Saturday, April 23, 2011

Travel stories: Defying death in Death Valley

So just met two guys in the bar the other night that are planning their first road trip to the US. They are driving the west coast and said they might be going to Vegas so i gave them the suggestion to check out Lake Tahoe and maybe take the drive to Vegas through the infamous Death Valley. I told them about my blog and since they showed interest that's why I'm throwing in a few posts from our travels through that area. Part of the idea with this blog was to share information and experiences with fellow travelers and hopefully some people will be inspired and experience this great way of travel themselves.

Now this was also in our road trip of 2007, just after leaving Lake Tahoe and spending a night in Mammoth Lakes which itself was a story well worth sharing in a later post. We drove down the 395 south which is a gorgeous drive. It follows the eastern borders of the Yosemite national park and shows some amazing scenery. From the lush forests surrounding Lake Tahoe to desolate mountain landscapes covered with black lava rocks which give you the feeling of driving on the moon. The 395 is that perfect excuse why whenever you have the chance you should leave the big highways and go for the smaller roads. Road trips is as much about the drive as the destination and every time we've took one of these smaller country roads we've had an experience surpassing everything else.

Death valley is both the hottest and the lowest point in the US. It is one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Some of the early fortyniners seeking gold and glory in the california gold rush made the fatal decision to leave "the old spanish trail" hoping for  a short cut through Death valley. The passing was very dangerous and the valley was soon littered with the remains of those who parished along the way. To be able to write home and tell their loved ones where they fell names were made up of places along the desert with such encouraging names such as "desolation canyon" and "coffin peak".

I would like to take a moment and give you people planning to do this drive, especially during summer a warning. I would not recommend this drive if you are not in good physical shape and even more important the condition of your car. If your car breaks down you are in serious danger! So always bring plenty of water and make sure your cell phone is fully charged.

The first part of the drive after entering the west entrance to the park was a bit of a roller coaster ride. Descending from the Sierra nevadas down to 282 feet below sea level (86m) takes you down winding roads with little or no protection against the steep cliffs on the side of the road. M doesn't enjoy heights and still refers to this as the worst driving experience ever, me however I loved it! We started the drive with top down on the car but soon realized that if it'd stuck we'd be fried. Temperature was rising so fast so we stopped to fix the car roof and the heat was already unbearable. If my memory serves me well i think we climbed down another hour or so before it flattened out. We stopped for a drink at the Panamint Springs Resort. I'm not sure how to properly describe this motel/restaurant, but the movie the hills have eyes comes close to mind. And i don't mean that in a bad way. It's just that you don't really expect anyone to live here at all. I spoke briefly to one of the staff who lived out there and he thought nothing of the heat but I felt the people living there were a bit goofy. Anyways the restaurant had AC and cold drinks and that's all we needed at the point.

So we got back on the road and drove all the way down to the visitor center. This time getting out of the car the heat almost knocked us out, you could actually feel your body shutting down. We hurried for the soothing coolness of the visitor center air conditioning. Here they have an exhibit about the nature and the early cultures of Death Valley. It was quite interesting to learn that not only is there a variety of animals who live here but hundreds of years ago people lived here as well. It's amazing how nature adapts and life can exist in the harshest conditions. After enjoying the exhibit we took of for Vegas. It's hard to describe in words how awesome this drive was but it's almost a religious connection with nature when it's only you and the road that disappears at the horizon, and there's no sign of human existence for miles and miles. For you considering this drive i say, go but go prepared!

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