The Long Drive- Desert to Beach, Utah to California

Well, we’ve wrapped up the first two chapters of this fantastic journey, the mountains and the desert; now, on to the final chapter, the beach! Why can’t I get a magic beam to pick the RV up with all of us in it and plop us down in northern California? I don’t want to do the drive, whaaaa!

Maps put the voyage at 16hrs but that was most certainly not going RV speeds and with an infant. It took waayyyyy longer than that. We stayed over at Salt Lake in Utah, Elko and Reno in Nevada, and Nice and Willits in California.

I actually hate driving, I know, I know, strange choice of vacation for someone who hates to drive, but the experience when we get to each place makes it so worth it. I’ve always hated driving cars but highway driving in a high profile vehicle that sways in the wind, or when a truck overtakes it, has taken my dislike to a whole new level. I’d been dreading this long drive a bit because of the truck wind sway but as I got closer to the drive, I was also worried about some pre-winter storms in the forecast.

I drove north from San Rafael Swell towards Salt Lake City a day early to avoid the first of the storms, which promised to bring with it sustained winds of 30-40 mph and gusts up above 50 mph.

I loved the stop over in Salt Lake because I stayed with my friends, Bill and Linda Hoge. Bill hired me to work at Snowbird way back in the spring of 2005 and has been a trusted advisor and support to me ever since. Bill and Linda opened the Snowbird Pharmacy in 1971 and together created many a legacy at the ski resort, including that they sold the only Coca Cola in an otherwise all-Pepsi resort, a move that forever endeared them to at least half of the Snowbird employee and guest population. By the time I met Bill they’d sold the business to Snowbird and he’d stayed on as Retail Director. Thanks for hiring me all those years ago, Bill!

You may remember Bill and Linda from my Continental Divide Trail posts as I stayed with them at their cute cabin at the south end of the Wind River Range; here those are if you’re interested in a trip down memory lane: South Wind River Range (Big Sandy, WY to Atlantic City, WY) and Great Divide Basin (Atlantic City, WY to Rawlins, WY).

As luck would have it, I was passing through town for Bill’s birthday and Linda had made a delicious dinner (as she always does) and cake that they shared with me. It was so wonderful to see them both and Millie of course loved all of the extra attention and especially that she had a big carpeted room to roll around in. Thanks Bill and Linda, I’m going to miss you both so much! I’m very glad I stayed over too because the wind was fierce and I woke up to a bit of snow the next morning!

I had some errands to run in Salt Lake, including Millie’s 6 month medical appointment and another of Atlas’ pre-export vet visits, and so I didn’t hit the road until after 5 p.m. Driving out of Salt Lake at sunset was really pretty. I felt a buzz of excitement as I headed west on 1-80 because for 17 years i’ve been seeing the sign to Reno but have never ventured further west than the next mountain range over, the Stansbury Mountains.

I’ve done some wonderful trips in the Stansbury Range, here’s a post I wrote about hiking the length of that mountain range: Stansbury Front Trail. It’s also where I took Atlas for his first ever backpacking adventure! I loved reading back over this post of Atlas’ first trip and some of his puppy pics, boy how he’s grown: Introducing Atlas, Adventure Pup! Wonderful memories. A local PT clinic even asked me to be in an advertisement for them a bunch of years ago and so I took a film crew from Park City TV camping up there one time too. I haven’t looked at that advertisement in years, here it is if you want a good laugh! Oh the memories! Of everything my life in Salt Lake exposed me to, my backpacking adventures are what I’m most fond of. I’ve loved basing out of Salt Lake for so many epic trips.

I digress. As my good friend, Paul, said to me recently, I just went way down a rabbit hole with another story. 🙂 I think those that prefer a brief story stopped reading my blog long ago, so if you’re still here, and I know between 50-80 of you are each time I post, I hope you enjoyed yet another excursion into the life of Kate. haha.

So where was I? Yes, driving out of Salt Lake. Reno here we come! The sunset and the memories kept me company as I headed west. So long Salt Lake and Utah, it’s been a blast.

I don’t think I’ve talked about how awesome Millie is when we’re driving now that we’re in a routine? This girl is a very predictable creature of habit, I can always count on 2-3 hours of driving at 11 a.m, which happens to be checkout time at most RV parks. I’m one lucky mama! That window has gotten me around Colorado, Arizona and Utah but I was really unsure how this massive drive was going to go because I needed to get in more than 2-3 hours days or it would take me forever to get to the coast. Hmmm. In addition to the wind, I’d also been worried about this dynamic too.

I drove a couple of hours to Wendover where I stopped for gas and to stretch my legs. Millie woke up and so I parked out the back with all of the big trucks and made some dinner and entertained Millie. It was 8 p.m., her bedtime, but she’d just slept 2 hours so I wasn’t sure what was going to happen here. She was definitely not ready to get back in her car seat and go to sleep and so we played and read some books until finally I got back on the road at 10:30 p.m. Argh.

I was really tired when I pulled into the RV park at 12:30 a.m. but got great satisfaction looking at the little blue dot on the maps app that showed i’d made a good dint in the drive and had made it across Utah and part way across Nevada. Yay, 4 hours and 1.5 states down!

The forecast called for 25 mph winds with gusts to 40 mph the next morning and so I decided to sleep in late and hit the road early afternoon. The RV park had a truly tiny doggy exercise yard. I tried throwing Atlas his ball but even he looked at me like it was a pointless activity. Hang in there Atlas, we’ve got endless sandy beaches to stretch your legs on at the other end of this drive!

The wind subsided a bit and Millie was ready for a nap at about noon and so we hit the road. The wind wasn’t too bad but I had to keep my speed down to about 60 mph to feel safe driving through the gusts. It was more of the same, mile after mile of straight roads and barren landscapes. It sounds boring when I put it that way but I actually really love these big wide open spaces and find them conducive to creative thinking.

I stopped for gas and to give everyone a break about half way to Reno. Millie was ready to party again after sleeping for nearly 3 hours already and so we found a spot next to a small grassy patch in the McDonalds parking lot to spend some time. Atlas chased his tennis ball, I ate McDonalds (it’s just as bad as the last time i had it) and Millie rolled around and played with her toys. It was a few hours later that Millie was finally ready for another nap and so we hit the road again about 8 p.m.

I’d been driving for a few hours again and was about 15 minutes out of Reno when Millie woke up. The RV park I had reserved at was on the other side of town and about 30 minutes away still, too long to let my sweet girl cry. I pulled over to give Millie a feed and some loving and it was after midnight before we hit the road again. It’s nice doing this trip in an RV because I can make coffee and use the bathroom without having to leave our vehicle, nice during COVID and definitely made me feel safe for some of these late night stops.

I was beat when I pulled into the RV park at nearly 1 a.m. but at least my girl didn’t have to cry.

I woke up in the morning in an RV park behind the Boomtown Casino in Reno. Not a place I thought I’d ever find myself, ha. Happily I was also very close to the California border, yay, I was about half way there now and 2 states down. Hooray! Finally too a large patch of grass; Atlas got to chase his tennis ball until he was good and tired.

We hit the road at 11 a.m. and were blessed with a glorious sunny blue sky morning to cross the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The slopes were blanketed with fresh snow and I wondered how all of my former ski resort counterparts were doing as they looked towards opening their resorts for the ski season. I haven’t spent much time in the Sierra Nevada unfortunately, I flew out here for a few days for an industry conference at Squaw Valley about 6 years earlier and that’s been it. If I return to this part of the world though I’d like to do it in the summer and hike the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Sierra High Route if we’re really on our game. Millie’s got some growing to do though first! Ha. C’mon Millie, get those little hiker legs going!

The drive today was very scenic and windy (curvy), a stark contrast to the barren windy (the wind) plains of Utah and Nevada. Why are those two words spelled the same way? English must be such a confusing language to learn as second language.

I’d booked a waterfront spot at an RV Park on the north end of Clear Lake. I was so happy to pull in at the relatively early hour of 7 p.m! Yay us.

We woke to a beautiful albeit foggy lake view from our bedroom window. After staying by 1-80 the past couple of nights it felt so nice to be looking at something scenic again for our morning routine. Atlas even got to chase his tennis ball in a lake again instead of a roadside strip of grass. Happy Atlas.

I realized that morning that I was a whole day ahead of where I needed to be. My reservation at Westport Beach didn’t start until Saturday and so I found us a campground in a redwood forest near Willits to kill another day, the best part… it was only an hour away! I think all of us were ready to be done with the long driving days.

We had a nice afternoon walking in the redwoods. It was so nice to stretch our legs and breathe some fresh air and NOT be driving!

The final stretch of the drive was very scenic but extremely curvy. The first half from Willits to Fort Bragg traveled through dense redwood forests and the second half along the rugged northern California coast.

I had a BIG grin on my face as I turned off the Pacific Coast Highway onto the bumpy dirt road to Westport Beach, we’d made it! I turned around and shouted out some whoop whoop’s to Millie and Atlas. So proud of both of my kiddos for being so patient with me on this drive.

Let the final chapter of our trip begin! I’m so excited for a month on the California coast.

Thanks for reading. -Elevated

One thought on “The Long Drive- Desert to Beach, Utah to California”

  1. Awesome! I was picturing that whole drive. 😊 That is a long one. I’m glad you found i80 through Nevada to be meditative. I’m not too keen on that stretch of hwy. It puts me to sleep. You’ll have to visit Tahoe sometime; it’s beautiful! That drive from Willits to Fort Bragg is a nausea inducing one. But reaching the coast is lovely.

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