Our first stop after Papa Joes’s Gas and Go was the most breath taking of the day. Red and tan rocks filled our hearts and minds with awe and wonder. Though we had just stopped for gas, we had take in the sights and pause our long trip for the day when we came upon Black Dragon Canyon View Point. The pictures here say it all, though a picture cannot come close to capturing the feeling you get just standing and staring.
We traversed quickly across Utah on I-70 into the afternoon, but at Salina we exited on to Route 50 which quickly became a two-lane highway on a plateau with hills and low mountains all around. It felt like we could see forever as the cerulean sky met the khaki landscape in front of us.
It seemed like all of the sudden, the light clouds rolled in and became dark and furious. Suddenly as we were driving the dry plateaus of dying vegetation, the angry clouds began to pour on us, drenching the road, our car, and everything around us as if we were its enemy.
This forced us to slow down to about 45 mph as we were sure to maintain a safe pace while not stopping completely even though we wondered if we should. We were persistent, if nothing else, as we continued down this desolate highway. The rain stopped and the sky became blue just as quickly as it had filled with water and mist.
We entered Nevada where our route officially became The Loneliest Road in America as deemed by Life Magazine in 1986.
While we did pass a vehicle moving in the opposite direction periodically, we rarely saw another vehicle on our side of the road. As we noticed the road sign indicating the name of our route, we wondered about how long we might go without a gas station so we were sure to stop at the first sign of gasoline.
We filled the tank, then quickly returned to our escapade. We drove and drove and drove with very little in sight. Tumbleweed after tumbleweed crossed our path as we noticed that we were also following along the original Pony Express trail.
We passed a sign for the Great Basin National Park, but alas our journey kept us on our route focusing on reaching Carson City, Nevada by bedtime. The entire route exuded historic, old west scenery such as an old saloon we passed in Eureka, Nevada which they advertised as The Friendliest Town on The Loneliest Road in America.
As we neared our destination, we passed some huge sand dunes in the distance that looked like a humongous pail of sand was just dumped from nowhere.
Finally, the sun began setting and we followed the directions to Heidi’s cousin’s house passing a cute little family restaurant named Heidi’s. It was late and we didn’t have time to stop so we continued on.
As we arrived, we remembered that they were not going to be home, but they were very hospitable, leaving us several little gifts, bedding and bath towels to refresh ourselves before the following morning. We were thankful for the good night’s rest.
The next morning we were up at 5 am again. We showered quickly and hit the road, excited about getting to explore San Francisco for a few hours and see the Golden Gate Bridge in person for the first time.
As we traversed the hills, turning into mountains, we began to see more and more evergreen trees, rocks and beautiful rocky scenery all around. Suddenly we were enveloped in a new landscape of mountainous terrain and slowly traveled the curvy roads up and into the Lake Tahoe area. We passed several camping areas that beckoned us to stop and explore even more. It was like a scene straight out of the 80s movie, The Great Outdoors with John Candy and Dan Akroyd.
Then, suddenly as we rounded a corner going back down the other side of a mountain, Lake Tahoe itself covered our entire backdrop. The gorgeous blue water in the center of the mountains with evergreen trees as far as the eye could see was incredible and just waiting to be rediscovered again and again. Yet, we continued on as we entered California.
As we drove through the area and passed on the backside of those mountains, I made a mental note to return to this area as soon as possible when her cousin Wendy and family were home and we had time to stay and explore. The highways we drove on became more and more populated as traffic began to grow.
We continued straight through Sacramento and traffic slowed us down several times, but we didn’t lose too much time. The mountains gave way to hills which gave way to valleys which gave way to plains as we continued along the northern California pathway to San Francisco. The highways widened with more and more lanes and traffic continued to grow as the landscape reminded me of episodes of CHiPs from my childhood.
Finally, we reached the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, a grand bridge in its own right, and I wondered for a moment if it was the Golden Gate Bridge, but quickly realized it wasn’t. At the time, the fog was covering the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, but we didn’t know that yet since it was all new to us.
The San Francisco skyline greeted us as we continued driving and excitement filled the cool, crisp air as we exited the highway to make our way through downtown, past Chinatown to the Northern Waterfront where all of our pre-trip research and movie background scenes became reality.
Stick around until next week to find out how we spent five hours in San Francisco, set up our tent in the pitch dark and woke up in Jurassic Park.
Want to read more? Enter your email below to receive updates as soon as they publish!
Shawn’s wrote a book about his life growing up on the move titled—NEVER SETTLED: a memoir of a boy on the road to manhood