Okay, so I didn’t actually walk. As has been the theme of this trip, I drove. And drove. And drove.
As I descended into Death Valley, I watched the temperature rise from 81 degrees to 98. And “descended” is putting it mildly, as I wound up 282 feet below sea level. (Later in the day, I’d be up at 8036 feet above sea level. My ears were not amused by all of these shenanigans.)
I had never been to Death Valley before. It is a hauntingly beautiful place, and you pretty much have it all to yourself. Because of that, you can’t shake the feeling that if your car breaks down, you’re most likely going to be dead. I was way beyond cell phone signal, out amongst the 20 Mule Team Borax mines.
The funny thing about highways in the desert, when the horizon seems to stretch on beyond the impossible, is that you can’t really tell if you’re on a hill unless you look in the rear view mirror. Its as if balance takes a little holiday, and then all of a sudden you’re above or below where you expect to be.
And the terrain in the valley changes rapidly. I never realized just how many types of mountains there could be. You’ll see a few varieties below. The only thing they all had in common was that they were freakin’ hot, and unexpected, and sun-blasted beautiful. Adding to the other-worldliness of the place, I listened to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale all day long.
I stopped at Stovepipe Wells, which is the closest thing to an oasis that one can find in this desolate place. I got an ice cream bar at the convenience store. I was also able to get a stamp for my National Parks Passport at the Death Valley National Park visitor center, so now I can die happy.
This was my first day in California on this trip. You can tell you’re out West when there are cattle guards on the exit ramps. And the further into California I went, the smokier it got. I should have been able to see the Sierras, but the smoke got so thick it was hard to believe there were even mountains. A cashier at the next place I stopped for gas said she hadn’t seen the sun in 3 months. I’d lose my mind.
At a certain point along in there (time seemed to get a bit mixed up), I also passed by Manzanar, the Japanese internment camp. It was all the more chilling for being totally unexpected. Through the smoke, I could only get a slight sense of how isolated, hot, miserable, and hopeless that place must have been. It made me sad and ashamed. Not all of our history is as glorious as many would have us believe.
Gas prices are obscene in California. Double anywhere else. And every place I went, whether it be a convenience store or a grocery store, the restrooms were entirely closed due to the pandemic. That’s a little extreme, if you ask me. People have to pee. I know I sure had to. I finally had to go off on a side street so I could do it on the side of the road. I was amused to discover that the place I picked was a dump station. But you do what you have to do.
I finally checked into Yosemite Gateway Motel, in Lee Vining, California. It was after dark and the place was, I’ll go ahead and say it, a dump. I found this to be really funny, because I had misunderstood. I thought I was staying at one of the national park lodges.
Instead, the entire motel was at an odd slant as if it were going to slide into the crevasse at any moment. The stairs, too, were slanted, and soft. The room had no clock, no microwave, no minifridge, and very sketchy internet. When I went to take a shower in the little corner stall, the shower head was facing the door, and when I turned on the water to warm it up before undressing, I was drenched in the face and torso with ice cold water. Cursing was involved.
Since I arrived so late, the only place open where I could get food was a diner called Nicely’s, across the street. It was not nice at all. Julienne carrots straight from the freezer. Three day old, store bought dinner rolls, and steak as tough as shoe leather.
But hey, I was told I had a great view of Mono Lake. I’d have to wait until the next day to find out. The view disappears after dark.
But I had a warm and dry place to lay my head for the night, and I was excited, because tomorrow, I’d be seeing Yosemite for the very first time!
Enjoy my pictures from the day, below.
There are a lot more tales to tell about this trip, but I’ll try not to post them daily, so as not to put off those who aren’t interested in travel blogs. So brace yourself for a good month of every other day adventures! I’ll try to link them together, so that you can start at the beginning if you find yourself in the middle and want to read the whole saga. Here’s a link to the first post in the series. And here’s a link to the next day’s adventure!
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