But with my leisure (since I decided to just throw in the towel and take the day off) I'll get back to reporting on our trip this weekend, and thank my lucky stars that the car made it through the adventure, only to complain afterwards and not during.
Becca and I decided that, screw the distance, we were gonna go see Death Valley and the wildflowers there. I don't regret the choice at all, though it kept us on the road just about all day. We left at 6AM and got back around 7:30PM. I chivalrously/stupidly kept the wheel the whole time, and it was quite a work-out. Anyway, we headed out the 14 through the plenty of nothing that lies out that way. It was interesting to see that the little town of Mojave touts its fame as the Home of Spaceship One with some giant full-color billboards at the entrances to the city. Also along the 14 is Red Rock Canyon State Park, which has some really lovely Grand Canyon-esque scenery.
We pressed on up the 395 and then across the 190 to Panamint Springs just inside the park entrance. Along the way, there were great views of the local mountains, which were still snow-topped. There were plenty of little yellow flowers all over the place - not dense like a tulip field or something, but still pretty thick. Given the torrential rains this winter, this is probably THE year for wildflowers out there. Indeed, I kept saying to myself, "This isn't so bad! Those pioneers were wimps if they couldn't deal with this. Death Valley, my butt." It was also interesting to feel the difference in temperature (maybe 20 degrees) from up in the passes (maybe 4-5000 feet) and down in the valley itself (at sea level and below). Throughout our trip through Death Valley, we'd stop every 15-20 miles or so and look at the flowers. Some fields were yellow, some were white, some were purple. But as you got out on your feet and looked around, it was far more... integrated, than it seemed at first.
Of the flowers, I think my favorite is the Desert Five-Spot, which is neat because you can only see the spots when you look straight down into the flower, which has curved petals that almost make a sphere.
Anyway, apart from the flowers, we also saw Mosaic Canyon, with its 'mosaics' and long smooth walls of marble. We also climbed some of the sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells. It's lovely sand - just like the beach only with one ingredient missing. The giant dunes are pretty impressive and it's tough slogging to climb to the top.
Then on to Furnace Creek. Along the way, we reached the sign that read 'Elevation: Sea Level', which I intuited had to exist. They usually don't bother telling you that when you're driving on a freeway to the beach, but this case calls for a marker. At Furnace Creek, we had lunch. It's clearly the busy season in the park - it was a half hour wait just to get into the cafe, and the complaining old biddies waiting near us didn't help any. Not far from there is the turnoff for the Devil's Golf Course, which I've always wanted to see. Usually, it's bone dry there, but there were still plenty of puddles amidst the salt sculptures and even a fairly sizable lake there. I think because of the rain, the formations weren't as 'sharp' as usual, but there were interesting little hairs of salt growing on them. Becca, being the salt-creature that she is, sampled it. Her verdict: salty.
The intriguingly-named Badwater is not too far away as you continue along the salt flats. Here is where the elevation is lowest: 282 feet below sea level (actually it's some miles away, but the sign is conveniently next to the roadway; then again, given how flat the land is, it's probably only 281 feet and 6 inches below sea level at the sign. Ordinarily there's not that much water at Badwater, but this year there was plenty. Everything brown in that picture was water when we were there. One guy 'waded' out at least 200 yards into it, and the water was all the way up to his ankles.
Back on our way, we stopped for a bit at a ruined gold mill (not much left to see) and then on to Shoshone, and Baker and back home. Near Baker, we spotted a lake that we dubbed Lake Bonus, since I doubt it exists most years.
I'll work on getting some of our photos online.