CLINTON, NJ to DUBOIS, PA (18 December 2019) — A special day for the Jeep today, getting an early Christmas present in the form of some upgrades before heading off across the very long state of Pennsylvania in the evening to begin the first major leg of the journey westward. And, yes, Pennsylvania really is a long state.
We began our cold crisp 28-degree morning leaving Clinton NJ on some rural backroads through frozen farmlands. There was a coating of ice on everything and the early morning sun made it all glisten. The outside temperature made me really glad to have those heated seats.
The first stop of the day was OK4WD in Ridgefield, NJ where the JL was treated to a new RockHard 4×4 aluminum front bumper and rock rails, Warn winch, ProComp wheels and Mickey Thompson Baja tires that will make her even more capable. The upgrades also gave her a great new look that begins to set her apart from the stock “crowd.”
After spending the day getting pampered in the shop, the JL was ready to hit the road by evening. It was a grey non-sunset kind of day as we started the first big leg of the journey westward, trying to cross as much of Pennsylvania as possible.
Ever since our “Great American Roadtrip 2010” adventure I have always said that Pennsylvania is a really BIG state. Or more precisely a “long” one, from east to west. And we reconfirmed that with tonight’s drive. It turned out to be a difficult one.
I had been so focused during my planning on the Colorado weather and the potential problems of crossing the Rocky Mountains via the I-70 that I didn’t even think about the mountains in Pennsylvania, which may not be as high as the Rockies, but ARE a ski destination here in the east. That should have made me realize that winter weather could be an issue. But it was only with the first “snow squall” experience that I realized it.
While the weather did not initially seem bad when we crossed into Easton PA, I soon learned what a “snow squall” is. It was similar to a sand storm, but with snow, and it can “white out” everything, and it was night. There were pockets of these “squalls” all along the route, and each one reduced driving speed to a walking pace. I really couldn’t see a thing apart from the taillights of the truck in front of me. And I felt very grateful for the big trucks and experienced drivers. At one point it got so bad that I had to get off the highway and just stop driving for a little while. When the squall eases up it is like nothing happened, and there is just a light layer of slushy snow if anything. Though with the temperature down to 10 degrees it could freeze up and become a sheet of ice.
I lost about an hour due to the squalls and then reached a point where I-80 was shut down completely. (I found out later on that there was a 20-vehicle accident with two fatalities due to the white out conditions). The GPSs did not know that the highway was shut down, and both GPS units kept trying to direct me back on to the highway. Everyone else seemed to be relying on their GPS too and this created a massive traffic gridlock as we all drove in circles trying to get back onto the closed highway. When I finally realized what was going on, I took the first open road west that I could and pulled over to look at a paper map and determine an actual route. The new route was longer than the I-80 would have been, but it was smooth driving and empty.
By the time I reached DuBois PA I was exhausted from the extra concentration required to drive in the weather conditions and ensuing chaos of the “squalls” so I decided to call it a night. I didn’t get as far as I wanted to distance-wise, but I was still further ahead than what my plan called for, so all good. And now I am over “the highest point east of the Mississippi” according to the road sign, so all should be smoother from here on. The good news is that the forecast for the Colorado mountain pass looks good as long as I make it within the next four days…
ABOUT THE EXPEDITION
JoMarie Fecci, of USnomads, sets off on the first holiday roadtrip with the new Jeep, overlanding from New York to the deserts of the southwest. Once out in the desert, it will be time for some scouting and pre-running in preparation for an upcoming adventure. The primary goal of this journey is to get the Jeep pre-positioned in the west, and to assess terrain, logistical concerns and approximate timeframes for future travel.
WHERE WE ARE
There are four deserts that connect across the southwest of the United States — the Great Basin, Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahuan. The Great Basin Desert is “high desert” which can get cold and see much snow in winter. This desert covers southeast Oregon, a small portion of northeast California, most of west Utah, part of southeast Idaho, and the majority of Nevada – all except the southernmost 150 miles which are within the Mojave Desert. All this land is characterized by long, thin, parallel mountain ridges running north-south, separated by wider valleys, often containing dry lake beds (playas) or salt basins. The few rivers run inwards, with no outlet to the ocean; their waters ultimately either sink below ground or evaporate. The Mojave Desert covers the southernmost 150 miles of Nevada, a tiny area of southwest Utah, lower elevation regions of northwest Arizona (bordering the Colorado River) and most of southeast California. The topography is generally similar to the Great Basin, with isolated mountains and wide, flat plains, but temperatures are hotter, vegetation sparser, and the hills are less numerous. The Sonoran Desert of southwest Arizona and the south-eastern tip of California has perhaps the most archetypal desert scenery in the Southwest, with vast flat plains and abundant cacti, especially the giant saguaro, which occurs most densely in Arizona towards the higher elevation reaches of the desert, between 1,500 and 3,500 feet. The Sonoran desert continues a long way south into Mexico, nearly 500 miles down the east side of the Gulf of California. The Chihuahuan Desert is the second largest in the US, and also extends a long way into Mexico. It covers the southern third of New Mexico, excluding several mountain ranges, and all of far west Texas, west of a line between Del Rio and Monahans. Elevations are generally higher than in the Sonoran Desert (2,000 to 6,000 feet), and precipitation is a little greater, with most rain falling during the summer thunderstorm season. Cacti are still quite numerous but are generally smaller than to the west; instead, the dominant plants are yucca and agave, though even so, as with many other desert regions, large areas have only the ubiquitous creosote bushes and mesquite trees. For more information and a list of interesting places to visit in each desert see the American Southwest website.