Wow. Last night was rough. I awake in a panic at around 8.30AM with the unenviable task of waking Nick up - for those of you who aren't that familiar with my traveling compatriot, he's not exactly a '0-60mph Guy' in the morning; in fact 'borderline psychotic' is probably a more applicable term. Given that the hotels in Vegas are looking for any excuse to squeeze a little extra cash out of you, I was concerned that leaving the room even a micro-second after 11AM would result in $400 being lifted from my account, so a rushed pack'n'dash saw us both sitting, bleary eyed and hurting in the car trying to align our fractured minds and decide where we're heading to next.
We eventually decide to move through, rather appropriately given our current condition, Death Valley at the north-western edge of Nevada. The landscape is noticeably more desert-like and as we head into the national park. We're only a few miles from the Mojave desert here, so we're expecting to see sand but it's got a kind of brutal beauty that's augmented by an amazingly blue sky. We drive along roads that are almost cartoonishly long and straight, in the accepted 'American desert' motif, and eventually the environment changes again.
As we dive into Death Valley, sandy, rolling hills become more pronounced, like a sine wave increasing in amplitude. It's a beautiful day, and we pass a nice example of this folded stony, landscape so we decide a walk might clear out our combined cobwebs. As we set off up the first rise, it's clear that we'd misinterpreted the landscape - these hills are actually comprised of a kind of compressed sand, firm at first but crumbles as soon as you stand on it. We slide and stumble up and along the ridges, trying to find away to the top, but we eventually have to drop back down to the valleys.
The landscape seems to go on forever, as we move around the peak we're trying to climb, and we spot an unusually circular structure at the base of the central mound - we investigate and discover that it's the remains of an old mine. It's hard to imagine what people might have been mining for in what is essentially sand, or more importantly, how the hell they mined in sand in the first place. It's quite a spooky find, and out echoing voices suggest the tunnel is actually quite deep, so we head back out to try and finally conquer the peak above us.
Eventually, we manage to strike a route that carries us towards the top. As we climb, it slowly becomes apparent just how alien this landscape is. We walk around the ridges, it feels like we could be exploring another planet - despite the three or four other groups that are climbing with us of course - and it puts us in a reflective frame of mind.
Once arriving at the top, it's an easy decision to spend a hour or so resting in the blazing sunshine - we'reboth still slightly broken after last night, but the exercise has definitely made us feel more human. We continue on through Death Valley, part of which is actually five hundred feet below sea level, and we see salt planes, undulating dunes and huge expanses of desert plain. As night closes in, we try to find a hotel but seem unable to drop down from the high steppes that surround the valley. One benefit of this height, and lack of population, is that the sky is incredibly clear. Stars are bright and look close enough to touch, so Nick can take some night sky images.
Eventually, after what seems like forever, we arrive in the town of Mojave. I feel a little disingenuous calling Mojave a town in all honesty - it's clearly a working place that supports the huge array of wind turbines in the surrounding hills. We'd spotted the row after row of blinking red lights in the night sky from miles away, but it was impossible to tell what they were in the darkness - we had to ask the receptionist at our motel. We head out to seek dinner, but as Mojave comprises only a single short street, with only a couple of fast food joints on it, we don't have a lot of choice. One tasty burger meal later, and we crash out in the room. I genuinely don't remember falling asleep.
Hopefully tomorrow should see us hit the west coast, so I might be posting the next entry from a beach on the Pacific.