Thursday June 28.
In planning to go east, I had considered three basic routes. One was going a bit more south (from the Bay Area) stopping by the Grand Canyon, Powell River and such, but people warned me that it would be very hot down there. I don’t do well in hot weather and that was the reason I didn’t go down to Catalina Island, like I originally was thinking of doing. My very first plan last winter was to head south to Mexico first, but I wasn’t comfortable with that for a variety of reasons. The second route was hitting highway 80 all the way to Des Moines and then go north to Sault Ste. Marie. I want to stop by the top of Lake Huron before I go into Canada on my way to Maine. This route (80 all the way) seems the fastest but rather dull as well. The third alternative would be to start on 80 and then head north at Salt Lake City toward Yellow Stone Park and then make my way east one way or another. Possibly as far north as hwy 2 along the Canadian border.
I took the heat warnings to hart and headed out toward hwy 80 instead of going further south. As soon as I left the Bay Area I drove through the Sacramento Valley where it was plenty hot. The heat didn’t bother me much while driving, because the van has good air-conditioning. I don’t recommend anybody driving there without it, because driving with the windows open is just to darn loud and it doesn’t make it much cooler. I cruised right by Lake Tahoe, because I didn’t feel like stopping already, in spite of the fact that it’s a nice lake. Shortly after that, I entered Nevada and I was in for kind of a shock. It was like being in another country, very dry and desert like, billboards all over the place. Hundreds of miles of dry valleys alternating with even dryer hills which all seem to produce nothing useful. Occasionally there seems to be a small farm along a riverbed, but everything just seemed to dry. Once in a while an irrigation system produced some green patches where they harvest grass for hay. Here and there cows huddled around a well, I couldn’t imagine what they were living off. They also seem to irrigate around the few towns, because they were settled in some green patches. I couldn’t help wondering what all these people were all doing there surrounded by desert. Not my kind of place, I like water!
I found an RV park in Winnemucca with showers and wifi. It was almost filled up with RV’s, some seemingly trying to outsize the others. Most have those slide-outs, which makes the interior incredibly spacious. It sure makes my van look impossibly small. I wonder if I, one day, will be seduced to that amount of luxury. It’s just like boats, all trade-offs. Most of them left early next morning. Granted, they have their act together, leaving early and probably arriving early. Not like me, leaving late and arriving late. That morning after breakfast I worked on my next post. I had some catching up to do, which just happens when you as tardy as I am.
Friday June 29.
After a few more hundred miles I got to Wendover, which sits right on the edge of the Great Salt Lake Desert. Boy, what a weird place. Bars, hotels, casinos, gas stations and fast food edging this huge expanse of flat white nothingness. This desert is about 120 miles long, about 60 miles wide, with high mountains surrounding this ocean of white. I later learned that this once was a huge lake called Lake Bonneville and had since dried up for the most part. Great Salt Lake is what’s left of it, which is where I was heading. I felt a little intimidated to enter this space, but I filled up with gas and went for it. As I came down the hill I saw three straight black lines cutting through this white desert, two from the highway and one from the railroad. It took me a full hour, going perfectly straight to cross this expanse. I felt like on another planet this time.
At the other side, it gets a bit greener and one goes around a few hills to end up seeing the deep blue color of Salt Lake. One passes several salt mining plants along the way, apparently two million tons of salt get extracted every year. Suddenly there are birds around again, like seagulls, avocets, terns and cormorants. In the past few days, just about all I had seen in terms of birds were a few lost ravens trying to scratch a living out of nothing and a few desperate vultures. I stopped by a marina (Great Salt Lake State Marina) to see what was up and ended up staying the night there for two bucks.
Saturday June 30.
There was a bad smell around the marina and upon asking I learned that decaying Bryan shrimp caused this. Just where I was parked, next to the beach, the smell was so bad that even at night every breath was difficult to bear. The lake is so salt that almost nothing can live in there except those shrimp. It’s 12% salinity compared to 3% of seawater. I went swimming at some point and it was amazing how much your body wanted to float on the surface. You couldn’t keep your feet down.
The original Lake Bonneville was big and deep. One guy claimed that, about 10,000 years ago it broke through and dumped massive amounts of water down the rivers, creating the Columbia Gorge. Wikipedia however states that instead, the Snake River Canyon was created that way (thanks you, Steve M. for the correction). After it had dumped most of the water, no more water could flow out because it was trapped in the basin. Evaporation over centuries further lowered the level and increased the salinity. When you look up the slopes of the surrounding mountains you can see several hints of previous lake levels. It looked like horizontal roads cut in the hillside, but they were historic beach levels (see picture). Still the lake varies through the seasons about 4 feet and through the years more like 20 feet. The docks in the marina had long pilings just like in a tidal marina.
Around noon a predicted mild northerly breeze started to come in and I launched Fetch. I sailed for a few hours in very light breezes. As soon as the wind died, flies came hanging out around me, so it was either motoring or pick up a bit of wind again. This mild wind is typical they said, but sometimes severe bursts can come up real fast. One has to watch out for dust starting to kick up on the western shores, because that announces strong gusts up to 70 knots in no time. A few years back they measured 200 knots during a severe storm. It picked up catamarans and dock ramps and through them on the pavement. Since then catamarans are banned in the marina.
That evening, the yacht club was throwing a once in a year party, with a large variety of cheeses, wines and baked goods. As a visiting sailor I immediately was invited as a guest. How lucky was that! We all huddled in the shade, because the sun was seriously hot. I got to tell about my trip and got advise about places to go. One woman laid out cheese sticks showing the next few states, pointing out how to get from one lake to the next. Upon her advice I were to visit Jackson Lake to sail right next to the mountains of the Grand Teton National Park (Grand Teton is 13770 feet high).