After a quick breakfast of milk and a banana, I continued west descending again 2,000 feet to Kingman (the wild and wonderful west sure had its up and downs) where I happily said farewell to the interstate. I headed north on U.S. 93 over terrain that resembled a moonscape punctuated occasionally by ramshackle mobile homes surrounded by car carcasses on one hand and incongruous satellite dishes on the other. As I was traversing the arid landscape, a thought occurred to me: “The influx of people from the Midwest and Northeast to the Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson metromess that was experiencing an exponential growth rate raising the region’s population to over two million at last count was due to one major factor – they didn’t have to shovel snow”. Conversely, Flagstaff 140 miles to the north and 5,000 feet higher with an annual snowfall of between 30 and 60 inches had a steadfast population of around 40,000. It was no wonder I loved that town.
I wended my way down to Hoover Dam and crawled across the mega-structure behind an unwieldy 18-wheeler. Contrary to my aversion towards Interstates, I was ready to bet the farm that a super highway bridge would be built across the gorge downriver to virtually eliminate all truck traffic over the dam. So I said goodbye to the Grand Canyon State and hello to the Silver State. I passed through Boulder City, which was originally erected in the mid-1930s solely for the purpose of housing all the laborers on the dam site. Then it was through Henderson, the fastest growing city in the country with countless square miles of monotonous peach-colored tile-roofed houses that was unequivocally the most bland man-made environs I had ever seen. And to think, all that entire suburban desert sprawl would not have been possible if it hadn’t been for a one Willis Carrier’s invention of air conditioning which changed the demographics of the country forever. It was hot as Hades as I rolled into Las Vegas and made a beeline to my familiar Motel 6 a block from The Strip. After checking in for a very reasonable $34, I unhooked the velocipede and biked around gawking up at the pyramidal Luxor, the Sphinx colossus of the MGM Grand, and the simulated lower Manhattan skyline, all of which made me conclude that Vegas had only one architectural theme – form follows fantasy. I made my way over to the Tropicana for some gambling at the blackjack tables and dollar slots coming away with 500 dollars in winnings – not bad for one night. I unlocked the ten-speed and pedaled back to Motel 6 through the still prevailing heat even though it was almost midnight. Just out of curiosity, I checked my thermometer inside the van and the outside temperature read a tepid 88 degrees. I retired to the 72-degree luxury of room 138.
Tom Bodett, the renowned spokesperson for Motel 6, never mentioned in his advertisements any complimentary breakfasts (just a “We’ll leave the light on for you” slogan), so I had to fend for myself with an Eggs McMuffm at a nearby Golden Arches restaurant. The right lens of my eyewear had somehow dislodged itself from the frame, so I found myself making an unscheduled tour of Las Vegas in search of LensCrafters. It was a weird experience driving around an unfamiliar town with one eye in focus and the other with blurred vision. I felt like the proverbial one-eyed Jack. I eventually found the store in the west sector of Vegas (a part of town I had never seen before) where the problem was quickly resolved.
I took off north on U.S. 95 through more monotonous suburban sprawl and stopped just 40 miles up the road in Indian Springs, an outpost in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to take refuge under a shade tree from the hot glaring mid-afternoon sun, I mean I was willing to spend a couple hours there until the sun lowered itself into a cooler arc in the western sky. To assuage the heat a little, I treated myself to an irresistible pint of ice cream at the lonesome general store. I finally continued on, stopping for gas in the one-horse town of Beatty for a cool $1.84 a gallon. I reached Tonopah (elev. 6030 ft.) in a little more than 200 miles and had climbed 4,000 feet from Las Vegas. I made a minimal purchase of six gallons at the astronomical rate of $1.97 a gallon (the old correlation theory was still holding true) and would turn out to be the highest gas price on the trip.
It was late afternoon and the heat was still hanging around even at 6,000 feet as I drove west on U.S. 6/95 and passed by a desolate treeless roadside picnic area that if it popped up two or three hours later in the dark, I would have gladly stayed there. As it was, I decided to descend another 90 miles to Hawthorne (elev. 4362 ft.) where I checked into, now get this, The El Camino Discount Truck Stop and Motel. At the reservation counter I asked in jest, “Would I be eligible for a discount since my van is registered as a truck?” The lady just grinned and retorted, “Sir, I’m afraid you’re stretching it a bit.” I said, “I know. Can’t blame me for trying.” Although it was after dark, it was still unusually warm as I retired to the cool comfort of my non-discount room.
After filling up for 13 cents a gallon less than in Tonopah and grabbing a “roady” breakfast at McDonalds, I drifted north still on Hwy 95 past Walker Lake, inarguably the most desolate stagnant treeless body of fresh water in the country. Only in Nevada! I stopped in Fallon at a familiar Safeway market to get some fresh fruit and then took U.S. 50 west until merging with I-80. I plowed through Sparks and Reno and stopped at the state line in Verdi for gas at the super discount station for a $1.64 a gallon. I couldn’t get over the disparity in gas prices in just one state. Colorado would come in a close second.
I headed up I-80 into the Golden State with very appreciated sun-shielding clouds hovering overhead until exiting at Truckee, CA. (pop. 1392, elev. 6210 ft.). It was another one of my favorite little towns with a well-preserved train depot on the twin-track Union Pacific main line. I headed up old U.S. 40, which paralleled I-80 past an idyllic Donner Lake to my friends’ vacation retreat, a three-story native redwood edifice. I was greeted by Bill and Lynn Botkin, the former being the brother of my good friend Blaine in Dallas. Bill gave me a tour of the house that at first glance seemed to be an overkill of excessive timber like 2 by 12 roof joists at 12-inch spacings. Bill explained to me, “I had to beef up the roof structure to handle the heavy snow load. The snow up here is so full of moisture they call it “California Cement”. After a most enjoyable dinner and pleasant visit, I crawled under the covers in Ol’ Blue parked in my “reserved” spot next to the garage and under a huge pine.
Fortunately, the comforter and blanket were just what I needed for a warm night’s sleep – the outside temperature read 48 degrees (57 degrees inside). I had awakened in paradise where I had been aiming to be after 7 days and 1700 miles. After a beautiful breakfast of sausage and scrambled eggs, I called brother Franz to let him know I had arrived at Donner Lake and to get his buns up there (we had talked earlier on the phone about rendezvousing at the Botkin’s retreat). Then Bill took me for a ride in his classic 1961 Cadillac convertible (top down, of course) up Hwy 40 to a spectacular overview of Donner Lake far below and within earshot (and eyesight) of the groaning Union Pacific freights climbing up and over Donner Pass at the improbable elevation of around 8,000 feet. As we surveyed the panorama, I turned to Bill and said, pointing to the railroad summit, “You know, thousands of migrants and locals slaved on carving out a route through the Sierras for the Trans-Continental Railroad.” He nodded his head in acknowledgment.
After we got back, I thanked Bill for the grand tour and took a leisurely bike ride around the neighborhood panning all the distinctly different house designs. I stopped at one house under construction and found the contractor to whom I said, “I’m an out-of-state architect visiting a friend here and have seen lumber used (referring to the Botkin’s house) like there was no tomorrow.” He replied, “I understand your concern, and I’m happy to tell you that all the wood members in this house are “engineered”. That was enough to tell me that they were using shavings from discarded timbers to fabricate reuseable “new” members. I gave him a congratulatory handshake. Suddenly, I felt a little bit better about the world.