**the conclusion of our US road trip. Finally.**
After canyoneering, we left Utah headed for Death Valley National Park only a 4-5 hour drive. Death Valley National Park is so large that you actually need to be really careful about the about of fuel in your car. Gas is available but at a premium, so we filled up before heading in. The closest gas station was one of the weirdest we’d ever been to. The convenience store facade was painted with an Area 51 alien design and had an attached brothel. I guess I had read about Mustang Ranch, but didn’t expect to be so obviously confronted with one. Also, the auto shut-off on the gas pump didn’t work.
Finally we made it to the national park campground at Stovepipe Wells. We had planned to head for the free primitive campground at Emigrant, which is tent only, but decided to stop early and avoid camping at higher elevation due to the winds. For $12 a night, we got a gravel square area with a picnic table. The ground wasn’t amenable to tent stakes so we had to rock it out again. The RV part of the campground was pretty bad as it’s essentially a parking lot with no tables or anything. The one nice thing was the large dishwashing area. Also, the weather was amazing – 40+ deg Fahrenheit.
The next morning we checked out some of the sites around Furnace Creek, including Badwater Basin, one of the lowest points and on land in the world, the “Devil’s Golf course” ( because only the devil would play golf here), and Mosaic Canyon, which has an interesting mix of rocks interspersed. On the way out of the park, we hit major winds and dust storms. A number of folks were biking in them and it looked miserable. We also saw a group of desert foxes.
In one of the Death Valley brochures I picked up, there was a blurb about Manzanar National Historical Park, an old Japanese internment xamp. When we passed it, Rob and I decided to stop. We only had an hour or so before they closed to do a whirlwind tour, but we could have spent a full day visiting the well-done fascinating exhibits. If you’re anywhere near there, it’s most definitely worth a stop. They have a big exhibition hall and more information in reconstructed housing units. You can also drive or walk through the grounds where the remnants of the beautiful gardens the internees created lingers to this day. The cold winds and blowing dust were upfront introduction to the challenges and hardship of being made to live at Manzanar. In all, it was a good reminder of the some injustices the US has committed because of racism.
Mammoth Lakes Area
After Death Valley, we couldn’t find an obvious next camping spot. Anywhere in the valley would have high winds, but continue higher in the road and the temperature would continue to drop. We read about the large numbers of hot springs in the Mammoth Lakes area so we went and found one. Turns out it was quite popular with a full parking lot. When we jumped in after dinner a big group of climbers was also there. After a few drinks with them, we decided to leave the car parked and camp inside for the night. The next morning, Rob and I woke up to 1 deg Fahrenheit. Brr. Rob went back to the hot spring for a morning dip while I enjoyed a few more zzzs.
I saw an ad for Mono Lake in one of the tourism fliers and knew we had to stop. The salty lake has no outlet, but a number of freshwater springs flow into it. The minerals in the spring water react with the lake salts to produce the tufas around spring outlets. Since LA has been taking some of the inlet water, the lake level has dropped a bunch. At one time, an island where birds nested became connected to the mainland and all the predators came over and ate the eggs. There has since been a judgement to force LA to let you the water levels return to a higher level. Unfortunately, the visitors center was closed, but we were able to hike around the tufas at the lake’s southern edge. There was also a neat crater (black crater) hike off the same road.
Looking for one last night of camping, we discovered Lava Beds National monument located on the largest volcano on the west coast, the medicine lake shield volcano. It was awesome $10 developed camping with no one around near a high concentration of Lava tube caves. The next morning we got a free permit from the rangers and watched the park video in a living room-esque viewing area while out shoes were disinfected (since we’d been to Mammoth caves). After that we were able to visit a number of Lava tube caves. The floors are pretty rough, so for the more challenging ones you need heavy duty knee pads. We stick to the reasonably moderate ones. The Golden done cave was especially neat with all the bacteria that looked holds in the light.
Despite having the donut on the car, Rib insisted we drive to Crater Lake to spend on hour checking it out. We got there just in time to catch the last intro movie of the day. Then, we drove up the Crater rim for a lake view. It was extremely cold and snowy. The parking lot had a good slick of black ice and we watched a couple cars skid around a bit. The lake is pretty impressive. We’ll definitely be back to bike the rim road and ski in the area.
We spent the final night on the road with our Evergreen Tandem Club friends, Pat and Kiri. Luckily, we timed our visit well because they were having a number of folks staying with them for the next bit for an elk camp they’ve run out of their house for many years. It was great to see them and hopefully we’ll be back in the area for the Tandem rally this summer in Klamath falls.
After a quick tire replacement job, we made our last stop in Hood River, OR for a bit of Devil’s Kriek at Double Mountain making it make to Seattle in time for a late dinner. A couple weeks of
rest cleaning/packing/catching up with friends and we would be back on the road.