I hooked a right onto U.S. 191 at Monticello, and headed north through Moab to Crescent Junction, one of those desolate outposts in the middle of nowhere. Then it was westward on I-70 where I had my sights set on a high-elevation rest area to stay the night. That was when my trusty altimeter was so useful. Approaching the first rest area, the elevation read 5,000 feet – not high enough for a cool night. It was onward and upward until I reached the second rest area, this one at 7,000 feet. It was perfect – an unlimited panorama of canyons, mesas, and distant mountains. And to put the frosting on the cake, an incredible sunset was ensuing along with a sliver of moon in the east.
I used the remaining daylight to finally get around to glueing and mounting the rear-view mirror. It had fallen off back in Dallas almost to the day of Ol’ Blue’s 20th birthday! I thought it was amazing it had lasted that long. Actually, I had gotten used to its absence because of the unobstructed view through the windshield. I had even got into the habit of veering slightly off to the right and using the outside mirror to see who’s directly behind me. I’ve noticed truckers doing the same thing when they want to see if a tailgater is out of view. With that mundane chore behind me, I was able to settle back and enjoy what the Good Lord had in store: a splendiferous sunset followed by a zillion stars overhead.
It was like waking up to a whole new world the next morning with the sun glancing off the formations from the opposite direction. I felt like I was on top of Utah. My pick of the higher elevation had paid off temperature-wise – it was in the low 50s. The only thing missing was a “neighbor” to rap with. I was getting spoiled. I said goodbye to one of the most beautiful rest areas in the country, and I didn’t even have a tree to park under. I stopped in Salina to call Mom from a pay-phone at a gas stop. It hurt to hear she was still suffering from back pains: My calls nowadays were mainly concerned with her well-being. In the earlier days of my travels, she insisted on me calling to make sure I was okay. How things change with age. I have to admit, it was becoming increasingly difficult to leave Dallas because of Mom’s health. But, bless her heart, she gave me all her good wishes on this trip… after all, it was Franz’s daughter’s wedding I was planning to attend. It was just too sad she couldn’t be there.
I was glad to get off the interstate and be back on an old highway, U.S. 50, which I hoped would take me all the way to Sacramento. And did the weather ever change – from a cerulean sky to a slate-gray overcast. Above the valley in front of me, the bottom of the distant clouds appeared to be disgorging a huge gossamer sheet of rain – a sight one could only see in the wild and wonderful west – it was truly awesome. In a matter of minutes, I was engulfed in a downpour. It was a refreshing change.
Eventually, it was out across the Confusion Range (appropriately named for the discombobulated pioneers who tried crossing it), an interminable stretch of road through utter desolation. At about midway, traffic came to an abrupt stand-still due to one of those “one-lane traffic” repair stops. It was kinda like a blessing in disguise – a reprieve from the boredom. I figured it was an opportune time to get out and mingle. Sure enough, I was immediately engaged in conversation with an elderly gentleman from California, who, along with the missus, was headed back from a visit in Missouri. I had to comment, “Looks to me like you’re headed across Nevada. You know what they call U.S. 50, don’t you?” He quickly replied, “Sure do. `The Loneliest Highway in America’ is what I know it as. We take that road all the time instead of I-80. It’s much more of an interesting drive.” Oh yeah, I had to like the guy.
I stopped at the Nevada state line for gas, and hearing the “cha-ching” of the slots gave me a neat feeling of being back in the untamed west. Nevada just does that to me. My acquaintance from back down the road happened to be there, and he came up to me to say, apologetically, “Hey, I hope I didn’t throw any gravel on you when I passed you back there.” I said, “Don’t worry. There’s so many pits on that windshield, a few more isn’t going to matter.” He nodded at my acceptance, and off they went. I was wishing that I would see them again down the road somewhere. Fat chance.
After a 20 mile, uphill drive, I found the little rest area that I remembered stopping at back in 1998. The altimeter read 6800 feet – a perfect altitude again. I immediately dove under the one lone tree on the lot. What is it about wanting to park under a tree? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but all I know is that it gave me a feeling of being protected, a sense of being safe. I had the luxury of a picnic table right next to my tree, which I used as a desk top to update my journal. It was a perfect time and setting to contemplate where I was and where I had been. It was so peaceful. I was sitting there, panning a west horizon that could have easily been a Winslow Homer watercolor. There was a crescent moon coupled with a sunset behind silver-lined dark clouds, spilling forth a dissipating [continuity break] arrived there safely. I had been on the road for 7 days, and had driven more than 1300 miles. It never ceased to amaze me that I could be that far away from home and still feel like I was safe “at home” in the middle of nowhere. God Bless America!