On Tuesday morning we woke up at 4:30am so as to have a good start on the day's travel and so were up and out well before sunrise. Along the way we had planned to see a couple of notable landmarks including a tree than seemed to be growing right out of the middle of a rock and a giant head of Abraham Lincoln at one of the rest stops.
|Tree (in a treeless landscape) that is apparently growing right out of solid rock.|
|Abraham Lincoln, Laramie, WY|
By midday the scenery was definitely transitioning to more plains with mountains in the distance. The highlight of my Wyoming scenery tour was seeing several bands of wild horses, one of which was right next to the highway, as well as a herd of antelope. Unfortunately, getting your camera out and taking a clear shot while going 75 mph is not easy so I have barely any photodocumentation.
|Wild Horse Band #2 of 4 that we saw, and one of the only ones I got a semi-decent picture of...the first ones were literally right next to the fence, but I completely forgot that the wild horses were in this area so I was too caught off guard to snap a shot before we passed them by and the rest were much farther from the road.|
|A third larger band, silhouetted on the horizon line|
|Lots of oil drilling in WY|
Finally we reached a pull-off in the middle of the Bonneville Salt Flats, which was to be our last scenic stop for the day. Apparently this area is the concentrated salt remains of a huge Paleolithic lake that used to cover the entire area (and is the reason why we were traveling for so long through such a flat basin). Now the remaining salt lies in a concentrated 30 square mile patch anywhere from a few inches to a foot or more deep. In the summer it is actually completely dry (although it was slightly wet when we saw it due to the higher water tables throughout Utah right now) and there is a pure white salt desert as far as your eye can see. They actually do all the official record time trials across the flats because they are so smooth and uniform. I wish we could have seen it during a drier time so we could have walked out on the flats themselves but you can still see all the salt collecting at the edges and accumulating on the rocks. When we were there, if you looked down into the water, all you saw was a ground of salt. Pretty cool.
When we reached the other side of the salt flats we had crossed into Nevada and figured we'd stop soon for the night. We had noticed a small band of snow on the weather radar but it was a thin band, maybe 20 miles wide, that was projected to only drop an inch of snow so we didn't think much of it. Also, we were traveling against the direction of the storm so we figured we'd have to deal with it for 15-30 minutes and then we'd be clear. What we didn't count on was the fact that Nevada highways are not lighted and you're literally out in the middle of nowhere most of the time; the exits are at least 30 miles apart so once you make the commitment to take the highway you're kind of stuck.
The snow started out with thick and wet flakes, which didn't stick to the ground but made visibility very poor as the headlights reflected off of what looked like a solid wall of snow. We were fine going slow with our hazards on and hugging the right side (there was no shoulder), but the trucks that shared the road were not so kind. At one point we almost got run off the highway by an ignorant trucker who was determined to take his half out of the middle while continuing to go 60mph so we decided to pull over at the first exit we saw and wait for the visibility to improve.
After about 30 minutes the snow appeared to let up a bit so, assuming that meant it was almost past, we headed back on the highway. As luck would have it we ended up behind a couple of plows. This was a good thing because although the going was slow, no one could blow by us and pass them and we were driving on freshly plowed pavement. We figured we'd follow them as long as possible and, if it got dicey, we could just follow them off an exit. Slow going, but very safe. Unfortunately after about 10 miles they must have reached the edge of their range so they pulled off in a turn-around and went back the other direction, deserting us in what was now about an inch or two of piling snow on the highway and 30 miles from the nearest exit. Awesome. Since there was nowhere to go but forward, not even a shoulder to pull off on, we had no choice but to keep going. Finally we reached a truck pull-off and, feeling very stupid for trusting the local radar, pulled over to evaluate our options. At this point the snow was starting to drift and stick; plus the trucks were still being jerks since they were heavy enough to drive just fine.
|Following the plows|
It felt like forever but miraculously after about 30 minutes the snow suddenly lessened, then stopped completely and we were back up to 75mph as if nothing had ever happened. Not even a flake on the road! I was incredibly drained after driving through all of that and we were both really ready to make it to the hotel and into bed. Not only was I mentally exhausted from the stressfulness and extreme concentration needed to drive in the snow, but the difficult weather also added several hours to the total time spent in the car that day (which was already one of our longer days). Winnemucca, like every other town in Nevada, was a cheesy casino town with sketchy lights and even sketchier motels, but luckily our hotel (while nothing special) was at least clean and secure (although the host at the desk was a dead ringer for Milton from Office Space, kinda amusing). After two quick showers we went right to bed, looking forward to starting our final leg of the journey the next morning and hoping our bad luck would have run out by then...