rocky hills, surrounded by tall pines. Past June Lake Junction, Satori
struggled up more steep grades as a monster RV passed by. Snow fences lined
the highway near Deadman Summit. The road dove deeper into the mountains.
It was right before 2 PM when it began to sprinkle, and within minutes
turned into full-fledged rain. The air smelled fresh. Sherwin Summit had
an impressive view of the valley below --or would have, it not for the
rain clouds. The highway took a steep descent, dropping a thousand feet
in four miles. My ears popped. Very strong crosswinds rocked the van. There
were dark clouds to the west, but patches of blue to the east.
It was right at 2:30 when I got to Bishop, California, passing the Paiute
Palace Casino on the edge of town. There were lots of motels and fast food
places. The downtown area was full of businesses, including a Ben Franklin,
a bookstore and a J.C. Penny. Sporting goods stores sold flyfishing equipment.
I stopped at the Giggle Springs convenience store and got $20 worth of
gas. I also re-secured the stuff on the roof, which had blown all over
the place. Heading out of town, I was on the Richard Perkins Memorial Highway,
named after a police officer killed in the line of duty in 2001. An RV
park called Brown’s Town looked like fun.
Once I got past Bishop, I was in the Owens Valley, a wide space on the
map of California between the forests of Yosemite and the deserts of Death
Valley. The Owens Valley started out as a graben: land that settles
down between two geologic faults. Time and nature have since rounded out
It was right after 4 PM when I got to Lone Pine, California: “Little Town,
Lots of Charm.” It was 90 degrees out when I passed the True Value Hardware
store. I passed a pickup pulling a trailer loaded with fuzzy bicycles;
they soon passed me. It was really windy. I was spending too much
time looking at scenery. It was late afternoon, and I needed to step it
up if I wanted to get anywhere. I got some scattered splatters of rain,
but I seemed to have left the rain clouds behind me. The Sun was very bright
in the west. The gas tank was below ¼ full when a town came into
view. I stopped in Indian Wells and got $20 worth of gas. Again, I was
over budget for the day. It was 5:23 when I passed the turn-off for Los
Highway 395 veered off and turned into a 2-lane asphalt road. A sign for
a pizza place in San Diego said it was “Just 200 miles ahead.” Right behind
it was an identical sign, except it said the restaurant was “Just 199.9
miles ahead.” The road pointed straight out into a desert. A sign warned
of gusty winds. I wasn’t sure I was still on 395 until I spotted a sign
beside the road, shaking in the stiff wind. Yucca plants dotted a desolate
free range. If it wasn’t for the other cars on the road, I’d have thought
I made a wrong turn. A dry lake appeared to the southwest.
Past Gerkin Road, it was 13 miles to Big Pine down a comfortable 4-lane
highway. Lightning flashed, and rain splattered the windshield. A motel
in Big Pine advertised it was “clean & quiet.” I recognized more burner
vehicles passing me as the rain returned. Even with the rain, it was a
smooth drive. A sign in front of a cow pasture read “Wildlife Viewing Area.”
I could see cloud-to-ground lightning ahead. The skies got quiet, and then
a curtain of rain drew across the wide valley. A lot of RVs were stopped
at a rest area. The wind picked up. The wind was what kept blowing
things around on the roof. All the way out to Nevada, I didn’t have any
problems with the luggage rack, but I finally had to pull over and take
the water jugs off the roof. The rest of the way home, they were in the
back of the van while I was on the road. It looked like blue skies up ahead.
In Independence, there was a venerable old hotel across the street
from the stately Inyo County courthouse. It had been turned into a hostel,
but when I went through town it didn’t look very open. A big burner RV
ahead of me pulled over, and I saw the driver get out with a camera. That
made me look off to the right, and I saw an amazing mountain range, lit
up by the late afternoon Sun poking through the clouds. If it wasn’t for
him, I might’ve missed the sight.
|It was right before 6 when I went through Johannesburg. It had lots
of closed, boarded-up businesses, and one Texaco. The landscape was a whole
lot of nothing: no trees, no buildings, no fences. It reminded me of the
last scene of the movie “Seven,” complete with a line of high power lines.
Lightning flashed ahead. It was 6:21 when I got to Kramer Junction, an
oasis of truck stops. I passed the famous Astro Burger restaurant. That
was where I had to make a tough choice.
For months, I had my route home planned out. I always try to work out
new places to go, new roads to travel down. I mapped out my path, calculated
distances and listed places to stop. I even bragged about where
I was going to go… but all that was based on getting out of Fernley at
6 AM. Leaving four hours late changed everything. My schedule was off.
The opportunity had passed.
Now, the places I’d planned to visit were far away, and daylight was
fading fast. I had to face reality: some things just weren't in the cards
anymore. So, I scrapped my plans and turned east on Highway 58. It was
33 miles to Barstow. I was at least going in the right direction home.
||The highway was wet and steamy from the bright sunshine behind me.
Persistent rain clouds loitered ahead, and a beautiful rainbow slowly appeared
to the north. Within a few miles, it turned into a complete bow, arching
high over the rain-splattered road. As I traveled away from the sunset,
the rainbow slowly disappeared. (Talk about your "temporary art.")
Highway 58 turned into a wide freeway as I came into Barstow. The shadows
were getting long when I pulled onto Interstate 15. Three miles later,
I got on Interstate 40 eastbound. It was 7:09 when the Sun disappeared
beyond the horizon in my rear view mirror. That was where Satori clicked
over 297,000 miles.
Eleven miles later, I pulled off the interstate at exit 18. I was on
the original Route 66, headed for Newberry Springs, California. I knew
from previous research that there was an RV park down the road, but there
was something I wanted to see first. I had already mapped it out when I
thought about coming that way in 2012.
|At exactly 7:30, I pulled into the gravel parking lot of the famous
Bagdad Café. There was a group of motorcyclists out front, and I
had one of them take my picture. He had his helmet on, so I never saw his
The sign said they were open 7 to 7, so the place was closing up for
the night, but I wanted to get a look inside. They had a flyer for the
RV park down the road. The listed prices were… substantial. I said
something to the manager about it, and he hooked a thumb over his shoulder:
“Park in the back!” So, I pulled the van over to the back end of the lot
and parked for the night. I was spending the night at the Bagdad Cafe!
The interstate was a couple hundred yards away, and there were railroad
tracks just beyond, but I was so tired I didn’t care. I called home to
let everyone know I was still alive. Supper was a tuna cup. There was a
guard light on a pole, lighting up the parking lot, but I could still see
a multitude of stars. The Big Dipper was very obvious overhead. I drove
476 miles that day, over mountains and deserts. I sat in the dark, looking
at the stars and watching the lights of passing trucks on the interstate.
There was no traffic on 66. There were no bugs in the air.
Last updated: September, 2013
I only had myself to blame for my altered plans. The first day after
leaving Burning Man should be a day of reflection and humble goals, not
stress and ambitious destinations. That'll teach me to brag. The lights
of jets blinked at me as they traversed the sky, the drone of their engines
a monotone roar, like what thunder must sound like to a fish. Out of the
darkness, something HISSed at me, so I figured it was time for bed.