Death Valley to Mammoth Lakes


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September 23rd 2011
Published: September 26th 2011
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Death Valley California and Death Valley Junction Nevada

Well we managed to get out of Las Vegas fairly easily and I was glad to get away from the mad cap driving I can tell you, so it was back to Howard’s usual mad cap driving but at least there was only one lane on each side of the road!

Death Valley was HOT so HOT infact I don’t think I have ever been so HOT as it was there. It was a really barren, arid, dry landscape with mountains. We got to Badwater Basin which was below sea level and you could walk out onto the salt flats, so we did. Well the heat was unbelievable even with a hat on it felt as if you had a burning hot weight pressing down on your head trying to dissolve the flesh off your bones and melt you into the floor, leaving a little pile of shards of bone to show where you once stood. I honestly thought my eyeballs were liquidising!

We drove through this part of Death Valley and then went on to Death Valley Junction (population 10) where we were staying at the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel!!!! Needless to say this was the only place in ‘town’ and what a delight it was. A totally unique and very bizarre experience, it looked like somewhere you would expect to find in Mexico – a one storey whitewashed building forming three sides of a square with a rusty old train engine in the middle of the forecourt and a little opera house at one end and a small café at the other. There were a few abandoned buildings over the road but that was it. The building used to be owned by the borax mining company and apparently had laid in disuse for years until Marta Becket (International Ballet Star) came across it 40 years ago and decided to renovate it, run it as a hotel and put on shows!!!

She and her partner are still renovating and hope it will national heritage status. It has murals that she has painted all over the place inside, you can buy paintings and sketches she has done for large prices and there are various newspaper articles going back donkeys years which feature the place or the shows put on there. Throughout May they had a series of Saturday night shows in the Opera house but unfortunately (?) none on when we were there, you could however watch dvds about her and her life, the shows etc and even buy them or her book should you be inclined. I really do not mean to sound as if I am taking the mick as this lady has dedicated her life to this and the place really is amazing and quite surreal.

One article was about the author Zane Grey (the library staff and western fans amongst us will recognise that name straight away!) and how he built the town – turns out in his search for more colourful locations and ideas for his books he caught the train (no longer there) out to Death Valley Junction and stayed a while. He was so appalled at the conditions that the miners lived and worked in when he returned to New York he wrote an article for Harper’s Bazaar and so humiliated were the owners of the borax mine that conditions were vastly improved! Good on you Zane lad!

We had dinner that night at the café and if you are ever visiting Death Valley and looking for somewhere to eat and stay I can highly recommend it. The brisket and dutch apple pie were superb and made up for having my eyeballs liquidised earlier! The young couple cooking and running the place were lovely and it was a real treat to chat with them. A small plug here for them – check out their facebook page – the Amargosa Café.

We did a bit of star gazing as there were very few lights and you could see the milky way stretching across the sky – marvellous.

So after a night’s kip got up to be greeted by a humungus black beetle with a great big bum making its way under our door, all tranquillity was shattered, say no more!

24th Sept ’11 Death Valley (again) to Mammoth Lakes California
We drove right the way through the burning heart of Death Valley again and up and out the other side to be met by our first view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains which are pretty awesome to say the least and had our first spots of rain for a long long time, but they were only spots.

We carried on to Mammoth Lakes, which in season is a ski resort and having failed to spot our motel decided to carry on and visit the Devil’s Postpile National Monument as we had made good time. The scenery was different again and absolutely gorgeous, big high mountains, pine forests, streams, the odd lake really really pretty and once again back in bear country. We wound up and down the mountainside and came to the parking area in the trees and then did the short hike (every walk in America is classed as a hike) up to the Devil’s Postpile which was a weird rock formation.

The most amazing thing about this walk was the dog we passed, which has on its own little doggy hiking boots! Poor old sod, it looked so funny I don’t know how I managed to stifle my laughter but I did… until the owners got out of earshot!!!!!

Back again and found the motel this time and when we checked in we were told we must clear everything out of the car including any food or drink that may be in the boot as the bears come into town in the evening! Well how exciting is that?!!!! Luckily our room is on the second floor so feels safe, do bears climb stairs though????? Howard is threatening to place one of his old stale cakes on the roof of the flash car just below our window, oh but has now decided to put it under the car instead as it will make more noise when the bear is trying to get to it! Watch this space to find out if the car got trashed, if bears were spotted and if we got any sleep!!!!!




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