Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Death Valley, Red Rock Canyon, and Hoover Dam

We opted for Death Valley over visiting the Hoover Dam. I personally had no preference, content to explore whatever was on the agenda and experience a side of the country that I hadn’t seen before.

Renting a car, we made our way from Las Vegas, across the border into California, and to Death Valley National Park. The park is the hottest and driest place in North America as well as the second lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. Although regularly getting at or above 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, Death Valley is pleasant in the winter. However, standing in Badwater Basin (282 ft. below sea level) in January, you can still feel the warmth coming off of the salt flats. I can’t imagine how it must feel six months later in July.

Atop Dante's View, we found a dramatic shift in temperature, reaching for jackets when t-shirts had sufficed below. The overlook is named for Dante Alighieri, the famed Italian poet who authored the Divine Comedy and reflects a portion of the poem where he's overlooking hell, about to begin his journey.

The view from the top is the same one seen in 1977's Star Wars: A New Hope when the main characters are overlooking Mos Eisley Spaceport (a "wretched hive of scum and villainy"). Several areas of Death Valley were used to create the planet Tatooine in the film.

Death Valley was a nice change of pace from the past three days spent in Las Vegas, the fresh air and quiet being welcomed. As we left and made our way out of California, through Nevada around Mt. Charleston, and back towards Vegas, we had plenty of time to kill before our flight back to Cincinnati. We drove the scenic tour of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area while the sun set. Just twenty minutes or so from the Las Vegas Strip, the canyon feels like a whole other planet.

Although we initially chose Death Valley and Red Rock over the Hoover Dam, we were pretty confident that we had at least enough time to drive by and see it from the highway. After experiencing suburban Vegas traffic, we crossed the bridge carrying US-93 only to find that the protective sidings block any views of the historic structure below. Thinking maybe there was still a chance to see it after nightfall, we drove up to the dam itself. A security guard looked over our vehicle and told us that although tours were done for the day, we could still go drive across the dam and check out some of the overlooks. I made some quick photographs in the short time we had before the place closed. It was incredible to not only see the dam, but be able to walk along the top with hardly anyone around, just us and a few other tourists.

Our road trip for the day had spanned California, Nevada, and Arizona, ending at the McCarran Airport rental car facility. After a red eye flight, we landed in Northern Kentucky across the river from Cincinnati before crossing into Indiana and back to Ohio to retrieve our cars and go home. Six states within 24 hours, three of them new to me.