By Chuck Woodbury
I am planning a two-week road trip for later this summer, most likely from my home in Washington to Southern California and then back.
So I pulled out a map last night to figure out my route. The coast route is always tempting — it’s so beautiful — but last night I kept thinking about U.S. 395, which travels east of two magnificent mountain ranges, the Cascades and Sierra, on the western edge of America’s outback.
Out there, in the little-populated areas of Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California, the Frontier West lives. There is more “west” there than over the mountains to the west: city-slicker SUVs are replaced by pickup trucks, espresso stands by coffee shops, and computers by cowboys. The air is so crisp, clean and clear you can’t get enough of it. It’s especially fragrant after a rainstorm, when the aroma of sagebrush is better than any perfume.
IF YOU HAVE NEVER TRAVELED in these parts, I urge you to do so. U.S. 395 is one of the greatest north-south routes in the American West. With the exceptions of Spokane and Reno, most settlements along the way are too small for stoplights. It’s wide open spaces — ranch lands, pine forests and Great Basin desert — “daydream country” as you drive. Views of the Sierra mountains in northern California rival those of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Away from cities, the Milky Way looks like a giant cloud spread across the night sky. On a warm evening, grab a pillow and lay on your back on a picnic table or even on the roof of your RV and get lost in the heavens.
With rare exceptions the traffic is light and there are plenty of campgrounds, most on public lands. This route does not get a lot of publicity, but I’m telling you, it’s spectacular!