Saturday, October 06, 2007

Fall Trip '07: Late Start... Through Nevada to Utah

Day 1: I’m four days late getting out of the house due to a legal response that took longer than expected and a new form arriving that required some research. I haven’t heard back from my divorce attorney for a couple of days but she knows I’m packing to go, so I decide to get on the road. By the time I have everything ready and loaded in the truck it’s 6pm.

As I enter the freeway I noticed it is damp on the edges. Apparently a rain shower has moved through. The weather forecast for the next few days isn’t great. Whether I head northeast to Yellowstone and Grand Teton or southeast towards Colorado, the next few days may include rain and snow showers, and nighttime temperatures as low as the low 20s. I’m surprised to see as I climb the western slope of the Sierras that there are patches of snow as low as 4000 feet. As I continue the snow blankets the ground, then gets deeper, then it starts to snow. Soon I’m driving through a blizzard with 4-5 inches of snow on the sides of the road! By Donner Summit it’s dark and traffic has slowed to a crawl due to black ice on the road, and everyone’s going slow down the steep descent towards the Tahoe Basin. On the other side of the freeway a tow truck has about 75 feet of cable out and is hauling an SUV out of the snowy thirty foot deep trench between the eastbound and westbound lanes.

I decided that I’d better stop a few miles ahead in Truckee and rethink my plans. My mother is off traveling, but I stop by her place to pick up my snow chains and a couple of logs. It has stopped snowing, and some stars a visible above. I decide that the storm is local and that I want to get on the road so I can get somewhere by the following night.

I drive as far as I can into Nevada before I get tired. The sate seems endless. Some of the hills alongside the road have dusting of snow on them, but the road is clear so I make decent progress. When even the quirky radio stations can’t hold my interest any more, I pull over at a rest stop and stretch out in my down sleeping bag in the back. I’m about halfway across Nevada. Depending upon whether I turn north or south at Salt lake City, I should be able to make it To Wyoming or Southern Utah by the following night.

Day 2: I wake up before dawn, and see the sun’s light coming on the eastern horizon. Instinctively I look around to see if there’s anything to take a picture of. The surrounding hills have a blanket of snow on them, and there are enough clouds that the sunrise will be interesting if enough sun can get through. I’m awake, the sun’s coming… I might as well get to work.

I turn on the car to get the heater going, slip into some clothes, and hop into the front seat. There aren’t a lot of vehicles on the road this early, so I simply stop on the shoulder as I see good light and interesting subjects. At one point the sight of a tree seems noteworthy.

By the time I reach the Utah border there are more cars on the road, and the Bonneville Salt Flats are on the other side of the westbound lanes of the freeway, so I pass through without a shot. Someone has some trucks and trailers out on the salt flats, and they have marked a straight track across the flat surface. Perhaps they’re in pursuit of a speed record? At Salt Lake I decide that Colorado is a safer destination, since there are warmer, lower elevations nearby in New Mexico and Arizona if the cold and snow is too intense. If the storms have knocked the colorful leaves off the aspen in Colorado, I can explore slot canyons in Southern Utah instead.

I stop a short distance south of Salt Lake City in the town of Provo for supplies, and I notice that people are traveling in packs… 4… 5… 6… and it’s mostly housewives with their children. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!

Checking the map, Arches National Park in Moab, Utah not far from the Colorado border, seems like a good target for sunset. It looks like I can arrive about an hour before sunset, which will give me time to get into the park and get set up somewhere.

Unfortunately the sun is setting just as I arrive; I had failed to account for the time zone change and the nearly 1000 miles that I had traveled. It’s a huge loss; the broken clouds from the recent storms were dark red and magenta tones, over a landscape of red sandstone, with snow-tipped peaks in the distance. I drive into the park anyway, and snap a couple of shots in the fading light, plus a couple of star trail photos. Now that I’m here, I’ll come back for the entire next day to get some decent shots.