Friday, July 8, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Days 9-10: Hoover Dam and Death Valley National Park

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Day 9: Our goal was to drive to Hoover Day, get there right after lunch, spend about an hour there, and then drive the rest of the way to Death Valley in time for a late dinner.

We tried to be up and out early in the morning, so of course we left around 9:30 am. We had to stop quickly at the Post Office so we could mail postcards with the Grand Canyon postmark. We didn't arrive at Hoover Dam until after 3 pm. I wanted to take the Powerplant Tour, so we could see the generators.

First Son had read about Hoover Dam in his Book of Marvels so we were both excited to see Hoover Dam in person. The video presentation at the beginning of the tour is quite the marketing scheme. Kansas Dad and I immediately contrasted it with the ranger talks we had heard about the Colorado River at Canyonlands and Grand Canyon National Parks, but the children didn't make the connection until we started talking about it (in hushed tones so we wouldn't upset the guides). The tour is a bit expensive once you add it all up for six people, but the difference between it and just the Visitor's Center isn't much. We all enjoyed riding the elevators, walking through the rocks, and feeling the thrum of the generators.

The tour is only 30 minutes, but we had to wait for it to start and then the children explored the Visitor's Center much longer than I thought they would. We had only limited time outdoors before everything closed at 5 pm, which meant we were leaving Hoover Dam much later than planned and were hungry for dinner.

We shopped for groceries and ate a hurried dinner in the grocery store parking lot before continuing our drive. Nevertheless, darkness caught us when we were still more than an hour from a campsite at Death Valley. The last hour is a desolate drive through uninhabited land without cell phone service. I was nervous about continuing, so we decided to find a hotel in Pahrump, NV. (Kansas Dad was glad when he heard it was still over 90 degrees in Death Valley.)

Total driving for day 9 - 335 miles.

Day 10: My fears were unfounded as we made the drive into Death Valley National Park the following morning without incident. (Though they were also justified as the van started to break down on our drive out of Death Valley National Park later in the day.)

We stopped at Zabriskie Point as we drove into the park, shortly after visiting the worst vault toilets of the entire trip.

After a brief stop at the Visitor's Center, we decided to drive down to the Badwater Sea Flats. At 282 feet below sea level, it's the lowest point in the United States.

sea salt mush
You can walk right out on the salt flats, a nice flat straight walk.

On the way back to the Visitor's Center (and the only way out of the park), we drove through Artist's Palette, a one-way nine mile paved road with twists and turns through amazing volcanic and other rock structures.

We ate a quick lunch outside the Visitor's Center and then began the long slow drive up and out of Death Valley. At one point, there was a sign to turn off air conditioning for the next twenty miles, which Kansas Dad did. Sadly, at the end of the twenty miles, it wouldn't turn back on. We didn't know it at the time, but this was when the van started to sicken. Our poor van had to climb and climb to go over the pass at 4,944 feet.

Then poor Kansas Dad had to drive through more desert temperatures without air conditioning until we finally got near Sequoia. Unfortunately, we arrived at dusk as rain threatened. Kansas Dad managed to get some dinner made and the tent up as I frantically moved our food (and booster seats!) to the bear locker and cleaned out the van. We ate dinner huddled under the open back door of the van amidst a downpour.

Easily the worst night of the trip, it would have been a lovely camping spot without the cold and the rain and the anxiety Kansas Dad suffered as he worried about the broken air conditioning and another climb up a mountain the following day to see the giant sequoias. Still, the tent kept us dry.

Total miles for day 10 - 423 miles.

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