Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
We are starting a big trip in our new car. We call it the Big Western Road Trip - the BWRT. We hope to hit eight states and a bunch of national parks and monuments, with a high school graduation thrown in. Since we are slow travelers, this is expected to take almost two months. The Covid pandemic isn't over, but we will continue to be as careful as inoculated seniors should be.
After more than 400 daily Covid postings, I'm not sure we will have the time or energy to keep up that frequency, but there will be a complete history, because that's why we've written this record for the last two decades.
May 1, Arrange Details and Pack
On this last day before the BWRT, we had plenty of last-minute chores. The garden was cleaned up a bit, enough for a few pictures to remember what we have left behind.
While we are gone, we will have a crew of house sitters, recruited from neighbor Jeanne and her FSU swim team. Riley, Samara, and Caitlin came by for some final instructions and I'm sure they left thinking Marianne may have over-prepared for the turnover with five pages of written guidance. Oh well, we have faith they will care for our old home.
My chores included car preparation. The Audi needed a full tank of gas and a gadget attached to keep the battery charged. I passed on all the other storage ideas Google offered and there were plenty. (Fuel additive, steel wool in the exhaust, moth balls inside and out, jacks to keep load off the tires, etc.) The Tesla got it's final pre-trip washing and an overnight charge.
Marianne moved her paints from the art hut in fear of overheating. By the end of June, Fresno weather will have heated up and the little painting studio will turn oven-like. She will miss all her colors and tools.
The rest of the time was spent packing. By mid-afternoon, we had actually filled most of our bags and I had even had time to put my photo gear in the front trunk.
Last but not least, we checked in with Joan and Vern on their porch. Neighbor Clay came over too, with his younger Schnauzer and with plenty of stories about his house full of kids and a new(ish)grandson. We don't often hear from him and it was good to get the neighborly update.
May 2, Drive to Death Valley
Sunday was a long day because we were going a long way: from Fresno to Death Valley. Actually, straight line, it's not far at all, but we needed to navigate around the Sierra Nevadas: south, east, north, south a bit, and east again. And we needed to do this in our electric car without running out of juice. (Throughout it all, we took too many pictures, but that's what we do when we see interesting things, or even just regular things we want to have a record of. Skim as you see fit.
Step one was to close up the house and say good bye to the place for up to two months. It will be in good hands, but we will miss our nest. Then we finished filling the car trunks with more than we need and headed south past downtown Fresno. We may even miss our "home town".
Hardly 30 miles away, we stopped in Traver for breakfast for us and Carla. There is not much in Traver, besides a Tesla Supercharger and the Bravo Farms Vintage Cheese Factory, but that was plenty for us.
Out of Traver, it was straight down Highway 99 until we turned east on Highway 155 for more narrower straight road. This was easy driving mad even easier by trying the Model Y's "autopilot" systems for setting a constant speed and place in the middle of the driving lane. It worked well enough to avoid rocks and things.
Eventually we made it to the western side of the Sierra Nevadas, on our way to an area referred to as The High Sierras. That sounds romantic and all, but I was a bit concerned about how much power climbing to the heights might take. The Tesla navigation system is supposed to take into account elevation changes, and electric cars do get "credited" with power recovered in downhill sections (see green in screenshot), but still, climbing the Sierras is energy intensive and there is more than just a single climb.
Our High Sierra goal was Kernville, about halfway across. The US Forest Service has an inexpensive charging station there and, while not a Supercharger, I felt it would give us a margin what I hoped to be our last charging station of the day. We plugged in, walked over the Kern River, and explored the town. It's a touristy place, with river activities, cafes, bars, and a half-dozen antique stores. Cute enough I suppose, but not a range of places we need to visit often. We bought two cookies, dropped one, unplugged, and left.
We still had plenty of mountain road to go, past Lake Isabelle, mountain ridges, flowers, and yuccas.
Out of the Sierras, we turned north on CA 395 into the Owens Valley. This is a beautiful valley, but nowhere near as nice as it would have been had Lon Angeles not "stolen" most of its water over a century ago. Now, there are cattle ranches, a few mining remnants, and spectacular views of mountains on the west and east.
Our last charging stop for the day would be Lone Pine, the closest Supercharger on the western side of Death Valley. I chose the stop for that relative closeness and got a nice cactus plant by the parking lot thrown in.
But the real find in Lone Pine, right next to the Supercharging station, was the Museum of Western Film History. Because we were running late, we could only spend 35 minutes inside, and we were amazed at the memorabilia. Lone Pine had been the center of Western filming for over 100 years, hosting over 400 Hollywood shoots before the genre moved to cheaper facilities in Italy, creating "spaghetti westerns." Here, we again took far too many pictures, but if one strikes your interest, drop us (or the museum) a note.
After the Owens Valley, we crossed over the Panamint Mountains, stopping at Father Crowley's monument to take pictures. It is required to take take pictures here and to mistake that distant valley for Death Valley. It's not. It's Panamint Valley. I wasted almost 15 minutes trying to take pictures of a pair of crows who would do tricky aerial maneuvers whenever I was not ready. Dull pictures was all I could manage.
Down into Panamint Valley and back over mountains down into even lower Death Valley, Marianne was suffering an earache worse than she had experienced in airplane landings. She was in tears by the time we stopped at the Stovepipe Wells General Store and found they had nothing in the way of decongestants. Something we had forgotten to pack.
A little father along, Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes appeared in the evening light and Marianne said she was good enough (or tough enough) that we should stop for some pictures. We did and I shot a couple. Farther yet, the hills (Zabriskie Point?) also needed a picture, this time out an open car window so we'd lose less time. Enough scenery for the day.
Finally, 11 hours after we left Fresno, we made it to The Ranch at Furnace Creek for hotel check-in, drinks, and an expensive dinner, served in a box.
The first day of our Big Western Road Trip was a test. Ask us later if we passed.
Monday, May 3, Death Valley (Artist's Palette mostly)
We had no plans beforehand, but ended up with a full day anyway. I'll try to tell the story, but I am running behind on this whole diary thing. I need to shorten somehow, but that would mean visiting dull places, which Death Valley is not. Maybe I'll let the pictures tell more of the story than the text? Here's a try.
We started the day by plugging in Carla for her breakfast and then I settled into the hotel's patio, writing the previous day's diary first, and capturing some wildlife, before Marianne showed up for another overpriced boxed meal.
One of our favorite places in Death Valley, and one that is easy to reach, is Artist's Palette, a rainbow of colored rock formations. We would end up with one trip in the morning and another at sunset.
After a morning of pictures, we stopped by the U.S. Park Service for the required car sticker and tourist picture with the temperature.
Somewhere in our records we have this same picture with a much higher temperature. In Death Valley, 90F/32C passes for a cool May day.
After some time back at The Ranch working on diaries, drawing, and resting, it was time for lunch. We headed up to the fancier hotel, The Inn at Furnace Creek, because box meals got old pretty quickly. The slight extra effort was rewarded with free food for Carla plus food served on real plates, in a very pleasant shaded patio, by friendly staff. Why would anyone want to eat at The Ranch instead of The Inn? After lunch, we toured the elaborate Inn grounds.
Lunch was followed by more rest-writing-drawing back at The Ranch. For our sunset excursion, we returned to Artist's Palette. Why? Why not?
Driving back, we saw even more reasons to stop and snap. Too much, I know. These two are meant for Marianne's collection of faces that appear from stones, clouds, plants, and elsewhere. Do you see what she sees?
Finally, we had some time around the fountain for our most pleasant evening. A full day after all.
And tomorrow may be busy too, at least by our standards.
Tuesday, May 4, Dante's View to Ubehebe Crater
This was our last day in Death Valley and it started early, at least for me (John). I wanted sunrise pictures and the most spectacular valley view is a 5,500 foot lookout called Dante's View. Since sunrise was before 6am, and the drive would be at least 30 minutes, that meant a 4:15 wake-up. I loaded the cameras up in Carla and headed out, feeling more like a photographer than I had in quite awhile. No one else was up that early.
On top, there are two directions to look at sunrise: toward the sun or away. Toward the sun did not produce much, but pointing away from the sun gave a great display of The Belt of Venus, a pink hue, just above the horizon, caused by a sunlight reflection.
Besides photography, the trip was also an experiment on electricity consumption going up and down significant hills. The half-hour trip up to mile-high Dante's View drew the car from about 60% full down to 42%. On the way down, regeneration meant I returned to The Ranch with 49%. Interesting. (Because The Ranch and The Inn both have convenient chargers, none of this driving around caused "range anxiety.)
Back home, we chose The Inn for breakfast and I followed with a diary-writing session sitting on the back porch of the Borax Museum, looking at dried up old mining equipment. It was better than Starbucks, my traditional writing office.
In the early afternoon we took a long drive north to Ubehebe Crater. Along the way up and back, we stopped to search for pretty desert flowers, but they seemed to be hiding, or maybe already gone into summer hibernation. The main crater at The Ubehebes is an easy sight to get to, other than the hour drive from Furnace Creek. There are three or four other smaller craters, but they required walks we were not willing to risk.
We went straight from the crater to The Inn so that we could have Tuesday Cocktails via Zoom with Adrienne and Rita, just like any Tuesday. There was some complications about timing (our dinner reservation pushed cocktails ahead an hour), but everything was fun anyway. And post-cocktail dinner and dessert was nice as well.
So it was a full day, from sunrise to a dinner at sunset. There were also some medical complications, but they seemed to go away after medication and a fitful night's sleep. We will choose to ignore that part of the day.
Wednesday, May 5, Drive to Zion
Another longish drive to another set of rocks - and a new diary page.
We hope you enjoy our (not so?) little record as much as we enjoy making it and having it to reminisce within the quiet times.
John and Marianne