550 Miles: West Wendover, Nevada to Las Vegas, Nevada
As much as we thought we had seen everything on Thursday, Friday proved to be an even bigger day as at every turn, we encountered one form of good fortune after another. And as usual, we got a late start as our hotel, the Wendover Nugget, lacked any sort of broadband, wired or wireless. Thus we had to drive across the border into Utah - and back into the Mountain Time Zone - to send off the text and images of yesterday's blog from the parking lot of the Heritage Hotel whose WiFi worked flawlessly.
This was going to be our longest day's drive on the trip. The original plan was to get into Las Vegas around 6 pm, meet up with the Mopars of Las Vegas group, grab a quick bite to eat, and get on the road by 9 pm. We were hoping we could arrive in Irvine with enough time to bag a few hours sleep before attending the weekly Cars and Coffee car show in the parking lot between the Ford and Mazda headquarters. But alas, it was not to be.
Since we were already deep in the heart of the Bonneville Salt Flats, home of numerous land speed records, we continued back to get a location shot of both Challengers next to the Bonneville exit sign before heading southwest on Alt US 93. Our first stop was scheduled for Chuck and Bessie's Stage Stop, a gas station, cafe, and grocery store in Lages Junction where Alt US 93 rejoins US 93. There, we were welcomed with open arms by Ruth Radford. Because of the great distances between gas stations, and the way that Buzz's 1970 Hemi guzzles dead dinosaurs, it's always a good idea to keep the tank topped off.
Continuing south on 93 towards Ely - pronounced "E-lee" - we had an opportunity to finally put the pedal to the metal on the new Challenger but you'll need to wait until the embargo lifts to get an idea of just how far we stretched the envelope. And as we approached Ely, we saw a helicopter landing just off to our right.
We stopped in and talked with pilot Scott Sinton of Sinton Helicopters to see if we could get him to buzz our two Challengers, just as happened in Vanishing Point. To our surprise he said he could hover over the cars for only 15 seconds, giving us a brief opportunity to shoot a priceless photo. We took some video of the pass as well, so as soon as we can get it edited, look for it to be posted here (hopefully on Wednesday when we are told that we will be able to post our full driving impression on the new Challenger).
Now as many of you know, it is legal to practice the world's second oldest profession in Nevada in certain licensed establishments, so we thought we would try to get a couple of the ladies to pose with our Challengers. In Ely, we took a short break at the Big 4 Club in Ely where Kristina Mendes was able to bring out two other girls who seemed all too happy to pose with the cars.
From Ely we headed west on US 6 towards Tonopah, which was another of the filming locations used in Vanishing Point. We were hoping to find an Extraterrestrial Highway sign marking the northern start of Nevada 375 in Warm Springs, just as there is at the southern start point north of Ash Springs, but we couldn't locate it. Because we were so tight on time, we decided to press on to Tonopah where we had one of the strangest encounters on our entire 3,000-mile journey.
We headed west; I was behind the wheel of the 1970 Challenger and as the vast expanse of the high desert unfolded before me, I imagined how Kowalski must have felt as he savored this view in Vanishing Point. In the background, George and I savored the rumbling soundtrack provided by 426 cubic inches of Hemi power. And going in the opposite direction we passed, of all things, a covered wagon. It seems that Finisa Medrano was spreading wildflower seeds in a one-woman effort to rewild the American West. To learn more about her efforts, visit her web site www.pullingforwildflowers.org. (It dawned on me that we represented opposite ends of the ecological spectrum: while Finisa rewilds Idaho, Nevada, and California, we are consuming vast quantities of fossil fuels.)
After a quick pit stop at Tonopah, Buzz climbed into the back seat of his Challenger while George videotaped Buzz and I talking about both Challengers as well as the trip. It will take a few days to edit this video, but keep checking back; we should have it up by Wednesday.
We motored in to Goldfield, which was the location of Super Soul's radio station in the movie. Goldfield is just a former shell of its boom time self but there is a beauty in its weather-worn starkness. And again, good fortune shined down on us as Sergeant Scott Johnson of the Esmeralda County Sheriff's Office stopped by to check out what our group of four strangers was doing in town. It turns out that Sergeant Johnson is the owner of a 1970 Charger R/T, and knew at first glance that we had motored into town in a 2008 Challenger so he indulged us with an impromptu photo shoot where the entire team was "arrested."
Now we were coming down the home stretch, approaching Las Vegas where the Mopars of Las Vegas would be waiting for us on the parking deck of New York, New York. Because we left Goldfield at about the time we expected to be in Las Vegas, we knew we needed to hustle if we were to arrive before the sun set. Buzz was running 3.73:1 gears, so we decided to up our speed in what would be a vain attempt to arrive in Las Vegas before sundown.
After passing many brothels along the way on US 95, we saw something else really strange heading northbound: Two cloaked, flat black Challenger development mules surrounded by a number of additional Chrysler vehicles, all sporting communications antennas. Having shot prototypes many times in the California Desert in the summer, I suspected that they were heading there, possibly for final tests on the upcoming six-cylinder version of the 2009 Challenger. Buzz and Holly were less than 30 minutes behind us, so we called as soon as we could get a reliable mobile phone connection. They were able to get positioned on the northbound side to shoot spy photos just as the second caravan passed by.
Even though he had promised himself to try to keep the revs below 4,000, Buzz gunned his 1970 Challenger, approaching the convoy and ultimately passing the surprised female driver of the second cloaked Challenger at more than 110 mph. Meanwhile Holly did his best to get a shot of the two vehicles together.
We're using our contacts at Chrysler to try to track her down in hopes that she'll provide a quote for the article that will appear in the July issue of Musclecar Enthusiast, which mails to subscribers on May 16th, as well as part of this blog when we are finally able to publish our own full driving impressions. (Subscribe to Musclecar Enthusiast)
When we pulled on to the parking deck at New York, New York, we were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of more than a dozen Mopar fans who had waited an extra two hours to see us end the day's leg. Several friends were on hand, including Brian Veit, who had made a similar journey with me two years ago on a Route 66 musclecar tour for Motor Trend Classic Magazine.
It didn't take long before security took notice of our gathering and asked us to leave. Thankfully, in the continuing spirit of the event, one of the Las Vegas Mopar members, Lexi Topper, works at The Orleans Hotel Casino and got permission to move our party over there. Lexi and her husband Stephen brought out their stunning Plymouth 'Cuda, pictured here.
It was after 10 before we packed up and said goodbye. Holly suggested a nearby Italian restaurant, Giuseppe's Bar & Grille on Durango Road, and after replenishing our own tanks, we set out for Irvine, California, just before 1 am.
It was by any definition, quite a day.