Virginia City Nevada USA

Ghost town 👻

Reno Nevada USA

The Biggest Little City In The Worid

Roaming the USA – Reno to Yosemite

If you have been viewing my website at endlessroaming.com you would learn I have been blogging and photographing about my 8-month road trip around the earth in 2019. This is the ultimate stage, my 4-week road trip heading south towards Las Vegas (later home), but first would be Reno “The Biggest Little City in the World”.

I headed out of Boise early in the morning, worse for wear after a late-night taking the city; a 7-hour drive to Reno along routes with limited traffic and broad clear and empty landscapes. Highway 95 onto 80 was not the most exhilarating of adventures, even though with no cops in the area cruising between 80 two 100 miles an hour was kinda fun. I drove it to Reno and checked into my casino mid-afternoon with the scorching sun and desert heat kicking in.

Now Reno to the uninitiated has a populace of a quarter-million, the downtown area comprising casinos much like its bigger cousin Las Vegas to the south. The reason Id come here was I’d visited previously on a weekend and had a wonderful time. It’s also a cheap city (see the previous blog regarding the $AUS vs. $US dollar) and with budget accommodation, diners, pawnshops, antiquing and of course beer. It was midweek, the casino Id booked looked very similar to the others. With not much action happening, just the modest throng of gamblers sitting on slot machines spread about the area and slouched over video card poker machines at the bars.

Thomas Flyer

Id booked 2 nights, so I had one complete day to see what I could see; my first destination was the National Car Museum to check out the broad array of motor cars they had on display. Most of these automobiles were from the 1930s and earlier and includes the renowned Thomas Flyer that won the 1908 New York to Paris Car Race. After an hour peering at automobiles, I wandered to the Mid-Town area to shop in a few of the antique clothing stores with an amazing array of clothes and costumes. The store owner revealed that Burning Man Festival was starting on the weekend and sales had been superb. I purchased a few retro items and on impulse booked into a tattoo studio to get some ink done. The artist finished up a few hours, so I headed back to my room having enjoyed the day.

 In the evening I dined at a casino restaurant, hunched myself over a bar and played video card poker, speaking to the occasional American tourist hunched over their machine. After half a dozen complimentary beers and having a slight buzz in my head, I went to check out the neon that is Reno Downtown. Much like inside the casino outdoors gave me a sense that time has remained still in Reno. Old casino signs surrounded me lighten up in translucent colours painting the streets including Reno’s famous street sign. They painted these 1960s-70s style buildings in neon lights so Downtown was nicely lit. There were some homeless walking around and a few tourists, but I felt like I was on the city alone, it was a peculiar sensation feeling alone. I appreciated the curious sense (maybe it was the beer). Reno midweek wasn’t anything like Reno weekend from my past visit here in 2012, or maybe Burning Man had swept the crowd away. After a few hours, I headed back to the hotel, bought a sandwich and zoned out in front of the TV.

The following day I was back on the road for a small distance drive to Lake Tahoe for the evening. As it was a short distance, I got off the Interstate and headed up the mountains to a ghost town “Virginia City”. Now my terminology regarding Ghost Town is abandoned which Virginia City isn’t, there it means haunted. Built-in the 19th century it’s an old mining town made up of Victorian buildings culminating on the high street. It was very touristy though there weren’t many tourists, the place had a Wild West looking appeal to it. There were plenty of store fronts draped in antique flags and tourist stores selling merchandise such as antiques, street signs (which I love) and boiled lollies. I walked up and down the high street to the deserted railway and graveyard, took a few pictures and after a few hours continued onto Lake Tahoe.

I loved Lake Tahoe even though I had only one night (I want to go baaack). The drive is over the Sierra Nevada which had fantastic views of the valley below and plenty of sweeping turns which I love. If you have been reading my blog you would be aware I’d been driving for about 3 week.  If you don’t know by now I love to drive fast and including cornering. Once over the top, I continued the drive through the forest which is dense (no sign of the lake) and then arrived at the central street heading into town. The California summer was in full swing so as soon as I checked into my hotel I was down to the Lake for a swim and suntan, another favourite thing of mine.

Lake Tahoe is around 500km in diameter, you can’t see the other side of it, to me it was more an inland sea. There were plenty of people on jet skis and kayaks swanning about the area, after a few hours I walked to my hotel. I then headed to the downtown area. Being Nevada there were lots of casinos which I avoided, I went through the ski like resort complex where most tourists were hanging out, purchased a few graphic t-shirts. Then headed to a local bar for corned beef (yum) and chatted with every friendly person at the bar. I was then directed me to a Tiki bar on the lake shore to suck down a few suds and watch the sunset; it was beautiful. I said adieu to my new mates and headed off to bed as I appreciated I’d be going tomorrow.

Up early the following morning and earnestly looking at the Tiki bar I headed out again for my next destination, Yosemite National Park, I was staying positive. Now I love Yosemite, Id visited there as a child with my parents and back in 2012 where I stayed in the park overnight. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be staying there this time so I had the whistle-stop tour of Yosemite, 5 hours in and out starting at the Western Entrance to the park. Heading up the scenic mountains, I used my trusty National Park Season card and was into the park, along with thousands of other visitors. I won’t go into what a special place Yosemite is as words can’t describe it. The distance from the park entrance to Sentinel Dome and back was roughly a 6-hour turnaround. In the park, I looked at the amazing mountains, landscapes, didn’t see much wildlife as I believe tourists may have scared ground animals off, bought graphic t-shirts. I drank a coffee, sandwiches were excessively high so went hungry, took selfies and then drove back out, better described in pictures.

Yosemite is best described in images

I then continued my drive onto Mammoth Lakes where I was staying for the evening which I’ll cover in the next blog highlighting through Nevada and its Ghost Towns. The last few days have been full of the long-distance road hauls, casinos, tattoos, shopping, the beach and epic Yosemite better described in pictures than with my haphazard grammar. Id found the closer I was to Las Vegas, the sadder I was feeling as my 2019 Roam around the globe was coming to its eventual end. Hope you enjoyed this read, Ill have a new blog out soon and as always feedback is welcome.

From Pure Salt Lake City then Flooring it Across Bonneville Racetrack to Decadent Reno

The end was fast approaching for this American Road Trip and I still had a lot of distance, cities and national parks to get to. I was headed south of the Grand Teton, my destination Salt Lake City for a few nights. The drive itself was roughly 5 hours south and uneventful, stopping off for some lunch somewhere in Idaho but with no time to take a look around it was back in the car arriving at the hostel. There was no one in the common area so I showered and walked towards the city in the late afternoon.

If you have no awareness of Salt Lake City it’s the chief headquarters for the Mormon otherwise known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Visiting here is like heading to the Vatican for Catholics. The city was founded in 1847 and is named after the Great Salt Lake adjoining the city by those people escaping religious persecution in the old American West. My personal experience with Mormons is meeting members from far and away visiting my local area in Sydney dressed in black and white attempting to hand me a leaflet and engage me in a conversation about their church. This church is not something I have ever found particularly interesting but as I was in the area and had come from a great distance I thought to find out more.

The first tourist site I came across on my evening walk was Mormon headquarters itself, Temple Square, a large 35-acre park made up of 13 buildings, museums, churches and visitor centres and parks in a very pleasant setting. There were a lot of people walking the grounds and I was free to roam in and out of the buildings, it’s quite an impressive structure and was built from a local white stone quarry that was blasted in the area during the beginning of the city’s foundation. The use of the stone means the structures are almost pure white giving Temple Square an almost shiny shimmering appearance looking like something from a fairy tale, I was quite impressed with it. I spoke to a Mormon priest for a while who as quite sociable, he was a fellow Australian and showed little interest in the fact I was Agnostic or converting me to his church but more about what was going on back in Australia where he had not been for in quite a long time.

I headed into the downtown area, most of the buildings appearing just as white as the Temple itself, the city was quiet and I had some difficulty in finding a bar. Mormons don’t generally drink alcohol and the city has a population of approximately 3 million people, the number of bars is ratioed to this meaning there are roughly 300 bars in the city and wider area, not a lot considering the size of the city. Eventually, I found a bar I could settle into and engaged in conversation with a few of the locals who happened to be anti-Mormons. The partons still lived in the city, however, they had little to do with their respective Mormon families and chose I guess what you would consider a more traditional lifestyle such as my self. There is a nightlife in Salt Lake City, but it’s not like any other American city I’d been to where the scene centres around nightclubs, bars and alcohol.

The following day I headed to the Great Salt Lake State Park, almost like an inland sea there is very little natural vegetation with the exceptions of weeds and grass I assume to the salt content. It’s approximately 8500km square kilometres in size making it the largest lake in the USA. There are a lot of watersport activities including fishing and sailing at the jetty, also bison grazing on patches of grass. I spent the afternoon in the lake itself, with so much salt content I could float with very little effort and when I came out to dry myself off, my body was almost shimmering with salt and my shorts were as stiff as cardboard. I headed back to the hostel, spent a quiet night in and was back in the car the following morning heading west along the Great Salt Lake towards Reno Nevada.

The drive between Salt Lake and Reno is not particularly scenic as its mostly the lake then desert, there is however one iconic stop off that I decided to check out, the Bonneville Speedway. This is where land speed records are set and I decided that I’d attempt my own speed record. The surface of the speedway is flat, rock hard and goes for approximately 150km in distance. An added bonus is there were no police in the area and the only sign of civilisation was the petrol station adjoining the track. As indicated previously in my blog I had rented a Ford Mustang for my road trip and now decided to see what the car could do in a straight line. I floored the accelerator and the car reach 100km an hour in roughly 6 seconds and kept accelerating rapidly until it reached 180km per hour when the limiter on the engine kicked in and the car started to slow down to 170km. Unfortunately, I could not break my personal land speed record which I set seven years previously in Australia but it was a lot of fun and with a big grin on my face I continued my drive to Reno.

I arrived in Reno and headed to the casino that I was booked into and located in the centre of town, indeed the entire downtown area appeared to be casinos. After all the national parks, quiet nights and small towns Id visited it was nice to be in a city with a vibrant nightlife. I enjoy nightlife just as much as road trips and nature and “The Biggest Little City in the World” has a population of 250,000, unlike Salt Lake City downtown Reno appeared to be one large drinking area. Accommodation is cheap, there is plenty of gambling and entertainment for all ages, the place felt like it was trapped in the 1970s. I saw very little in the way of new, from the machines to the poker tables to the carpets to the wall fixtures, it was all very retro and run down, I liked it a lot. My night involved a few restaurants, a lot of beers, some funny conversations with people who’d never heard my accent before and finally being talked into playing a game of Craps which involves dice and that’s all I really understood. I am not one for gambling and the fact I was indicated the beer was having the desired effect.

The following morning and with quite the hangover I had some breakfast and then walked around downtown. Apart from gambling there appeared little else to do, I found the National Automobile Museum and entered to mainly escape the heat. The museum itself is really interesting, it contains hundreds of vehicles from the turn of the century, and onwards, many of which being famous race vehicles, cars that featured in movies and those owned by celebrities including Elvis Presley, James Dean and Frank Sinatra.

I then headed to one of the pawn shops to have a look around, I purchased a watch, a few Zippo lighters and then enquired on the price on one of the assault rifles being displayed behind the counter. I enquired on the price of an M16 assault rifle which was $1400 and that my Australian driver’s license was enough proof to sell me the weapon. As I could not carry an assault rifle on my carry one back to Australia, I chose not to pursue the sale. Assault rifles are illegal in Australia and I don’t have any friends that own a gun of any sort. There are very different opinions regarding gun ownership in the USA compared to Australia and as I’m a travel blogger I won’t express my personal opinion on this.

That evening was much similar to my first so I won’t go into detail, the following morning I was back in the car and heading south. I’d enjoyed the religious and cleanliness of Salt Lake City as much as the decadence and bright lights of Reno. I was passing the beautiful Lake Tahoe towards California and Yosemite National Park, unfortunately, I had no time to explore the area as my road trip across the USA was quickly approaching the end and there was still a few more natural wonders to go…