Our visit to Death Valley has been too short, but unfortunately work intrudes. Cell phone service is limited to spotty analog coverage, and I’ve had seven dropped calls this morning in an attempt to accomplish one short task. Forget about Internet service. We will mark Death Valley as a spot to return to again, perhaps next winter.
Before we left, Emma completed her Junior Ranger activities and we went to the Visitor Center to get reviewed by the rangers there. Emma managed to complete more activities in the book than are required for her age group,
The drive west out of the park is a tough one for any car, which is why the park service spots tanks of “radiator water” alongside the road. A sign says “Prevent overheating “â€œ turn off A/C next 20 miles”. The road climbs over the Panamint Range to 5000 feet, and even though we got on the road by 10:30, it was already 95 degrees.
The Nissan did very well for a truck hauling an 8000 lb trailer up 5000 feet vertically. As the road steepened, we did need to downshift to keep the engine RPM high. Higher RPM helps the engine and transmission cooling. Eventually, we needed to slow to about 25 MPH in first gear. There was plenty of power, but trying to go faster we would risk overheating.
Another tip I would give any Airstreamer coming out of Death Valley is to be sure to have plenty of fuel. Climbing up these hills, you won’t get the usual fuel economy. We chewed up a half tank in no time at all, and were forced to stop at one of the tiny outposts on the way west for fuel at a painful $3.76 per gallon. I bought five gallons, and was reminded of the last time I was in Italy, paying about the same rate.
Eventually Rt 190 meets Rt 395 at Lone Pine, and 395 heads north through the Owens Valley. This is an amazingly scenic drive. The sharp and snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevadas loom to the west. The valley is green and quiet, and to the east are the dusty brown desert foothills of the Inyo Mountains. This is wonderful country, magnificently isolated by the walls of rock to the west, and the hundreds of miles of scorching desert to the east.
Traveling north we passed through a series of small towns (Independence, Big Pine, Bishop), slowly climbing up the tilted valley floor. To our left we passed the east entrances of King’s Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite National Parks, but one glance at the steep winding roads told us we would have a tough time entering through those back doors. In fact, the roads to Yosemite and Devil’s Postpile National Monument are still closed for snow. The snow in the mountains that looked so far away from yesterday’s hike at Dante’s View got closer and closer. It was hard to believe we were heading toward it, with the memory of 100 degree temperatures and scorching hot beds still fresh.
In fact, the latent heat of Death Valley is still with us. We’re now around 7,000 feet in the town of Mammoth Lakes, where we are parked in the National Forest campground ($15, no hookups). When we arrived, the outside air was a mild 61 degrees, but when I opened a storage compartment in the back of the Airstream, I was surprised by a blast of heat. Every closet and cubby is the same way: storing the dry hot air of Death Valley. The interior of the trailer was 82 at 9 pm this evening. It may take most of the night to cool the trailer off, but at least we will have a much more comfortable night’s sleep.