Leaving Sacramento, I turned onto Route 50 and headed east on the road known as the Loneliest Road in America. It seemed a strange title as it was as busy a road as I'd ever driven but, once I'd left the Sacramento rush hour behind, it did quieten down a little. After I'd passed Lake Tahoe, and crossed the Nevada state line, I could slowly start to see why the road had earned its name. It was quite an experience to travel a road where you go for over 100 miles without passing through a town but, for me at least, there was too much traffic on the road for it to be truly deserving of the name. I wonder just how much of that traffic is as a result of that notorious Life Magazine article and the ensuing publicity?
I chose not to apply for the ‘I travelled the Loneliest Road in America - and survived!' certificate and instead entertained myself by following the advice that I'd been given previously to explore the side roads and discovered all manner of things as a result: petroglyphs, earthquake fault lines, the infamous shoe-tree and even a group of hippies protesting again the war! I didn't have the heart to suggest to them that they would possibly have more success protesting somewhere a little less, erm, lonely and left them in my dust. Looking in my rear-view mirror I couldn't help wondering just how long they'd been out in the desert sun and whether they knew the war in Vietnam ended some years ago.
I'd planned to stop for the night in Eureka but there were no rooms available due to a local cross bow shooting event (I kid you not) so I pressed on towards Ely but spotted a campground sign before I reached the town and turned off the road into the Illipan Reservoir Campground. I spent the night there - free of charge, which I liked a lot - and watched a magnificent sunset before settling in for a truly quiet night. I think that I was the only person for twenty-miles and, finally, I was able to sit back and enjoy that true feeling of solitude that I'd been looking for all day.
The following morning I continued my journey onwards to Great Basin National Park which was about another 80 miles further on. The ‘Great Basin' is a 200,000 square mile area that drains internally, that is to say that all rain that falls in the basin area drains internally, sinks underground or flows into lakes as there is no natural outlet to the ocean. The Great Basin is actually a misleading name as the area actually comprises numerous basins and, rather than try to incorporate all of it into a national park (which would be tricky as the area actually contains all of Nevada and much of Utah), Great Basin National Park was established as a representation of the area and is actually relatively compact - which is excellent news if your time there is limited as was the case with my visit. In my 24 hours there I was able to hike up to Nevada's only glacier which can be found at 12,000ft, enjoy the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, go on a fascinating ranger-led cave tour and marvel at the brilliance of a night sky almost entirely unaffected by the light-pollution of almost everywhere else in the modern world.
My only disappointment with Great Basin NP was the lack of shower facilities on the campground. This is not something unique to that particular park - most national parks in the US are the same for reasons unknown to me - but, not having had a shower for over two days, I decided to check in to a motel in the town of Twin Falls Idaho the following evening. After two extremely quiet nights it was a little bit of a shock to find myself in the centre of a busy town but not as much of a shock as it was to find myself in the middle of a huge swarm of bees. "Happens once every year", I was informed by the desk clerk who could offer no insight into the reason for the pheromone. Just my luck that the bees would be in town the same day I was! Thankfully, despite spending an entire evening chasing them round my room with a rolled-up newspaper, I made it out of town intact and set off to my next destination; Craters of the Moon National Monument.
This would prove to be a fair drive but it was something I was getting used to and I'd learnt to just chill out, switch the cruise control on, and go with the flow. It helped, of course, when I could factor in interesting stops such as at Bonneville! Eventually I arrived and my reaction was similar to what I'd experienced back at Redwoods National Park: an initial fascination soon giving way to a feeling of apathy and a desire to press on. I took the opportunity to make a quick stop at EBR-1, the world's first nuclear power plant, where they were offering free tours before heading straight for Jackson and Great Teton National Park. I had been planning on meeting some people there for a few days but they unfortunately couldn't make it along and I was on my own again for the next few days.
I spent the night on the Gros Ventre campground before heading off to check out the park the following morning. I've said as much before, but there are places where you want to spend time and there are places where you want to press on. I knew immediately that Grand Teton was one of those places where I wanted to spend time and I would spend two long and very enjoyable days exploring all four corners of the park. The wildlife - bison, bear, moose and all manner of others - was as abundant as the fantastic scenery. Unfortunately the mosquito population was pretty huge too - especially on the Flagg Ranch Resort where I had a reservation for three nights - and, having spent a couple of hours being eaten alive by huge swarms of mosquitoes, I decided to abandon the place and sought sanctuary at the nearby Lizard Creek campground. Flagg Ranch weren't prepared to offer a refund but it was worth every penny to get out of there. And I got my own back on them by telling everyone I met to avoid the place like the plague, which cheered me up no-end!
By the end of my second day in the Tetons I was tired and looking forward to hitting Yellowstone. When I was initially planning the trip, Yellowstone had been right there at the top of the list of places to visit, so I was very excited to finally be visiting. When I left, two-days later, I was quite shocked to be leaving with a feeling of disappointment. Looking back at the photos and videos that I took, I really shouldn't. But sometimes you just can't help feeling the way you feel.
It is possible to over-hype things in your mind, and I suspect that was simply the case here: I had arrived expecting to find something akin to the Serengeti which just happened to be located adjacent to an area resembling the surface of the planet Mars. Whilst wildlife was abundant, it just wasn't as abundant as I'd imagined. Whilst the geysers and hot springs were impressive, they just weren't as impressive as I'd imagined and, whilst the valleys, waterfalls and mountains were awe-inspiring, they... well, you get the idea. Yes, I think it's fair to say that I over-hyped Yellowstone. Please don't let me put you off visiting, just make sure you go with realistic expectations. And, whatever you do, avoid Flagg Ranch!
Originally published on - and Copyright retained by - Boogity, Boogity, Boogity
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