Death Valley and Lone Pine

The roads to Death Valley from Vegas were surface roads, no interstates.  We drove through what felt like an endless expanse of desert wasteland.  (Maybe wasteland isn't the right word, but that's what it feels like to an east-coast girl who is used to seeing green - pretty much everywhere.)  As we neared the entrance to the park, we watched the temperature rise on our dashboard thermometer.  95, 96, 97, 98.  That was the high on October 10th.  We continued through the park gates to our first destination, a drive through the one-way Twenty Mule Team Canyon.  It was other-worldy (a term I would come to use a lot on the trip) as we drove through mountains of parched rock that rippled like windblown sand dunes.

Ready to really feel the heat, we parked at Zabriskie Point and walked to the top of the panoramic apex overlooking the incredibly unique Amargosa Range.  The views and sights were unlike anything I'd ever seen before and unlike anything I imagined I'd see in Death Valley.  I honestly expected a big park full of sand.  I had no idea how much "beautiful" we would find there.

(Can I tell you that the reason I love this photo is that Ben lent Abby his sunglasses so her eyes wouldn't hurt from the glare?)

As it turns out, 98 does feel hot, but not Georgia 98 hot.  I did not even sweat on the 1/4 mile trek up the hill.  If I walk outside to get my mail on a Georgia 98 day, I sweat before I get halfway to the mailbox.  The good news about Death Valley is that the function of sweating actually works.  When you perspire, it evaporates and your body gets cooled off.  Unfortunately, it sucks the moisture right off and out of your body so there's the prone-to-dehydration thing.  Can't win them all.

I thought a lot about pioneers and explorers on this trip.  I was creeped out on some of those roads, driving with every provision I needed in my van, knowing exactly what was ahead of us.  I cannot even fathom the wild, adventurous spirit of a people so bold to explore uncharted territory like Death Valley, California.  Shoot, I get nervous to go to a new McDonald's because it might not be like the other ones I'm more familiar with.  I'm pretty sure I'd have been the first to die of typhoid or get bit by a rattlesnake on one of those excursions back then.
It was, indeed, a full day at Death Valley -

As the sun started to set, the temperature seemed to plummet.  The car thermometer still read 89 degrees.  We were shocked as it felt almost cool outside.  We found some actual sand dunes and played on them until the sun had long since set, and we headed on our trek towards Mammoth Lakes across yet another mountain range at the end of a long day.

I was unprepared for the treachery of the road that we would be traversing between Death Valley and Mammoth Lakes.  Thankfully, Sam was at the wheel, and he is completely unafraid of anything.  (Now I know where our fearless children get their courage.  Lord knows it's not me!)  The first sign of civilization and a place to stop for dinner was a little town called Lone Pine in the valley between two mountain ranges, just a few miles due east of Mt. Whitney, which we could see on the horizon as we drove north.  The choices were slim - and despite having eaten at a Burger King for lunch, we found ourselves at a Carl's Jr for dinner.

It was 9pm (12am EST) and the whole crew was tired and hungry.  Sam went ahead in to order, while I collected everyone's shoes out in the van, emptied them of sand, and put them back on.  They had sand everywhere on their bodies.  Leah went to use the restroom and actually left a pile of sand on the bathroom floor that she'd been carrying around in her undies.  Twenty minutes, a potty break for everyone, and a few laps around the restaurant later, we still hadn't ordered.  We just stood there, staring blankly at a fast food menu that looked all too much the same as what we'd just eaten earlier in the day.  The sweet manager offered up a few specials.  Those sounded perfect.  We finally put our order in, requested a few water cups, and had a seat.  Our food came up, and we watched as the manager filled up our giant fries container, eyed our family, and then poured another entire extra scoop full of fries on the tray before bringing it out to us.  It was a super sweet gesture.  About ten minutes later, a different employee brought out a bag full of six, giant, soft chocolate chip cookies.  She handed them to me and said, "These are on the house."  I didn't know what to say, but I am pretty sure I at least said, "Thank you."

We were blown away by their generosity.  Then it hit me.  I wonder if they thought we were poor.  It took us 20 minutes to make a menu choice, and we only ordered after she told us about the specials.  We all drank water.  I don't even want to know what my hair looked like (for the majority of the trip, actually).  We literally had dirt coming out of our underwear.  Sam surmised that they just liked our family.  That might be true.  We are pretty likeable.  But it might also be true that they thought we were poor.  Whatever the reason, we trucked some chocolate chip cookies.

Carl's Jr in Lone Pine is getting a thank you note.  The first of many memorable customer service encounters for the trip.

I said a few posts ago, you can find awesome all over the place.   We experienced that this trip, no doubt, both in Creation and in the Created.  North, south, east, and west.


Sharon said...

My husband and I have gone to a film festival in Lone Pine. And, our very favorite place to camp is in Big Pine, which is just up the road. It's a beautiful part of California. Didn't you just love the mountains?! The Eastern Sierras are my hubby's favorite place in the whole world.

You know, I'm not thinking that those people thought you were poor. I just think that for the most part, my great state is full of some terrific people!!

I think it's such a great thing that you and Sam are introducing your kids to God's beautiful creation, and giving them a love for the open road. I still miss some of my family's epic road trips!!


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