s/y Nine of Cups
American Odyssey 2012 - Part I: Las Vegas to Denver (the long way)
Cross-country land cruising - April-June 2012
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While in Vegas, we weren't
totally idle. Beyond doing
house projects for David's
mum and sis, catching up
on past due medical
check-ups and just general
catching up, we've
managed some fun
daytrips. Here's a sampling.
While you're waiting for
our 2012 road trip to
begin, take a look at our
cross country trip of 2010.
Black phoebe at
Clark County Wetlands Park
Mary's special brunch...just because
At Ethel M's, we toured this gourmet chocolate factory created by Forest Mars, of the
Mars candy family. We watched candy being made, sampled some of their wares and
then toured the adjacent botanical garden devoted to native desert flora.
We revisited Valley of Fire. Just an hour from Las Vegas, Valley of Fire offers red sandstone rock formations and desert flora and fauna ...  a whole different world from the glitz of the
Strip.  From left, desert marigold in bloom; Arch Rock; an antelope ground squirrel and a black-throated sparrow enjoying some globe mallow.
Our daughter-in-law's birthday had us visiting Ronald's Donuts in the Chinatown section of Las
Vegas to buy her some world renowned vegan donuts. Who knew?
Hoover Dam, considered one of the world's greatest engineering feats, it rates right up there with the Pyramids and the Panama Canal. The mighty dam corrals the Colorado River as it
winds through the Black Canyon on the Nevada-Arizona border. The hydro-electric plant supplies power to Nevada, Arizona and southern California and is financially self-sustaining.
America's largest man-made lake, Lake Mead, provides an exceptional recreational area and touts eight marinas.
And we're off!  First stop...out of this world
We left Las Vegas bright and
early on 29 April 2012.  
We're eventually heading
east, but we've planned a
rather circuitous, ambitious
itinerary to get there...by
heading first to California.
We began immediately with a
little detour northwest of Las
Vegas to Rachel, Nevada,
home of the notorious Area
51, an ultra-secure US
military base where
purportedly alien spacecraft
and crew are secretly being
held and studied.
This page will be our main routing
page through the States. We've
created separate pages for
National Parks/Monuments/
Landmarks that we visit and
we'll link to them from this page.
Because we enjoy "off the beaten
path", quirky kind of places,
we've also created a
Americana page for your
viewing enjoyment  which
includes an ecclectic grouping of
all things that strike our fancy or
give us pause for thought. What
good's quirky if you can't share it?
Welcome to Rachel
They've even dubbed
Rte 375 as Extraterrestial Highway.
The Little A'Le'Inn (motel and restaurant) has a
good time with the alien theme.
Parking was no problem.
Some of the tourists had obviously come
much farther than we had, but they didn't
talk much about their home towns.
American Odyssey Intro Page
All things alien were for sale.
From Rachel, we made our way through the
Mojave Desert to Beatty, Nevada. Take a
look at the hottest, driest, lowest place in the
Death Valley National Park.
It may be home, but the Denver area has lots to
offer and explore and we don't intend to sit still
while we're here. So come along as we see what's
new in the
Mile High City.

Remember, our arrival in Denver is only Part I of
this Odyssey. Come with us as we head from
Denver to Boston on
American Odyssey Part II.
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We were hot and parched when we left
Death Valley. After looking at the map,
we opted for a 2-lane country road, Rte
178 as a western exit from the park.
What a gem of a road...it even has its
own website. It encompassed several
different bio-regions from desert to sierra
to chapparal to winding canyon rivers.
Not a mile down the road, we saw a coyote
running through the sagebrush. His tawny
coloring matched so well with his surroundings, it
was hard to pick him out.
Route 178 - The Trona Pinnacles - Trona, CA
Now this was an unexpected delight. We could see the Trona Pinnacles from quite a distance away, jutting up in ragged
peaks from the desert floor. "The Trona Pinnacles were designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1968  to protect one
of the nation's best examples of tufa formation." Hmm...so what's a tufa formation, you ask? This unique landscape consists of
more than 500 tufa (calcium carbonate) pinnacles rising from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake basin. These tufa spires, some
as high as 140 feet, were formed underwater 10,000 to 100,000 years ago when Searles Lake formed a link in an
interconnected chain of Pleistocene lakes stretching from Mono Lake to Death Valley. Pretty impressive, huh?
It was even more impressive to be wandering around amongst them .Interpretive signs provided information about their formation and
geologic significance. Access was via a rough, dusty unpaved road and had we not chanced to read about them in advance, we never would
have stopped.  Evidently, local folks come out here at night with a full moon for what they term a "supernatural" experience.
Continuing along Rte 178, we were
disappointed that the Onyx Store,
California's oldest continuously
operating general store (1851) was not
open when we arrived.
A morning visit to the Kern River
Preserve was disappointing. We heard
zillions of birds, but got very few photos.
The walking paths were pleasant , but
the mosquitoes and ticks were not.
The road passes through several different
bio-regions including some grassy hills and
paddocks where bucolic scenes of
pasturing livestock reigned.
We picnicked near a field which was
heavily populated by California ground
squirrels that provided the luncheon
entertainment. Above...."Jailed"
First the sign, then the rockfall.
Prince's plume and sunflowers lined the
roadside lending color to the desert and
granite cliffs as we descended into the
valley below.
Continuing down Scenic Byway Route 178
At the movies...Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, ER (TV episode), Holes and Lost in Space
all had parts filmed at the Trona Pinnacles.
From Death Valley NP, we headed back
along the west side of the Sierra Nevadas for
a visit to
Sequoia and Kings Canyon
National Parks and then on to Yosemite
NP. Along the way, we found lots to amuse
ourselves including a roadside poster
announcing the Mariposa Butterfly Festival.
A small marina at Isabella Lake
reminded us that we missed Cups.
Mariposa Butterfly Festival
California Scenic Route 178 has
its own website.
A colorful butterfly mural in the center of town says it all. Local townsfolk donate money  
each year to purchase butterfly larvae. The local school kids tend to the larvae until they
hatch and learn about the process in school. As the butterflies hatch, they are kept captive
until the festival when the children participate in their release.
The butterfly lady brings out netted
baskets for the release of hundreds of
painted ladies.
It is estimated that there are ~18,000
- 21,000 species of butterflies in the
world. Above, a painted lady
Watching the children's faces as the butterfly lady handed each child a slice of orange and then a butterfly to sit upon it, was a wondrous
thing. They were gently in awe, careful with their fragile beauties. Some smiled in delight, others cried as their butterflies took to wing and
flew away.
It was a festive day in this little town (pop: 2173)
with much applause as the newly crowned Little
Miss Butterfly flew by.
Marcie morphed into a butterfly for the day.
Despite her whining, David refused to
buy Marcie a pair of gossamer wings
which she had planned to wear for the
rest of the trip.
We saw this little sticker on the van in
front of us at a traffic light. "Cowboy
Capital of the World" caught our attention.
Oakdale wasn't far away and so once
again, we were off the beaten track
heading to the Cowboy Capital which led
us to Route 49 and Gold Country.
Gold Country - Following the path of the 49'ers
The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill
near Coloma, California. News of gold brought some 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and
abroad. Of the 300,000 gold-seekers, called "forty-niners" (as a reference to 1849), approximately half arrived by sea and half
came from the east overland on the California Trail and the Gila River trail.  
Seems Oakdale IS the cowboy capital of
the world!  WOW!  
The cowboy museum was closed unfortunately, but we did get a chance to see this
huge bronze in the park and learn more about the Testicle Festival held annually.
Known as the Mother Lode Road or Golden Chain Highway, Rte 49 snakes its way through historic little mining towns with names
like Placerville, Murphys, Chinese Camp and El Dorado. We stopped at Columbia "the gem of the southern mines" to explore their
reconstructed 1850's town.  It was too touristy for our taste.
California poppies (above) and prickly pears
(below)were in bloom along the roadside.
The very best town, however, was
Angels Camp named after Henry
Angel, a shopkeeper from Rhode
Island who opened a trading post in
1848 after deciding this would be a
more profitable use of his time than
digging for gold. Thus the town of
Angels Camp was founded. We knew
it would be a fun stop when we saw
laundry hung out on lines strung up
above main street.
Not only is the town in gold country, but it's in Calaveras County, made famous by Mark Twain's
Celebrated Jumping Frog. There are several bigger-than-life celebrity frogs all over town.
We wandered through a local store where boots and hats took up the majority of floor space.
Each year's jumping winner gets a bronze plaque
embedded into the main street sidewalk.
Across the Sierra Nevadas
We traveled from California over the Sierras into Nevada. We passed through little towns like Rough and Ready (photo far left). Wildflowers were in bloom and lined the highway with
color. We crossed over Donner Summit, historic site of the ill-fated  Donner Party. Snow still covered the roadside and the pass.
US Route 50 - Loneliest Road in America
Austin was the first "lonely" town we visited. The town was one of Nevada's most prosperous mining towns and has managed to retain its 19th century flavor. From left, Welcome
to Austin. The International Hotel, first built in Virginia City in 1859 and moved to Austin in 1863 still serves meals and drinks, but does not rent out rooms. It's said to be the
oldest hotel in Nevada. Today Austin is a "living ghost town" (population: 192), a well-preserved example of an early Nevada mining town. Stokes Castle, an exact replica of a
tower outside Rome, Italy, was built in 1897 for as a summer home for an eastern financier who had considerable mining interests in the Austin area.
In July 1986, Life Magazine described the 287 mile stretch of Nevada's Highway 50 between
Fernley and Ely as the "Loneliest Road in America"...no attractions, no points of interest and in
fact, it recommended "survival skills" to drive it. Nevada marketed it to the hilt as did the little
towns along the route. We picked up our "Survival Guide" and headed west...hoping to survive.
Sand Mountain is a 2-mile long mound of
sand dunes rising several hundred feet.
Middlegate Station didn't offer much
except for photo opps.
Rte 50 has been a pathway of travel for decades. The Overland Stage followed this
route, then the Pony Express and the transcontinental telegraph. The Lincoln
Highway, America's first coast-to-coast highway, followed part of this route as well.
Eureka, a mid-19th century silver and lead mining town, was quite interesting and next along our route. From left, Welcome to Eureka, the "friendliest town on the loneliest road".
The Eureka Opera, built in 1879, has been restored to its original splendor and boasts the actual 1924 advertising curtain. We were allowed to take a self-tour behind the curtain
and Marcie couldn't resist belting out a tune backstage.
The "Old Shoe Tree" is a giant cottonwood filled with hanging shoes. We're not talking a few pair of shoes...we're talking hundreds of
pairs. There were several pair on the ground and David rescued them to try his hand at flinging them on the tree...not an easy task, he
found. Some of shoes had been there so long, they were used by the local birds for nests. A Bullocks oriole takes a look at what nest
potential might be available.
In its heyday, Eureka supported 100 saloons, dozens of gambling houses, theatres, an opera house, churches, fine hotels, bordellos and five
fire companies. From left, a main street lamp post; the Eureka Museum, former location of the Eureka Sentinel  which began publication in
1870 and continues today as a weekly newspaper. The current Raines Market, with its eclectic stock and animal heads decorating its walls,
was previously a drugstore, a restaurant, a shoe store, a saloon and an assay office.
Ruth was originally the location of the
Consolidated Copper Company. It's an
open pit copper mine, still worked
today. It's a depressing area and
Stephen King having visited the area
got the inspiration for his novel
Ely, the largest town on Rte 50
offered casinos, restaurants and
respite for weary travelers.
As we left Ely, we began to climb. Warning signs for elk and free-range cattle and stock
were posted every few miles. The views of the Snake Range as we left Ely were
breathtaking. There are a dozen mountain pass summits to be crossed before we arrived in
Baker, NV and  
Great Basin National Park.  
Idaho and all things potato
National Parks and Monuments?

Roadside Americana?

Birds of North America?

Wildflowers of North America?
From Great Basin, we crossed from Nevada north into Idaho and headed to Hagerman Fossil
Beds National Monument along the  Thousand Springs Scenic Byway. We'd never spent
much time in Idaho before and it's absolutely beautiful.
The Peaks to Craters Scenic
Byway took us to
Craters of the
Moon National Monument.
Carey Lake Wildlife Preserve
provided a unique opportunity to
view yellow-headed blackbirds.
Mornings were cold as evidenced by the
irrigation water freezing in icicles along the
barbed-wire fence.
We headed to Blackfoot, Idaho, potato
"capital" of the world. Oops...they made
a grammatical error!
Our single-minded purpose for visiting
Blackfoot? The Idaho Potato Museum.
This was a fun place. Of course, they
had potato farming equipment, but
also the world's largest potato crisp
according to Guinness Book of World
But wait, there's more! Potato vodka, potato hand lotion (it smelled definitely earthy), biker patches  for "when potatoes go bad", potato sacks and my personal
favorite, Marilyn wearing a potato sack (I should have ever looked so good!).
and  two walls of potato mashers, too!
There was potato music and who could forget Mr. Potato Head? Of course, the couch potato made the scene and even their license plates tout the mighty tuber.
A little potato trivia...
  • It would take 393,779,549 4" French fries to go
    end to end around the Equator.
  • The potato is the only vegetable to grow in the
    desert as well as in the mountains about 14,000'.
  • The earliest known potatoes were found in the
    mountains of South America and date back to 400BC.
  • The sweet potato belongs to the same family as
    morning glories while the white potato belongs to the
    same group as tomatoes, tobacco, chili peppers,
    eggplant and the petunia.
  • When first introduced to England, the potato
    was considered dirty and unhealthy by the
    Society for the Prevention of Unwholesome
    Diets, or SPUD, hence the nickname.
  • Thomas Jefferson first introduced "french fries"
    to America at a White House dinner.
We stayed at the One Horse Motel in
West Yellowstone, MT a couple of
nights because of its close access to
Yellowstone National Park.
On the move to Wyoming
Many towns we've seen construct
statues of their most famous animals and
have local artists decorate them. West
Yellowstone chose buffaloes and they
were all over town.
We headed south from Yellowstone to
Grand Teton National Park and then
enjoyed a pleasant day in Jackson Hole,
Wyoming. Above, "Wapiti Trail" at the
National Elk Refuge.
An antler arch adorns each of the four
entrances to Jackson Hole's town square.
A close-up of the elk antlers which are
collected at the National Elk Refuge by
Boy Scouts each Spring when the bull
elks shed them.
Jackson Hole is a fun town with lots of cowboy bars and street art...even a daily shoot-out on the
town square (except Sundays!). Marcie poses with Al (Einstein), a large sidewalk bronze.
From Jackson Hole, we headed
south towards Utah with a few
stops along the way:
Butte National Monument in
Kemmerer, WY for some fossil
viewing. Then, the gravel roads
Seedskadee National
Wildlife Refuge provided lots
of wildlife viewing along the
Green River.

We found a reference to the Pilot
Butte Wild Horse Loop near the
town of Green River, WY in the
Wyoming Travelers Guide and
decided to check it out ourselves.
Pilot Butte Wild Horse Loop
Pilot Butte, at nearly 8,000' can be seen for
30 miles and was a prominent landmark
used by pioneers to "pilot" them to the
Green River.
There is probably nothing more iconic in the west than a wild horse. Whether galloping
across the prairie or grazing peacefully at a distance, their presence conjures up images of
freedom and the frontier.
We climbed to  the mesa-like flat top of White Mountain for spectacular views.
Interpretive signs along the route provided some insight to the wild horses as well as the
historical and geological significance of the area.
After becoming extinct in
America for unknown reasons,
the Spanish reintroduced horses
in the 1500s. Current herds are
descendants of those Spanish
horses, along with animals turned
out by ranchers or enticed away
from ranches by wild horse
herds. The majority of wild
horses in Wyoming are located in
the southwestern part of the
state.  Approximately 1,100 to
1,600 wild horses can be found
on the public lands in this area.
We were hoping to see a few.
Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is primarily located in Utah. The centerpiece of the recreation area is the 91 mile (145.6 km) long Flaming Gorge Reservoir created by
damming of the Green River in 1964. The area was given the name "Flaming Gorge" by  explorer and geologist, John Wesley Powell, during his 1869 expedition down the Green River
due to the spectacular red rock cliffs that surround the river in this area.
Welcome to Utah - Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
We drove across the Cart
Creek Bridge and the
Flaming Gorge Dam,
stopping for a quick
look-see. We continued
along the Flaming Gorge
Scenic Byway, climbing in
elevation for great views and
vistas of the reservoir below.
Vernal, Utah ... entering Dinosaurland
We stayed the night in Vernal, Utah and got a
serious kick out of the town's use of the dinosaur
theme. A friendly-looking, long eye-lashed, 30' tall
pink dinosaur officially welcomed us to “Utah's
In sharp contrast to the dinosaur-mania of Vernal,
Utah, just over the border Dinosaur,Colorado  is a
poor, dusty don't-care-much-about-dinosaurs kind
of town.  Abandoned buildings with peeling paint and
boarded-up windows and sad looking trailers
comprised the main street attractions. The only
presentable, welcoming building was the Welcome
There was a gigantic T-Rex in the town park
sporting a graduation mortarboard and a
2012 diploma. Another T-Rex looked ready
to eat us.
Dino-Donuts, Dinaland 18 hole golf course, dinosaur museums, dinosaur weathervanes,
gates, street signs and billboards all competed for our attention.
Welcome to Colorado
Craig is a pleasant little town on Colorado's western slope. It's a real cowboy town. Men wear western-style jeans and cowboy boots and hats
because it's what they wear and realistic clothing for what they do, not because it's a fashion statement. David's sister, Karen, lives here and we
stopped for a visit. On Craig's main streeet is the Museum of Northwest Colorado. We've visited before. It contains memorabilia of the ranching
and farming life here in the mountains, native American artifacts and an exceptional cowboy and gunfighter collection. The special treat this time
was an exhibition of Saturday Evening Post magazine covers by Norman Rockwell. He did 323 covers in all for the post and all were on display.
The Saturday Evening Post was first
published in 1728 by Ben Franklin.
Over the mountains, through the woods! It's been nearly two years since we crossed the Rockies and descended into Denver. The views are
always breath-catching. You know that nostalgic feeling you get when you see familiar sights that you haven't seen in a long time. Our hearts
were happy and our spirits were high and we were home.
Even a yellow-belllied marmot stood
up tall to welcome us home.