Wednesday, June 13, 2007

California Road Trip- Over the Mountain and Through the Desert

I headed out of Kings Canyon and back through Sequoia. There was construction and a section was reduced to one lane. After we were through the construction, the car a few cars ahead of me pulled into a turnout but ONLY let the construction pickup truck that had joined the pack in the construction zone past before pulling back out. The jerk must have realized that the 5 cars stacked behind it wanted to pass too, but didn't pull over again and there was no other way to pass on the mountain road. Once we were out of the park and the narrow mountain roads and would have been able to pass, the car turned off. Not long after I turned off on a small road back toward the mountains. I drove up through the foothills until I got to Sherman Pass Road and started over the Sierras. I was really hoping to be out of the mountains by dark, but I only made it to the peak (9200 ft) right before sunset. It was really nice, but it was somewhat disconcerting that there was almost no other traffic if I had any problems. On my way down the eastern side in the twilight and into night the only cars I saw were near a tiny community. I could see headlights and town lights off in the distance once I was almost out of the mountains and to US-395. Heading north on 395 I stopped and spent the night at a motel in Lone Pine.

After breakfast, I headed back toward the mountains to go to Whitney Portal, the trail head for the peak trail. It didn't feel like a major elevation gain until the very end when it started into switchbacks, but the total gain was about 5000' from the town. You can't actually see the peak from the trailhead, but there's a little store and a nice stream. There were quite a few cars and some more people getting their packs ready for their attempt. I never intended to make an attempt myself since it would have required camping overnight. After checking it out for a little while, I headed back to town and then east toward Death Valley. Entering the park I made a quick stop to check out a canyon, then continued down to a flat section before going back up a bit and coming down into Death Valley proper. I stopped to get a soda and get my entrance pass, where the ranger said the expected high for the day was 108. Thermometers there and other places I stopped were reading about 100, but it's a dry heat. I stopped at Badwater, the lowest point in North America at 282 ft below sea level. Leaving the park I stopped to get gas and payed the most anywhere on the trip- 4.29 for premium. Plus the wind was blowing like mad, just as it had been in the park. From there I went through Mojave National Preserve, which was unremarkable and got on I-40. The wind was strong still, as evidenced by the occasional dust clouds in the more bare areas of the vast desert I was traveling through. I stopped for the night at a motel in Flagstaff, being sure to make use of their hot tub.

I went to the Ski Bowl in the morning, where the trail head for Humphreys Peak (highest point in AZ) is. I had originally planned to climb the mountain, but 9 miles round trip and 3000' vertical (one way) would have surely been too much for my knee. I continued east on I-40, which was pretty boring, through Albuquerque until I turned off on US-285. It's a four-lane divided highway, so I was going about the same speed as on the interstate, except without the other traffic. Instead of my planned route, I decided to go to Roswell and have dinner. I looked at a map of how I wanted to get home, but decided just to do whatever my GPS said was quickest. Since I wouldn't be going through any towns I felt like I wanted to spend the night, I decided I would just drive through all the way home. It worked out alright, but I was pretty tired and had to get caffeine at every gas stop. I got home at 4am CDT, having left Flagstaff at 9am MST. Because of all the caffeine I was still wired when I got home and stayed up for a little while longer before falling into a nice sleep that was rudely interrupted by the telephone at 10am.

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