Jul 8, 2014

Defying Bears and Death Valley - a Travel Log

Defying Bears and Death Valley: A Travel Log | Business, Life & Design

I'm back!  Despite the bears, and all the death in Death Valley.  I've told enough people about the trip that I'm getting tired of hearing myself describe it, so I'm going to try something different.

6 Potential Causes of Death on Our Trip

We narrowly (not really, but permit me some exaggeration) avoided death by:

1. Bear

There were signs all over the place explaining not to leave food anywhere other than THE BEAR BOXES.  Yes, there were bear boxes.  They had a narrow-ish slot that you had to put your hand in to unlock, which bears, presumably, would not be able to do.  Other fun facts:

  • 114 cars get broken into every year by bears in Yosemite
  • Bears' sense of smell is 7 times better than a bloodhound (which is 300 times better than ours - you do the math)
  • The park employees recommend removing not just food, but toiletries, anything scented, and even children's car seats, because of the crumbs.  Bears will break into your car for the crumbs.  Whaaaat?!  (Can you tell I was excited about the bears?)
Be Bear Aware sign in Curry Village, Yosemite
Be Bear Aware - my new favorite slogan!

Bear Box in Curry Village, Yosemite
The bear (and rodent) box

2. Mouse

Evidently in Yellowstone these little guys carry Hantavirus, a potentially deadly disease.  A few years back there was an outbreak and a few people died.  Not realizing this until we returned, we didn't worry too much about it...  We also didn't see any deer mice or any rodents, really, other than squirrels.

Safety flyer warning about bears and hantavirus
More stuff about bears but then at the veeery bottom you can see the Hantavirus stuff

3. Cliff

Driving into Death Valley, we were warned about all sorts of things, but apparently the most common cause of death was by car accident.  At first mystified, we soon realized that the narrow, winding roads overlooking sometimes steep inclines, could indeed be dangerous for the incautious.  Also, driving uphill back out of the valley, you have to turn the AC off to avoid overheating your vehicle.

4. Dehydration

Evidently Death Valley is the hottest place in the world (contested by another location - but the other has yet to be "reliably reported").  Surprised?  I was.  I figured it would be a bigger desert somewhere in Africa.  Anyway, at 118 degrees, and with intensely dry air, I felt like I was shriveling a bit whenever I stepped out of the car.  We brought tons of emergency water and didn't need it, but I'm glad we were prepared, just in case.  Also, you never have to pee there.  We drank so much water, and still barely had to make pit stops for the restroom.

5. Poison

There are so many creepy crawly things in Death Valley!  Who would have thought Death Valley would be so full of death?  Fortunately, in the heat of midday we saw only empty sand dunes and a few other intrepid tourists, and none of the scorpions and rattlesnakes we'd been warned of.

6. Vegas

'Cause, you know, it's Vegas, and I'm sure there's all kinds of stupid things people can do there, like alcohol, and drugs, and STDs.  Actually, scratch that.  You're probably less likely than usual to get STDs when prostitution is legal and registered, with legally enforced medical exams.  We did none of these things, however, and had a grand time!

4 Destinations

1. Curry Village in Yosemite

Sister3 failed to warn us that Curry Village is actually a tent village, rather than the hotel we were expecting.  Despite that (or maybe because of it), it was awesome!  There's a certain type of people who congregate in the amenity-lacking wilderness, and they seem to be incredibly friendly and chilled out.  No one had locks on their bear boxes to keep the humans out, and as we hiked up a quarter mile of steep stone steps, there seemed to be nothing but goodwill about our communal struggle.

Pretty little tent village!

The hike was a bit grueling.  Nothing like the Half Dome hike we were originally planning to attempt, so grueling just the same.  (Note: Half Dome involves a lottery so there's a limited number of people who get to go on it, and you can bet we would have been training our butts off in preparation had we gotten it)  At the top, peeking over the edge of the waterfall, the view was gorgeous, but not quite enough to make up for the physical strain of carting ourselves up there.

Just as I was thinking this, we discovered that scattered profusely amid the stream leading to the edge were large rocks and tree trunks, making this a perfect climbing expedition.  We hopped across (not for fear of current, but to keep our shoes dry), forming a chain of hands for the less balanced.  The feeling as we settled onto a large, flat boulder and dipped our toes in the water made it all worth it.

Top of waterfall hike in Yosemite

Dipping our toes in the river at Yosemite

2. Death Valley

I've already described it fairly accurately (death, death, and more death), but I wanted to explain the feeling of driving down a mountain from an immense height, seeing a "small" patch of what could be sand, and then, hours later, realizing that small shimmery patch at the bottom is a sizable desert.  I've only really seen sand at the beach, so we made a point of exiting the car and walking gingerly over to the nearest dune for pictures.

Death Valley entrance sign

The whole experience of driving through California was somewhat mind-blowing.  The east coast does not have wide open spaces like that.  Oh, and at one point we drove through Hinkley, the town that's in that Julia Roberts movie, Erin Brockovitch (and also in real life, because the movie is based on actual events).

3. Vegas

I got picked to be in a weird street show!  They were looking for people to jump over.  First they picked a younger woman and sang to her, "Sexy white girl.  Sexy white girl."  Then they started chanting, "Cougar" but the mature ladies wouldn't play along, so they grabbed me instead (I've decided not to think too much about that).  They also grabbed a larger man, whom they proceeded to make thoroughly uncomfortable by jokingly coming onto (and more).  Right when everyone was starting to be impressed with the 5'2" man who was going to jump over all these tall people (and after they collected money), they had us get down on hands and knees and commenced with the less impressive jump.  But hey!  Less difficult means less chance of getting kicked in the head, so I'll take it!

Clubbing outfits for Vegas
Requisite clubbing photo

Our time in Vegas ended up being jam-packed as we tried to do it all in just 3 days.  We managed some exploring, a view of the volcano and fountains, a gambling lesson, a night out clubbing, some pool time, a burlesque show and a Cirque show, tattoos, and excessive amounts of eating.  Frankly, I was impressed with us.  When I got tired and started trying to wimp out, my sisters would pump me full of Redbull or inspirational speeches.  Best part?  We came out ahead!  We only gambled twice, and not at the tables, but both times we lost most of our starting money (not much, we're pretty risk averse), and then snatched it back before immediately cashing out again.

4. Grandma's House

Originally intended as a brief pit stop, we ended up spending the 4th of July there in Santa Maria.  It's a gorgeous area, with little to no enforcement of local firework regulations.  An untimely fog made the main show a bit less spectacular, but I'd say the lights and bangs going off on all sides more than made up for it.

Hazy firework pictures in fog

Hazy firework pictures in fog
Looks a bit like a bomb going off

Jenn's Opinions on Various Vegas Things

  • The Beatles Love - awesome!  But only if you like the Beatles.  It's more music and performance based than the purely acrobatic shows I've seen elsewhere
  • Vegas Nocturne - weird.  But good.  This was supposed to be a burlesque show (I was curious what they'd be like), but it turned out to be just a little bit of naughty humor and mostly talent based acts.  My favorite was the man who did swing-y rope tricks like in Cirque Du Soleil, but with a bathtub and flinging his wet hair to spray the audience.  Why a bathtub?  I have no idea.  But he had skills and muscles and I liked it.
  • Cravings Buffet (in The Mirage) - go in with a plan!  There is too much to eat, and if you're there for crab legs, you have to fight for them.  I tried too many things and got full without fully experiencing the buffet.  I kind of wish I'd skipped a lot of the subpar main dishes, and gotten my money's worth in alcohol, cheese, and dessert instead.
  • Japonais (also in The Mirage) - pricey, like everything else in that casino, but delicious!  I had awesome sushi, and when I asked the waitress to recommend a sake, she didn't automatically go for the most expensive one.
  • The Mirage - we paid more than we could have for the convenience of staying on the strip and I think it was worth it.  The hotel did kind of nickel and dime you, like filling up the fridge in the room so you couldn't use it for yourself, and having a weighted stand for everything so if you even picked it up, you'd get charged (although this might be common in Vegas).  I liked other things, though.  The pool was less crowded than when I stayed at The Hard Rock in previous years, and the other guests were a variety of families, couples, singles.  The Hard Rock was more intimidating, because it draws a more distinct crowd of beautiful, tattooed people.  Oh, and the lobby was gorgeous.
Now we're back and I'm a little sad to have to part from my sisters again, but we all have things to look forward to.  Sister2 is starting rotations for med school, Sister3 just signed a new lease and has to move to San Francisco, and I?  Well, I think I'm going to take some classes.  Here's looking forward to the next family vacation at Christmas time!

Have you visited any National Parks?  Where is your favorite place to vacation?

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  1. Great trip!

    I haven't been to any of the parks out west and I want to. It's on our to do list eventually. We've both been to Vegas though, and it's not really my kind of town, so I don't think I'll go back.

  2. Looks like you had a great trip! I need to get out west again soon. So much to see out there!


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