Clip #10: Wide Open Spaces!

After a great visit at Lake Tahoe, it was only a short drive to Reno, so plenty of time for a long, relaxing lunch visit with a friend I met not long after the St. Vincent’s 119 fitness center opened in 2005. Alexis was my first official water aerobics instructor (if you don’t count Barney’s “water noodle class” with our friend Becky), but she became a friend as well. I find it a blessing to maintain friendships that sometimes scatter far and wide, yet when we can connect, it’s as if we’d just hugged (or elbow-bumped) each other yesterday. When Alexis and her husband moved first to Atlanta and then to Reno, we stayed in touch. They are dog lovers, and over the years, I’ve always enjoyed seeing their beloved pets posing on Christmas cards.

When thinking of Reno, I often associate it with neon-lit casinos, divorce mills and wedding chapels, but there are many pleasant neighborhoods. Alexis and I spent our visit in the peaceful, non-neon, non-slots dining room of a golf club, overlooking undulating fairways. We talked of the successful Orange Theory Fitness studios they’ve opened in Reno, friends we both remember, our water buddies, Covid frustrations, and many personal experiences.

Then, mid-afternoon, it was time to head farther east to Elko, which was founded in 1869 as a railhead for the White Pine mines. It also served for a long time as the center of a huge cattle ranching empire. Writer and traveler Lowell Thomas once referred to Elko as “the last real Cowtown in the American West.” Today, though, it’s primarily a town benefitting from sophisticated mining technologies used by several companies that haul tons of rock and dirt to crushers so they can extract millions of ounces of gold each year. I saw lots of huge machinery as I drove but not one soul panning the river.

My time in Elko was limited, and I wasn’t overly interested in the mining operations. However, I do wish I’d come through in January instead of June because I missed the week-long National Cowboy Poetry Gathering held there every year since 1985. Founded by a small group of folklore lovers and poets, it has now grown into a national and international annual event. That would have been fun, and Barney would have loved it. (He was, in some ways, a cowboy at heart who loved wide open spaces, Gene Autry, and the lyrics to “Red River Valley.”)

Next morning, once the sun had risen high enough not to blind me, I headed across the rest of Utah, often driving right next to the Humboldt River and savoring wide-open vistas ahead. The original residents of this part of northern Nevada were Numic-speaking Native Americans. Fur trappers arrived in the early 1800s. By the late 1840s, the trail along the river had become not only a popular route for settlers headed to California but also a primary pathway to the new gold fields.

I stopped late morning at a place accurately described on a website as “so flat you seem to see the curvature of the planet, so barren not even the simplest life forms can exist.” That’s exactly how it looked. The only blip on the landscape was a well-designed rest area with an outdoor foot shower so you could step out onto the salty white soil of the Bonneville Salt Flats but not track any of it back into your car. Having two sons who live life largely to the tune of auto racing, this was a must stop.

Speed-addicted people have been racing and breaking land records here since 1896. I’m not sure I ever realized we had cars back that far, let alone racecars. The appeal of Bonneville seems to be that you can go as fast as you possibly can without worrying about running into anything—anything at all!

In 1914, a fellow named Teddy Tezlaff set an official record of 141 mph, but then British racer Malcom Campbell showed up in 1935 with his beloved Blue Bird “car” and set a new record of 301 mph. Since then, even the 600 mph land speed barrier has been broken.

With my feet de-salted, I climbed back into my car and headed across the rest of Utah. Barney and I had already visited Salt Lake City, seen the Tabernacle and other Mormon interests, so I had decided to skirt the city itself and stop for the night in Layton. Not much to say about this town, but the mountain views from my hotel room were spectacular.

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