After a few weeks of bright blue skies and fairly warm temperatures, the weather forecasters began warning about an approaching cold front and rain. We’re learned that when we are in the southwestern desert, rain and cold are relative terms, so we weren’t too concerned until we began to see winter weather advisories for snow and high winds. When you are driving your house down the road, getting slammed by wind gusts is no fun. It was mild where we were at Lake Mead and we were headed to Death Valley, which is 200 feet below sea level and the hottest and driest place in North America. How cold and snowy could it be?
Careful examination of our route revealed a 5,500 foot mountain pass between where we were and where we wanted to be. We ran the inRoute app which helped us decide when to leave home after Christmas. It too had weather advisories, but barely any precipitation and temperatures above freezing. So we hit the road. As we worked out way around Las Vegas, we could see the ski hills north of town. It looked like a great day to hit the slopes.
A dusting of snow at the higher elevations provided picturesque views as we drove farther west. We crossed our fingers that the road would not head all the way up to those higher elevations. The engine worked hard as we climbed and climbed and there was some snow on the sides of the road at the summit, but except for the wind, the drive was pleasant. It wasn’t until we got to within a few miles of Death Valley National Park that we plummeted out of the sky and the temperature reached 60º. We are camped at Furnace Creek, put on the map by a classic old hotel. We wanted to stay here longer than the three days we reserved, but it was fully booked. Now we understand that there are plenty of spaces to camp, but only a few that have the electricity, water and sewer connections that we are enjoying.
At the visitor center we learned that a number of the roads we had hoped to drive in this hottest, driest spot are closed due to snow. The road to Scotty’s Castle, an elaborate Spanish style vacation home built in the 1920’s before Death Valley became a national park, was washed out last fall after 3.5 inches of rain fell October 18, the amount of rain Death Valley normally gets in a whole year. When we took a short scenic drive on the Artists Loop, we could see low spots where yesterday’s rain was still flooding the road. The rock formations on the drive were spectacular. This unique place was created when two parts of the crust of the earth pulled apart and created a giant rift between them. Volcanic eruptions filled in some of it with a variety of colorful minerals, but much of it is very flat. There are spots where scattered rocks appear to skitter across the sand under their own power. It is easy to see the trails they leave in the sand, but no one knows what makes them move. Spooky!