Crossing the Great Basin

West of Salt Lake City, Interstate 80 passes between the north end of the Oquirrh Range and the Great Salt Lake.  As we drove west, black-necked stilts were feeding in the roadside shallows, cliff swallows swooped about the highway bridges and flocks of California gulls moved across the morning sky.  Throughout western Utah, flat plains, remnants of Lake Bonneville, alternated with stark fault-block ranges, many of which were capped with snow.

In eastern Nevada, the ranges were more numerous and the intervening valleys were both rolling and green, covered by sage grasslands that were grazed by horses, cattle and pronghorn.  Just west of Wells, the highway began to follow the Humboldt River, passing the majestic Ruby Mountains; we would parallel that river all the way to Lovelock, where it enters its terminal sink.  Beyond that point, the greenery of eastern Nevada gave way to desert landscape, characterized by vast lake flats where American avocets patrolled the alkaline pools.  This low desert, lying within the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada, ended at Fernley where we climbed into the Sierra foothills along the Truckee River.  Passing through Reno, we continued westward and upward on Interstate 80 before turning south to Lake Tahoe.

Backed by the high spine of the Sierra Nevada, this beautiful lake is renowned for both its resorts and its fabulous alpine scenery; after a full day on the road,  it seemed like a great place to spend the night.  Tomorrow we head into the California Cascades.