Friday, September 8, 2000...

Greetings from Provo, Utah, home of Brigham Young University, where the Mormon wholesomeness is so pervasive that I have the sudden urge to settle down with a wife or three.

The nicest scenery along today's route came this morning, on a shortcut I hadn't known about until I studied the map more closely. Instead of driving south through Reno or Carson City, I passed through a beautiful valley lined with small farms and dominated by a view of the Sierras to the west. At its best, it looked a lot like southwestern Utah near Zion National Park, except that the rocks weren't as reddish.

Ultimately came to US 395, the route down the east side of the Sierras. Approaching the turnoff for Yosemite National Park, snow was still visible atop the park's highest peaks. I made a mental note to return next spring, when the waterfalls are at their best. I also made a mental note to fill the gas tank before reaching the park -- the service stations closest to Yosemite were charging upward of $2.30/gallon for regular unleaded!

But I won't be going the way one local ad recommends: by chauffeured limousine. Good God. If I ever spotted a limo parked overnight in a national park, I'd be sorely tempted to smear ground meat and uncooked bacon over the frame and wait for darkness. By morning, the animals would've converted that limo into a prop for "aftermath of the riot" movie scenes.

Didn't reach Bishop, western terminus of US 6, until about 11:30 this morning. I knew I'd be able to make good time, though: if most of Nevada is as empty as Ronald Reagan's mind circa 1986, this stretch is as empty as his mind is now. Between Bishop and Delta, Utah, a distance of about 450 miles, US 6 passes through two towns: Tonopah, a mining boomtown which now survives as the halfway point on the road between Reno and Las Vegas, and Ely, a commercial center by default because it's the only town for 100 miles in any direction.

US 6, east of Tonopah. NVAs though I needed more evidence that this was one dull stretch of pavement, the local news was dominated by a bus crash yesterday on this very road. The driver of a chartered bus carrying 41 British tourists from Las Vegas to the mountains accidentally steered onto the right shoulder. Overcorrecting, he swerved clear to the opposite shoulder. The bus tipped onto its side, but continued to skid forward, amputating the arms of several passengers on that side. The injured had to be helicoptered to trauma centers in Las Vegas and Reno -- both of which are more than 200 air miles from the accident site.

Bishop is the commercial center of this part of California, with gas at "only" $2.15 a gallon. More importantly, it has a Carl's Jr., which allowed me to eat the trip's only Western Bacon Cheeseburger. Wiping the sauce from my fingers as I headed east, I kept my eyes open, my hands on the wheel and my wheels on the pavement. Not that there was much else to do -- in the 169 miles between Tonopah and Ely, there is one gas station, a single pump of unleaded regular in the parking lot of a small business.

Along this strip in west-central Nevada, State Route 375 from US 6 to the town of Rachel is signed the "Extraterrestrial Highway." I think it runs through one of the areas which has yielded the most UFO sightings. The local businesses have to love this: out in the absolute middle of nowhere, they've stumbled upon a way to entice out-of-towners to visit, eat dinner locally while waiting for nightfall, stay out half the night looking for weird things in the sky (a quest doubtless aided by several stops at the local saloon), then get some sleep before leaving the next day.

About 50 miles west of Ely, I passed an operating mine with a full parking lot. Seems like a nasty commute, but at western driving speeds, it probably takes no longer than mine. East of Ely, Great Basin National Park sounds more impressive than it is. It used to be called Lehman Caves National Monument, but its status was upgraded after its boundaries were extended to include a scenic drive up nearby Wheeler Peak.

By the time I passed Delta, Utah, about 15 miles from one of the World War II Japanese internment camps, it was too dark to photograph. Soon it was too dark to see -- and out here, dark means DARK. Even with headlights, a winding two-lane road through empty land with no street lights or even house lights in the background is no fun.

Tomorrow I drive the eastern half of Utah, then continue on to Denver. Hope to have time for a couple of side trips -- we'll see. Staying up this late certainly doesn't help...

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