Utah Day Trip

With travel still being mostly discouraged, there hasn't been very much to write about for Electric Route 66, but we did manage to take a single-day short trip to Utah on June 7. I hope you enjoy this account and our photos. Stay safe, everyone!

Utah is closed on Sunday

June 7 was a Sunday, so you might think it strange that we would decide to visit Utah when it's closed. OK, Utah is not technically closed, but a higher-than-average number of things in Utah are indeed closed on Sunday due to its religious makeup composed of a very high percentage of Latter-Day Saints members. But this trip was basically just a cruise, to get out of the house for a change in scenery. We weren't planning on shopping or otherwise interacting with many people or businesses.

Despite owning The Blue Spirit for almost 2 years, we still had not yet ventured into Utah with it, even though it lies just 100 miles away from home and there are no issues with Tesla charging infrastructure to stop us. We simply choose to go to Arizona and California for most of our road trips. It was time to change it up a bit! Using Google Maps for reference, we determined that we had enough time in a leisurely day to get as far as Kolob Reservoir, a small lake north of Zion National Park that we had visited once before, in 2011.

As is standard procedure for an EV trip, I made sure the car was fully charged at departure time. Normally the car is charged to 70-80% on a routine basis, so charging to 100% involves simply changing a setting in the car or smartphone app after plugging it in. It is generally better for battery health to not leave a car fully charged for a long period, so I also adjusted the amperage draw downward in the car, ensuring that it would reach 100% an hour or less before we planned to leave. 100% charge in The Blue Spirit currently reads about 287 miles. This is less than the official EPA rating of 310 miles but is just an estimate, and the estimate trends off over time depending on charging habits so it was not a concern. We would only need around half of this charge to reach the Tesla supercharger in St. George, Utah. With drinks, masks and hand sanitizer at the ready, we headed out by mid-morning.

Cruising old US 91

Today, the route of US Highway 91 covers less than 200 miles, in northern Utah and southern Idaho. But in its heyday before the interstates, it ran from Long Beach, California through Nevada, Utah, Idaho and Montana to the Canadian border at Coutts, Alberta. It was largely replaced by I-15 in the 1960s and 1970s. The famous Las Vegas Boulevard carried US 91 until it was decommissioned in Nevada in 1974.

Our cruising route from home to Utah starts out mostly on the freeway: first on county road 215, also known as the northern beltway, then northeast on Interstate 15, which runs concurrently with US Highway 93 as it leaves the Las Vegas Valley. Las Vegas Blvd. roughly parallels I-15 in this area and is a good alternate to the interstate, but only for a few miles. About 13 miles northeast of the 215 beltway, US 93 splits off from I-15 to head north toward Ely, Nevada. At this point even a traveler on Las Vegas Blvd./Old US 91 must join I-15 to continue towards Utah, as the old highway shortly reaches a dead end. For nearly 50 miles, the roadbed of US 91 is either abandoned or covered by I-15 and no other through route is possible.

With the interstate portion out of the way, it was time to start the fun part - old two-lane US 91. Beginning at I-15 exit 112, the old highway is known as Riverside Road or Nevada State Route 170. A nondescript modern bridge over the Virgin River is followed by the small town of Bunkerville, and then the highway crosses the Virgin River a second time just before it enters the city of Mesquite. Riverside Road ends at its intersection with Mesquite Boulevard, and to continue toward Utah we turned right here, to head east. After a short distance the main route turns northward again onto Sandhill Boulevard, with I-15 just a few blocks ahead. To stay on old US 91, we turned right onto Hillside Drive, which parallels I-15. This road reaches the edge of Mesquite, which is also the edge of Nevada.

Both I-15 and US 91 traversed a tiny corner of Arizona on the way to Utah. As soon as Hillside Drive enters Arizona it loses its name but has retained its old number, becoming Mohave County Route 91. Once again the highway is two-lane and rural, mostly paralleling I-15 for 9 miles, passing through the community of Littlefield and then crossing under the interstate and heading north on a completely different path than I-15. This is the main road through the community of Beaver Dam. Less than 8 miles from I-15 the old highway enters Utah and is then named simply Old Highway 91. Following a winding path north and then east, the old highway passes through the reservation of the Shivwits Band of Paiute Indians and the community of Shivwits. From here the highway trends southeast, passing through the towns of Ivins and Santa Clara. Now no longer rural, the old highway is called Sunset Boulevard and continues into St. George. Sunset Boulevard ends at a major intersection with Bluff Street.

Riverside Road - Old US 91 - leading away from I-15.

An abandoned section of Old US 91 leading away from Riverside Road. Someday, in a Cybertruck.

We stopped briefly at Peggy Sue's in Mesquite, but it was too early for lunch.

The old and the new at Peggy Sue's.

The 1929 Sand Hollow Wash Bridge, on Old US 91 in Arizona

Lonely old US 91 north of Littlefield, Arizona.

Ruins near Shivwits, Old Highway 91, Utah.

Santa Clara Town Hall, Utah.


Charge a bit, just in case

The intersection of Sunset Blvd. and Bluff St. just so happens to be right next to the St. George Tesla superchargers, so for a Tesla driver, coming in on old US 91 is ideal. The distance is further than coming into St. George from I-15, but only by about 5 miles since the supercharger is in the northwest of St. George, and the slower speeds along Old 91 mean less energy will be used to get there. The time lost versus taking I-15 is only about 10 minutes, with the advantage of much less traffic and better scenery.

We arrived at the Tesla superchargers in St. George with 140 miles of range remaining. Our intended goal of Kolob Reservoir was only 53 miles away, but much of the distance was on very curvy roads, with a lot of elevation change, so I couldn't count on using just 53 miles of range to get there, or on just 106 miles round-trip. I decided to charge for a few minutes to have an extra-large buffer. This station has 8 stalls, of which only 2 or 3 were occupied, but the first stall I tried did not work properly. It was connected but charging at only 1kW - not a usable amount. Malfunctions happen sometimes and when driving an EV you must be aware of it and keep an eye out for problems. Tesla superchargers always have multiple stalls but some other networks are smaller and a malfunction when there is only one stall to use can be a real problem. I recommend checking Plugshare ahead of time for your planned stops to see if any problems have been reported. For my part, I reported the bad stall on Plugshare and switched to a different stall, which worked just fine, charging at over 100kW.

Since we already had a buffer of nearly 40 miles beyond our intended round trip distance, I only stayed plugged in for a few minutes. I added 9 kWh or about 35 miles of charge. with our charge estimated at nearly 180 miles, we headed off down Bluff Street towards downtown St. George for lunch.

Charging in St. George.


Lunch and mountain climbing

One of our favorite places to catch a meal in St. George is Larsen's Frostop, an old-school drive-in restaurant on St. George Boulevard which opened in 1965. Unfortunately they are closed on Sundays so we needed to make another choice. The Iceberg Drive Inn just down the street fit the bill. This restaurant is part of a small chain based in Salt Lake City. In order to maintain distancing we hit the drive-through window for some tasty burgers and shakes. Shakes are a specialty of theirs and ours were enormous, being double-cupped and extending for inches above the top of the outer cup. We ate our lunch in the car right there in the Iceberg parking lot. One great aspect of an EV is that air conditioning uses very little power, so you can spend time in the car when it's not moving while losing very little range, and without adding pollution or much noise to your surroundings.

With lunch down the hatch, we departed for our drive into the mountains. After 10 minutes on northbound I-15, we exited onto eastbound Utah State Route 9, passing through the city of Hurricane and then curving northward into La Verkin. In northern La Verkin, Highway 9 turns east again towards the southern section of Zion National Park. In the small town of Virgin, we turned onto Kolob Terrace Road for the remaining 24 miles to Kolob Reservoir. This last segment is a beautiful drive, filled with trees and great views, and very twisty road that is tremendously fun to drive with a capable car, which The Blue Spirit certainly is.

An EV can be so great on this type of road, especially if it's not busy with other cars. With regenerative braking and no shifting transmission, it's easy to maintain a steady speed through the many ups and downs, without taxing brakes or engine. With a speed limit much lower than a major highway, it's no problem to roll down the windows and take in the fresh air, with the sounds of the wilderness never interrupted by a loud engine, no matter how steep the grade of the road. There are many pullouts along this road where travelers can stop and take in the scenery.

Kolob Terrace Road snakes generally northward, in between the two busy sections of Zion National Park, and in fact passes into the park and then out again twice, before finally arriving at Kolob Reservoir. Camping, boating and fishing are all available here, but we were only here for the nice drive to somewhere cool and filled with greenery. It's a far cry from the Mojave Desert and very refreshing just to be there at a higher altitude and out of the heat.

We took a short walk, used the restroom, and relaxed for a bit taking in the pleasant weather. As we prepared to leave I checked the charge on our car. After all that mountain-climbing it had 85 miles of range remaining. We had used about 90 miles of range to go about 53 miles. That's quite a lot, but one of the great things about EVs is that although you use extra range going up a mountain, you get most of it back again when you come back down.

Passing into Zion National Park, Kolob Terrace section.

Great vistas around every curve.

The view from a 5 MPH hairpin turn.

Kolob Reservoir at last.

We like blue, be it lake, sky, or Spirit.


Return to the big city

I kept an eye on our range as we headed down the mountain, through all the curves and the hills and into and out of Zion National Park, and for awhile our estimated range went up instead of down. At some points after miles of return driving The Blue Spirit had up to 90 miles of range. We retraced our path back through Virgin and La Verkin and Hurricane, and as we approached I-15 nearly 40 miles away from Kolob Reservoir, our range finally dipped below 85 miles. We arrived back at the St. George supercharger with around 70 miles of range, using almost exactly the amount of estimated range that we had just driven in actual miles.

This time we stayed at the supercharger for 15-20 minutes, adding 33kW of power, pushing our range up just over 200 miles. By this time it was past 7:30pm Las Vegas time (and past 8:30pm Utah time). We decided to travel home on I-15, leaving old US 91 behind. There is a beautiful segment of I-15 south of St. George, running through the Virgin River Gorge in the Arizona section, so it was nice to see that for the first time in years, as the sun retreated. There is road construction going on in the gorge right now, so although the drive is nice there can be traffic. Sometimes it backs up so much that taking Old US 91 is even faster than I-15. But on a Sunday evening this was not the case. The drive straight down I-15 and along the 215 beltway in Las Vegas was uneventful. We arrived home with 15-20% of our range remaining, one more EV road trip successfully completed.

Amazing views going up; amazing views coming down.

More beauty at Kolob Terrace.

Smith Mesa Road is dirt. Perhaps we'll take it another time.

Hurricane Mesa, on Utah Route 9 west of Virgin.

An informational display on Utah Route 9, across from Hurricane Mesa.

I-15 winds through the Virgin River Gorge.

Thanks for reading! Here's hoping we'll all be able to take more road trips very soon.

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