Thursday, September 11, 2008

Day 41: Daylightning

When last I posted I was setting off from Utah on an adventure that would bring me through the corners of Arizona and Nevada, into the barren wasteland that is south-eastern California.

After passing through the little bit of Arizona and back into my beloved Pacific Time Zone, I made my first stop of the day. It is here that I discovered two amazing things:
  1. Red Bull Cola
  2. Valley of Fire State Park
First, the cola. I've been more or less a fan of Red Bull since my early days of drumming; it (along with the sadly absent Surge) fueled many a long jam sessions with various friends over the years. I find the taste to be far superior to any imitators that have come after (I'm looking at you Rockstar), and its smaller can size much more manageable. Other than a sugar free version, Red Bull has up until now offered no other variations on its product line. To say the least, I was surprised to now see a cola alternative. My initial thoughts were tempered with memories of the rather vile Rockstar Cola, but my curiosity won out in the end and I purchased a can. I cracked it open, drank it down, and came to the conclusion that I couldn't form a decisive opinion one way or the other about it. It was deliciously Red Bull in flavor, with a nice kick of cola; and yet at the same time just as horrid in flavor as previous energy/cola offerings. Quite the contradiction in a can. Further tests are necessary.

Every park needs an arch.
Either way, I didn't let the Red Bull Cola uncertainty distract me from the second amazing thing I discovered in Nevada; Valley of Fire State Park. On a recommendation from my friend Devin Saez, a former resident of Las Vegas, I took a detour from the interstate to check out this park. The day was beginning to become a scorcher, and time was not something I had in abundance, so I regulated myself to simply driving through the park. Even so, I was able to experience much of the fantastic sights the park has to offer. The site of an ancient inland sea, plate movements have forced enormous amounts of jagged, fire-red rock formations through the surface. The visitor center offered an extremely informational time line explaining how exactly the valley was formed over millions of years, and the processes which caused the brilliant landscape.

One area of particularly amazing formations was the Painted Valley (or something to that effect). Here, different compositions of stone had been pressed together and exposed in such a way that contrasting colors come together, giving a kind of rainbow or painted effect. It was all quite stunning and very fun to drive through.

On my drive into the park, I had noticed a gathering storm off to the east over much of the Lake Mead area. It looked pretty nasty, even to the point of becoming a thunderstorm (as a side note, lightning during the daytime is fun to experience, albeit still a little unnerving when it gets closer). After a while in Valley of Fire, I realized that this storm was heading directly my way. Time to boogie, I thought, not really wanting to get caught up in a nasty storm. I stopped just outside the park to photograph the entrance sign, and was nearly blown over by the powerful winds preceding the storm. I felt sorry for the wedding party that was just beginning to arrive for their afternoon ceremony.

Once back on the highway, I discovered that while running away from one storm, I was heading straight into a second. It seemed the weather systems had conspired to surround me, opening up the sky and letting fly crazy thunderstorm rain right as I pulled into Las Vegas. The storm was pretty nuts, to say the least.

The deceptive beauty of Death.
After stopping to get food and get lost in the suburbs of Las Vegas, I continued on my way to Death Valley. I wasn't sure exactly where the campground I was to sleep at was located within the park, and really wanted to arrive around or right before sunset to ensure I could get a spot. It turns out Death Valley is a bit further from Las Vegas than I had initially suspected. After driving for a couple of hours, I finally crossed the border into California and began the ascent over the mountains bordering the valley on the south-eastern edge. While still on the eastern face, the sun began to set over the western range, the temperature outside a pleasant 85 or so. I crossed the summit and began to descend into the park. It was around this point that a series of facts, once connected, began to worry me.
  1. All of the elevation gain for the last 20 miles or so had not been kind on my fuel efficiency.
  2. My odometer I use for my current tank of gas was just below 300 miles (I usually average at or just below 400 when I fill up), and my fuel reading was quite a bit lower than I expected it to be.
  3. I was enter Death Valley from the south. It is a large park, with the main village close to the center. Also, there aren't really many towns of appreciable size close by.
  4. The temperature was rising. Quickly.
I went into extreme fuel saving mode. Despite the fact that the outside temperature was now over 100 degrees, I turned off my air conditioning. Now that I was descending the slopes of the mountains, potential energy became my friend; I put the car into neutral and used gravity to take me down to below sea level, performing what amounted to a controlled "free-fall".

Needless to say, it got hot in the car; every 15 minutes or so I would turn on the A/C for a few minutes to cool off. Due to these fuel saving measure, I was able to travel quite far into the park without affecting my level of fuel much at all. Around 100 feet below sea level, the road more or less leveled off. I was well into the park now, and losing light. No turning back...

This story to be continued (its time for karaoke).

1 comment:

Lynsey said...

oh man...i miss surge.