16 June 2007
June 12th - Death Valley to Las Vegas Another early shower and this time avoided any queues! yippee!. We left Bishop and the memory of the Deliverance trio behind (they tried again with me that morning, but sent a different wierdo to do the questioning, and later they stood by the showers and talked to the boys who also thought they were wierd!) Driving all day through dry sage brush desert and small towns on straight roads (Big Pine, Independence, Lone Pine) we started to descend into the DEATH VALLEY national park. The scenery getting noticably drier and more bare rock. Stopping at a high viewpoint it was startling how vast the park is, and the reality of being stuck here was evident all around you. An hour later we arrived in the middle of the valley at the visitor centre Furnace Creek. It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to work here, but once inside the air conditioned buildings with cold drinks you forget what's outside..... and what is outside? The HOTTEST, DRIEST, LOWEST place in the Western Hemisphere. on our visit it was only (only!) 90 degrees and can reach over 110 degrees. It is so dry you feel the moisture leaving your skin and feel thirsty all the time. The heat radiates from the bare ground and makes you entire body overheat really quickly, so any shop selling water or ice cream can name their price - and they do! Back in the van we drove on for a few miles to reach BADWATER BASIN and the lowest point - 282 (feet or metres I forget) below sea level (it was very low anyway!). We stopped here and the AP's moaned about the heat and didn't see the point of the visit, so those of us with brains got out and walked about on the salt flats which remain after all the moisture evaporates. It does rain in the valley A LOT - they have severe storms regularly and it causes the roads to buckle, rivers to form and erosion all around the place. the moisture cannot run off outside the valley so it collects and evaporates leaving the minerals behind. Interesting stuff don't you think? On this trip I have seen lots of amazing natural geological wonders and more were to come. Anyway, I made my visit longer than I should have just to keep the AP's waiting - when I got back to the van I could hear them singing along to the German version of the dance track 'Barbie girl' and I almost (almost) thought about staying in the valley instead of taking the trip with them, but realised that a slow and painful death on the salt flats would not be a nice way to go, and at least I had my Ipod on full volume to help me survive the environment inside the van! Thank heavens for Depeche Mode remixes, Van Halen and movie soundtracks to keep me sane....... Another short stop at a viewpoint overlooking the valley and then we carried on for another 5 hours driving through the desert towards Vegas, crossing the Nevada state line along the way. LAS VEGAS I found the Nevada desert interesting, mainly because I was looking at the ramshackle homes, rusting trucks, sage brushes, stuff. Other people slept. Vegas is huge and spreads wide across a vast dry plain. The distant skyline promises some excitement in the monotony of it's surroundings and after a slow crawl along the Interstate we were dropped at our Motel 'Best Value Inn' just off East Tropicana Street at the end of THE STRIP - Vegas's main drag where all the casinos can be found. The heat was stifling, and thank God for aircon! Meeting the group at 6.30pm we walked the short distance to EXCALIBUR casino for an All you CAN EAT buffet - so I ate all I could, and wished I hadn't. the AP's and boys had booked a Limo tour (stretch Hummer) and I chose not to join them surprisingly. Instead I walked the strip and photogrpahed all the wierd and wonderful sites in Neon and Stone, from the replica of New York, Pyramids and Sphinx, Venice (complete with gondolas and Bridge of sighs), Ceasars Palace, and the BELLAGIO - most famous now for the location of the Oceans 11,12 & 13 movies. Along the way I dipped my feet into a few fountains to cool off, until we (Nicole and me) got told off by security - but not before loads of other people had copied us and got busted too! At the Bellagio, there are amazing fountains which perform to musci every 20 mins. by 10.45pm tired and a little weary of the 'in your face' Vegas strip, we stopped to wait for the show. I managed to film some, before a woman prodded me in the back and asked me to move so she could have her photographer take her picture. I politely explained that I was filming it on my camera and thought that would be enough to end the matter. But Oh No... her photographer then had another go, and I still refused explaining that I had waited over 20 minutes and travelled from England and wanted to see the fountains. She then turned nasty, said it was her wedding day -called me a Bitch and said "F**k You'. I was charmed enough to stay there even longer than planned just to piss her off. I mean... what reason did she have to be so rude? There were other spots she could have stood, not just where I was. It did spoil the evening, but on reflection I realise she was a cow and I hope her husband files for divorce when he realises what he married! She looked like a ho anyway. (That's American for slut by the way). Back at the Best Value Inn, I took a cold shower then bed watching RODEO Live from somewhere dry and dusty with 2 guys on TV trying to make the show exciting... and failing.
Sunday 10th June We arrived at the same campsite we had visited at Yosemite. Nicole and I put up out tent in record time whilst the newbies struggled with poles, pegs and fly sheets. I gave in and helped, it was too painful to watch. The next challenge was the first dinner. I had already decided not to do any shopping - 3 weeks was long enough. so, some of the au pairs did the work this time and cooked up some spaghetti, tomato sauce and hotdogs. Not gourmet but sufficient. We then chatted until dark and an early bed after the briefing about bears and food storage - this caused a lot of sreeching from the au pairs about being eaten alive, having their tents ripped open and general feeble behaviour about the cold, hard ground, no pillows, no hairdriers and bugs- WE ARE CAMPING OUTDOORS FOR GOD'S SAKE!!!! Monday 11th June Woke early (5.45am) to get a shower, only 2 cubicles and 12 girls. Already I was surprised to see it full with a queue. What takes them soooooooo long????!!!!! I lost patience a little with one girl doing makeup in the mirror and taking far too long. Anyway, by 8am amazingly we were all ready to leave. Our tour leader 'Pia' from Germany was excellent, getting more involved in the cooking and food boxes than Dan ever did. She even had oven gloves and a clever metal thing for toasting bagels over a gas burner! Having already visited the park last week, I planned to hire a bike and go cycling along the valley, or try to get on a horse. Once inside the park I took Nicole to find the stables. When we walked there we were too late, but just as well. The 'horses' turned out to be Mules - and fat mules too! so glad we didn't commit ourselves to going. So instead, we hired pushbikes and with the wind in our hair we cycled a few miles through the valley in search of Mirror Lake. We found it at the end of a steep path which had to be walked, and had just enough time for a photo before cycling back, returning our bikes and getting the shuttle to meet the group and move on to our next stop. The weather this time was much clearer and leaving Yosemite we left via the TIOGA pass which had been our entrance last week in the snow and grey skies. This time it was warmish, and clear so perfect for photos. We stopped at a great viewpoint for snaps, then again at a lake to have a picnic lunch. The pass itself is just under 10,000ft and once through, the road is pretty steep cut out of the rock winding through a granite valley. the next stop was MONO LAKE - another repeated visit (not happy with Suntrek for 2 days of duplication) and those of us who had already seen it, just sat in the sun whilst the au pairs (AP's) wandered around. Hardly interested in it at all, so they didn't take long. At least it was a chance to see the volcano again which we walked around before. Our camp site was to be at a place called BISHOP. A flat site with an entrance in the style of a wild western town. It would have been perfect except for 3 very creepy guys who could have been in the movie 'Deliverance' camping nearby with a red pickup and a habit of chewing something and spitting it out. One of them approached me and asked questions about our group - I was pretty economical and wanted him to leave, but he had a pervy sneer on his face which I really didn;t like and he go tthe message and walked back to his mates. Dinner was ok - Tacos from the Panama AP, then Pia took us all to a local creek in the desert where hot water flows into small pools from undergound springs. The group went in, but I didn't fancy it - it was a bit dirty to be honest and smelled and when I saw dog poo on the bank it really put me off so I stayed on dry land! the memory of creepy guy also made me want to stay fully clothed! It was an early nigh after that. Back at camp in the dark, some took showers