On our last morning in Vegas we walked down to The Beat for coffee. I ordered “the biggest coffee you have, please” to which the barista replied, “I can respect that.”
We browsed the record albums and the art while she brewed a fresh pot. The gentle sunlight coming through the windows and the not-fancy furnishings lent a comfortable, let’s sit a while kind of vibe to the place. Sadly, we had to get on the road to California.
There was a high wind advisory for the whole region. Our route took us through Death Valley. So much wind. So much dust. We were going to go down to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center until we realized how far down the dirt road it was. We nixed that idea and went on to Stovepipe Wells, which was right on our way. In fact, we had planned to camp at Stovepipe Wells. Another idea nixed when we realized it was 100 degrees there and you couldn’t stand up straight because of the wind.
I did grab a sandwich and an iced tea from the general store, just in case we got stranded on the drive out. I figured if I had just eaten a chicken salad sandwich I wouldn’t lose my strength as quickly as Wayne, who had stubbornly refused a sandwich, and I could save us both by going for help. Sometimes one sandwich makes a world of difference in a survival crisis. At the very least, I would avoid my usual early afternoon hangriness, which would have been amplified in heat, driving through the desert with no air conditioning (car might overheat, according to the roadside signs). We drove up winding mountain roads, into cooler temperatures, then we would unexpectedly dip down to lower elevations. Hot again. We were playing tag with a couple of motorcyclists who would pass us…then we’d pass them, pulled over because of a mechanical issue or too much dust. There were massive dust storms. It was so dark we needed headlights. We could hear the blowing sand and the bits of gravel hitting the side of the camper and the car. We finally got through and could see the Sierra Nevada Range. Blessed snow-capped Sierras. We headed north.
When we got to the small town of Lone Pine, we took Whitney Portal Road west into the Alabama Hills Recreation Area, which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management. There is dispersed camping throughout the hills, for free. We found a spot, no easy feat on a Saturday, and we explored the nearby rocks. We couldn’t help but name some of them.
Coming from a flat, flat place, it’s hard for me to judge distance looking across an expansive landscape. It seemed like it was fairly flat between the Alabama Hills and the mountains. It seemed like you could just pack some beef jerky and water and start walking and get there pretty soon. Not so. There were dips and rises and creeks between us and those mountains. And miles and miles!
Around sunset we saw car headlights in the distance, advancing down one of the dirt roads toward us. They stopped pretty far away. There were a lot of cars. Probably at least 50. They stayed there all night and left in the early morning hours. We came up with all sorts of theories about who they were and what they were doing, mostly to entertain ourselves. Werewolf convention, wiccan ceremonial rites, alien probings, et cetera.
The next morning we l0llygagged around, had lunch, and then decided to go hike part of the Mt. Whitney trail. From the trailhead to Lone Pine Lake is 2.5 miles, but the elevation change is 1700 feet. At the trailhead it was much colder than it had been down at the Hills. We put on our jackets and one of us put on his hat. (One of us forgot her hat and had to wrap her scarf around her head.) I noticed a guy walking around with hot chocolate, and I decided that I, too, would enjoy some delicious chocolatey goodness when we came down. It started snowing on and off as soon as we got onto the trail. About 3/4 of the way to Lone Pine Lake, snowpack completely covered the trail. It was slow going and we were 1) not equipped; and 2) too late in the day to be doing this, so we turned back. As can so easily happen when tired and hiking too fast, I slipped on a loose rock and turned my ankle on the way down. Searing pain. Immediate thought: How am I going to get down the mountain/I don’t want to go to the hospital. But I was able to tighten my boot up and walk down pretty well, considering. No hospital necessary. To add insult to injury, the Whitney Portal store where I was to get my hot chocolate was closed. Lesson learned/note to self: start hikes earlier in the day and DON’T FALL DOWN, clumsyfoot!
That night, the cars came again. The next morning in town when we stopped for coffee, Wayne asked all the Lone Pinians he could find if they knew about the big gatherings near the Alabama Hills and nobody knew anything. Or at least they ACTED like they didn’t know anything, even the sheriff’s deputy. One guy tried to act like it was just high school kids having a “river party.” Likely story. Mm-hmm. We know y’all are all werewolves. We won’t tell anyone, we promise.