Leaving the Iron King rail to trail, we turned north intending to drive through Death Valley National Park on the way back to Oregon. We also wanted to drive over the new bridge spanning the Colorado River at Hoover Dam. Our interest in Death Valley had been piqued by friends who visited there and described the valley as an intriguing and unique natural resource. It was even more impressive than I had expected. Some things you just have to see to believe. The complexity and beauty of Death Vally can be so difficult to describe.
Heading north from Prescott, we crossed into Nevada over the new Hoover Dam Bypass bridge. More info about the bridge: http://www.hooverdambypass.org/purpose_overview.htm It was disappointing because of heavy traffic and essentially no good view or place to stop for pictures without risking traffic chaos. We saw one exit for tourists and picture taking, but it was stuffed full. There is a hike from a casino parking lot just over the Nevada border I would have liked to have taken but Matt was in no mood by then. It looked like it could have some spectacular views, but it was just too late in the day to check it out.
Skirting the south and west flank of Las Vegas in rush hour traffic, we discovered Lovell Canyon in Springs Mountain National Recreational Area only 30 or 40 miles west of Vegas. http://www.sunsetcities.com/lovell-canyon.html We spent an amazingly peaceful and quiet night just a couple miles from Hwy 160, gazing at the Springs Mountains while eating dinner and then at the brilliant stars after nightfall. There are no facilities in Lovell Canyon; you just pick out a level spot with a view and claim it as yours (and hope for no motorcylce gangs or other Las Vegas area weirdos).
Next day we drove hwy 190 through the Death and Panamint Valleys, and then along hwy 395 and the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevadas to Hwy 50. Matt was extremely generous and patient with many stops to take pictures as I became increasingly fascinated with the desert vegetation, the challenges of trying to capture the barren isolation of Death Valley, the colorful topography of Panamint Valley and the towering immensity of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Wikipedia has great info on Death Valley NP: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Valley_National_Park
The overwhelming impression of Death Valley for me is that nature here is oblivious to our human sense of self-importance. This dangerous environment is one we should enter with forethought, because nothing else out there cares if we live or die through our own arrogance, stupidity or bad luck. I like that.
Highway 190 cuts across Panamint Valley which is separated from Death Valley by the Panamint Mountains. The northern part of Panamint Valley is included in the Death Valley National Park. The smaller Pamamint valley is 65 miles long but only 7 miles at its widest point. Panamint mountains are incredibly colorful with a very ancient carved and sharp featured appearance.
After crossing the Panamint Valley, we headed north to Lone Pine and hwy 395- approaching and then paralleling the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west. Highway 395 would take us almost all the way to hwy 50 where we intended to cross the Sierras to Interstate 5. The drive is an unforgettable feast for the eyes and spirit.
Lone Pine, the first real town north of the junction of 190 and 395 is a small but quite adorable town with the Sierra Nevadas as a backyard. Very alpine! Big Pine is the next town on 395- it looks like a tourist trap. Then comes the “big” town of Bishop, California. Biship is-well-Bishop.
I had a lot of fun this trip taking pictures of desert vegetation. Lots of familiar cacti and some plants new to me. Here’s a brief sampling: