Ken's Journal
No. 4 - Summer 2004

Council Bluffs, Iowa to Cedar City, Utah - 07/05 - 07/08/2004
Days 9-12 on the road.

  My route from Council Bluffs IA to Cedar City UT was west on I80 out of Council Bluffs, then south on I15 once I reached Salt Lake City UT. The total distance was some 1200 miles. I made overnight stops in North Platte NE, Rawlins WY and Coalville UT, just north of SLC, before reaching Cedar City UT on the forth day of travel.

The elevation increases substantially as you travel west on the plains - basically, you're going uphill for the next several hundred miles and your gas mileage suffers accordingly. Starting in Council Bluffs with an elevation o 985' you pass through Laramie WY at an elevation of 8800' and then descend to Cedar City to an elevation of 5700'.

The elevation will play a significant part in my activities for the next couple weeks. As you go up, the air gets thinner. At 10,000 feet, it takes some three lungs-full of air to get the oxygen you get with one lung-full at sea-level. So any physical activity leaves you puffing until your body acclimates.

The scenery of the Nebraska plains is mostly unremarkable - field after field of cattle grazing or wheat, corn or soybean crops under irrigation.  Ubiquitous are the spidery, truss like irrigation pipes on giant wheels swinging around a central pivot. Smaller fields have a long, modular irrigation pipe serving as the axle of bunch of smaller wheels spaced about 30 feet apart. This whole contraption is fueled by a large water hose attached in the middle or the end of the pipe and marches across a field linearly. Further west, as the elevation increases, you'll see a giant wind farm or two of giant windmills generating power from the constant wind. These things are a tree-huggers delight - except for the fact that whole flocks of migrating birds are decimated in flight by the spinning propeller blades. Oh well, just an unintended consequence of an otherwise good idea not fully thought out!! You might also notice these huge wooden or aluminum fences lined up along the interstate. These are snow fences. Most are only 8 feet tall but many are 12 feet tall and some are even 16 feet tall. All these snow fences are permanently installed. Does this tell you anything? Would you choose to live here in the winter?  

Nebraska is some 425 miles wide at the widest point - that's also about the length of I80 in Nebraska. In that distance, there are some dozen towns of any size - needless to say, the exits on I80 can be pretty far apart!

Other than for overnighters, I only made two stops on the way west.  The first stop was at a rather strange tourist trap stretched across the interstate -

The Great Platte River Archway.

You crest a slight rise on the interstate and you're faced with this covered bridge looking thing across all lanes. Always a fan of American kitsch, I took the next exit and came back on a service road to see what it was. Of the two pillars supporting the span, only one can be accessed. The one on the south side of the interstate is "empty" for future "expansion." The "covered bridge" part of the thing houses a two story diorama loosely paying homage to the western settlers and the subsequent development of the west. The outside pictures are not too good. The sky was heavy overcast and the lighting flat. The indoor pictures are better - considering there was no flash used and the camera was hand held.


  The north tower houses a gift shop and restaurant on the ground floor and an escalator taking you to the second floor where the diorama starts. You walk through the displays to the south side of the interstate, climb a flight or two of stairs and continue the tour back to the north side. Then another escalator brings you back into the middle of the gift shop (big surprise there). No one could explain the significance of the stainless steel flying horse sculptures on the roof of each tower.. This is one of the first displays in the diorama. This is supposed to show the struggles the settlers would endure in order to reach the "promised land."



This shows some of the "useless" belongings left beside the trail when the going got really tough and the load had to be lightened.


One of the last displays shows the more contemporary development of the west brought about by the "modern" traveler. Some of the people in this scene are real, some are not, some I wasn't sure.

  If you need some way to break the monotony of a drive across the plains, stop here. Admission is $9.00 and the gift shop has some unique items you may be hard pressed to find elsewhere. If you don't find the drive monotonous, then the rest areas are good enough for you.

After the Archway stop, I went on to spend the night in North Platte NE, one of the larger towns on I80. The next day featured a stop at Cabela's world headquarters in Sidney NE. It seems that this morning, I awoke in North Platte to temperatures in the 50's and realized I'd left all my sweatshirts laying on the floor back home. Anyhow, I'm a Cabela's fan and would've stopped anyhow. Two sweatshirts later and I'm on my way again!

That night I stop in Rawlins Wyoming after passing through the highest point on the trip so far with an elevation of 8800' near Laramie. Rawlins is a typical western high plains town - if it ain't irrigated, it don't grow - so most of the landscape is bare except for the occasional scrub desert plant. A rake will do you just fine to maintain your yard - just to smooth the footprints out of the gravel occasionally. The RV Park is all gravel and the wind is constant and dry.

The next day is slightly downhill so the driving is easier. I end the day in a little town in Utah called Coalville. Coalville is just off I84 just south of the intersection with I80. The  RV Park, and my site, is right next to the Weber River, apparently one of the top trout streams in Utah as the RV office sells fly fishing rods, reels and fly tying stuff. The Osprey must think the fishing is good too - just across the stream out of reasonable camera range is a pair of nesting Osprey. I can't see any chicks in the nest, but the adult birds are attentive enough to make me believe there are some young.

Next stop, Cedar City, just another 280 miles down the road. But first, it's decision time - do I go right through Salt Lake City or do I take a mountain pass to the east of the city to bypass the downtown. Since I haven't really tested the RV on 10% grades, I decide to try the downtown route. Besides, I've never been through Salt Lake City. I come into the city on I80 and take I215 South to I15 South. Traffic is light, not what I expected. I'm impressed with the amount of new construction on the roads and in the city itself. But it appears all the raw materials for the new concrete have come from a number of large surface mines to the east and west of the city. One mine to the west appears to have leveled several mountaintops and is miles long. Smaller surface mines to the east have done the same. These operations are all surrounded by huge piles of sand and gravel. What a shame to have a great view of leveled mountains and a denuded landscape.

The drive down I15 is uneventful and I make Cedar City by 4:00 pm.

Next, an off-road competition.


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