Chapter #238: Interstate I-70 East through Utah - May 14, 2012

Interstate I-70 East begins at Cove Fort, Utah. The road sign beckons drivers to points east - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Interstate I-70 From Cove Fort to Crescent Junction, Utah

On the second day of my April 2012 tour of the Four Corners, I drove the 377 miles between Mesquite, Nevada and Moab, Utah. During the first leg of that journey, I traveled Interstate I-15 North for 163 miles between Mesquite and Fort Cove, Utah. As I drove north through St. George, Cedar City, Parowan and Beaver, the human population dwindled.

Through my right side-window, I could see snow squalls forming in the mountains to the east. As I proceeded, I saw intermittent snowfall in both
Viewed from I-7- East, peaks in the Fishlake National Forest, Utah show fresh snow in mid-April 2012 - Click for larger image (htto://jamesmcgillis.com)the Dixie National Forest, and in the Fishlake National Forest. At almost 6000 feet in altitude, I felt nothing more than a rain shower near the town of Beaver. Knowing that Emigrant Pass on Interstate I-70 topped out at over 7500 feet, I feared that heavy snow could meet me at that altitude. With no other options for crossing the Wasatch Plateau, I continued.

Near historic Cove Fort, Interstate I-70 peels away on a broad arc to the east. With such an inconspicuous beginning for a 2200-mile long interstate highway, I almost missed the off-ramp. Had I stayed on I-15, from Cove Fort to Salt Lake City was 176 miles. Although I love to stop and see the sights, I had webcam business awaiting me in Moab. In the interest of time, I skipped the Cove Fort highway rest stop at, which is also the sole remaining nineteenth-century Mormon fort.

The Salt Wash area, as viewed from the overlook on I-70 East, near the San Rafael Swell - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In 1867, Mormon prophet Brigham Young called Ira Hinckley and his family to come and direct the building and operations of Cove Fort. Even today, the place symbolizes rest and refreshment to travelers. Situated as it was at the confluence of the Mormon Trail (Salt Lake City to Rancho Santa Ana del Chino near Los Angeles) and the Old Spanish Trail (Santa Fe to Los Angeles), Cove Fort appeared to be a natural place for commerce to flourish. Sometimes, plans do not work out. Today, there is no development of any consequence near the old Cove Fort.

As I-70 East climbed up and on to the Wasatch Plateau, I watched as snowstorms formed in the mountains to my south. If I could make it to the farming town of Sevier, my first brush with mountain snows would be over. Still, another series of high passes waited between Salina and Fremont Junction. Only east of the junction would I be safe from spring snowstorms.
Standing like sentinels in a sandstone landscape, the top of this cracked edifice exhibits two eyes and a stoney mouth - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As I continued through the high country on I-70 that day, the pavement remained dry. From that omen, I knew I could make it to Moab before dark.

As I drove past the Salt Wash Overlook, afternoon sunlight brought the appearance of lush greenery to that desolate valley. Such spring greenery may have fooled early Mormon emigrants as well. Although the area almost defines the term “hard scrabble”, early Mormon settlers briefly farmed the lower reaches of Salt Wash and valley. After several crop failures, wiser heads prevailed and the settlers moved on to greener pastures.

As I crossed the San Rafael Swell, I encountered a long series of steep grades. Pulling my travel trailer up and over the huge anticline, I could almost see needle on the gas gauge heading toward empty. If I opted for economy, I would have to drive less than forty miles per hour, which is unsafe on an interstate highway. If I opted for power, I might burn all of my fuel before Interstate I-70 pitches down a steep and windy grade at the San Rafael Reef - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)reaching Green River, fifty miles east. Coaxing what economy I could from my Nissan Titan’s V-8 engine, I dropped the transmission into third gear and kept rolling at forty-five miles per hour.

After what seemed like an interminable number of climbs, I approached the top of the San Rafael Reef. The “reef”, a landform named for its appearance, is a geologic fold at the eastern edge of the San Rafael Swell. Before engineers blasted the I-70 roadbed through a narrow breach in the reef, a person could stand at the bottom and simultaneously touch each canyon wall. By my estimation, the current roadway often exceeds the interstate highway maximum of a six-percent grade. If you overload your vehicle or if you gain too much speed, descending through the reef on I-70 can be a harrowing experience. Unlike many descents, some of its tightest turns are near the bottom of the The Book Cliffs, as seen from I-70 East, near Green River, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)canyon, rather than the top. Until you are safely out on the flats, personal concentration and conservative speeds are essential.

Upon safe arrival at the bottom of the San Rafael Reef, it was only seventeen miles farther to the town of Green River, Utah. After another check of my fuel gauge, I skipped a stop in Green River, opting to fill up upon arrival in Moab. As I passed over the Green River highway bridge, afternoon sunlight hit the escarpment of the Book Cliffs. With time to spare, I decided to turn north at Crescent Junction for a visit to little known Brendel, Utah. Formerly comprised of not much more than a railroad siding, Brendel is now the location of what I call Moab Mountain. Although it is technically not a mountain, Brendel is the final repository for Cold War uranium tailings removed from the UMTRA Superfund Site, also called the Moab Pile.

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By James McGillis at 04:25 PM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link

Chapter #237: Mesquite, NV - Opportunity Lost? - May 12, 2012

The now defunct Harley's Garage and Ford Parts tower sign in Mesquite, Nevada - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Mesquite, Nevada Squanders its Economic and Highway Heritage

In May 2009, I visited Mesquite, Nevada and wrote about my experiences there. At the time, the U.S. appeared to be at the depths of its Great Recession. In the previous decade, the population of Mesquite had ballooned, from 9,000 to a reported 19,000. By 2009, it was on its way back down to a 2010 U.S. Census figure of 15,000. Although a Wal-Mart and other new shopping venues arose in North Mesquite, business activity south of Interstate I-15 on West Mesquite Blvd. looked anemic, at best. By 2009, at least one major golf course had closed and two major hotel/casinos stood empty.

Mormon settles founded the old town of Mesquite, Nevada in 1880. By the 1960’s, Mesquite had become the largest town between Las Vegas and St. George, Utah, to the north. Although that stretch of Interstate Highway was complete by 1967, business-friendly politicians thwarted the I-15 bypass of
Hand painted Ford Parts logo sign at the defunct Harley's Garage in Mesquite Nevada rusts into oblivion. Top-2009, Bottom-2012 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Mesquite until scandalously late, in 1973. Until then, travelers endured a forced exit from the freeway at Mesquite. Whether they were ready for a break or not, an old-fashioned drive along West Mesquite Blvd. was part of the early I-15 travel experience.

After I-15 opened at Mesquite, the town no longer had a captive motoring audience. On the new freeway, it was a quick 122-mile trip between Las Vegas and St. George, Utah. Ever inventive, residents of the largely Mormon town did what they could to survive. First with legal gambling and later with master planned retirement communities, Mesquite attracted new residents and businesses. Almost any desert town will see cycles of boom and bust. After the boom peaked in 2007, there was an accelerating pace of economic decline in what once was known as “Mesquite Flats”.

Victim of a slow economy - Now closed - The Ranch Market in old Mesquite, Nevada - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Now, in 2012, it was time to make another assessment of the Mesquite, Nevada economy. Quickly I found that the economic message in Mesquite is mixed. Several planned communities in North Mesquite continue to grow, albeit much slower than before the 2007 peak. According to statistics, the recent unemployment rate in Mesquite was a whopping 13.3%, compared to the U.S. average of 9.1%. Some will prosper and some will fail, but the failure rate of South Mesquite businesses appears higher than in North Mesquite. On the old highway, I remembered a mattress store from before, but it was gone without a trace.
Harley’s Garage and other iconic signs of Old U.S. Highway 91 stood empty, painted-over or crumbling. Even the Harley's Garage old hand painted "Ford Parts" sign had succumbed to rust.

An old pole barn, behind The Ranch Market in Mesquite, Nevada slowly deteriorates - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In 2009, The Ranch Market, with its attractive mission revival style building thrived. During my visit to the market, I had found remains of an old pole barn at the rear of the property. Perhaps the pole barn was Mesquite's original ranch market. Although the barn appeared built nearly a century ago, its well trussed structure and a loose collection of roof boards remained intact. On my 2012 visit, The Ranch Market was closed. If such a nice market could not prosper in old Mesquite, I reasoned that the local economy still suffered.

In the 2006 Disney Pixar movie Cars, the loveable tow truck known as “Tow Mater” slept in a dilapidated barn or shed. Having recently watched the movie, I wanted to see how much the old Ranch Market Pole Barn might resemble Mater’s lair. After all, the Wigwam Village motel in Holbrook, Arizona rode to fame as the Cozy Cone Motel in the movie Cars. In the 1960’s,
Radiator Springs or Mesquite, Nevada? Tow Mater, from the movie Cars wakes up in his old barn - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Interstate I-40 bypassed Seligman, Arizona. That old U.S. Route-66 town later became the model for Radiator Springs in the movie Cars. Today, the bypass of Seligman makes it a nostalgic detour from the sterile I-40. If highway nostalgia worked in Arizona, why not consider it in Mesquite, Nevada? When I took a closer look at the Ranch Market Pole Barn, I saw that it was at least a spiritual match with Tow Mater’s abode.

Today, Mesquite, Nevada cries out for economic development. Not unlike the economy of Mesquite Flats, the old pole barn appears ready to collapse of its own weight. A good first step would be to buy a rusted-out old tow truck, paint eyes on the windshield and park it in the old pole barn. Maybe it will never be another Seligman, but if Mesquite does not preserve its precious relics, its storied past will fade away.

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By James McGillis at 11:38 AM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link

Chapter #236: Las Vegas, NV "Drive-by" - I-15N - May 8, 2012

On an I-15 North billboard in Las Vegas, Nevada, Elton's piano keys sprout like wings from the Luxor Hotel, behind - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

How Las Vegas, Nevada Lost its Status as the #1 Worldwide Gambling Destination

In April 2012, I continued my travel from Los Angeles to Mesquite, Nevada. Already that day, I had taken the Pearblossom Highway to Interstate I-15 North. After observing the new industrial desert at Ivanpah Valley, California, I crossed the state line at Primm, Nevada. Approaching Las Vegas, I had planned for a Las Vegas Freeway “drive by”. Since I was pulling my travel trailer that Thursday afternoon, a drive up Las Vegas Blvd. (The Strip) was out of the question. By the time I approached the city, with rush hour well underway, I took a deep breath and prepared to run the traffic gauntlet that is I-15 through Las Vegas.

Frank Sinatra Drive street sign welcomes motorists on I-15 North to the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Until the 1970s, old U.S. Highway 91, Las Vegas Blvd. and The Strip were all the same road. In North Las Vegas, the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street was also the historic intersection with U.S. 93 (the Salt Lake Highway) and U.S. 95 (the Reno Highway). Other than at The Strip in Las Vegas and in tiny Mesquite to the north, 1967 marked the completion of I-15 in Nevada. Until the 1974 I-15 bypass of The Strip, however, old U.S. highway intersections Downtown were the nexus for all traffic entering or leaving the Las Vegas.

Lost in Nevada history is why it took seven years to build less than five miles of freeway around The Strip. With I-15 truncated at either end of The Strip, the final off ramps connected directly to Las Vegas Blvd. In those days, The Strip was famous for offering every pleasure or vice known to humans. Some might call the freeway delay good marketing. Others might call it shortsighted to delay opening the last I-15 gap in Nevada.

When gaming revenues fell in early 2012, Steve Wynn blurred the lines between his Wynn and Encore Hotels - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Whatever windfall Las Vegas experienced during the seven-year delay cannot compare to the unending drag that the strategy placed on the economic future of Las Vegas. The 1960’s and 1970’s were the heyday of Las Vegas, growing from a railroad and highway town to the premier international gambling destination. Money goes where it is comfortable and it is now six times more comfortable in Macau than it is on the Las Vegas Strip. In 2012, monthly gaming revenue figures for Las Vegas top out at $530 million. In Macau, a gambling-friendly enclave on the Chinese Mainland, April 2012 saw gaming revenues of $3.13. From today's perspective, a traffic noose tightened around twentieth century Las Vegas left it gridlocked and unprepared for twenty-first century revenue opportunities.

When is it the Wynn and when is it the Encore, Click for alternate image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)When the I-15 Las Vegas bypass opened in 1974, it was already obsolete. By then, I-15 through Las Vegas should have been well into its first phase of widening and improvement. As a legacy of the old highway plan, I-15 North still makes a tight S-curve as it skirts Downtown. There, it utilizes a highway corridor designed to handle the traffic of the 1960’s. With its grimy bridges and tight turns, you know that you are on an old section of highway. As a consequence, for decades now, one of the few constants in Las Vegas culture is the rush hour traffic tie-up near Downtown on I-15 North.

Despite every lane-addition that highway engineers could manage, at least twice going northbound, the two right-side lanes of the freeway must exit. After years of traffic frustration, local drivers jockey for any possible advantage. At first, they keep to the right and then jam their way back on to I-15 North at the last second. Uninitiated drivers find themselves either shunted off the freeway or forced to act like locals, bulling their way back into traffic. Either way, a weekday afternoon trip on I-15 North through Las Vegas is a guaranteed white-knuckle ride.

Contrary to Donald Trump's desires, the Trump Hotel was leaning slightly to the left on our most recent visit to Las Vegas - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)From I-15 North, what once was a giant glass pyramid in the desert, the Luxor Hotel, now looks tiny and almost lost on the horizon. Now that I-15 carries far more traffic than The Strip, the latter has become an architectural showplace, beckoning to I-15 motorists. With ever grander and more iconic buildings, The Strip offers a welcoming message to harried freeway drivers. Nearing Downtown, buildings named Wynn, Encore and Trump, stand as high-rise monuments to outsized luxury and gaming revenue. With its combination of overheated traffic and fantastic architecture, a transit north on I-15 through Las Vegas reinforces it own self-image. I can almost see Frank Sinatra, his Rat Pack and the Mob in the 1960s deciding over drinks at the Sands Hotel that everyone should continue to drive The Strip.

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Chapter #234: Pearblossom Hwy. - Palmdale Road - May 3, 2012

San Gabriel Mountains, looking south from the Pearblossom Highway, CA-138E - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

The Mojave Desert - Where the Pearblossom Highway and the Palmdale Road are One & The Same

In mid April 2012, I began a trip from Simi Valley, California to Moab, Utah, which is a distance of 745 miles. My plan was to stay overnight at the halfway point, in Mesquite, Nevada. The following day, I would drive the remainder, arriving in Moab before dark. I planned to take the Pearblossom Highway (CA-138E/CA18E) as a shortcut north of the Los Angeles basin. By doing so, I would save a few miles and avoid an ascent of treacherous Cajon Pass on Interstate I-15.

Clouds surmount the snowy slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains near Wrightwood, California, as seen from Pearblossom Highway, CA-138E - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)For the uninitiated, the Pearblossom Highway can be an enigma. Whether you start your drive near Palmdale, heading east or from Victorville heading west, there are anomalies. The unincorporated town of Pearblossom is less than half way from Palmdale to Victorville. Even so, “Pearblossom Highway” long ago became its accepted name. At its I-15 off-ramp in Victorville, road signs identify the same highway as the “Palmdale Road”.

Why have different names for the same highway, depending on your direction of travel? The simple answer is that the highway changes numbers mid desert. To make things more confusing, the western end of CA-18 is at that same “Y” intersection in the Mojave Desert. From that obscure and desolate intersection, CA-138E becomes the Antelope Highway, bearing southeast, while CA-18E continues in an eastbound beeline to Victorville.

The Pearblossom Highway crosses numerous dry watercourses and alluvial fans in the Mojave Desert - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Ironically, the two highways meet again at the eastward terminus of CA-138 near Crestline. Adding to the confusion is the fact that CA-18 shares pavement with I-15 through the City of Victorville. With so many names and numbers to deal with, I can understand why CALTRANS opted for the name “Palmdale Road”. Palmdale is a far-flung destination to which westbound travelers might relate.

Calling the westbound road the Pearblossom Highway implies that the road might end in that high desert town. In an effort to bypass much of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, would you take a misnamed two-lane road into the Mojave Desert? If identified as the “Victorville Highway”, the route might attract more motorists and more confidence in its eastern terminus.

Despite my fifty-five mile per hour Pearblossom Highway route being shorter and faster than other alternatives, both Google Maps and my Magellan GPS failed to utilize it. Most map databases assume that motorists would rather take a freeway than to save time and distance. I wonder how much time and fuel we might all save if routing software recognized the Pearblossom Highway/Palmdale Road as a legitimate shortcut. Perhaps it is the local moniker, "Deathtrap Highway" that keeps Google and Magellan from recommending it.

May 2010 photo of Interstate I-15 South on-ramp, where it runs contiguous with Highway CA-18 in Victorville, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)For years, the Pearblossom Highway name, with its nostalgia and small town feel, had baffled me. Having made repeated trips through over I-15 and the Cajon Pass, I finally decided to try “the old road” on during a recent transit. At that time, I was not familiar with the road signs along I-15. Nor did I understand the on-again, off-again nature of CA-18 and CA-138. Consequently, my first attempt resulted in a great circle route back to Barstow on Old-66. A week later, I viewed a GM OnStar TV commercial in which a young couple’s unseen advisor safely directs them back to the elusive Pearblossom Highway

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By James McGillis at 06:59 PM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link

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Navajo National Monument, AZ
La Sal Mountains Loop Road, UT
Meet Krista and Mrs. Tipperwillow
The Moab Rim, Above and Below
Colorado Riverway Recreation, UT
Hovenweep - Twin Towers Standing
Aztec, New Mexico - Ancient Ruins
Kin Klizhin Ruin at Chaco Canyon
The Spirit of Pueblo Bonito, NM
Chaco Canyon, NM Sand and Rain
Homolovi Ruins State Park, AZ
ATM Bank Robbery Made Easy
Outstanding World Citizens, Fiji
Planning an Archetype Party
Sir Elton John - The Lost Concert
Start Writing Your Own Blog
My Unification Theory - 2008
Frito-Lay Beach-Trash Explosion
The Great Attractor, Revealed
Vibrational Thought & String Theory
The Long Run - Eagles Tribute Band
2006 Midterm Elections, Revisited
The Lost Mural of Denis O'Connor
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 -Part 10
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 9
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 8
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 7
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 6
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 5
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 4
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 3
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 2
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 1
MedIT Search Website, New eBook
Save Natewa Bay, Fiji Islands
The Fiji Islands - Paradise Lost?
Face on Mars - Is it John Carter?
How Water Helped Make The West
Yahoo! - Fighting Its Last Battle?
Helium Gas, Neither Earth nor Mars
Megatrend vs. Meganiche - 2007
German Hydrogen Bomb Ready
Passing The $100,000 Bill
Google Wins - Microsoft Withdraws
A.Word.A.Day, You Ought to Know
San Fernando Valley Winemaking
WindSong - The Book - Updated
Divine Inspiration, Or Nearly So
Going Down to the Depot
Japanese Win The "Space Race"
2007 eCommerce - Made Easy
Discovering The Great Reflector
Navajo National Monument, Arizona
Moab, Utah Memories - 2007
Fall Color, Silverton, Colorado
Autumn Equinox in the Rockies
Hasta la Vista, Taos, New Mexico
Megatrends 2010 - The Book
The Quantum Leap, New Mexico
Chaco Canyon Memories 2007
Flame-Out in Phoenix, Arizona
Annals of Homeland Security '07
Quartzsite, AZ - RV Camping
WindSong eBook - Now Ready
The Quantum Leap Celebration
Welcome to my new weblog 2007!

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