On the morning of the 19th of May we drove out of The City by the Bay headed towards Sacramento where we met up with my Uncle Jack & Aunt Diane for a late brunch. Needless to say, we had a wonderful time. They are two of my favourite people in the entire world and I hadn’t seen them in quite a few years.
After brunch we stopped and bought some supplies we were going to need for the next few weeks. We planned to spend a few nights camping out so we needed to buy… well, everything. It’s not as if we’d flown over with a tent in our luggage!! After we stocked-up we headed back on the road.
The plan was to drive south a bit and then into Yosemite National Park. However, due to an overnight snowfall of 19 inches, a lot of the passes were closed, so we had to amend our itinerary. This was not a total loss – although we were very saddened to miss out on all Yosemite had to offer. And S is still quite upset that we never got to see the giant redwoods. I am surprisingly OK with this, because it means we have even more reasons to return to California in the future!
Driving south through California was a gorgeous journey. We stopped at a fruit stand located…somewhere… and bought the biggest, sweetest strawberries either of us had ever eaten.
Seriously, the strawberries were the size of your palm. I know that isn’t particularly significant – but it is a detail that has stuck with me. I wish we had more carefully documented exactly where we were, but I honestly have no idea of the route we took, the towns we passed or the roads we drove. For instance:
I have no idea where this picture was taken, but I do know that we turned around there at some point.
The most exciting part of the evening of the 19th was our dinner, but that is a story for another time. Suffice it to say it was quite a hilarious evening. 🙂
We were just entering Death Valley as the sun rose on the 20th of May. It was an utterly silent, desolate place. But the sunrise was beautiful – cresting the hills in the distance, burnishing everything with the golden gleam of morning.
Death Valley was all you would expect it to be – hot. Although it was bigger than I imagined, somehow. We were only there for a few hours, and I suppose we saw everything we were able to see. I would have liked to have seen the Sailing Stones, but we weren’t near enough to journey that way.
We saw the natural stone arch:
And, of course, we saw Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America:
It was very salty, which I never knew. There was also water there, which came as a surprise, considering what I know of Death Valley.
The fuel prices were exorbitantly high – over $5.00 a gallon! Which isn’t yet as high as we pay here in Scotland, but it’s high enough, thank you very much! Sadly, we did have to refuel there, although we were smart enough to only get what we absolutely needed to see us through.
We left on the Nevada side of Death Valley, and on the way past we stopped at an old abandoned mining town called Rhyolite. Settled in 1905 and heavily populated during the ensuing gold rush, at its peak in 1908 the town housed around 4,000 people. By 1920, however, the mine was exhausted and the population of Rhyolite drooped to nearly zero.
It is a haunting, eerie place. The first ever ghost town I’ve seen. There was a small museum of sorts at the entrance of the town, and there were pallets there with artefacts which had been unearthed in the area, as well as from the buildings themselves. I liked it there, although there wasn’t much to see except dust.
The old mercantile store was setting there on blocks, which was kind of surreal.
Some of the other buildings were still standing as well, a few walls of the jail and the school moulder in the scorching sun. The train station was mostly intact. It is a beautiful building which highlights the fact that, although they may be ghost towns now, in their heyday these mining towns held an awful lot of money and importance. Hence, the expense laid out for schools, banks and, as below, railway stations.
The era of the American gold rush is an interesting phenomenon. The amount of ghosts towns dotting the south west of America is staggering. Rhyolite is of little importance now, but if you had been there at its peak it probably would have astonished you.
The rest of the day we spent driving across Nevada. We weren’t sure where we wanted to stay for the night, but we had had an early start so we pressed on past Las Vegas and into the Valley of Fire where we set up camp for the night.
This was one of my favourite nights of our vacation. S and I spent the evening relaxing and watching the sun go down behind the fiery-red sandstone, eating hamburgers off the BBQ and toasting marshmallows over the open fire. It truly was spectacular. The Valley of fire is breath-taking. The weather we had while there was splendid. Camping out in nice weather in the warmth of early summer is an experience to be envied.
The evening of 20th May this time last year was a welcome, relaxing break before we woke on the 21st and headed into the neon of the Las Vegas strip. Over the past two days we had driven a very, very long way and seen quite a lot of magnificent sights. The prevailing image I have from the 19th and 20th May, 2011 is the image I will end this post on. One which can’t be experienced here in the UK, because there simply isn’t the space here for a road so incredibly straight and long:
If you look close enough, you can still see the road straight ahead at the very base of the hills. Impressive, isn’t it? Just looking back at that photo makes my fingers itch to be curled around a steering wheel.
So tomorrow it’s onwards into Vegas. Wish us luck!