Monday, March 16, 2009

Cross Country - The Adventure comes AFTER Death Valley

Day 7 - 12 March

Death Valley, true to its name, was fairly successful in convincing us that we could be left there to die. Fortunately we did not go there when the temperature touches its annual high of over 100 deg F. The terrain was just miles and miles of rock and sand, both of which radiate heat to make the place the burning hell it is. We drove for hours through the mindnumbingly dry roads. There were points in time when the visibility ahead was more than 5 miles. We stopped to take pictures of undisturbed sand dunes. It was fun walking up and down the dunes, reminded us of walking on Elliot's Beach in Chennai.We finally reached Badwater which is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. It was just a large basin with boards describing how the place came to be. We were rather unimpressed until we realized that we were standing 282ft below sea level. The sea level was marked on a hill in front of us. It was only when we saw it that we felt kind of dwarfed.

We planned to do the Artist's Drive next. But luck had it that there had been an "incident" there (as the cop put it) exactly when we entered the drive. So we had to turn and head out.

We had little idea of what the night had in store for us. We had meticulously planned our route from Death Valley to Yosemite. Or so we thought. After driving for about 8 hours, at half past midnight we reached the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite to find it closed for the season until May. You would think we would have checked this beforehand. We did know that large areas of the park are closed this time of the year but had no idea that we could enter only from the Northwest. Another testimony to how badly we can slack. But then again, what good is a cross country trip without some adventure?!

We were stuck in no man's land with no mobile signal and the GPS refusing to show us the only other alternate route which was to drive up North, all around the park to the West entrance. The GPS was all help though- "Turn around when possible", it bleated faithfully at 2 minute intervals. All the hotels en route were full for the night. So we stopped at a hotel parking lot, stole the wi-fi signal and figured out the alternate route, saved it on our laptop and started driving again. We were determined to get the 4 hour detour out of the way the same night. Ambitious, eh? We did not go unpunished. One of the roads on the alternate route was also closed and we were left randomly driving around in the dead of the night with a rapidly depleting tank of gas. Fortunately we came across a restricted area manned by a cop. He gave us the exact route to take with landmarks as specific as a Starbucks store, a high school, gas stations etc. etc. He was such a champ!

We drove on, yapping away to keep each other awake. Suddenly we noticed that the landscape around was breathtakingly beautiful with lush green meadows and moonlight shining off the ice capped mountains in the background. We didn't want to miss this delightful drive in our tired stupor. Just then we entered Nevada and a casino invited us in with its bright big "Rooms Available" sign. It was 2.30am. In 15 minutes we were checked in, washed up and snoring away, merrily dreaming of the scenic drive awaiting us the next morning.

A little anticlimactic, but WHEW... really!

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