I have always wanted to drive through Death Valley. When I went to Yosemite, I was too young and angsty to appreciate it. Since we had a gap in our schedule with no show until Thursday, we decided to take a trip to Las Vegas. San Francisco to Las Vegas is no simple drive, though, and the van was going to be pushed to its limit.
Day 5- The Long Eventful Drive
We woke up early in the apartment, which was moderately trashed by the house party. Julene was on the other side of town, so we packed our stuff into the van as quickly as possible, said our thank yous and goodbyes to Tim and his roommates, then took off to get her. We had a little less hustle than we should have had, so we were about an hour late by the time we got to her. Then, we decided to go to a lookout point and take some photos of San Francisco from above.
We were on highway 120 east, I believe, which would take us all the way through Yosemite. However, 120 is the most annoying road ever. It turns into other highways, back into itself, splits here and there, and generally annoyed the living fuck out of me. There was one point when we started down the wrong road, and the GPS took us on some back country road to get back to the highway, but failed to realize how fucking stupid that road was. The van, Li’l Ruckus, was unhappy.
Anyway, we eventually entered Yosemite, and paid the $20 entrance fee. We had originally planned to stop and take photos at landmarks, but decided that it was too rainy to do that, once we got there. We did see some amazing meadows and giant rocks, though. It wasn’t quite the Yosemite experience that we were expecting, and most of the crew slept through it, but I had an excellent time driving that leg of this epic drive. Once we got out of Yosemite, though, we were slammed with steep grades and sketchy roadways. The van was bucking and I started to suspect something was wrong with the brakes, which would vibrate and groan as we slowed down these hills. I decided to pull over and give it a short break while we took some pictures. It was at this turnout that Eric began communing with nature.
Having given Li’l Ruckus a quick breather, we jumped back in the van and headed down the mountain. Nothing had changed. The brakes were not happy.
When we finally broke out of the mountain, into the valley on the other side, there was an instant change in pace. The road was flat, the rain had stopped, and it started to get hot. I put the van on cruse control and we headed south at 70mph. I was blown away by the scenery! The mountains, clouds, shadows and sheer size of the valley were awe-inspiring. I imagined that I was driving at the bottom of Puget Sound, with Bainbridge on my left and Seattle on my right. I was surprised at the lack of water, even though I knew we were entering a desert.
We stopped at a small town called Bishop, and ate some diner food. It was an office-themed restaurant that sat across from a trailer park, on a stretch of freeway that had a 45mph speed limit, for some reason. The restaurant also offered tax services. We all got giant meals, and nobody finished. The waitress/tax preparer bragged about how large our plates would be, but we were confident that we could handle it. Nobody finished. Not to be rude, but I did notice that the only other person in the diner at the time probably weighed in the neighborhood of 300lbs. I couldn’t believe that they had an all-you-can-eat menu. We couldn’t finish one round. Anyway, We asked for boxes, and the waitress turned our leftovers into burritos for later. Eric pointed out in a recent, and particularly viral Facebook post, that it was a pretty awesome business model.
We topped off the van with some fuel and oil, and got back on the road.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the landscapes pass around us. It was incredible scenery.
As the sun was going down, we rolled across the border into Death Valley. While we still had some sunlight, we decided to pull over and take some more photos/drink in the atmosphere for a second. The area was empty. Cars were driving by very infrequently. We could expect one to come from either direction about once every 10-15 minutes. Some of us climbed up on top of the van for some photos that will be posted later. Those of us that drink had some beers.
Again we piled into the van, and again we were cruising at 70mph. The landscape slowly got darker and darker until we entered the lowest parts of Death Valley. We stopped to use the restroom just before the long flat stretch across the middle of the Valley. It was a toss up between what was most impressive; the many agile bats flying around our heads, or the nearly $6/gallon gas prices at the rest stop.
We crossed the great flat divide, cruised up and over a pass, then were hit hard by the dreaded steep downhill grades. It was at this point that the brakes started to smell like burning, and the vibration from braking was like sitting in a massage chair. We had to stop. It was the middle of nowhere, and it was pitch black outside, but we pulled over anyway. I decided to let the brakes rest of 30 minutes, hoping that would save us from a fiery death. During that time, I experimented with my camera’s longer exposure settings, and some of us climbed up on top of the van to watch stars.
I know it doesn’t look like it in these photos, but it was so dark, I could barely see my hand in front of my face.
Back on the road, I popped the van into 2nd gear and used the engine to slow us down the mountain. This made the van a little happier, but it was slow going. We were making terrible time.
Eventually it flattened out again, and we cruised through dark shadows of landscapes without stopping for another few hours until we hit the Death Valley crossroads. We passed another $6/gallon gas station, which made me happy to have such a large tank. We crossed the Nevada border into Pahrump, burned through there, and hit the highway to Vegas. Amazingly, from at least 25 miles out, I was able to see the light beam from the Luxor hotel shining over the tops of the mountains.
I was excited, the others in the van were asleep, and the van was bucking. I knew we would have to stop in for repairs, but I pleaded with her to take us all the way to Vegas before she rested. We cruised into town, several hours after we thought we would have arrived, and I took a quick detour through the Las Vegas strip in an attempt to surprise the sleeping crew in the back seat. Unfortunately, they were all awake before we go there, so that was anti-climactic. We made our way to the house we were staying at, and I crashed out on the air mattress. We had been riding, and I had been driving for 15 hours.
The next morning I woke up and called a brake repair shop that was highly recommended by both our Vegas host, and by yelp. They fixed a laundry list of issues with the brakes and rotors, but shaved off about $150 from the labor because we were on tour and they wanted to help out. We gave them CDs. It was the least we could do. The van was back in business, and so were we.
Currently, it’s our second day in Vegas, and I am sitting in the house we are staying at. Tomorrow morning, we will be leaving for LA to play our next show at Trip in Santa Monica. Today and tonight, we will probably go into town to play some games.
I haven’t mentioned it thus far, but if you would like to help us on this tour, there is a “Donate” button on the right side of this website. Any contribution is greatly appreciated. Send us a message after you donate, and we might get you something once we return from this tour. Thanks in advance for any help.