ATLANTA TO SEATTLE ROAD TRIP – Day 7: Almost dead in Death Valley

It was a lethargic morning at Super 8 motel room. We woke up at 8am and slowly got ready to have our light breakfast at the motel itself just before they closed the breakfast bar at 10am.

Our goal of the day was to reach and experience Badwater Basin (lowest point in North America), which is located in Death Valley National Park, CA.

Directions from Super 8 to Badwater Basin in Death Valley
Directions from Super 8 to Badwater Basin in Death Valley

It was a long drive. I was tired to not drive at all, and passed all the driving for the day to Aman.

On our way, we told our family that we are heading to Death Valley today, and will be almost crossing Las Vegas midway. Every single member whom we spoke to was like “why are you not going Vegas? you will be so close, should go”. And we were like ‘whatever’. We did not wanted to go Vegas. That’s not the place for us. Moreover, we would be crossing Vegas during noon time, so it didn’t made any sense to go even for the sake of just going.

But before crossing Vegas on US 93, at the crossing of Arizona and Nevada border sits the Hoover Dam, directing the Colorado river south towards Mexico. To see this marvel of engineering and labor, we took the exit off US 93 which goes towards the Hoover Dam access road.

The Hoover Dam access road is a zig zag road which was traversing us back into the state of Arizona. On the dam access road there was another access road, with views of Lake Mead Recreation Area. We took this small road to a parking lot for taking in the beautiful views of the Lake Mead.

Lake Mead Recreation Area
Lake Mead Recreation Area

Soaking in the views of the Lake Mead, we were now back on the dam access road. Before reaching the Hoover Dam, there was a parking lot with a trail leading to the Arch Bridge on foot. We parked our car and started to climb up the easy paved trail up to the Arch Bridge (also known as Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge).

At the beginning of the bridge, the winds were so high, that they were almost stopping us from moving forward. We were literally not able to walk and had to push our body very hard to move ahead. It was happening with everyone crossing the bridge. But it was a fun experience.

Arch Bridge spans the Colorado river at the border of Arizona and Nevada. We didn’t go all the way to the end of the bridge and halted right in the middle of it to enjoy the magnificent views of the Hoover Dam looking down from the bridge.

Hoover Dam, as seen from the Arch foot Bridge on US 93
Hoover Dam, as seen from the Arch foot Bridge on US 93

From the parking lot, we drove further on the dam access road. Moving our car underneath the Arch Bridge, we crossed numbers and numbers of tourists strolling along the road. This was a damn touristy place. More than 1,000,000 visitors take the tour of the dam each year. Passing all the tourists we reached a parking lot on the Arizona side. I sat in the car, while Aman went out for few mins to see the Hoover Dam and admire its architecture.

From here, we advanced our journey towards Badwater Basin around 1pm in the afternoon. Crossing the city of Vegas, and saying bye to it from US 93 only, we reached Death Valley around 4pm.

Our first stop in Death Valley was Zabriskie Point. Zabriskie Point is known for its erosional landscape formed of sedimnets from Furnace Creek Lake.

Badlands at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, CA
Badlands at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, CA

After learning about the geology of formations at Zabriskie Point through the interpretive signs, we started driving towards Badwater Basin (sunset was around 7:30). We didn’t reached Death Valley during hottest part of the day, but this late afternoon/ evening was considerably humid as compared to other places we have been so far on our trip.

At the Furnace Creek junction we turned left towards the Badwater Road, which took us to the all the way to the Badwater Basin. It was a long straight road, and mostly empty.

Badwater Road in Death Valley
Badwater Road in Death Valley

We reached Badwater Basin just in time for sunset. This basin is 282 ft below sea level and is the lowest point in the North America. We wandered around, tasted salt from the accumulated salt flats, and created images of the basin with sunset in the background.

Accumulated Salt Flats at Badwater Basin
Accumulated Salt Flats at Badwater Basin
Sunset at Badwater Basin
Sunset at Badwater Basin

It was almost 8pm and we had to get out of Death Valley soon. Our next destination being Yosemite National Park, we started driving in the Northwest direction.

Now comes the explanation of the title of this post – “Almost dead in Death Valley”. It was almost dark and we were driving to get out the park as soon as possible because we were hungry, tired and sleepy. There were a few restaurants at Furnace Creek area, but us being vegetarians, were not able to find any option for ourselves.

Since we have faced this situation a lot of not getting vegetarian food at most of the remote places in USA while traveling, we missed India a lot on our trip. In India, we could have found some restaurant, roadside dhaba, or any tiny hut of locals in remote to remote places to feed us with tasty vegetarian food. We miss India a lot for food 🙁

Anyways, so we ate a small sandwich made of up the ingredients we had – bread, cheese, cucumber and tomatoes. Our GPS was now showing that it would take more than 2 hours to get out of the Death Valley.  We drove and drove and drove.

Tired of driving, Aman pulled the car at the shoulder, turned off the lights, and asked me to come out and see the clear sky filled with so many stars. Looking upto the sky to millions of stars at once was amazing. We couldn’t see the Moon. It was surprising as it was full moon night three days ago. Suddenly, I heard some noise of an animal and hurriedly sat back in the car, asking Aman also to do so. It was scary. I am such a scared person, poor Aman.

Aman, then again drove and drove and drove and later at some point it occurred to us, that we might run out of gas in the car very soon. This was the deadliest moment! Imagining to be out of gas in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere in Death Valley was a deadly feeling.

We were eagerly waiting to get out of the Death Valley and see some civilization. Finally when our car range was showing 25 miles we reached the end of the park and entered the town of Olancha. First thing on our minds was to find a gas station. We did found one, and were hoping it to be open at this hour of the night (sometimes in small towns gas stations are not open for 24 hours). To our luck, it was open. After filling up the tank, the next thing was to find a place to sleep. There was no hotel/motel in the town of Olancha and it was around 10:30pm in the night. I found few places on my phone, but they were 1.5 hours drive up north on US 395 near the city of Bishop in California.

Aman drove the car towards Bishop, talking on phone with his friends and family in India, to keep himself awake. We found a place to sleep at Super 8 in Bishop around 12am. This Super 8 was owned by an Indian Punjabi. Oh balle balle!

Long long drive from Death Valley to Super 8 in Bishop, CA
Long long drive from Death Valley to Super 8 in Bishop, CA

Summary of the Day – Miles travelled: 550 ; Hours driven: Approx 9  ; Time zone change: From MT to PT; States crossed: Arizona, Nevada, California; National Parks: Death Valley National Park, Hoover Dam

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