Day 30 – Stop the rollercoaster!
Trip Start Aug 28, 2011
38Trip End Oct 01, 2011
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The interstate took us past the Strip hotels and downtown before bringing us through the wide open desert and cacti north of the city – we even got to see the state prison. After a couple of hours of desert driving northbound, we turned left and continued the desert driving westbound – towards the California state line and another photo opportunity. It wasn't too long after when we came to Death Valley National Park and the low point (literally) of the trip.
Death Valley was quite the experience: I’ll bet we were at about 5,000’ elevation before starting the drive down into the valley, where we came upon more badlands (having seen these also in South Dakota and Arizona) and distant views of the salt plains on the valley floor
We eventually found our way to sea level and then continued downhill – for the first time in our lives – below that point. At Furnace Creek, 196’ below sea level, there is an oasis of greenery and palm trees. There is also a lodge, golf course, restaurant, tribal center, etc. We had lunch there (lots of ice water, thank you) and chatted it up with one of the Rangers at the Visitor Center. By the time we left at about 2:30 PM it was 106 degrees – about average for this time of the year. The record is 134 degrees. 106 was plenty hot for us. In the winter, it gets down to the 60’s and 70’s.
By now the girls had enough of Death Valley – it was too hot, even with air conditioning, to really function beyond staying conscious. Soon enough, the girls gave up on that idea too and went to sleep. Due to the lateness and heat of the day, Heather just pressed on with the drive – she stopped at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes so I could give them a quick look (where she also spotted a road runner) – that was pretty cool
Once we were past the dunes, the road straightened out and went uphill –straight uphill towards Towne Pass to the west – we hit sea level, then 1000’, 2000’, 3000’, 4000’, an ultimately 4956’ at the pass. All that elevation gain came in about a half-hour. I wanted to vomit right there. I really felt sick. And the heat made it even worse. But the worst was yet to come….
What goes up must come down….cresting the pass did not get us out of the Park: we had a 9% grade, winding downhill ride back to another dry lake bottom at about 1,000’. Then we headed uphill yet again to Father Crowley Point at approximately 5,000’. By this time, our ears were hurting, heads were spinning, and we all pretty much wanted to puke. By the time we saw the “goodbye” sign for the Park we were ready to leave. I told Heather that I’d be up for another visit, if I could stick around for a few days and take the Park in a little at a time – I don’t think she thought that was such a good idea. The kids hated Death Valley outright. Well, at least they tried it!
I could not imagine trying to cross this area 100 years ago on horseback or something. The absolute despair that people must have felt when entering the valley – and when hitting the second lakebed and mountain range – must have been overpowering. The name “Death Valley” is fitting.
We had one more big downhill to ride that eventually got us to the town of Lone Pine, CA. It was on this hill above Lone Pine that we got our first look at the Sierra Mountains and Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the Lower 48. The Sierras formed this incredible wall to the west of the high sage desert plain that we continued to travel on. It was quite impressive, and for the first time in several weeks we saw snow – in the form of unmelted snowfields high on the mountains. The land was still very dry, but there were intermittent creeks among the sage – and there trees grew and trout swam.
We found this out for sure when we pulled into the Taboose Creek Campground in Inyo County. There we found a tiny creek, 10’ across at its widest, and several nice campsites along its length. There were even plenty of small trout to be seen darting to and fro among the rocks
While Layla and I fished, Heather cooked up a great dinner of hamburger tacos. We also set up the tent under perfect skies – just in time to watch the sun drop over the mountains to our east. They are so close that it seems you could walk to their base in an hour. The power lines near us make a snap-crackle-pop sound, and the crickets are humming. The night sky is big and wide, and as we are several hours from any decent-sized city there is no light pollution and there are more stars to be seen than I have ever seen in my life. Kae went to bed early with a headache (most likely due to not drinking enough water), but Heather made sure she woke to see what will likely be the “starriest” night sky of her life.