Spring 2013 Road Trip – Part 1: Portland to Las Vegas. March 22-25, 2013

I semi-retired this spring. My last day of full time was Friday March 15; I took a month off then returned in mid-April to work half time. We headed out on Friday March 22 during Carla’s spring break on a road trip to Arizona. She flew back from Arizona while I took a second week to drive up to Boise, Idaho to visit my old college friends.


Our stops were

  • A: Home
  • B: Bend, OR
  • C: Fallon, NV
  • D: Las Vegas, NV
  • E: Phoenix AZ
  • F: Cottonwood, AZ (Side trip to Winslow, AZ and Hubble Trading Post)
  • G: Kanab, UT
  • H: Twin Falls, NV
  • I: Boise, ID
  • J: Home

We didn’t take the quickest route; we’ve driven from Portland south to California and Arizona many times so wanted to do something different. I grew up in Palmdale, California (Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles)  and went to college in Caldwell, ID just outside of Boise. I drove the highway through the Western Nevada and Eastern Oregon desert a couple of times a year. It’s a lonely stretch of road that can either be borne or enjoyed.

It’s been over 30 years since I last drove the route and wanted to see if it had changed. My group of friends would leave the College of Idaho after the last final in the afternoon and head south for our homes. I’ve been thinking of that drive for years and wanted to see how it matched up to my memory.

We had tickets for a comedy show in Las Vegas on Sunday and had a lot of road between us and there. On the afternoon of  Friday March 22 I drove over to the school where Carla works and we headed to Bend to get a start on the trip. The Cascade mountain range looms east of the Williamette Valley where we live. It had been a cold couple of weeks and there was snow on the road at Santiam Pass in the Cascades.

Pulling into Bend Evidence of the snowy road
Being retired we are more conscious of our spending. Seeing as we were just stopping for sleeping we didn’t need a fancy hotel; we found the Holiday Motel on US Highway 97. There are many hotels like this on the old US Highways; many have fallen on harder times now that the interstate system has been built. We figured we’d try some
Our stop for the night in Bend

This is definitely not a cookie cutter hotel where the rooms in one city look identical to those in another state. We had some real flair.

Not many hotel rooms have lamps like this.


Comfortable beds with flair

We were facing a drive of 500 miles, so after a quick breakfast at a local diner we hit the road. The Cascades do a great job of blocking the clouds and rain; we were met with cold, clear skies on our drive.

Eastern Oregon; the Cascade mountains we had passed through (Adobe Photoshop Elements)
Eastern Oregon; the Cascade mountains we had passed through. (Lightroom 5).
I remember Winnemucca as an oasis with a nice green park along a stream as you enter town from the north.  Well, the road has been reworked in the past 30+ years and entering town wasn’t as I remembered it. Southwest Idaho and northern Nevada is Basque country and we hoped to have enjoy some Basque food at the Martin Hotel in downtown. Unfortunately our timing wasn’t right; we arrived  about 3 hours before they opened for dinner. We found a so-so barbecue joint on the highway.

Martin Hotel, Winnemucca, Nevada

We finished the day in Fallon, Nevada where we spent the night in a Comfort Inn. Fallon seems to be bigger than Winnemucca which is not the way I remember it. We went into the downtown area to walk a bit. We dropped into the movie house to watch the movie Oz, The Great and Powerful I’m a fan of the Oz story and its hero epic theme. In addition to the original story, I liked the novel Wicked, by Gregory Maguire (though it is too long by half) which tells the story from the view of the wicked witch of the west. The movie picks up the beginning of the story showing how the wizard came to Oz and how the witches became wicked.

As I mentioned, we had tickets for a comedy show in Las Vegas Sunday evening March 24 so we got up early and started our 400 mile trip south. As we travelled, we could see the back side of the Sierra-Nevada mountain range come into view.

Back (Eastern) side of the Sierra-Nevada Mountains
South of Fallon, near Hawthorne is an army weapons depot. As we drove the stretch from Hawthorne to Tonopah we got in amidst an army convoy of jeeps, HumVees, busses, and big trucks. A little over halfway we bid goodbye to the stretch of road I drove so many times in the 70’s. Highway 6 branches southwest to Southern California while we headed east to Tonopah and later Las Vegas.
Route from Hawthorne to Tonopah showing the cutoff we took when going from
the College of Idaho to Southern California
In the picture below there is a bend to the left in the road up where the dust devil is blowing; then we turned back right (south) where the mountain comes down to the valley floor to reach Tonopah. Most of this trip was at elevations over a mile high; oven above 6,000 feet.


The west features lots of straight highway with no traffic
We spent two nights at the Treasure Island in Las Vegas. We don’t gamble so once you’ve walked the strip a couple of times, there isn’t much to do during the day. I’ve always wanted to see a comedy show and a magic act in Vegas. Sunday night we went to The Laugh Factory at The Tropicana. It was fun and we laughed. We debated about what magic show to see and finally decided since we aren’t likely to hit Vegas again we’d go all out and catch Penn & Teller at The Rio. The Rio is a gorgeous casino off the strip. Penn & Teller have their own auditorium which must seat at least a thousand. They are amazing. They tell you over and over it isn’t magic; it’s slight of hand. They even show part of what they do. But when they finish the trick, you just exclaim “that’s magic”.  When the show was over, I turned to Carla and said “what a gyp” the show was so short. Well, then I looked at my watch and realized they had been performing over an hour and a half. The time just flew by.
Tuesday morning March 26 we headed south toward Arizona. A few miles out of Las Vegas you cross the Colorado River just south of Hoover Dam and descend toward Kingman and Route 66. We stopped at a view point to get a glimpse of the Colorado River
The Colorado River below Hoover Dam

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