Thanksgiving Tour of The American West 
by Peter Matusov
Russian version


Not sure if it is a case of cabin fever - somehow, we put in more cross-country driving miles in the miserable 2020 than in most other years. We made a week-long trip to Mammoth Lakes in August (requiring several expensive repairs to Lena's Land Rover); soon after, we had to spend a week in Colorado (followed by another, more expensive, repair to Lena's Land Rover). Maybe, it is longing for some cold and snow that prompted a plan to spend the Thanksgiving week in Jackson, Wyoming. The plan includes a detour to Boise, Idaho - which has a great benefit of avoiding the Interstate 15 at least for a part of the journey.

It is timed just perfectly - there is plenty of motel rooms available in Jackson, but no rental 4x4s available in San Diego - so with just a little uneasy feeling we toss everything short of a kitchen sink in the LR4 and hit the road.

The road - U.S.395
Any trip North from San Diego can only be counted as started after the slog through highway maze of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. What used to be a one-stop-sign town of Adelanto is now sprawling suburbia, complete with Starbucks, WalMart, and dozens of randomly switched stoplights. You only begin to feel yourself on the road way after Kramer Junction (CA SR58 and US 395) - but then you are condemned to single-lane travel at 55 mph, which anyone with a trailer is restricted to in the state of California.
Mojave desert is home to many a mining boom relic; mid-December of 2020, large declarations of a particular political allegiance may also fade away.

We still remember this automotive shop in operation (Red Mountain, CA); the odd-shaped mountain near Ridgecrest, CA, with a giant letter "B" on the side, Butte Mountain, has a place in my heart as a good example of layover and foreshortening in synthetic-aperture radar images.

We pass Pearsonville and begin our slow climb up Owens River Valley. The little lake near 395 is aptly named "Little Lake."
We can't talk about it. "It" is in Olancha, California.
Lord Kelvin and Herr Helmholtz could easily explain the periodic cloud pattern in the evening sky, even if they have never visited the Ranch House Cafe even when it was open.
Lone Pine, Independence, and Big Pine fly by, and it is completely dark by the time we roll into Bishop.


The crispy morning begins in the Bishop city park. If we have a chance to see the fall colors, it is right here.

Our breakfast comes as a takeout from Schatt's Bakery on the main drag. We jump in the Land Rover and leave the 395 for another historic highway - U.S.6.

Wikipedia gives a good description of the route; it is a pretty long stretch of pavement for something running "uncertainly from nowhere to nowhere, scarcely to be followed from one end to the other, except by some devoted eccentric" (George Rippley Stewart). One of the first signs we see on this route is the mileage to Provincetown, Mass. - a couple hours over 5000 kilometers.

We pass the turnoff to Silver Canyon, and enjoy the views of White Mountains and Chalfant Valley until it is time to leave California.


I miss my chance to take a photo of a herd of bighorns not very far from the county road 360, in the foothills of Miller Mountain, and we barrel straight to a T-junction with the U.S.95. That junction is adorned with some bizarre stuff, I tell you. And the little town of Mina, Nevada, is playing right along. Up to and including a house made out of a boat, or bus and van display a mile or so later.

Apparently, a Mina's local Bob Eddy decided to grow Australian red claw crayfish in the hot springs in the desert, and opened "Desert Lobster Cafe" to serve them to road-weary drivers on the U.S.95. The state of Nevada became concerned with spread of non-native wildlife species (maybe rightly so), and shut him down. Bob vented his frustration by means of a funny road sign, which I found on the Internet and which is likely long gone. Fun place, this town; we certainly missed its annual horny toad racing event. Read some more on the page of Silver State Ghost Towns if you're so inclined.

Soon after Mina, the road bears towards the West, and descends into a valley with spectacular views, which remind you of a beginning of some sort of spy thriller movie. Nothing to worry about, this sprawling metropolis of identical barracks and bunkers is Hawthorne Army Depot. Remember that banged-up helmet you returned to the U.S.Government after that middle-Eastern vacation, along with the filter for the long-lost gas mask? It just may be here, counted, labelled, crated, and biding its time till the next international conflict.

To give you a feeling of open space - the Depot covers 226 square miles of the desert, and sports nearly two and a half thousand bunkers. It is the largest ammunition depot in the world.

A Wiki page on Hawthorne is pretty laconic in the "Education" section: "Hawthorne has a public library."

The highway resumes its march to the North right outside the town, and for a while we drive by a large Walker Lake. One of the Great Basin reservoirs, it becomes progressively more saline, killing the fish and attracting fewer and fewer migratory birds. The shores look depressingly much like those of Salton Sea in Colorado desert.

Looking back, we should have taken our time to visit a Museum or library or whatever in Hawthorne. Because it is already mid-afternoon, about 2, and the mighty Land Rover suddenly refuses to go "above and beyond" a point about 6.5 miles South of Fallon, Nevada.

And the fun part begins.

The American Automobile Association

If you don't know what it is, you haven't travelled enough in CONUS, and/or haven't owned a vehicle that is, by a suburban rat race standard, old.

This is what Wikipedia tells you about AAA:

The American Automobile Association (AAA - pronounced "Triple A") is a federation of motor clubs throughout North America. AAA is a privately held not-for-profit national member association and service organization with over 60 million members in the United States and Canada. AAA provides services to its members, including roadside assistance and others.

Quote from the horse's mouth (skipping irrelevant drivel):

For over a century, AAA has remained focused on providing valuable products and legendary service to our members... Joining AAA means helping members at the side of the road or helping make members' lives easier by being by their side every day. The legendary Roadside Assistance we're famous for ... Our mission is creating members for life by exceeding our members' expectations through valuable products and legendary service. We are united by this common mission of helping our members.

You get the idea.

We do, too - having been paying the dues for the privilege of the membership of this awesome organization for the last 25 years. Since we also fall on the thin outskirts of the bell curve of vehicle ownership with five Land Rovers and two Jeeps in the family, we feel prudent to pay extra to be Premium members, which entitles us to at least one free 100-mile-long ride on the back of the tow truck. It may feel like a lot, but it really isn't. Even a simple ride to the desert from our home is longer than 100 miles one way. As much as I am enjoying a ride in an air-conditioned cab of a tow truck every now and then, it is unlikely that I'll be riding home - that a Uber driver could do - but to a competent auto repair shop. Given the choice of vehicles, there's a high probability that I'd need a Land Rover dealer. Out of curiosity, I used Google Maps to count distances from our "home base" in San Diego to 14 closest Land Rover shops, from Carlsbad to Salt Lake City. Guess what, the median distance is 322 miles - heavily weighed down by multiple dealers in Southern California.

So, when our 2010 LR4 with 120 thousand miles on the clock coasts to the shoulder 6.5 miles South of Fallon, Nevada, I seek consolation in the beautiful fact that the nearest dealer is in Reno, mere 73 miles away.

I don't go out calling AA for help right away, however; a thousand-dollar tow bill four years prior left, among other things, a spare controller that doles out the right amount of electricity to the in-tank fuel pump. I even know, roughly, where it is in the truck - so I tear off the plastic interior panels and replace the unit in record time.

I turn the ignition key push the button, and ... it doesn't start.

After some more wire-fiddling and poking the wires with the multimeter, it becomes clear that it isn't the culprit.

Everything beyond that requires dropping the fuel tank, which I'd do were I alone and in the middle of serious nowhere, but now it is out of question.

Time to call the cavalry.

My first call to AAA is time-stamped 2:14pm, on November 21, 2020. A nice Saturday afternoon.

By now, we are used not to be able to speak to a human being for a while; the call starts with the automaton urging me to stay in a safe place and away from traffic, and ends up with a live operator ascertaining our whereabouts and promising that the help is on the way, and all the way to Land Rover Reno, 73 miles away.

All it takes is 20 minutes and 17 seconds, on the shoulder of a major U.S. highway with truck traffic (can't be that bad, can it? Saturday, after all).

There's a fun part, however: due to the COVID-19 epidemic, the tow truck drivers are not allowed to take passengers.


What am I supposed to do with my wife, mother, a 100-pound Airedale, and a cubic yard of stuff?

Can't be helped, Sir, call Uber or something.

I notice a text message on my cell phone - from AAASERVICE: "Alert We have rec'd your service request #36120." I can't help noticing that the previous message from the same origin came on September 11, 2016 - when the dead LR4 was waiting in Page, Arizona, for its ride to Scottsdale (when the AAA-provided tow truck driver nearly got us all killed on I-17).

I call Land Rover Reno to let them know that a flurry of 100-dollar bills is about to head their way, and break out a bottle of cognac and shot glasses - not much to do now.

Soon, the bottle is empty, and the Sun is perceptibly closer to the edge of High Sierras on the West. Time for another call to the Triple-A, time-stamped at 3:19 pm. After 4 minutes and 9 seconds I give up trying to talk to somebody, and decide to be patient a little more.

At this point it was clear that we won't make it to Reno in time for ... just about anything, let alone Reno being 65 miles out of our way. That's about the only time we luck out: our well-grown children are in Incline Village at the Lake Tahoe, anticipating a nice afternoon coffee before their trek Eastward on the I-80. We rearrange their plans how only hearless parents can, and I book a rental SUV in Reno Tahoe Int'l Airport as they drive to pick it up.

Be nice to your kids, folks, they choose your nursing home post your bail bring you spare parts and rental vehicles!

My patience goes down keeping pace with the sunlight and outside temperature, and expires at 3:55 pm. This time, I find a much more sympathetic ear of a live human in an unclear time zone. As it stands out, the tow truck has been dispatched but the driver could not locate us - despite us being the only white Land Rover LR4, with the hood up and flashers blinking, on the shoulder of a major highway in the middle of a flat field, and having given AAA our exact location. Too bad my voice mail box was full and the driver could not call me... Since I was all eyes prior to that point, I am 100% sure no tow truck has passed us in either direction. I am being promised another tow truck pronto, however, and hinted that we could do something nice to the tow truck driver so he or she takes us onboard and delivers from our predicament. The operator also suggests that we could get by with a shorter tow, only to Fallon, Nevada, where a AAA-approved shop called Christensen Automotive would be perfectly qualified to perform the repairs. I decline.

The final words of the AAA rep: "We won't leave you on the side of the road, buddy."

Time passes. No word from a tow truck driver, the kids managed to snatch a four-wheel-drive Dodge Durango at Enterprise in Reno and are on their way to us.

At 5:01 I get another text message from AAA, this time providing the tow truck arrival time of 5:31 pm. I am now curious about it since no such update was sent to us after the first call.

The last after-sunset picture of the Land Rover is taken at 5:38 pm.

It gets pretty chilly and dark quickly. Knowing that the "help is on the way," I unload all our belongings from the Land Rover and build a neat and pretty tall pile.

The tow truck arrives first, around 6 pm: an old-school wheel-lift kind, not suitable for towing of a 4x4. The driver scratches his head, and offers to remove the rear driveshaft. He doesn't know what tools he might need for it, though, and not sure if he has these. I ask about the dolly; apparently, he's only allowed to drive it no faster than 45 mph, which I understand would put his Saturday night entertainment off considerably. He's also full of praise for Christensen Automotive in Fallon, and also mentions that it is a AAA-approved facility - and 6.5 miles is a lot shorter ride for him than 140 mile-trip to Reno.

I call Christensen Automotive, let them know the Land Rover will be arriving shortly; it's okay that nobody will take a look at it until Monday.

The tow truck driver reminds me that yes, there's absolutely, positively, no way he could or would take any passengers even to Fallon. Very nice, Turkish.

At this time our children arrive in a Grand Cherokee and a rental Dodge Durango; I acquiesce to the shop in Fallon, and set about loading stuff from the grassy roadside into the Durango. What a cavernous truck this thing is! With the rear (3rd-row) seat folded, the cargo compartment takes in all our junk from from the 18-cubic-foot rooftop Yakima box and cargo hold of the LR4.

By the time we're done, I am shivering - it is freezing outside.

We depart around 7 pm, close to five hours from our initial call - the tow truck with our LR4 bouncing on the dolly to Fallon, us - Eastward, seat warmers and heater on full blast, looking forward to a nice dinner and a great night of sleep in Rodeway Inn in Battle Mountain, Nevada - about 190 miles and close to 3 hours away.

We arrive to Battle Mountain around 10pm. There's not a single restaurant in sight, though a casino is close by.

As I am typing this, I am discovering that Rodeway Inn does not appear on Google Maps in Battle Mountain at any map scale, unless one types it in as a destination. One corner room is converted to the office, where a tired lady issues us keys to our rooms and charges me the total of 90 bucks for a room - extra cleaning charge because of a dog. Never mind; we check into our rooms and decide to have a dinner in ours, what with the cooler full of tasty snacks and liquor. In process of building of our dining facility we move one of the beds about a foot off to the side - oh glory. No, there are no dead hookers under the bed - but pretty close, indicating potential presence of small wildlife.

The dinner is a smashing success. We have enough whiskey to fall asleep without any second thoughs of that wildlife.

* * *

Yuri brings breakfast sandwiches in the morning, and we make coffee in the motel room using our Coleman propane coffeemaker. Nobody risks a shower in a bathroom with a counter peeling apart and faucet knobs falling off; I take Jules for a short walk, and we hit the road. I am somewhat relieved that I won't have any updates on the Land Rover's condition until Monday, and can't change this disposition in any way.

Interstate 80 takes us through high desert, copper mines, and occasional farmland in Northern Nevada, through Elko, on to U.S.93 North towards Twin Falls, Idaho.

The state of Idaho welcomes us in the little town of Jackpot, as soon as the last casino vanishes in the rearview mirror. We enjoy the relaxed pace on U.S.93 all the way to Twin Falls.

In Twin Falls, we have to see the I.B.Perrine Memorial Bridge, with a nearly thousand feet long central span perched nearly five hundred feet above the lazy course of Snake River. There's a little visitor center on Twin Falls side, with a statue of Ira Burton Perrine and a lot of stuff we don't know about. The giant chasm below the bridge's deck is, apparently, the only man-made structure in the United States where BASE jumping is allowed without a permit.

The Snake River cut the deep canyon in one giant ancient Rhyolite and basalt lava flow, same one that is housing the canyons of Owyhee and Bruneau rivers. When I take my eyes off man-made structures and objects, I can't shake off a feeling of being in Owyhee River canyon five years ago - it is surreal.

The winter days are short, and shorter in Idaho than on the Mexican border - we grab a quick lunch (nobody except for the restaurant staff seems to care for masks), mount our steeds, and head out East towards Wyoming.

It is already pitch dark when we arrive in Jackson, after a somewhat harrowing ride across Teton Pass with patchy black ice.

* * *



The first morning in town greets us with 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside, chewy breakfast bagels, and very good coffee from the hotel's office (not free). After a cold morning walk with Jules and a breakfast bagel, I call Christensen Automotive for updates.

The person on the other end of the line inquires about the nature of a breakdown, I hazard a guess about fuel delivery, and... Christensen says they don't have diagnostic equipment and proper tools and skills, and cannot work on the vehicle.

Boom. Maybe I should've kept my mouth shut about the nature of a breakdown, but it would likely only postpone the same outcome.

Well... My only option is the same as it was on Saturday, and at 8:33 am I am calling AAA (look above), and trying to arrange the Land Rover towed on the flatbed truck to Land Rover Reno.

This time, the AAA rep on the line sounds sympathetic, understands that I am physically in another state about 500 miles away, and asks for the names of contact persons in the pickup point in Fallon, and delivery point in Reno. Unwilling to relinquish the line, I provide the names by making calls to other places using another phone. The whole affair takes only 17 minutes, which is stellar. I get a text confirmation of the request #32246 immediately.

At 8:54 am, barely 3 minutes after the end of my call to AAA, Christensen Automotive tells me the tow truck is already waiting.

Has my luck turned? Is 2020 already over? Should I go out and buy lottery tickets?

We have no plan for the day, so we all settle on a quick recon run to Teton Village - to see what is open, and take a walk in the woods.

When we pass Jackson Hole proper, we spot a group of elk enjoying the attention 20 feet from the road.

A quick recon at Teton Village brings crappy news: most restaurants are closed, and a few that are open only serve the hotel guests. We bail out and drive to the end of plowed section of Moose Wilson Road, right up to the foothills of the Tetons. There's plenty of snow for Jules to play and ski cross-country for us, so we enjoy it for an hour or so, before heading for an afternoon warm-up drink leading up to an outstanding dinner at Gather restaurant a couple of blocks from Jackson town square.

* * *


Today's Lena's birthday.

We dispense with the gifts and breakfast, and are ready for snow.

One quick piece of business before we leave the motel - call the dealer in Reno and ask about our Land Rover.
9:20 am: A service rep in Reno says he doesn't have the vehicle. I ask him to send somebody to walk around the block - maybe the tow truck driver dropped it off in an unusual location. He promises to call me back.

I hang up, we have more coffee, and head out for a trip North - as far as we can get before the road into Yellowstone is closed.

The fun begins right outside town: we spot a few cars parked on the side of the road, with people out with binoculars and photo equipment. We just have to stop; on the grassy plain, a few hundred feet away, we see a herd of elk ... then we see more... then we realize that the entire valley is full of elk! It turns out that we're on the boundary of National Elk Refuge, created in 1912, and housing about 7500 elk on the territory loosely bounded by the Grand Tetons, Bridger Teton National Forest, Yellowstone National Park, and the town of Jackson. Here's what Wikipedia page has to say (among other things):

The refuge is nearly 25,000 acres (101 km2) of meadows and marshes along the valley floor, sagebrush and rock outcroppings along the mountain foothills. The largest single herd of bison under federal management, comprising 1,000 plus individuals, also winter on the refuge. Bighorn sheep, along with pronghorn, mule deer can be found. Rare sightings of wolf packs and grizzly bears have occurred, while coyotes and red foxes are more common. The most abundant birds include red-winged blackbirds, magpies, crows and ravens, along with trumpeter swans, which can be found along Flat Creek, which flows out of the refuge south into the town of Jackson. A total of 47 mammal species and 147 bird species have been documented on the refuge.

Wow. I am that ignorant, having been in Jackson three times already, and having not heard of it.

In the few days here, we're going to drive along the valley many times, so the photos of the elk will be recurrent.

We spend some time watching the elk graze, and drive on. By the time we're past the airport, the skies clear up, and the Grand Teton peak shines above the clouds.

We pull into the snowed-in road leading to Lizard Creek Campground near Jackson Lake, play in snow, and enjoy life in general.

Every view here is a perfect postcard.

AAA again.

Every now and then, I try calling Land Rover Reno, but run into the voice mail. Finally, I am through - and informed that our LR4 is most definitely is NOT at the dealer premises or anywhere around. Lena's esctatic - "Is it finally stolen yet? How awesome would that be!"

True that. I'd only lament the loss of tools left inside the truck.

Time to call AAA.
I only succeed to get through at the second time, at 1:23 pm.

The gist of the conversation: the AAA tow truck did NOT pick up the LR4 because the owner was not present.
No arguments and no references to the earlier conversation with the AAA agent (which AAA states is recorded for quality purposes!) help; I fold and ask for the supervisor; the supervisor is even better at stonewalling. We end our deliberations in 45 minutes and 20 seconds, with me requesting full transcripts of my conversations with AAA representatives in the last several days.

I call Christensen Automotive in Fallon and LR dealer in Reno, and arrange a non-AAA towing service: Custom Towing is ready to do the job for only $430 or about six bucks per mile.

The Land Rover is delivered to Reno in the evening, and I am told that the service department is closed for the next two days because of Thanksgiving holiday, and nobody is going to attend to it until Friday - meaning we are much more likely to live with the rental Durango for another week...

* * *

Lena's birthday dinner at Local is fantastic. We manage to find a Wyoming equivalent of Argentinian parillada - but made with local game meat, and vastly supersized. Let's say that it includes two tomahawk steaks and two kinds of chorizo, among many other things.

I was too hungry to take photos of the food, so here's a screen shot from the Local's website:

With a hungry family of five, we realize that our attempts to finish it in one sitting are futile, and retreat to the motel with take-home boxes.

* * *


In the morning, we walk over to the sports equipment rental store nearby. It is clearly between the seasons: you can rent both a bicycle and cross-country skis. The skimpy swimming suits flap around in the wind outside, dusted with snowflakes and sold for pennies on the dollar; they are gradually replaced by the biking outfits, which in turn yield to the expensive ski clothes deep inside.

We take Lena and Jennie to Teton Village to rent their stuff and buy something expensive, and head out to the plains North of Jackson for a bit of cross-country action. On the way, we see a bunch of horses, moose, and definitely elk.

The bicycle path along U.S. 191/89/26 is snowed in and we are happy to make fresh tracks for a few miles. Yuri poses with his brand-new Grand Cherokee for a proper Jeep commercial photo.

On the way back, we have to stop and take more pictures of the elks. Who knows, what if they go someplace next time?

* * *

The weather changes early morning on Thursday - to clear skies, and it becomes noticeably colder.

The next couple of days are spent in a relaxing coffee-ski-drink-eat-drink again mode. While the girls are out on the slopes, Yuri and I make a cross-country trek to Jenny Lake and along snowed-in Moose-Wilson Road. The views are fantastic, and very few people are out - so frequently we make fresh tracks in snow. Somewhere in the woods, the thoughts of moose and bears lurking around float up - especially with most local stores being fresh out of bear spray, somehow coinciding with an article in Jackson's Town newspaper about a bear family that, fortunately and finally, left Jackson's backyards and moved North to Teton foothills...

How often do you meet people on a cross-country ski track, carrying hockey sticks along? These guys are on their way to Phelps Lake, a couple of miles away, to have some fun on fresh ice.

On our last day in Jackson, we turn in the skis, and stop to take a last glance at the Snake River.

On the afternoon long walk with Jules on the streets of Jackson, we spot one of the best offerings of the "life imitates art" kind - a Picasso by a birch tree and a Pollock by mountain ash (rowan).

Land Rover: On Friday afternoon, the service rep at LR Reno tells me the fuel pump in Lena's LR4 is dead. Out of two options I am offered - $1400 and $3800 - I pick the cheapest and hope for the best; the part is not in stock and has to be ordered - time to call Enterprise in Reno and extend the Durango for another week.

* * *

We part with Jackson on a brilliantly crisp Saturday morning, and have to stop for a few minutes at Teton Pass.

Wyoming stays behind - and we're back in Idaho.

We are making good progress through potato fields and horse barns, but the stop at Clark Hill rest area on U.S.26 is a must. The views up and down Snake River deep in the valley are fantastic, and Jules enjoys his last brush with snow on the trip.

Our Idaho Falls roadside favorite, D'Railed restaurant is closed; Jennie makes quick work of rerouting us to downtown, to have beer and burgers at The SnakeBite. The town is already in a festive mood.

Burgers and beer are good, and we aren't in the mood to drive anywhere.
But... The goal for tonight (and booked hotel rooms) are in Cedar City, Utah - some 460 miles away.

Unlike the last trip to Wyoming, this time we cross Utah border when it is still bright outside - but the full moon emerges somewhere between Ogden and Layton, and moves considerably to the West by the time we navigate the ridiculous diverging diamond interchange in Cedar City, and find our stay for tonight.

All restaurants are closed, so we cross the road for a night-cap at the hotel where Yuri and Jennie are staying.

* * *

The ladies turn down my offer to take them to Yant Flat / Candy Hills, so the first half a day becomes a blur of Interstate 15.

The Green River gorge in 35 miles of Arizona Strip is the only scenic place I can think of.

Then, 124 miles of Silver State end up in a royal traffic jam in Primm, right at the border with California.

The jam lets go inside Golden State, to change to a completely, insanely, frenetic pace along four-lane I-15, full of big rigs forced to lumber close to 55 mph yet trying to pass each other, and most everyone else trying to hit the red zone at their tachometers in short sprints between others' brake lights.

The race the for Darwin award ends in Victorville, where Google sends us on a spectacular detour along local highways 173 and 138, and even on a short stretch of former U.S.66.

We are home sooner than we (and Google!) anticipated - yet worn out beyond repair.

Behind are about 2500 miles of blacktop, 8 state borders, and a broken Land Rover in Nevada. Back to work and a rental Dodge.

* * *


Why are we still here? Oh yes - we need to get back our Land Rover, from the land of "above and beyond."

So not even a week later, on the early and still dark next Friday morning, Lena and I are back to the claustrophobic confines of the Durango, trying our best - and failing - to beat the traffic in Riverside County.

Our progress is brisk, however, so we only start paying attention to nice things around Olancha. Lemon House in Cartago comes first; shortly after, I make yet another attempt to take an ominous-looking photo of ominous-looking silos of abandoned PPG Bartlett soda plant:

I am still trying to take photos of Owens Lake when I discover that we're closely followed by an F-35 from China Lake:

Closer to Lone Pine, we can see the peaks of High Sierra - not yet snow-capped in this La Nina year, with the tallest peak of the continental United States - Mount Whitney:

Every time we drive through Lone Pine, the outline of the jagged peaks of Mount Whitney reminds me of the Airy function of the first kind - I can't be the only one thinking that...

Something happened since our return from Wyoming: California governor declared yet another kind of lockdown, in hopes of keeping people to stay where they are, infected or not. The immediate aftermath of this is here, on the main drag in Independence, California - which seems empty enough for planking. The streets and sidewalks seem to be void of life as well.

Just before Bishop, we get "buzzed" yet again - this time by an F/A-18 that seems to have a full weapons load:

Bishop, turn-off to Mammoth Lakes, Mono Lake, Lee Vining, Bridgeport, and fire-ravaged Walker fly by. We pass tranquil Topaz Lake and are back into Nevada.

Once we are in Carson valley, the traffic slows to a crawl with randomly-switched stoplights all the way until the I-580 splits off U.S.395. We collect the Land Rover, browse the new vehicle lots of Land Rover and Audi dealers, find absolutely nothing that we could grow attached to, and leave to drop the Durango off at the airport. Tonight, we're staying at Hyatt at the Lake Tahoe's Incline Village; we have just enough daylight to negotiate the switchbacks of county road 431, check into the hotel, and walk to the shore.

The Nevada side of the lake is definitely the one for the sunsets.

Lena's hopes for foie gras at the Lone Eagle Grill are shattered - most everything is shut down due to COVID, and even the hotel's restaurant and cafe are by reservation only. We fortify ourselves with double shots of Knob Creek at a local watering hole, and have a decent dinner nearby.

The evening activity in the open-air swimming pool constrasts sharply with the complete calm at the lakeshore in the morning.

We aren't in a hurry in the morning, so we take a leisurely walk through Hyatt Residence Club and on to the beach.
After checking out from Hyatt, we take our sweet time driving by Lake Tahoe, stopping at many viewpoints.

Soon, we're in South Lake Tahoe - Nevada side.
There's nothing particularly beautiful in Harvey's Hotel and Casino, but it does have a history.
Let Wikipedia do some talking:

Harvey's was originally opened in 1944 and operated by Sacramento meat wholesaler Harvey Gross and his wife Llewellyn. They opened the first high rise tower and an 11-story, 197-room hotel in Nevada just across the state line from Lake Tahoe, California in 1963.
The hotel suffered an explosion from a 1,000-pound bomb on August 27, 1980, that left a crater three stories deep when it was detonated by the FBI. (The area around the hotel had been cleared and no one was injured.) The bomb was placed by John Birges, a heavily in-debt Fresno landscaper who had lost at least $1 million at casinos in Stateline and was hoping to extort $3 million from the bomb threat. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, where he died from liver cancer in 1996.

A thousand-pound bomb?

On top of sheer size, the bomb was - and arguably remains - the most complicated explosive device FBI ever had to deal with. It was declared "undefeatable" then, and, likely, would be declared the same now. FBI was impressed enough to maintain a webpage devoted exclusively to this event.

The photo of the exploding hotel is taken from a Wiki page on this bombing incident.

Oh yes... the reason we're in South Lake Tahoe is our desire to get to U.S.395 via Monitor Pass on State Route 89. Three giant bulletin boards on U.S.395 told us that SR 89 and Monitor Pass were open - which is incredible, since it is one of the highest passes over Sierra Nevada in California, and with steepest grades approaching 9%.

So we pass through SLT, take U.S.50 towards SR 89, and see the sign "Highway 89 / Monitor Pass: CLOSED FOR WINTER."

These Caltrans bastards. The only way to figure it out is to drive out there, and if it is closed indeed, it means a a hundred-mile, two-and-a-half-hours-long detour.

We use up our stash of choice words, and turn around towards Lake Tahoe.

On the way down the Eastern slope of the mountain ridge, we see a sign indicating that a little town of Genoa, Nevada, is only six miles away. I saw enough photos and read a little about this place, so we take the turn.


The settlement started in 1850 as a Mormon trading post on the Overland Emigrant Trail. It became a town of Genoa in 1855, named so by Orson Hyde, an elder in the Mormon Church, fascinated with Christopher Columbus. Hyde set up a government, surveyed the town into lots, and defined the state line between California and Utah Territory - making Genoa the first town in (what would become) Silver State, and its provisional capital of Nevada Territory until it was moved to Carson City.

Today it is very much alive and well, with a handful of building remaining after a horrific fire of 1910. The town maintains a nice website with a bunch of history and photos.

We leave a few hard-earned dollars in Genoa - for a lunch and a couple of Perivuan sweaters brought up by a lady with a family in Cuzco, and hit the road again.

The town of Minden, Nevada, is practicing before the Christmas Parade - and somebody has to scoop the poop!

Back in California, we drive through the town of Walker - where over 80 houses burned to the ground not even a month ago during a wind event, with wildfire sparked by falling power lines.

Bridgeport with its Death Valley-like gas prices:

Lee Vining with a speed trap and still-standing Frank Sam's Cabin:

The last thing we see before the nightwall is, yet again, Silver Canyon near Bishop, painted with soft evening light.

Six more hours - and we are back home in San Diego, reunited with Lena's Land Rover.
TheNow we can treat this trip to the Great White North as completed, and add about 1150 miles to the total, bringing it up to ~3600 or so.

* * *

Out of the blue, a month later, AAA emailed me two forms - without any comments or explanations - that I assume as their will to reimburse me some of the towing expenses. In their fashion, however, they insist on having the originals of the invoices - no photocopies allowed. It is funny, given the towing arranged entirely over the phone. The jury's out.