Goodbye for the Third Time, Death Valley

16 Mar
2012
Posted in: California, Nevada, Parks
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We went back to Death Valley for the third time, a place we said we wouldn’t visit again on this trip, at least until we got a more rugged version of our Toyota Sienna (lift kit, anyone?). But it was a place that I still thought about, endlessly, and I’m so happy we had a chance to return. We managed to find plenty of new things to see, along with the best showers in the park.

On our second to last official night in the valley I had a strange dream. I dreamed that a 10,000 mph windstorm was coming for us. The campground host and hostess stopped by each site, letting us all know we’d probably die soon, due to the wind, but that we should just relax, as there was nothing we could do about it. No point in trying to leave — we’d never outrun that wind. Then, the next day (a Monday), I started to hear people talking about a wind advisory. The older ladies started bustling about, putting extra stakes in their tents and chattering excitedly. Then the campground host came around with a handout about the wind forecast which predicted 70 mph gusts starting at midnight. I was a little creeped out. Sure, they weren’t talking about 10,000 mph winds, but 70 mph gusts is pretty serious. I was once out in 60 mph gusts in Chicago, and it’s only due to luck that I didn’t blow away. I walked out the door of my office, right next to the Sears Tower, started being blown down the street, stuck out my arm, grabbed onto a lamppost, and hung on until I hailed a taxi. Panels of glass blew out of the Sears Tower that day.

On Monday night, we decided not to sleep in the tent. We sweated it out in the van, and it was calm all night. No winds, not even a breath of air. Tuesday morning, we renewed our campsite for that night. It was a calm and warm morning, very pleasant. Thirty minutes later, a gust blew up. It tipped over my chair, knocked over Paul’s tea, and knocked over my tea. Suddenly everything changed. We were being pelted with sand and pebbles. We secured our stuff and tried to set off on a hike. Paul was halfway up a dryfall when I said…wait a second. This might not be the best idea. Wind is one of the forces that shapes the canyons in Death Valley. Paul said, yeah, now that you mention it, I feel like I might blow off this rock.

So we couldn’t hike, and we couldn’t sit outside at our campsite. We also couldn’t sit inside, because it was over 80 and the sun was intense. The wind gusts were only projected to get worse, and they were supposed to last for another 24 hours. I saved someone’s rain fly from blowing away and most of the other tents looked like they wouldn’t last another hour. We decided to cut our losses and leave. If we wanted to get out of the wind, we needed to get a hotel. If we wanted a cheap hotel in the area, we needed to go to Vegas.

And that’s how we ended up back in Las Vegas, back at the Hooters Hotel and Casino, which is not a bad place. The rooms make you feel like you’re sleeping over in a California college chick’s dorm room or sorority house – they’re very feminine, probably designed to make women feel comfortable and make men feel trashy. But hey, it’s cheap. And we could park Rocky inside, in the center of the parking garage, out of harm’s way. He had a hard trip to Vegas, pelted by sand, stones, tin cans, plastic bottles, tumbleweeds, and gusts up to 85 mph (in Pahrump), but now he could rest in relative safety.

Imagine us in the lobby of a casino, tired, sweaty, smelly, covered with sand, in the midst of crowds in their Vegas best. Our room wasn’t ready, so we gambled away a dollar at the Flamingo to waste a half hour. It took an epic effort to get back to the hotel and up to our room. When I finally stepped into the shower, I realized I smelled like desert. Hot, dusty, dry. I was emitting the smell of rain in the desert, the scent of creosote bushes. Goodbye Death Valley, I’ll always love you!

It's like you're exploring the surface of the moon. Except for the blue sky part.

It’s like you’re exploring the surface of the moon. Except for the blue sky part.

Paul on the moon.

Paul on the moon.

Storm clouds blew in Monday night, but there was no wind on the ground...yet.

Storm clouds blew in Monday night, but there was no wind on the ground…yet.

Monday's stormy sunset was the most beautiful one we saw in the park.

Monday’s stormy sunset was the most beautiful one we saw in the park.

Tuesday brought dust storms and dirt devils.

Tuesday brought dust storms and dirt devils.

It was still very windy and dusty in Vegas, but at least we were enclosed by four climate-controlled walls.

It was still very windy and dusty in Vegas, but at least we were enclosed by four climate-controlled walls.