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User Content => Road Trips => Topic started by: oscar on March 17, 2013, 01:37:02 PM

Title: My cross-country road trip to and from California (Feb-Mar 2013)
Post by: oscar on March 17, 2013, 01:37:02 PM
I got back last week from a cross-country drive to southern California and back, which started a few days after the Super Bowl.

My outbound trip was on a generally southern route, though not far enough south to break out my usual travel attire of shirt, shorts, and flip-flops.  My target was to arrive in Death Valley National Park on February 14 for a few days of camping and hot springing with a couple hundred other soakers in the park's Saline Valley for the President's Day long weekend, but I still worked in some roadgeeking along the way.  After a detour from I-81 to clinch the remaining segments of US 11 in Virginia, I drove through Tennessee and covered the recently-completed TN 840 bypass around Nashville, as well as Sam Cooper Blvd. (former I-40 to Overton Park) in Memphis.  Then once in Texas, a dive down to Houston to snag a newly-designated part of I-69, then back north.  From Socorro NM, I took US 60 into Arizona instead of I-40, and there encountered my only snow on my trip in either direction -- enough to slow me down a bit, but nothing more than that.  Then over to US 93 and US 95 through Las Vegas, ending up in Bishop CA to overnight and finish preparations for the trek into Saline Valley.

The unpaved Saline Valley Road (within the national park, connecting CA 168 and CA 190) was a challenge, but I was ready for it and took it slow, averging about 15mph.  While Saline Valley's elevation is about 1000 feet, the North Pass segment of SVR tops 7000 feet, and is vulnerable to snow closures.  I brought snow chains, but I saw only a square foot sized patch of snow on the roadway.  The north entrance is posted for 4-wheel-drive, high clearance vehicles only, but while my pickup truck's high clearance came in handy, I didn't have much need to engage my four-wheel-drive.  The road gets minimal maintenance by Inyo County (the road was there before the national park was created), and over the past year has gotten a lot of washouts with only rough repairs by road users.  SVR's South Pass segment, which is less vulnerable to snow closures but also much rougher, is technically closed by the county and gets zero maintenance except by road users, though some Saline Valley campers still insist on taking it as a shortcut coming from the south.

After a delightful long weekend in Saline Valley, I covered some more of US 95 in Nevada, up to Fallon, before being chased back south by a snowstorm forecast.  The most interesting thing along the way (a pretty boring road otherwise) was a series of signs south of Hawthorne, not only designating the highway as the Veterans Memorial Highway, but dedicating specific quarter-mile or so segments to veterans of specific wars (World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, Persian Gulf War, Global War on Terror), making sure no still-living war veteran could feel left out.  I took photos of each sign, and may post them separately later.

I then drove back through Death Valley National Park, this time on its paved-road network, and over to Las Vegas and its Red Rock Canyon scenic loop, before zooming down to southern Orange County CA to visit my sister.  From there, I did a detour to the toll road along the border in northern Baja California (separate trip report already posted), on my way to some more hot springing and camping in southern New Mexico.

With more time to work with, and persistent high winds discouraging me from hanging around for more soaking, the rest of my trip home included a lot of shun-piking.  I took US 60 through eastern New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma to Neosho MO, where I picked up the newly-designated I-49 in Missouri.  Two observations on that road:

-- Texas has "left lane for passing only" (or "only for passing") signs on its multilane divided highways.  They seemed to do wonders for lane discipline, compared to the laxer neighboring states.

-- US 60, between Pampa TX and Enid OK, is pretty much a fast-food desert, with only a Pizza Hut and a Dairy Queen in Canadian TX where I overnighted.  Neither served breakfast, nor did my motel, so rather than search for a local diner open for breakfast, I gobbled down a crummy gas-station breakfast sandwich to tide me over until I could detour off US 60 to Woodward OK, which had a full selection of fast-food breakfast places. 

After boring drives on I-70 and I-64 to Indiana (except for glimpses of the project to relocate I-70 off the Poplar Street Bridge across the Mississippi), I picked up the newest segment of I-69 in Indiana, then from Indianapolis made my way over to Cincinnati to take the slow road US 22 across Ohio.  I was able to snag all of US 22 (including previously-covered segments from West Virginia to New Jersey), except for a few blocks I missed in downtown Cincinnati.  Then one more day, for me to get home.

About five and a half weeks and 12,000 miles on this trip.  Not the ideal time of year for even a southern cross-country drive (timing was driven by the President's Day weekend festivities in Saline Valley), and even with a fair amount of off-Interstate driving, after about a dozen cross-country drives this is getting old.  I'm mulling over how I can just leave my pickup truck out West on my next trip (as done by the rest of Saline Valley's small East Coast contingent), and fly out and back on future trips, to avoid additional slow slogs between the Appalachians and the Rockies.