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the road to death valley

When I leave Bishop the wind is still icy and it blows me smartly along the highway to Big Pine where I stop to stock up on water, filling my two four litre bags to the brim. I ask the guy at the service station for information about the road. The man, it transpires, is Mexican and we end up talking at length about my route into Mexico, the border crossing, road conditions and traffic. I go to the bathroom and when I return he has disappeared and I leave regretting that I can’t say goodbye to him.

The back route to Death Valley, which Brian and Kathleen have told me about, strikes out east from Big Pine towards the mountain range. Soon a road veers left – a narrow tarmac strip that immediately begins to climb and climb. There are more tarantulas on the road than cars, which for an arachnophobe like me is absolutely terrifying. In two hours only one car passes in either direction and a man with a long grey pony tail on a fast bike who comes up behind me.

“What are you running from?” he asks.

I contemplate his question seriously for a short while and then reply, “The world, at large, I guess.”

“You know where this road goes?” he queries incredulously.

“Yes, of course, I do. Death Valley!”

Climbing up the hill.

Climbing up the hill.

The cyclist goes on his way – his destination the top of the hill – disappearing soon on the curvy road. I am still climbing when he speeds back down on his racer.

Late in the afternoon, a convoy of four covered pickup trucks passes and then I have the road to myself. I climb steadily through rocky arid hills covered with low vegetation, twiggy bushes and spiny shrubs. As I start to top the pass Dr Suess trees suddenly appear – crazy shapes and spiky top-knots. I stop amazed to photograph these outlandish creatures. I realise how ignorant I am of this landscape. I have no idea what they are.

A tree that belongs in a Dr Suess book.

A tree that belongs in a Dr Suess book.

Crazy creature!

Crazy creature!

Joshua trees grow between 6500 and 7500 feet.

Joshua trees grow between 6500 and 7500 feet.

Once I’m over the pass a long windy road takes me down a steep descent in to a wide open flat valley bordered on all sides by bare ranges. The sun is sinking. The pavement ends. A second gravel track leads to the right and I turn onto it to find somewhere to camp for the night.

Over the pass and down into the valley.

Over the pass and down into the valley - the road stretching ahead in the distance.

Pavement ends - a long rough road ahead.

Pavement ends - a long rough road ahead.

Corrugations: there is a couple of hundred miles of this.

Corrugations: there is a couple of hundred miles of this.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Lucie | November 27, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    I can’t believe this guy just came up to you and asked: “What are you running from?” I would have been horrified, how does he know? But maybe, you are not running from anything. I would be.

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