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Author Topic: Colorado to Northern Pacific Coast (long)  (Read 1373 times)

The High Plains Traveler

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Colorado to Northern Pacific Coast (long)
« on: October 11, 2014, 01:09:34 PM »

4250 miles, 21 days. General route was I-25 to Cheyenne, I-80 west across Wyoming, and I-84 to Portland. Then I-5 and Washington state and county roads to the coast at Raymond. South on U.S. 101 down the Oregon coast and into California. At Geyserville, CA, turned inland on CA-128 and CA-29 to Napa. This was our base while visiting my wifeís cousin nearby and exploring San Francisco and the wine country. Coming home, we took I-80 east through Salt Lake City to U.S. 40, then 40 east to Dinosaur, CO. Finally, CO-64 and 139 to I-70 and Grand Junction, and U.S. 50 home from there.

Road Accomplishments
Clinched all of the western I-84, and combined with previous travel clinched I-80 in California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. If I can travel a short piece in Nebraska and from Des Moines to Moline, I will have I-80 from San Francisco to mid-Pennsylvania, making it the major E-W Interstate I have the best lifetime chance of clinching.

Road Observations
The highest point anywhere on I-80, a little over 8600 feet, is between Cheyenne and Laramie, only about 70 miles from the Nebraska border.   I-80 in Wyoming has a few segments with variable speed limits, all maxed out at 75. The first 80 mph segment we encountered was at Red Desert, westbound toward Rock Springs. The speed drops back to 75 near Rock Springs then rises to 80 again until near Evanston. U.S. 189 is marked on I-80 west of exit 18, consistent with Wyoming signage practice, but not in Utah (see below for further comment on this route). In Utah, the I-80-84 junction at one time had San Francisco and Portland in addition to SLC and Ogden for its control cities, but no longer (likely related to the original 80/80N designations).

North of Brigham City, the speed limit on I-15/84 rises to 80. Where I-84 and I-15 split, there is a diagrammatic arrow exit sign with ambiguous and inaccurate lane markings ( see my rant and a picture from GSV on Facebook). The speed limit remains 80 into Idaho and even through the interchange with I-86. This interchange clearly favors I-86 traffic (84 east/south is treated like a side route even though itís the through route), with only one lane merging into I-86 traffic westbound and not even a continuous lane for a distance to aid merging. The speed limit on 84 is 80 mph all across Idaho except through the numerous construction zones and around Boise. I was looking forward to seeing the 80 to 65 transition at the Oregon border, but there is a construction zone there on the Idaho side so itís already 65 there.

In Oregon, the speed limit is 65 on the interstate. Pulling the trailer, I was relieved to have a lower speed differential for when I needed to pass. Overall, traffic seemed to more or less comply with the speed limit even though trucks pretty much disregarded their 55 mph limit. The interstate climbs quickly from the Snake River valley through the mountains of eastern Oregon, and then there is a sharp descent into the Columbia River valley near Pendleton. I found the route pretty spectacular. At The Dalles, there is a rapid transition from desert to forested terrain. We stayed just east of Portland and completed the I-84 clinch the next day on a day trip through Portland.

From Portland, we took I-5 north to WA-506 west, then two county roads to Pe Ell and WA-6. We followed this route to our site west of Raymond. On a day trip, we followed WA-105 around its entire route (including the spur at Westport) to Aberdeen. Heading south, we followed U.S. 101 and its alternate bypassing the Long Beach loop to Astoria, OR.
Oregon signage is distinctive in some ways. The SPEED nn signs, omitting LIMIT, at first triggered a memory of Canadian MAXIMUM nn signage, and I found myself automatically doing metric conversions. Oregon also makes use of the SLOW sign, which I think of as a vestige of old road signage that isnít used today. They place it prior to curves with advisory speeds well below the speed limit, but also post the advisory speed on the curve warning sign. 101 is incredibly scenic with numerous opportunities to pull over to observe the beauty, but it is definitely not a route for anyone looking to move rapidly through Oregon. Still, many segments have been improved to include passing lanes. There are also some classic bridges along here with art deco style accoutrements, most notably the Newport Bay bridge and the Rogue River bridge.  Distance signs in Oregon are uniformly short distance; the first and only California destination is Crescent City, which appears on signs near Brookings.

The northern California coast section of U.S. 101 changes character frequently, from two lane to short freeway segments to very old two lane alignments with sharp curves, no shoulders, and redwoods standing right at the edge of the pavement (the first of these is just south of Crescent City). Finally, south of Ukiah the road stays divided. The freeway segments now uniformly have exit numbers, many of which were added by putting small exit tabs on top of existing signage rather than trying to incorporate it into the main sign panel. We took CA-128 at Geyserville, and I was a little surprised to find a narrow, winding road with a 45 mph limit and sharp drop-offs on both sides. There is a lot of traffic through the Napa Valley, and my GPS routed me onto Silverado Trail, which parallels CA-29 to the north, into Napa. In general, Napa Valley roads are narrow and congested, and there is no qualitative difference between county and state-maintained roads.

We took a day trip into and through San Francisco. I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time in many years. Tolls on this are now only collected electronically, and Iím still waiting on my bill from the toll authority. Hint: a full-size pickup is not an ideal vehicle for navigating heavy city traffic, though it does act somewhat as a deterrent to aggressive taxi drivers (shouting into their cell phones in Arabic). The new Bay Bridge is also magnificent; we had a chance to revisit it at night, and its lighting is pretty awesome.
Returning home, this was the first time I had driven Ė excluding trips with my parents Ė I-80 from Sacramento up Donner Summit. The transition to forest occurs as soon as the 2000 foot elevation level as you climb from the valley. I reflected that once I climb the summit, I never drop below 4000 feet all the way home, a distance of over 1100 miles. I have previously traveled I-80 from Reno east across Nevada. Nevada seems a little conservative with their speed limits, and I wonder if they would consider an 80 mph limit on I-80, especially considering the mountain range crossings east of Winnemucca. The limit goes up to 80 right at the Utah border at Wendover, dropping to 75 near the UT-201 interchange west of SLC.

We went through SLC and up the mountain to the U.S. 40 interchange. Even though U.S. 189 is officially concurrent with U.S. 40 here, it is not marked on the exit, nor on U.S. 40. The first mention comes at the intersection with 189 at Heber City; and looking back at the westbound sign, the arrow only indicates 189 going left, not straight on 40. U.S. 40 east of Heber City is another route I hadnít driven as an adult, and itís also pretty spectacular scenery. Fall colors were at peak along here,  end of first week of October. It also has numerous passing lanes, but also a lot of aggressive tanker truck drivers heading east to the gas production areas. Vernal has become quite the boom town with the energy development in the region, with a lot of familiar big box stores you wouldnít expect to see in this remote part of the state.

Finally, we reentered Colorado, headed southeast on CO-64 to CO-139, then south to Grand Junction. There is quite a steep, winding segment of this highway, leading to a pass that then takes us down through the Book Cliffs to the Colorado River valley.  Home over the very familiar U.S. 50 and Monarch Pass. Again, excellent fall colors around the 7000-9000 foot levels including Gunnison.  I never appreciated a shower I could run nonstop without worrying about the hot water running out from a six gallon water heater.

We had no mechanical issues on the trip, but had one alarming moment when we returned late after a concert to the trailer while in Napa, and found a spreading puddle of water on the floor. In the morning, I was able to determine it was a leaking PEX tubing tee under the kitchen cabinet. Fortunately, I was able to reach it, I have experience working with PEX plumbing, and we were a mile from a Home Depot. One push-on brass tee fitting later, it was fixed. If it had been in an inaccessible location and we had lost running water, that would have crippled our utilization of our travel home.
"Tongue-tied and twisted; just an earth-bound misfit, I."


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