Thursday, August 22, 2013

Death Valley Death Defiers

Yes, finally, the road to Death Valley. You turn off 395 and you are on your way.  Good luck. While people might be concerned about crossing Death Valley it's actually an easy and fairly simple trip on good roads. Just be sure the temp isn't going to be much above 120 that day.
At ten in the morning when we set out from Lone Pine, it was already 86 degrees. The Prius V said no problem and it ate up the highway like Fox News viewers eating Hannity's musings. That's my liberal boyfriend sticking in his two cents.

Welcome to Death Valley National Park. Of course, everybody has to stop and get this shot.
And wouldn't you know, here we go again. For the fifteen minutes we were at the entrance sign the place was overrun with Euros. Bless them for loving America and going to places that many Americans would never venture out to see. What the hell is up with we Americans? And what the hell is up with Trump and Palin? And what about Chris Christie? And why can't John McCain stop bothering President Obama? Get McCain back to Arizona to fix our crumbling roads.
Here's Death Valley Scotty, me, and the top of Daisy's head at the first overlook. Don't waste your time stopping here. Things just get better as you go deeper into the park.

Oh hell, waste your time. That's what a road trip is all about.
There are important things to remember as you cross Death Valley. If it's a really hot day -- in the mid-120s -- your tires can shred and vehicles might overheat, especially if they tow trailers. Take plenty of water--one gallon per person per day. Cell phone service is spotty at best. Gas up before you get to the park (gas stations inside the park are few and far between). Do not rely on your GPS. Do not. GPS might take you on the shortest route which could be unpaved. Stay on the relatively well-traveled, marked, paved park roads. Get lost in this heat and you could easily wind up another Death Valley statistic. The desert is a starkly beautiful but hostile environment.

Programming note: On Friday, August 23, 2013 20/20 will air the story of three tourists who, relying on GPS, got lost for three days in Death Valley. They lived to tell their tale. You may not.
Around noon the temperature was already approaching 100 and we were well into the valley of death. But again the Prius V* was eating up the miles like Newt Gingrich goes through wives.
(*Real tow vehicle: Toyota Tundra 8-cylinder pickup. The Prius V stayed in the garage this trip.)
Hot and only getting hotter...

There are a couple of large RV parks and a few motels and hotels inside the park. But again, they're mostly filled with Euros. Many Americans seemingly don't want to do this, especially in summer. But summer is an adventure.
You'll pass places like this -- a monument to a group of miners in the 1880s who ran out of supplies, killed and ate their mules.
Death Valley has a mountain peak that rises to 8200 feet and its lowest spot (while this read "sea level") is at Furnace Creek Ranch, 218 feet below sea level.
Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the lower 48. Even bigger than Bill O'Reilly's ego.
By 12:30, two hours inside the park, it's 111 degrees.
One half hour later it's 116.  This is outside the visitor center at Furnace Creek. Basically you're on a 120-mile drive where you go from 5000 feet to well below sea level and the temperature rises accordingly.

Inside the Furnace Creek Visitors Center. The humidity read 1%. The temperature a whopping 117 and it was expected to go to 120.
Here you learn of Death Valley's superlatives.
The most astounding is its highest ever recorded temperature...
in July 1913 of 134 degrees. To top that you would have had to go to Al Azizia, Libya in September 1922 when the temperature reached 136 degrees.
Believe it or not, for more than a century miners have come into this God- forsaken climate to mine borax, a mineral used as a laundry detergent booster, and also shows up in hand soap, insecticide, and even in some teeth bleaching products.
And think about it back then without most of the comforts that came with the twentieth century, especially air conditioning. Ouch.
Speaking of comfort, this is one of the lodges inside the park. Reservations well in advance are required--as much or more than six months in advance.
And here is the Lance, deftly making it through the park pulled by the Prius V hybrid showing no strain in the nearly 120-degree weather.
And before you know it, you are exiting the park and you come upon the small community of Amargosa, little more than a cluster of white adobe buildings. This was something of an R and R camp for the borax mine workers. It included an opera house (seen here) and plenty of cold beer and bad whisky. The Amargosa Opera House and adjoining motel are open for business.
Soon you're in the heart of what passes for civilization in Nevada, the town of Pahrump, an hour from Vegas. Plenty of inexpensive gas stations, lodging, casinos and it's becoming quite the winter hot spot for snowbirds escaping the cold, snowy upper Midwest. We found this place, Wine Ridge RV Park.
Imagine. A wine-themed RV park. Paradise.
This is a fairly new park with lots of amenities...two pools, spas, fitness center...
and sparkling clean private bathrooms with your own shower (a big deal)...
but best of all, there is wine here. A few acres are planted in grapes but most of the wine comes from California.  Free tastings in the pretty tasting room. I am there.
Behold, the tasting room.
All the streets are named in honor of the fruit of the vine...wines we all know and love. Maybe too much.
From Pahrump you can either drive fifty miles into Las Vegas or skirt Las Vegas and cross over Hoover Dam and into Arizona to the city of Kingman, home of Andy Devine.  We hooked up at an RV park that advertised it was away from the train tracks. But they failed to mention the Petro Truck Stop/gas station a couple of hundred yards away. It was still a nice park, nonetheless.
Our neighboring campers were a delightful couple from San Antonio, traveling the country in a small RV, seeing as much of it as they possibly can. I don't know that we've ever encountered two people, especially in their mid-to-late 70s, with as positive an attitude about road travel as these two.
Betty (from Ireland) and Paul (from Iowa), we salute you!
Red sky at night, sailors' delight. But so much for that because between Kingman and ...
Williams we hit violent monsoon rains.
But the Lance and Prius V persevered and by 4 in the afternoon we found ourselves winding down through Oak Creek Canyon with the red rocks and Sedona and home in sight.
Don't know how this got in here but it's a picture of Paul published in Life Magazine, whacking away at the Berlin Wall when the Soviet Union came tumbling down in November 1989. And has anyone told that snivelin' little rootin' tootin' chest-puffin' Putin that his Russia is a mere shadow of its former self? And before he goes apoplectic reading this, how about sending back that equally sniveling little traitor?
So now that we have all that off our chests Paul has returned to his old job of ferrying outdated military fighter jets to the Davis Monthan dry storage yard in Tucson. This is Paul outside his F-14 Tomcat.
...and Paul about to take off in his old T-38 that in a former life was an Air Force Thunderbirds jet. Paul's quite a guy. Just ask him.
I am about to embark on another of my Euro adventures...
...a cruise around the Black Sea...
I just hope our captain doesn't have a girlfriend on shore as did the Costa Concordia captain. Brother. So sad. Should not have happened.
And, finally, the Lance, at rest, in front of our digs in the beautiful red rock country of Sedona.
So for Paul it's blue skies ahead ferrying fighter jets, for me, blue seas in the not too distant future. And for Daisy, a true "road warrior", it's a bit of a comedown, especially after green grass, lakes, cool mountain streams and a butt-sniffing boyfriend in Bridgeport. But there are more road trips ahead, little one. Fear not.

Bye bye. Buy Starbucks. Best damn coffee in the world.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Manson, Manzanar, Movies, Monsters, and a Magnitude 8.6

Daisy's all bummed out because we promised her Death Valley in this next post and it's only about the gateway to Death Valley, Lone Pine, south of Bishop on Highway 395 (hell of a note to be best known as "the Gateway to Death Valley" but wait...there's more).
On the way to Lone Pine and Death Valley is one of the more beautiful glacier-formed lakes in the U.S. and it's just a couple of miles off the highway: Convict Lake.  In 1871 a group of convicts escaped from the territorial prison in Carson City and were chased by a posse to this location. There was the usual shootout and two lawmen were killed.  The convicts were captured and since then this place has been known as Convict Lake. Don't know why it wasn't called "Lawmen Lake" since they were the ones who bit the bullet. In 1951 a movie was released called "The Secret of Convict Lake". Don't go looking for it because you already know the outcome.

And, as an aside, as we are wont to do...

Convict Lake is where my family-- dad, mom, two brothers, sister, and dog -- went camping around 1965. We had driven over from Burbank, California and were all set for one of them thar camp dinners where you pump up a kerosene stove and start cooking. As luck would have it, the stove blew up. High winds fanned the flames and our campsite and the surrounding forest caught fire. A ranger rushed to the rescue, our dog attacked the ranger, my mom was screaming, my sister was wailing, my brothers dumped their cans of worms at the edge of the lake -- they'd been fishing -- and tried to douse the inferno. People from surrounding campsites came to our aid, put out the fire, and to this day my family is banned from Convict Lake.
Again, we digress, so back now to the road to Lone Pine and the small town of Independence, just north of it.  Independence is the Mono County seat with quite an impressive courthouse, probably the largest building in fifty square miles. Don't know why these little towns have such imposing courthouses but they do and maybe it gives the town some stature.

It was in this courthouse in 1969 that that snivelin' little teabaggin', Scientology-following (true about Scientology) evildoer Charlie Manson was brought up on charges. Not for murder but for car theft. He was picked up in Death Valley and while jailed in Independence, somebody snitched on him and he was taken to Los Angeles to face murder charges in the Tate/La Bianca slayings. Now 45 years later we, the taxpayers, are still feeding and housing this guy and his followers. Paul's two cents: While we neither encourage nor condone violence, why hasn't some deranged gunslinger with an AK47 bust into Charlie's cell? Why do they always have to shoot up schools, malls, and movie theatres?

In between Independence and Lone Pine is the sad story of this place, Manzanar, where Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War Two.
Today these camps are referred to as "internment camps" but make no mistake, Japanese Americans were imprisoned here. Barbed wire and armed guards in guard towers surrounded the place so no one could get out. It's difficult to view and understand why the American government did this through the lens of the twenty-first century. But happened it did and today some of these camps throughout the west and in parts of the east have put together interactive displays. Don't pass this by.
An old barracks at Manzanar.
And finally, we arrived at Lone Pine. Yes, gateway to Death Valley and the jumping off spot for hikers scaling Mount Whitney.
First thing you see as you enter from the north is a sign pointing to the graves of 1872 earthquake victims. When Lone Pine only had 300 people, close to ten percent of the population perished when a massive earthquake hit. It rivaled the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Since the quake struck at 2:30 in the morning, most people were asleep in their shabbily built pioneer dwellings which fell on top of them. (It's said that John Muir felt the quake and ran from his Yosemite cabin yelling, "A noble earthquake!".)
Most of the victims were unidentified and placed in a mass grave. They were American Indians, along with Irish and Chilean immigrants who had come during the Gold Rush.
Down the street, there's quite an impressive small movie museum. Lone Pine with its quintessential mountains/pine forests setting was a favorite shooting location for westerns and other genres.
Humphrey Bogart's 1941 crime drama "High Sierra" was shot here...
along with episodes of "The Lone Ranger"...
and the 1955 drama "Bad Day at Black Rock" starring Spencer Tracy and Lee Marvin (a former Marine--ooo-rah).  Visit the earthquake cemetery and movie museum because in Lone Pine that pretty much sums it up.

One last attraction if you're lucky or unlucky enough to spot it: Lone Pine has its own version of a flying Bigfoot knock-off called something like the "Lone Pine Mountain Monster Devil". It's supposedly a dinosaur/bat-like being that flies around and terrorizes people. Sounds like the Mothman to me, a red-eyed winged creature that haunted little Point Pleasant, West Virginia for awhile.
Like we said what Lone Pine really is is the Gateway to Death Valley. Find a motel -- there are quite a few -- or if you're an RVer, pick your park. There are a couple of nice ones. This one, south of town, is called "Boulder Creek". Don't go lookin' for a creek cause there ain't one.
And here we are all geared up for our run through Death Valley tomorrow in the all new for 2014 1885 Lance travel trailer with side slide with the 2013 Prius V tow vehicle.
When we checked in I asked for a quiet, private site and didn't think that would be a problem since the park was only one quarter full. Our spot had plenty of privacy but damn little quiet. We were about 200 feet from big rigs roaring up and down 395 all night. So keep in mind that quiet after a long day on the road is mighty important.
All of these RV parks are dog-friendly and some provide poop cleaning stations with bags. The irony here is right below the poop bag dispenser poop. And no, it wasn't Daisy's. For her to lay a loaf this size would probably turn her inside out.
In the morning we set out, destination: Death Valley. It didn't take long for the temperature to hit 111 degrees. Headed for 156 but the Prius V pays no attention whatsoever to scorching heat like Fox News does to the facts. 

See ya soon. Bye bye. Buy Starbucks. Best damn coffee in the world.