Our original plan was to go to Death Valley first, then back on the 395. We had a late night Friday, though, and weren't up to leaving home at 7 am, as was necessary to make Plan A work. I suggested that we instead go north on the 395 on the first day, and home through Death Valley on the second. We had motel reservations in Bishop, and Bishop is an easy drive from LA.
This revised plan made for a leisurely first day. We left home, dogs in tow, at 9am, and looped past the Poppy Reserve for a great view. Then, since we had plenty of time, I indulged Tom with a loop through Ridgecrest, where he used to work, so he could see how much the town had changed in the intervening years. It had changed plenty.
I was surprised and pleased to find that Fossil Falls was open; it had been closed the previous two or three times I had driven by. I had assumed that it was closed for budgetary reasons, but apparently not. New pavers had been installed around the parking lot, making for better wheelchair access. It's a short, easy hike from the parking lot to Fossil Falls, a volcanic ledge over which the Owens River used to flow, in the last ice age. It was the first hike I had taken in a year or more, and the first in several years that I didn't use a cane.
We reached our motel by mid-afternoon. Tom and I split up at that point. I took the dogs for a walk, while he went in search of a bookstore. He found a bookstore, but not a book he wanted to read. We both found a Chinese restaurant for take-out, the same one, almost across the street from our motel. We enjoyed the meal while watching "Ghostbusters" on cable: one of the classics.
We got an early start the next morning, since I had chosen an insane route: north from Bishop into Nevada, and south through the high desert, to enter Death Valley near Scotty's Castle. The detour meant we could drive the length of Death Valley without doubling back, as well as seeing some ghost towns in Nevada.
Tom was suitably impressed by Death Valley. It was his first trip there, and my second. Being a guy, he liked the rocks the most. As much as I liked the rocks (the mountains on the east side of the Valley are banded like agates), I was blown away by the flowers, which had not been ready when I drove through a few weeks ago. It wasn't a hundred-year bloom, as it was in the retirement planning commercial with Dennis Hopper, but there were places where desert gold (that's the name of those yellow daisies; I looked it up) covered the ground as far as one could see, not like a blanket, but like a golden mist ten inches up. We took a few side roads, to see sand dunes and abandoned mines, a salt stream packed with pupfish in breeding frenzy, and, of course, Dante's View. I was surprised that the desert outside the national park was just as beautiful as that inside; the desert was in full bloom for hundreds and hundreds of miles.
We also saw a pack of coyotes (3) in ranchland north of Bishop. Wildlife sightings always thrill us.
The only downside was the traffic after we hit the 15. The backup at the agricultural station cost us a full hour. By the time we got home, we were exhausted. We had earned out exhaustion; we had put 1200 miles on the car over the space of two days.
Have I mentioned that I like long drives in the country?