We had a fair idea of what to expect from Death Valley but as we continued to watch the temperature readout in the car nudging past the 40c (104f) mark, which would be a record breaking temperature in the UK, we knew that we were in for a sticky ride. We were somewhat cocky in our attitude though as, obviously, the car had air conditioning and so that would clearly stop us from melting…. Except we couldn’t use it, as the many signs along the road told us, for fear of overheating the engine and causing a breakdown!!! Imagine our alarm then, as the mercury kept on creeping up eventually settling itself comfortably (or not so comfortably from our perspective) at 48c (118f)! Windows down it was to be then……
Trying to ignore the heat for the sake of the amazing adventure we were on, we again found ourselves awestruck at our natural surroundings. The landscape couldn’t have been more disparate from the lush, tree lined roads we had driven in Yosemite the day before, with our vista now consisting of dusty, barren plains with only the odd cactus, dried up bush or tumbleweed interrupting its huge expanse.
The heat ignorance didn’t last long though and the temperature was brought back in to sharp focus every time we stopped to get out of the car for a photo opportunity. It was genuinely an effort to prise ourselves from the relative shade of the car, to stand in the searing heat with a lump of increasingly hot, black rubber covered, metal and glass! We made a mental note never to complain about ‘photographers thumb’ when back in the UK ever again though.
I should point out that driving along at 60-70mph wasn’t much relief either, because whilst that would ordinarily provide a cooling breeze with which to bear the solar attack we were under, on this occasion it was more like standing in front of a fan assisted oven with the door open…. for 6 hours! Looking at the fuel gauge though, we knew that at some point we would have to stop again and so like a mirage appearing at the side of the road, we suddenly came upon the most ramshackle gas station you could imagine. To be honest, at first we thought it was derelict, with the hoarding missing from the canopy above the pumps and bits of old engines and vehicles strewn around it’s perimeter, but then we saw some movement inside the small shack masquerading as a pay station, so assumed the pumps would be safe to use. While Dave filled up the car, I took the opportunity to rattle off a few shots of this rather quirky place.
Pushing further on in to the desert, we came across the aptly named town of Furnace Creek, one of the lowest places, elevation wise, in North America, being some 190ft below sea level and home to the hottest ever recorded temperature on Earth at 56c (134f). I’m glad we didn’t visit on that day! Furnace Creek had a ranch with a tourist information centre and shop as well though, so we took the opportunity to stock up on food and cold drinks to replace the water we’d bought earlier in the day, which was now ready to brew tea with. Importantly, the shop had air con.!
Leaving Furnace Creek, we were again reminded that we weren’t simply being a couple of inexperienced, pasty white boys from cold and wet England, but that the weather here really isn’t to be taken lightly by anyone!
They weren’t kidding!
As we continued along the road, getting ever closer to our final destination of Las Vegas, we suddenly realised how little wildlife we had seen since being in the States. We’d missed out on the grizzlies in Yosemite and now, to no surprise, there was little to see in Death Valley. Not even a rattlesnake, which we had been warned to look out for. Imagine our joy then when, from out of nowhere, a rather juvenile looking Coyote wanders across our path. To hell with the heat then, we were out of the car in a flash and, remarkably, the little guy hung around for a while, taking some shade under a nearby bush before standing still in perfect pose for us and then calmly walking off across the road and back out in to the sandy dusty waste. I don’t know if someone had been listening to our conversation in the car a couple of minutes prior then, but it certainly seemed very coincidental.
So despite our now flagging bodies telling us to stop and just curl up and die somewhere, we pushed on furthermore in to the desert towards Sin City. I have to say that by now I imagine you might be thinking that one piece of desert just looks like the next and how much more interesting could the rest of this journey be. Well to be honest, you might be right as the remainder of the day saw us taking in landscapes quite similar to the ones we had started out with but, really, when they all look like this, how could you ever get bored!
As we neared Vegas, our excitement for what was about to happen over the next few days hit fever pitch. The very reason for us being in America was to attend the KelbyOne Photoshop World convention and now as we could see the glittering lights of the city ahead of us, we couldn’t wait to get started with all the amazing classes being given by some of the best photographers in the world. Receiving a text message from our good friend Scott Kelby, inviting us to the instructors welcome dinner that night, only added to the joy, as we saw the large shimmering gold tower of the Mandalay Bay hotel, our home for the next 4 nights, come in to view. So with dinner plans sorted, we headed straight up to our room to get changed in to our evening wear.
But first, a shower……