History Makes Traveling Fun – Day 68

History Makes Traveling Fun

Day 68 – June 7, 2003 – Saturday

Happy Birthday to Bozzie Jane!

I drove from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas today. Boz will be rejoining the trip in Vegas after spending the last 10 days babysitting Miss Madison in Atlanta. I didn’t expect to see much between Salt Lake and Vegas, so expectations were low, which often makes for a good day.

That’s exactly what happened as I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Shrine to the Virgin Mary on a Tree Stump, Anniversary Inn, the Great Salt Lake, the ill-fated Saltair Resort, the Great Tree in the Salt Desert, the Bonneville Salt Flats Racetrack, the Ely murals, the World’s Largest 8 Ball, and the Las Vegas Strip after dark. I had a nice chat with Gladys Knight’s bus drivers, and I encountered the only rude, nasty people I have met on the trip — the inhabitants of Major’s Place, Nevada.

I stayed at the Candlewood Suites in Salt Lake City last night. It had been time for the weekly wash. Unfortunately, the power went out shortly after my clothes went in the washing machine. It took five hours to do the wash as the power went out the second time right after my clothes finally made it to the dryer at 1:45. I finally got to sleep at 2:30 am. With the lights out, the phones were out, so I was thwarted in my efforts to get the web site photos all up-to-date. I spent three hours on the web site this morning and then hit the road.

I met Robert and Lucious, bus drivers for Gladys Knight, when they were checking in the Candlewood as I was leaving. I finally got away after talking to Anthony again at the front desk and seeing his new car — a bright glow-in-the-radar-red Mustang

Salt Lake City is extremely clean with well-dressed people. I’ve never seen so many men in coats and ties on a Saturday. The people here take their religion very seriously. Salt Lake City is a very pretty city; there are a lot of beautiful trees. It’s nestled down in a valley surrounded by mountains, which make it an especially pretty city to see as you drive into town.

I went to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City. I saw the Utah capital building.

After reading about the Anniversary Inn, it was a must-see. The Anniversary Inn has wonderful themed suites — THE place to take your honey in Salt Lake City. I learned that the most popular room is the Romeo and Juliet. Some people were just checking out who stayed in it, and they thoroughly enjoyed their stay.

I met Cheri and Steph behind the front desk. I handed them my card, and Cheri apparently noted that we were writing a book, and she loudly announced that she was famous. Cheri told me that as a little girl, she used to ride a billy goat in parades, and she once had her picture taken by some folks that had a travel company who used her photo in their promotional materials. I asked Steph what was the most unique thing about her. She informed me that she is not a Mormon, though she comes from a strong Mormon family. She chose not to be a Mormom. That makes her unusual. Most of the people in Salt Lake are Mormons, and there are probably very few who come from strong Mormon families who are strong enough internally to make the decision not to be. I asked them which rooms are the most unusual. Steph said “Lake Powell,” and Cheri said “the Mysteries Rooms.” The Anniversary Inn appears to be a really neat place to spend a night. I promised to return with Bozzie Jane someday.

Salt Lake has an excellent street numbering system that makes it pretty easy to find just about any address; it’s similar to Lubbock, Texas, where there is also a very logical numbering system in a city that is set up on a simple grid. So, I found it very easy to make my way from one sight to another.

It wasn’t a Camaro…but I did see the “Shrine to the Virgin Mary on a Tree Stump” in Salt Lake City. It’s right at the corner of 700 South and 300 East in Taufer Park in Salt Lake City. There are big industrial-strength stairs that you walk up to see it. There were a lot of candles, flowers, pictures, and rosary beads that people had left there. I do not even remember how I learned about this, but I had scribbled a note about it in my file on Utah. I learned that it was in 1997 when someone first saw the image of Mary in the grain of a knothole on the trunk of the elm tree. Someone put up a ladder so visitors could climb up and touch it. At the time, believers said water was coming out of the Virgin Mary’s head, and they believed it to be tears. As word spread, the number of visitors grew. Eventually, the city erected better stairs and a platform next to the tree for a safer view. The tree has become known as the “Virgin of Guadalupe” tree. I hate to be a party-pooper, but I wasn’t able to “see” the image that others want to see.

Hires Big H was my choice for lunch. I had the Big H Combo. Hires Big H has the second best fries that I enjoyed on the trip (Scooby’s in Hollywood was #1). Big fat homemade fries. Hires serves their fries with a dipping sauce that’s kind of a thousand island but not really. I love great fries. The hamburger was also great, served on a sourdough bun with that special sauce.

I saw The Great Salt Lake. It’s hard to miss. The lake has vared in size between 4700 square miles and 950 square miles because it is very shallow. I understand the water is much saltier than ocean water. No one could explain to me how it is possible to have a lake that is filled with salt water.

I saw a lot of people walking around in Salt Lake City; a lot more than we’ve seen in other towns.

Saltair has been the name of several resorts located on the southern shore of the Great Salt Lake. It is about 15 miles from Salt Lake City. The first Saltair was built in 1893 and was jointly owned by a corporation associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) and the Salt Lake & Los Angeles Railroad Company. Saltair was a family place, intended to provide a safe and wholesome atmosphere with the open supervision of Church people. Swimming in the lake was a major aspect of Saltair. The first Saltair was destroyed by fire in 1925. A new pavilion was built, and the resort was expanded at the same location by new investors, but it was not successful. Another fire did major damage in 1931. Then the resort was left dry when lake waters receded. Saltair was forced to close during World War II. It reopened after the war, but it closed again in 1958. A new Saltair was built in 1981. The new pavilion was constructed out of a salvaged Air Force aircraft hangar. Once again, the lake was a problem, this time flooding the new resort only months after it opened. The waters receded after several years, and new investors restored and repaired the facility only to see the waters continue to move away from the site leaving it dry. By the late 1990’s, Saltair was little more than a memory. It looked terrible. It looked to me like something built by amateurs. It appeared to be falling apart. It was simply a sad-looking place.

From Saltair and the Great Salt Lake, I drove west toward Nevada on I-80 as there were no two-lane roads available. At a tourist information office, I was advised to keep my eyes peeled for “The Great Tree.” I spotted it about 75 miles west of Salt Lake City in the salt flats. It was certainly an odd sight to see. There was nothing but flat, salt-covered land, and then there was this 87-foot tall abstract tree that looked like a pole with giant sports balls appended to it. The official name is “Metaphor: The Tree of Utah.” It was built by a Swedish artist named Karl Momen between 1982 and 1986. The sculpture was made from 225 tons of cement, almost 2,000 ceramic tiles and five tons of welding rod, and tons of minerals and rocks native to Utah. I wondered if Karl Momen had been to Lucas, Kansas.

Another 15 minutes down the road, and I took exit 4 off I-80 West for the Bonneville Speedway. I had heard about the Bonneville Salt Flats and the Bonneville Speedway over the years, and I was excited to see it. I expected something fancy, but I drove out to the spot indicated, and it was just a dead end. No one was racing. There wasn’t even an old checkered flag on the ground. There was a Department of the Interior sign, but that was it. It is a huge open expanse that appears to be flatter than a pancake. The Bonneville Salt Flats is one of the most unique natural features in the country; it covers over 30,000 acres. The salt flats were first used for racing in 1914.

It was interesting to me that the road to the Bonneville Salt Flats gave me a continuous mirage for about a quarter of a mile ahead. It looked like there was water on the road, but it was just an optical illusion. I got out and took a few photos of the salt. There wasn’t much else to do except to imagine how exciting it must be there when folks are attempting to set speed records.

There were signs all the way from Salt Lake City to the Nevada border promoting casinos in Nevada. I stopped at the Red Garter Casino just across the Nevada state line in Wendover. The Red Garden wasn’t one of your bigger casinos; it had one roulette wheel, quite a few slot machines, and a reasonable number of blackjack tables. I went in and placed the maximum allowable bet on red at the roulette wheel. It came up black. I lost $2. I left. Total elapsed time in the Red Garter Casino: 3 minutes. Boz and I have discussed several times that we would be independently wealthy if my chosen roulette color had been black rather than red. But I’m stickin’ with red…no matter what!

It is interesting to me how many character traits are revealed when writing about daily experiences and observations over a significant period of time. Yes, I am stubborn. I can also enjoy the humor of continued bad luck.

I remembered that the squadron that dropped the atomic bomb was from Wendover, Nevada. I’m not sure how I knew that — probably saw it in a movie. I took a photo of the Atomic Bomb Squadron Memorial.

I gassed up. The little girl at the gas station told me it would be 400 miles to Vegas. This would be one of the longest driving days — well over 500 miles. There was 25,103 on the odemeter when I left the Candlewood in Salt Lake City.

150 miles passed, and I saw a sign that said “Next Gas 80 Miles.” Nothing like a gas warning sign in the middle of nowhere! I realized that I needed to buy gas every chance I had.

I stopped briefly at a spot where the Pony Express Trail used to be. Not much to see but dirt and cactus. No gas station there.

Ely Nevada was my next stop. Ely is a town filled with murals, so I drove around and took photos of the various murals that caught my eye. I saw a giant 8-ball. Ely also provided a choice of gas stations, so I filled up.

I visited the historic Hotel Nevada in Ely. When the 6-story hotel opened in 1929, it was the tallest building in the state. Rooms rented for $1.50 and up, “all with private toilet; 85% with private bath.” The promotional material for the hotel claims the hotel building was designed by the same architect who built the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower. I assume the promotional material is true, but the hotel appeared to be just a big red brick building to me — nothing Taj Mahal-like at all. Prohibition was still in effect when the hotel opened, and from the beginning, bootlegged refreshments and gambling were available 24 hours a day. “Bathtub Gin” made from raw alcohol, water, and flavorings and “White Lightning” were conveniently supplied by local individuals. When gambling was legalized in 1931, the owners immediately installed blackjack tables and slot machines. Western memorabilia is displayed on every floor. I love old western antiques, so it was a lot of fun to walk around and see all the stuff. There was no roulette wheel, so I figure that saved me $100.

I went to Economy Drug Store to their old fashioned soda fountain; it has been around forever. I had a chocolate malt that was very good. Vaughn served me.

I visited the train depot in Ely. The Ghost Train features exciting train rides powered by authentic steam or diesel engines. I was sorry I didn’t have time to take the ride or see any of the nearby ghost towns, but I figured I would be lucky to hit Las Vegas by midnight as it was. There were a number of ghost towns throughout the area, including Hamilton, the former county seat and mining boom camp; Cherry Creek, a former boom camp where people still live; and Schellbourne, a former Shoshone village site before becoming a Pony Express station.

I was on Highway 50. There are a lot of signs for Highway 50; Highway 50 is kind of a poor man’s Route 66 I guess. It has a following of people who travel Highway 50. It’s called the “Loneliest Road in America” since it was referred to as that in a Life Magazine article.

A half hour after I left Ely, I reached Major’s Place, Nevada. The inhabitants of Major’s Place, Nevada are the only rude, nasty, vulgar people I met on the trip. Scary place. I advise travelers to stay away; don’t dare stop there! It appeared to be basically a bar and a gas pump. I simply pulled in, parked, and got out of my car with my camera. Several men sitting in chairs on the front porch of the place started screaming and cussing at me. I was scared to death when I realized this wasn’t a joke. I drove a safe distance away, and jumped out to snap a photo, and then I drove as fast as I could to try to distance myself from them as quickly as possible. It was certainly one of the worst experiences I had on the entire trip.

Pass number 12 came at 6:38 pm with 25,418 on the odometer. It was just a slow moving car out in the middle of nowhere, and I didn’t want to be any closer to Major’s Place than I had to be.

There wasn’t a gas station between Major’s Place, where I would have gassed up if I hadn’t feared for my life, and Pioche, Nevada. I was extremely relieved when there was one little gas station open in Pioche. I was beginning to worry as I had in Big Bend and Pie Town when I almost ran out gas when there weren’t any open gas stations for hundreds of miles. The gas station attendant told me I had 180 miles to go to Las Vegas. Pioche is the county seat of Lincoln County, and it is a historic town. It is named after Francois Louis Alfred Pioche, a wealthy San Francisco man, who bought the town in 1869. The area was settled just a few years before when a silver mine was opened. By the early 1870’s, it had grown to become one of the most important silver mining towns in Nevada. The town had a reputation for being one of the roughest towns in the Old West. As the story goes, 75 men were killed in gunfights before the first natural death occurred in the camp.

Pioche is also known for its “Million Dollar Courthouse.” The Lincoln County Courthouse was built in 1871. The original cost of $88,000 far exceeded initial estimates and was financed and refinanced with bonds totaling nearly $1 million.

Not far from the Courthouse sits the old Mountain View Hotel, where President Herbert Hoover is said to have stayed in 1930. It was built in 1895. The building no longer serves as a hotel. It has wonderful turn-of-the-century western architecture, but it appeared to me that it was falling apart. I hoped someone would step in and saves it before it was too late.

I loved the sign for Tillies in Pioche. They offer everything “from Vaseline to Gasoline.”

I also saw the historic Thompson Opera House in Pioche. It was built in the 1870’s. I was told it was built to provide the town with some “social standing.” It’s still “standing.”

It was a very pretty drive through the Humboldt National Forest.

Caliente has a really beautiful Union Pacific Train Depot — Spanish-style architecture.

At 8:15 pm, I was at the Oak Springs Summit, elevation 6,237. As I drove down the mountain, I saw a very unusual sight with the sun where there was a big, dark, low-hanging cloud, and the sun was peeking out from under it, just lighting one part of the landscape and some mountains. There was also a dark sky above me, and the view of the road and landscape just ahead and to the side of me was black. I jumped out to take some photographs, but it was impossible to capture it the way my naked eye saw it. I assume a true professional photographer would have known how to set the shutter speed and aperture to more effectively photograph this, but it may be one of those things that just can’t be photographed to deliver the same impact. It was a stunning sight — can’t think of a better word to describe it than stunning.

It certainly was an interesting drive today; I didn’t see many cars or people. There were very few towns, and it was an easy road to drive with pretty scenery — peaceful. Not counting Major’s Place that is.

At 9:13 pm, I noticed the temperature gauge, and it showed 95 degrees as I descended the mountain toward Vegas. I believe this would make it the warmest it has been. I watched the thermometer increase by one degree each minute for several minutes.

I passed my 13th car of the trip at 9:38 pm. Ten minutes later, I was pretty sure the glow I saw coming from the other side of the mountains was the lights of Las Vegas. And 10 minutes after that, I saw a sea of light. It was really an incredible sight driving in…I’ve never driven in to Las Vegas before at night. There’s just pitch black, and then you have lights for as far as your eyes can see from one direction to the others. No other place is like this, at least I don’t think there is. It just appears in the middle of nowhere.

I checked into the hotel at 10:30 pm — a long day of 546 miles. 25,649 on the odometer.

I walked around The Strip for a while. Las Vegas has gotten much prettier and much classier over the last 20 years!

What did I learn today? I guess I was reminded of a lesson I have learned throughout this trip: history is fun. I have really enjoyed learning the history of various things we have seen on the trip, whether historical or Quirky in nature. I never liked history in school. As I think back on it, I feel like the teachers were too concerned with having us memorize dates and places, and they didn’t focus on the big picture or motivate us by conveying to us why history is so important. If my history teachers did so, and I missed it, I apologize, but I just didn’t “get it” back in junior high and high school.

When I have trained managers in my various business enterprises over the years, I have taught that a manager must be a filter. A manager must filter all of the information that he or she receives about an issue, and then make decisions based upon filtering the information against their experiences in the business and as a manager. We all know and have experienced only so much, so we do the best that we can with what we have to work with. We make decisions in life the same way, and I believe the more history that we know, the better positioned we are to make decisions. I’ve mentioned this before, but I decided early on that I always felt it was best to have a gray-haired doctor and a gray-haired attorney. The older guys have more experience, and I value experience. And as I was once advised, the young men know the rules, but the old men know the exceptions. Any way you cut it, history is good to know, and it makes traveling so much more fun.

The Daily Journal of Round America:

Each day, we collect our thoughts on a web page just like this. We drop in some of the photos from the day. Our goal with the Daily Journal is to write about the towns we visit, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat. We write about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, but we also make observations about what we’ve seen and done as well as about life in general.

You can follow our travels from the Daily Journal section of this website. Other pages of interest include the running report of “vital statistics” on the Trip Scorecard, our nominations for the Best & Worst of the trip, as well as a rating of the pie we eat. If you’d like to see information for a specific state or town, click here, and then click on the state of interest, and the full itinerary is shown.


More Information on the Sights Visited Today:
Salt Lake City Utah — Anniversary Inn — Shrine to the Virgin Mary on a Tree Stump — Salt Air Resort — The Great Tree in the Great Salt Desert — Bonneville Salt Flats — Ely Nevada — Pioche Nevada — Las Vegas Nevada