Death Valley and the Mojave desert
Today we originally planned to drive down Highway 395 in the general direction of Los Angeles and see how far we got. We planned to take a detour from the highway that would take us to the edge of Death Valley National Park but not actually inside. However at the last minute we felt that if we had driven this far already we should go the whole way.
At Mammoth Lakes the landscape was mountainous but still with some greenery. As we travelled south we could observe it slowly transform into desert, which was quite something to see. Mountains on either side of the wide valley dominated the view. What was most impressive about some of them was the way the terrain sloped steadily upwards to a great height rather than having any steep precipices à la Norway or Scotland. It was strange to behold.
Down at Stovepipe Wells in the valley it was 118F (48°C) in the shade. There weren't many people about. A Park Ranger checked whether Saskia was wearing her seatbelt. Guess he didn't have anything much better to do. It was impossible really to be out of the car for more than 5-10 minutes at a time so we could only make a couple of stops. At Zabriskie Point we had wonderful views of rock formations and that was all we could manage. I tried to kneel down at one point and burned my knee. Marit is obsessed with picking up stones at the moment but she dropped the one from Zabriskie Point pretty swiftly.
Beautiful place, but the idea of building a toilet block with open latrines in these temperatures, as shown on this picture, well... you can imagine...
Tired and weary despite the excellent air conditioning in our car, we looked at a place called Topeca Hot Springs for accommodation, as it was underlined on our Rough Guide map, meaning that it had been recommended in the said Guide. For what it was recommended I couldn't possibly imagine, as there were a couple of RV parks and nothing else. Thus after a much longer drive than we had planned, through the Mojave Desert, we ended up in Baker, at the junction with the interstate to Las Vegas. We thought that it might be cooler here but it was actually hotter! When we arrived it was 123F (51°C) as measured on the largest thermometer in the world and as I write, at 11.30pm, it's still 107F (42°C). With a mild wind it's like walking in a hairdryer. Baker is a totally unremarkable place: a couple of motels and a few restaurants (and of course that thermometer). I can't imagine that it has any real population at all as we saw about 10 houses. We ate dinner at a restaurant called "The Mad Greek" - "Best Gyros in the USA!". Well it was about the worst Greek food I ever ate so I imagine that there must be at least 20 restaurants on Manhattan alone that have better gyros.
Finally, everyone who has driven in the American desert needs to have a "Lost Highway" shot so here is ours: