My Solstice Jaunt into America's Outback... Again!
|Sunrise in Death Valley |
December 21st, 2012
I was born in the Mojave Desert and it has been an integral part of my very nature as a human being. Its sands run through my veins and its fauna are my essence. I venture through it knowing very well that one wrong turn can mean my demise. But I am fortunate enough to have earned enough desert cred that if I get in a pickle so-to-speak I can hopefully get myself out of it. That's why the desert does not scare me too much. If I give her the respect she deserves I know that she will return the favor if it ever comes to that. Hence the reason I venture out as often as I can just to remind myself that life is a precious and delicate thing that needs to be reset or recharged. And the desert is the perfect place to do it.
The Solstice Recharge
On December 21st, two days after I came back from my yearly pilgrimage back east to visit my mom I woke up exceptionally early, well before the sunrise, to get in my trusted little MINI and venture out to Americas Outback. I knew well in advance that I wanted to see the sunrise out in the desert on the Solstice. This solstice was going to be different, a time of great reflection and of change. Both spiritually and emotionally. I knew that the next coming era that the Mayan's call the 14th Baktun, would be a time of great spiritual growth and a time for new and exciting beginnings. Not the end of the world as the media and Hollywood portrayed. I knew better. In either case I pointed my car North and headed to my favorite national park; Death Valley. I have written extensively about my adventures in Death Valley. It is a place that I never get tired of visiting and one that I always go back to re-energize.
Previous Outback Blog Posts -
|Bad Water Basin Death Valley|
For more information about Death Valley National Park - http://www.nps.gov/deva/index.htm
Shoshone and Tecopa
After leaving Bad Water I headed South out of the park. The drive is dramatic with really awesome winding roads that hug the side of the mountains. My tiny little car hit the curves without hesitation and made the ride so much more enjoyable. I even stopped a few times along the way just to enjoy the scenery which is even more amazing at every turn. Just looking up at the mountains, that you can literally walk up to, leave you in splendid awe. Death Valley is definitely a plein-air artists wonderland ready to be painted at every moment.
After exiting the park I headed towards the little hamlet of Shoshone, home of the world famous Crowbar Cafe and Saloon. Though I only stopped by for a second to grab a candy bar at the general store, Shoshone is a great place to unwind after a day in the park. The Crowbar is a popular pit-stop for motorcyclists travelling through the area and the Shoshone Museum is also well worth the visit.
As I headed out of Shoshone towards Baker, California home of the worlds tallest non-working thermometer I passed the junction to Tecopa. The small town of Tecopa is also well known in the region for its hot springs. Within a few miles of Tecopa is also a great point of interest worth visiting the China Ranch Date Farm.
For more information about Shoshone - http://shoshonevillage.com/index.html
Death Valley Chamber of Commerce - http://deathvalleychamber.org/
Tecopa Hot Springs - http://www.tecopahotsprings.org/
China Ranch Date Farm - http://www.chinaranch.com/
Baker and Beyond
|Mojave National Preserve|
from Kelbaker Road
After fueling up in Baker, also known as the Gateway to Death Valley, I kept following the 127 which turned into Kelbaker Road that leads directly into the park. I had been wanting to hit the preserve since I was a little boy just because it seemed like a cool place to go. It was one of those places that my parents and I would drive past often on our way to Los Angeles so my child curiosities about the area never ceased to draw me and the fact that the preserve is also home to the historic Kelso Train Depot which caught my curiosity when I saw a photo of it.
As I made my way deep into the park I was astonished by the huge extinct lava fields and cinder-cones that popped up out of nowhere. A testament to the areas very active and very recent geological past. Who knew that Pele was so active in Southern California! Though I didn't really stop, being cognizant of the time and the fact that I only had so many hours of sunlight on the shortest day of the year I drove past them. With the preserve only a two hours from Las Vegas this is a place I can easily return too any weekend. Though I do want to point out that Kelbaker Road is in desperate need of repaving. Not that it has huge pot holes, well maybe a few, but it is like riding on a cheese-grater. It looks like there was an attempt to resurface the road some time ago but it did not hold up very well.
For more information about the Mojave National Preserve - http://www.nps.gov/moja/index.htm
The Kelso Train Depot
There is little doubt that the historic Kelso Train Depot is a treasure of the high deserts of Southern California. Built in 1924 by the Union Pacific Railroad as one of several whistle stops between Salt Lake City and San Pedro California, the depot played a major role providing a much needed respite from the hot desert summers. It was originally part of the Salt Lake, San Pedro and Los Angeles Railroad that was built in 1905 by Montana Senator William Andrews Clark. Clark is credited as the founding father of Las Vegas and is the namesake for Clark County Nevada.
|The Kelso Train Depot|
American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), which was a major disappointment. I have been going to the AMNH since I was a little boy and not much has changed in the past 38 years. The hall of minerals looked like an old 1970's B-Movie with grimy carpets, dark dingy galleries and kids running around as if it was a romparoom! For goodness sake at least dust the gems every once in a while! And don't even let me tell you about the moisture damage inside the Meso-American exhibits! But I digress... In either case the Kelso Train Depot and its amazingly friendly staff, great exhibits and good sandwiches make it a must see when in Southern California. Best of all its free!
I am already planning my return in the next couple of weeks!
For more information about the Kelso Train Depot - http://www.nps.gov/moja/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm
Mid-Century Modern Marvels and a Joshua Tree or Two (million)...
|Roy's Motel & Cafe|
On Route 66
Oh and bit of advice when you drive in the area keep an eye out for the California Highway Patrol for they tend to lurk in all the nooks and crannies of the high desert. Luckily So-Cal drivers are kind enough to flash their headlights to give you some advance warning to slow down. And goodness knows for someone who drives a little red car the warnings are much appreciated!
For more information about the Joshua Tree National Park - http://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm
759 miles and some great memories
Looking back I have to say this was one of the most fulfilling road trips I had ever taken. I had hit two amazing national parks and a national preserve, I drove the back country of Southern California and Nevada and came within a hop, skip and a jump of Arizona. In the end I covered 759 miles in 18 hours traversing the high deserts of the Mojave. Not just was the trip the highlight of my two week vacation which began in New York City it was one for my personal record books.
If you are from Las Vegas and or are going to be visiting Las Vegas consider a road trip to America's Outback, the Mojave Desert, for it is a land of contrasts that will leave you spiritually and emotionally fulfilled.
|Map located at the Kelso Train Depot|
(Photos taken by Brian Paco Alvarez)
Brian Paco Alvarez enculturating Las Vegas into the millennium...