Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 19, through Lake Tahoe, Death Valley and into Las Vegas

Well, after a great evening of seeing Gary Snyder and watching the Perseids across the sky, I slept very well. The next day it was up and at 'em. I spent a while re-grouping and also re-organizing the car for the rest of the journey. We drove down into Nevada City because we wanted to get a few pictures of the town and take in one more look at it.

Also, I wanted to go to the Harmony Bookstore. Why did I want to go there you might ask? Well, many years ago I first listened to the Utah Phillips, Ani Defranco album "The Past Didn't Go Anywhere". In one of the tracks he talks about coming home from being on the road and finding out that his wife bought the bookstore. While she no longer owns it, I still wanted to stop in and satiate my curiostiy for the place.

Then, we were initially going to take the I-5 or what is locally referred to as "The 5" south and then take "the 10 east". But after looking at the map and talking to Daniel and Wendy, we decided to go down through Lake Tahoe and get the eastern view of the Sierra Nevadas. At the point in which we made this decision we were still planning to head directly south from there and catch I-10 heading east the next day.

While I can completely appreciate the absolute beauty of Lake Tahoe itself, I'm not sure it's quite the place I will find myself hanging out. I'm sure there are super great things about it, but for me, not a ski bum or a true lake bum, too much total resortness. Not to say that it wouldn't be cool to spend a few days checking it all out. Unfortunately given our time crunch we didn't have time to take a dip, inviting as the water was. So we drove on by and kept on moving down the road.

It was truly amazing to see just how different the two sides of the range are. We spent a good amount of time on the western side with our visit to Sequoia Nat'l Park and staying at Daniel's place. But wow! The eastern side is like a whole other world. It was almost difficult to imagine that on the other side of the dry, desertlike mountains were fairly lush, old growth forests. Simply amazing to see the effects of the rain shadow.
At some point we reached a fork in the road. We stopped to get gas and look at the map.
Now you might want to know that at the begining of our trip I had desperately pleaded for a descent into Death Valley. Jim had to use all of his cunning to make me realize just how hot it would really be there over and over until I agreed and we skipped it. For me, it had been originally about walking out into the salt flats and collecting Death valley Salt as a sacred ingredient for special meals and ferments. When I truly grasped exactly how hot it would be in the middle of summer, I agreed to forgo it. Now, here we sat with the road towards Death Valley calling us. So, we decidced to take my mom up on her offer for a night in Vegas, also somewhere I had never been, and we headed on down the road toward Death Valley.

We had hoped that we would have enough time to make it through in the sunlight. Unfortunately, the sun went down as we did.

The sun was setting around us as the heat invaded the car. When it was 9:30 I looked at the car thermometer and it read 111. We opened all of the windows and allowed ourselves to feel the heat. I was totally overwhelmed and inundated with the deep smells of the desert. I felt alive and excited and the smell of earth and rock and heat filled me. I was wild with joy for being there and stuck my head out the window to look up at the stars and allow the furnace of this place to heat my whole being. I swear I could feel the Earth's heartbeat and lifeblood pumping. I was high from the experience for hours. All the way until we hit Las Vegas.

In the near distance Vegas loomed like some alien invading the peace I felt in the desert. The lights, while cool to so many, assaulted my eyes and the noise boxed my ears.

As we drove in to find the hotel we were generously offered, Ian woke up and said, "Man it's really bright here," then he promptly went back to sleep. The parking for the hotel was a total mess with a huge line of cars waiting for valet service. By the time we finally self-parked behind the hotel, made it through the rowdy casino lobby, checked into a room, and got up to it it was 1am. I was exhausted and wanted to sleep. That worked out for a while until my sleep was ruined by raucous drunken folks in the hallway yelling and banging the walls. Needless to say I didn't sleep well.

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