A couple of weeks ago I posted about a little road trip that I took out west of the Salt Lake City area on the old Lincoln Highway. As I mentioned in that post, I wanted to continue the trip to the end of the road. Well, the weather and my schedule cooperated yesterday, Saturday, February 15.
This last few weeks has been pretty tough mentally as I am still dealing with the loss of my little friend, Rajah. We had been together for 20 years, and that just was not enough time for us. I office in my home, and I’ve been keeping myself really busy, trying not to think about the loss of my buddy. But the house is so empty during the day that it makes me really sad. The weather was decent, and I figured it was time for another road trip to clear my head.
This time I had the car gassed up and ready to go first thing Saturday morning. I got out of the house nice and early and was able to make it out to the west desert in good time. Even though the roads are clear, there are still plenty of places on the roads where there’s water full of salt and grime from all of the snow that we’ve had this winter.
Once again I took out the Miata since it was already somewhat dirty from the last jaunt. There are a few of you who follow me for my car passion, so before I talk about the journey on the old Lincoln Highway, I thought I would talk a little bit about the Miata.
The Mazda Miata RF
I’m sure many of you are wondering what the heck a muscle car guy is doing with the tiny little Mazda Miata; well that’s what we’re going to talk about first. This isn’t really the type of car that I have sought out over the years. For those of you have read my blog for a while, you know that I’m a pretty passionate muscle car freak. I read quite a few car magazines, and I couldn’t help but notice that for many years running the Mazda Miata has always been one of Motor Trend Magazine’s top “Drivers Cars”. One of Motor Trend’s lead writers and testers, Randy Pobst – a two-time class winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona race, always rates the Miata as one of his favorite cars to drive. Given the fact that he drives exotics costing $250,000 and upwards, I have always been intrigued by this. So last spring, I took one for a test drive. I must say I was rather intrigued.
From a power standpoint, this thing is not even close to the American muscle car of the 21st century. It’s a quick little guy, going from 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. But my Hellcat Charger will do the same in 3.4 seconds. Step on the gas in the Hellcat to pass at 65 miles an hour, and you’re over 100 mph (160kph) in a couple of seconds. It is a different beast. My Miata is a hardtop convertible, and the specific model is the Miata RF Grand Touring. Where the Hellcat is all about massive power and brutish performance, the Miata is all about balance and finesse. The car has a 50/50 front to rear weight distribution with 181 hp from the dual overhead cam, naturally aspirated inline four-cylinder engine. It weighs just a tad over 2400 pounds (about 1089 kg). It has a six-speed manual transmission with cruise control, lane keeping assist and collision avoidance braking.
The Grand Touring model is quite nicely equipped with a leather interior, including a leather covered dash, electrically heated seats, built-in GPS navigation, satellite radio, a Bose stereo sound system and Bluetooth phone integration as well as USB stereo interface. For the money, it is an incredible value. The Miatas are quite small and tend to be somewhat noisy inside. They obviously don’t have the sound deadening material or the special sound deadening double pane glass that’s in the Charger, but then the charger weighs 2000 pounds more!
The similarity between the Miata and the Charger is that they are both rear driven cars, and other than both being nicely equipped, they are entirely night and day. The Charger has a 57/43 front to rear weight distribution, and with its fairly heavy weight it tends to plow a little bit into the corners. Don’t get me wrong, the thing will pull almost 1G in hard cornering, but you’ve got to work pretty hard to get there. And with its unbelievable power, if you push the pedal a little bit too quickly exiting a corner, you can end up going sideways or backwards in a heartbeat.
The Miata on the other hand is just perfectly balanced and it just flows through the corners without really trying. Get on the throttle a little bit too much too early, and she’ll start to come out on you a little, but it’s easily controlled by backing off the throttle. So, not only is the car physically well balanced with an incredibly low center of gravity and a low mass as well, its power is balanced to its tires, making it very easy to control on twisty roads or through hard cornering. After putting some miles on the car, I am really beginning to understand why Randy Pobst considers the car one of the best driving machines around at any price. It is just plain fun to drive.
I’ve learned a couple of lessons here. First, I know I’m still a muscle car guy at heart. The Charger makes me smile just sitting in it. Starting the car is absolutely thrilling. In my garage with the door up, it is literally hard to hear, and you can feel the power from the engine vibrating in your chest. Get on the throttle at highway speed and the thing is like rolling thunder. The power is truly addictive.
On the other hand, I’ve learned that everyone needs to experience a true sports car. It is beauty, symmetry and balance. The Miata is equally pleasing, but just stimulates different senses. Oh, on this 144-mile road trip through the mountains, the little guy averaged 38.6 miles per gallon. Sweet! So now you know why I have a Mazda Miata RF. As the Beach Boys sing — “fun, fun, fun.”
The Lincoln Highway
As I mentioned in the previous post, Utah 199 is part of the old Lincoln Highway. Heading west from Lehi, Utah on Route 73, you come into Fairfield and then the road begins to turn to the west again and go over what is known as Five-Mile pass. From here the road turns northwest and eventually merges onto Utah Highway 36. To get to Highway 199, one must turn south for a few miles on Highway 36. As Highway 36 is heading mostly south, Highway 199 turns west near Stockton and eventually ends up at Dugway military base in the west desert of Utah.
Dugway is a high security US military installation that spans most of the western portion of Utah south of Interstate 80 and north of the old Pony Express Trail. Much of what goes on at Dugway is top secret, but there is quite a bit of speculation that some of the operations from Area 51 in Nevada have been moved to Dugway due to its lesser known status.
The first small town on Highway 199 is known as Rush Valley. From here looking northwest, you can see Deseret Peak. Highway 199 begins heading up the mountains towards Fisher pass between the southern end of the Stansbury Mountains and the northern end of the Onaqui Mountains. The speed limit through Rush Valley is around 45 mph, and drops to 40 once the road starts up the mountain. This is a very tight, twisty two-lane highway, and the road is only cleared of snow during daylight hours in the wintertime. Many of the curves are marked at 20 miles an hour, but the little Miata easily handles them at 35 to 40.
Fisher pass is a nice place to take a quick break, check out the views and stretch the legs. The snow was about 2 feet deeper this time than it was two weeks ago, and in a couple of places I sunk in up to my knees. Oops! I had to clean the snow out of my socks.
This is where I stopped last time, so from here I pushed on over the pass down into the next valley in the Great Basin and Range region of the Western United States. If you saw my previous post about the Great Basin last year, you’ll know what I mean. The road on the west side of the pass is similar to the road on the east side, being quite twisty and curvy. Again, there were many places posted at 20 mph. However, the scenery changes quite abruptly as this is the dryer side of the mountain. And here, the train slowly changes into the dry desert landscape that is prevalent through western Utah and much of Nevada.
At the western base of the pass lies a tiny little town (I’m using the word “town” very loosely here) known as Terra. It consists of a handful of mobile homes and a couple of old ranch houses. From here the highway headed straight west for several more miles ending at the east gate entrance to Dugway military base. There is a sign just west of Terra marked Lincoln Highway that turns off towards the northwest, and it looks like the pavement ends a couple of miles down that road. I turned off just to take a quick look, and then continued back westward on Highway 199 until I hit the Dugway gate. This is the end of Highway 199. From here there are two potential routes.
Dirt roads head out southwest back down to the old Pony Express Trail and on into the far west deserts. My post from last winter, The Wild Bunch, was not far from Simpson Springs. Or, you can take Highway 196 northward through the Skull Valley Indian Reservation eventually reaching Interstate 80. I took a little time looking around in a little parking area at the intersection of Highway 199 and Highway 196. I knew I wouldn’t have time to head north up to Interstate 80 is that would be another 140 miles home again. So, I decided to return the way that I had come, back across Highway 199 and up and over Fisher Pass eventually heading back eastward on the same route that I took out.
I am really glad to have been able to explore this part of Utah, and I must say that Highway 199 is an incredibly fun road in a sports car. There’s almost no traffic; the scenery is incredible, and the road is a twisting ribbon of blacktop. One of these days, perhaps I will get around to sharing some of the adventures that I’ve had out farther in the west desert across the Pony Express Trail. A word of caution here, however. That road is best traveled in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Most of the time it would be passable in a two-wheel drive car, but there’s some sandy and muddy sections they can get difficult. Additionally, the road is very rough, and is really not suitable for most highway vehicles. I would recommend a real off-road capable SUV or truck.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this more thorough tour of this section of the old Lincoln Highway, and I hope you car folks enjoyed learning a little bit about why I decided to add the Mazda Miata to my collection.
Wishing you all the best, and thanks again for stopping by.