Leaving Death Valley Will we have what it takes to make it to Cielo Gordo?

Lodging: Hampton Inn, Tulare, CA (pronounced Too-lare-ee)

Food: Cool Hand Luke's (steakhouse)

With a comfortable night's rest in the desert behind us, we grabbed breakfast at Wrangler Buffet for way too much money. Of course it's too much, you're in the desert! Where else are you gonna eat? ... or get gas?

Road Runner // Death Valley Gas Prices, May 2011

Both the post office and the visitor center opened at 8 AM. This was the first visitor center in the Park we had found. We got a newspaper and map; then we asked where the best place to go to see sand dunes would be. The ranger sent us up to Stovepipe Wells to see Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

Death Valley Sand Dunes

After visiting the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, we headed out of the park. We passed a large puddle on our drive out of the park. A puddle in Death Valley? We'd driven through the rain the day before, but how often do people see puddles in this park? It gets a fraction of an inch of rainfall every year!

leaving death valley

We made one more stop to look over the side of the cliff on which we'd been driving and to use the hole-in-the-ground facilities, when a fighter jet came up through the "gorge", flew overhead, and was gone before we knew it! I heard the rumbling, and had looked over the railing, but the wind coming up through the cravasse pushed me backwards. Another traveler had to yell at me to let me know what was going on. It all happened so fast, I didn't get a photograph. I hope everyone has this experience. It was incredible. Those pilots are crazy!

Back on the road, mom found a road to Darwin Falls in Death Valley. There's water?

We drove down a rutted, gravel road about two miles before coming to the Darwin Falls "parking lot". We didn't realize it was a 2 mi. round trip walk after that to see the falls. Unfortunately, mom busted her knee a few years ago, and walking on uneven and loose earth paths is no longer a possibility. We turned around, our efforts fruitless, and returned to the highway to continue our way out of the park.

Leaving the park, we headed toward Lone Pine, CA where we filled up the tank. Then we headed back to climb the road out of Keeler, CA marked Cerro Gordo Road to get to the ghost town of Cerro Gordo.

The road started out innocuously enough.

Back in the day, there was a website dedicated to Cerro Gordo that is since defunct. If we had seen it, we might have gotten to the ghost town. As it was, the road was steep, gravel, and on the edge of a cliff. Literally. It was one lane, and the roadbed sat on the very edge of a few-thousand-foot drop.

My mother is acrophobic, and I wasn't feeling all that safe, either. The view out among the salt flats was amazing, and the mountains in the distance were gorgeous, but it really was too much for us. I wish we had our act together enough to get a photograph or two of the roadway (and precipice) to give you a better understanding of the situation in which we found ourselves, but we didn't.

We reached a point on the roadway where there was just enough space to make several 3-point-turns to turn around. By then, mom had gotten out of the car to have a small panic attack. When she recovered, she guided me to turn the car around, and then warned me that reaching a speed of any kind would send us over the side because the gravel roadbed would not provide the necessary traction to fight the centrifugal force.


That car didn't leave first gear until we'd basically reached the ground. Now I was terrified and slightly overwhelmed with the weight of my responsibility for my mother's safety.

Back "on the ground", we backtracked a bit to return to highway 190, headed west past the remains of Owen's Lake, and turned south on 395. We stopped somewhere around Grant, CA for a roadside picnic, and watched a lost FedEx truck drive back and forth.

Reservoir Picnic with Friends

We took 178 west around the beautiful Lake Isabella. This is a stunning location. Deep, rich blue water surrounded by the vibrant, red clay of the mountains of the South Fork Wildlife Area.

In Wofford Heights, we turned west on 155, which took us up into more mountains; this time they were snow-covered-mountains complete with waterfalls.

Snow and waterfalls in the High Sierra.

This road is <strong>very</strong> windy with period of steep grades. It took a long time to pass, unlike major highways, but it was a beautiful drive.

We were laughing at the extremes of our day:

  • Starting at 200 feet below sea level
  • Driving through the Death Valley Desert
  • Seeing a large puddle near the sand dunes
  • Climbing a desert mountain to 8,000 ft
  • Making it back down the desert mountain
  • Driving through more desert
  • Rounding the southern portion of a lake before heading into snow covered mountains
  • Completing our drive through some of the most arid, fertile soil we've ever seen.

Finally, we arrived at Tulare, CA (too-luh-ree) where we were staying. The Hampton Inn's front desk attendant gave us a coupon for <a>Cool Hand Luke's</a> where mom had the Calamari Steak, which was delicious, and I ordered the Whiskey Peppercorn Sirloin (Medium Rare), which was nothing but gristle. When I asked for a new one, they brought a new one that was Well Done. I ended up eating ice cream for dinner.

Created By
Meredith Rendall


Papered Pixels Photography

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.