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VOL. 131 | NO. 210 | Thursday, October 20, 2016


Lance Wiedower

Driving Into Western Ovens


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Sitting next to the pool at Excalibur Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip I couldn’t help but laugh at all the times I’ve heard people say “Oh, but it’s a dry heat” when talking about summers in Las Vegas.

Sure, 112 degrees with low humidity isn’t as bad as 112 degrees with it, but it’s still 112 and it’s hot. It’s the kind of hot that made the hotel’s large pool complex worth every second I spent in its water.

Of course driving into Death Valley National Park the next day proved to be no picnic.

After spending 10 days driving 3,000 miles from Memphis, we had passed through Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Arizona before spending a couple of nights in Las Vegas. We’ve been to Vegas before; this stop was about relaxation after hiking five national parks. We also discovered fabulous food options – off the Strip.

Yes, there are several great dining options in the casinos. But if you have a car, take the time to drive away from the bright lights. You won’t regret it.

We could’ve also driven the short distance south to Hoover Dam. We could’ve checked out the sights in Downtown Las Vegas. We could’ve checked out a show or some of the shops along the Strip.

But other than watching the water show at the Bellagio and getting a quick look at the canals inside the Venetian, we passed on much of what makes Las Vegas famous.

We wanted to rest for the final push of this road trip that included a long day at Disneyland in the coming days.

Before we could drive to Los Angeles, though, I was determined to detour an hour or so to the northwest and visit our sixth national park of this trip, Death Valley. We stopped in the Vegas suburbs to stock up on water and Gatorade, preparing ourselves for what would turn out to never be more than two minutes outside the car.

This park really is dangerous in the heat of the summer. My car’s thermometer said it hovered between 123 and 127 degrees. We drove in and stopped at the visitor center long enough to step out of the car and truly feel what it must be like inside an oven.

This park is beautiful, with landscapes that seem straight from Mars or the moon. On one end sits the lowest point in North America. On the other are peaks that rise north of 10,000 feet.

We drove deep into the park, past Devils Golf Course to Badwater where we stepped out into the lowest – and hottest – point in North America.

But all that heat was just too much. It was time for Hollywood. So we said goodbye to our last national park experience of this two-week journey, and drove the eerily quiet two-lane highway out of the park and back to Interstate 15.

Do fill up the gas tank before entering the park. The only station on the 113-mile drive from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center to Baker along I-15 is in the tiny Shoshone Village, population 31 as of the 2010 Census.

Lance Wiedower can be reached at tripsbylance.com.

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