Thursday, January 28, 2016

Wells, Nevada ~ Gateway To The East Humboldt Mountains!

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     Wells, Nevada ~ Gateway To The East Humboldt Mountains!
     Taking a drive on Interstate Highway 80 in Northeast Nevada during the winter season is a great way to enjoy endless views of snow draped desert mountain landscapes.  Highways that traverse the desolate Great Basin Desert region offer many miles of scenic splendor with few interruptions.  Only a few signs of civilization dot the landscape along the way. 
     It is easy to become mesmerized by the majestic snow covered scenery along the way, just like being in a dream.  The dreamy snow white desert mountain landscape is so surreal looking, that it is easy to pass up opportunities to take a break from the road.  In a way, it is like being snow blind, because one simply does not want the dreamy white landscape vision to come to an end.   
     When signs of civilization appear on the horizon, it is a good time to snap out of the snow blind cruising mode and do a reality check.  Topping off the tank at the gas pumps in a little town along the way is always a good idea in the vast Great Basin Desert expanse.  Grabbing a cup of coffee or hot cocoa helps to warm things up and this can keep a driver alert.  If hunger strikes, a good old fashioned local diner restaurant can be found along the main street area.  Of course in Nevada, little towns along the highway also offer casino gambling and comfortable lodging for a reasonable rate.
     The town of Wells is one of the few dots on the map that one will see when traveling across Northern Nevada on I-80.  Wells, Nevada, is known as the "Gateway To The East Humboldt Mountains."  Wells is also known as the "Crossroads Of The West" because I-80 and Highway 93 intersect at this place.  
     During the peak of winter, the mile high town of Wells is set in a contrast of snow draped mountains with wispy clouds drifting through cobalt blue skies.  When taking the first step out of the car while taking a break from the highway in this little town, one cannot help but to just stand there for a few moments while taking in the view.  After one breath of the crisp clean air, it is easy to be content with taking one's time while visiting this historic place.
     Wells, Nevada, has a lot of old west history to offer.  Wells originated as a Shoshone Native American community that evolved into a fur trapper trading post.  This remote trading post community eventually turned into a well known stop for pioneers traveling the old California Trail.  Later in the 1800's, the Transcontinental Railroad was routed through this area and this brought plenty of commerce.  Just before the turn of the century, tragedy struck and a big fired burnt this old west town to cinders.  Eventually the age of automobile travel began in the mid 1900's and Wells turned into a popular wayside destination.  
     The East Humboldt Mountain Range is occasionally prone to seismic activity.  In 2008, tragedy struck again when a 6.0 earthquake had its epicenter near Wells.  Some damage from the earthquake can still be seen on old neon signs and buildings in this area.  
     The town of Wells has an old historic district that is worth checking out.  This is a great place to stretch the legs after a long drive and take a few photos.  There is plenty of local history to experience at the nearby Emigrant Trail Center, where the Wells Chamber Of Commerce is also located.
     During winter, destinations in the Wells area cater to cross country ski enthusiasts.  During the summer, hikers and those who enjoy primitive camping can head for pristine hidden lakes in the mountains that are nearly untouched by modern man.  The hunting and fishing in this neck of the woods is some of the best in the west and there are plenty of local guides for hire.  Those who tour the west in a "Land Yacht" will be happy to know that there are plenty of RV Park options to choose from.
     When touring Northern Great Basin Desert, it is well worth taking the time to check out the Wells, Nevada.  This cozy little town sure does have a lot to offer.  Outdoor enthusiasts and those who just need a break from the road will surely like this destination!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Arizona Scenic Drives ~ The Sonoran Desert!

Created with flickr slideshow.

     Arizona Scenic Drives ~ The Sonoran Desert! 
     During the winter of 2015, people living in the lower elevations enjoyed moderate temperatures with very little precipitation.  The same can be said about the higher elevations too.  From the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California all the way to the Sierra Nevada Mountains up north, the snowfall was much lighter than average that year.  Many ski resorts near Tahoe had one of the worst winter tourist seasons ever.
     When the snowpack is sparse in the mountains, water shortages are guaranteed in the Southwest.  When combined with severe draught, the lack of mountain snow runoff causes the water level of rivers and lakes in the Southwest to reach record lows.  Lake Mead is a prime example of a Desert Southwest Reservoir that is suffering from critical depletion.
     Fortunately, it has been a cold wet winter so far this season in the Southwest and this bucks the warm dry winter weather trend of recent years.  The 2016 western mountain snowpack is much thicker this season and prospects for draught relief are high.
     Even though one Arctic storm after another has belted the entire west this year, are the local folks and tourists celebrating the possible end of the recent draught?  No!  They are complaining about the cold temperatures, dangerous snowy road conditions and miserable cloudy overcast.  Some things never change!  It does not take much time for people to get really tired of winter, especially out west, where folks have come to expect cobalt blue skies and comfortable warm temperatures!
     So, where does one escape an icy cold winter out west during a strong "El Niño" year?  The answer is to head for the low elevations down south toward the border of Mexico, where the giant Saguaro Cactus grow!
     The Sonoran Desert is a vast region that extends from just east of San Diego to the western New Mexico border and it runs south from Interstate 40 in Arizona to several hundred miles into Mexico.  Basically, the entire southern half of Arizona is located in the Sonoran Desert.
     The Sonoran Desert offers comfortable daytime temperatures during winter, but after sunset the air can be chilly.  A light jacket is all that a visitor needs even on the coldest of nights.  Snow is a very rare in the higher elevations this far south.  Winter storms might bring a little rain, but this only lasts for a few days out of an entire year.
     The Sonoran Desert is a great place to take a scenic drive when the winter weather is rotten up north in the high elevations of the west.   Winter is the best time of year to tour the Sonoran Desert and the long summer season is just the opposite.  The Sonoran Desert is hotter than a frying pan during the summer months and the temperatures can easily exceed 120ºF.
     Because the hot Arizona summers are so long and because most tourists travel the Interstate Highways, many of the old towns and attractions along the old two lane roads in the Sonoran Desert have gone by the wayside.  Ever since Route 66 tourism was rekindled in recent years, travelers that detest the almighty Interstate Highway System have eagerly taken the road less traveled.  Even so, the old two lane roads that seemingly stretch out forever in the Sonoran Desert no longer bring in enough revenue from tourists to save the day.
    U.S. Highway 60 and State Road 72 in Southwestern Arizona are two prime examples of major travel routes that were cast aside after the modern Interstate Highway System came to be.  Even old Highway 93 in the Sonoran Desert fits the description of roads less traveled to an extent.  When taking a scenic drive on these roads, a driver deals with far less traffic, there is more time to enjoy the Sonoran Desert landscape and there are more opportunities to experience relics of the past.
     Remnants of the golden age of Route 66 style automobile travel can be experienced along the old two lane Sonoran Desert roads when taking a scenic drive.  All one has to do it check the rear view mirror, pull over on the road shoulder, stretch the legs and check out the view.
     The view may be a ravine full of giant Saguaro Cactus that look like they are waving hello.  The view might be a vast pristine Sonoran Desert expanse that stretches out to mountains on the horizon.  The view worth stopping to photograph could be an old sun faded neon motel sign from the 1940's, an old battle tank parked at a war memorial by a trailer park out in the middle of nowhere or even a roadrunner crossing a dirt road.  
     Weird unusual things in the Sonoran Desert can be amusing and interesting enough to inspire thoughts that only come to mind in vast desolate regions like this.  Sometimes questions come to mind that there is no answer for.  All it takes is a little memory of a scenic drive through the Sonoran Desert to day dream over empty ended thought for hours.  For some, a photo of something odd in the desert provides peace of mind like nothing else.
     Bringing a camera along during a scenic drive on the old Sonoran Desert side roads will reward a traveler with pictures that are far more than just conversation pieces.  One can look at a photo of a rusty old sign hanging over a dilapidated burnt out building along the road and a thousand words easily come to mind.  Looking at a saddled mustang tied to a rusty water tank by a mercantile store reminds viewers that some folks in the desert have no need to keep up with modern times.  The Sonoran Desert will always be there, while relics of the modern past slowly rust and fade away.
     All it takes to get rid of the winter blues is to gas up and go for a drive in the vast Sonoran Desert expanse.  A scenic drive on an old two lane road in the Sonoran Desert is not only an escape, it is an experience that shows how timeless the old Southwest really is!                        

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Historic Furnace Creek Inn ~ Death Valley, California!

     The Historic Furnace Creek Inn!
     During the summer season, the temperatures at Furnace Creek, Death Valley are hotter than hell!  The world record high temperature of 134ºF was set at Furnace Creek back in 1913.  The extreme heat conditions give credence to why this region was named Death Valley.
     One cannot help but to notice how hot the ground temperature feels while visiting Furnace Creek when the temperatures are well over 120ºF.  There is a scientific method that determines the actual ground temperature index.  Ground temperature is defined as the temperature measured from the surface of the earth to 3 feet above ground.  During the summer months at Furnace Creek, the ground temperature index is usually well over 165ºF.  That is hot enough to fry an egg on a concrete sidewalk!
     Needless to say, summer is not the best time of year to visit Death Valley.  American tourists tend to avoid Death Valley from June through August, but many foreign tourists visit this region because travel discounts are offered during the off-season.
     During the summer in Death Valley, the stress of physical activity in the extreme heat conditions can cause severe dehydration, heat stroke and even death.  Highly trained athletes have perished in the Death Valley summer heat, so the danger is not something that should be taken lightly.  Automobiles are less reliable in extreme heat conditions and motorists can be stranded for days in remote locations.  So, even when taking a casual summertime sightseeing drive in Death Valley, preparing for the worst by packing plenty of water is necessary.

     The winter temperatures in Death Valley are much more comfortable and this is why this is the best time of year to visit this scenic destination.  The level of high heat danger is nonexistent during the winter months, yet because Death Valley National Park is the land of extremes, freezing temperatures at the higher elevations are not uncommon.  It may seem weird, but it does pay to pack some chilly weather clothes if the temperatures drop, because the thin arid desert air feels much colder than it really is.  
     Hiking up the mountain peaks and exploring canyons is much safer to do during the winter season.  Automobiles are much more reliable in cooler temperatures, so there are fewer worries when visiting remote locations in this vast National Park.  Even when the winter temperatures are comfortable, dehydration is still a threat in the arid desert conditions, so packing plenty of water is advisable.

     Those who like visiting historic destinations in the Southwest will like Furnace Creek, Death Valley.  Borax was discovered near Furnace Creek in 1881.  At that time, borax was in demand for pharmaceuticals and as a cleaning agent.  Borax is a powerful detergent additive that removes stains and it is still used by institutional laundries.
     High summer temperatures caused both the Harmony Borax Works and the Pacific Coast Borax Mining Company to quit processing borax ore in Death Valley a long time ago.  The extreme summertime heat of Death Valley literally would not allow the borax slurry to solidify, so it could be turned into a powder form before being transported by 20 Mule Team Wagons.
     The famous 20 Mule Team Wagon originated at Furnace Creek.  The 20 Mule Team Wagons moved borax from the Death Valley mines on a 165 mile long trail to the railroad in the Mojave Desert.  Marauding looters, hijackers and natives defending their homeland became a major problem for the 20 Mule Team Wagon trains trying to get the ore to the remote railroad depot locations, so an alternative solution was needed.
     Many years after the initial Death Valley borax ore processing projects came to an end, the Pacific Coast Borax Company built their own railroad depot about 30 miles away in the Amargosa Valley near the Nevada border.  The route to the Amargosa Railroad Depot from Death Valley was a rough, winding, steep uphill climb.  The terrain posed engineering problems that the railroad engineers could not easily overcome.  
     Because running a railroad from Death Valley to Amargosa was next to impossible, an alternative solution was found.  A narrow guage railroad was built from the Amargosa RR Depot to Ryan, California, where the steep uphill climb from Death Valley tapered off.  The 20 Mule Team Wagons hauled borax ore to Ryan, then unloaded the ore into railroad cars.  This cut the wagon hauling distance down to less than 20 miles.
      A short time after the Amargosa depot was built and after the short line railroad to Ryan was put into service, the decision was made to turn the borax mines at Furnace Creek into a borax reserve, because the processing cost was too high.  So all mining operations came to an end and the railroad line sat idle.

     At the same period in history that the Pacific Coast Borax Company called it quits on mining borax in Death Valley, tourism was just starting to become a major industry in the old west.  The decision was made by the Pacific Coast Borax Company to construct a luxury hotel resort at Furnace Creek, near the old original borax miner's work camp.  The borax mining railway was then used to cart tourists from Amargosa to Ryanbuilt, where stage coaches and wagons hauled the tourists downhill to the Furnace Creek Inn Resort.
     The Furnace Creek Inn was built in 1927.  The Furnace Creek Inn was designed as a luxury resort for the rich and famous.  The Furnace Creek Inn has been well preserved over the years and not much of the original facility has changed.  One look at the photos of this old resort in the slide show is all it takes to see what a great western luxury resort looked like back in those days.
     One thing that has changed for the better is that air conditioning was added to the historic Furnace Creek Inn facility.  In the old days, huge pots of water were set in guest area and the water evaporation helped to cool the place down.  During the heat of summer, cooling the Furnace Creek Inn was nearly impossible, so this resort closed for the entire summer season.

     The Furnace Creek Inn remained closed every summer season till 2012, which just happened to be the summer that I was contracted to work in the kitchen.  During that summer, the European tourist visitor numbers were so high at the old Furnace Creek Ranch Resort, that the Furnace Creek Inn was opened in an effort to relieve guest overflow.
    I actually had the honor of being the first chef to ever run the Furnace Creek Inn kitchen from June through August!  The idea was to accommodate overflow from the ranch, which was less than a mile downhill, with the goal of minimizing operational costs.  So, the resort food & beverage director designed a Southwestern style summertime barbecue dinner buffet that only required one skilled cook to operate.
     I ended up cooking Texas BBQ Beef Brisket and Mojave Desert Honey BBQ Chicken at the Furnace Creek Inn for thousands of European tourists that summer.  A summer BBQ buffet might seem easy, but cooking Texas Beef Brisket outdoors in temperatures over 125ºF and operating an entire kitchen by myself was no easy task.
     I had a few decades of pro chef experience, so this is why I was asked to do the job.  I must admit that it was a lot of footwork, but the hard work was worth it, because I was able live in Furnace Creek for an entire summer and this gave me plenty of time to explore Death Valley.  

     Death Valley is not called Death Valley for no reason at all!  The history of Death Valley is filled with tragic hardship.  Many Native Americans and pioneers have died while trying to cross this desolate region.  Slavery was rampant in Death Valley and many borax mineworkers died near the Furnace Creek site.  Old west outlaws hiding out in Death Valley shed plenty of blood.  Many unwitting tourists have perished in Death Valley over the years too.  It is easy to see why so many people say that Death Valley is cursed as being hell on earth.
     Furnace Creek and all of Death Valley has a real air of dread at times.  With so many lives lost, stories of ghosts run thick.  Every name of every place in the Death Valley region reeks of doom and this adds to the reputation.  Names like The Funeral Mountains, The Devil's Cornfield, The Devil's Golf Course, The Devil's Race Track, Badwater Basin and Furnace Creek sure do have a way of making people think of the dark side while visiting this region!

     Death Valley has a long history of tragic desperation, yet it is one of the most scenic places on earth.  Death Valley can test a person's limits when visiting during the heat of summer but on the other hand it can be sheer paradise during the cool temperatures of winter.  The old historic Furnace Creek Inn is a must to experience this time of year!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Utah Scenic Byways ... Highway 91 to Franklin, Idaho ~ Another Powerball Mission!

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     Utah Scenic Byways ... Highway 91 to Franklin, Idaho ~ Another Powerball Mission!
     The Wednesday Powerball Jackpot is estimated to be over $1.4 Billion.  The chance to become a billionaire overnight is more than just a mere temptation.  Even after taxes, a billion dollar Powerball Jackpot guarantees a life of luxury beyond one's own wildest dreams.  
     Many states have laws that ban gambling or lottery systems.  There are a few western states that have banned the lottery for very different reasons.  Utah and Nevada are two such states.  Nevada banned lotteries in order to protect the vested interests of casinos, which provide the majority of all state tax income.  Utah has a "clean living" reputation and that is reason enough to ban gambling altogether.
     A billion dollar jackpot is a mighty big temptation that difficult to resist.  Not everybody in Utah is as mild mannered as this state's reputation would suggest, especially when Powerball fever strikes.  Statistics show that over 30,000 tickets were sold in Malad, Idaho, for last Saturday's Powerball Drawing.  The bulk of those tickets were sold to seekers of fortune that traveled across the Idaho border from Northern Utah.
     As mentioned in a previous article, Malad City, Idaho, is the number one Powerball destination for folks driving north from Utah.  Malad is a convenient stop, because it is close to the border on Interstate Highway 15.  The speed limits range from 70 to 80 miles per hour, so the trip moves along fairly quick.  The problem is that the waiting lines for Powerball Tickets in Malad City are a mile long when the jackpot reaches a record breaking high mark.  
     An alternative Powerball destination for Northern Utah fortune seekers is Franklin, Idaho.  Franklin is closer to the Utah border, but the speed limits are a little slower.  There are also only a couple of places in Franklin to purchase Powerball Tickets, so the waiting time on a busy day is guaranteed to be like watching paint dry.  
     When in Northern Utah, deciding which route to take that leads to Idaho Powerball destinations can be a dilemma.  One route appeals to travelers that prefer high speeds and no stoplights.  The other route appeals to those that enjoy a leisurely Sunday afternoon scenic drive.  
     I recently relocated to Salt Lake City after being contacted for a job at ski resort.  I had nothing better to do than to kill time last weekend, because the hiring process at a major resort can take a few days.  With plenty of time on my hands, I figured that experiencing the billion dollar Powerball fever hype would be something interesting to do.  
     On Saturday, I drove to Malad City via I-15, just like thousands of other folks from Northern Utah.  The experience was like being in a modern day gold rush.  Some aggressive drivers definitely had a rat race attitude and the drive on the interstate driving was not exactly a relaxing experience.  The highway patrol sure was having a field day with speeders and this caused a lot of distractive rubbernecking to go on. 
     Since nobody had a winning ticket for the Saturday Powerball Jackpot, this was reason enough to go for the gold one more time.  Sunday I decided to take US Highway 91 to Franklin, Idaho just to get a few Powerball Tickets.  Highway 91 and Highway 89 share the same road just north of Ogden, Utah.  Highway 91 runs north to Idaho through the steep mountains, so this route is a good choice when no snow is falling.  Sunday just happened to be a winter day when blue skies prevailed, so I was in luck.
     When compared to the speedy interstate highway, US Highway 91 is the better choice for a scenic drive when Powerball fever strikes.  The pace is a little slower and there are plenty of good things to experience.  There are many breathtaking scenic overlooks in the mountains.  The vast high altitude meadow farms stretch all the way to the mountain range backdrops on the horizon.  The mountain crests offer great views of places like Brigham City.  There are even a few historic old west towns with great places to get a bite to eat along the way.
    All in all, the Franklin, Idaho, Powerball fever trip was a better driving experience than the previous "race for the riches" journey to Malad City.  The leisurely pace of old Highway 91 offered plenty of opportunities to enjoy the winter landscapes.  
     In reality, winning a Powerball Jackpot can be likened to chasing a dream, so it is more important to live each moment in life to its fullest.  Traveling on scenic Highway 91 sure does have a way of reminding those who have Powerball fever that there are things that are far more priceless than chasing a billion dollar dream.  
    On the other hand, making a philosophical statement absolutely makes no sense when there is a billion dollars at stake!  Just forget about all the philosophical morality stuff and enjoy the scenic byway that leads to riches beyond one's wildest dreams!