Happy New Year from Death Valley

Vegas was really just a pit stop on the way to Death Valley, which was where we were headed this morning. It was a fairly long drive to our next stop off which was in Beatty to the north east. We planned to drive a scenic route down the old Spanish trail and up through Badwater Basin V.

It was also New Year’s Eve.

Yesterday we had been to a carwash and cleaned Ruby, as driving through all the salty and snowy mountains road she was actually disgusting. I felt slightly embarrassed to be seen near her. Now, all nice and clean we began our drive over the mountain pass at the south of Death Valley. Needless to say, it was a snowy pass and therefore 5 minutes later she was covered in salt again, although it wasn’t quite as bad as before. If you take photos from the right angles there are still clean bits. The mountains here are breath-taking and now photos or words will ever do it justice. The shear bleak scale is something that is awe inspiring and you feel like you are much higher than you actually are just because everything is so barren.

We wound down through the pass and into the valley, which is actually 200ft below sea level and is much much warmer! I can well imagine that in the summer it is possible to fry and egg on the ground as it is warm and pleasant now in the middle of winter.

We pulled over at several places for picture stops, having officially crossed into California. We also stopped for our first expense Californian fuel in the town of Shoshone before taking a more minor road, that advertised it’s lack of services for the next 72 miles, out towards Badwater Basin. Here you can just see a glimmer of the salt flats in the background.

It was quite surreal to drive through somewhere so utterly desolate and the pull up in a parking lot full of people. Clearly a good time to visit here, as cars parked all down the road to go and walk out to the middle of the valley. The arrow in the photo shows where the sign is on the cliff that marks sea level.

Being on a bit of a tight schedule, we opted to drive on and look at some more sights rather than spend too much time walking into the desert.

Although strolling around in a t-shirt is definitely something I could get used to again. We stopped off again on a small one way drive that takes your past this pretty viewpoint out over Badwater Basin.

And then continues on to a rock face known as the Artist’s Palette, due to the wide range of colours it has in it. Although you can really see it in the photo, there’s all sorts of blue, green and purple shades in these rocks.

It was also an interesting drive through the narrow and winding rock formations.

Time was now marching on and the light would be failing soon. It was past 4pm here which meant back in England it was already a New Year.

We drove on to get to the Atomic Inn (which interestingly markets itself as the place to give if you want to visit Area 51) in Beatty, with Lee hoping to get signal and be able to speak to his family back home. When we actually arrived, it was nearly 2am English time, but fortunately his mum was still awake and so they chatted while Aimee and I acquainted ourselves with the new motel room. Aimee was thrilled to be out, and I was happy that the heater was very efficient. We planned to camp in a big empty parking area nearby, and cook and eat in their room. A nice bottle of bubbly was also ready in the fridge to welcome in 2020.

Having got supplies out of the van, we started cooking and before too long had our meal ready. The winter sun means that you tend to be inside quite early as the light is gone and that means that by the time we had finished everything it was only about 10pm. Needless to say, I feel like it is imperative to see in the new year personally, so no matter how much I could have gone to bed we decided to go to the local saloon bar instead. My parents opted for a nap.

The local bar had a decent handful of people there and we had a quiet drink in the corning planning to be back at the hotel in time for midnight. They had a money walk featuring some English money!

As the time drew nearer the barman started pouring everyone a glass of champagne, so we decided it was time to leave, not wanting to waste his champagne. On the way back we saw the wild burros, that the local signs had warned of.

Back at the room, we tried to find the UK fireworks on TV with absolutely no luck. In the end we ending up sipping our glass of champagne, crowded around Lee’s phone where someone had sent us a link to it on Facebook (thank you Michael)! While not quite the grand display you might have enjoyed somewhere else, it was somethings of a tradition to watch the show! Afterwards, we headed back to the van and no doubt my parents went to bed.

Deciding that we weren’t quite done, we headed back to the bar, which we knew was open until 2am. Last time, I had just ordered a bottle of bud as sometimes asking what beer they serve is met with a confused expression. However, when I did this, a man at the bar turned to us and pointed to the wall of bottles near the bar, “You can have any of those” he said, clearly not impressed with my Budweiser choice.

On our return we went for a peanut butter milk chocolate stout, and it was pretty dam amazing. It got to the point where we were the last ones there and we opted to take our unfinished bottles with us, rather than keep the barman up any longer. Back at the van I was done, but Lee managed to get hold of his dad and stayed up speaking to him, back in England it was morning.

The following morning my parents were driving out of Death Valley, heading west in order to break up the upcoming drive to San Francisco. We had planned to spend another night exploring the surrounding mountains, as we had a load of things we wanted to see which we hadn’t yet. We drove back over the mountains, and down into the valley again. Stopping to appreciate what we had missed in the dark last night.

Not far down the road is the turning to the ghost town of Rhyolite. Inhabited during the gold rush, a selection of building still stand.

This bottle house is one of the better-preserved ones.

And has a collection of things outside the back of it.

Further up the the mountainside is the old school, as well as some other houses.

Walking around the place is littered not only with glass and tin cans, I’m not sure why but the entire area is covered like this.

There is also old entrances to the mine all around. We walked to one very close to the town, and then out to the one just visible in this photo as a white mound on the valley floor.

Mine entrance close up
More abandoned houses

There’s also a grave out here in the middle of nowhere, although I’m not sure why she wasn’t buried in the main cemetery further down.

Another mine entrance up on the hillside. This one you can walk a short way inside before it’s blocked off.

View from the mine entrance across the town

On our way out we stopped to look at this old car, I’m not sure who’s rustier!

We then continued on past these sand dunes, which sit incongruously in the bottom of part of the valley.

Driving on, we passed through Stovepipe Wells, where, shortly after a signs warns you about the likelihood of your engine overheating. The next 20 miles is a steady climb from sea level, to around 5000ft. We stopped about half way up on the turning that would take us to Wild Rose campground. There was also a viewpoint down the same round that we wanted to check out, and this would work out nicely before we parked up for the night. Our plans came to an abrupt halt when we came to a barrier across the road. We pulled over, not sure what to do. There wasn’t all the much light left, and we now couldn’t go to the campsite we wanted. We contemplated staying on the side of the road, before I realised that we had driven past a small campsite just by the turning. It did say tents only, but someone else had already parked their much larger RV there and we’re a small van so we thought we tried it. Not only was there an amazing view, but before too long we also got the sunset to go with it.

What a place to park!

Awaking to views like this, it’s hard to have a bad day.

We were driving out to meet up with my parents again, but we wanted to stop at the ghost town of Ballarat on the way out. We pulled over at one of the few petrol stations down here, which had an interesting engine assortment too.

Shortly after, not having to worry about running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere, we turned off on the road down to Ballarat. It’s a rough dirt track and we hadn’t got more than a few hundred yards when a horrible noise came from the back. Lee pulled over, and as I suspected, that wobbly shock absorber from Shiprock had finally given up. We had tried to tighten it at the time, but it had now fully sheared off the captive bolt that holds it to the chassis leaving us with no choice but to remove it and drive without it.

Not overly bothered, as we can manage without a shock absorber, I got distracted by this bird that landed on our bike rack while Lee wrestled the bottom bolt.

It was very tame!

The other good news is that we managed to pull over very quickly, so we actually found the bolt that had fallen out in the road. This is a bit of a bonus as they are very specific bolts and a bit of a pain to get hold of as well as quite expensive. The only bad news really, is that to fix this I need access to a welder and a grinder, I’m sure someone on the west coast will be charitable enough to let me use some tools, we just need to get to them….

Not to be put off, we continued, very slowly down the dirt road. Shock absorber now removed and stored inside. The town of Ballarat is much smaller than that of Rhyolite. It even has this multipurpose building ,which served as both the jail and the morgue in the short 20 years that this place was inhabited.

The jail
The morgue

One of the main reasons we came down here is to see this car, although it looks like nothing different that the other old wrecks out here this has some history behind it.

This is a car that was driven out here by one of the followers of Charles Mason’s cult who was on the run. It broke down here in the desert and has been here even since, inside is still covered in stars that were painted on by the old owners.

Some more abandoned mining equipment.

The grave of ‘Dusty Dan’.

Having seen enough of ghost towns, we began heading back to civilisation. Passing though some very industrial towns as we headed south-west towards Kernville. Soon the scenery began to change and instead of a barren wasteland we were met with trees and grass. With drove through some quite green mountains and ranches of the Walker Pass before ending up on the shores of Lake Isabella for this picturesque view.

We were now just down the road from my parents lodge and we noticed that there was a camping spot right on the lake, but you needed a permit. Once we arrived in Kernville we stopped at the local shop to enquire about a permit, and happened to bump into my parents at the exact same shop. We were told there was plenty of free camping just up the road, which sounded nice and easy. Before we were ready to head there, we had some laundry to be done and went for a couple of drinks in the local brewery while we waited. Several nice brown ales later, we were set to go and find our spot before it got dark. We drove a few miles up the road but the initial sites were all paying ones, however a little further up we found a free one and were happy to set up camp.

We went back to my parents lodge as the owner had kindly allowed us access to the room next door for showers, this was the perfect time to do hair dyeing! In the meantime my mum tried to get to grips with using a microwave and Lee tried to cut his hair. Varying degrees of success later, we headed back up to Ruby and our dinner.

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