Monday, March 20, 2006

Mammoth & Death Valley

I can't believe my six weeks of holiday are almost gone. It seemed like not so long ago I had a few weeks left, and all of a sudden it's time for me to pack up my bags and return to Japan. Ugh. However, the last week-and-a-half I spent having one heck of a good road trip.

Part 1: Mammoth Lakes, California

Two Thursdays ago Ken and I drove down to Mammoth Lakes, CA for the annual Patagonia ski trip. We didn't go last year because we were in Turkey, but we went two years ago and had an absolute blast. This year was no different. We spent our first day at Tamarack Cross-Country while everyone else was freezing their faces off at Mammoth mountain. After we had had our fill of XC-skiing we drove out to some natural hotsprings and let our sore muscles dissipate into the steamy springs.

Shepard Hotsprings

Our second day we skied June Mountain, which was great for me because June is one big bunny hill. It's like 70% beginner/intermediate runs and 30% advanced runs. I loved it, and because Ken was able to squeeze in a few black diamond runs I think he had an okay time, too. We opted not to make the drive out to the natural hotsprings that night but instead dipped into the jacuzzi in the condo complex we were staying at. It wasn't as nice, of course, but it was better than no soak at all.

Part 2: Death Valley National Park

That Sunday we left the freezing snow of Mammoth Lakes and headed out to Death Valley National Park. I had never been to Death Valley and was very much looking forward to warmer weather and doing some hiking. On our way south, our first stop was Manzanar, a relocation center where Americans of Japanese descent were interned during World War 2. The site itself is's in the shadows of the southern Sierras and has amazing scenery. However, the beauty is dampened by the brutal history of the relocation. If you'd like to learn more about Manzanar, you can go to the Park Service's Manzanar website http://


We arrived in Death Valley National Park in the late afternoon. The light cast a golden hue over the mountains and it was snowing lightly. I was expecting 80 F temperatures and it was snowing. We drove into the park and found a place to camp. We cooked dinner and unrolled our sleeping bags in the back of the truck. And it was freezing cold. It was so cold that I didn't bother even contemplating getting out of the truck to put water on in the morning for coffee until the sun came out to warm every thing up.
The tailgate gourmand

For the next four days our schedule was like this: we would wake up around six am but not actually get up until the sun came out. After we made breakfast and cleaned up the dishes and we'd pack up the truck (since we slept in the back everything would have to be taken out, like our cooler, water containers, food and cooking bins, and duffel bags of ski clothing). After everything was neatly arranged in the truck, we would drive to our day's hike.
Death Valley dirt road
After hiking, we would start driving towards our next destination in the park and find a place to camp, unload the truck, make dinner, and crawl into our sleeping bags. It was wonderful. I didn't wear a watch, we didn't have the phone on, and there was no schedule to adhere to. In five days we managed to cover the high points of Death Valley and surrounding area: the lowest point in the Western hemisphere (-85m); the racetrack where rocks move mysteriously across the playa; the ghost mining town of Rhyolite, Nevada; and the hotsprings of Saline Valley.

It was fabulous.

I love the desert. I love having to pay attention to the details of the desert, which is where one will find the beauty of the desert. I love the cacti. I love the aridity. I love the clarity of sky. I love the mountains. I love the solitude. I love the Joshua trees.

Barrel Cactus

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