The San Francisco---Reno---Markleeville---San Francisco Loop
So, I've lived here for over ten years and never made a trip to Reno (for the record I've also never stopped in Tahoe for more than an hour) and for whatever reason Franklin found this shocking and determined that we should go. Our first attempt was made a few years ago after a screening of "The World's Fastest Indian" and a couple of good idea inducers at the Geary bar, but was foreshortened by the first death of Old Bluey somewhere outside Davis and the subsequent pushing of the deceased vehicle off the highway by a CHP officer who didn't seem to care or question where we were going at 4 in the morning and didn't bother to ask if we were married before shoving us into the parking lot of a Motel 6---thus, our fledgling love was once again relegated to a crappy motel room, but alas not in Reno. Anyhow, I digress. On this particular trip we decided to head up I-80 on a Friday, stay the night in Reno and then find a nice spot to camp on Saturday, hopefully hitting a hot spring along the way, returning home Sunday via the 50. The first part led us to a cheerful fleabag called the Heart O'Town Motel.
Luckily this was the smaller of the two beds.
But hey, a little champagne livens up even the dullest rooms.
Bundled up and walked down the strip to grab some dinner at the Nugget diner, a tiny counter home to the "Awful, Awful Burger" and other greasy deliciousness. Cheap tasty eats with an air of seediness wafting in from the casino. So far so good. Slipped a few bucks in the slots and had a few "free" drinks, but each time I looked at them the empty gaming tables seemed more depressing than inviting. Maybe it was the late hour or the wind howling outside, but the lack of fellow gamblers made everything seem sordid and plague-tainted.
Still, the empty streets were nice.
Awoke to a cold gray morning and, after thinking better of another meal at the Nugget, we grabbed some gas station coffee and motored off to the outskirts of town to pay a visit to the Wilbur D. May Museum.
Which turned out to be totally amazing. I'd only read a bit about the place and figured it'd be good for some taxidermy kitsch, but it turned out to be an incredible window into the the sort of life we don't see much anymore. Like my man Halliburton, Wilbur May spent his life exploring and traveling into the unknown, but there's something that sets him apart and makes his story sweeter and more personal. His father was the founder of May Co. Department Stores so he was born into money in 1898 (hard to spend your life traveling the world without it), but at birth one of his legs wasn't quite right, "lame" being the medical term popular at the time. Rather than keeping him down, his handicap led him to believe that any obstacles could be overcome with the proper encouragement and sparked in him an attitude of charity, especially towards children who he though merited the most support of all. So, along with being a world-traveling collector, successful businessman, artist, pilot, composer and big game hunter, the man was also an incredible philanthropist, supporting a variety of children's organizations and the Wilbur D. May Foundation. Who does that sort of thing anymore?
The collection he amassed was pretty unbelievable too. Forty some odd trips around the world in the early 20th century and you're bound to come up with some serious treasure and at least one shrunken head. The black and white photographs of him in the wilds of New Guinea made me jealous.
The museum even re-created some of the rooms from the Double Diamond, the ranch outside Reno where he finally settled with his wife in 1936 to become a rancher (a philanthropic one, at that) until he passed away in the1982. Can you imagine if this was your living room? After a few highballs I think it'd turn into a Peter Sellers routine where I'd see the heads turning out of the corner of my eye and the elephant-foot ash tray wouldn't be where I'd left it.
I liked the sort of motor court/log cabin look of the bedrooms, though.
Took off again and ventured on a little side trip to Virginia City, another ghost town I remembered visiting as a kid (family vacations weren't complete without them), but unfortunately it turned out to be less rough-and-tumble and more sweatshirt-selling and-old-tyme-photo-taking than I'd thought. Its only about a three blocks of "town" but its jam packed with touristy shlock and all the good stuff (historical and booze-related) is tucked in between "The Potpurri Peddler" and "Mrs. Cinnamon's Muffin Shoppe" and other such crap. Even the famed "Suicide Table" who's advertising billboards adorn the highway all the way from Reno at what must be 1/4 mile intervals getting more and more exclamatory at each step managed to leave us feeling disappointed, not for the three gamblers who allegedly kicked their own buckets, but for the utter lack of blood or bullet holes or anything remotely creepy one would expect from a famed "Suicide Table". In fact, the only blood to be seen anywhere was across the street at the Bucket of Blood Saloon and even there it looked and tasted like beer. Maybe I shouldn't complain, at least there was a saloon.
Got thrown in jail for whining, but luckily escaped to the nice cluttered antique shop next door. Found some not terribly overpriced trinkets and Franklin got a sweet old Pendleton, so the detour wasn't for naught. To be fair, we didn't have time for any of the mine tours and maybe that would've made Virginia City more worth while. Still the Disneylandification of ghost towns kills me. I mean, these are places built on blood, sweat, tears and a whole lot more blood, not to mention guns, theivery, gambling and a good smattering of industrious "ladies". They may as well put a mini Watts in between Tomorrowland and the Matterhorn.
Scarfed our penny-stick candy and lit out for the highway, hoping we could still make it to Markleeville (our last minute camping decision) by dark. Not that far distance-wise, but there's nothing like a winding two-lane road to keep things slow.
Got there just in time to gather supplies and take a dip in Grover Hot Springs. Nothing fancy, just a nice big mineral pool out under the clear blue sky. Its only a couple bucks and they even rent towels and swimsuits if you left yours hanging by the shower.
A warm fire on a cold night must be one of the best things in the world.
To home again, home again.
Need a Reno Nullification? Gone are the days of quickie divorces (at least the ones I'm seeing are pretty good and drawn out) but a quick trip to Reno might be fun just the same. From the bay area you can take I-80 east all the way there and if you do go, a stop at the Wilbur D. May Museum is highly recommended. The Heart O'Town is not so much, nor its sister the Monte Carlo, nor for that matter is Virginia City, but if you absolutely must (and who knows, maybe the mines are truly amazing) you can head south from Reno on the 395, detour off on the 341, see the sights and then catch the 50 west when it ends. We ventured a bit further south to Grover Hot Springs (another recommended spot if you like camping and soaking without having to do much work for either), then took the 89 north back to the 50, thus creating the loop of which we spoke. Ta da.