Day 3/24

A Long Dull Drive Ahead

Due to jet lag I am completely awake at 04:00, which is very usable in summer but much less in winter. I wait until 06:30 to go outside for photography, but light is far from great.

Yosemite NP, Swinging Bridge

The plan for today is to drive to Death Valley National Park, taking around 10 hours according to Google. The eastern Yosemite exit via Tuolumne Meadows is closed in winter, forcing me to take the western exit, taking a couple of extra hours compared to the other more attractive route. One thing I am not sure of is whether or not the few hotels in Death Valley have a 24 hour operation. Therefore the first destination is Ridgecrest (a 5 hour drive) where at least a Comfort Inn with 24 hour desk is available.

The first part of the route is quite boring to be honest. Again the same long road through the woods to exit the park, followed by a 150 kilometer stretch of flat land covered in fog. Something with the GPS must have gone wrong, because the first part of the route is missing.

A Spectacular Race Track

The road that follows is spectacular, very rough and mountainous. Definitely one to remember and drive again some other time. Photographic opportunities are abound but actual stopping on the road is almost impossible due to fast traffic and very few places to stop. The experience is like driving in a roller coaster like race track, with lots of curves. Everyone drives fast here, enjoying the ride with a smile on their faces.

Bad Burgers and a Longing Temptation

At 16:30 I arrive in Ridgecrest and can not resist to continue to Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley National Park, which is only 66 miles further down the road. Should I not make it in time, I would be able to return within the hour to Ridgecrest for the night. I quickly grab some burgers which appear to be the most horrible ones I can remember have eaten ever. These are very quickly disposed off and will temper my taste for burgers for quite some time, which is actually a good thing.

Pinnacle Surprise

Somewhere on this road my eye falls suddenly on a road sign saying something like “… Pinnacles”. Pinnacles usually means photography. So at the first possibility I turn the car and drive back for closer inspection. This appears to be a very photogenic area that can be reached via a dirt road of around 8 kilometers. The area is covered in pinnacles with a mountain range in the background. After a lot of racing to find the perfect sunset spot I jump out of the car, cross a couple of hills while running to end up with a few shots that are far from perfect because I am only a few minutes late.

Trona Pinnacles

Trona Pinnacles

Trona Pinnacles

Trona Pinnacles

The time has been simply too short. After a good day of driving, only 3 minutes late this time, unbelievable. Those bad burgers cost me dearly in more than one way.

Scary Business

I continue on the road to Stovepipe Wells which goes quite well despite complete darkness here, until it takes a scary turn. The GPS has instructed me to take a turn to a road that seems to run a bit parallel to the main road for a while, but turns more inland soon. The road starts to narrow, becomes more of a dirt road with lots of bushes and rocks on both sides and starts to climb. As it is already pitch black, this is becoming a bit scary because I’m not sure where and how this is going to end and it is most certainly not the easy road I expected. Zooming out on the GPS-map I can see that this road continues to around Stovepipe Wells so I decide to press on. Turning the car is almost impossible, leaving no other choice anyway. After a lot of turns, humps and ditches I end up on the main road, quite close to Stovepipe Wells. Glad that ’I have made it’, I happily remove the sweat from my forehead and soon find a bed for the night with even a working internet connection, wow!

Planning Ahead

The weather prediction has changed a bit and the expectation is for the weather to be the same as today. The pinnacles were so impressive and photogenic that I must go back tomorrow, I simply must, but then with more than enough time for proper photography.

Death Valley National Park is a real winter destination because temperatures are nice and there are not many visitors. The plan is to stay here at least for a couple of days and to arrive in Las Vegas before the weekend. Next destination will be Zion National Park.

Examining the GPS, I finally discover why it has sent me to that awful road. I’s configured to take the shortest route rather than the fastest route. I configure it for fastest route to prevent such adventures again.

Maps, Charts & Downloads

GPS Map with color coded altitude information

Color coded distance/altitude chart

Color coded distance/altitude chart, South West USA Winter 2010, Day 03

Download the original gpx file here.