Driving America’s Forgotten West

Starting from Seattle with Phoenix as the final destination is really common and easy long-haul route. I’ve made the trip at least half a dozen times. Its super simple, I-5 south for about 1200 miles and then I-10 east the rest of the way. There are absolutely beautiful stretches from southern Oregon to Redding, California. Mount Shasta, being the most prominent natural feature, sits directly in your field of vision for miles. Then you wind your way through Lake Shasta with great views of the lake and numerous pull-offs to take a break and visit its shores.

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I have stopped here for a night or two several times. When the water level is high in the mid-to-late spring, the fishing is fantastic. As soon as the sun drops behind the land on the opposite side and the shore line is shaded the fish come straight into the shallows in droves. The water is crystal clear allowing you to easily identify which species are present. A few sips of some sauce and an edible and I was standing on the bank casting past all the fish and reeling back through them. Cast after cast, fish after fish, I was falling all over myself and giggling uncontrollably. Like a toddler in a tub of Nutella.

Get a good nights sleep and get back on the road in the early morning, because the rest of this route is an absolute slog. You will need to be well stocked with coffee and patience because this is the most prominent truck route in the western United States. Its flat and lined with Pilot Flying J’s, at least you never have to worry about gas, this guy’s got your back:

https://giphy.com/embed/gut3g2GTNUviUvia GIPHY

The rest of this route is work, man. Its hard and its exhausting. Also, California has the 4th highest fuel tax in the nation, despite it also being the 4th largest oil producing area in the U.S.

The I-5 corridor is best avoided unless speed is really important for you. California is of course enormous, with incredible National Parks throughout. But we all know about those, their incomparable beauty and ever-present dangers. This time I needed something new, and as it just so happens, Google Maps was able to read my mind.

Google’s optimal routes are absolutely insane, its fascinating that they even know some of these roads exist. Google found me a route that was nearly a full hour faster! Down through southeastern Oregon and dropping down into Nevada. I silently thanked Google for blessing me with its grace and began my route. Driving through the Mount Hood area is gorgeous especially in late winter. Past that, you come to Bend, Oregon, or as I like to call it “the end of the known world.” I truly was ignorant of what waited for me beyond. It was emptiness, hundreds and hundreds of miles of emptiness. Shortly after leaving Bend, and as the sun was setting, an enormous owl stood right smack in the middle of the highway. Directly on top of the double-yellow, staring directly at me, warning me of what lie ahead. Looking back, its hard not to consider the owl an omen. It startled me at the time as I flew right past him, I thought it was a neat thing to see. But over the rest of the night, I realized it was a harbinger.

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The Deschutes River, its made of beer, I think.

Cell phone service drops off quickly, you’re on your own. You won’t see another car for 20 minutes sometimes. “But I got a full tank of gas with almost 400 miles on it, I’m good” you think to yourself. The owl sighs deeply and turns away, it mutters a silent prayer for the traveler and goes about its owl-business.

Sparse woodlands line the road and eventually give way to tree-less shrub lands. Smoldering fires dot the side of the road, giving the air the flavor of fire. I’m not making this up, if you enjoy the Mad Max ambiance then this is the place for you.

At a little under 200 miles left on the tank you return to civilization (and cell service) in a small farming community, if only for a brief moment. This where you pull over, get on your phone and locate the nearest gas station. If you don’t, well, you might still make it depending on the car you’re driving. I did not seek fuel. With my hubris fully abreast, I forged onward. There was nothing, no rest stops, no towns, no service, nothing. Thats not entirely accurate though because I did see one thing.

Along this lonely road, deep in southeastern Oregon, lies the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Those clowns couldn’t have picked a more irrelevant place to occupy and pollute with their candy wrappers, bodily waste, and worn-out dildos. It was dark, so I didn’t see much. I’m sure it has natural beauty, but damn, talk about an easy mark for a failed revolutionary stronghold. More than anything else it was amusing, farcical even, to see that sitting way out here and then to think it had the attention of the entire nation if only for a brief time. Its much quieter now, with the hair-brained coup having long been quashed.

As I approached 80 miles left on the tank, sweat began to bead on my brow. At 60 there was an interchange.At the interchange there was a weigh-station, a good sign, that lets you know its a shipping route, which means fuel stops. South was the direction of my Google route, with the next town lying on the Oregon/Nevada border….about 70 miles away. If I went north, there was a town right on the highway about 10 miles up called Rome. The choice was Rome, I couldn’t risk running out of fuel out here, I got places to be. A small detour and I’m back on track. Nah, bro. Nothings ever that easy. Rome isn’t so much a town as an RV/Mobile-home park, with old-school manual fuel pumps and an office that closes in the late afternoon. Luckily for me there were two semis pulled over whose drivers happily directed this amateur to the nearest gas station 35 miles further up the road.

With a replenished fuel supply and two cups of bafflingly weak coffee, I continued. I had a lot more driving to do this night because their were no gas stations, so you know damn well there were no roadside motels are hotels either. Also, the need to make up lost time (approximately 2 hours) is a powerful force.

The next 3 hours were a blur. The moonlight exposed enormous shadows of the grand mountain ranges on either side of me as I cruised out of Oregon and descended into Nevada. They barely registered, my strung-out, bloodshot eyes were glued to the road. After 12 hours of driving and in the middle of the night, things can get pretty weird. This kind of isolation and darkness, really wears your mind down. Thoughts run wild down erroneous paths. Its best to get the hell off the road if you start to notice this. Hit the reset button. Cell service finally came back and I booked a room and crashed in Winnemucca, NV. Winnemucca is fine, theres casinos and RV parks there.

The next morning I loaded the Best Western’s breakfast bar into my car and got right back on the road. This my friends is an absolute gem of desolation, Northern Nevada in the late winter.

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The snow-dusted mountains are pristine and the further away from Winnemucca you go the better it gets. Slicing through barren valleys with nothing but stunning scenery on either side. Eventually you come upon abandoned homesteads from an era long since past.

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These places are eery. They make one wonder who lived out our that long ago and what their daily lives must have been like; also, what happened to them? My best guess is that they probably raised raised livestock to supply some of the old mines that are relatively nearby. One of those old mines is 30 miles down the road in Austin, Nevada.

This place boomed with pioneers seeking fortunes by mining precious metals. The town, as it stands now, is a testament to what happens when to a place with little else to offer outside of low-production mines. There is a swarm of activity followed by rapid abandonment and, in the end, a few stay behind, stuck to a vision of striking it rich or simply out of comfort. Some guy even saw fit to build himself a castle.

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Its more like a turret if you ask me, but i’m not a castle aficionado. It does have one heck of a view though:

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You can read more about Austin and its history on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austin,_Nevada

At this point you begin your descent into Las Vegas. There are other abandoned gold mining towns along the way and perpetual mountain vistas. Its beautiful, its stress free, and really takes your mind to an interesting place. And you don’t have to worry about fuel anymore either.

I highly recommend this drive if you’re a road-tripper, just remember to be wary of southern Oregon. A little planning and you’ll experience one the most amazing drives America has to offer.

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Driving America’s Forgotten West

    1. You’re most welcome. I have done three seperate routes. Mostly the California one, but not anymore. Going through Boise and down through Utah is also gorgeous. I’d recommend that one as well. You’ll see incredible land features you’d probably not otherwise see. Glad you enjoyed it!

      Liked by 1 person

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