I spent the night outside the Donner Pass town of Truckee. After 12 days on the California coast, it was surprising to see there was still plenty of snow in late June. I took the sharp right north on I-80 into Nevada—past Reno, Fernley, and landed in God-forsaken Winnemucca, where I stayed in one of the hemisphere’s ugliest RV parks.
After dinner at possibly the greasiest Mexican restaurant ever, I walked through downtown, which had the saddest little strip of casinos in the hemisphere. I went into one that was, with a fistful of quarters, but saw that slots the machines had gone boring digital with credit card thingies for money. Plus, as with everything digital, they had a million choices, and I had no idea how they worked. Gone was the satisfaction of plunking in a quarter, pulling the arm, coaxing the spinning wheels, and hearing 3-4 or 100 quarters jangle into the metal coin tray, like little bells from heaven.
No fun there. The handful of players scattered around the dark rooms were mostly grim-faced solitary middle-aged women pulling on cigarettes and sipping raspberry vodkas.
This stretch of I-80 is desolation row, passing ghost towns like Battle Mountain, Beowave, Golconda and Valmy. Then you zoom by the little city of Elko, which according to Wikipedia “is also home to legal prostitutes and contains active brothels. Several geothermal features are located in Elko, the largest of which is the Elko Hot Hole.” In winter, you can ski for $20.
About 80 miles from Elko, at the only town in the West with two Flying J’s on the same exit, I turned north onto US 93 North. One of the great American desert highways, it runs mostly two lanes for 1,457 lonesome miles from Phoenix to Canada, crossing five Interstate Highways, and passing hundreds of ghost (or nearly) towns.
On the border, there is Jackpot, Nevada, which has a 15 story hotel ‘convention center’ that lures gamblers from Twins Falls, Idaho to this D-grade border sin city.
Then, the West blossoms into Idaho, which has some of America’s most bizarre natural features. Craters of the Moon National Park, St. Anthony Dunes, and the back end of the Rockies. The ghost towns and sleazy casino villages of Nevada are replaced by refreshing views, lakes, and electric green fields of wheat and potatoes, and Nuclear Reactors.
A bit further up the Road, I passed a little time with this vagabond couple at a Flying J in Twins Falls (they were thumbing their way to Vermont).
Idaho has its share of lonely roads, if you like to feel alone in the world.
And one of the most bizarre sights in the USA, Craters of the Moon National Monument. Hundreds of square miles of volcanic cinders line the road. The most recent flows were just 2,000 years ago. Not a place to be barefoot.
Idaho was one of the most surprising places, I’ve ever been, but the potatoes I had weren’t the best, and they’re not promoted much. But then again where will you find a landscape that looks like a herd of dinosaurs just took a dump.