48 States Day 4: Desert Magic, Alien Desert

Alturas CA – Page AZ
Tues Sept 22, 2020
(~837 miles)

Coca Cola mural in CedarvilleUp early as planned, I rolled out of the hotel lot in total darkness just past 05:00 PDT, heading once more into the middle of nowhere. This was the furthest point west of my journey, the turnaround spot, and all roads would now be leading me (mostly) east towards home.

Backtracking north five miles on US 395, I split off east on CA 299 to Cedarville. At the intersection with CR-1, I spotted this cool vintage Coca-Cola mural right next to me and snapped a quick pic. I took advantage of the stop to don warmer gloves as well.

I turned south on CR-1 for many miles, zipping through the dark wilderness with aux lights ablaze, on constant watch for deer or other critters that might choose to cross my path at an inopportune moment. I’d heard monster stories about the local jackrabbits and spotted one or two off to the side. The occasional lights from what I assumed to be remote ranches were the only indication of human life I could see.

My pre-trip checks on the wildfire situation had shown a major fire incident along this road back in August, but it had been contained some weeks ago. Any closures on this, the only road granting through passage into Nevada from northeast CA, would have had disappointing consequences for the route plan. Luckily all was well, though I could make out burned vegetation along the right edge of the highway in my headlights.

Nevada state lineThe Nevada state line wasn’t much to see on a small back road like this, but at least there was a sign to mark it. Temperatures had dropped to 40F from the 50s it had been while leaving Alturas.

My riding in Nevada to this point had been limited to two crossings: once on the interminable, boring and ugly I-80 for my 50CC; then heading back east on lonely US 50, which had been a great experience, but still not as “scenic” to my thinking at the time. I was hoping to discover a bit more variety of the state during this trip on which to revise my opinion.

As dawn approached along what was now NV 447, I relished the magic of the moment and surroundings  Рalone in the desert with pink horizon and smooth well-marked roadway ahead of me to be chewed up and spit out from my rear tire.

NV 447

There was a very nice section of canyon riding that surprised me just north of Squaw Valley Reservoir and had me oohing and ahhing. Despite some construction signage for one-lane road ahead, the crews hadn’t started up for the day so it was easy cruising. I passed several trucks carrying workers and equipment back in that direction as I motored onward.

NV 447

NV 447Eventually, I rounded a curve and spotted the isolated town of Gerlach NV off in the distance, sun rising above it. This remote settlement has long been a special place in the hearts of IBA and other long distance riders, due to it’s isolation, beauty and unique desert character.

Gerlach NV

Also the site of the annual Burning Man arts festival, several LD motorcycle gatherings and rallies have been held or passed through Gerlach over the years. It’s no surprise that Iron Butt Association chose a nearby location on the outskirts of town, to maintain a permanent memorial site for accomplished riders who have passed on. It is a pilgrimage many distance riders want to make at some point in their travels.

Guru RoadJust before reaching town, I turned north on Cr-34 for about a mile, then eased over the lip of the pavement with a large gulp, onto the rough gravel of Guru Road. A few hundred yards later, I pulled into a small clearing and shut off the bike to hear the quiet of the desert. On the hill above me were the familiar vertical posts and picnic table that I’d seen online from others’ visits to the Iron Butt memorial.

I walked around the area slowly, reading the various inscriptions and names of past riders, many of whose names I recognized through books and community lore, but most whom I’d never had a chance to know or meet. The sun broke over the distant mountains, and I was glad I’d roused myself so early to be here for this magical experience.

(follow the link at the end of this post for additional photos of the memorial)

IBA memorial

list of IBR winners

Iron Butt Rally winners

IBA memorial

Looking upon Eddie’s stone, (in)famous founder of the Butt Lite rally. Wish I’d met him.

sunrise at IBA memorialAfter 20-30 minutes, I bid the place farewell and headed back down to my bike. I adjusted my layers as the sun had already begun warming up the air around me, and carefully navigated my way back down Guru Road and gunned it over the lip and back onto safe pavement once again. A few minutes later, I was entering Gerlach.

Gerlach town limit
Gerlach NV

Easy to see the inspiration for this artwork

IBruno's Country Club idled slowly through the quiet streets of this rugged little community, taking in the RVs, creative yard decorations, and artwork. I pulled over for a quick photo of the Miner’s Club, which appeared to be the only thing open at this early hour, then took one of the famous Bruno’s Country Club next door.

My stomach growled, and I knew I’d regret not stopping for a coffee here. I turned back and pulled into the Miner’s Club lot. I donned my mask and walked in to a warm welcome from Diana, the proprietress behind the bar, who thanked me “for stopping in and not just takin a picture”. An old timer holding court on the corner stool was the only other person in the place, and I pulled up a stool to the bar and ordered coffee with a breakfast sandwich.

Miners ClubMiners Club

I retrieved my coffee from the carafe across the room and made some small talk with my two companions while Diane rustled up my sandwich. They were familiar with the IBA and the memorial I’d just visited. They were expecting several riders to be in town this coming weekend, but I told them I wasn’t with that particular group. They shook their heads and smiled when I told them about the journey I was on and that I’d just ridden there from Massachusetts a few days ago.

Miners Club

The coffee, sandwich, and conversation really hit the spot, and I was glad I’d stopped to absorb the vibes. A young outdoorsy-looking couple came in, so I said adi√≥s to my new acquaintances and finished up my coffee outside while gearing back up.

I continued south on 447 as the low morning sun intermittently showed itself over the mountain ranges scattered through the Black Rock Desert to my left. The lighting was dramatic.

48 States Day 4: Desert Magic, Alien Desert

The ride down to Fernley continued to be fast, easy, and scenic, though the fire smoke was still obviously muting the normal beauty of the area. There was a a nice view of distant Pyramid Lake to the west along one stretch. Nevada was really starting to grow on me.

NV 447

Pyramid LakeStarting in Nixon, there was a bit more green vegetation in the terrain as the highway began to parallel the Truckee River. When I finally entered Fernley, I hopped on my first interstate in over a day for just one exit to my chosen fuel stop. I secured my Nevada receipt at a Flying J combined with a casino. It felt a bit odd to be coming out of the peaceful desert into interstate wayside craziness again, but I knew I’d be heading right back out into open land very shortly.

Nevada receiptNevada fuel stop

I picked up US 50-ALT, which connected me after several miles through town to US 50 itself. My GPS then directed me turn off on NV 117, a nice local shortcut around the city of Fallon, dumping me out on US 95 south of town. Here I headed south into the desert once more, moving smoothly through the stark landscape.

US 95 Nevada

As I approached the large body of water shown on my GPS, which I knew to be Walker Lake, I could tell that any scenery would be impeded by the wildfire haze. However, I passed signs about bighorn sheep crossing ahead and was excited at the possibility of seeing these critters for the first time.

approaching Walker Lake

Sure enough, as I approached the lake, the ground on either side of the highway rose steeply into rocky bluffs, and suddenly there was a band of perhaps 20 bighorn sheep scattered on the cliff and right along the roadway, including a big ram! I braked hard and pulled over quickly with flashers on to let other traffic (all the vehicles I’d just passed over the last 10 minutes!) go by.

The sheep were startled a bit by my sudden appearance and most of them had scrambled up and out of sight by the time I got my phone camera pointed. A few curious onlookers remained on their high outcroppings looking down at me, but the big ram I’d seen was behind me and out of my shot range. Very cool!

bighorn sheepbighorn sheep

construction by Walker LakeThe highway skirts the western edge of the big lake via a cutaway along the cliffs, which I’m sure is usually a very lovely ride. However, in addition to the haze, there was construction up ahead so I had to come to a brief stop for a one-lane zone. The delay wasn’t too long and traffic began to open up a bit once past the work area.

Walker LakeLeaving Walker Lake behind, I spotted huge uniformly constructed buildings in rows off to my left with a distinctly military feel, so I knew I’d be passing by a base of some sort. It was the Hawthorne Army Depot, largest munitions depot in the world. Apparently, it is part of the nearby Fallon Naval Air Station, the current home of the US Navy Strike Fighter Tactics School (aka “TOPGUN”) where it was moved from the San Diego area in the 90s (after the movie).

Deep Well Trading Post in Luning NVI stopped in at a small rest area in the desert village of Luning for a quick break, snapping a shot of the little trading post store across the street. The bins out front were filled with all sorts of rocks, I assume for passing collectors of such things.

Route 95 merged with US 6 before reaching Tonopah, one of the larger towns along this southern Nevada route, where I took the opportunity to fuel up. Just down the street, I pulled in to the (in)famous Clown Hotel for a quick photo. Though I don’t have the particular discomfort with clowns that some folks do (coulrophobia), this place certainly registers high on my creepy scale. Aside from the clown decor, it seemed like a fairly clean modern mom-n-pop establishment. Tonopah seems worth an overnight stay to poke around, so maybe next time…

Clown Motel Leaving town on US 6 eastbound, I pulled over for a shot of the Tonopah Test Range sign, one of the military installations in the area that provides fodder for conspiracy theorists.

Tonopah NV

Tonopah Test Range sign

US 6 in Nevada

US 6 in Nevada

Where US 6 takes a sharp bend northeast at an abandoned wayside, NV 375 veers off to keep you moving east through even more isolated desert. I was now on the renowned and isolated “Extraterrestrial Highway” of southern Nevada, though I doubted these bright blue skies could conceal any alien ships tracking my movements across the desert this afternoon. The highway marks the northern border of the vast Nellis Air Force Base, which contains the Groom Lake Facility, aka “Area 51”.

Extraterrestrial Highway sign

This was another “open range” region, with occasional road signs warning the unwary traveler to watch for livestock in the roadway. An antelope crossed in front of me not too far along, and I saw plenty of cows grazing and resting close to the road as I buzzed along. There is not much cover when the little green men come calling.

antelopeopen range cow

salt flats on NV 375For one long stretch, I could see a long salt flat off in the distance to my left, with a couple dust devils whirling about. I stopped and tried to get some video of these gentle whirlwinds, but the phone camera was unable to capture them at such a distance.

My next stop was at the Little A’Le’Inn, in the tiny settlement of Rachael NV which I could see from a good 20 miles away on approach. This wacky-cool desert hotel/restaurant/alien gift shop has been a bonus fixture in many LD rallies over the years, and I’d been looking forward to seeing it for myself at last. I couldn’t actually remember if it was on the current Butt Lite X bonus listing, so I decided to grab a pic with the little green host out front, just in case.


Little A'Le'Inn

Little A'Le'InnLittle A'Le'Inn

Little A'Le'Inn There were several other travelers/tourists either dining outside or browsing to buy some kitsch indoors. I was ready for a break and when I saw they served homemade pie, I started to salivate. I ordered up a slice of strawberry-rhubarb (a la mode, of course!), and selected an indoor table so I could absorb more of the place’s character and enjoy a break from the sun.

The thin woman who seemed in charge of the place was running around, serving food and answering questions from visitors about how to get as close as possible to fabled Area 51. Perhaps they’d see something unexplainable, if they were lucky.

The pie was VERY good, with light flaky crust and tangy filling. I gave my compliments to the staff when paying my check, and they told me the rhubarb had actually been grown just next door in someone’s garden.

Little A'Le'Inn
pie at Little A'Le'Inn

Joshua treesThis stop was one of the highlights of my trip, but I had to keep moving if I wanted to have any chance of making Page by sunset. Just east of Rachael, the desert began sprouting acres of disjointed yet oddly beautiful cactus-trees all over the place as far as you could see. I’ve since determined them to be joshua trees (I think).

Just before the end of my trek on ET Highway, I spotted a large silver otherworldly visitor just begging for some attention across a very dicey gravel lot. The cows across the street seemed especially concerned at his presence, and their eyes followed me as I puttered back onto the road, begging for salvation. I hope the Others have reformed their cattle-mutilating ways, though I wouldn’t have said no to a nice helping of brisket…
NV 375worried cows

I turned north on US 93, the Great Basic Scenic Byway, and enjoyed some more lovely desert landscape, with another huge area of joshua trees, as well as some nice curvy sections through the bare rocky hills and sandstone bluffs.

US 93 in Nevada

US 93 Nevada

In Panaca, I turned right on NV 319 for the final 20 miles or so to the Utah border, only my second state line of the day. I’d really enjoyed Nevada this time around, and now l can truthfully say that I look forward to returning there for more exploration.

I followed UT 56 for another hour to the somewhat busy Cedar City (arriving in what must pass for rush hour), where I pulled in for my Utah documentation receipt. State #17.

Utah state lineUtah receipt

I picked up UT route 14 (a scenic byway) on the far side of town heading east into some beautiful and twisty roads, climbing up a plateau along stunning canyon walls and more splashes of yellow aspen fall color at altitude. This was 41 miles of excellent riding and scenery through Dixie National Forest, as the late afternoon sun lent contrast to the landscape.

UT 14
UT 14
UT 14 atop the plateau
UT 14Reaching US 89, I turned south and began to catch my first glimpses of southwest red rock in the hills and rock formations lining the route along the borders of Grand Staircase-Escalante Nat Monument . I caught the setting sun just before it disappeared from my view for good behind the mountains. I was somewhat disappointed that I wouldn’t make it to Page in time to view Glenn Canyon as hoped, but there wasn’t anything I could think of that I would have changed about this epic day of riding. The day just simply wasn’t long enough!
sunset on US 89US 89
Darkness had fallen by the time I reached the state border for my photo. Another 15 minutes and I was rolling into the city of Page and securing my documentation receipt for Arizona. As suspected, I was unable to see much of the big dam as I crossed over the Colorado River into town.
Arizona state line

Arizona receipt

After checking in at the Sleep Inn and cleaning up, I considered dinner options. I had hoped to get some tex-mex or Navajo cuisine while in this region, but none of the restaurants appeared to deliver and most looked to be closing soon. Nothing within a short walk and no local pizza joints either, so I resigned myself Dominoes. Then followed a very frustrating encounter (service-wise) with the ubiquitous chain, after I made the mistake of ordering online (which I usually never do). Bottom line is that I finally did end up receiving a pizza about two hours later, and I got it for free after some screw-ups on their end. So much for local flavor, but at least my stomach was full.

I reviewed tomorrow’s route and booked my next hotel. Because I was technically outside Navajo land and the rest of Arizona doesn’t do daylight savings, I was still effectively in Pacific time, so I’d be losing two hours during my ride to Oklahoma the next day. I set my alarm for another early start and drifted off when I could, still abuzz from the day’s amazing adventure.

Click here for more photos of today’s ride

map of Day 4 route

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