Saturday, September 09, 2006

Great Basin National Park to Scipio, Utah

Inside Lehman Caves, the famous "Parachute" formation

10:00 p.m.

Maple Grove Campground near Salina, Utah

$10 for this site. Outrageous! I’ve become accustomed to free!

This is one of those campgrounds filled with mobile houses towed by trucks on steroids. They sound like Army “deuce and a half”s when they pass by.

I’m reminded of what I dislike about these places: the generators running, campfires burning who-knows-what in their pits, boisterous inebriated dunderheads, I guess that’s about all. The sites are manicured, with a nice steel picnic table and pit.

A light rain falling.

I survey my gear. How I hope I don’t have to replace any of it. It was a significant investment, and I'm motivated to take care of it.


I’m plugged into an outlet on the back patio of the Great Basin National Park Café. The employees take their lunch breaks out here, munching nachos.

Amazing how difficult it is to remember all the details in packing or unpacking, finding something, pulling out gear needed for a specific task, etc. The traveler’s mentality takes some time to hone.

The 11:00 tour of Lehman Caves was sold out. Rather than wait for the 12:00 p.m. 60-minute tour, I’m waiting for the 1:00 p.m. 90-minute tour. That will give me a late start on the day, but where do I have to be? (So often there’s this gnawing sense of urgency: “I have to get moving!”)


Up before 7:00 this morning, just as the sun hit the tent. Stratocumulus clouds sweeping in from the west soon obscured the sun. Changes coming? I'm not quite prepared for traveling in winter again, dealing with long rainy days. That will be a pain. (I'm already suffering, just thinking about it!)

Many dreams last night, so I guess that means I slept. Certainly longer than previously nights, but it is a fitful, inefficient process. Though I was “asleep” for ten hours, it was probably like 6 or 7 hours in a bed. Still, I’m refreshed. That I know.

The headaches I’ve had each night are no doubt due to high altitude and dehydration, but caffeine withdrawal is also contributing. No coffee since Wednesday morning!

Contrails overhead. A busy sky. Since I’m at 7 or 8,000 feet, I’m that much nearer the aircraft. It amazed me last night, though I was camped only 100 feet from the rushing creek, the aircraft that are miles away are easily heard above the sound of the water.

Traces of autumn in the golden aspens high on the mountain slopes.

As usual, the gravel road out, absent last evening's anticipation and heightened state, was much easier riding this morning.

Went back to Baker and the Great Basin National Park Visitor’s Center. Filled up on water, used the toilet and washed my face at the sink. Thank goodness (and American taxpayers) for such facilities. It’s quite civilized!

Browsed the exhibits. They don’t charge an entry fee, “since most visitors take the Lehman Caves tour, which we charge for.”

The Great Basin comprises 200,000 square miles of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California. Water flowing into the basin has no flowing connection to areas outside the Basin. None of it drains to the sea. It soaks into the ground, accumulates in lakes or evaporates, creating clouds which move eastward. It’s formed by the Sierra Nevada rain shadow.

The Great Basin Desert is a “cold desert”, as opposed to the Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahan Deserts, which are “hot deserts” – just generally cooler temperatures due to its more northerly location.

Great Basin was designated a National Park in 1986.

Returned to the Lectrolux Restaurant (with its flying “Electrolux” vacuum cleaner suspended inside.) The owner served me a coffee and three-berry coffee cake, which I took out on his porch with its freshly-painted red counter. (Last night he had a “grand opening” for the porch. Not many attendees, as it rained on the event.) He has owned the restaurant and hotel for two years now.

Noticed I haven’t slowed down to take photos. I’ve seen countless interesting photo-worthy things, but just can’t break the momentum. Taking an isolated photo consumes at least five or ten minutes, just with the stop, getting the gloves and helmet off, unpacking the camera, then the reverse process.

And when I do pause to take a photograph, I suddenly appreciate how hard that Lancaster photography group (at Bodie Ghost Town) works to capture their images.

This two and a half hour break gives me a chance to catch up on notes and perhaps consider the purpose of this trip. Nothing is without purpose, is it?

It’s so difficult to break through the distraction of “petty necessity” and artificially important tasks. To cut through the noise to get at the deeper questions. An age-old struggle that each of us experiences. Those who are more successful manage to get to that space and address those questions. The rest of us live in the chaos of ever-changing priorities.


During the Lehman Caves tour, I had to deal with the anxiety of being in a closed space, somehow at another's mercy. Especially when our guide turned out the lights to demonstrate just how dark and disorienting it might have been for early explorers. Too much like a coffin for my comfort. But it is an interesting, and instructive process to "reason with one's fears."

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Inside Lehman Caves, earlier visitors relied on candles to light their way. In one cavern, using the candle flame's soot, visitors left their marks on the low ceiling.

On the road out of Baker by about 3:00. Rain clouds to the southeast persuaded me to take U.S. 50, rather than 21 toward Beaver.

Followed a short-cut a local mentioned to the "Border Truck Stop". Pulled in and saw a fellow standing beside his bike and trailer, sizing up the approaching rain. Met Frank Blundon from St. Johns, Newfoundland. He’s riding a 1989 Yamaha Venture, pulling a custom trailer emblazoned with what I assume is the Newfoundland flag.

He’s driving to Palm Desert, California to visit a friend. He’s taking four weeks off from his government job, operating a boiler plant in a retirement facility. I mentioned something I had heard, that a disproportionately high number of Newfoundlanders have died in the Middle East conflicts. He talked of how the Canadians are doing most of the fighting in Afghanistan now, though they were brought in as “peacekeepers”.

At the Border Truck Stop, near Baker, Nevada, I met Frank Blundon from St. Johns, Newfoundland. He’s riding a 1989 Yamaha Venture, pulling a custom trailer emblazoned with what I assume is the Newfoundland flag.

Frank said professionals, such as nurses are leaving Newfoundland for better-paying jobs in the U.S., though now, with the development of off-shore drilling, their oil industry is showing signs of growth.

While we talked, quite a few motorcycles passed: a half dozen or so (a lot for "The Loneliest Highway in America".) One rider, Kurt Thorp of Nephi, Utah introduced himself. He was riding a Kawasaki home after purchasing it in San Jose, California. “If you need a place to stay, look me up. I’m in the phone book.” And he was off.

Turning eastward, the winds continued blowing hard, but their direction changed completely after I crossed the Confusion Range and dropped into the Sevier Desert. It had been out of the southwest and west. Now it was a damp wind blowing directly out of the north, quite strong. (I recalled those winds buffeting the aircraft I’ve flown in over this region.)

Looking back westward on U.S. 50, nicknamed "the loneliest highway in America". In the distance is 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, the central feature of Great Basin National Park.

Delta, Utah is a big farming town with a cowboy culture. Young men gathered around their pick-ups, laughing (or so it seemed) at the BMW rider from the coast.

Farmlands near Holden, Utah

Jumped on Interstate 15 for 10 miles. A different, frantic world on this strip of asphalt. Only experienced one interchange before exiting, but it mirrored thousands of others across this land. The same gas stations, fast food outlets and motels. Checked the Super 8. (“$8 right?” – That’s what it once signified.) Try a “discounted” rate of $60.

Perhaps against better judgment, I followed U.S. 50 east into the cold and showery night, as signs warned of deer and cattle in the roadway.

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