Saturday July 11, 2015
Summary – Sundance UT Salt Lake City – Great Salt Lake – Western Utah – US 50 – Great Basin National Park – Eastern NV – Ely NV
We packed up and headed north then northeast on US 89. Before we got to Deer Creek Reservoir we turned north on State road 92 and went up in the mountains less than 5 miles to Sundance. Sundance is a modest size ski resort owned by Robert Redford which gives its name to the Film Festival. I had been here before but wanted to show my wife. The resort is on the eastern slope of Mt Timpanogos (in the Wasatch Range. There was still quite a bit of snow on the mountains. The ski runs were closed but the chair lift was operating to take folks up for the view. We checked out the gift shop and stuck our head in the restaurant. There were very few folks around.
We retraced our steps back to US 89 and continued northeast and then north past Heber City and Park City (where most of the Sundance Film Festival takes place in January or February each year). When we got to IH 80 we turned west and followed the interstate along its dramatic descent through the Wasatch Mountatains into Salt Lake City.
I had been to Salt Lake City several years before but my wife had never been there. Its location is stunning. I would vote SaltLake City as set in the most dramatic geographic inland setting in the US. The Wasatch Mountaintans tower over the city on the eastern side. The Oquriih Mountains to the west and the Great Salt Lake to the northwest. I also found out an interesting political fact about SLC. In a state known as the redest of the red, downtown SLC is quite diverse and quite blue. When I was first there the only democrat in the state legislature represented downtown SLC.
Since this trip was not about seeing cities we passed through SLC on IH 80. I pointed out the Tabernacle and the State Capital to my wife as we crossed the city. We were headed for the shore of Great Salt Lake. Access to the lake is limited on the southeast shore. We went to the Great Salt Lake State Marina where We had to pay for parking. I don’t remember this being particularly memorable. I don’t even remember there being a place to wade in the water.
The best known and most frequently visited parts of Utah are in the eastern and southern parts of the sate. The western part of the state has a lot of emptiness. Emptiness interests me so that‘s where we spent the majority of the afternoon.
We turned south from IH 80 onto state highway passing through Stansbury Park, Tooele and Stockton. The Oquriih Mountains were to the east and the Stanbury Mountains were to the west. Our plan was to travel south to US 50 and then west into eastern NV and spend the night in Ely (Elee not Eli we found out).
As we travelled south on UT 36 I observed on my map apps that we could slice a chunk off the days drive by turning west southwest on UT 199 at Rush Valley. So we did. Nothing unusual at the intersection to indicate we were entering the Twilight Zone. We haded west a few miles and zigzagged through a low pass at the southern end of the Stanbury Mountains and turned southwest where the road straightened out and the ecology was low scrub brush. Except for tow hikers unloadi g there gear in the Stanbury Mountains there were no cars or people. After we had travelled almost 20 miles we saw a large structure in the distance. UT 196, prosaically named Skull Valley Rd was angling in on the right. The structure was just south of the intersection. Said structure proved to be a concrete gate archway. No signs of any kind. A very high chain link fence with concertina wire stretched to the horizon on both sides of the road. My wife pulled off on the side of the road about a hundred yards from the fence while I frantically consuled my half dozen map Apps on my iPad exclaiming repeatedly, “there is nothing here!“ We considered turning around. There were a number of young men milling about in the roadway at the gate holding automatic weapons. There were no structures of any kind in sight beyond the gate. My wife, armed with here dependant military ID card, was not intimidated. She got back on the road and eased up to the gate while rollong down her window. The young men were in civilian uniforms. One of them came up to the car window. She presented her ID card and said “we are just passing through.” “Sorry madam, the road is closed.” But my husband is a retired Naval Officer.” “Sorry madam, the road is closed.” I chimed in with “All my maps show this road is open to US 50.” Sorry sir, the road is closed.” At this point a number of the young men had gathered at our window. One asked where we were going. When we said Ely NV they all expressed surprise and said we were very lost and would have to make a 100 mile detour to the east. I pointed out that all my maps said the road went through to US 50. They restated the obvious fact that the road was closed. So we turned around and went back to UT 36. I had no cell coverage out there but regained it back on UT 36. Looking on Wikipedia I discovered we had stumbled upon the Dugway Proving Ground. Larger than the state of Rhodes Island, this DOD facility has been there since 1942. Weapons testing. The road is closed, and apparently been closed for some time. That evening, when we got to the motel in Ely, I happened to dig my 1998 Rand McNally Road Atlas out of the car. The Dugway Proving Grounds were clearly marked. Preparing this field trip report I see that at least my iMaps+ App now shows a town of Dugway NV where the gate was. There is however, no indication that the road is closed.
So we went back to UT 36 and turned south passing through Faust, Vernon, Mammoth, Jericho and Lynndyl before intercepting US 50 at Delta. US 50 runs just over 3000 miles from Ocean City Maryland to West Sacramento CA. Back in the ‘70’s I used to commute back and forth along Route 50 across Northern VA to my job in DC. We would be on Route 50 for the rest of the day and all the next day.
We had chosen this route because we had never seen any of Nevada except at Las Vegas and Reno. Eastern Nevada is quite beautiful but remote. Remote interests me. We passed by Great Basin National Park but had made decision not to stop since it was getting on in the afternoon and all the parks activities other than the visitor center involve hiking, camping etc. The park is impressive though if you enjoy outdoor activities. 5000 year old bristlecone pine, 13000 ft Mt Wheeler with a dramatic headwall of a glacier cirque that has a more dramatic cliff than in Yosemite, 12700 Mount Jeff Davis. Due the to Park’s isolation, altitude, and low level of light pollution, it is considered perhaps the best place in the Contiguous US to stargaze.
As we entered Nevada the Schell Creek Range stretched before us snow capped. The highest peak is 11888 ft. Most of the 132 mile range is within the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. As we got closer to Ely, NV turns off to the right to Cave Lake State Park which looks like a great place for picnics, hiking or camping.
In Ely we stayed in the Magnuson Hotel Park Vue which was reasonably priced, clean and friendly. We both were quite impressed with Ely. A small, quiet town that has the added benefit of being a long way from everywhere. We asked for a recommendation to eat and Racks Bar & Grill 753 Aultman St, Ely, NV was recommended. We at in a little courtyard out back. The food was quite good and selection surprisingly large.
After we at we began a tradition for the remainder of the trip, we checked out the town. Since we usually eat around 5PM, there was plenty of time to look around. We walked around the Courthouse Park in the block next to the restaurant and the got in the car and drove around town.
Next, we continue across Nevada on “The Loneliest Road in America”, pass through Carson City and arrive at South Lake Tahoe.