Day 12: 27 June 2013
248 miles from Las Vegas to Lone Pine via Death Valley.
Altitude changing a few times from 282 feet below to 5,000 above sea level.
And then there’s the temperature!!!
Leavin’ Las Vegas, we embark on the next part of our road trip – the 4 day journey to San Francisco, via Death Valley, Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite National Park and more. We packed Suaimhneas with our usual luggage and then added 6 gallons of extra water … just to be safe.
In preparation for this part of the trip, as with other sections we took advice and inspiration from other TripAdvisor users. When it comes to the LV to Yosemite drive, we used much of the advice provided by TripAdvisor experts here, so we are not going to reinvent the wheel. We will provide our own experience on the bits of this that we followed and we thank them for their excellent suggestions.
We left Las Vegas (c. 2,000 ft) in the midday sun (not taking the advice of an early start). We drove via Pahrump into California and on to Dante’s View, to get our first experience of Death Valley. There is a paved but windy road up that brought us to an elevation of over 5,000 feet providing breathtaking views of the park.
Next drive was through the badlands of 20 Mule Canyon (it took 20 mules to haul the minerals from the mines around here back in the day). This is a 2.7 mile, one way looped road, unpaved, but accessible for all standard vehicles. It is a really dusty, challenging and enjoyable drive – we turned the radio up, listened to Bruce Springsteen sing “Devil in a Blue Dress”.
Then we drove to Zabriskie Point. Literature will tell you that it is a short uphill walk from the carpark. It is a short…..but it is UPHILL……and it is 111F/44C. We made sure to take some water with us….and we needed it!! It is a spectacular view…and yes: it was well worth the walk!
We then stopped for lunch at Furnace Creek. Apparently with an elevation of just 190 feet (58 m) below sea level, and a population of just 24 in the 2010 census, this is the lowest census-designated place in the United States.
After lunch we head back the road to Badwater. This is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Badwater Basin has a surreal landscape of salt flats. All the signs tell us not to walk on the salt flats in hot weather. It is HOT. Too hot to walk anywhere, never mind onto the salt flats. But, of course, not following the rules, we see some tourists walk on them. Us? Well of course Pádraig breaks the rules. Íde can only bear the temperature long enough to take some pictures before we get back to the haven of the air conditioned car. The temperature is rising by the minute. We keep thinking it will start to decrease, it is late afternoon and the sun is starting to go down, but no. As you will see from the temperature gauge and mileage it continues to rise. It reaches its peak for us at 5.50pm – 125f. That is 51.666 degrees Celsius in real money. 666, the devils number!! We have quite literally never been this hot!!
Buíochas mór for air conditioning! That said, we had to follow the advice you will see on road signs to TURN OFF your air conditioning if your engine is getting hot. The gauge went over the half way point twice. Each time we pulled down all the windows and turned off the air con. We didn’t take the advice to turn the heat on……… for God’s sake it was like being in a fan oven as it was. Seriously, even in the few areas where you can reach 55mph, the wind is blowing warm air in your face. All the advice not to have a convertible for this part of the trip now made perfect sense. You would need to keep the hood up and the air con on max. It is hard to imagine, but the literature tells us that a temporary lake may form here after heavy rainstorms. Again, we see the power of nature to change a landscape.
On the way from Badwater Basin we take the Artist’s Palette Drive. It gets its name from the multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills. We are doing that drive at what is considered the best time of day for it (late afternoon). It is a one-way 9 mile paved road and like Mule Canyon is only drivable with vehicles less than 25 feet in length.
We drove towards Mosaic Canyon to get a good look at Mesquite Flat Sand Dune. Seeing these Sahara like dunes in the middle of the salt and bare earth of Death Valley was such an odd juxtaposition. From the low sea level of Badwater we exit the park and landscape once again changes as we make the very scenic drive – and elevate once again to 3727 feet (1136 m) with fabulous views of the Alabama Hills and Mount Whitney to reach Lone Pine, California.
We check-in at Best Western Frontier – quick easy check-in. Room was comfortable – good internet. We had a nice dinner in Mount Whitney restaurant. We discover that Mount Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous 48 states rising to 14,505 feet (4,421 m). So we have seen the lowest and highest point in a day!
Lone Pine is a lovely town. Of course we arrived…….just in time for a fantastic sunset over the Sierra. The sunset picture is taken right outside the Best Western.
Next day we have a walk through the village. It could be straight out of a cowboy movie. It is Alabama Hills, cowboy country. Really enjoyed it!
There was plenty of snow on the surrounding Sierra peaks … so soon after the Inferno that is Death Valley