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Published: September 22nd 2007
This road was straight for over 50 miles!
Death Valley - Tuesday 18th September.
We were sad to leave Las Vegas, it is such an amazing place. We took a cab to the car rental place, which has been moved out of the airport. They have built a huge rental centre where all the rental companies are based - it’s like an airport for rental cars. The cabbie was a Cockney, he has lived in Vegas for the last 14 years and still loves it. We took our Toyota Rav 4 and promptly left Vegas in the wrong direction.
After a 20 mile circuit of Vegas, we finally headed the right way through Red Rock Canyon and on toward Death Valley. We followed a dead straight road for over 50 miles, unreal. The landscape is unbelievable. The car thermometer has been showing 90 for about a hundred miles, and once we got to Furnace Creek, topped the 100f mark. Today’s high was 113f. We took a detour through “20 Mule Team Canyon”, it’s a good job we had a 4x4! It was like the scene from Star-Wars where C3PO and R2D2 are wandering along and get ambushed by the Sand People.
The ranch we are staying
at is pretty cool, middle of no-where. We spent an hour in the pool which is naturally fed from a mineral spring and the water is a constant 84f. It is so hot here.
The ranch is in the Death Valley basin, which is 174 feet below sea level. It looks like a huge dry lake bed, with mountains all around. It was created bout 35 million years ago when the ground beneath two fault lines dropped - basically the bottom fell out of the earth. The Valley is full of minerals where the rains bring rivers down the mountains and into the valley. The valley has no route to the sea, so when the basin dries out, all the minerals and salts are left behind. It’s an awesome sight to look down on the salt bed from the mountains, or up to the mountains from on the valley floor - photo’s do it no justice.
We drove out to a lookout point at ‘Dante’s View’ to watch the sunset. It was 26 miles up a twisty mountain road, again - good job we had a 4x4. Sunset was awesome, we looked out over the Death Valley Basin.
Coming back down in the dark was eerie to say the least, twilight lasted ages and the rocks seemed to come alive - anyone seen ‘The Hills Have Eyes?’ - it was just like that. It was a relief when we made it back to the ranch. You don’t want to be getting stuck out here. We got back about 8pm, it had been dark for over an hour and was still 96f.
Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in the USA. This is due to the amount of mountain ranges the clouds have to pass over on their journey from the pacific, by the time they reach Death Valley there is very little moisture left in them. The average temperature is 116f and the ground can be 80f higher than the air temperature, the hottest recorded ground temperature was 201f. Due to the lack of plants and ground cover, the heat from the ground rises and is trapped in the valley, as it cools and falls it compresses and is heated even more by the low elevation air pressure. This results in masses of super heated air blowing through the valley.
After an early rise
20 Mule Team Canon
There are definatley sand people lurking in there.
and huge buffet breakfast, ( with lunch secreted into Emma’s handbag for later ), we set off on the longest part of the drive - to Yosemite. It’s only 320 miles, but most of that is through valleys and over mountains so it is slow going.
We drove out of Death Valley through some amazing scenery. The valley floor only gets 1.9” of water a year! We drove along the valley floor with soaring mountains all around, then eventually climbed up and out of the valley on a pretty hairy road with shear drops and no barriers. The height markers went from sea level to 10,000 feet as we climbed. We descended the other side and drove along the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, with peaks over 14,000 feet. There were sand dunes on ne side with mountains in the distance, and mountains to the other side - wind blew sand across the road in waves and we raced many a tumbleweed.
The desert is so quiet, it was very windy as we drove and there are very few other cars around. We passed through a small town called Lone Pine where a lot of old
Western movies were shot.
We drove about another 100 miles with the mountains to our left, passing salt flats, Joshua trees and the place where the world’s oldest trees are - they are bristlecone pines and the oldest, Methuselah, is 4500 years old and is the oldest living tree in the world.
As we left Death Valley behind, the temperature started to drop from 105f to around 60f.
We stopped at a large town called Mammoth Lakes to re-fuel. It was really cold and windy here, and unbelievable difference in climate in such a short distance. The area is much greener and it is a base for hikers, being at the start of the Sierra National Forest. It’s also bear country, there are warnings everywhere.
From there we passed by Mono Lake, a huge low lake with an island in the middle, then it was up again on to the start of the Tioga Pass, into and over Yosemite National Park, where we hit a temperature low of 39f!
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