I popped over the road for a shower at the swimming pool this morning and took a closer look at the complex. Basically it’s on either side of US190. On one side are the campground pitches, gas station and General Store, and on the other side the motel rooms, guest rooms with Wi-Fi connection, bar, restaurant, office and swimming pool – all this in the middle of nowhere. It’s absolutely wonderful and we wished we could have stayed another day, but we needed to move on to get us to the edge of Yosemite Park.
The climb out of Death Valley was really quite an experience. Leaving west on US190 then US136 on the way to Lone Pine we climbed 5,000ft in to the Sylvania Mountains in 30 minutes – before dropping 4,000ft, then climbing up another 4,000ft. It was a real corkscrew of a road, very narrow in places with sharp turns, many with pronounced cambers, and so it really did feel as if we were on a roller coaster. The route down was very steep and the brakes got pretty hot and smelly, but there seemed to be no option other than to keep the speed under control with the brake pedal. I’d tried using the gearbox to slow us down but that sent the engine revs through the roof. After the worst was finally over The Chef said that today had given her two memorable experiences. Firstly Death Valley, one of the loveliest places she’d ever visited, and secondly the most frightening road trip of her life. I could tell she had been tense as all I could see out of the corner of my eye was her hand firmly gripping the armrest on her seat. As she’s not keen on heights I think she did really well. I estimate the poor RV has today climbed the equivalent of Mount Everest, and much of it very steeply. This gets reflected in the fuel economy, but she didn’t miss a beat, and the temperature gauge didn’t move towards ‘hot’ which surprised me. I now have a better understanding of why Americans have vehicles with such large, powerful engines.
We made our way to Lone Pine then turned left on to US395, as it turned out we were to stay on this road for a number of miles. The plan was to stop overnight at Lee Vining on the shores of Mono Lake ready to drive through Yosemite National Park and camp at Groveland on the other side. Unfortunately US120 through Yosemite Park was closed. On the maps it says ‘Closed in winter’, but they close it for 6 months of the year. They don’t open it until May. It’s a bit like being back at school when the central heating radiators went on at a given date and turned off on another, irrespective of the weather, that’s how it felt about US120. True there was snow on the mountains and in places it came down close to the roads, but it was in the process of melting. There’s no doubt that the road would be quite passable and safe, it just wasn’t May 1st yet. The Chef popped in to the local Tourist information Office at Lee Vining (elevation 7,000ft) on the southwest shore of Mono Lake, where she was given an alternative route to take, but that was at the top end of the park and on a more minor road, and we’d about had enough of hairy mountain motoring for today.
Despite the problems The Chef and I agreed that California has given us non-stop spectacular scenery since the moment we entered Death Valley yesterday.
Disappointed, we decided to wild camp somewhere further up the road and then head straight for San Francisco in the morning, gaining another day on the schedule. We passed through Bridgeport, a really pretty place with clapboard houses, attracting tourists who visit the nearby Travertine Hot Springs, before stumbling across a Wal-Mart Supercentre at Carson Valley, just outside Carson City, Nevada. We took the opportunity to do some shopping and use their car park for the night.
After our evening meal of hot spit-roasted chicken and salad from Wal-Mart and not the barbecue we had originally planned, I decided to use a tooth pick as I can’t get on with floss. Before we came on this trip I spent a fortune with my private dentist attaining ‘Oral good health’ in the hope of avoiding American dentists, therefore I was more than a little disappointed when I managed to lever off a lump of tooth. I must now track down a white coated millionaire in the hope they can give me a temporary repair. Luckily it’s all insured, but it’s still inconvenient.
LOCATION TONIGHT: Wal-Mart car park, Carson Valley, Nevada (GPS: N39.188921 W119757590)