Road diary: March 23-29

    Saturday, March 23: day 1
Leave Oakland around 10:30.
Love car trips; you never have to worry about being searched or missing your flight, and you can always fit another pair of shoes in the trunk at the last minute.
Into Central Valley via Altamont Pass, where windmills are idle for some reason; nobody needs electricity today?
Valley is full of still-green, rolling hills and flat orchards. I-5 south of Tracy seems to have many fewer trucks than stretch north of Sacramento.
Highway rest stop very windy; eat lunch in car.
Beside highway south of Fresno, masses of dry tumbleweed are piled in gullies and against fences like giant brown puffballs.
Pass a sign for "Pleasant Valley State Prison".
Arrive Bakersfield ~4 PM; attractive unpretentious town flanked by ugly strip malls.
Check into Padre Hotel downtown; photograph the courthouse and walk through Art Deco commercial center. (Skipped other courthouses in south valley; most were built since the Great 1952 Earthquake, and even a book on them calls them "insipid".)
Have dinner at hotel's Belvedere Room. Highly recommended; we have cheese plate, winter salad, bass, scallops.
B Room seems to be the place for hot dates; numerous young women in microdresses and stiletto heels; very scenic. Must - concentrate - on - food.

    Sunday, March 24: day 2
Weather is cooler than we expected; dig out long-sleeved shirts.
View Padre hotel's famous handprint, said to be made by resident ghost of young woman who haunts the place, a "soiled dove" lady of the night.
Leave B-field ~9:30; drive up Kern River canyon with dramatic rapids to nearly-empty Lake Isabella.
East of the lake(bed) Joshua trees appear, many with flower clusters that resemble hard white fruit.
Over Walker Pass to US 395; north to Coso Junction, basically a rest stop & gas station run by young couple with newborn infant. Buy gas here, much cheaper than at Death Valley park facilities.
Past former Owens Lake, now a dust bowl. Roadside display shows steamboats navigating the lake before LA drank it.
Into the park; stop at Father Crowley Viewpoint. Don't view Father Crowley, but much of Panamint Valley is visible.
Very hazy, though; will have to forego taking long shots in favor of closer views.
Reach Furnace Creek Inn around 5. Is an old resort hotel, built as alternative money-maker when supply or demand for borax waned a century ago.
Place is very retro-fashioned with faded elegance, a little fusty.
Many foreign tourists; German seems to be DV's second language.

    Monday, March 25: day 3
Drive to Zabriskie Point, past flat striped rock slope: Devil's Parking Lot?
Good photo ops, closer than Dante's View; closer to drive to, and closer sights less obscured by haze.
On to Artist's Drive with its rainbow of minerals on cliff known at Artist's Palette.
Someone who shall remain nameless collects rocks of different colors as inspiration for a quilt; she will look for matching fabrics back in Berkeley. Her husband may have picked up a few as well.
Then Devil's Golf Course field of heaved-up rock and salt crystals.
Proceed to Badwater Basin, 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level; temperature is 72 degrees F under high cloud scrim; perfect weather.
Lunch at Furnace Creek Cafe in FC Ranch, a less formal place than FC Inn.
Hike up Golden Canyon (named for ocher rock walls) to the Red Cathedral, an ornate reddish brownstone cliff like some Richardsonian New England church.
Both the canyon and the cathedral are spectacular sights; side canyons lead to more wonders.
Return to Furnace Creek; gas up at $5.56/gallon.
Then to park visitor center, view exhibits, and back to our room. Lie down; even swimming takes too much energy.
Check camera; took 320 photos today; this will need weeks to sort. [Actually just one week, many duplicates at different exposures easy to go through.]

    Tuesday, March 26: day 4
Temperature is 70 F at 7 AM.
Have dinner rolls and coffee in room to avoid delays at inn restaurant. Drive to Harmony Borax Works site; view old machinery (including 20-mule team wagons) and desolate surroundings.
Thence through Mustard Canyon, a short passage on a 1-lane road between steep ocher walls.
Up to Salt Creek to view actual running water in Death Valley (it is salty, I checked) and habitat of the rare Salt Creek pupfish. Good eating when pan-fried I understand, and they are pre-salted for canning.
Continue on trail toward Cottonball Basin, named for puffy borax formations. Well past the other tourists, the only sound here is the wind.
Creekside shrubs look like juniper from a distance, but they are pickleweed, a salt-tolerant halophyte able to cope with local conditions.
Lunch at Stovepipe Wells Saloon; good. (We are very hungry after only a couple rolls for breakfast followed by tramping around for hours.)
Drive to Mesquite Flat sand dunes; very crowded. A load of French tourists arrives on a "La Clef des Champs" bus; they are as delighted as children to walk in the sand, chattering musically to one another, falling down and getting up and going a few more steps.
For a photo op of the dunes, we drive east to the Devil's Cornfield turnout and hike back to a deserted (ha ha) section of the desert.
Then on to Mosaic Canyon, the big hike of the day: easy walk followed by hard scramble followed by long easy walk.
The narrow canyon has obviously seen some major rock-scouring, boulder-rolling flash floods in its time.
Feet are tired. Back to car, back to inn. Alas, I see more unmissable photo ops that require walking on rock for the next half hour. Return to room afterwards; feet are now *very* tired.
Shower. Put feet up. Back up photo files and write diary entries like this one. Done. Nap.
After dinner at inn, go up to rooftop patio and look at stars and full moon. Sky is very clear above, air is balmy. A perfect night.

    Wednesday, March 27: day 5
Begin homeward journey, leave Furnace Creek Inn around 10. Temperature is 74 F.
Drive to site of "Historic Stovepipe Well"; nada.
But 130-year-old wagon ruts are still visible in the hardpan.
Get gas at Panamint Springs ($5.98/gallon, you think you have it bad in the Bay Area) and have lunch.
PS Cafe a good place; the present owners rescued the site and are trying to make a go of the business.
Our waitress Anastasiya is from Siberia, but from a "big city" there, Novosibirsk.
Reach Independence, check into Ray's Den, a good clean basic motel.
Visit writer Mary Austin's house to pay homage; it has a Smart Meter and air conditioning now. We learn it belongs to an LA couple who design museum exhibits and come up there rarely.
Visit the Eastern Sierras museum; view exhibits, buy a biography of Mary Austin.
There are three restaurants in Independence; Jenny's Cafe (closed on Wednesdays), a Subway joint in a gas station, and the Still Life Cafe. We go to Still Life Cafe, duh.
SL Cafe is a wonderful don't-miss surprise! Very French with bilingual signs in the window, Tintin and Asterix comic books inside, oil paintings and photos of jazz greats on the wall, jazz on the sound system. Owner a serious jazzbo, he knew Randy Weston and others in Morocco. Cuisine very French, and good, though the onion soup gratinee maybe a touch too salty for me, a small detail. Good wine selection. Highly recommended.

    Thursday, March 28: day 6
Breakfast at Jenny's Cafe; good, friendly, filling.
Need to go for walk afterwards. Waddle through city park onto trail at foot of mountains. Many rabbits and vistas.
Leave Independence around 10, reach Lake Isabella ~1 PM, stop for a bite. Temperature is 69 F.
Down the Kern River canyon into Bakersfield, walk around town.
Dinner at Belvedere room in hotel again; excellent. We have winter salad, cheese & fruit plate, sea scallops with best Brussels sprouts ever (and I don't normally like them). Diner at next table twice returns his enormous steak as "too medium" (I love that phrase; he wants it rarer).

    Friday, March 29: day 7
Leave B-field ~9:30, reach I-5 half hour later.
Stop at Harris Ranch. Very touristy, a beef theme park. Not ready for a steak lunch, nothing else appeals; get 2 sugary oily muffins to go; eat one, cannot cope with the other.
Home around 3 PM.

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