The morning after the wedding in Mill Valley, we hit the road again – only this time without the four-hour head start we had on the way out. We also took a different route since the time was roughly the same: through Sacramento and Truckee, into Nevada and Utah and Wyoming before Colorado and Kansas. It would be more time in states neither of us had explored very much and I’m always game for a change of scenery!
The drive through central California was mostly hazy – there was a wildfire burning in Placer County – but it was still breathtaking. Interstate 80 takes drivers through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, including infamous Donner Pass. I had the pleasure of traveling with author Michael Wallis a few years ago on part of his book tour for The Best Land Under Heaven, a book about the Donner-Reed Party and their fateful journey. Traveling across the same lands that brought them to such a terrible fate gave me an odd feeling, one of reverence for the power of nature and how vulnerable man truly is.
The winding road through the mountains and the cozy drive alongside Donner Lake were both very enjoyable, in great contrast to that tragic consequence of Manifest Destiny in 1846. The area is quite a recreational hub now, complete with roadside chalets and cabin rentals. A neon sign caught my attention and I pulled over to take a photo. I didn’t see the bearded man lounging on the patio and he surprised me with a wave. He asked me if I’d like to have the sign turned on…which, yes, of course I did! He plugged it in and voila – the glass tubes lit right up. He told me the owner had wanted to scrap the sign, but he had insisted it remain. “It’s vintage!” he exclaimed and said that it’s very effective when lit during the busy season; people are just sitting in traffic along the two-lane road and it offers a welcome respite. I thanked him for his efforts before heading down the road.
We also stopped at the Donner Memorial State Museum, which features a monument of a pioneer family atop a 22-foot-tall pedestal – representing the depth of the snow that terrible winter. The monument was unveiled in 1918 and the ceremony included actual survivors of the ordeal, elders that had been children during the crossing. Those that survived always, ALWAYS, carried crackers, bits of peppermint, and other morsels when they traveled. I can’t even imagine the constant emotional turmoil they must have experienced for the rest of their lives.
You know, it’s interesting that the museum today sits on what was known as the Lincoln Highway in the early days of automobile travel. Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln knew the Donners and very nearly came west with them as a part of that fateful wagon train. I don’t know the right word for it, just…interesting.
After our quick stop, we ventured into Nevada. We stopped for lunch in Reno and I greatly enjoyed seeing some of their vintage neon signs! There were also a few beautiful truss bridges just off the interstate that we had time to stop and see throughout the day. We made it all the way to Elko that night with a very enjoyable dinner at the Coffee Mug Café and a restful sleep at the Esquire Inn. Both of which are mom-and-pop operations that I’m so often drawn to. There was a big car show in town, but even the late-night cruising didn’t disturb our deserved rest.
We set out early once again the next day, determined to make it to Colorado. We made fewer detours along the way, though the path took us through a few places that we absolutely HAD to stop and take in. The Bonneville Salt Flats was one of them; I hadn’t been there since I’d visited Utah with my good friend DeeDee in the summer of 2013. It hadn’t changed much, but that doesn’t mean it had lost any grandeur. It’s an alien landscape like no other place I’ve ever been. We saw a few motorcycle riders that had come all the way up from Columbia who were likewise enjoying the seasoned earth!
Our eastbound trek on I-80 continued, through Salt Lake City and into southwestern Wyoming. We stopped briefly in Evanston so I could take a few photos of their historic railroad roundhouse, but aside from a few breaks for gas and drive-thru food it was a long day of driving. By the time we arrived in Loveland Colorado, it was dark. Rest came easy.
Our last day took us into Kansas, where we stopped to see the World’s Largest Easel sporting a Van Gogh sunflower painting. The town of Goodland is also home to an absolutely stunning Art Deco building that once housed the local telephone company switching operation. You never know what you’ll see on these small town main streets!
We returned home on Monday evening, eleven days after departing. Rex was extremely excited that we had not left the face of the Earth! We had a lovely time and are so happy for our friends. I’m so proud of Samantha and all the work she put in to help make their day special. I can’t wait to head back to the area some time in the future and see what else the Bay Area has to offer…hopefully when it’s a bit cooler!