Jane and I began planning our August national park tour in early spring. Our ultimate destination was Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, but we decided to drive, and this opened up many additional possibilities along our path. Our daughter Amy and her boyfriend Joe, would join us at Crater Lake, and then we planned to travel north to their home in Portland, OR. This would be Amy’s final days of her summer vacation from the Pacific University physical therapy program, as she was scheduled to resume classes on Monday August 24. Jane suggested that I could incorporate some fishing destinations on our return trip in Washington or Oregon, but as the date of our departure approached, I checked the fishing conditions in the Pacific northwest and discovered that severe drought conditions forced many streams to close. If they were not officially closed, the departments of wildlife were suggesting that fishermen exercise extreme care in handling and releasing fish. Given the relatively favorable stream conditions in Colorado, I decided to forego fishing in the northwest, and instead made plans to drive directly back to Colorado, where I could utilize my fishing time in the high country or in tailwaters.
On Friday the car was strategically packed so that we could access our clothing and snacks without removing our bicycles, since we planned to stay in a hotel for our first night in Nevada. Our route took us west on interstate 70 and then across Utah before we intersected with U.S. 50. Jane read in her national park guide book that U.S. 50 is the loneliest road in the United States, and our drive across western Utah and eventually Nevada made us a believer in this label. The hot August sun elevated temperatures to the high 80’s and low 90’s, and the desolate desert terrain made it feel like 100. The most interesting landmark on our trek across Utah was Sevier Lake. The map indicated that this area was typically dry, but during the summer of 2015 a vast expanse of water sprawled across the desert to the south of the highway. Like many lakes in the Great Basin including the Great Salt Lake, this lake has no outlet, and consequently the water maintains a high salt content.
The Great Basin in the United States stretches from the Wasatch Mountains in Utah westward to the Sierra Nevada range in California. Large wide basins containing mostly scrub grass and sagebrush are interrupted by mountain ranges that run from north to south. These ranges are mostly barren rocky ranges that thrust skyward, and as we drove west, we confirmed that that these descriptions were accurate.
After we crossed into Nevada during the late afternoon, we proceeded west past the entrance to Great Basin National Park until we reached the La Quinta Inn in Ely, NV. We checked in and were pleased to learn that our reservation was active, and then we drove to the center of the small town. Ely was formerly a mining hot bed, but it appeared to be somewhat depressed in its current state, although it did offer numerous small motels since it was the closest significant population center to Great Basin National Park. Our La Quinta and a Days Inn were the only chain lodging facilities that we encountered.
Since we already had our room for the night, we were interested in dinner, but the choices seemed relatively limited. We cruised the main downtown avenue and finally parked at the western end of town, and then we ambled down the street until we reached the Nevada Hotel. The facade of this establishment suggested many years of existence, so we entered and surveyed the scene. Instantly we were assaulted with the sounds of a gambling casino and the ever present cigarette smoke, but a nice cafe lurked off the left side. We reviewed the menu and then crossed to the Jailhouse Casino on the opposite side of the street.
A large sign advertised a steak house which had an entrance off a side street, so we followed the arrow and found the restaurant in the back. This eating establishment appeared to provide more separation from the casino area, but it was at the end of a dark dingy hallway. A quick perusal of the menu revealed prices 25-30% higher than the Hotel Nevada, so we executed a U-turn and reversed our steps to our first stop.
After dinner Jane and I circled the small casino, but we managed to keep our cash in our pockets. After a long day of traveling, we returned to our rooms and crashed in short order. We accomplished our goal of reaching Ely, Nevada at the doorstep of Great Basin on Friday August 14.