Road report #8 – From SE Oregon to Denver

I left SE Oregon on Friday 10/6. It was time to do laundry and get a real shower so I needed to find a town with some services where I could take care of business.  I had done a little research online and thought Winnemucca, NV looked like a town worthy of exploring.  Well, Winnemucca should be called Winne-YUCK-a.  I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  If you like casinos, you might like it but that’s not my scene.

On Saturday, 10/7, I said good-bye and good riddance to Winne-SUCK-a and headed southeast towards Austin, NV via route 305.  It was pretty but barren country, nothing but wide open sage brush pasture land, hedged in on each side by barren looking mountains.  Other cars and trucks on the road were few and far between.

As I approached Austin, NV to connect with Highway 50, I started to climb in elevation and trees started appearing back in the landscape.  The smell of juniper and pine and sage filled the van.

Austin, NV sits at 6600 ft.  I found a well preserved town with some cool old prospector style buildings.  Better yet I found a place that served a decent burger.

After Austin, NV the road continued to climb up to Austin Pass at about 7500 ft. Views were spectacular but I felt very exposed.  This section of Highway 50 is winding at times with no shoulder and no guard rail in places.

About 30 minutes outside of Austin, NV, I diverted off Highway 50 to find Spencer Hot Springs.  It’s a well known and a well used hot spring.  Camping is dispersed through the sage brush hills so it’s possible to find privacy despite the popularity of the hot springs.  When I arrived I wasn’t initially clear where the hot springs were located exactly so I parked and jumped out and started walking around.  I saw what appeared to be somebody’s campsite and didn’t want to encroach but it also felt like the way to the hot springs.  Well, it WAS the hot springs and these jackasses had actually set up their campsite, car and tent and fire pit and all their stuff RIGHT NEXT TO THE HOTSPRING.  Lame! Lame! Lame!

Spencer Hot Springs and an example of how NOT to set up camp at a hot spring site.

It turns out there are actually several hot spring pools at Spencer Hot Springs and I found a nice camping spot about a 100 yards away from another hot spring area where fellow campers were better versed in proper hot spring camping ettiquette.

I set up camp and enjoyed a couple of cocktails and watched the sun set over the plains and mountains.  A group of wild burros picked their way down out of the hills to hang out with the campers and I could hear them braying, as well as coyotes yipping, as the evening light faded and the stars came out.  Views went on for miles and I could see campfires flickering up and down the valley.  The hotspring area cleared out relatively early and I enjoyed a nice quiet night.

The next morning, Roo and I had a nice walk around the sage brush hills as the sun was rising over the hills.  Jack rabbits were all of the place and Roo gave chase.  I know I should have tried to interrupt the hunt but I was mesmerized.  It was just pure power and speed and animal instinct and it was marvelous to watch her tear after that hare through the sage brush.   She came back, wild eyed and panting, looking like she had just had the time of her life.  (No worries, no hares were harmed.)

Spencer Hot Springs area

On Sunday, 10/8, I packed up and took off from Spencer Hot Springs, continuing east along route 50.  I stopped in Eureka, NV, for breakfast.  The town had some very well preserved historic buildings, including an old opera house.  Unfortunately about half were standing vacant and many were marked for sale.   This must have been quite the town back in it’s heyday.

Eureka, NV

I kept driving east along route 50, stopping in Ely, NV to fuel up and to snap a picture of the Hotel Nevada and its fabulous signage.

Hotel Nevada in Ely, NV

Just outside Ely, NV a sign for Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park caught my eye and Roo and I made a quick diversion to check it out and get a quick hike in. The charcoal ovens, which are 27 feet in diameter and 30 feet tall, were built in the 1870’s and were used to produce charcoal to fuel the smelters in the area that were producing ore in support of the railroad and silver mining businesses.   Filling each one of these ovens required 6 acres worth of trees.  The ovens were run for 12 hours and resulted in about 50 bushels of charcoal.  As the railroads completed their expansion west and the silver boom waned, the ovens fell out of use after only 3 years.  In that short period of time the surrounding hills were stripped of all juniper and pinion pines for a radius of 35 miles.  After the ovens fell out of use, they were used by stockmen and prospectors as shelters during harsh weather and legend has it they were used by stagecoach bandits as hideouts.

Charcoal Ovens built in the 1870’s
View of the Charcoal Ovens from above.
View from hike

I pushed on and made it to Great Basin National Park as the sun was going down and grabbed a campsite in the park.   The ranger at the Visitor Center warned me that it was supposed to get cold that evening, in the teens.  Roo and I settled in for the evening and the furnace was cranking, keeping us toasty.  I work up at 4am and thought, dang it’s cold. Then I glanced at the furnace control and saw that it was blinking indicating the system had faulted.   Damn! The furnace was out!  The blinking pattern indicated the issue had something to do with the fuel supply lines, something I was not prepared to repair on the road.  With temperatures dipping down into the 20’s and below in the evening, that meant camping was out until that was fixed.  I just didn’t have the proper bedding for those temperatures.

In the early morning chill, after rallying to make coffee and pack up camp,  Roo and I drove up to the Wheeler Mountain Campground at 10,000 feet and walked around.  The campground was closed for the season and deserted so it was the perfect place for a walk with Roo.  A creek bubbled it’s way through the campground and we checked out the crazy ice formations that had formed over night.

Great Basin National Park and Wheeler Peak

After the romp with Roo around the campground area,  I went to do a tour of Lehman Cave.  Wow!  The cave system and formations are millions of years old and largely unchanged.  The cave was discovered in the late 1800’s and turned into a tourist attraction.   Early visitors were allowed to break off pieces of stalactites and stalagmites and carve their initials or names into the ceiling/walls.  This is sad but also kind of fascinating.  We could see inscriptions dated in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  The cave was used as a speakeasy at one point and dances were held in one of the larger rooms.   Now it’s a federal offense to even touch anything.  I had to keep my hands in my pockets.  I kept wanting to reach out and touch the walls.   The lint and dust that comes in on visitors during the cave tours does harm to the caves.  Periodically they shut down sections and volunteers dust the formations.



After the cave tour, I pushed off from Great Basin National Park, and continued heading southeast along the Ely Highway.  The drive was pretty but this is, so far, one of the most barren and quietest stretches of road that I’ve driven to date.

I stopped in Beaver, UT to overnight at a motel and then left Beaver on 10/10, intending to reach Capital Reef National Park that day.  It was a pretty drive with lots to do along the way.  First stop was at the Fremont Indian State Park off Highway 70 to do some hiking with Roo.  I was pleasantly surprised to find petroglyphs.

Petroglyphs at Hundred Hands Cave


Mud Swallow’s nests
Autumn Color at Fremont Indian State Park
View from hike

From Fremont Indian State Park, I pushed on and the drive just kept getting prettier and prettier the closer we got to Capital Reef National Park.

A lake along the drive between Fremont State Park and Capital Reef National Park.  Utah is so stinking pretty!

I arrived at Capital Reef National Park mid afternoon on Tuesday, October 10th and I spent that afternoon driving around the park.  Holy cow! My pictures do not do this place justice!



The park contains the historic settlement of Fruita, Utah.  Originally settled by a group of Mormons in the 1880’s, a few well preserved historic buildings still remain as well as the orchards that the town was named for.  Visitors are allowed to pick fruit from the trees if they’d like.

Capital Reef National Park.  Historic barn in Fruita, Utah.

Petroglyphs attributed to the Fremont Indian culture, thought to be active in the area between 600-1300 AD, are visible not far from the visitor center.

Petroglyphs at Capital Reef National Park.

On Wednesday, 10/13, I left Capital Reef National Park to continue making my way towards Denver.   My intended overnight spot was Fruita, CO.   I had no idea what the drive would be like.  Wow. Wow! WOW! The landscape was otherworldly.  I couldn’t help wonder what early explorers and pioneers must have made of this landscape.  It’s beautiful but it seems so inhospitable and unsuitable for humans.

View from Route 24, Utah.

On the drive, a sign for ‘Valley of the Goblins State Park’ piqued my interest and I decided to go check it out. Whoa… this place is on my list of places to return to someday.  Roo and I had limited time to poke around and we did a quick hike but I think we barely scratched the surface of the geological wonders of this area.


Roo with ‘goblins’

After poking around Valley of the Goblins State Park, we drove on and made it to Fruita, CO late afternoon and I grabbed a cheap motel room for the night.  Fruita, CO is one of the few places on this road trip that’s a repeat visit.  I’d been here several years ago on a previous road trip.  This is a great small town, known for the mountain biking in the area.  Good food, good beer, good coffee and outdoor fun is easy to find.  If you ever get to Fruita, CO, make sure to stop at the The Hot Tomato for pizza and beer.  They make a mean pizza and it’s a fun and friendly place.

Just outside of Fruita,  CO is the Colorado National Monument.  I hadn’t had a chance to check this out on my previous visit so I decided to drive the historic 23 mile long Rim Rock Drive on my way out of town on Thursday, 10/12.   A must do for anyone that visits that area!

View from Rim Rock Drive in the Colorado National Monument. The town of Fruita, CO is in the valley in the background.
Big Horn Sheep along Rim Rock Drive.


From Fruita, CO I drove along I-70 towards Denver.  The scenery was good from the highway but I can’t say it was a pleasant drive.  People drive like freaking maniacs along I-70 and the winds can be strong and gusty causing the tractor trailers to occasionally jump their lanes. I was stressed out because Greta was having trouble with the Colorado mountain passes.   I was ending up in the right hand lane doing 30 mph with the gas pedal to the floor, hazards on, hoping no one was going to read end me, a white knuckle grip on the wheel.

I was so relieved when I pulled of I-70 for the day, stopping first in Frisco, CO to down some german beer and sausages to calm my nerves before driving a few more miles on to Silverthorne, CO where I would spend a nice quiet evening at a friend’s mountain house.

I took off from Silverthorne, CO on Friday, 10/13.  Denver was so close… just 70 miles away.  I had a few more Colorado mountain passes to get over and I prayed to the road trip gods as I drove to please, please, please, just let me make it to Denver in one piece.  Greta limped her way up and over each pass and finally we dropped down into Denver and arrived at my sister’s house.  WHEW!  I was so relieved and ecstatic to make it.  Arriving in Denver was a major milestone and I was looking forward to taking a break from road life for a few days.

The next big road trip push starts Monday, 10/23, when my friend, Alyssa, arrives from Seattle to join me on the road from Denver to Santa Few, NM.  In the meantime, I’m taking care of Greta issues and enjoying the Denver scene.

Ciao for now.








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