Monday, November 06, 2017

US93: Latitude + Altitude = Dramatude

It was 24 degrees when Happy and I went out for our morning walk in Ely, NV. That wasn't really a surprise, considering how fast we have gained latitude and altitude. Little did I know that the weather would be a day-long theme and have stronger than expected implications going forward...

Continuing north on US93 through the Great Basin was more of the same as yesterday: Sweeping vistas of wide open expanses, surrounded by soft mountains in the shadow of varied clouds.

Our first mini-drama of the day happened when a police car with flashing lights came speeding down the middle of the road, directing us to pull aside for a "very wide load." He wasn't kidding, and it reminded me of driving the Haul Road in Alaska when they bring a "twenty wide" down a twenty-foot wide road. As best I could tell from the drive by, that's the bucket for a very big front loader!

I've been writing about the "Great Basin" like it's a familiar topic, but it needs some explanation. According to Wikipedia:

"The Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic watersheds in North America. It spans sections of Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, California and the Mexican state of Baja California.

It is noted for both its arid climate and the basin and range topography that varies from the North American low point at Badwater Basin to the highest point of the contiguous United States, less than 100 miles (160 km) away at the summit of Mount Whitney. The region spans several physiographic divisions, biomes/ecoregions, and deserts."

Calling it "the largest area of contiguous endorheic watersheds in North America" really doesn't convey just how big it is. It has taken me two days of high-speed driving to cover the 488 miles from Las Vegas to the Idaho border. Everywhere you look along the way -- except for the occasional "bump" in the landscape -- it is an endless expanse of desert.

Musing and doing mental math while driving -- which I'm sure you know I do a lot -- I realized that at 75mph I was covering in 15-20 minutes what a person could cover in a day while walking, and in 30 minutes what a good horse could cover in a day. I tried to imagine early explorers and settlers taking three weeks or more of all day travel to cross the basin... Ugh!

Approaching the northern limit of the Great Basin, just about at the Idaho border, I was amused to see mountain tops with a light dusting of snow on them in the distance.

I was so amused, in fact, that I took this shot out my side window, not computing what the dense clouds to the west and a strong wind from the west would combine to mean in just a few minutes.

Mother Nature soon made her intentions clear as the clouds rolled in and a blowing snow started.

A very few minutes down the road, it was also clear that this was not just a brief snow shower.

So, in a nutshell, latitude and altitude have combined to offer some weather dramatude. We are now in Twin Falls, ID, taking a serious look at the weather going forward. North of here, US93 goes up into the mountains of Montana to the Canadian border. The Montana road report makes repeated reference to slush, snow and ice on the road. The weather forecast for the rest of the week includes high probability of heavy snow... Ugh.

We've been driving for five days straight, so Happy and I are ready for a day off tomorrow. We're going to spend it here in Twin Falls, to catch up with ourselves, more closely examine the weather forecast and make a decision about where to go from here. I'm always reluctant to prematurely terminate an expedition, but I'm also not in the mood for a miserable drive in crappy conditions... Stay tuned!

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