The idea was a simple one. Unfortunately simple ideas in my world have a tendency to become complicated things.

My son moved out a couple of months ago, I had just finished the editing of my new book, and it was my wifes birthday. I wanted to do something different for her and for us, make some new memories for the new chapter in life we are starting.
When my thoughts turn towards doing something different or special they often turn towards to road trip. So, with that at the forefront of my thoughts the next challenge was in finding someplace different that was not more than 200 miles from home as we had but one day for our adventure.

The long and short of the story is that Death Valley seemed the ideal location. It is 220 miles from home, we both love the desert, I found out it was a record wildflower season there and it was early enough in the season that the temperatures would be relatively comfortable, somewhere between 85 and 100 degrees.
As I manage a Penske Truck leasing office and Chrysler rental agency discounted rental cars are a perk. So I selected one of the new KIA Optima sedans we are putting into service for fuel efficiency as well as out of curiosity about the cars.
My impression was that these are good cars for those on a budget. The warranty is excellent, the mileage is better than average and there is adequate power. They are, however, not a car I expect to see on the road in ten or twenty years.
They reminded me alot of the cars built by AMC in the 1970s. Decent mechanical attributes but interior appointments that are one step away from being for novelty use only.
The trip was scheduled for the Sunday before Easter. Imagine my surprise to find, after several days of delightful seventy degree weather, blowing snow on Sunday morning! So much for the well laid plans of mice and men. So the trip was postponed for a week.
After a wonderful Easter with my son and his family, communion with my wife, and a very moving service that focused on the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice we set out before sunrise on Monday morning.
The first leg of the trip to Las Vegas went well. Lots of open road, and Don Williams crooning our courtin’ music made the trip a pleasant one.
My association with this stretch of highway and the surrounding country is a lengthy one. For my wife it is multigenerational.
Her grandfather went to work in the mines at Chloride at the age of fourteen to help support the family. Her grandmother with the traveling piano played for dances in Chloride, and other mining camps and ranches in the area.
The fond memories her uncle had of Chloride prompted him to retire there though the old town was but a shadow of what it once was. The cemetery there is the final resting place for lots of her family.
Sprawling development is changing the landscape and the society in our part of the country at a rapid pace. We have decided we can’t do much about this but we can do something about how we react to it. After all change has been as much a part of the southwest as sand and sun for more years than I can count and most folks can remember. Moreover change, good and bad, is just one of the many ingredients that adds flavor to life.
One of our stops on this trip drove this point home. It also strengthened our resolve to accept change as a way of life, a wave we could ride or one that would drown us in despair. The choice was ours.
As we meditated on those thoughts we came to Hoover Dam and reflected on the towering bridge, an engineering marvel, being built over the canyon to bypass the dam, how it would change a drive we have made all of our lives, how we would miss that drive, and how upon completion of the bypass we would rejoice when we wouldn’t have to make it any more.
Las Vegas and the urban sprawl that has become an integral part of our society in the past half century presented the first obstacle. What a mess.
Traffic fast and furious, an oasis in the desert built on the availability of air conditioning, and brown haze that obsured the beauty of the mountain escarpments that surround the valley. Los Angeles or Phoenix, Las Vegas or Albuquerque, who can tell which is which as you race through on the four lane, clinching the wheel, and rediscovering the importance of prayer.
Compounding the problem was another bane of the modern era, urban traffic and road construction. After an hour of detours and creeping through construction zones where flagman exert their control we let out a collective sigh of relief.
As it turned out we were premature in our relaxation. After a brief respite from the urban jungle we came to Pahrump, a once quiet, dusty desert outpost now transformed into another faceless suburb.
Scattered here and there, however, are vesitges of the Las Vegas and Nevada of old. One of these, a casino as they were before the age of the mega resort, lured us in with the promise of a $1.50 breakfast.
In spite of the traffic, the sprawl, the smog, and being stuck in traffic forced to listen to booming stereos our love for the desert that inspired this adventure and the fact that we had a whole day to ourselves kept the shadows of despair at bay.
As Pahrump faded from view in the rear view mirror and the serenity of the stark desert plains engulfed us we felt a delightful peace and excitement about our grand adventure.
Death Valley was a real treat. Though our trip was a quick one that allowed little time for exploration we found more than enough to encourage additional visits.
One of these was the stunning Dante’s View. From this rocky knoll you can see snow covered Mt. Whitney on the far side of the salt encrusted valley that is below sea level. What a view!
I had missed this and most of the wonders of Death Valley on my previous visit. That trip in the late 1960s was one of our epic family adventures.
It was mid summer and for reasons never understood my dad had decided we needed to see San Francisco via Death Valley. My memories of that trip in his 1964 Ford with no air conditioning are of nausea, complaints of $1.00 sodas at Stove Pipe Wells, frozen bread that we defrosted on the hood as we drove, sun burn, and misery. Somewhow in spite of this and other adventures I fell in love with the desert.
A few of the popular view points were, as expected, crowded as spring is prime season in Death Vally. But in places such as Dantes View crowds can enhance rather than distract. Savoring the views and listening to inspired words of amazment in a dozen or more languages made us realize how blessed we are to live so close to such majesty. It also helped us to realize God’s creation is universal in its ability to humble and leave one in awe.
As our time was limited the hikes were short ones. So, we settled for savoring the wonders of the stark desert beauty as it rolled past the windows in an endless panorama of wonderous views and vistas.
Climbing from the desert floor towards Beatty, Nevada a sign that pointed to Ryholite encouraged a bit of a detour. In research for my forthcoming book on ghost towns of the southwest I had heard of this lost city in the desert.
This amazing place sprang from the empty desert, became a community of almost 10,000 residents, and began its slow return to empty desert in a span of less than ten years. As the rapid changes in our hometown have prompted a great deal of reflection on adaptation, flight, and how quickly the world around us can change this stop in Rhyolite provided some real food for thought.
Gold was discovered here in 1904. The next year a townsite was platted. By 1908 the population was estimated at 10,000 and a mere two years later it was 65.
Unlike many mining camps that were little more than tent cities this was a community. The Cook Bank Building was built in 1907 at a cost of $90,000 and featured electric lights, steam heating and phone service. There was an automobile dealership and garage, churches, and saloons.
In its short life this town boasted a public pool, schools, train depot, stately homes, and stores. Masonry construction gave the impression this was a town with a future.
Think of the dreams, the hopes, and plans of the folks who once lived here. Where did they go from here? How did they make the transition to their new lives?
After our stop at Rhyolite we rolled into Beatty for food and fuel as this would be our last stop before battling the traffic in Las Vegas and heading home.
Beatty, in spite of its remote location, has not been immune to the changes sweeping the southwest in recent years.
Its proximity to Death Valley has prompted the construction of a large casino/motel complex on one end of town and a major chain motel on the other. In between is old, dusty Beatty, a desert crossroads little changed from the 1950s.
Here again we found a touch of the old Nevada in the form of a small local casino where leather faced cowboys lazed away an afternoon in the cool shadows playing cards and the tourists were easily identified as they were the only ones gawking at the cowboys with the sweat stained hats and dusty trucks. They were also the only ones wearing shorts and sandals, buying sunscreen, and gathering around a glass case to see a rattlesnake.
Our waitress was a friendly, middle age gal who had lived in Beatty most of her life with the exception of a brief attempt at making it big in Las Vegas years ago. As she chatted with a friend in Spanish I was amused to pick up snippets of the conversation about how they bemoaned the changes coming to Beatty. It seems to be a theme with folks in the southwest lately.
In retrospect this was a perfect road trip. The weather was wonderful. The sites seen were unforgetable. The trip was made with a dear friend. It provided us with the time to focus more clearly, to move away from the page if you will.
As a bonus we discovered a new place to explore on future trips. And the old general mercantile building was for sale in Rhyolite which in turn leads to flights of fancy and thoughts of abandoning the rat race.

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