Tue Aug 21st, 2007 at 09:47:41 PM EST
In Part 1 we went from Calistoga (just north of San Francisco) across the Central Valley, up the Sierra Nevada range via Hwy 50 and descended the dry side into Nevada and The Desert.
We are riding a big blue Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Classic. Blue is a 1987 model with the 88 cubic inch evolution motor, a 5 speed transmission and very comfortable seats for a motorcycle. Blue has pretty good luggage space, footboards instead of pegs and has always been well taken care of by its two owners, Jimmie Lee, long since gone, and my Dad who first rode a motorcycle at the age of 52 and two weeks later started his first trip across country from Indiana to Santa Rosa California. This is the iconic bike for the trip across the thin ribbons of road that connect the far-flung towns of the SouthWest.
I have struggled in vain for a way to convey the immensity of this area, it is one of the great Places on the Earth and we will go over a pretty small piece of it and cover nearly 1700 miles doing it. The empty lands defy easy depiction or description, and one experiment I made here is to take pictures of the same emptiness from vantage points miles apart but still of the same emptiness. Sometimes one composes pictures to emphasize a point or to leave out what is non-harmonious, but in looking at these pictures I ask you to remember that in nearly every picture you could stop, turn 360 degrees and see the same thing. We are not taking careful shots, we are grabbing nearly random hunks of 20 or 30 or more miles at a stretch and at the end of that stretch the same thing awaits and again after that and it would be the same if we took off at right angles and tried that, of course we would die, if we took off at right angles from the road and went any distance, the heat and the aridity would kill us within the day. So we won't do that.
Clinging to the edge of the Sierra's a building boom is taking place near Lake Tahoe. Here is an example of what will not be sustainable in the arid west. You know he drives a SUV:
We move away south down the backslope of the Sierra and Mono lake is salty and starkly beautiful.
Just past the delightful little vacation spot of June Lake on the backside of Yosemite we turn left and into a sparse stand of forest, this has burnt since the last time I was here a few years ago, I don't know how long it will take to rebound, the second picture is close in proximity and what I remember from before
This lasts about 20 miles then:
we head toward Tonopah ("I been from Tuscon to Tucumcari, Tehatchapi to Tonopah") 70 or 80 miles away and we see
And as the sun finally goes down behind us
We get to Tonopah and my favorite motel there
Like most of the few towns through here Tonopah is a mining town, and more importantly, a center for supplies, comradeship, and services that makes it important beyond its size. There are many more hotel and motel rooms in the town than one would expect, but a main business is to provide for travelers like us. This is a very friendly town and the people are pretty trusting up to a point. I was sitting beside the road one time many years ago with the engine of my sportster (I was young and strong then, if you know anything about sportsters) off just listening to the silence when a car pulled up, it was the first time I'd seen anyone and I'd been there for about 10 minutes, the guy rolled down his window and asked if I was okay. I was and he rolled off, I did too a minute or two later and when I got to town he was at the gas station I pulled into. I walked over to thank him again for stopping and he said "Oh, we always stop out here, a person could die if no one helped." Then he reached over in his seat and lifted up his 9mm and said "course we do take precautions."
I still appreciated him stopping and understood the reason to be armed though it makes me nervous. This is the outback, and in some vital ways you are on your own here, at least for some period of time. We got to talking and he was a retired engineer for Bechtel who had been all over the world and went to the desert to retire. He invited me over to the barwhere him and his buddies were going to meet. They were taking beer breaks and doing a major repair on some guys VW van that had broke down. They wouldn't take any money from him, but he had to buy beer.
Along the interstates the situation is quite different, here you as a traveler, are a revenue source-no more. I have had the worst fleecings in my life when I had vehicular troubles along I-80 through Wyoming. That is a different story, though.
The next morning was warm at 7:00 and Old Blue got pointed toward St George. We'll take a trip down the "Extraterrestial Hiway" in the next couple of days. It will be very wide open and I took lots of pictures of the route to St. George. I'll do a section on that then try to sum it all up and maybe post a few pictures of the one day 800 plus mile ride home.