USA Road Trip: Wish we were dessert bound instead.
25.10.2011 - 26.11.2011
Roaaaaaaad trip! Hold up, not yet first we need to spend some quality time in the car lot at Avis working out how to use the rental car. Turns out you have to manually open the petrol tank but the car is fully automated when it comes to moving the seats. It can move you up, down, forward, back and tilt you and tip you out, however that’s if you find the lever and know what it’s for.
Success! The accelerator could be reached. We buckled up, headed along the Las Vegas strip and out into the depths of the Nevada Desert en route to Death Valley National Park. Within minutes we were cruising down the endless highway, driving into miles and miles of nothingness. I soon found the 90’s channel on the radio and began what was pretty much 3 days of non-stop singing along to all the songs I forgot I loved.
There were a few stray towns off the highway, the first of which that offered “services” was a little place called Lathrop Wells. We pulled in to the roadhouse, which along with the roadhouse on the other side of the highway encompassed Lathrop Wells.
This little stop had a gas station, a store, a 24-hour brothel and amazingly enough, a brothel museum – the only one in America it claims, so one can get a little culture with your titties, which I think adds a touch of class.
It was also advertised as being the last stop for gas before Area 51. As we drove north from Vegas the entire area of the desert to the east is ‘military’ area, in the hills and rocks lays many military airbases and government secrets. The Extra Terrestrial Highway runs parallel on the other side of the mystery lands hence Area 51 and its infamous stories of UFOs and secret research centres.
We didn’t need gas, thankfully, because gas was a major operation usually involving me having to go and ask the cashier a lot of questions regarding how the hell to get the petrol to come out. Then getting a blank look until I said gas. Turns out stealing petrol is a pastime so you have to pre-pay before the petrol comes out, made more difficult when you don’t know what a gallon is or how many gallons fit in a car, luckily $15 can buy you half a tank in a small car.
Lathrop Wells sold your basic crap, some inedible foodstuffs like jerky, trucker caps, hookers and inflatable aliens.
So we left Lathrop Wells with a packet of Starburst, a coke and green Alien named Rodney, who was to accompany us into Death Valley. We were going to take a hooker on a day trip too but space in the back seat was limited.
Rodney took to the road trip lifestyle well, buckled in the back seat, he had a brief sing along to Whitney Houston early on but then just watched on quietly as we drove deeper and deeper into the middle of nowhere on the California and Nevada State line.
We left the highway and took the little roads into the depths of Death Valley National Park. I have always wanted to see a ghost town. It my mind it would be a little wild west town with a tumble weed rolling along its main strip and the saloon door off one a hinge and swinging in the wind. It wasn’t exactly like that. Rhyolite was once a thriving town of 10,000 during the mining boom, then when everyone realised living in Rhyolite was shit, everybody left. Segments from the brick buildings have remain abandoned amongst the rocks now for nearly a century.
As we drove on there was a small road snaking off the highway into the middle of the mountains. According to my map it was an unsealed road leading to a canyon with a ghost town en route. The main roads are straight and long, so an opportunity to turn off on a desert adventure should always be taken. I think it was Bear Grylls who once said that the number one rule for surviving the desert is to take random, unsealed back roads.
Ooo sounds mysterious, so away we went turning off the main road in our Chevrolet Impala sedan. It said 4x4 ‘recommended’ but as it only recommended and not ‘required’ we kept driving along a windy, rocky narrow path through the landscape, in and among big, towering rocky ledges, between gorges and up and down the mountains.
There was not a soul around as we drove amongst the depths of the canyon. We passed another little ghost town created apparently by lies of greatness, 300 odd people arrived in middle of these canyons expecting a town.
It would have been something like this:
A carriage rolls to a stop.
*stretching* “we’re here guys”, says a lively chap waking from his boredom-induced slumber.
“I’m going to go bowling first thing”, says one miner as he grabs his giant foam finger and rave whistle in anticipation.
“bowling?”, grumbled the old one, “why, I am going to sample the local rum then pass out in a mine”.
The three men jumped out of the carriage and landed on to the dirt road with a thud, looked around at a solitary tin shed on the valley slope among the rocks, then down at their brochure, then back at the shed.
“Where’s the swim up margarita bar from page 2?”
Needless to say, given that in 2011 it took us over an hour by dirt road to get to it, it’s no surprise living here didn’t quite take off and the town died out after a year.
Two and a so hours later we popped out the other side of the canyon like baby being born, popped out from the giant, dramatic landscape towering above us into vast nothingness. The mountains on the horizon were even blurred. We were in a big valley surrounded by rocks and rocky mountains. We survived our inland trek and by all accounts were in the guts of Death Valley USA.
The Impala was fine, a little dusty, well a lot dusty, there was dirt everywhere even in the boot. That night I casually read the guide to driving the park and about making sure to carry fresh water, food, petrol, warm clothing, hats and all sorts of supplies if you go off road. Let’s just keep it to ourselves shall we that we hit the treacherous roads of Death Valley in a sedan, with half a bottle of Mountain Dew and a half packet of Starburst. But really, where is their sense of adventure?
My road trip responsibilities are navigation and entertainment. The navigating duties when there is one road and you can see it disappear into the horizon ahead, are not particularly demanding so I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride, control the radio, sing to Mariah Carey and TLC (something I deem as falling under the entertainment umbrella) and enjoy the feeling of being 100 per cent in the middle of nowhere. I came momentarily into play again as we set off to find Stovepipe Wells, the town we were to spend the night. We passed the welcome sign, drove passed a building/gas station/store and out the other side of town in approximately 4 seconds. The town was the hotel. The hotel, store, gas station is all one complex, and makes up the entirety of Stovepipe Wells. I really don’t know where people who work here live.
Death Valley has some of the most dramatic landscapes I have ever seen, mountains, rocks, cliffs, vast flatness, sand dunes and salt flats all here together. It is the lowest point in America it is also the driest and hottest. You would fry in the valley in summer with temperatures having reached .
While Rodney made friends at photo stops and enjoyed being the scenery. It wasn’t long before he met his maker. Kicked the bucket. Took the early bus. His thin Alien skin just wasn’t cut out for a rough and tumble life in the desert. One carefree October morn we were playing in the Badwater Basin, the salt flats of Death Valley. I had him propped up by some salt chunks, and salt, may I just say in its natural form, is solid as a brick, one thing led to another and I grabbed him to pull him free and in the process he received a fatal graze to the lower leg. He yelped, I yelped. He deflated. But not without screaming in pain for several minutes as he lost air.
It was undoubtedly an untimely death for an Alien but I think if Will Smith films have taught us anything, it’s that Aliens don’t survive long on our planet with our oxygen levels as they are. Rodney, may he rest in peace, passed away in the lowest point of North America, 80-odd metres below sea level. The valley in this part looks like snow, as white salt expands across its floor for kilometres. So not a bad way to go.
After a lot of rocks, lots of mountains and lots of mountains made of rocks we headed back towards Nevada, through miles of nothingness and onto the main interstate. By now Rodney was nothing more than a flat piece of Alien shaped plastic still seat belted into the back seat.
We got back to civilisation, back to Sin City, Las Vegas, if one can call it civilisation. The car was an off shade of white, and I threw some windscreen cleaning water over the windows which made them streaky and muddy, rubbed out my name that I written in the dashboard dust and we returned the hire car and slipped away before they could ask why there was dirt everywhere and the suspension was a little off.
Or why there was a dead alien under a sheet in the boot.