We set off from Winnemucca on US-95 this morning and as we headed north, the amount of smoke and haze began to increase.
We stopped briefly at McDermitt on the Nevada-Oregon border. Lisa and travelswithkuma are standing in front of the Say When casino. In the near distance you can see the Oregon state line. In the far distance, the hills vanish into a smoky haze.
Lisa drove from McDermitt. I got out the camera. This photo sort of conveys some of the scene through which we drove today. US-95 through southern Oregon is mostly long straight stretches like this. The only good part about all of the smoke (and I don't think these photos show how much there was) is that it cut the sun a little bit.
It's not all boring flat road, though. After a while the road traverses some interesting geography as it approaches the small settlement of Rome Station.
Rome Station is a small restaurant/convenience store (four tables and a lunch counter), RV Park, and motel. It's a relatively isolated little place, but a welcome oasis on an otherwise desolate stretch of highway. Because the minivan continues to be hard to start when warm, we have to stop at least half an hour anytime we turn the engine off, so this would be our lunch stop.
These two signs are at the edges of the small town on US-95 southbound and northbound, respectively.
When we stopped to have lunch, Lisa noticed that a generator was running. When we went inside the cafe for lunch, the server told us that power was out to the entire town, and that everyone was on generators, but they had plenty of water and power. She didn't explain why the power was out, and she was so busy (the place was full) that we didn't have time to ask. We had lunch — second breakfast in my case, with their specialty Basque chorizo sausage and eggs. It was a nice little cozy place, and we were happy to have spent an hour there. (The minvan started right up, too.) Soon, we would learn the reason for the power outage and most of the smoke in the air.
North of Jordan Valley, Oregon, as the highway approached the Oregon border, we saw a warning sign for "Fire Activity Ahead," and soon thereafter we started seeing burnt land along the highway. It became evident that this was no small fire.
We later learned that this was the Soda Fire, currently as I write this the largest active fire in the USA, with over 1,100 square kilometers burned. If you click through to the incident map, you'll wonder why I'm still alive, because it looks like the whole of US-95 in this area is on fire; however, the incident map includes areas that have burned but are not currently burning. Presumably the road was closed not long ago, but not today, thank goodness.
We encountered numerous sets of utility workers replacing power lines. This is why there was no power back at Rome Station — the power poles had burnt down!
The burn seemed to go on forever, and the smoke was everywhere, although as I said above, it wasn't actively burning here. (The fire is burning to the east.) I'd intended to stop at the Idaho border for a picture, but it looks like the Welcome to Idaho sign was a victim of the fire.
I decided to shoot some video as well:
We are very lucky personally that the fire wasn't here today. It would have ruined our trip. As it was, it just made breathing difficult and our eyes water with the smoke.
We stopped at the convenience store at the junction of OR-55 and I took the wheel for the final leg east to Nampa.
Blessedly early, we got to Nampa and our hotel. I was not feeling well at all. The bronchitis I've been fighting all week, the heat, the smoke, and (we think) underdone chorizo from lunch conspired to lay me low. Fortunately it did not completely take me out until after we moved into the hotel room, where I could recuperate under the air conditioner for a while. We ordered out pizza for dinner. By around 7 PM (Mountain Time), I was feeling a fair bit more human and we were able to go out for a walk.
We had to jettison the planned day at the Sumpter Valley Railroad tomorrow (the railroad has suspended operations due to the fires, and roads in the area have been intermittently closed) and rearrange the trip plans, so tomorrow's trip is to Lewiston ID: 285 miles to Lewiston, about forty miles longer than today. There is another forest first up toward Lewiston, but it looks like it's off to the east of the highway, so we hope to get through with nothing worse than irritated eyes from the smoke.