Death Valley National Park

Over the long New Year’s weekend of 2006/2007, Tracy and I decided to take another long road trip. This time Tracy was focused on getting one of her four remaining states off her list, so we had to go to California. Since the weather in Utah was crappy, and the weather in Death Valley looked really nice, it was pretty much a no-brainer. So we left Friday after work and drove to St. George, UT, for the night. On Saturday we headed into Nevada, and we took a drive down the strip in Las Vegas. I had never been to Vegas, because, of course, I hate people, but I can see spending a weekend down there. There was definitely more going on than I expected. Of course, like other tourist towns, I would probably be fed up with it after a couple of hours, but we may go back and give it a shot one weekend.

But after leaving Vegas we drove on to Death Valley. The Valley was pretty cool, but it wasn’t amazing. After you’ve gotten used to the grandiosity of the Utah and Wyoming parks, Death Valley wasn’t much. But it was warm, and that was a good thing. We ended up driving straight out to the Racetrack, which is where rocks move on their own. That was really weird. First off, as soon as we got out of the truck, a guy walking back to the parking lot walked by us and just said, “Welcome to the Twilight Zone.” And that’s pretty much what it was. You get out on the insanely flat dry lake bed, and there are rocks scattered around one corner of the lake bed. And there are tracks in the ground from where the rocks have moved around on their own. The lake bed is completely dry and hard packed, but the rocks have cut gouges into the ground, suggesting the ground may have been wet when they moved. Scientists believe the rocks PROBABLY move when the ground is wet or iced over, and wind blows the rocks across the ground. I expected the rocks to be pretty small, but some of them were really fairly big, and probably weighed 30 pounds. So that would take a lot of wind. So the Racetrack was a really cool thing to see. You have to drive 30 miles up a gravel road, but don’t let the Park Service scare you: you can drive the road in good weather in a car.

After leaving the Racetrack we headed to the sand dunes on the west side of the park and did some moonlight hiking. That was really cool. We had the dunes to ourselves, and the waxing moon was really bright. We then headed out of the park towards the Sierra Nevadas because Tracy really wanted to see them. We stayed the night in Lone Pine, CA, and then got up the next morning to the grandiosity of the Sierra Nevadas near the east side of Kings Canyon. Those mountains look really incredible. We both definitely caught the bug to want to go back and hike in the Sierra Nevadas. I know they’re really crowded in the summer, but I think it would be worth it to see them up close at least one good time. We tried to find ways up into the mountains on the east side, but all the roads over the passes or up into the mountains were already closed for the winter. We drove up through Bishop, CA, and then to Carson City, NV, where we took a side trip over to Lake Tahoe, which was really pretty, also. The lake is huge and it’s surrounded by mountains. Then we drove up to the interstate and headed to Winnemucca, NV, for New Year’s Eve. This was, somehow, the second time I’ve stayed in Winnemucca…don’t bother. Unfortunately, it’s the closest city for hundreds of miles across the middle of Nevada, but it was a really red-neck town.

We then we got up Monday morning and drove the seven hours back home.

This was a great trip. Tracy got to spend two days in a new state, and now she only needs to get to Hawaii, Vermont, and North Dakota. We saw the mysterious moving rocks, we hiked by moonlight in the sand dunes, and we got the Sierra Nevadas bug. I consider that a successful New Year’s trip.

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