Why I Love Deserts: Nevada’s Highway 95 Is an Example

While many people think of the desert as a wasteland to travel through at 70 MPH plus, there is great beauty.

Peggy and I have made numerous trips up and down Nevada’s Highway 95. Most of our journeys to the Southwest start with that route. We never tire of the beauty along the way. Our frequent trips up and down the highway mean that I have done several posts on it over the years. The photos I am posting today were taken near the Town of Tonopah. There’s a good chance that you will have seen some of them. But they are worth looking at again. At least I think so…

I always think these lonely power poles add to the photo.
Black and white works as well. I think it adds drama.
A distant shot may classify as a close-up in the desert.
Another example.
I’ll conclude with what a distant shot looks like in the desert.

Peggy and I have now wrapped up our visit to Brookings on the Oregon Coast. Next Friday I’ll begin posting photos of what we saw. Naturally there will be sea stacks that the coast is famous for. We also captured a spectacular sunset. No surprise there. The tide pools provided a different perspective, however. We hung out with starfish, and anemones, and seaweed, and hermit crabs, and limpets. Oh my!


Monday’s Blog-a-Book from “It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me” : I kick off the second section of my book— Growing Up in a Graveyard— with the story of how I was kicked out of the first grade for a poorly done forgery and began my wandering ways.

Wednesday’s Blog-a-Book from “The Bush Devil Ate Sam” : I am put in the hospital for my Republican political views, as a fourth grader, and make a left turn from the right lane in community college preparing myself for the 60s, Berkeley, and the Peace Corps.

Here Kitty, Kitty: Lyman State Park, AZ… The Backroad Series— Highway 191

Here kitty, kitty, kitty. I was amused by this petroglyph of what appears to be a cougar running at Lyman State Park in Arizona. Other petroglyphs of cougars that Peggy and I have seen in the Southwest often have their tails over their backs.

We had started our backroad exploration of Highway 191 at Arches National Park in Utah and would wrap it up at Lyman State Park in Arizona. The two parks made nice bookends. I’d been by the park twice and considered stopping both times but thoughts of the Rocky Mountains looming ahead had kept me moving. The first time I was on my bicycle and planned to do a hundred mile trip across the range the next day. This time it was getting late and Peggy and I were tired from a long day of driving. We were lucky to get a space.

We went out for a walk as the sun was setting. The comic-appearing rock face on the left caught my attention. The nose was hard to ignore!

Our evening walk had taken us past a sign announcing a petroglyph trail, a happy surprise. Peggy and I have visited a number of petroglyph sites throughout the Southwest, many of which I have blogged about. We hadn’t realized that Lyman State Park also features the ancient rock art. We made a quick trip up the trail and vowed to return in the morning. Both the Anasazi and the Hopi had made their homes along the Little Colorado River, which was now damned up forming Lyman Lake. The petroglyphs were found in the rocks above the river. The Hopi believe they entered this world from another world near where the Little Colorado enters the Colorado River.

A sign placed by the park interpreted this rock art. The wiggly line represents the Water Serpent the Hopi would ask for water when water was scarce. Obviously they found it in the Little Colorado, which meant they could settle in the area. The guy on the right is jumping up and down holding corn they were able to grow. Or maybe he’s excited about his companion having a baby. You can see it hanging down. The umbilical cord hasn’t been cut yet. I’d be jumping up and down too. The wildlife looking on may symbolize the availability of game for hunting.
Behold the turtle who only makes progress when it sticks its neck out. At least, I think it’s a turtle. I also admired the lichen on the right.
A pair of very long snakes? Or at least their trail. Have you ever seen a snake trail crossing a dirt road?
There was also an interpretation sign for this. The thick line in the middle was apparently a migration route. Off to the left are snakes. The guy on the right may be dead since that is how death is sometimes shown in petroglyphs. I wonder if the snakes got him. Or Kitty, which was just to the left.
Land use planning? A sign suggested that this was a map that showed the various farms or settlements along the Little Colorado.
Another example of a petroglyph map.
Who knows?
My interpretation here is of a bear print with lots of sharp claws…

There’s much more to Lyman State Park than petroglyphs. For one, the lake is apparently a popular boating lake. None were there at the time, which pleased us given the likely noise. We wandered around and took in the sights

What the…? How’d you like to come home to this?
Hungry swallow chicks. 🙂
Who lives here? It’s a spider. I didn’t shove my finger down the hole.
Peggy made her way along the Petroglyph Trail.
Which overlooked the lake.
And featured this tree…
And more rocks.
I’ll conclude with this attractive peninsula jutting out onto the lake.


Blog-a-Book Monday: It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me… I conclude the Sierra Trek story with the greatest surprise of all.

Blog-a-Book Wednesday: The Bush Devil Ate Sam… I contemplate the wandering ways of my ancestors as a factor in my decision to join the Peace Corps. I’ve often been jealous of these early mountain men who travelled with the likes of Daniel Boone. But not Uncle Bill. He had his head cut off by a tomahawk and rolled down a hill…

Highway 191: National Parks and Navajos… The Backroad Series

Our first stop on Highway 191 was only a few miles south of I-70; Arches National Park. I’ve already posted on our visit, but here’s a photo from the park.

There are some backroads in America that we immediately recognize. Route 66 is one. Highway 1 along the California coast is another.  Last summer, Peggy and I went on a road trip in our van exploring several other America’s backroads which aren’t quite so familiar, at least to me. 

Highway 191 was one. This highway starts at the Canadian Border in Montana and ends in Arizona on the Mexican Border. I’ve driven much of it over the years. I’ve even bicycled several hundred miles on the highway. But I confess that if someone had asked me what I knew about Highway 191 before our trip last summer, I would have asked where it was. 

Highway 191 travels from the border of Canada to the border of Mexico.

Peggy and I picked it up off of I-70 in Utah and followed it south into Arizona where we cut off on Highway 180 crossing the southern Rockies toward Silver City in New Mexico. Along the way we visited Arches National Park, made our way through Navajo country, passed by Canyon de Chelly and spent a delightful night at Lyman State Park in Arizona. I’ll feature some pictures that Peggy and I took along the road but will save Lyman Lake for next week’s post.

One more Arches photo. Peggy caught this photo of me checking out Balanced Rock.
There are, of course, impressive arches outside of Arches National Park. Wilson Arch is found along Highway 191 south of the National Park.
Further south along Highway 191, Peggy and I came on this interesting sandstone monument known as Church Rock. BTW, the road into Canyonlands National Park is near here.
Views along 191 included badlands…
These trees…
And the San Juan River.
As we entered the Navajo nation, the concern over Covid 19 was immediately apparent. This dinosaur was wearing a mask at a service station.
I love this sign that shows a sense of humor in the Navajo Nation about social distancing. Very few people were out and about in comparison to 9 months earlier when we had visited Canyon de Chelly. We saw perhaps a half dozen outside of Chinle, gateway to the National Monument.
Two Navajo Sheep. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A view looking down into Canyon de Chelly from our previous visit. Tourism and tourist dollars came to a dramatic halt with Covid-19 ravaging the Navajo Nation.
People like Alan Ba, from whom we bought this artwork, would have an important source of income eliminated.
As we neared I-40 on Highway 191, there was one more grim reminder of the problems facing the world, a massive forest fire brought on partially by global warming.
Traveling south of I-40 we found more badlands, not all that far from the Painted Desert.
Shortly after arriving at Arizona’s Lyman State Park, we were treated to a sunset over the lake. It had been a long day.


Blog-a-book Monday: Just when I thought we were out of trouble, the Sheriff pays the Sierra Trek a visit and dynamite threatens to rain rocks down on us.

Blog-a-book Wednesday: I start the book on my African Peace Corps adventure with asking the question: Why?

Travel Blog Friday: We explore the unique early American rock art of Lyman Lake, discover some birds that are more mouth than body, and appreciate the beauty of the area.

Utah’s Scenic Highway 24 Features the Stunning Capitol Reef NP… The Backroads Series

Utah’s scenic Highway 24 is worth traveling over on its own, but Capitol Reef National Park makes it special.

Peggy and I said goodbye to Highway 50 in the small Utah town of Sigurd with Capitol Reef National Park as our destination. We had been to the Park before and were eager to return. Our previous trip covered only a small section of Highway 24, however. This time we were determined to drive the whole road as part of our backroads adventure and were pleased to discover it, too, was quite scenic. I’ll start with photos we took before and after Capitol Reef NP and then focus in on the Park. These photos were taken by both Peggy and me.

Three photos from along Highway 24 west of Capitol Reef National Park:

Three photos from along Highway 24 east of Capitol Reef National Park:

Most people familiar with the national parks of the Southwest will quickly recognize the Grand Canyon, Arches and Bryce. Maybe not so much Capitol Reef. That’s too bad; it’s quite stunning. Like the other parks of the Southwest, it is made up primarily of sedimentary rocks that were laid down over a period of 200 million years in ancient rivers, swamps, Sahara-size deserts and shallow oceans. Unlike the rocks in the other parks, which have a layered cake look— like the rocks east of the park shone above— Capitol Reef resembles a 100-mile warp in the earth. It’s a monocline known as the Waterpocket Fold. Sixty to seventy million years ago, an ancient fault in the area was re-activated and the layers of rock on the west side of the fold were lifted some 7000 feet higher than the layers on the east side. Erosion has since created the fantastic rock forms found in the Park today. Following are a few of the photos that Peggy and I took in the park:

And a final view. If you find yourself in Utah, Peggy and I highly recommend a visit to Capitol Reef National Park.


Blog a Book Tuesday: Steve and I split up the Sierra Trek route for a review, each covering 40 miles in 3 days. Steve claims he is chased by a hawk, comes across migrating rattlesnakes, and has to pee around his camp to scare off the bears. I wonder what he has been smoking. As for me, I begin to comprehend how crazy the idea is but come off the trip on an absolute high. My plan is to finish the final 20 miles the following weekend…

Continuing along “America’s Loneliest Road”… Travel Blog Thursday

Highway 50 continued to be a lonely road with distant horizons through eastern Nevada and western Utah. The terrain did change somewhat, moving from sagebrush to grass in the valleys.

On leaving the Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area, Peggy and I continued our exploration of America’s backroads following Highway 50 across Nevada and into Utah. Towns and fences were few and far between.

We did, however, discover an opera house in the small town of Eureka, Nevada. (Eureka, BTW, means “I found it!” and is often used in relation to gold and silver mining.) While it may seem strange that a rough and tumble mining town would have an opera house, it wasn’t all that unusual. A number of the wealthier boomtowns built them to demonstrate that there was more to their communities than bars, gambling halls and brothels. Fine examples can be found in Nevada City, California, Silver City, Nevada, and even in Death Valley!

The Eureka Opera House had recently been renovated. Originally built in the 1880s it served as the town’s social center, hosting operas, dances, concerts and other social events. Silent movies were introduced in 1915 followed by ‘talkies.’ The last movie was shown there in the late 1950s.

The Eureka, Nevada Opera House as it looks today.
Several other buildings in town have also been renovated. This one seems to be waiting for its turn.

Today’s post will mainly be photos of our continuing journey along Highway 50. We invite you to sit back and enjoy the scenery.

And what do you do when you meet a truck like this along the highway? Peggy and I decided that get out of the way was the correct answer. Actually, Nevada State Troopers had already provided the answer.
Any idea what this is all about? The huge mound of colorful dirt had Peggy and me wondering. The buildings provide perspective on size. Turns out it is one of the world’s largest pit mining operations, the Robinson Mine. The copper ore dug up here is shipped off to China.
Looking up toward the Great Basin National Park from highway 50. We had been there twice before and didn’t stop on this trip.
Impressive mountains continued to represent the range part of the Basin and Range complex.
Between ranges, America’s Loneliest Highway carried us into basins.
If you need any antlers to decorate your house or yard, Horns-a-Plenty is the place to go.
A close up with elk antlers on top.
Another view looking up toward Great Basin National Park, which sits close to the Utah border.
Highway 50 took us directly into Utah…..
Where we were greeted by a Utah sign featuring Red Rock country. The following photos show some of the scenery we saw along Highway 50 in the state.
My final view of Highway 50. Lonely, as it should be. We left 50 for another backroad, Utah’s Highway 24.


Tuesday’s Blog-a-Book Day: It’s recruitment time for our 100-mile backpack trek. What do you do with a 250 pound, ex-ice hockey player who once defused bombs in South American was dodging the IRS when he signed up.

Thursday’s Travel Blog Day: Peggy and I pick up Utah’s Highway 24 for a visit to Capitol Reef National Park.

Hickison Petroglyphs: Strange Glyphs and Stranger Rocks… America’s Backroads

One thing that Peggy and I have noticed over our years of checking out petroglyph sites is that they are often located in very scenic areas or on unusual rock formations. The rocks found at Hickison Petroglyph State Recreation Area definitely qualify.

As we continued our backroads’ journey along Highway 50 through Nevada on America’s Loneliest Road, we passed over Hickison Pass, dropped down into another valley, and arrived at our campground for the night: Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area. Peggy and I had stopped off here on another journey and been fascinated by both the rocks and petroglyphs.

The rocks are composed of volcanic tuff, ash that has been ejected from an erupting volcano and then solidified into rock. It erodes easily in comparison to harder rocks, which is what has created the interesting rock forms at Hickison. It is also easily carved into petroglyphs. Like the Grimes petroglyphs that I featured on last Thursday’s travel blog, these are ancient, dating back thousands of years. But, as you will see from the following photos, they represent a different style.

The campground lacks water and electricity but we found it quite scenic. When we arrived, large, colorful bugs that resembled giant grasshoppers or crickets occupied our campsite. They are common in sagebrush country and go by the name of Mormon crickets. Actually they are shield-backed katydids.

One of dozens of shield-backed katydids or Mormon crickets that occupied our campsite.
Quivera, our small RV, cosily tucked away among the junipers and pinyon pines. Pinyon pine nuts were an important source of food for ancient peoples and Native Americans.
A view from the campground looking out on Monitor Valley.
I found the cloud formation interesting.
Clouds from an evening walk.
As I mentioned above, prominent landmarks were frequently chosen by early peoples and Native Americans to create their rock art.
This is the panel featured on the above rock.
I won’t pretend to have a clue here…
Counting isn’t unusual in petroglyphs. For example, they might relate to the length of a journey. A woman blogger who counted the short and long marks here noted that there were 28 short marks and 6 long marks, possibly representing the menstrual cycle. Numerous vulviforms (representations of female genitalia) located at the site would tend to support this. There is some speculation that the area was used for girls’ puberty rites.
Early pioneers thought these might represent horses hooves. Nope.
Another example. BTW, for those of you who are Tom Robbins fans, he writes in his book, “Wild Ducks Flying Backwards” of a visit he made to another site along Highway 50 that is so full of these petroglyphs that it is known as the Canyon of Vaginas.

But back to the rocks.

I’ll conclude with this handsome fellow.

As you read this, Peggy and I are off celebrating Thanksgiving and our Anniversary at a favorite campsite on the Oregon Coast. We will catch up on comments and blogs when we return next week. In the meantime, we hope you are having/had a great Thanksgiving.

NEXT BLOGS: Tuesday is Blog a Book day where I will introduce you to the cast of characters that decided to hike a hundred miles across the Sierras with me. On Thursday’s Travel Blog we will finish up our trip across Nevada on Highway 50 and on into Utah, where it is also lonely.

The Loneliest Road in the US was Lonelier in 7,000 BCE… Petroglyphs of Grime’s Point

I took this photo while standing at Grime’s Point Archeological Area just off Highway 50 about five miles east of Fallon, Nevada on an earlier trip. The terraces above the basalt boulders were cut into the side of the ridge by the ancient Pleistocene Lake Lahontan as it rose and fell. Had I been here 10,000 years ago I would have been under 700 feet of water. Traveling over today’s Highway 50 route would have required a submarine.
Turning around from where I was standing was more basalt and a view of Highway 50. A pickup pulling a trailer makes its way over ‘The Loneliest Road in America.” Looking across the valley you can see ranges fading into the distance that are part of the Basin and Range complex of Nevada, which is part of the Great Basin of the Western US.
Had you arrived on the scene much later, say around 5,000 BCE or 7,000 years ago, you would have discovered that Lake Lahontan was much shallower as glaciers receded to the north and warmer temperatures prevailed. The area would have been marshy and filled with abundant wildlife. Ancient peoples had arrived on the scene and were pecking away at the rocks, creating some of the earliest petroglyphs in Nevada and North America. Grime’s Point features these petroglyphs. A copy of one of the petroglyphs is on the left.
The pit and groove petroglyphs here are among the oldest petroglyphs found in Nevada.
As to what they mean is anyone’s guess. One thought is that they were used in hunting rituals by shaman to assure success.
This basalt boulder was covered with pit petroglyphs. Ancient peoples and later Native Americans would use rocks to peck away the desert varnish that covers rocks to show the lighter rocks underneath. One way of measuring the age of petroglyphs is to see how much desert varnish has since re-covered the rock petroglyphs. The color of these pit and groove petroglyphs has returned to the original varnish color. Translate old.
In contrast, this is a much more recent petroglyph, probably carved in the last 500 years. To me, it appears to be a big horn sheep. But then again…
Most of the petroglyphs fall somewhere in age between the ‘sheep’ petroglyph above and the pit and groove style of petroglyphs. I like the almost-polished look of this basalt boulder. If you look carefully, you can see petroglyphs stretching down and out on both sides of the rock. Following are several examples of the petroglyphs I found wandering around among the boulders. It’s like a treasure hunt. Fun.
I’ll conclude with a final view of the landscape at Grime’s Point Archeological Area. Remains of what may have been a rock fence used to drive deer and antelope to the dinner table is found up near the top of the ridge.

BLOG-A-BOOK TUESDAY: Join me on the first 100-mile backpack trek I ever organized. Leading 61 people aged 11-71 across the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, I was lucky to escape with my life and career in tact.

TRAVEL BLOG THURSDAY: Peggy and I continue our Back Roads of America Series by stopping off at another petroglyph site along The Loneliest Road in America: The Hickison Petroglyph Area. This time we will be featuring some out-of-this-world rocks and, uh, puberty rites.

The Loneliest Road in America: Highway 50 across Nevada… The Backroads’ Series

Today marks the beginning of my Backroad Series where I will feature highways that Peggy and I traveled over this past summer on our 8,000 mile journey around the US in our small RV.

Almost every photo I took while driving across Nevada emphasized Highway 50’s claim to being the loneliest road in America. This is desert country where mountain ranges are inevitably followed by basins. The desert is courtesy of a rain shadow created by the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The basins and ranges are courtesy of plate tectonics.

In 1986, Life Magazine declared that the section of Highway 50 that stretches across the Nevada desert was The Loneliest Road in America. It wasn’t meant as a compliment. It was more like, “Why would anyone in their right mind choose to drive this road?” But Nevadans saw it differently. They knew an opportunity when they saw it. After all, the state got its kick-start when silver and gold were discovered in abundance. And then it built Las Vegas. 

Who wouldn’t want to drive The Loneliest Road in America, the folks in Carson City, Nevada’s capitol, reasoned? Adventuresome souls would immediately add it to their bucket list! Signs were made and publicity was cranked out. Maybe the road wouldn’t be so lonely…

Signs declaring Highway 50 across Nevada to be ‘The Loneliest Road in America’ were created for publicity and photo ops.

It worked for me. I’ve driven the highway three times since. My last time was this past summer when Peggy and I went out in search of backroads across America. Highway 50 definitely qualifies— and it is still one of the loneliest roads in America.  It wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time in the 60’s, that’s the 1860s, it served as the premier route for people making their way West. The Overland Stage Coach Company, the Pony Express, and the country’s first national telegraph all made use of it. In 1913 it became part of the Lincoln Highway, America’s first transcontinental road.

I know a bit about the road. I was raised in the small town of Diamond Springs, which is located in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, three miles from Placerville, AKA Hangtown. If you walked out my front door and hiked a block east on Highway 49 past Fitzgerald’s house and the jungle-like graveyard that backed up to our property, you came to Missouri Flat Road. Turning left there took you to Highway 50, a mere mile away. My brother Marshall and I often made that hike in the summer when we were on our way to one of our favorite swimming holes, the 20-foot-deep Tub on Weber Creek. 

I was vaguely aware at the time that if you climbed on the road and drove east for a long time, you could reach the Atlantic Ocean. I also knew about the Pony Express connection. The parents of one of my close friends in Diamond Springs owned a small café in a historic building that had once served as a Pony Express stop. That was about it except for the annual Wagon Train that made its way from Lake Tahoe to Placerville on Highway 50 to celebrate the ‘good old days.’ The town would close Main Street to traffic and everyone would party. As I remember, the men would grow beards for the event, have fast-draw contests, and get drunk. Luckily, their six shooters were filled with blanks. 

Later, when I was in college, I had a laundry route in the summer that ran from Placerville up to South Lake Tahoe over Highway 50. The beautiful 120-mile round trip across the mountains paid for my college education. That section of Highway 50 was far from lonely, however. On Fridays and Saturdays, it could resemble a parking lot as people made their way up from the Bay Area and Sacramento to play at Lake Tahoe and gamble.

To avoid the possibility of the crowded highway this past summer, Peggy and I climbed on Interstate 80 in Sacramento and zoomed over the Sierras through Reno to the small town of Fernley, where we left the freeway behind and drove southeast to pick up 50 as it passed through Fallon, Nevada. That’s where lonely begins. (BTW: Had we gone north from Fernley for 60 miles, we would have ended up in the Black Rock Desert, the site where Burning Man takes place.)

I am going to do three posts on Highway 50 through Nevada. Later, I will do a couple of posts on 50 in West Virginia and Ohio as part of my backroad series. I took the photos in this post between Fallon and the Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area in the center of the state.

Once you leave Fallon, Highway 50 seems to go on forever. Except for a few towns (three), ranches, and mining operations, the population drops close to zero.
Twenty miles outside of Fallon, first time drivers of Highway 50 are surprised to come on Sand Mountain, a large sand dune that is two miles long and 600 feet high. Locals say it ‘sings’ to you. The sand came from ancient (and very large) Lake Lahonton, a product of the glacial age. It dried up 9,000 years ago as the climate grew warmer and glaciers retreated north.
While many people think of the desert as desolate, I’ve always found it to have its own unique type of beauty. This is sagebrush country!
Mountains climb up to over 10,000 feet along Highway 50 through Nevada. Passes range between 6,000 and 7,500 feet.
I like the contrast here between the blue sky, dark mountains and buff colored desert floor. The geologist Clarence Dutton described the narrow parallel mountain ranges that define the topography of the Basin and Range like an “army of caterpillars marching toward Mexico.”

About half way between Fallon and Austin, Nevada, we came upon a small, historical marker site that featured the Overland Stagecoach, the Pony Express and America’s first cross country telegraph. All three were inspired by the North’s need to maintain communication with the West during the Civil War. Both the Pony Express and the Overland Stage Company had stations here. Three illustrations (early photos?) at the site captured our attention.

The Pony Express ran its historic route from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California— a distance of 1966 miles— in ten days. Each rider would normally cover between 75 and 100 miles at top speed. Stations along the way had saddled horses ready to go when the rider arrived. It took approximately two minutes to make the change. While the Pony Express has reached legendary status, its run, so to speak, was a short 18 months from April of 1860 to October of 1861 when the transcontinental telegraph was created.
The Civil War and the need for rapid communication between the East and West inspired Congress to push and pay for the building of the telegraph. The creation of the Pony Express was seen as a stopgap effort while it was being built. My dad worked as a lineman in the 30s. His job was to climb up poles like these as power lines were stretched across Northern California and Oregon.
The Overland Stage Company began its run over the route at about the same time the telegraph was completed. Serving as the primary mode of passenger transport between Missouri and California, it had originally operated a more southern route. The coming of the Civil War forced it to move north to the central Nevada route. A young Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) would use it to get to Nevada. When the transcontinental railroad across America was completed in 1969, the route was discontinued.

Rumor is that a Pony Express horse kicked over a rock that showed silver and the rush was on. Whether this is true or not, the presence of silver led to a silver rush and suddenly the town of Fallon was born. Soon it boasted a population of over 10,000 and even had a castle! Now it is best described as sleepy and historic.

When we drove through Austin, major work was being done on the road and it wasn’t conducive to stopping, but I did snap a few photos.The barely visible sign on the building says Stage Coach Inn.
Another photo of downtown. I was aiming my camera a bit high to avoid all of the roadwork. One of several churches built in Fallon during the heyday of silver mining looms in the background.
Austin’s best known landmark is Stoke’s Castle. It was built by an eccentric millionaire from the eastern US who only occupied it for a few months during the silver rush. While small in terms of what we think of as castles, it reminds me of the castles built between Scotland and England for protection against raiding (and possibly as a base for raiding) in the 13th and 14th Centuries. Some of my ancestors reportedly came from the region. I suspect that they were outlaws.
We wrapped up our first day of backroad travel by climbing up Highway 50 into the Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest and over Hickison pass. We were pleased to see green! Next Thursday I will feature the Hickison Petroglyph area as well as the Grime’s petroglyph site that served as bookends for our first day of travel.

NEXT POST: On Tuesday, I will feature the second part of my introduction to the book I am blogging, “It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me.” I answer the question about why I would undertake a 700 mile plus backpacking journey down the PCT at 75. Will a plea of insanity work?

The 1908 Great Auto Race from NYC to Paris: Part 4… San Francisco to Paris

When George Schuster arrived in Valdez, Alaska for the next phase of the 1908 Great Auto Race, he quickly arranged to borrow a horse and sleigh to check out the beginning of the route. You are looking at it.

It was George Schuster’s turn to drive as the Thomas Flyer was loaded onto a freighter to be shipped to Valdez, Alaska. The race committee had envisioned the racers making their way from Valdez across Alaska following dog sled trails and frozen ice covered rivers to Nome where they would cross the frozen Bering Strait into Siberia. There was a slight problem. The race committee had made its decision while sitting in Paris without a clue about what driving across Alaska in March would entail! Or whether the Bering Strait would be frozen. None of them had ever been to the remote Territory that America had bought from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million. All they knew was it looked good on a map. Who needs roads?

The Flyer had a substantial lead when it left San Francisco— the three remaining competitors were several states behind still making their way across America. Schuster intended to maintain that lead. He arrived in Valdez with the whole population out to greet him. The Flyer was the first car to make it to the town and most residents had never seen one.

The whole town turned out to greet George Schuster and his team when the Thomas Flyer arrived in Valdez, including a brass band, seen on the right.

George wasted little time basking in the glow of his new role as driver. He immediately borrowed a horse and sled to check out the beginning of the route. He found it was impossible and concluded that the only way the vehicles could get across Alaska would be if the cars were taken apart and shipped by dog sled. The Great Auto Race would have been turned into an early day Iditarod, which in itself, is an undertaking of massive proportions— even in modern times.

Having lived in Alaska for three years, I was a fan of the 1000 mile Iditarod. When Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the race in 1985, I drove her around Anchorage following her victory to make various media appearances. Here I am with Libby. I picked her up at the airport where she was just returning from having done a Vogue Magazine photo shoot. She regaled me with tales of the race, and her dogs.

Once again the route was changed. Return to the lower 48, the race committee told Schuster, and ship to Japan on a freighter and then on another one to Vladivostok, Russia. Which he did. The next day, the Flyer team and Flyer were on a boat heading south from Alaska. His challenge when he arrived in Seattle was that the other three cars were now ahead of him on their way to Asia.

The third, and final, 1908 Great Auto Race route from NYC to Paris.
The Thomas Flyer makes its way across Japan.

The Race Committee decided to award Schuster with an extra 15 days for his lost time in checking out Alaska. The Italian Zust and the French Dion would have to beat him to Paris by two weeks to win the race. The Protos would have to beat him by a month! Lieutenant Koeppen’s car had broken down in Utah and he had shipped it to the West Coast via rail and on to Vladivostok for repairs. Unlike Goddard, he had asked permission. And there was some confusion over the rules. Instead of disqualifying him, the race committee chose to penalize him an extra 15 days for the rail trip and for skipping Japan.

The four competitors met up in Vladivostok where they were confronted by Russian officials who advised them to take the Trans-Siberian Railway to Europe. They would be “met on the road by Chinese brigands, Manchurian tigers, fever, plague, pestilence, famine—to say nothing of the mud after three months of rain, mosquitoes as big as locusts and other similar delights,” the Russians warned. It seems that the owners of the De Dion-Bouton company took them at their word. Or maybe the race appeared unwinnable or too expensive. Whatever the reason, the De Deon was withdrawn. Now there were three competitors: The American Thomas Flyer, the Italian Zust and the German Protos.

The racers apparently avoided the brigands, tigers, fever, plague, pestilence, and famine, but there was plenty of mud— they kept getting stuck. And, I imagine, encountered the locust-sized mosquitoes when they were digging out.

Thomas Flyer next to a Trans-Siberian locomotive.
Flyer stuck in the mud. One of many times.
The Flyer team rescuing the Protos from the mud. Koeppen broke out the champaign afterward to celebrate the good sportsmanship of the Americans.

When they reached Europe, they were finally rewarded with a decent road system. The race became a down-to-the-wire sprint between the Americans and the Germans. The Italian Zust was still in Siberia, likely stuck in the mud, some 3,000 miles behind. ER Thomas sent Schuster a telegraph urging him to turn the driving over to Monty Roberts, the race car driver who had driven the Flyer from NYC to Wyoming. “This made me so mad I could have eaten nails,” Schuster would later write. His response at the time would have been more colorful. After everything that he had been through with the Flyer in Siberia, his tense no-thank-you reply to Thomas was that he would be driving the car across the finish line. Period. Which he did.

The Protos had arrived four days earlier. Given the 30 day penalty, it was still 26 days behind the Flyer, however— a fact that really irritated the Kaiser. The Americans rolled into Paris on the evening of July 30 to crowds shouting, “Vive le car Americain!”  There was one last challenge. The lights on the Flyer had gone out and Schuster was driving after dark. A policeman stopped the car and threatened to arrest him on the spot. A quick-thinking Parisian threw his bicycle with a light onto the car. The policeman relented and Schuster drove on to the finish line. And fame. He’d even be invited to meet with Teddy Roosevelt on his return.

A large crowd was on hand in Paris to greet the Thomas Flyer team when they arrived in Paris and crossed the finish line.

The win had a significant impact on America. For one, it showed that American automobiles could match the best coming out of Europe at the time. The successful drive across America also proved that the car could become a serious form of transportation, something other than a rich man’s toy. And finally, it created a demand for better roads in America. Asphalt was invented in 1910, and the Lincoln Highway, Americas first cross-country road, was started in 1912.

Schuster was promised a life-long job with the E.R. Thomas company for his role. Unfortunately, the company went out of business in 1912. (Schuster would live on to 99.) When the company went belly up, the Flyer was sold and more or less disappeared. It was granted a second life in 1963 when Bill Harrah of the gaming empire tracked it down for his classic car collection and returned it to its pre-race condition. He even brought Schuster out to verify that it was the Flyer that the won the race. (Schuster recognized some of the on-road repairs he had made.) The Flyer became part of the donation that the Harrah family made to the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada. It was there that I found the vehicle and was inspired to do this series.

A young George Schuster.
Schuster at 92 driving the Flyer that Bill Harrah had brought back to life.
A slight aside. This photo of Bill Harrah’s home at Lake Tahoe in 1963 was part of a display on him at the National Automobile Museum. I recognized it immediately. While he was working on the Flyer, I was delivering cleaning to the stars that stayed at his home when they were performing at his casino. I don’t remember hearing about the Flyer at that time but I do remember Liza Minelli bouncing down the stairs in her baby doll pajamas to answer the door. What 20 year old wouldn’t. She was 17 at the time.
A final view of the Thomas Flyer in the National Automobile Museum to wrap up this series.

The 1908 Great Race from NYC to Paris: Part 3… Way Out West

My posts are few and far between. Part of the reason is the times. There is just too much happening now between the pandemic, the fires, and the election. As noted before, these are scary times, more scary than any other time in my 77 years. The other is that I love research and the Great Race has me fascinated. Just when I think I have exhausted my resources I find another article or more photos. This time it was 350 photos of the race stored in the Henry Ford Museum, a virtual treasure trove. Most of the photos in today’s post are from the museum.

Leaving Nebraska, the flat terrain and rolling hills of the Great Plains gave way to the mountain, deserts and distant vistas of the West while the roads became little more than dirt paths.

As the participants rolled out of Nebraska, they experienced their first real taste of the ‘Wild West.’ The unending farmlands of the Midwest gave way to the drier, open lands and vast vistas of Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. The terrain also changed. The flat and rolling plains the automobilists had been driving through across the Great Plains turned to towering mountains and deserts. The Rockies, the Great Basin and Death Valley lay ahead. Towns and cities became farther apart. People fewer. The already poor roads the racers had been following became little more than tracks in the dirt.

When there weren’t any roads or railroad tracks to follow, participants in the Great Race were left with following emigrant trails.

The animals also got wilder and bigger. The Zust team claimed they were surrounded by a pack of 50 or so wolves that circled their car yipping with anticipation on a dark and stormy night in Wyoming. Blowing the horn and using the spotlight didn’t discourage the hungry predators. They kept circling closer. It was only when the team broke out their rifles and shot several that the wolves decided that they hadn’t been invited to dinner. Local townspeople gathered up the hides the next day and sold them for the bounty paid by the government. The wolves’ taste for an occasional cow would lead to their eventual eradication in the West.

Not everyone made it to the Rockies. Baron Godard, who had driven another car from Peking to Paris in 1907, met his match in Iowa. Between being bogged down in mud and snow, getting lost, and having serious car problems, he decided to ease his journey west by loading his Moto-Bloc onto a train and shipping it to the coast. “San Francisco, here I come!” It broke the rules.

Baron Godard, in the Moto-Bloc in Paris before leaving for the US and the Great Race, shakes hands with well-wishers. Since the Baron had come in second the year before in a race between Peking and Paris, he had high hopes for his NYC to Paris race. They ended in Iowa. An early movie is being filmed here.

A photographer caught the Baron loading the Moto-Bloc onto the rail car. “Quit the race, sell the car, and return home,” the manufacturer telegraphed him. The French, who had started with three entries, were down to one. The greater glory of France now depended on G. Bourcier de St. Chaffray driving the French De Dion-Bouton— which is quite a mouthful to say.

The De Dion-Bouton leaves the Puteaux, France factory outfitted for the Great Race. I believe G. Bourcier de St. Chaffray is driving and Hans Hansen is his passenger. Hans would join the Thomas Flyer team after a hot argument with G. Bourcier that almost came to a Western shootout! Their fast draw was thwarted, however, by the fact the pistols were buried deep under all of the gear.
Monty Roberts, the driver of the Flyer, and Hans Hansen share a laugh.

The Thomas Flyer team had other ideas about who would win the glory. When they reached Cheyenne, Wyoming, the Flyer was a week ahead of its nearest competitor, the Zust. The De Dion was in third. And the Protos fourth. Given the quality of the vehicle, Monty Robert’s driving ability, and George Schuster’s mechanical talent— not to mention sheer determination— the team had been ahead for most of the race. It was a position they had every intention of keeping. The car was about to lose its driver, however. Monty had other race commitments back east and in Europe. He hoped to rejoin the team when it entered Europe to drive over better roads and, I imagine, harvest the fame of crossing the finish line first. E. Linn Mathewson, a Thomson Flyer car dealer, took over the driving from Cheyenne to Ogden, Utah. Harold Brinker, an auto racer out of Denver, drove the car into San Francisco. Schuster would take over then. 

The Thompson Flyer receives a grand welcome in Cheyenne.
E. Linn Mathewson steering the Thomas Flyer. I think that’s a “What have I gotten myself into?” look.
Linn Mathewson shaking hands with his replacement, Harold Brinker, in Ogden, Utah.

Getting into the spirit of the West, George bought a Colt six-shooter pistol before leaving Cheyenne. Who knew what lurked out in the wilds of Wyoming? Wolves or outlaws, perhaps? Best to be prepared.

There would be snow drifts to push the Flyer through…
Brush and mud to conquer…
Ice covered rivers to cross with hopes of not ending up on the bottom…
And high passes to climb over.
It’s no surprise that the teams would need a drink when they reached a town!

Peggy and I had followed the route of the race in Nebraska from Grand Island to North Platte where we spent the night at Buffalo Bill’s ranch as the Flyer had in 1908. We then continued to follow the route to Ogallala where we detoured to follow the Oregon Trail, which early pioneers had used in the 1840s, 50s and 60s. (Posts coming.) I was eager to check out the route that ancestors on both sides of my family had travelled looking for a better life— either by farming in the Northwest or striking it rich in California. So, we missed Cheyenne. We rejoined the race route for a brief time, however, between Rock Springs and Fort Bridger, Wyoming, when the Oregon Trail dipped south.

The Thomas Flyer parked in front of Buffalo Bill’s home on the North Platte River.
Crowds were out to greet the Thomas Flyer’s arrival in Green River, Wyoming. People were still hurrying over to welcome the team. Note the prominent rock in the background…
Peggy and I took its photo when we briefly rejoined the route between Rock Springs and Fort Bridger.
Driving over the railroad ties in Utah, the Flyer was in for a bumpy ride. Another problem was that the railroad spikes tore up the tires.

Ely, Nevada was the next point where our summer road trip crossed paths with the race route. We passed through the town on our way east when we were following Highway 50, the “Loneliest Road in America.” (Another post.) Ely feels like it is in the middle of nowhere. And it is. It would have felt much more so in 1908. The Flyer had made its way south from Wendover, Utah following what is now Highway 93 (more or less) to Ely and then continued southwest across the Nevada desert following today’s Highway 6 (more or less) to Tonopah.

The Flyer team used railroad ties and brute force to get across the Western Pacific railroad in Nevada. They appear to be lifting the Flyer to get it onto the borrowed ties.
And here, they use logs to get the car out of Nevada mud. Peggy and I know from our years of attending Burning Man in the Nevada’s Black Rock Desert that there isn’t a heck of a lot of rain in Nevada, but when it does rain, the mud is no joke. The 24/7 event comes to a grinding halt.
And, as always, the car attracted attention wherever it was. This photo is taken in Cerry Creek, a small town north of Ely.

Along the way, it passed by what would become Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway. Think UFOs.  I’ve been interested in flying saucers ever since I saw one in 1969.  The participants in the Great Race didn’t report seeing any, however. Darn. (As an aside, I found it interesting that both the Pentagon and Japan’s military have set up task forces in the past couple of months to track UFOs. A little Twilight Zone music might be appropriate here.) But back to the race. 

Gate to top secret Area 51 in southern Nevada.
Peggy and I drove down the Extraterrestrial Highway and visited Area 51. We weren’t invited in. But then we weren’t arrested for taking photos either. (Post here on our visit.)

It was in Tonopah and the town of Goldfield 27 miles to the south that we first learned of the Great Race. In fact, we’ve driven the route followed by the Flyer from Tonopah south through Goldfield, the now ghost town of Rhyolite, and across Death Valley many times. I’ve actually ridden my bicycle over most of the route the race followed through Death Valley and on to Bakersfield, California.

I kicked this series off with a photograph of a mural depicting the arrival of the Flyer in Tonopah. The scene was looking south. Note the Mizpah Hotel.
It still stands.

When the Flyer was late in arriving in Tonopah, several residents drove out the road to see if there was a problem. They found the Flyer broken down and Schuster sleeping in a bunkhouse. (Another version of the story has him walking toward Tonopah.) He was roused out, given a ride to town, borrowed parts from a Thomas Flyer owned by a local doctor, fixed the car, and arrived to a jubilant welcome. Pretty much the whole town greeted the team.

The Flyer was attempting to cross this quicksand filled creek on the Warms Springs Ranch when it got into trouble outside of Tonopah.
This building still stands on the Ranch.

Cowboys and miners shooting their pistols into the air welcomed them to Goldfield. It was a cast of characters. There is still a cast of characters living there! (And a speed trap.) Crossing Death Valley, the Flyer had to put on balloon tires to get through the deep sand. Stovepipe Wells offered its only water. 

This would have been a view the team had as they left Tonopah for Goldfield.
The Flyer was almost buried by the crowd that gathered in Goldfield.
The Thomas Flyer passed through the Town of Ryolite just before entering Death Valley. Today it is a ghost town.
We took this photo of sand dunes in Death Valley from Stovepipe Wells. There was no lack of sand for the Flyer to negotiate through. I was glad for the paved highways when I rode my bike across the Valley.

The Thompson Flyer rolled into San Francisco on March 24th, the first car to travel across America in the winter. The team was given a hero’s welcome. Factories blew their whistles and cars honked their horns.  Its nearest competitor, the Zust, was still 700 miles away. The first phase of the race was over for the Flyer. Schuster was now to become the driver. He was eager to get to Alaska for the next phase of the race.

Market Street in San Francisco was packed for the arrival of the Thomas Flyer.

NEXT POST: Schuster travels to Valdez, Alaska to check out the next section of the race and the route is once again changed. Cars will be shipped to Japan and then on to Vladivostok, Russia where their next challenge will be crossing Mongolia and Siberia.