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June 15, 2018 / annakpf11

Desert Crossing

“Look deep into Nature, and then you will understand everything better.”—Albert Einstein

DAY THREE: June 6: Lone Pine to Las Vegas

Today we will gain and lose thousands of feet in just over 100 miles, a long drawn out roller coaster ride through some of the most dramatic and inhospitable terrain on the planet: Death Valley.

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It’s our third day out, and I feel we’ve begun to hit our stride. We know where things are cached in Suzy’s cupboards and crannies, we have a better understanding of how her systems work, and we bump into each other less often in her limited interior space.


“We have half a tank of gas,” Dave says, as we motor past the handful of shops and restaurants in Lone Pine. “We could make it.”

“Let’s fill her up,” I suggest. “Just to be safe.” I know what’s ahead, and prefer to err on the side of prudence. No argument from Dave, and we stop for fuel. The outside temperature has already inched above 80 degrees.


At first glance, Death Valley looks just as we expected: a vast, untamed environment of dry basins and barren, rocky slopes. We can’t help but feel rather dwarfed and insignificant—in a good way—like when you look at a night sky full of stars and feel the immensity of the universe.

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We also feel a sense of urgency to get through the desert as expeditiously as possible. Place names like Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek, and Badwater Basin do not exactly inspire confidence. We obey the signs at the base of each climb that warn us to turn off our air conditioning to prevent our engine from over-heating, and with our windows rolled down, gusts of hot wind whip our hair and skin.


We pass through a rocky corridor whose walls glow with diagonal stripes of magenta, rust, slate and chocolate, and then come upon an impressive expanse of sand dunes. A pale gray lizard the size of a squirrel scuttles in front of us, stubby legs churning across the tarmac. Out loud, I admire the unexpected variety of textures, shapes and life forms found in the desert, on both grand and minute scales.

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“Like fractals,” Dave rejoins, dredging up the definition from his storehouse of mathematical knowledge, “constantly replicating patterns whether viewed microscopically or as mountains.” Amazingly simple, yet infinitely complex, Nature’s exquisite structures hide in plain sight all around us.

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The temperature fluctuates with our altitude, and we wait until we’ve reached the last of four summits before we pull over for lunch. While I prepare a kale and pistachio salad, Dave steps outside to photograph the canyon. He is standing at the edge of a cliff when the thrum of the wind is overpowered by the intensifying roar of a high-speed, low-flying aircraft. Chance favors the prepared photographer. Dave zeroes in with his camera and captures an image of a fighter jet as it streaks past below.

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Suzy glides down a slow, straight, steady descent, and we watch her outside temperature gauge escalate from 95 to a mouth-parching 105 degrees.


Cooler temperatures are in store for us, we hope, at our destination for tonight, Fletcher View Campground, 2,000 feet above Las Vegas. Keen to avoid the heat in “Sin City”, Dave reserved a campsite weeks ago. “Supposedly,” he says, “we’ll be camping in the pines.” Auspiciously, we find the entrance in a grove of Ponderosa pines, and despite a sign announcing “DAY OFF”, the camp host descends from his fifth wheel to greet us. A smiling retiree wearing an Australian outback hat, dusty white singlet and denim shorts, he launches into a long explanation of the finer points of the tiny campground. “I’m Bob,” he finally concludes, gesturing at his trailer (presumably his wife is inside), “and my wife is Liz. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”


It is late afternoon, and quite warm, even at 7,000 feet, but as advertised, our campsite is shaded by pine trees, and the temperature is quite pleasant. We level our rig and unfurl the awning, only to retract it a few minutes later due to sporadic gusts of wind. Dave enjoys a beer and a cigar, then brings out his guitar. I take a walk in the shady canyon, and then roll out my yoga mat on a patch of flat ground.


For dinner we heat up chili—another made-ahead-and-frozen-meal—and serve it with steamed broccoli and sliced avocado.

Later, after an evening stroll around the campground, we retire to Suzy and watch Albert Brooks’ classic comedy film, “Lost in America”, about a couple who decide to quit the rat race, buy a Winnebago and drop out of society to “find themselves”, only to have their plans go awry when the wife gambles away their nest egg in Las Vegas. A fable about delusion and fantasy, it is one of the funniest films of the 1980’s, and although some of the humor arises from how much societal customs and perceptions have changed since the movie was made, mostly we  laugh out loud at the timeless foibles of human nature. We fall asleep still smiling, and plan to steer our Winnebago well clear of the casinos.


Leave a Comment
  1. Rebecca Riley / Jun 16 2018 1:12 am

    Fantastic pictures! You’re not taking these with your phone are you?

    Also we need to discuss the genesis of your (Anna’s) breakfast.


    • annakpf11 / Jun 16 2018 3:59 pm

      Some of the photos are taken by me with my iPhone or Nikon D3300, but the glorious wide angle and telephoto shots you are probably admiring were likely taken by Dave with his Nikon D750.

      Yes to breakfast genesis discussion.

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