Instead of taking the same way back, we decided on a more interesting route through central Nevada and Death Valley. Google Maps™ showed the distance was almost identical but would take longer because it entailed more twisty two-lane roads. Since we were not in a hurry, this was not a big deal.
Although we made a leisurely start, the sun was still glowing orange because much of Idaho was covered in smoke due to brush fires. Thanks to the efficient air conditioning system with good recirculation in the Outback, we did not even smell the smoke. It was more pleasant in the Outback than it was outside in the not-so-fresh air.
The beauty of driving along two-lane highways in the middle of nowhere, including a short stretch on Highway 50, which is officially know as "The Loneliest Road in America," is that you can comfortably cruise at the 70-mph speed limit with little traffic. It’s more pleasant than being on the freeway.
Occasionally we decided to do a U-turn to go back and take some photographs. That’s when I discovered the Outback has a really good turning radius. In most cases, I could make a U-turn without having to back up.
My sons had never seen ghost towns, so it was great to be able to turn off the highway and cruise through streets that had formerly grand buildings now lying derelict.
Death Valley beckoned the next day, after an overnight stop in Beatty, Nevada. Although it was my sixth trip to the lowest and hottest place in America, I was still in awe as we came over a 5,000-foot pass to scan an amazing view over the valley floor. It had rained a couple of weeks previously, so the dry lakes were not so dry as they shimmered in the heat. We only saw a temperature of 102 degrees F.
Officially, the maximum temperature reached that day was 112 degrees. No problem for the Outback – the auto air conditioning worked just fine. Thanks to dual outlets, I could keep a slightly warmer temperature on my side than my son, who likes to be cooler.
We purposely took a back road out of Death Valley that was unpaved for a section. Naturally, the Outback handled it easily because of its 8.7 inches of ground clearance and suspension designed for all but the toughest off-road use.
I have taken my 12-year-old Outback on some really rough roads in Mexico and Nevada in the past, so I would have no qualms on taking a new 2013 Outback along some of the same tracks.
As we neared home, we saw the temperature suddenly drop from 98 to a lowly 72 degrees as we hit coastal fog in Ventura. We’d gone from smog in Idaho to fog in California. We’d driven 1,984 miles, and the Subaru performed faultlessly.
The computer in the car said we’d averaged 26.4 mpg. My calculations put it at 25.8 mpg, and the official EPA estimate for combined city/highway is 26 mpg. You can’t get much more accurate than that – a good figure, considering the outstanding versatility of the Outback. It proved to be an ideal long-distance touring car on major highways and a good-handling car for traversing narrow, bumpy, rough roads in the outback of Nevada.
No complaints from our dog either – she loved the adventure, even if she did sleep most of the time.
John Rettie is an internationally known writer and photographer with more than four decades experience covering the auto industry, motor racing and, more recently, reviewing digital cameras, computers and Web technologies. Find his complete bio at johnrettie.com.