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Let's Hear it for Eisenhower

America has a whole lot of roads where there's no business being any roads. Some are wide, smooth blacktop, beauties of the master plan of our 34th president. You can fly across them at 95 miles per hour with no worries about hitting a steering-wrecking pothole or coming too fast around an unmarked turn in the night and skidding into oblivion. Others are a patchwork of tar and bumps and so narrow you veer right a little whenever a car comes at you from the opposite direction. 

In the west, no matter their condition, many roads go for 60, 70, 80 miles of sheer nothingness. Not even tumbleweed. On the horizon, the road vanishes into a blur of blue and sun waves. After staring at this illusion for too long that with no oncoming traffic to break up your view, the horizon almost appears pixelated and you start to wonder if you slipped through a rip in the matrix. 

If for some crazy reason you ever decide to drive the entire 650 miles from Fort Mohave, Arizona, down at the tippy tip point of Nevada, all the way up the western side of the state to McDermitt on the Oregon border, you'll be damn grateful for these roads. And probably in awe that they even exist in the midst of all that nothing. 

road in a desert

My latest rally across these United States actually went 1,502 miles from Tucson to Central Oregon, but that Nevada slog was especially brutal. So, of course, I had to break it up with some some hiking, some hole-the-wall motels with Sikh owners who cast a blessing on me as I turned in my key, more than a few tears that my old dog was no longer on the road with me, and some straight-up gawking at how some people in this country live. 

  • Joshua Tree Parkway. Turns out that you don't have to go to California to see Joshua trees. There's a long stretch of them between Phoenix and Kingman, and though I've never been to Joshua Tree National Park, I'd say it's a fair guess that there are far fewer tourists at the Arizona site. 
  • The burros of Oatman. I often have only a general idea of what I want to see and no real idea what I'm getting myself into. Shortly after I got into the twists and turns of route 10 to visit the old mining town, I encountered my first burro. I pulled over and watched it clop along the road, quite entertained. When I continued on my way, I got nervous about the burro getting hit by one of the other cars flying around the blind curves. Well, I need not have worried. That burro wasn't an anomaly. They are the descendants of the burros abandoned by the miners and are all over Oatman and the mountain pass. They are also very comfortable with people and cars, so much so that one intentionally stopped my car and then came up to the window demanding treats. 

  • Nomadland. If you saw the movie, you'll have in your mind all the RVs and trailers and camper vans in the Arizona desert. I saw a lot of this. RVs that clearly hadn't been used for any kind of travel in decades, RV communities on dusty plots a half mile off the main road, camper vans whose owners were most certainly not on any kind of vacation. In Chloride, the RVs actually looked more habitable than a lot of the non-mobile homes. Much like when I was in Maine and stopped myself from going into "abandoned" homes because I couldn't be sure they didn't really have full time, legal residents, I think a lot of these places had owners. But the conditions in which they were living was unfathomable. You'd be better off buying a plot of land there (which you can for about $5,000) and parking an RV on it, which seems to be what a lot of people have done. There's a diversity factor out here which is not at all what Hollywood types and human resources leaders have in mind when they talk about diversity. It's an entirely different America.
  • Views of the Colorado River. As I started to approach the Nevada border at the Hoover Dam, the road became smooth and clear, and the views of the Colorado River far beneath 93 took my breath away. Though I didn't get to see the Grand Canyon this trip, the canyon here was stunning. And after I crossed into Nevada, the view of Lake Mead in my rear view mirror damn near made me cry. That bright, bright swath of blue in the midst of all the brown landscape. A shining gem.
  • Munitions in Hawthorne. As I approached this unheard of town, I began to notice small structures in the ground. They were partly in the dirt, their roofs covered  over by nature but still identifiable as buildings. Had the terrain been covered in grass instead of desert brush, I might have thought I'd entered a hobbit town. My real guess was military, and indeed, it was. The world's largest ammunition depot. It covers 147,236 acres and houses 2,915 structures with 7.6 million square feet of covered storage. That's a whole lot of explosive power just sitting out there in the desert.

  • Walker Lake. Much like Canyon Lake outside Phoenix, a gorgeous, unexpected find that I would like to return to someday for a relaxing picnic and a swim. I'm sure I never will, but I like to think I could.
  • Grimes Point Archaeologic Area. A nice stop on the Loneliest Road in America, this small site has lots of well-preserved petroglyphs and a nice walking trail that leads to several different caves, some of which you can explore and others that are closed off for preservation. The ground around the area is covered in salt, which as the nicely done signage explains, is a result of the whole area being submerged beneath Lake Lahontan not that long ago, geologically speaking.
woman in baseball hat in front of a small cave in summer

And then I finally emerged out from the Nevada dust at McDermitt into Oregon where a real desert awaited. But you'll have to wait until next week for that story.

SUV by Oregon state line sign