Thursday, July 7, 2016

Lonely roads in California and Nevada

Today marks the second week of our motorcycle trip from home in Prescott, Arizona to Denver to visit our kids; through Wyoming and into Montana to visit friends Sharon and Chris; west through Idaho and a 2-day stop in Walla Walla, Washington; continuing west to Portland, Oregon where we spent 3 days; and now heading home along the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway through Oregon and California, finally turning east into Nevada. 10 days on the BMW has shown us a wide variety of landscapes, small towns, large cities, and twisting highways.

Today we started our trip in Chester, California on Lake Almanor, a large reservoir with the first dam built in 1914. Chester reminds us of small towns in the Adirondacks in upstate New York, where year-round outdoor sports and activities drive the local economy.

Yesterday we ended our ride on California 36, enjoying the twisties and climbs up and down the mountains to Chester. Today Route 36 heading east from Chester is a straight road running through wide open meadows, pine forests that have been recently logged, and a short section twisting through the mountains.

Southeast of Susanville we picked up US route 395, heading southeast to Reno, NV through irrigated farmland with views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the west.

We rode through Reno, NV on Interstate 80 east for about 40 miles, turning off onto Route 50, which roughly follows the path of the Pony Express in 1860-1861. Route 50 is known as the "Loneliest Highway" for good reason:  the towns are tiny and spread far apart, and there is almost no traffic. We zoomed through 4 mile and 8 mile flats, sandy areas that spread for miles on both sides of the road.

We turned south onto Nevada route 316 in Middlegate Station, one of the Pony Express stops. This road had even less traffic than Route 50, with only one small, dusty town with mostly empty buildings along the 63 mile stretch we traveled. Gabbs is the home of the only magnesia mine in the United States, yet the town is considered a semi-ghost town.

The one gas station in Gabbs featured a broken-down building with no glass in the windows and 2 non-functioning gas pumps. We've been in this situation before, and Mike slowed down from 80 mph to 55 mph to conserve gas, and when we reached Route 95 we turned north instead of south to find the closest gas station. We made it to the gas station in Hawthorne with 17 miles to spare.

We noticed hundreds of dirt and grass-covered bunkers on both sides of the highway around Hawthorne, and later discovered that this is the site of the Hawthorne Army Depot, a 14,236 acre facility that was originally built in 1930 and today has over 2,000 ammunition storage bunkers with over 600,000 square feet of storage space.

As we headed south with a full tank of gas, the temperature climbed into the mid-90's even at 5,000- 6,000' elevation. A sign just outside Hawthorne stated "no services for 100 miles", another indication of how remote this area is.

We passed a few empty buildings covered with graffiti, remnants of isolated towns that are gradually disappearing into the desert until we rode into Tonopah, our destination for the night. Tonopah began with the accidental discovery of gold and silver in 1900 by a prospector named Jim Butler. Jim's burro got loose overnight, and when he found it the next morning he picked up a rock to throw at it. He noticed the rock was heavier than expected, and stumbled upon the second-richest silver strike in Nevada.

The 408 miles we traveled today seem remote and desolate to us; imagine how it must have felt to pioneers and prospectors in the late 1800's. I'm glad we have a BMW motorcycle instead of a burro!


  1. Such changes in landscapes. I've never driven through Nevada, but it looks pretty.

  2. Nevada just is vast. At one point the road stretched 18 miles in front of us until it turned into the mountains.