Post 162: Death Valley, California
It's Sunday 28th September and prior to today I'd known very little about Death Valley. I expected a very dry and intense heat, a long arrow-straight road, ... and for some reason I had in my mind the picture of one single tree!. Death Valley was a place that I had to cross for two reasons, .... it's name, .... and the fact that it stood between Mt Whitney and Las Vegas.
It was hot and it was dry, but the roads were anything but straight. I'd started early, it was just over 140 miles along 'Highway 190' to the beginning of Death Valley, ... I arrived just before 9am, ..... already the temperature was in the high 90's. I was riding 'al fresco', tee shirt and shorts, my English skin smothered in SPF25, ..... I hoped that would be enough. As I moved, the temperature was just bearable, .. when I stopped it became overpowering. I'd filled up with fuel and water at the entrance, I was ready to explore.
I followed '178' to Furnace Creek and then headed South at the foot of the Amargosa Range of mountains where I then had a choice of routes: East or West. I decided to take the East fork to Badwater Basin, at -282ft, the lowest point in Continental America. The road was unpaved and although dusty, it was easily manageable. The scenery was breathtaking, not at all what I'd expected. The mountains to either side of the valley floor seemed to change colour according to which direction you were facing, ..... I know this, because at the end of this road which headed South, I turned the bike around and rode it back North, .. it was equally satisfying in both directions. I then rode down the West side of the valley,.. a paved road, equally stunning, ...... the tarmac making it easier to 'view' and 'ride' in unison.
I stopped at the opposite side of Badwater Basin to cool down and take photographs. There were four cars in the small car park, .... the heaviest density of population that I'd encountered all day. One of the cars, a red Pontiac, sported a fading bumper sticker, 'When Keeping it Red goes Wrong: BUSH CHENEY'04'. I chuckled at the location, ...... I'd been reliably informed before departure that America didn't do 'Irony'.
Yosemite had been beautiful, Lassen magnificent and Kings Canyon tranquil, .. Death valley was different, .. it was harsh and unkind, but in a way, it's the most amazing place that I've seen on this journey so far. People will disagree with me, perhaps it's a 'Boy Thing', but for me personally, Death valley has been a true revelation, an unforgettable experience.
It had been a hot 400 mile day, the sun was beginning to set as I left the valley and headed East towards Las Vegas. It was an easy ride, the roads wide and forgiving. It gave me time to think, .... a plan was beginning to develop. I struggled with the mental mathematics as the lights of the City began to obscure the array of stars above me, ......... could I stay in Las Vegas for FREE?