We headed off from Yosemite, descending from the cooler heights of the Park area to the more moderate temperatures of the Central Valley, overnighting at Bakersfield (associated with lots of things but for music aficionados the late Merle Haggard and Buck Owens – sadly (?) no available concerts by local performers for those in our group interested in the genre!) and then on to Death Valley.
Our route along Highway 99 to Bakersfield took us through miles and miles of nut and fruit trees, grapevines and other produce too. Very intensive farming, all irrigated via the mighty Central Valley Project which brings water hundreds of miles from Northern California. No photos to show – a new zoom lens I bought for the trip failed (or is DOA as an expert in a camera shop in Fresno told me) and so for the rest of the trip I’m relying on a little prime lens. We left Bakersfield turning east to Mojave and then northwards for Death Valley. For the geographically minded there is a shorter route to Death Valley across the mountains from Yosemite but it is still closed from the winter.
Couldn’t resist a shot of this shiny new truck, the driver was delivering health drinks to the service centre as we were getting gas (petrol) (around $US4 per gallon). As we drove eastward it became (unsurprisingly) drier and more desert like as we entered the Mojave Desert. We passed thousands of wind generators and huge solar farms en route as well as an interesting clothes shop near Mojave (note the models!) and a field of stored non operational aircraft near there too, obviously the dry air is good for storage. Those who know us might be surprised at the destination of choice for morning coffee – yes – you’ve guessed – it’s the golden arches! Some confusion as to the order – straight lattes or cappuccinos served hot without any additives except milk but we’re becoming more adept at ordering.
As we continued on to Death Valley we passed through a huge mineral area where various salts, borax and other mineral products are produced from the huge dry salt lake, all transported out of the desert by train – surprising to see seemingly uninhabited desert we’d been driving through. We were also very surprised to find a sign to Ballarat. Just the place to eat our picnic lunch while gazing into the distance trying to find Ballarat!
It’s now a ghost town which can just be seen behind Cherrie’s head as she takes a photo of the Ballarat Road sign. Named after Ballarat in Victoria, I would guess because miners moved to and from both places looking to find their fortune in gold, it once boasted seven saloons and three hotels and a morgue but no churches! Truly the wild west!
The temperature as measured by the car climbed as we proceeded north, by the time we got to Burnt Wagons inside the Park, it was 106F (41C). Burnt Wagons was where gold seekers who were seeking a short cut to central California in 1849 burnt their wagons (nothing else to burn there) and dried the meat of some oxen in order to survive to struggle on westward. Don’t know how many did survive. Not far away there are some sand dunes which as you can see it is not advised to walk after 10am due to the heat, nonetheless there were car and bus loads of people all heading out into them.
Furnace Creek lived up to its name – very hot! It’s below sea level and spectacular in the starkness of the huge salt pan surrounded by towering mountains some still crowned with snow. Nonetheless we woke on our second day to see a rainshower over Furnace Creek (top pic below).
We visited Badwater Basin where there is a small basin of salty water and a huge salt pan which is 282 feet (86m) below sea level but from which you can also see Mt Whitney the highest point in mainland USA (not including Alaska). You can just see the snow cap in the lower right pic. The little white dot above Richard is a label of where sea level is and Wayne and Cherrie are gazing at it leaning on a sign warning people about heat and dehydration, which did not seem to make a big impression on walkers.
Hardly any vegetation anywhere but the landscape is beautiful in its topography, starkness and the colours of the rocks. Particularly spectacular is the landscape around Zabriskie Point – as we and about 400 others saw as we climbed to the viewing point! I think I did well to keep the pics peopleless!
Waiting for the wives taking photos! Such patience!