2017 Bringing the Big Rig home, Part 2

GETTING THE RIG HOME, 2017

(We left our peregrinating practitioner of the sidecar life languishing in South Lake Tahoe, waiting out the storm.)

In the morning, the sky is clearing and the air has that freshly washed smell that comes after a good storm. The puddles in the parking lot of my motel reflect the blue sky and wispy white clouds as I’m loading my bag on to the rack. It is still cold here, maybe mid-40’s, but one can’t fault the setting with the mountains in view. The people in the room next door come out to watch me pack up and have to talk about the rig and where I’m traveling to. I can see in their demeanor when I tell them I’m coming from Washington and heading to Kentucky that they can’t really take that in.

On the route north, following the eastern shore, there are not as many views of the water, but still very impressive scenery with the stark grandeur of the snow covered hillsides punctuated by the lake. The road is rising steadily into more snow, with ice warnings on the mobile lighted signs. At the crest, as often happens in the west, the scene is completely changed as the road goes down to Carson City. The temperature begins to rise dramatically, the snow is gone and the terrain becomes weathered, all brown, low hills, and in the distance, the flat expanse of desert. This is the beginning of “The Loneliest Road in America” as the signs proudly proclaim.

Outside of Fallon, after the various iterations of “Bunny Ranches” fade out, is where the “lonely” begins, with endless expanses of nothing much as far as the eye can see and no traffic other than me. Framing the pavement for a while are wide shallow ditches in the yellow sand/clay and kids have taken the ubiquitous tennis ball sized black stones and spelled out messages, names, etc. in the mud. There are no overpasses or concrete walls to tag here, so one must make do when the urge for anonymous communication arises.

It is easy to be numbed by miles of treeless desert on both sides, but it does change character subtly from no vegetation to low bushes, with the color going from pale yellow to sage. (I wonder if “sage” is as popular a color for clothes out here?). Occasionally I see an unfortunate desert dweller who ended life beneath some passing wheels. How unlucky does one have to be to cross the road just when the only vehicle in days is coming by ?

It is, as advertised, a lonely road

There are some rises, brief moments of gentle curves, as the road gains altitude. The low passes are still higher than the highest point in my home state of Kentucky where Black Mountain tops out at less than 5,000 feet. Reaching about 7,500 feet on this road is common and the cold is palpable as I rise. Just where it should be for a break on this lonely road is Austin, a tiny town located just on the west side of a pass over 7,000 feet. I can picture the pioneers who, having crossed a desert and ascending this pass, got down the other side and decided that this would be a good place to settle in and start a town. There are two restaurants in this wide spot in the road, one at each end of the town and I choose the second one. I get a chef’s salad, which turns out to be enough for three people. I notice halfway through that the chef has left out the meat portion, and when I tell the waitress, soon the chef appears, apologetic, bearing a plate with the meat and enough salad for yet another person. I failed to bring three friends for lunch and, since the road is indeed lonely, I haven’t seen anyone else out here I could invite to share.

One should never pass up a gas opportunity out here, especially on a rather thirsty sidecar rig, so I fill up the tank again at the only station in town and begin the slow climb up the switchbacks and down the canyon on the other side. The desert here on the east side of the pass is a bit more green-ish, with more low bushes and the occasional scrawny tree. Unlike the pioneers who crawled across this expanse in wagons, I’m whistling by it all at 70 mph or sometimes a bit more. The loneliest road looks a lot more so, I suspect, when the time to cross it is in days or weeks rather than hours.

A stop in the very western -movie looking town of Eureka for another top off and soon I’m in Ely, Nevada, which is distinguished by a wide variety of opportunities to gamble away one’s trip money in historical-looking institutions. Needing to retain enough resources to eat and sleep and feed the rig on the way home, I bypass the temptation.

Lodging for tonight is on the east side of town at the old-style Bristlecone Motel, where the clerk tells me that my assigned room has just been completely remodeled and available just today. . “You will be the first person ever to use that bathroom” she says with pride. I don’t know that I’ve ever had such an honor.

I can see my breath in the morning air as I wheel the rig out of its parking space and head south the next morning. While Rt. 50 may have the publicity as “lonely”, this Rt 93 is a long, long road with not much to see, but desert and the temperature is getting still colder as I ascend the passes. Conner Pass rises over 7,400 feet, then trickles down switchbacks to the slightly warmer valley floor. The rig is getting thirsty again and I’m just about to pull over and use the Roto-Pax spare can, when signs tell me that I’m approaching Pioche, NV. The “new” road bypasses Pioche, so I detour into town and find fuel at the only station for miles. It is an old style station, slanted awning over two pumps and the iconic dinosaur of Sinclair on the tall sign out front. There is a small garage attached, with a car on a lift and an air hose running across the pavement from a compressor in a small shed. Inside the station there is a glass counter with some dusty automotive knickknacks and a few candy bars, just like I recall from the 60’s. No mega-store, “buy gas and a weeks groceries” here. The attendant has a shirt with his name on it, but he looks and sounds so much like the actor John C. Reilly that I look around to see if I’ve stumbled into a film shoot. Outside, there is an old man filling up a huge early 70’s vintage American car at the pump ahead of mine. He is bent double, using two canes for support as he makes his way to the rear of his car, eye level with the gas cap. From the banter between them, it is clear that he is a regular here. The attendant assists him with the fill up and then, after the man has situated himself back in the car, looking up through the steering wheel, tells him “and this time, don’t run over my air hose”. The massive old car pulls slowly away, running both sets of wheels over the air hose. I’m going to give him a bit of time before I follow.

Despite having three possibilities to choose from, there are no open restaurants in Pioche this morning, so I have to wait until Cedar City Utah for sustenance. At a gas stop north of Zion ,a man and his son come out of the store to admire the rig, and after the usual Sidecar Delay Factor conversation they tell me to go up three or four miles on this side road and turn around and park to look east into the “back side” of Zion park, where the tourists don’t typically reach. I follow their directions and they were right…impressive. It occurs to me that these folks live with this grandeur every day, just part of the background of their lives.

Zion National Park is crowded but even hordes of tourists in SUV’s cannot subtract much from the view with red rock cliffs and arches lining the road, looming overhead and filling every scene. I’ve not been to the floor of the Grand Canyon, but I suspect this might be what it looks like. The rig draws some attention from some of the many motorcyclists cruising through the park, with many “thumbs up” gestures replacing the customary wave. I park in one of the many pulloffs and walk down a short trail, being careful to stay on the well trodden path . In moments, the rig and the road are out of sight and there is only the rocks, the scrub trees and the critters who call this place home. A tiny lizard comes out of an unseen hole to inspect me, decides I’m not much of a threat and returns to tell the family it’s nothing important. Here, only a few dozen paces from the road, one can turn 360 degrees and not see anything that suggests the 21st Century…or for that matter, the previous few….has intruded on this marvelous place.

A little bit of Zion

Outside the park just a mile or two , the road starts down and the terrain changes dramatically into a sort of forest of scattered thin pines, struggling to hold on in this dry land. I can only imagine the pioneers heading west through this landscape, laboring up such a long rise and then finding themselves in the pass that became this spectacular park. For some, I’m sure it was a religious experience.

Once home of the stars, now shelter for a wandering sidecarist

At Kanab the time for finding a place to stay had arrived. After a quick tour through town, I selected Parry’s lodge over the generic chain motels along the Main Street. This lodge began as a private home, but in 1931 was turned into the place where the stars stayed back in the day for Monument Valley movies and other locations. Three Parry brothers recognized the coming of tourism and that the burgeoning movie industry would be looking for exotic scenery for motion pictures. They made sure the Hollywood executives knew that they were the “go to” guys for lining things up in this area and steered the actors to the developing Parry lodge for accommodation. Nowadays the stars stay in luxurious trailers on site and the lodge is more for the “civilian” tourist trade. The rooms, quite adequate by my motorcycle trip standards, are small and a bit spartan compared to the Holiday Inn, but no chain can match the ambiance. The rooms are named for the actors who stayed in them and most include some memorabilia associated with that person. There was a Margo Kidder room, but she wasn’t in it at the time, so I let them assign me wherever they wished. I ended up in the James Arness room, at the end of one row, past the original barn now being used as a theater. The bathroom is typical of motels from the heyday, old style fixtures, and made for the somewhat shorter people that we used to be. At 6’2”, I’m not as lofty as the Gunsmoke star Arness, and the sink top is just 6″ above my knees. I can imagine the tall actor bending over nearly double to wash the red Utah dust off his face. Just another day at the office.

There are pictures on the walls of the lobby and breakfast area, stills from movies made around here and in some cases, right here on the premises. The motel pool was used for some swimming scenes, with the stills showing recognizable actresses in the swimsuits of the 50’s and 60’s, wide lipsticked smiles beaming up at the camera. There are signed photos from the stars of the day, John Wayne, Richard Boone, Ronald Reagan, Fess Parker, Clint Walker, and others, along with many photos of actors we all know by sight, but not by name. The second level players who were in every western, but never the star.

I’m sure these room blocks witnessed some wild parties as well as petty jealousies over who got the better room and the more juicy part in the picture. There were, I’m certain, location romances with all that those entail. If these walls could talk…probably better for all concerned that they don’t.

Supper is across the street at a “cowboy” bar and restaurant which has an old-looking sign at the entrance asking patrons to “Check guns here”. I don’t have a firearm, and wonder if the need arises, could they loan me one ?

Later, having successfully fed without the need for gunplay, I make my way back to the Parry and tuck in for the night where once Marshall Dillon laid his head. Tomorrow, Arizona.

About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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