Today was the day for me to take control of the wheel and what better place than Death Valley with its tight twists and turns. No worries - we all know that corners are my speciality! I actually enjoyed the drive although I am not sure Stuart would agree. I am pleased to report that Stuart, the car, the good people of California and me are all still intact and fully functioning.
Death Valley is another surreal and wonderful sight to behold. Our first stop was the Badwater Salt Flats which is the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level and supposedly one of the hottest! However, when we arrived we were greeted with hurricane like wind storms, cold temperatures, cloud and even a little bit of rain - what are the chances of that? I sensed we would not be requiring all of the 24 bottles of water we had in the boot of the car!
Walking on the Badwater Salt Flats required a certain amount of stamina and determination to keep upright due to the strength of the wind. It is a bit like walking on an ice rink without the worry of slipping over. It was great and the wind actually made it an even more fun experience.
I was now confident enough to take us on the Artist's Pallet Drive. Here you get to see volcanic rocks and foothills of different shades of green, gold and pink. They were beautiful and the 'photos do not do the vivid colours justice. We decided to brave a walk up the hill, at which point I really thought I was going to have a Mary Poppin's moment and be blown away never to be seen again.
Next stop was the Golden Canyon. Finally the wind had calmed a little and temperatures were starting to resemble desert like conditions. We took a short walk through the Canyon before driving onwards to Stovepipe Wells where we planned to have our picnic. The wind had picked up again and we ended up sitting in the front of the car eating our rice cakes - we looked like tourists visiting UK shores in the rain!
The sun again started to shine and it was time to brave the sand storms to experience the Sand Dunes at Mesquite Flat. These were stunning and provided me with the desert vistas that I had imagined. The only slight disappointment is that I did not get to see rolling tumbleweed which I really wanted to capture on camera. Stuart and I both enjoyed a bit of Sand Dune skiing and got covered head to toe in sand due to the storms. The car rental company are going to love us when we drop the car back!
Zabriskie Point was the next stop and the guide books are not lying when they say it is one of the Park's most scenic spots. I loved the 360 view of magnificent rock formations and their beauty rivalled some of the sights we saw in Yosemite.
Our final stop was Dante's View. Stuart was excited about this one because when he was here 14 years ago he saw views that stretched miles and miles which in his words 'really capture the essence of the desert'. The drive up is very narrow and steep and the closer we got to the top the cloudier it became. When we finally got to the top the rain was falling, the wind had picked up again and we were the only car in the car park! The view (or lack of it) was a little different to Stuart's memories and he was a little disappointed. I could see the funny side and the clouds did part every now and again so I got the gist of what Stuart experienced.
As an aside we stayed some 50 miles away from Death Valley in a small town called Parhump. The child in me loves this name! I'm popping off now in search of food which hopefully will not result in any Parhumping.