Saturday, November 11, 2017

US93: First & Last Chance At The Border

Happy and I had a leisurely morning in Whitefish, visiting with fellow human and canine travelers. After coffee and breakfast, we set out on US93 for the final stint to the border. The sky was heavily overcast so the photos are a bit lame, but the road was clear and we had a nice 60 mile drive.

After passing through a few small logging towns, we reached the border and took our requisite photos. It's a significant border crossing, open 24 hours, and there is a pretty steady stream of traffic.

Despite the large number of signs at the border crossing, one sign was not to be seen anywhere. You guessed it, once again there is no "End" sign!

I suppose I can cut them some slack because US93 continues across the border as Canada93, so it's almost like it hasn't ended. I think that's pretty lame, of course, but it is what it is.

One sign that is very prominent announces the presence of an epic establishment.

I had the place to myself while I had a burger and watched football on TV. The proprietor and I struck up a brief conversation, but I mostly sat and ate on my own.

After that, I took the "end of route" photo of my truck and we drove back to Whitefish.

US93 is a good highway and I'm glad to have driven its length. Although it doesn't pass through as many attractions as other highways -- such as its cousin to the east US191 -- driving from the desert of Arizona, through the Great Basin, onto the Idaho plateau and into the snow-capped peaks of Montana in just a few days has offered a remarkable sense of change in latitude and season.

This road trip has now run 2+ months and I'm ready to wrap it up. From here we will drive our old friend US2 to Spokane then on to the Pacific NW in Washington. Besides settling in for the winter, I have no plans after that... Stay tuned!

Friday, November 10, 2017

US93: NW Montana "Reveals"

A short drive on US93 today -- only 130 miles from Missoula to Whitefish, MT -- seemed like a series of scenic "reveals." First, about a half-hour northwest of Missoula, we were treated to the sight of lightly snow-dusted foothills. The sky was clear and the road was wet but otherwise excellent.

A half-hour further north, we got our first glimpse of majestic, snow-capped mountains ahead of us.

A half-hour after that, we topped a rise and saw beautiful Flathead Lake spread out before us.

Falthead Lake was worth a pit-stop to try and capture the view. The sky was pretty overcast and the lighting was flat, but you can probably tell it's a beautiful place.

Happy made the most of her time by reminding herself what snow is, romping around like a crazy dog and making a pit-stop of her own. Montana is already on the map of states she's peed in, but it never hurts to give it another go!

A half-hour later we approached Whitefish, MT, where we are in position to make a 60-mile run to the border tomorrow and cap off our US93 expedition... Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 09, 2017

US93: River - Pass - River

The sky was overcast in Salmon, ID, this morning, but the forecast was decent and the road was good, so we continued north on US93 along the Salmon River. The sun broke through in spots and gave at least a little highlight to the mountains and valley. A good day for driving, but not for photos.

Twenty miles north of Salmon, we left the main river and followed the much smaller North Fork up a valley. The route has several names in this area, due to its history as part of the Nez Perce trail and the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The deeper we went into the mountains, the more understandable it became why this has long been a major route through rough terrain. There aren't many alternatives.

After a long, steady climb we crested the 7,000 foot Lost Trail Pass, just skirting the Continental Divide that lies to the east. That put us into Montana and onto a steep, twisty descent. The road was mostly dry, but I took it easy anyway. It felt good to be back in the woods with a little snow cover.

We soon joined the Bitterroot River and followed it down the valley. This is an area that was heavily burned in the recent wildfires, and you can see very obvious evidence of it for many miles.

Considering the wet weather conditions, I was surprised to see active fires burning in the area. I stopped at the local Forest Service headquarters to inquire, and was told that they're taking advantage of the wet season to burn piles of detritus and reduce fire risks in the future.

Between the overcast, the woodsmoke and wet road spray on my windshield, photo opportunities had pretty much run out. So, we just cruised another 60 miles into Missoula. Right now, I am at the intersection of US12 and US93, exactly where I was exactly two months ago. The weather forecast remains good, so we plan to continue north in the morning... Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

US93: Twin Falls To Salmon ID

It was cold and overcast in Twin Falls this morning, but the weather forecast had mellowed quite a bit overnight. I made the final decision to continue north and am very glad I did.

For 60 miles north of Twin Falls, US93 is its typical two-lane affair across vast scrub land, with mountains visible on the horizon despite the overcast sky. As the sky cleared, so did the view.

We stopped in the tiny town of Carey for coffee, and met up with my old friend US20. We then drove northeast on familiar ground along the edge of Craters of the Moon to the famous little "Atomic City" town of Arco.

At Arco we turned northwest and headed up a long, modest but steady grade. We stopped in the town of Mackay for lunch, then again in the very small village of Chilly for more coffee. Happy and I both enjoy our road trip stops!

The high point of the day -- figuratively and literally -- was crossing 7,165 foot Willow Creek Summit, and beginning the long descent down the other side.

In Challis, ID, the road meets up with the Salmon River and follows it north down the valley. For 60 miles to Salmon, ID, the road and river play tag with each other, threading their way through the mountains. The river continually gains strength along the route, heading toward its eventual confluence with the Snake River and ultimately with the Columbia River.

Just before reaching Salmon, ID, we crossed the 45th parallel which -- you must know by now -- is the point where I start getting happy about latitudes! We will spend the night here and continue north to Missoula, MT, tomorrow... Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

US93: Twin Falls ID

Happy and I are taking a rest/recon day in Twin Falls, ID. Since I can't just sit and look at road and weather reports all day -- and Happy can't shouldn't just sleep in her comfy bed all day -- we went out to do a little exploration. The salient feature of Twin Falls is its location on the Snake River.

Popular consensus is that Shoshone Falls are "disappointing" in late-fall/early-winter due to low water flow. I can't say I was disappointed. To the contrary, I was mesmerized by this natural beauty.

Twin Falls' man-made jewel is the Perrine Bridge, approximately 1,500 feet in total length with a main span of 993 feet and a deck height of 486 feet above the Snake River. It is the eighth highest bridge in the United States and a very popular -- and legal -- place for base jumping enthusiasts.

There are other attractions in Twin Falls, including the well-respected Idaho Heritage Museum, but after enjoying outdoor wonders I just wasn't in the mood to look at indoor artifacts. As soon as I click "post" on this, I think it's time for a little nap... Stay tuned!

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!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

US93: Great Basin Highway

For the first few miles north of Las Vegas, US93 is co-signed with I-15. As soon as you turn due north when US93 breaks off on its own, you'll ask yourself two questions: 1) What is that big black thing? (It's a solar power station) and 2) What am I getting myself into?

This part of US93 is called the Great Basin Highway and it is also designated as a Scenic Highway.

After quickly passing through a first set of small hills, you are most definitely into the great basin. For over 200 miles, you clear successive passes and cross basins in between.

There are a few very small towns along the way, situated at either crossroads -- such as with the "Extraterrestrial Highway" -- or near relatively green areas surrounding small desert lakes/oases.

Mostly, though, the road is a series of long straight ribbons, occasionally punctuated by slight changes in direction. I took a hundred photos, none of which do it justice. This is probably the best:

Near Great Basin National Park, US93 meets up with dual-signed US50 and US6 and turns west. After a short, steep climb over 7,700ft Connors Pass, the road enters Ely, NV, where we have stopped for the night. It's been a spectacular day of desert driving and we have more on tap for tomorrow and beyond... Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 04, 2017

US93: Wickenburg AZ - Las Vegas NV

US93 north of Wickenburg is a typical Arizona affair: Scrub brush desert as far as the eye can see, or at least until the distant mountains get in the way. It was overcast in the early morning, making the lighting pretty flat. As the morning wore on, the sun came out and things brightened up considerably.

There are signs indicating that US93 will one day be I-11. This makes sense because it is the main thoroughfare between the two burgeoning metroplexes of Phoenix and Las Vegas. There are places where it is obvious the road has nearly been brought up to interstate standards, with divided highways and high speed exits.

There are other places where it is just as obvious that a lot of work will need to be done before it will be an interstate. As usual, I am happy to be driving it while it is still mostly a two-lane road.

There's a short stint where US93 is joined with I-40 going into the crossroads town of Kingman. I've been there so many times -- on Route 66 and several I-40 crossings -- that it was only worth a quick pit stop. US93 continues NW out of Kingman and soon enters the Lake Mead area. The canyon which has been cut over the eons by the Colorado River is stark in comparison to the desert, and even harder to photograph.

There a nasty section of road approaching and past the Hoover Dam where the winds really whip around and high-profile vehicles have to be very careful. I've driven that section with my old trailer and didn't enjoy it. The road also becomes more of a local road through Boulder City, but it offers a worthwhile stop to look at Lake Mead. That reservoir of fresh water is the only way so many people can live in an area where they have absolutely no business being.

The rest of my day was a high speed drive into, through and north of Las Vegas. US93 is joined with I-515 and I-15 through the metro area, but will soon strike out on its own going north along the eastern edge of Nevada... Stay tuned!

Friday, November 03, 2017

Another Start Without A Beginning

In Wickenburg, AZ, there's a gigantic roundabout where US60 crosses East-West and US93 starts as a spur to the north. There is a huge cowboy statue and an enormous pictorial display sign. On the right you can see an arrow sign showing the route to take from the roundabout:

A tenth of a miles down the road is the first official US93 highway marker. What is notably missing, however, is the "Begin" notation on any of these signs!

I know, I know, this is a pet peeve of mine: Classic and historic old US Highways should all have clearly marked "Begin" and "End" signs. Perhaps there will be proper signage at the Canadian border about 1,500 miles to the north... Stay tuned!