Saturday, 10 September 2011

Day 7: Cedar City, UT - Bishop, CA

Were one to draw a line straight west from Cedar City, it would as near as makes no odds hit Bishop smack on the nose.  The problem with this approach is that it would lead one into that huge chunk of central Nevada pwned by the US military, who take a dim view of This Sort Of Thing.  So you have to go round it; either to the south via Las Vegas or to the north via Tonopah.  I chose the former, in spite of all the rude things I've said about Vegas, as I've done the other several times before.  Both promise to be, for the most part, very dull indeed.

South from Cedar City on I-15 is indeed dull, until you cross into the Arizona Strip, this being the part of Arizona north of the Colorado River.  It is home to a bunch of rather unsavoury Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints who still practice polygamy when they think they can get away with it.  Read Jon Krakauer's Under The Banner Of Heaven (but keep quiet about it if in the company of respectable LDS scholars, assuming such people exist).  It also contains the Virgin River Canyon, down which the Interstate passes for eleven exhilarating miles.  I know I came up it in 2003, but have absolutely no recollection of it.

Exiting the canyon, life becomes boring again; the most exciting thing to be seen is the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  Fortunately this is about as close to Las Vegas itself as it is necessary to get as there is a new ring road which, while not appearing in my road atlas, is known to the TwatNav.  She directs me around the place with no effort and the added excitement of having to dodge a cool-box abandoned in the middle of a busy junction.

Las Vegas, from a safe distance.  Yes, the sky really is that colour
US-95 north is this: boring.  The "excitement" came from two sources: watching a Predator drone aircraft coming in to land at Creech AFB and deducing from the lack of oncoming traffic followed by a convoy of a Several of tens of vehicles that there were road works ahead.  There were, with a big sign saying "Delays up to 30 minutes possible".  This, together with World+Dog's constant moaning about the price of Motor Spirit, would surely lead the sensible Motor-ist to switch off his motor while waiting.  The bloke in front of me not only left his engine running for the twenty-odd minutes we were stationary, but failed even to put it in Park or neutral, instead preferring to keep his foot on the brake pedal the whole time.  He is clearly a crumpletrumpet of the first water.

More boring desert, though I note the mixed fortunes of Nevada's rural brothels.  The Cottontail Ranch, a former haunt of Howard Hughes, has been closed since 2004, but the Shady Lady Ranch is apparently going strong.  It was the first brothel in Nevada to have a "prostidude" on its staff, trivia fans.  The reason I note this is because the Cottontail is where you turn off onto NV-266, which becomes CA-166 once the state line is crossed.  The latter is now my second favourite road as UT-12 gave it such a kicking yesterday I do not think it will recover.

This road was described in detail last year, so I shall not repeat myself.  The reasons for taking this, rather than, say, going through DETH Valley are firstly that it's more fun, secondly it's cheaper and thirdly, if you turn north off the summit of Westgard Pass, you find yourself on White Mountain Road.  This leads to the Shulman Grove of Bristlecone Pine trees and, crucially, reaches a height of 10,075 feet while doing so.  There was a sign at the Visitor Center to this effect, but the Visitor Center burned down in September 2008 and they haven't finished the new one yet.  There's a little carved sign by the roadside saying "Elevation: 10,000 feet" on the way up, but it's on a blind corner and a narrow road, plus I'm sitting on the wrong side of the car to poke a camera out of the window anyway.

Bristlecone Pines are Quite Interesting, as they tend to live for a very long time indeed.  One, imaginatively named "Methuselah", is over 4,800 years old.  And by dint of comparing tree ring patterns from live and dead trees, SCIENCE can tell us many interesting facts, including that the Earth was not created in 4004 BC.  We all knew that anyway, but I've never heard of it being used to belabour a Creationist.  Someone prove me wrong...  I didn't get to see Methuselah his own good self as it's a four and a half mile walk to go there and back.  Even the one mile one had me gasping for breath.  And then shivering, as firstly it started to rain.  Rain which then turned to hail.  I retreated to my nice warm motor-car and scarpered.

A Bristlecone Pine, yesterday
Ten miles on and rejoining CA-168 the temperature was back in the eighties.  Roof down for the mad descent into Big Pine.  Right on US-395 towards Bishop.  Rain.  I stop to put the top back up, and have just got moving again when a short-lived but fierce downpour engulfed the land.  It had stopped by the time I reached Bishop, but I think Mr Thrifty would have taken a dim view of my returning his motor-car with a colony of sticklebacks in the passenger footwell.

Today's group of Shouty FOREIGN bikers are Danish.  And the official USAnian English pronunciation of Korean motor-car manufacturer Hyundai rhymes with "Sunday".  Srsly.

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