From a dammed valley to a damned valley

Trip Start Apr 06, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, June 3, 2010

We had spent 2 nights in an air-conditioned room, with a big clean bathroom and a super king size bed and were feeling thoroughly refreshed. We had to check out of our room by 1pm, which obviously means we were down in the lobby at 12.55pm, just in time for the 40'C afternoon heat. By 12.59pm we were back in the car, sitting in city traffic, and all that refreshment and relaxation was well and truly undone. Needless to say the windows were open and we resumed our 'bothered about the heat' faces.

We drove south to the Nevada / Arizona border where the Colorado river was dammed again, this time by the famous Hoover Dam built between 1931 and 1936. There are tight security measures when approaching and the windstar was subject to a search before we could get through. It was really impressive to see this huge dam, built so long ago still holding strong with thousands of tons of water behind it and powering the hydroelectric power station that provides electricity to towns all across the states. The days of driving right across the top of the dam will soon be over, as a huge bridge is currently being constructed just down river and is due to open this year.

The heat here was overwhelming and we decided to avoid the Vegas traffic jams by heading north-west on the US-95. We were heading to Sequioa National Park, where the biggest trees in the world can be found (and hopefully some shade under them too), and our new, improved route meant taking a 'shortcut' through Death Valley, the largest national park in the US and somewhere we thought would be pretty cool to see and drive through whilst we were here. Arriving at Beatty on the east edge of Death Valley at 6.30pm, we realised it was too late to find accommodation out the other side of the park before sunset, but we still had a couple of hours of sunlight left, and so very, very, foolishly decided it was a good idea to spend the night at one of the campgrounds in the bottom of the valley itself.

As we drove down further into the valley, the air became hotter and dryer and thinner. There was next to nothing growing and all around was dust and rock.In 1913 the highest air temperature ever recorded in the states of 134'F (57'C) was recorded here, and it must have been close to a new record this evening for sure! What were we thinking?! We found a campsite aptly named Furnace Creek and we didn't know then but this was the exact place the record temperature was recorded and infamously the hottest part of the valley! It had a few scrubby trees, a toilet block full of cockroaches and moths and a few dusty patches off the road to park for the night. At 2am the temperature must have been over 32'C with no breeze at all, we just laid in the car, sweating and sweating and arguing over who's fault it was that we were there. At 3am Lou, now sitting in the front of the car, began to tell Dan through tears,"dogs die in hot cars like this and if we don't stay awake we wont make it through the night!". At 4am we eventually fell asleep through sheer exhaustion. At 5am the sun came up and the temperature went straight back up to about 45'C. At 5.05am we were driving out of Death Valley past sand dunes and dried up lakes in search of an urgent cold diet coke after surviving the night from hell.

For some strange reason all we could think about after that evening was changing direction, getting out of the national parks and deserts and mountains, and finding the ocean. We drove due west towards the California coast and decided it was time to buy a tent after the horrendous night of trying to sleep in the windstar. On the great drive through the Dividing Range Mountains Lou was stung by a bee, the final bad omen and sign that we needed a change of scenery...we couldn't wait to get to the beach.
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pilgrims-nest on

It sounded all so good until the night fall, i wish i could say that i was with you on that one night with Satan, i was hot enough at home with our stifling 15'C and cold drinks, but at least you can now say that you have experienced it. Then to be stung by the bee, you are all too lucky. Good read i have enjoyed it.

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