Story by Ken Snodgrass
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published the July 2014 edition of the MSTA Michigan Chapter newsletter. The story has been edited to match the MSTA website’s style.
Day 7: Thursday 5/15 (447 Miles)
“Over the hump of the Divide”
This was a day of contrasts. I traveled across the very dry high plains of sage on Wyoming State Route 28, crossed the imperceptible Continental Divide in South Pass and then rode the long grade down to the green canyons of the Wasatch Mountains on Utah State Route 65. Later, I reached the neat and tidy Salt Lake City, and, finally, the expanse of the Salt Lake Basin. What was incredibly difficult for the Donner Party was fun (canyon road switchbacks) and easy (straight flat on Interstate 80 across the basin) for me.
Wendover is a city of contrasts too. It sits on the border of Utah and Nevada. The Utah side of the city has slightly run-down motels and closed gas stations. A street separates this from the 10 or so new casinos of the Nevada side. Sort of like crossing Alter Road which divides Detroit from Grosse Pointe Park.
The discovery of South Pass as a way to cross the divide avoids the worst of the Rocky Mountains and was a key element in the settlement of the West. Wagon travel to this point was relatively easy – grass and water was readily available and you just followed the river up a very gradual slope. Tributaries of three major rivers are within five miles of the pass – on the east side of the divide is the Sweetwater/Platte and the Twin Creek/Wind River/Missouri and on the west side is the Sandy/Green/Colorado.
Day 8: Friday 5/16 (313 Miles)
“Dry as far as the eye can see”
There was a small disappointment on this day. I had hoped to get to the Donner Spring – the first water the party found after crossing the salt flats of the Great Salt Lake. The spring is about 25 miles north of Wendover on unpaved roads. Didn’t seem like a good idea to ride my road bike out there alone, but I found a Jeep tour company in town. I called them, but they were fully booked for the weekend. Maybe I’ll get out there next trip.
There was a perplexing sign on I-80, “Report All Shooting from the Highway.” It was near a Nevada National Guard post and state prison. Do you think people are shooting towards or away from the highway? And what are they shooting at?
I spent the night at a state park on the Humboldt River which is extremely low elevation-wise. I’m used to rivers growing in size as you follow them downstream, but in the Great Basin the rivers shrink until they disappear in their terminal sink. The park was dry and dusty except for an acre of green grass set aside for tent campers. My neighbors were a couple of birders from California who pointed out an owl above my tent. I my plan was make it to Truckee and Donner Pass tomorrow – the turnaround point of my trip.