This part of our journey consisted of driving many miles in blistering temperatures. It was hot, so we’d wind down the windows; even hotter air would blow in so we’d close them again and so on. We tortured ourselves like this for a while by avoiding using the air conditioning for the sake of fuel efficiency. Then we decided fuel efficiency could take a running jump and pressed the button marked ‘AC’ (which I think stands for ‘Ahhhhh cool’).
Talking to people beforehand, many had questioned our reasoning for going to Salt Lake City (SLC). In their words ‘Why bother?’ but it is one of those USA landmarks that had to be ticked off the list. The journey from fairly featureless desert drifted into suburban sprawl, through to huge shopping malls and yes, we’re in Provo, Utah. Stop for lunch, get lost, argue, find supermarket, sulk, get food, eat food, reconcile, keep on driving.
Not too much later we reached SLC, by now tired and in the late afternoon sun we headed for our new home, a KOA campground. By now we’ve stayed at quite a few campgrounds, several of them KOAs (Kampgrounds of America, I think). They are a bit like KFC: they’re everywhere, they’re a known quantity and they’re a bit better than MacDonalds! Unlike KFC they are also invariably close to railroad crossings where the train drivers delight in honking their train-horns. Anyway, they have showers and a pool and they’re cheaper than staying in a hostel.
By now we were also getting used to the strange looks from people with their massive RVs. The one in the photo was home for just two people… the car they’re towing is as big as Jeremy! We don’t care… Jezza does us just fine :o)
The following day we ventured in to SLC itself; taking advantage of the free shuttle bus from the campsite. Only as we were about to board did we realize it was operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints… yes, the Mormons! The place had seemed quite normal up until this point but as we sat in the bus and listened to the well honed patter coming from the old lady all I could think in my head was ‘CULT, CULT, CULT!!!’. It took all of my will-power and self-restraint to keep from making any comments (it was too far to walk!). The good mannered agreement for the free bus was to agree to tithe 10% of my earnings to the church… oh no, hang-on, that comes later. For now, all we had to agree to was a guided tour around the mormon tabernacle and associated church buildings… as we were going to do that anyway, we agreed – it seemed like a no-brainer (also an apt description for a mormon from what I could tell).
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not particularly religious but I have no problem with those who are. But the two young women that met us at the drop-off point were like puppets – no, cyborgs (but without the cool electronics and lights)! They didn’t seem to be able to have an independent opinion and to me it seemed like a classic case of brainwashing, but each to their own. I asked them if they had converted from any other sort of religion but they said that they had been brought up Mormon their whole life. Ahh, I see. Nice buildings though.
Anyway, we toured the grounds whilst they provided the historical backstory. Everything was pristine and oozed friendliness; we ooh’d and ahh’d in all the right places but all we could think about was the bit about Mormons in Dave Gormans book, Unchained America. We finally got to see the Tabernacle which was good but a bit underwhelming (maybe it had been a bit too hyped). They finally got around to asking us whether we would be interested in joining their flock (my words). I said that I found the whole thing a bit far-fetched and unless they had any actual evidence my answer would have to be ‘no’. So they walked us to the exit (I couldn’t even see the wires) and we went to hit the City.
‘I think the City is closed’. It had all the normal glass and concrete buildings, even the occasional café… but no LIFE! We figured we were just on the edge of town so wandered a few more deserted streets… ah, a policeman, we’ll ask him! Alas, it turned out we were indeed in the town centre and this was a fairly typical day. I now started to understand peoples point of view. Boise, Idaho was quiet but it was clean, tidy and pretty… this place was just quiet and dull. Quite possibly the most disappointing city of the journey so far :-/
So we didn’t bother wasting any more time in SLC and started heading west again. As we left the city we found the actual salt lake, on the way passing the Bonneville Salt Flats and a place called Wendover which was as far from the UK version as its possible to be – very flat, very hot, very deserty.
Anyway, as we approached the Salt Lake shoreline we had plans of donning our trunks and floating in the lake. This planned changed as we parked-up in the dusty, hot, dry, windswept car-park. ‘We’ll just go and dip our toes’. This plan changed after we’d walked the half mile of crusty shoreline to the water’s edge… as we walked closer to the water, vast swarms of flies buzzed around our ankles – not biting or stinging, just very annoying… we didn’t stay long!
So, back on the road, we ploughed on past the scrubland and tumbleweed for as long as we could before the heat wore us down. This point occurred just outside a place called Winnemucca, a place you’ve probably never heard of and never will again. There is nothing particularly good to say about Winnemucca, but it is the kind of non-descript small town that I wanted so see. Now I’ve seen it, I don’t need to see another! All you need to know is that it had a campground and a pool – which has become a basic requirement in these parts. After a quick dip we hunted for food. The BEST we could find was Pizza Hut. The floors weren’t particularly clean, and it took us a while to figure out why the seats were so far away from the table, (it’s because people in these parts are on the LARGE size!) but the pizza was massive and cost just $10; enough for both of us with enough left over for lunch the following day… we’re starting to get the hang of this living on a budget thing!
Winnemucca was just a stop-over so the following day we continued our journey. We were eager to get San Francisco to see Justine & Lee. We’d planned to stop in Reno next as its another one of ‘those places’ you hear about but once we reached it and found casinos, other bland buildings and not much else we decided to drive straight on through. This turned out to be a good move because instead we ended up somewhere else we didn’t plan to be: Lake Tahoe.
We already knew of Tahoe as a snowboarding destination but as we entered the valley via winding mountain roads we reached the valley floor to find more picture perfect scenery: high cliffs, trees everywhere and a lovely flowing river. Actually, what was flowing was more rafts and inner tubes than I’ve ever seen in one place before. At one stage there was gridlock.
We found a nice spot by the edge of the lake and had lunch: the remains of the previous night’s pizza. Luckily the van’s engine casing is big, flat and runs fairly hot… a perfect hotplate! We put the pizza on, went for a stroll by the lake and when we got back, lunch was ready!
After lunch, more driving.
Getting tantalizingly close to San Fran now but not quite close enough. So we found a campsite in Placerville. This was a real diamond in the rough… not far from the freeway but it was still quiet and this time no railroad. The place was pretty quiet, we found a lovely shady spot for Jeremy then headed for the pool; the nicest one so far and we had it all to ourselves. So we stayed in until we got pruny then headed to the camp kitchen which is sooo much nicer than trying to cook on our dinky little bbq. The rest of the kitchen was being used by a big family which seemed to have convened from several different states so we had fun listening to them talk, laugh, bitch about non-present relatives and finally bicker (in that order).
I won’t lie to you, this part of the trip was fairly uneventful, but San Francisco is just around the corner!