One very good reason why you should not go out the night before you drive out of Vegas? The heat of Death Valley! I think Stella and I were both grumbling about how Vegas had gotten the best of us as we hit the road for Yosemite. But as we neared Death Valley, we realized it lives up to its namesake, and I was miserable.
This post marks the longest day of the US road trip to date. After brunch with my friend Diana, Stella and I left Las Vegas around lunch time. We had marked out the best route to get to Yosemite and would be crossing Death Valley.
Where are we?
Our map did not show that we would arrive at a junction. Maybe we took a wrong turn, or maybe our map just wasn’t that detailed. But, we found ourselves in the tiny town of Death Valley Junction, staring straight ahead at the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel. I’m not gonna lie- when we pulled in, it looked creepy. This tiny town looked abandoned to begin with, and there were only one or two other cars in the parking lot. We pulled in and hesitantly walked inside for directions. The few people seated to our left upon entering turned out to be the only customers at the hotel at the moment- and they were ghost hunters trying to connect with people from the past. Then we met a normal enough guy who turned out to be Marta’s right hand man. Marta is an opera singer and performer who owns the hotel and puts on shows in the opera house. If you click the link above, you can read more about her life and how she used to be a star on Broadway. She’s also a talented painter and painted in the interior of the opera house herself. According to this gentleman, she has a cult-like following and people love to come see Marta perform. We had a great time talking to him, and he even weathered the storm when we practically annihilated him with the ‘You’ve lived out in this desserted town for how long?!’ type of questions. He gave us directions to continue on to Death Valley, and we set out again.
Death Valley: Morbid name but for good reason
We went through Death Valley in September. In the US, this month generally signifies temperatures starting to cool as we transition into fall football weather. In Death Valley, that is true as well, however when the average daily high temperature in July is 115 degrees, then when the average daily high in September is 106 degrees you can consider that cooling off as well!
It’s hot. And it’s dry. Average rainfall in Death Valley is just under 2″ per year. It is the hottest, dryest, and lowest place in the United States. Not much can survive in Death Valley under these conditions. I wish I still had the Death Valley National Park newspaper, as it had some fascinating information in it. One thing I do remember is reading about the kangaroo rat. It can survive its entire life without drinking a single drop of water! Its body metabolizes the starches and fats from the seeds it eats to get all of the water it needs to survive. How crazy is that?!
There are people who actually live in this place (no judgment) but I’m not sure how. We stopped midway through Death Valley to grab a bite to eat. There was lodging, a convenience/souvenir store, a little restaurant, and a gas station (where gas was almost $6/gallon since it’s the only place around to get gas). What a life. When we picked up the park newspaper, it warned about car accidents in Death Valley. Not even 20 minutes into the park, we saw a flipped car. There is no cell phone service. When we stopped at the visitor’s area (no building, but just some signs and a place to pay park fees), there was a phone there to use for emergencies. And when we stopped to grab food at the place I mentioned above, we overheard employees talking about someone who didn’t show up to work because she got into an accident- and she was coming from a different direction so it wasn’t the same person we saw. Windy roads, high speeds, and little traffic- a bad combination.
We drove out of our way, up to a lookout called Dantes View. If we were going to drive through Death Valley, we thought we should at least have a look around. The drive up was really windy and slow-going, but the view was pretty spectacular.
Back on the road, we saw what we never expected: rain!
So it didn’t last long, but the clouds that followed are exactly how I imagine doomsday to be. I couldn’t get over how dramatic the sky looked!
We saw signs that recommended you turn your air conditioning off, and even at high speeds, as soon as we rolled the windows down, we were hit with a wall of choking heat. It was evening, and it felt like a blazing hot summer day outside. We saw bicyclists as we drove out of Death Valley and realized these bikers were in some sort of relay bike race. I couldn’t get over why anyone would ever desire to bike Death Valley- not only is the heat bad, but they are climbing mountains. It also slowed us down a bit, because it was completely dark out and we spent the entire evening passing bikers on windy roads.
Yosemite camping is full???
The hours between Death Vally and Yosemite seemed to stretch on, and when we arrived at the park after midnight, we found all of the campgrounds were full. And, there was a good 60 degree temperature change! It was freezing. We had no choice but to keep driving, because there was nowhere to camp. We stopped at one place on the other side of the park to try to get a room- it looked like a dump and the lady said a room would be $100 and only if we paid in cash. Because that doesn’t sound creepy or anything. We found a campground around 2:30am, set up our tent on a sloping campsite, and tried to sleep despite the cold. What a day!