Yeah, I’ve been there

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Death Valley not only boasts some of the most uncomfortable conditions I’ve ever been in, it’s conveniently not located near anything useful or remotely interesting. In fact, it’s about 300 miles out of the way, just to be hot and wet for the whole trip.

In a recent post I made the comment that everyone was heading to these National Parks for the same reason, to make something eminent and beautiful a part of their life. Only going to say you’ve been there. Our disposition led us to this same reasoning when thinking about whether or not we wanted to see Death Valley National Park. Curiosity may have led us there, but being so close to hell is what drove us out.

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When standing in the parking lot for Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the continental United States, you see this sign perched in the mountain across the highway. It’s roughly 270 up, which means what kids? That’s right! We were 270 feet below sea level!

The entire way to Death Valley we had joked about running the air conditioner all the way to the middle until the car thermometer said it was 120 degrees and then getting out of the car to see how fast we could sweat. The joke was over when we had to turn off the air because the car’s temperature gauge flew up after about a mile of disregarding the sign that said, “Avoid overheating, switch off air conditioning next 10 miles.” It takes about 21 seconds or so before you realize you’re going to soak through your shirt and probably 3 minutes to actually have a sweat spot. The good news is when you get out of the car, you will dry very quickly. The bad news is you’re standing in 120 degrees and have to get back into a car that was closed up (my car is black too!). After we had made it beyond that first mountain and began our descent into the valley, it had become a challenge to drive all of Death Valley with the windows down.

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I can’t imagine there being much good about being 282 feet below sea level. The worst part of the water in Badwater Basin was the lack of it, although I’m sure if you were to find it there probably is some kind of problem with drinking it.

Getting into Death Valley was 170 miles from the main road. Driving through it took several hours and would have taken longer if there wasn’t such a lack of park rangers in the hell hole. I really can’t figure out why they even need park rangers there other than to take up fees and maybe regulate speed. There is no wildlife there so you don’t have people stopping to shoot pictures of anything besides a natural bridge or the basin. Since it was a desert it was pretty easy to blow through it and just take in the view and let out all of our fluids. We completely depleted our water supply while there; each of us probably drank a gallon of water.

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The roads were pretty much the best roads I’ve driven in California. It makes perfect sense to have excellent road conditions on the nations least desirable road to drive.

The roads were mostly fresh paved. This means dark blacktop, like in the photo above. If you’ve ever gone to jump on a trampoline in the summer you know that black gets hot. When we pulled over to refill our water bottles Elliott hopped out of the car and began dancing on the blacktop, I guess to see how hot it was. Now, once I realized what was going on I knew I had to do one of two things. I needed to take a picture to show how thoughtless this experiment was. Since I only had one camera out and it was a long lens (and Keith had it), I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the shot. So instead, I chose my other option. I put the car in drive as Elliott tried to get into the car and laughed hysterically while he pranced on the blacktop screaming and yelping behind.

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Elliott was full of bad ideas while in Death Valley. His body hadn’t seen the sun the entire trip and he decided it would be a good idea to strip his wet shirt off here in Badwater Basin, where the temperature was about 122.

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I didn’t have a passing lane here, but I didn’t have anyone to pass anyway. After we left Badwater we didn’t encounter another vehicle for over a hundred miles.

The roads in Death Valley are fun to drive, despite being in the middle of a freaking desert. Apparently we aren’t the only ones who think so either. Shortly after entering the park and experiencing a questionable temperature rise in our vehicle, we approached two cars on the downside of the mountain who were not having any problems. Two unmarked BMWs were taking the turns at a rate that seemed way too fast to be typical tourist. They were driving almost as fast as we were! So after a while we had all decided they had to be doing a test run for a concept. Where better to put a car to the test than a desert? Death Valley is the ultimate desert to do it in since it’s almost always the hottest place in the United States.

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This is the front-runner of the two cars. If you look closely you can see two holes where the BMW symbol should be and the license plate isn’t a typical plate. The other car was a little more obvious that the make and model had been removed. Photo by Keith Smiley

Elliott was pushing for me to race them the whole time, of course. Since I had just had a BMW for a rental a few months ago, I was certain the Volvo wouldn’t be able to keep up. These cars were sportier than the one I had too. We did keep up with them just to watch them go through the turns and put their all-wheel-drive to use. It was fun, but got better.

As we topped a hill we saw a Trailblazer pulled over to the left side of the road facing oncoming traffic. On the side of the road was a photographer and his assistant. Suddenly we all realized what was going on. This was a magazine shoot. These weren’t concepts, they were next years models. The three of us came barreling down the hill at nearly 70 miles per hour tightly spaced and tailing each other. The photographer was already locking his eye on the first vehicle. He began firing and quickly moved to the second vehicle and shot off his frames on it too. About this time Elliott and I both are hanging out the window waving. I’m not sure what he was thinking, but he moved his camera to us after the second BMW passed and may have even fired a frame or two on us. When he realized that this 2002, absolutely filthy, black Volvo was not a part of the line up he dropped his camera to his hip and gave us a priceless confused look.

He loaded up into his GM vehicle and pulled out, far behind the threesome. We’re all laughing hysterically and uncontrollably. The fact that my dirty and loaded car had been a part of a photo shoot was too good to be true. I’m certain that we were in his frames of the second car. There’s no way he could have cropped us out with the lens (70-200).

Keith said it would be great to open up a magazine and see the headline, “New BMW leaves competition in the dust.” He did a little digging on the inter-Web and found out that this time last year there were two or three BMWs seen being test driven in Death Valley. The car is a 2008 M3 that hasn’t hitten the streets yet and is expected to debut soon. The beast sports a V8 and is packing well over 400 horses. It’s pretty cool to say we saw it’s testing or promotion or whatever it was. It’s even better to say we were a part of it and probably ruined a few frames.

The trip out of Death Valley took hours. The heat stayed even after the sun went down. It was over 100 degrees until about 9:15 or 9:30. We drove all night until we made it to Martha’s. With the lack of sleep I had gotten and the amount of napping everyone else had gotten, I finally decided to let Keith man the wheel for the last hour and a half or two hours.

Death Valley was something I’m glad to say I’ve seen, but don’t really think I want to go back anytime soon. The only way around that plan is if it’s in December when Dave tells me the temperature may go down to the lower 80’s and possibly below. Even thought that agrees with what I’ve looked up, I would have to be a part of it before I believed it.

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2 Responses to “Yeah, I’ve been there”

  1. Hi, visiting Death Valley at other times of the year (late fall to early spring) is not as bad when you visited it. My experience was not that of hell, but that was of heaven, the place was just so diverse in beauty, geology and geography. Hopefully when you get back there, the conditions are far better so you see more of the natural wonders there.

  2. […] mean, Death Valley was hot, but Florida is HOT. I got out to pump gas, and by the time I was done there were big dark […]

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