I am not totally sure what I was expecting Death Valley, California to be like before arriving. My only real knowledge of Death Valley is the fact that it can be unbearably hot, to the point where death is a real factor. So when we drove into the park I was quickly taken aback by the amount of people that were there and the fact that it really didn’t look like the desert I had in mind.
When we first got into the park we initially spent some time in the visitor center and had scoped out some photography spots for the coming days since there is not much climbing in the valley.
Our first photography mission was a sunrise photo at Zabriskie’s Point. We woke up bright and early at 5:15AM and hopped out of the car to look up at the sky and notice all of the clouds. Not the type of clouds that block a sunrise from happening, but the exact opposite. So we quickly put the car into drive mode and drove to the lookout. Rather than go to the common point we hiked up to a great little peak right next to the parking lot and soon enough the clouds lit up with the best sunrise I have ever seen. The sky was like fire for what seemed like forever. Everywhere you looked was a magnificent orange.
We spent the rest of the day hiking through the canyons and washes and kept our fingers crossed the clouds would stick around for a sunset photo. Luckily they did and by the time evening showed up we had hiked out to Badwater Basin. A massive salt flat and the lowest place on the continent at -282ft. We passed the tourists and hiked out over the crusty salt surface to where all the other photographers were set up. We waited for the sun to settle behind the mountains and once again the sky lit up brilliantly.
The next day we had full intentions to do some more photography but we both woke up, dragging our feet and decided to just keep on driving down to our next climbing destination and get a hotel along the way. Barstow, California wasn’t much but it did give us a chance to find a little town called Victorville which just so happened to be along Old Route 66. We left our hotel in Barstow and made a quick stop at the Route 66 Museum. Right when we walked in the door we were quickly greeted by smiling faces and given a wonderful tour by a man named Tom, who knew endless amounts about Route 66. Neither Joe nor I really knew much about it but now have much more appreciation for the history and culture that the highway brought to the West. We are hoping to drive along some of the original highway as we get closer to heading east.
Joshua Tree National Park was our next destination in California. Just so happened that the night we arrived in the park was scheduled to be a full moon with the largest moon in 60+ years! With clear skies we quickly drove in and went on a hunt for some good horizon shots. Joe had a vague idea of which direction the moon would rise and after finding some other photographers pointing their massive cameras all in the same general direction we started hiking all over the place for a good shot. But sure enough the moment the sun tipped over the horizon we went running somewhere else to get a better angle. The moon was so bright it gave every object a nighttime shadow. I’ve never actually stood waiting for the moon to rise and was glad I was able to watch the super moon rise among the Joshua Trees.
After a few days of doing things that didn’t involve climbing, we were both itching to get back on the rock. We spent some time in the library looking up areas for our level and after doing this at every place we’ve been at so far we were both pretty tired of it and broke down and got the app called “rakkup”. A very convenient way to rent guidebooks and have an offline map for quite a few climbing locations. We put it to use the very next day at a wall called “The Little Hunk”. Joe had read that the grading in Joshua Tree was pretty difficult. Which was quickly made apparent the moment we tried to get off the ground on a 5.7+. “Incandescent” is really a 5.9+ disguised as a 5.7+. All the climbs we did that day were on slab with minuscule, sandy holds which half the time seemed to be nonexistent. Joe did end up leading a 5.10a on the slick slab but with the grade being harder it made us both happier to be climbing something that’s at the limit of my climbing ability and now seems to be easily in Joe’s range of comfort.
Since we have this new app, we were able to plan a whole slew of climbing for the next day. We woke up bright and early and had planned to hike out to a secluded rock called “East Siberia”. 2 ½ miles later we arrived at something that kinda-sorta represented the photo we saw in the guidebook. What we mostly saw was a bunch of massive boulders. So off we went and started scrambling all over the place looking for something that might look climbable. Before we knew it we had been hopping over and climbing on top of boulders for over an hour before actually finding the wall with a bunch of tall 5.9s on it. Knowing that the grading is significantly more difficult around these parts, we wanted to try to hop on the easier climbs which was around, you guessed it… more boulders. After scrambling for about another 40 minutes we never really found our way to the climb. At this point the wind was howling and we decided to call it a day. Defeated, we hiked all the way back to the car.
Initially we thought the day was going to be a total bust but after driving around Joshua Tree it seemed like there just might be a sunset to cap off the day. We parked the car and found a place among the boulders and trees and waited for the sky to do its thing. Not only did the horizon light up, but the entire sky was streaked with color. Even though we may have not gotten to climb, Joe got some great photos.
With our climbing spirits kind of broken from the day before we were most definitely hoping for better luck the following morning. Another early morning led to a day with some of the best climbs we have gotten to do so far into the trip. Starting the day on some more slab had us not really sure how it was going to go. The moment we saw “The Inhaler”, a 5.8 with a cool crack climb start, we knew we were in business. This route and the last ones we finished on were just like being back in the climbing gym. Big bold moves that actually made our upper bodies sore – which had yet to actually happen on the trip.
One thing that we both had noticed the last few days of being in Joshua Tree was as we were driving around town there was quite the shimmy developing in the front end of the car. Ever since getting the wheels rotated before starting the trip there had always been a bit of a wobble but nothing to worry about. Within the last few days the small shimmy had turned into a teeth rattling shake. So we thought that the wheels either needed to get rotated or balanced. We drove into Big O Tires and were expecting a 3 hour wait for a free alignment check. After calling around we opted for another store: Discount Tires. After an hour wait and a free alignment check we were told the alignment was off and after they had fixed it we shouldn’t have any more issues.
The shaking continued. We were both ready to move on so we decided to just keep on driving and have it looked at in the next town on our way towards the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Driving along we zoomed passed a sign that read “next services 100 miles”. The shimmy was not getting better and after finding a place to stop for the night we decided to switch the front passenger tire with the spare in the morning. The passenger tire was showing the most wear and was the tire that was off with the alignment so we thought it made the most sense.
Before changing the tire we drove into the town of Rice, California. No signs, buildings, people or really anything except shoes. Among the rubble of a gas station and the fence surrounding some foundation was basically a free shoe shop. Give a pair- take a pair. The Rice Shoe Tree is a roadside phenomenon that sits in the leftover ghost town of Rice, California. The sight was a pretty funny one, but we were even more excited to use the old gas station as a flat place off the freeway to change our tires.
With high hopes of a smooth ride, we crossed our fingers and hopped in the car and sat quietly. Our quiet sitting was rudely interrupted by not just the now familiar shimmy but MORE shaking. Both of us had the thought that it could be something more than just a tire balance. So we finally pulled into Parker California and drove into the Walmart parking lot. Along the way we realized that we hadn’t really checked the front driver side tire. The moment we did we saw the problem. The tire easily had a ½ inch bulge on one side and the tread was ripping. How it didn’t blow out on the highway in the last 100 miles, I’m not quite sure! We switched the tire with the spare and took the Suzuki for a quick spin and both smiled. Smooth would be an understatement.
Finally getting the shimmy figured out and finding a place to do some computer research we stopped in Havasu Lake, Arizona. Since we are one tire down, I will have to cough up some money for a new spare. Of all the things that could’ve happened with the car we are feeling pretty lucky to have only had to swap the tires around a little bit!
The Grand Canyon is next on the list of to-dos and then we’ll head south to some more climbing areas here in Arizona. Hoping to find some delicious taco trucks along the way and less shaking!
Follow more of Katie and Joe’s travels on their blog – Miles to Go. All photos are credited to JDStylos.