This year was a pretty good year. While we didn’t make it everywhere on the list, we did see quite a bit. Lets take a look:
Thursday December 20th 2012 Day 1:
Day one was simply the escape from San Jose. Full of a whole lot of traffic and just getting out of the Bay Area. Final packing and prep always manages to take longer than you might expect so of course we got a late start. We made it up into Carson City, but not having a set plan, we just found a field that looked good and made “camp”.
Friday December 21st 2012 Day 2:
Day 2 started with a quick realization that we didn’t pick the best place to sleep, as the town was starting to wake up and populate the business complex that we were near. We re-arranged the truck and turned it back into “driving mode,” and went to explore the town a bit. We seemed to be about a half an hour too early to find much open yet. We took a quick walk around the outside of the local train museum, then headed downtown.
On the advice of the Churchill County Museum staff we were off in search of the petroglyphs which lie just outside of town and not too far off of the highway. The petroglyphs, or Native American rock carvings for those (like us) that had never heard the word before were interesting to see, but the weather was getting colder, the day was getting later and I still hadn’t gotten to see a real ghost town. We had a quick lunch in the parking lot and headed back down the highway.
We made a quick stop in Austin to top off fuel and try to get the guide book stamped but (I think) the Courthouse was closed so no stamp for us. A couple miles outside of town, we figured out the washer solvent we picked up sucked and the windshield was impossible to see out of. We pulled off to the side of the road to throw some water on it, no big deal right? Well, there was a good amount of snow on the roadside and 2WD wasn’t grabbing much traction, so into 4-Hi we went. Even 4-Hi was slipping a good amount. There was no traffic coming so I stopped and dropped into 4-Lo to play around. 4-Lo was pulling through the snow fine when Jamie asked if I had the rear locker engaged. I didn’t, but figured what the hell lets hit it and see if the rear end slides around a bit. The locker didn’t engage right away so I kept driving down the shoulder to make sure it didn’t have a problem as we hadn’t used it in far too long, and I didn’t want to find out it wasn’t working in the wrong place. The good news is the locker finally engaged, the bad news by the time it did the shoulder had gotten very narrow and very steep so we it finally did lock and the rear slid out, so we ended up backwards into the ditch. Driving out wasn’t happening and we quickly discovered that under that snow was a whole lot of loose gravel. We were pretty well equipped for a self recovery, but it was far easier to flag down the next truck coming down the road and throw the tow rope on to help us drive out. Sorry no pics of this one since I was working on getting the truck out rather than gathering evidence of my mistake.
Once back on concrete, it was time to head to our first ghost town. It was getting dark, but I figured seeing one at dusk and possibly one in morning would be perfect. We had settled on the first destination mainly because it was the closest to us and we thought we could get there while there was still a bit of light left. We had set the GPS coordinates into our Garmin and followed its advice down a dirt road. After a few miles our British accented Garmin asked us to “turn left”. We looked left, and only saw cows and pastures. We did eventually find some signs of tracks into the pasture but it didn’t actually go anywhere. Even in the dim lighting we should have been able to spot any decent sized ruins but saw nothing in the distance that the Garmin claimed our destination was, so we headed back to highway 50 to try our luck further down the road.
Eureka! No we didn’t find our ghost town; we found Eureka NV. I’m sure this is a great town, but there wasn’t much open by the time we got here. We drove around to snap a few pics and got our survival guide stamped at the gas station while topping off. We continued down Hwy 50 which was now really starting live up to its “Loneliest road in America” motto, only passing cars every couple of songs or so. We finally reached the turn off for our next ghost town attempt and after pulling off the highway on to the gravel road, were greeted with signs for road construction.
The road construction had completely shut down the road we needed to take according to the directions we had, but the Garmin said we had another option so down the path we went. Again the Garmin randomly asked us to turn left, and again we looked at each other with the question of where? I double checked the location using my phone’s GPS and it swore there was a road to our left as well, but I will let you be the judge ….
I’m sure there really is a road or path of some sort that was there, but we were not finding it under the snow cover, and as much as I wanted to find the ghost town and see Mt Hamilton in the morning light, we decided that it was probably safest to move on so once again we backtracked to Hwy 50, took a right and headed to the next town to find a place to sleep for the night.
Saturday December 22nd 2012 Day 3:
We knew the area had gotten snow, and we had talked to the BLM to find out what trails were open and what trails were closed. The official answer was that the trails never close in Utah, but if you get stuck, you could be there a while and it could cost you a few bucks to get out. I’ve never been one to just take someone else word for it so we got off the 191 and started down the back way into Arches National Park. While the snow wasn’t deep enough to cause traction issues it was deep enough to hide the trail. Not knowing what was under us made the going much slower than we had anticipated. With the day half gone already we decided to stick a fork in this idea and put it on the back burner until we have more time to explore the area.
We finished the day up on highway 70. I was bummed to not get more off road time, but I don’t know how the family would feel about us missing Christmas for trail time.
Sunday December 23rd 2012 Day 4:
December 23rd we started with a chilly Nebraska sunrise. From there we got straight to business and suffered through a day of interstate 80 driving.
Over the course of our stay we saw some family, ate some great food, hit up the Henry Doorly Zoo, and did some shopping.
When I say we did some shopping, we did my kind of shopping. My parents car has been falling apart, and the phone calls to me asking how to fix things on a vehicle I knew nothing about were getting frustrating. Time for an upgrade. We test drove a few different vehicles from a Rav4 to a 4th gen 4Runner, but settled on this 98 4Runner Limited. It has a few flaws including a check engine light for an o2 sensor, but runs wells overall. Most importantly it has all the features I wanted including 4WD and the rear locker. Best of all the questions will be less, but when they do come, I’ll be able to walk them through it over the phone.
Tuesday January 1st 2013 Day 9:
Per usual we got a bit of a late start on the day, and had only made it Lincoln, NE by sunset. The good news is we were still ahead of schedule. Since we got into town a bit early, we decided to follow the theme and leave a bit early too.
From Lincoln, we got off the interstate and hit Hwy 6. It was great to be off the interstate and have some scenery again. We stopped in Hastings, NE to grab some dinner and found a Pizza Hut that still made a pizza the way it’s supposed to be! I don’t normally get into food photos, but the Pizza Hut’s around us have been terrible for years. Apparently they take a bit more pride in their pizzas around here. From Hastings we headed to Holdridge, then turned south and aimed towards Kansas. We spent a little bit of time in Colby, KS to snap a few more pictures before running back into interstate 70.
Wednesday January 2nd 2013 Day 10:
Off to the top of the world, or close to it anyway. Jamie had mentioned that she had never been to Pikes Peak, so we set that as our first real destination for the return trip. We made quick stop for breakfast and then headed out. They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and this time it saved our butts for sure. We arrived at the entrance to the peak just as the plow trucks were finishing up. Even if you think you could tackle the snow, they are a little protective here and won’t let you try it. The Summit is 14, 115 ft above sea level. This means its 19 miles of driving up and another 19 down. This also means that if it’s cold out that day, its really fucking cold at the top. Wind chills had to be several degrees below zero.
It was a tough choice of seeing amazing views and trying to capture them digitally or staying in the warm truck, but I bundled up, well mostly. It still wasn’t cold enough for me to put pants on. And braved the elements for a few shots before heading back down the hill.
Our next stop was the Garden of the Gods. This can be an amazing place. Today however wasn’t the best time to stop by. It started off nice enough, but soon turned a bit gloomy. With a heavy overcast sky it certainly was no longer at its best. We still spent a bit of time walking around the park before deciding the number of tourists and bland skies were just too much.
After leaving the Garden, we backtracked a bit and headed down hwy 24 towards Breckenridge. A beautiful place, and a great place to stop for the day.
Thursday January 3rd 2013 Day 11:
We were off to a chilly start again, so I kept the road side ice sculpture shots to a minimum. We continued down the 70 for a bit then dipped off on hwy 128 to check out the town of Cisco.
Cisco is a pretty well known ghost town, and as such can be seen in a few films. The close proximity to the freeway means this also too easy to get to and has been vandalized by low lifes and not just naturally rotted over time. Because of this we didn’t spend a lot of time here.
We continued down hwy 128 just east of Arches National Park. The frozen scenery was amazing, and just after passing the Dewey Bridge we headed off road to explore a bit.
We explored what turned out to be the Top of the World Safari trail for a bit. While it offered amazing views we decided that we wouldn’t complete it this time. We didn’t have a map of it with us to know just where we were, how long it was, or what to expect. One of the down sides to this kind of random exploring. Particularly in the winter when even easy trails can become far more dangerous.
After a little distance down the 128 we stopped at the Fischer Towers for lunch. I’m sure in the summer this is a busy stop, but in early January we had it all to ourselves.
Continuing down the 128 we eventually came to decision making time. Do we hang a left and hit Moab, or turn right? We turned right. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to hit Moab since I had agreed to meet someone and make a purchase.
The next stop? Vegas Baby! This time it wasn’t so much about exploring as much as it was just the perfect place to stop on our way. We didn’t do much other than check in to the Excalibur Hotel and find a car wash to give the 4Runner some much needed love.
Friday January 4th 2013 Day 12:
At this point the fun was pretty well over. We were not only back on concrete full time, but we were headed in to southern California. The first stop U-Haul. Yep we haven’t moved enough crap from south to north lately. We were off to pick up a drive train for Whitey. There was no tourist stops, or anything like that. This was all business.
Saturday January 5th 2013 Day 13:
We thought about finishing the trip up on day 12, but ran out of time. It got a bit late, and after this much going on in such a short amount of time we decided to stop about 3 hours short of our San Jose Destination. We spent one last night in the truck near San Luis Obispo, before getting an early start to finish things up.
Once we got back to the shop we tucked the 4Runner and U-Haul into the shop and gave the poor truck a bit of a rest. The trip itself added just over 4700 miles, and brought the total up to around 210k miles.
Overall not a bad way to spend 2 weeks.