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Road Trip Through A Winter Wonderland

By Edited May 30, 2016 0 0

A Mad Dash For Christmas Cheer

When my daughters decided to head off to places new for Christmas, my husband and I faced the stark reality of lonesome revelry in a new town where we were unlikely to join in anyone else’s celebrations.

I bought a poinsettia for decoration because it reminded me of Africa, but just couldn’t get excited enough to buy a tree or put up any baubles.


A few days before Christmas we decided to give our new car a whirl and head off from drizzly California to snowy Utah, home of my sister, through the arid deserts of Nevada. It was a bold move because the weather has been unseasonably cold this winter and we risked running into icy roads, snow storms and an unreasonable amount of static on the car radio.

Being from warmer climes, we’re not used to navigating icy roads or snow storms, but well do we know the bitter arguments that can ensue when the only channel clear enough to listen to is “Let’s See How Often We Can Play The Same Three Pop Songs In An Hour Radio.”

After a late start, due to a faulty windscreen wiper on our new car,  we headed off towards the Sierras. The day was gorgeous and dry, if somewhat cloudy, and we made good time. An hour into our journey, our friend from Bolinas phoned to invite us to Christmas lunch!

I was surprised by the lack of snow as we climbed into the mountains near Tahoe but, as we crested the summit and began the downward journey to Reno through the shadow lands, the landscape suddenly changed to one of snow, ice and salty roads. Luckily, no snow fell that day and the roads were clear.

Snow covered tree
We decided to picnic at the roadside truck stop and unpacked our lunch at a stone table under an idyllic covering of snow laden fir trees.  Unfortunately we weren’t dressed for the occasion as the temperature had dropped by at least twenty degrees, and our flesh was in danger of sticking to any surfaces we touched, so we gulped down our rapidly chilling soup standing up and hurried back to our cozy car.

I can’t understand how cars take on a life of their own in mountain conditions, speeding around bends that I would be crawling around, gaining momentum on the downhill slopes. It was a good time to try out our low range gears to see if we could actually slow down without constantly stepping on the brake and I’m happy to say that we could, although the cars behind us sulked if we didn’t go bumper to bumper with the cars ahead! I was happy when the hills were behind us.

Nevada desert in the late afternoon
Nevada in the early afternoon winter light is an eerie landscape to behold. It’s like a painting with its golden grass, blue hills and snowy white tops, all against dense snow clouds that threatened to dump on us at any moment. We kept driving, stopping only to video the magnificent scenery, at which time we were promptly questioned by a police officer who wanted to know what we were doing on the side of the road in freezing temperatures. I found it quite comforting to know that there would be help at hand if we broke down. Spud found it quite difficult to operate his camera as his fingers lost all feeling during the brief conversation!

Videoing the Nevada Desert

Early darkness makes for a long drive and we still had eight hours to go so we picked a spot on the map along Highway 80 and headed for Elko, some four hours down the road.

We stopped at a fuel station in a strange little town called Lovelock where all the buildings are for sale. I went to the restroom and found that the entire shop was given over to liquor: rows and rows of it with endless variety.  It puzzled me until we tried to refuel. The pumps were frozen and the gas leaked through the hose painfully slowly. It took twenty-five minutes to put in $25 worth of gas and I was ready to grab a bottle of vodka and put an end to the pain!

Full Moon over the Nevada desert

As twilight came and went, the scenery became more ghostly until we were glimpsing only shadows .  A full moon came up, magical and unexpected, and it saw us all the way to Elko, a frosty casino town with snow on the roads that crackled beneath our tyres and snow banks that pulled the guard off the front of the car.

We headed to the best restaurant in town, according to our hotel concierge, the Coffee Pot. It’s a big, home style restaurant hiding behind a dimly lit window. It was warm and cozy and I had a New York steak for $13 which made a welcome change from the prices in the home of organic beef!

Dawn at Bonneville Salt Flats

After a night on the world’s hardest bed, we rose before dawn, (it was nearly seven in the morning, but it was still dark!) and set off for the Bonneville Salt Flats, the home of speed racing and world records. Dawn was incredible and we stopped so that Spud could cross the road and shoot some more video. In a minute a police officer was at my window, wondering why I was sitting in my car on the roadside in freezing temperatures! Well, it was -10 degrees fahrenheit - I wasn’t getting out of the car! There was water on the flats instead of snow, so the reflections were perfect.

A  couple of hours later and we were getting close to Salt Lake City and the warmth of family. The snow on the mountains was thicker – a sparkling white landscape enveloping us. In the distance, the Wasatch mountain range was blue; the reflections were blue; the sky was blue. It was breathtaking.

Wasatch Range near Salt Lake City

After twelve hours of driving from California, our little car was purring as we pulled into my sister’s driveway. We made it without one snow flake or one shard of black ice on the roads. We made it just in time for Christmas Eve dinner. We made it just before a foot of snow fell to give us the perfect white Christmas!

Cars in their blankets
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