A few years ago 3 friends and I met up in San Diego and began a week long road trip that took us through a what’s what of California and Nevada natural history. First we hit Vegas, which I’ve previously written about here. We woke up feeling very mediocre but not too bad considering the 12 hour bender on our last Vegas night, and this is where our story picks up.
A California Road Trip
We checked out of the Imperial Palace and began the drive the drive to Death Valley. Death Valley is incredible. You can tell how it got it’s name; it just looks dead and lifeless, but there is a definite beautiful charm about it. In the side of the mountains you can see an array of different colours in the rocks that just goes on for miles. It is also home to an astonishing array of natural features so varied it’s unbelievable.
Rhyolite Ghost Town
On the way was this incredibly interesting ghost town, that was literally just a collection of ruins from gold rush times that were abandoned when the gold dried up. There was a school, a general store and what looked to be a train station. Most had fences around and a few small signs, but there was no sign of anything official in a preservation sense. Very intriguing.
Rhyolite was a reasonably brief stop and the next stop was Devils Golf Course, our first spot in Death Valley National Park, California. Devil’s Golf Course gets its name as the entire ground is a seemingly endless plain of uneven salt formations. They are quite sharp so if you are not careful and/or not wearing proper footwear it is very easy to cut yourself. Thankfully, friends Ivy, Mick and I were all wearing flip flops so we were fine.
Just 20 minutes up the road is Badwater Basin, a salt flat. Incredible how the salt has settled in such a vastly different form to Devil’s Golf Course yet is so close. Incredibly, in the same area is a place called Artists Pallets: which are small rocky mounds (small compared to mountains mind you), and in the right light show a multitude of different colours. The sun was setting after a big day in the car and we watched the sun go down over Artist’s Pallette and the rest of the valley.
After dinner and the obligatory souvenir shopping we went back to our glorious campsite that we paid $14 for. It was essentially a patch of gravel and rocks. We had packed extraordinarily light for this trip so to say it was not the most comfortable night I’ve ever slept would be an understatement. The only bedding we had was a bunch of towels, which was great because then we had a choice: we could either use the towels to protect our backs from the rocks on the ground or for warmth from the intense, howling wind outside our tent.
Setting up the tent in the wind is something I wouldn’t even wish on an enemy. At one point during the night when I was cold I grabbed the top layer of my makeshift mattress/towel and draped it over me. Ivy said that she woke up during the night and saw me on my stomach with the towel covering only one of my calves. Well at least part of me was warm.
The following morning we woke up just as average as the previous in Vegas. We all woke up sore, wondering what the hell happened last night. To say it was windy would be an inderstatement. I was sleeping in the middle of a 4 man dome tent and the wind was blowing the side of the tent into my face. Thankfully it was only $14 a night between us.
We had planned on driving to Sequoia National Park but there were severe winter snow storm warnings for the area (that turned out to be very accurate) and we were looking at temperatures of around -5 degrees Celsius overnight in snow. As we saw the previous night, we would want to have something to sleep on and sleep under and those “blankets” can only do one of those things. There was also the possibility that the rangers might not even be letting people into the park.
So we set our compasses to Fresno, a town of about 700,000 people, which is pretty small for California. We got in at about 5 and recovered from the trip for a while and since we had a late lunch in Tehachapi at this cute/cheap little diner in the middle of nowhere we weren’t that hungry.
Since Fresno was essentially an overnight rest stop we had little desire to actually do any sight seeing (if in fact there are sights to see). We went to this amazing mini golf course. Mini golf courses in Australia are generally poorly done, not themed, very basic and most likely have not been maintained since the 1980s.
This one had three courses, one a story book theme, one a pirate theme and another a western theme. After a movie, and some unsatisfying, shitty cinema food, we found a Denny’s late at night, since we figured it would actually be weird to eat there at a reasonable hour.
Yosemite National Park
We left yet another Best Western in the morning and set off for Yosemite National Park. The first stop was see some giant sequoias in Marisposa Grove having missed out on Sequoia National Park. However, having come from the heat of Death Valley and the desert, what we weren’t expecting was the snow (despite the warnings).
As we were climbing the mountains we watched the temperature drop from about 13 in Fresno to 0 Celcius in the park. Now when I say snow I don’t mean we drove past a few patches here and there. We got out of the car and needed to find jackets and water proofs because it was coming sown thick and fast. It was incredible! I actually relished being in the cold again, since it had been a long while since being in the snow.
I believe Sequoias are the biggest tree in the world, and the biggest in this park (the Grizzly Giant) was about 14 meters in diameter, however there’s a very good chance I made that statistic up.
The winter storms inland ensured our onward journey was foggy so any thoughts of stopping at any lookouts were quickly dismissed. It slowly began to clear so we stopped for a look at a waterfall then drove over to it for a closer look:
At the time it seemed frustrating, but looking back, photos like are pretty great. The clouds add so much drama to the image.
The journey continued on to San Fran and back to LA, but that’s a story for another day.
If you’re visiting the US and you’re after some more road trip ideas, Jamie has collated a list of some other great options on her site the Daily Adventures of Me
Sidebar: Backtreet Nomad’s Anti Travel Guide to Sydney is out now! If you’re heading there any time soon, grab it on kindle for the price of a beer and learn how to see Sydney as a local.