Easter Sierras near Bishop
This is one of the reasons photographer Gelen Rowell like living in Bishop. As he noted, how can a person get from classic desert landscape to high mountain landscape so quickly from one place. His photography demonstrates how he made use of the location.
My goal for this day was to get through Death Valley before the heat of the day hit and to see the ghost town of Rhyolite in Nevada. I was hoping to stay in the bustling metropolis of Pahrump, NV for the night.
It seemed like everyone had the same plan and many were up and into breakfast shortly after 6 am. There were two groups of motorcyclists at the same Best Western and they knew they had to get most of their travel for the day done during the morning hours. Both were groups of guys in their 50’s and 60’s and all were riding Harleys…..very noisy Harleys at that. Still, they were good sorts and I had a chat with them as they were packing up to go. I must say that I would have liked to have ridden some of the roads I’d come through the day before, but the straight line road to the East and through Death Valley, no thanks. I glanced at my air conditioned car and was thankful for my mode of transport.
Once I had breakfast, filled up the car with gas, and picked up a latte at Erick Schat’s Bakkerÿ,
it was 7am and I was on the road south. You ought’a see Erick’s place. Don’t miss it if you are ever in Bishop - after all, it is the home of the original Sheepherders bread.
Again, as the day before, I found myself driving down a desert-like valley with snow covered mountains on my right and very near. A bit down the road I came across an old lava flow. A lot of it was covered with sand and shrubs, but there were huge protrusions of jet black rock. I saw more evidence of lava flows in different places for the rest of the day.
At the turn on to the highway to Death Valley there was a useful information stop. Several very knowledgeable people were available to help out and I needed some. I explained to one of the guides where I was heading and was led through a map showing the highways I needed to be on, but then went further.
“You know, if you are going to Las Vegas you can go through Death Valley Junction, then you will be able to go through Furnace.”
Quizzically I looked at her, “What is
there on that road that I need to see?” I shuddered at how hot ‘Furnace’ must get.
“Oh, that is the lowest point in the Americas. It is 700 feet below sea level!”
“Is there anything unique to see there or is it just the same landscape as the rest of Death Valley?”
“Oh, its about the same,” she replied, “But it is a unique place.”
I thanked her for this tidbit, took the map she gave me and got on my way. As I passed a bulletin board on the way out where all the temperatures of day were posted, sure enough, Furnace was going to have the high of the day, 107F. Thanks, but no thanks.
I have never understand this zeal for being able to say “I’ve been there.” I need to get a little more out of places I visit. Anyway, Furnace will never be visited by me. I know all about it - lowest place…etc, etc.
The drive across the various desert valleys in the Death Valley area was, for me, in a word - boring. There was a place where there were sand dunes, but there were 50-60
At the entry to Death Valley
This is a photo looking the other way from the park entry sign.
people at the vista point and the light from the sun was high and flat, not what one wants for photographing sand dunes. Oh, and it was also 37F. I didn’t stop.
I think if I’m really interested in photographing sand dunes, which can be pretty neat, I need to make a dedicated trip, in say February, and see them in the early morning, low angled light.
I made it to Rhyolite, the old mining ghost town just over the Nevada border, and had a good look around. Two of the most interesting buildings, the railroad station and the school, were barricaded off with wire fencing with barbed wire top. They REALLY don’t want you getting in there. Nevertheless, I got some interesting images. I drove down the railroad road bed to get a feel for its path through the desert to the east. It headed for Beatty, NV and I made note to find a museum there and see what I could find out about it.
While I was working around an old caboose with my camera, a group of women approached me and asked if I could take a photograph of them with their cameras.
Of course I agreed. It turned out the four of the them were sisters. Two lived in California while the other two were from Minnesota. Evidently the two from Minnesota wanted to see Death Valley. I sensed from the two Californians that they couldn’t understand the drive to see Death Valley.
This was the second group of sisters that I had met. The other group was three sisters I met at the washing machine in the Best Western at Bishop. They were all in their 60’s and were characters. They took great delight in ‘helping’ me with my laundry. They were doing a loop through Yellowstone similar to what I had done and were then going to Carmel. I think they had made a better choice than the other sisters
Leaving Rhyolite, I went a few miles up the road to Beatty and stopped at their local museum. The young woman there was a great help, pulling out several books with information on the railroad. Coincidently, there was an old guy (2 years older than me for goodness sake) who had lived in Beatty all his life, so he had lots of information. His knowledge was not necessarily
Cactus of Death Valley
I have tried to find the name of this cactus, but can't seem to find it easily. Strange, as it is so common. Maybe someone out there will be able to fill in the blank.
about the trains, but about the towns around Beatty.
“Yah, this place kind of sprung out of the need to service all the mining communities around here in the early 1900’s. What’s more, it was the only place that had water. There were three railroads that came through here. Places like Rhyolite didn’t have any water and it had to be pumped from here.”
I told him that I had been following the old railroad bed from Rhyolite and asked if the water line followed the railroad.
“Oh heck, I don’t know about that. That was long before my time. In 1943 they pulled up all the old rails for the steel for the war and I’ll bet they pulled up the water pipe then as well.”
I had lunch in Mel’s Diner. Not a gem, but it had lots of local people just hanging out. The folk seemed similar to who you would find a small cafe in a Saskatchewan or Alberta prairie town. The only difference was that the conversation was a lot louder than you would find on the Canadian prairie.
As I said, my plan was to stay overnight in Pahrump,
Although this was barricaded off with wire fence, I got this shot with my camera held high on my tripod, over the fence. Worked OK, but it took a lot of shots to get the composition acceptable.
NV. When I arrived I first went into a gas station to get the car filled up. When I walked in the door, off to the right, was a long line of slot machines. Aha, I thought, here I am in Nevada. But at a gas station? Good grief.
It turned out Pahrump was full up. There were only smoking rooms left in the two motels I tried. No thanks. Thankfully it was only 2 pm so I carried on to Las Vegas and found a very nice Hampton Inn on the outskirts and settled in for the night. When I drove into Las Vegas it was 40C on my car thermometer. Ouch!
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