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From Las Vegas to Death Valley

May 8, 2018

Death Valley, California 25th April

Yesterday we were in Las Vegas. In the RV park of the Circus Circus Casino and a stone’s throw from ‘The Strip’. Today we are in Death Valley. Free camping in the mountains that rise up from the lowest point in the Americas. Yesterday we went to sleep with the drone on the massive air cooling units the sky scrapers need. Tonight we will be going to sleep to the song of night birds and perhaps the howl of a coyote. Last week we were trying to get warm while the blizzard raged, today the temperature was 107F outside the Death Valley visitors centre. How things change so quickly.

Without a/c we weren’t looking forward to camping in the park next to the Info centre at over 200 feet below sea level, but the kindly park officer suggested we head to the hills where they allow wild camping with a few restrictions. So here we are. Up with the big horn sheep which we would love to get a glimpse of, and the mountain lions although the chances of seeing one of those is slim.

Looking back on the last few days, after leaving Lake Kaibab we headed back to Route 66 and Williams, the last town bypassed by the Interstate 40. But Williams was nothing more than a tourist trap. Sure, many of the buildings are there from when the Mother Road went through, but they have raped the town and now all you see is Russian and Chinese tourists buying trashy souvenirs. But after Williams is the longest stretch of Mother Road still in one piece. And it was lovely covering the miles as a farewell before we left it for good and headed north to Las Vegas stopping off on a neat little ghost town called Chloride. It was a ghost town but artists and the likes have moved in giving the place a second chance.

So Las Vegas. How are you meant to take the place? Boring during the day but what an extravaganza once the sun sets. It was all kitch and over the top and so very shallow but, you have to go with it and get a laugh. The RV park was amazing in the city. The Circus Circus Casino & Hotel is a massive complex but in the grounds they have quite a nice RV park. And as I said earlier, a short walk from where all the action is. So here we are paying $32 for the night, while rooms above us are priced at over $200 a night. I guess one day they will need the space for another multi storey complex and the park will disappear, but in the meantime it will be very much appreciated by RVers.

Thorndike Camp. Death Valley 26.4.18

A very interesting place Death Valley. You would think it would be empty, devoid of life with the destroying heat and the dryness but today we walked along a shallow stream filled with thousands of pupfish. Very small creatures who only have a twelve month life span but they can live in water 5 times saltier than the ocean. And there are the remains of a Borax producing factory at almost the lowest section of the valley. It could only work in the cooler months, not because it was too hot for the workers but the process of manufacturing the borax would not occur once the temp reached 120F. The Chinese workers lived in tents near the factory while the employers lived at a nearby ranch. There are canyons to drive to and Badlands to explore. But all the time you must be aware of the heat and drink plenty. There are signs everywhere to remind you.

This afternoon we climbed off the base of the valley to this camp some 2200 metres above the salt lake surrounded by Pinyon pines and juniper trees. The fragrance is strong, the fire warmed us.

Last night we didn’t see the big horn sheep but did have two humming birds hovering at our door having a good look in, their wings just a beating blur. They came back for a second look a bit later on. Am amazing little bird.

Sequoia NP. Near Kernville. 27th April.

Another day, another park. This is the home of the big trees. The biggest in volume but not in height. I think the Californian Redwoods can claim that. We are camped metres from the surging Kern River at another delightful place.

It was such an interesting drive today. We left the Thorndike camp fairly early for us and after stopping a short drive down the mountain at some charcoal kilns built in the late 1800s and still in good condition, we headed south on a road that swung around the edges of two large salt lakes. One of the maps showed a place called Ballarat (ghost town) and as it wasn’t far off the road we took a look. The road went directly across one of the lakes to what remained of this small town that used to supply the miners’ needs. But interestingly the plaque said the town was named after Ballarat in Australia. They hoped to have some of the gold dust from that town fall upon them. No such luck as the town didn’t last long.

There is much military activity in this area with jets flying over on a regular basis and large area of land fenced off as part of the China Lake Air Force Base.

30th April, Near Yosemite NP. On Lake Millerton.

Two days up in the clouds looking at these massive trees was quite an experience. After leaving the Kernville camp site the road wound tightly up to 7000 feet. An altitude the Sequoias thrive as they get all their moisture from the clouds that frequently cover them. The southern section attraction is mainly ‘The Walk of a Hundred Giants’. A fascinating walk as this was our first encounter with these trees. In 2011 two of the trees that were growing next to each other toppled. Blocking the walk way that has now been rectified. To walk alongside them you realize just how big they are. And also what a shallow root system they have for such a massive tree.

The next day, yesterday, we once more climbed the mountain but to the northern section of the park where Generals Sherman and Grant welcomed us. Sherman is the biggest tree in the world by volume while Grant is the second. They were shrouded in cloud which gave the whole scene a surreal atmosphere. They are big. Taking a photo of the whole tree was impossible without a fish eye lens.

But the end of the day was turning into a nightmare as we had left the park heading to Fresno, a big city, with no place to free camp or no RV park showing up on the GPS. But there was one a further 50kms on at this lake, Millerton. A State Park camp which would be one of the nicest we’ve stayed at. Our site overlooks boulders and the lake. Inquisitive squirrels are all around including in the van if you’re not careful. Racoons knock over the rubbish bins at night, a female bobcat does the rounds of a morning and jack rabbits scurry into their burrows when startled. Coyotes chorused us while we ate tea by the fire. And Shirtless Steve, the camp host, quite a character, regaled us with his experiences. A nice place. We extended the stay a further night.

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