Friday, September 08, 2006

Great Basin National Park, Nevada


Highway 168 cuts across the starkly beautiful Deep Springs Valley, east of Bishop, California. The all-male Deep Springs College is located on a lush ranch in the left center of the photo.


Camped along Snake Creek in Great Basin National Park. No charge for these primitive sites about ten miles up a gravel road. Washed off in the creek. It was long overdue. Cooked some Thai noodles, ate a "Balance Bar". Stored my food in a dry sack and strapped it on the bike, to keep it away from the tent in case bears roam this area.

Fussing around my little campsite, attending to various chores, my focus is reduced to an area within arm’s reach. I have to remind myself to stop and look up at the looming peaks bathed in sunset and rippling aspens.

(I notice I'm under an air traffic lane here. “They shouldn’t pass over National Parks!”)

Stopped in Baker, Nevada a little while ago. It's a curious little town. At the “Electrolux Restaurant”, I bought a pumpkin chocolate chip cookie for a buck and asked locals about possible campsites. (The one in town looked a shambles.) Rain clouds were rolling in over the mountains to the west, making me a bit anxious. And daylight was fading fast.

Over Sacramento Pass approaching Baker, I began searching for possible camping options. Mostly it's fenced range out here, but there were some access roads leading into the National Forest. The rain was right behind me though, and it was a cold one. I was reluctant to stop and be overtaken.

The Great Basin National Park Visitor’s Center was closed, but I was able to fill up on water. It is not easy to find “free” public water out here. (I should have thought of visiting small city or town parks in search of water.) I hate the hassle at gas stations or fast food joints, and refuse to buy plastic bottles of water. (That's nonsense that has been sold to us by companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestle.)


***

Started the day at 7:45. A turbulent night, but I guess I slept more than last night. It was already warm as I broke camp. A picnic table makes packing easier. I can lay everything out, up away from the dirt. Used the latrine and paid my $3 suggested fee. Added about ¼ quart of oil (59,792 miles) Took an hour and a quarter to pack up.

Front brakes squealing – may have to change out the pads.. Clutch almost non-functional at altitude, (as was the case in the Andes.)

Highway 168 eastbound, from California into Nevada, is a great road with sweeping curves, “woop-de-doos” and surprise changes in direction over the rises. Fun! Smooth and clean. Few vehicles.

I passed the Deep Springs College, standing all alone in an awesome, desolate valley. The campus is surrounded by green irrigated fields.

Overlooking the valley, I pulled over to take a photo. A beautiful blond woman driving an orange Plymouth passed slowly by. (“What’s she doing out here?”)

At Oasis, a highway construction site caused a delay. I got off the bike to talk with the flagger. He was from Fresno. The blond woman pulled up behind my motorcycle and finally got out. She was middle-aged, attractive, wearing a loose tank top. “Nice place for a break, eh?”

She had a German accent. I joked “are you lost?”

“No. I know exactly where I’m going. California and Las Vegas.”

We parted ways at the next junction. She turned south and I, north. A sign at the intersection identified this as “Cottontail Ranch” (the famous brothel.) It is for sale.

I found myself passing through a thriving Joshua Tree forest. There were many small trees with just a single bushy shoot rising from the desert soil. But just north of Goldfield, the Joshuas completely disappear. There’s no obvious reason for the demarcation. The land looks the same: same altitude, similar vegetation, likely similar temperatures. Is this simply the edge of the Joshua Tree’s present migration?

Goldfield is a rough-looking town, with mountains terraced by nearly a century and a half of mining. Rusting carcasses of old equipment, dilapidated shacks, rotting old cars. It’s a severe place to survive. Tourism will keep it going though, as improved highway systems continue to shrink this land.

Tonopah, with its mountains being dismantled, is amazing. This is the nation’s ore supply house. We have a right to take it. (But we turn these ores into fantastic things!)

Because of another construction delay leaving Tonopah, I decided on U.S. 6, rather than follow the original plan, which was to visit Middlegate on U.S. 50. Traveling east on 6, it is wide open range, with horses running wild. Such a strange site to see horses crossing the landscape at full gallop, and right across the highway.

At Blackrock Summit, I marked the 60,000-mile point in my travels. Just a habit to recognize such milestones. But that moment is no more or less perfect than the next.

Hit the edge of a thunderstorm and caught a little bit of the cold rain. “This is something I want to avoid!”

Just before Ely, we were stopped by road work again: re-oiling the highway. In town, I noticed the bike was beginning to handle strangely (besides the brakes squealing.) “What’s going on?”

Pulled into a shopping center to see if I had a flat tire. The tires had accumulated a thick layer of tar and stone, almost as if it had melted onto the tread. A relief.

Bought some groceries to sustain me out here in the wilds. Leaving Ely, through a landscape sprouting up with custom ranches. (“No water shortage out here?”)

A few miles of open highway, and my tar tread appeared to have worn off. Riding with little food and water has added a stressful edge. While visions of Denny’s and strawberry waffles and coffee danced in my head, I chewed beef jerky, peanuts, and sipped water.

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