TJWE: Starting Back East

Over the past two days, we saw a burned-out shell of an RV, ate tandoori chicken sandwich at a little roadside gas station, and got adopted by a couple of dogs during a lunch picnic in a park. We also made a point to stop and see the Great Salt Lake up close, which turned out to be, um, [adjective].


Thursday and Friday were our last days in California, and the highlights were supper with friends.

DJ had arranged to see several people when we knew we’d be in California. I wasn’t sure what the kids would think about being dragged along to meet yet more of Mom and Dad’s friends. But our friends are so obliging as to have either: 1. Kids and a pool; 2. Exercise equipment and fresh-baked pizza cookies (“pizzookies”). They also all fed us very, very well.

When someone asked our kids what the highlight of the trip had been so far, most said “the Grand Canyon!” But Gamerboy said, “Seeing friends.”

That made us pretty happy.

On Saturday, we started the drive back east. California, Nevada, Utah, and into Wyoming—the scenery has alternated among deadly dull, breathtaking mountains, and otherworldly-looking salt flats. I’ll describe the rest with the pictures I snapped along the way.

We made sure to have an Important Food Experience by eating lunch at In-N-Out.

An obliging person from Seattle whose accent said he was actually from somewhere that was not Seattle took our picture at Donner Pass. Yes, that Donner Party. Fortunately, we made it through okay, and all we ate were pretzels.


In Reno, NV, we found a go-kart track for the kids. I’m mostly including these pictures so we’ll have them to remember later, because they all had a marvelous time. Not that we go in for stereotypes, but the girls both drove cautiously and at a reasonable pace, while as soon as the boys half-got the knack they were speeding and narrowly avoiding walls.

Pictured clockwise: Ranger, Sparkler, Gamerboy, Bookgirl

This is where we ate supper in Fernley, Nevada: a restaurant inside a 76 gas station. Take a look at the menu–this was no greasy-queasy gas station food. I had an excellent gyro, and DJ thoroughly enjoyed his tandoori chicken sandwich.

Again with a selfie. Otherwise, I don’t show up in any of these pictures.

Across the road from the gas-station restaurant was a narrow strip of ground marked as “Main Street Park.” All that was there were these two notable sculptures. The first is a desert tortoise. The second is a kind of gazebo; the flower and leaves are made of hammered bottle caps. If you look closely at the second one, you’ll see Bookgirl on the upper deck.

The gas pumps at this isolated stop in Valmy, NV were roped off. Apparently, a guy pulled off to get some gas for his RV. He noticed the console smoking, but went ahead and hooked it up to the pump anyway. You know, like anybody would do. He went inside to pay; when he came out, his RV was in flames. It triggered the automatic shutoff for all the pumps, and good thing, too. The fire basically melted the pump. That was a month ago. Here it still sat.


We stopped just before the border of Nevada to have lunch in a park. Two dogs joined us. They had no collars, but were healthy and incredibly friendly. They took up residence under our table as if we were The Joneses And Their Dogs. The ballfield next to us was the Archie Smiley field, so we named the dogs Archie (the little gray and white one) and Smiley (the very affectionate black one).

We were pretty interested in the Great Salt Lake, and excited when we saw that it was pretty easy to access. Obviously we had to check it out.

Just curious—have you ever walked to the actual lake itself? Up close? Just wondering. I mean, if you have, you kind of know that the experience was not exactly as expected.

For starters, you have to walk across this vast desert of cracked dry salty mud. As you approach the water, you smell the salt. At least, you think it’s the salt. You’re pretty sure it’s not actually the faint remains of dead things. Then your foot sinks into the ground, and you realize you’re smelling hot, soft mud.


But you push on, because you’re almost to the water by this time. You see that the edge of the shore is dark, edged with silt and sand. Only, when you get close enough, you realize that it isn’t silt. Or sand. It’s bug. Thousands upon thousands of tiny flying gnats. You have to walk though them to get to the water.


The Great Salt Lake is, indeed, salty. I merely touched my finger to my tongue, and it stung. Know what else it stings? Sunburned legs. Ranger was crying by the time we got back out. He cried all the way across the dry salt desert.

I’m glad we did it. We waded in the Great Salt Lake.


But it was one of the more unpleasant experiences of this trip. And that includes throwing up in a plastic bucket in the van.

But to end on a high note… the sunsets! The one over Nevada last night was captivating. I told DJ, “This is beautiful. Utterly beautiful. You could propose to me right now if you wanted to. Wait, no, hush, I’m looking at the sunset.”


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