You might think I envied the people on two wheels but I didn't as I had already ridden the desert quite enough for one vacation. It wasn't hot or windy or unpleasant under hazy skies but I had yet to discover the cheap rental car didn't have cruise control so I thought I was better off in the gutless Nissan Versa.
It's a two hour trip from Las Vegas to Death Valley via Pahrump ("pa-RUMP") small desert outpost not far from the California state line. Here there is gambling prostitution and legal weed and over there they only have legal weed and state income taxes. You decide.
There's small sign on the road heading west and it reads simply "Inyo County" as the quality of the pavement deteriorates. Welcome to the Golden State where my wife grew up. The roads continue long and straight and it occurred to me that Las vegas would be a rotten place to live and ride a motorcycle. Besides I like trees and I don't like dry desert air as it makes my delicate skin itch.
But it sure was fun to immerse oneself in an alien world for a few days and this is about as far from the green wet Florida Keys as you can get. It's been years since either of us was in Death Valley and this short quick trip was a reminder why certain places are set aside for the public pleasure. It is a different world within these preserved lands, stark beauty worth preserving. And paying for, twenty five bucks for a week's worth of re-entries:
This wasn't going to be a leisurely visit but we like our road trips and we decided that even if we couldn't make Dante's Overlook and Badwater (the lowest point) we would see what we could.
Zabriskie Point was on my list of places to see and we actually made it here the day before Thanksgiving.
Amazingly enough they encourage walking out on the trails through the badlands and there is even a five mile loop down the hillside which I dearly would like to walk. Except pets aren't allowed so scrap that. Walking without Rusty seems stupid to me.
Despite all the people these strangers were filled with silent wonder.
The drive from there to Furnace Creek took us through the now familiar burnt plains dotted with sage bushes and not much else.
I thought it might have been nice to take a room and pause for a nap, then a short drive to the lowest point followed by dinner and some star gazing...Dream on we had places to go and things to see a hundred miles away.
After all the disappointing meals we had in Furnace Creek, we made our way toward the Indian Taco sign. I'm glad we did. It was the most enjoyable lunch we had during our visit. Menu is limited to frybread taco, frybread without the taco, and many flavors of shaved ice. The taco was large and delicious. I regretted not getting some plain frybread to go. Highly suggest having a taco for one of your meals in Death Valley.
"They have a Key West problem" my wife reported after standing in line for a while. "Someone forgot to show up for work." Consequently the fast food wasn't quite as fast as you might think. Which wa sokay. I sat and drank a Coke we got from the Pepsi machine.
In retrospect the Frybread taco was perhaps rather more robust than one might imagine if one imagines a fusion of Indian food with Taco Bell. I made my way through it and surprisingly suffered no ill effects if you don't count the coma I struggled to fend off as we made our way back to Las Vegas on long straight roads through the sagebrush desert.
The Nissan Versa was a base model I have not seen in years and hope never to see again. It lacked every possible amenity including horsepower for the long uphill grades through the mountains. More seriously it had wind down windows and no central door locks and no sign of cruise control either, or satellite radio. Yup we suffered but when my wife asked me to kindly turn off the preacher promising damnation through the radio I did point out that it was her rental choice. "Never again" she muttered " And this wasn't one of my famous seven dollar rentals." I know it sounds unlikely but she has rented cars for almost nothing and this was not one of them.
I thought a car parked at the state line was a cop so instead of blowing through at 85mph taking advantage of the downhill grade we puttered along like a couple of Florida retirees at 57 miles per hour, burning no visible gas as we went. We got back to Las Vegas with 55 miles left in the bottomless tank.
Our goal was Beatty Nevada a small mining town that has shrunk even further after the gold mines dried up. Locals call the place "bay-dee" but I signed the guestbook anyway with my own spelling and told the nice lady at the museum that I pronounced it Bee-Tee. She mulled it over for a while.
The women at the museum were discussing plans for Thanksgiving in the town and the knotty problem of one of the city's 800 residents who lived alone and was not happy getting ham instead of turkey. My wife said it sounded like the TV show "Northern Exposure" about a small town in Alaska.
"The Keys?" the museum woman said wistfully, "I'd like to go for a visit one day..." I sympathized with her considering the rather bleak world she lived in but I made deprecatory noises as we contemplated the dusty landscape of this speck on US Highway 95.
We had to take a short tour of the back streets to double back to the museum which we passed accidentally in an unnatural burst of speed from the Versa. Many of Beatty's residents live lives of what looks from the outside to be hoarding squalor. I have no idea how one makes a living out here but however it's done they don't seem to be in on the secret either. I wonder if Washington will ever see these people, no matter who is charge.
The man this town was named for the grandiloquently named Montillius Murray Beattie one of three white men in the area. He married a Paiute woman whether in deference to the melting pot theory or for lack of choice isn't clear. In the event he bought the land with the water and his buddy bought some of it and named the town for him which was created around 1905.
It was not a rich cultural landscape back then and it isn't now. It looked cleaner back then probably because there was less junk to trash.
We bought a souvenir, I signed Beattie, Key West, and we drove off back into...the sage filled desert. Spectacular views.
Back to Las Vegas, past military installations, lonely gas stations, attaching ourselves to lines of cars rolling at 85 mph which the Nissan could hold on level ground. Racing the sunset on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, miles from festivities, alive on the road. It was great.