Yesterday I finally went out and got the bikes washed. It was about time, considering we rode them 400 miles last weekend, and I've been sitting around for the last couple hours thinking that all the 'back-log' from our trip was caught up. Laundry done (that happened as soon as we were home, of course), bank account put back together after this most recent payday, souvenirs given to the children, and now all the dirt and grime from the road washed away and the bikes sparkling like new pennies out in the driveway.
I was wrong, of course, because on reflection I realized I had yet to post about it. This is the post that first sparked my interest in creating a blog about our motorcycling experiences. The story I tried to post originally when we discovered the archaic security error tripped by putting the words 'casin.o' and 'called' right next to each other. It was while sorting out that issue that I decided I wanted to go more 'meat and potatos' with this thing, and so held off on this post to create the first two above. For those that read the Wendover post while it was up, this will be a more substantial retelling of our 400 mile adventure than that original was.
This story begins, as so many of mine and my wife's stories do, with three words. We left late. We're forever running late, all the time. We both work swing shift, 5:00pm to 1:30am, and since the majority of the world is sitting down to their first cup of coffee around the time we're getting to bed, making and keeping plans can be a challenge. We have no such excuse for this particular event, though. We'd planned to get on the road around 3:30 and be in Wendover by 6:30. According to the weather report those would be the warmest hours of the day, and warm was supposed to be the catch-word for the day. What man proposes...
So, ultimately, we hit the 7-11 by our house and gassed up the bikes at about 4:15, nearly a full hour later than we'd intended. Once the tanks were full, we headed out to Interstate 15 and merged with light traffic headed northbound towards Idaho, settling in for the first 70 mile stretch to Snowville, UT. We didn't get to stay settled, though. The weather report for the day promised temperatures in the low sixties that time of day, but what we go was mid fifties, and we simply weren't warm enough in our vests. We left the interstate in Willard, less than ten miles from where we'd joined it, and unpacked our heavy riding coats. By then, though, I at least had taken a slight chill that lasted the rest of our ride. Lesson learned -- if there's any chance at all it wont be warm enough for a vest, bundle up.
From Willard we continued North, passing first Brigham City, then through the smaller communities of Corrine, Honeyville and Elwood. Just before Tremonton we reached the junction with I-84 and veered left, following the signs for Snowville and Boise.
This stretch of Utah is largely valley with low, undulating hills and wide, endless tracts of plowed fields dotted throughout with cellular towers, power transfer stations and turn-of-the-century farm houses. It's also quite windy, especially when the seasons are changing (like now), and I was glad we'd stopped to put on our coats when we had instead of now, when it would have been almost as difficult as it was necessary. There are no exits down this stretch, no communities to need one, and so stopping here would have meant pulling onto a gravelly shoulder alongside 75mph traffic.
I-80 And the Approach to Snowville
The road climbed a bit as we neared Snowville, not alot but enough, and clouds with angry, bruised bellies began piling up overhead. The sky would threaten rain for most of our trip from here on out, but it never did actually come down and for that I am thankful. When we reach the long, sweeping ramp for Snowville, I catch site of a rider on a VTX traveling East on the overpass, and it occurs to me as I watch him pull into the same Flying J we're headed for that he's come from the same direction we'll be going after getting gas. He takes the pump directly ahead of the one my wife and I belly up to, and as she runs inside I nod companionably to him while uncapping the tank on my wife's bike.
"Hey, sorry to bother you, but you came in from Route 30 right? From Park Valley?"
"What's the weather like that direction?" The ranks of clouds overhead are marching in a straight line directly along the corridor we intend to take, and if there's going to be rain, I want to know about it now while we're at a Flying J. My wife carries an emergency rain slicker in her saddlebags, but we haven't got around to tossing one in my kit yet.
"Cold! It's not raining or anything though."
"Excellent, we're headed that way." This guy's got Idaho plates on his Shadow, so I assume he'll be headed North from here.
"You'll be fine, it's just a bit chilly."
"Thanks, ride safe."
My wife comes back out just as I'm topping off my own tank, and together we pull our bikes off to the side of the lot by the big, snorting diesels. We have a smoke, and then I head inside as well to use the facilities and stick my Google directions against a woman working the register. A local overhears our conversation, and offers a helpful bit of advice - UT-30 is open-range cattle country all the way to the Nevada border. After assuring this polite stranger that we'll keep both eyes peeled for trouble 'on the hoof', I head back outside and my wife and I climb back astride our bikes.
North on I-84 for another mile to the second Snowville exit (that this town with a population of less than 200 people has two exits baffles me), then we hook a left and begin the longest stretch of this ride. It's 103 miles to Montello, Nevada, and we plan to gas up again there since our destination is, at 160 miles, beyond my personal margin of comfort with regards to tank capacity.
UT-30 cuts east/west across a portion of Utah known as Park Valley. It shows as a city in and of itself on Google Maps, but really Park Valley is a loose conglomerate of dozens of interrelated communities -- Rosette, Dove stick, Muddy, Rosebud. There are even signs for a place called Kelton, which I recognize. My wife and I rode to the 'town' of Kelton on our dirtbikes once, and there's nothing there but a cemetary smaller than our living room surrounded by a weathered, railroad tie fence. Kelton in parcticular and all these little communities in general are the leftovers of the railroad, boom towns that were once full of hotels, gambling halls and saloons through the latter part of the 1800s when the transcontinental railroad ran right through the heart of Park Valley. In 1903-1904, a new route called the Lucin Cutoff was established much further South, and these communities all started drying up as their rail lines were relegated to back-up status. Then, in 1942, Southern Pacific showed up and dismantled the track in it's entirety. All that's left now is a few farms and other agriculture settlements.
But the road!! UT-30 is, without a doubt, the nicest road I've ever been on in Utah. Clean, glass-smooth black asphalt from horizon to horizon. The speed limit is 60 all the way to the Nevada border, and though this road invites you to to do at least half again that, we stick to the limit and enjoy the scenery. Much of this road skirts the northern edge of the salt flats, and so to our left are vast plains of salted sand with gnarled, stunted trees spreading their twisted, bare boughs to a sky still full of somber clouds.
UT-30 Through Park Valley
Rugged and rocky hills begin rising up from the landscape to our right as we near the Nevada border, our road descending rapidly through dynamited ridges while jagged arroyos race off to the horizons in both directions. It's breathtakingly beautiful out this way, not the same way a mountain vista or pine forest is beautiful, but a stark, minimialist kind of beauty that is the absence of perfection and therefor a perfection of absence. It is over a landscape like this that we all walk in the worst of our dreams, long shadows knifing out across the barren rocky sand and proclaiming 'lose your way here, traveller, and you'll find insanity long before you find water'. I checked the coolant level in our bikes before we left -- I remind myself of this only once, being a desert rat at heart and therefor not as intimidated as I might otherwise be. I suppose someone from the low, wet climates back East may have chanted this as a mantra through these lands, but I'm feeling right at home as we cross the border into Nevada and begin slowing for Montello.
Montello Nevada, is, small. Wikipedia lists the population of this settlement as 217 souls, which is more than Snowville, but Snowville sits along a major interstate and receives life-giving travellers dollars for that proximity. Montello has no such arterial road, and it shows, but scratch the surface of this towns history and it gets even more depressing.
You'll recall Kelton, the town in Utah that was once a bustling rail center before the Lucin Cutoff was built? ello the town that sprung up to replace Kelton, lying as it does right along on the Lucin Cutoff route, and in fact many of the first people who settled Montello in 1904 were transplants from Kelton. Those people uprooted their entire lives, and in some cases actually transported their houses
more than 100 miles, to follow the railroad and it's industry. Between 1910 and 1920 Montello was at it's peak, and roughly 800 people lived within it's borders. But in 1925 a fire swept through their business district, and the town never fully recovered from that blow. It was the railroad, though, that again sounded the final death knell. It was between 1940 and 1950 that steam locomotives were phased out, replaced with diesels, and the servicing facilities at Montello were rendered obsolete. The railroad pulled all it's equipment out of Montello in the 1950s, and what's left today is a single gas station, a motel, a bar and a restaurant.
Montello is 60 miles North of Wendover, a major city, and 100 miles South and West of Snowville, not a major town but an Interstate town with a proper travel plaza. With 160 miles from gas station to gas station, and most cars carrying enoug fuel these days for 300 or 400 miles on a full tank, it stood to reason that Montello wouldn't have a 24 hour gas station and I didn't expect them to. I did, however, expect the gas station/grocery to still be open at 6:40 on Saturday evening. So imagine our panic when we arrived with 100 miles on the odo and discovered the gas station had closed their doors at 5:00. Fortunately, the Cowboy Bar and Grill, 100 yards back the way we came, does Saturday Night Cowby Karaoke at 7:00pm and the whole town was gathered therein. I'd hoped we'd find the owner of the gas and grocery in there, and although I'm sure they were in there they didn't speak up when I asked the bartender about 'other' gas stations. There were none, of course, but one gentleman put down his pool cue long enough to sell us a couple gallons of gas from a gas can in the bed of his truck. I paid him $10, and we got the hell outta there before someone invited us to stay for karaoke.
The sun went down as we headed South and found I-80, which carried us into Wendover and to our hotel, The Red Garter.
Wendover is a casin.o town, and Utah keeps it alive. All-night gambling, strip clubs, neon and booze, abnormally large buffets and cheap hotel rooms if you know where to look. When people in Utah want to get their sin on, they go to Wendover to do it and they literally do it by the busload every weekend of the year. But despite it's obvious appeal and popularity, Wendover is famous for another reason and the military history buffs among you already know it.
In 1945, Captain Robert A. Lewis took delivery of a newly built B-29 Superfortress Bomber from Lockheed Martin (Then the Glenn L. Martin Company) from their manufacturing plant in Omaha, Nebraska. He flew the enormous aircraft directly to the Wendover Army Air Field, where it was hangared for just thirteen days. Given what this aircraft would do, though, it's thirteen day residence was enough to make Wendover famous (or infamous) for having housed the B-29. The actual Captain of this aircraft, Colonel Paul Tibbets, would on August 5th, 1945, offically name the aircraft after his mother, Enola Gay, and shortly thereafter this B-29 delivered the first ever combat-strike of an atomic weapon -- The Little Boy -- in the skies over Hiroshima, Japan. Whatever else this plane, that mission, and that weapon may or may not have been, it certainly played a large roll in world history and Wendover, as most towns, will take any excuse to draw tourism dollars. As the rode the short distance to The Rainbow casin.o the following morning for their breakfast buffet, posters displaying the cocpit of the Enola Gay hung from every lampost and street light.
We rode out of town with our bellies full of bacon, eggs benedict and shrimp -- yes, shrimp for breakfast at the Buffet at the Rainbow -- headed East on Interstate 80 back into Utah. Only a few short miles into the Beehive State, the craggy plateaus and squatting hills of the Nevada East desert fall away and what opens before you is what was left behind when the prehistoric Lake Bonneville was released through the Red Rock Pass in Idaho some 14,500 years ago. The Bonneville Salt Flats. Covering nearly a third of the entire state of Utah, it's difficult to explain just how barren the flats are to someone who hasn't seen them. Nothing grows there -- the earth is salted. Nothing lives there -- there's no fresh water to be found. Even rain becomes salt water the moment it lands on the white plains. The ill-fated Donner Party crossed these flats with great difficulty, though not as much difficulty as they would experience later in the Sierra Nevada range.
Interstate 80 is absolutely flat and straight as an arrow for 70 miles as it crosses the flats, across a featureless landscape that looks for all the world like every thirst-crazed heat stroke induced hallucination you've ever seen in any film. The only splash of color comes about 25 miles East of Wendover, where Metaphor stands.
Metaphor is an art piece, created in the 1980s by a Swedish artist named Karl Momen. The scuplture is a tree, 87 feet tall and hung with six huge spheres coated in minerals native to Utah. At the time we passed the sculpture, which I've only seen half a dozen times in my life, I knew it only as The Utah Tree, and learned the rest of it's story while researching this blog entry. I was fortunate enough to select the exact spot where it stands while pulling a streetview of I-80, and here it is. Note the absolute barrenness of the flats in all directions.
The Salt Flats and Metaphor
After crossing the flats, riding into a headwind strong enough that we were leaned 5 or 10 degrees to the left for much of those 70 desolte miles, we rejoined I-15 and followed it home to the Wasatch Front and North Ogden.
We pulled into our driveway less than 24 hours after we left, 400 miles and 18 gallons of gasoline wiser. Life and death shadowed our ride -- towns that the railroad gave birth to, towns that the railroad killed. casin.os that have likely created a few small fortunes, but most certainly have destroyed lives along the way. A hangar that once housed an aircraft of monumental importance, an aircraft that ended a war and 100,000 lives, and started a new era of paranoia and military theory. And a vast white plain of salt, where nothing begins or ends on any timeline that we can relate to. It was a fantastic ride, and we're glad to have taken it.
Our next ride, tentatively, will be Flaming Gorge! We're absolutely thrilled to be planning this next adventure, and we're planning to take a lot of pictures this time out. Stay tuned!
- Jack of the Green