Performer: Neil Young
Songwriter: Neil Young
Original Release: Harvest
Definitive Version: Live Rust, 1978
When we last left our intrepid voyagers …
Some stories are really strung out (ahem), but that’s entirely the nature of the beast when you write not in chronological order. I last wrote about the senior-year trip Dad and I took in 1982 more than a year ago (Good ol’ No. 767), because no other songs from that trip fell between then and now.
So, when we last left our intrepid voyagers, we had skipped ahead to the L.A. portion of the vacation. This was another song that Jane’s son Doug played that night, but we’ll get back on chronological track, at least as far as that particular vacation goes.
Dad and I arrived at Salt Lake City late in the afternoon and went straight to the lake. Aside from the Atlantic Ocean, the Great Salt Lake was the first body of salt-water I’d ever seen, and it certainly was unique for a number of reasons.
As the sun began to set behind the Stansbury Mountains, we took off our shoes and hiked out into the water, which was warm and briny. It didn’t smell like dead fish, but there definitely was a particular odor that bordered on the edge of being unpleasant.
We waded way out in the lake, 100 yards from shore, 200 yards, 300 yards. By now the water was almost up to my knees. I’d never been in a body of water so large that was so shallow. My understanding is that the deepest part of the lake is 33 feet, so I figured we probably could have hiked a mile out before it got over my head. We just tromped around for a while, and Dad took some great sunset pictures as the sky lit up in red and orange.
One other thing I remember was this bizarre, seemingly Arabic themed, well, not a casino, but some sort of resort building that was built close to the shore. I’ve since learned that it’s a place called Saltair that has had a rocky history since it opened in 1981. In fact when we were there, it was closed due to flooding.
After spending the night just outside of the city in our first hotel since Denver, we embarked on what easily was the longest and dullest day of the vacation—the epic drive from Salt Lake City to Reno, Nev.
If you’ve never taken that drive, the indication of what lies ahead is the first road sign you encounter after you leave Salt Lake City on I-80. It’s a mileage sign, and the first town is Wendover, Utah, at the Utah-Nevada border. It’s 110 miles to there. The town below is Reno; the distance: 510 miles. Another first. I’d never seen a city more than 200 miles away on such a sign.
The reason for this became evident over time: There literally is nothing between Wendover and Reno. OK, that’s not enitrely true, but it’s close. Anyway, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.
The first part of the world’s most nothing stretch of highway actually is interesting. It was through the Bonneville Salt Flats, which, of course, used to be all salt lake in prehistoric times, and the road through it is as flat and straight as you can imagine. I’m not exaggerating much to say that if there’s no traffic you could set up the car to steer itself and not drive off the road.
And even if you did, you’d just zip across the salt flats for miles before you ran into anything. There were no trees, no plants, no nothing but white powder—salt. We stopped to take some nutty pics.
After Wendover, dullness set in. The sky, the mountains, the brush and the ground all seemed to have the same gray color. Whereas the mountains in Colorado and Wyoming are spectacular, the ones along I-80 are just … there. There’s nothing scenic about them.
I drove most of the way, because it was my turn, and the only time we stopped, aside for food, was along the road when we passed … well, I assumed it was a house, but who knows? It was this three-story building that looked like it could have been a cult church. Ramshackle might have been the word to describe it decades ago; now it was just bizarre. Saltair had nothing on this place.
It appeared that the owner picked up whatever garbage had been tossed along the freeway and hammered it to the side of his house. We stopped to take a picture to document and then stopped again a half-mile down the road. Apparently, the neighbor, not wanting to be left out, had began to doctor his modest one-story shack the same way. (I since learned that it’s this place.)
When we finally got to Reno, it was like reaching an oasis. Finally, civilization, if you can call Reno that. We stayed in a regular motel but went to Circus Circus for dinner. The only reason I remember that is a trapeze artist performed overhead. Dad and I played a few slots, and my first gambling experience left me with no desire for more.
San Francisco was the next stop. Ah, seafood. Now THAT’s something to which I could look forward.