DAY 41: Death Valley, California
Miles traveled: 6,868
States visited: 20 (just added: California)
Weather: 104, comfy
One thing I really wanted to do on this trip was see a ghost town. It turns out there are no ghost towns like you see in Old West movies, where the entire town is still intact and tumbleweed is blowing around. Most so-called ghost towns in America consist of only 2 or 3 remaining buildings.
But west of Las Vegas in the mountains is Rhyolite, a ghost town with about a dozen buildings that still stand. This city existed from 1905-1920, when production in the nearby mines fell and residents went elsewhere. The buildings that remain are about 100 years old.
Here’s the view from inside the old schoolhouse, looking out at the jewelry store and the bank.
The old jail is still there too.
Sadly, we didn’t actually see any ghosts or have a The-Hills-Have-Eyes kind of experience. The weird thing is we could still pick up the Vegas radio station in Rhyolite, so there we were driving through this serene, abandoned ghost town, yet Ryan Seacrest was coming through our speakers. Seacrest is so powerful, he even reaches ghost towns – there is no stopping that man.
After Rhyolite, we headed to Death Valley. I was really excited because I wanted to experience at least one day with +100 degree temperatures. Death Valley actually has campgrounds, though after April they’re not manned – camping is first-come first-serve, and you’re on your own. We arrived at 8 pm and parked in the Furnace Creek campground. We didn’t realize it then, but later research revealed that the temperature at the time was 101.
I decided to camp out under the stars. There is no grass in Death Valley, just rocks, so I laid a blanket on top of one of the metal picnic tables and settled in. I haven’t stared at the stars in years so it was great. It was incredibly windy, but the wind was hot, so it was comfortable. Midway through the night, I bolted up, awakened by the loud howling of several coyotes. This is something that doesn’t happen everyday! The coyotes were probably miles away, but it sounded like they were right around the corner (and approaching fast), so I decided to move into the van for the rest of the night, lest they mistake me for a rabbit.
The next day, I checked out some of the sights at Death Valley, like the Badwater basin. With an elevation of 282 feet below sea level, it’s the lowest point in the Western hemisphere. This is the spot where it gets to 120 degrees everyday in the summer. Yet, amazingly, there was a bit of water. Among all the dried salt clusters, there is a small saltwater pond. Not much lives there except for some snails, who don’t mind that the water is five times saltier than the ocean.
While standing in the -282 feet basin, you can look across and see Telescope Peak, which has an elevation of 11,049 feet. It’s stunning that these two land forms are right next to each other. Telescope Peak even still has snow on it.
The trip to Death Valley was fun and the temperatures weren’t even that bad. Nice try, Death Valley, but I mock your 104 degrees in my winter clothes.