Thursday, October 7. 2010 Overcast until mid-afternoon, and 66 degrees; then sunny and 74 degrees
On our drive from Visalia to Bakersfield and then to Mojave today, we saw more of the agriculture of the San Joaquin Valley. CA 99S was lined with more orchards, cotton and hay fields, and stockyards. Many of the vineyards were shrouded from one end of the row to the other with green or white plastic. We don't know if it was to discourage birds or whether it has an impact on the maturing of the table grapes. Also on the tracks along the highway rail cars were lined up, waiting to be loaded with grain. Then this afternoon driving on CA 58E, we passed trees bearing dates, almonds or pistachios. There is such an amazing variety of produce grown here.
Our purpose for stopping in Bakersfield was to visit a former colleague of Phil's from their Mobil days. Both worked in R&D and traveled to the various plants together. We met his wife, Janet, and she and I listened to the guys reminisce about their common experiences in the "good old days:" the good, the bad, and the hilarious. After an all-you-can-eat-shrimp lunch and five hours of chat, we were back on the road. For the first time on this trip we are deliberately headed north and east. It's sad since it means that we're turning in the direction of home, and we're having such a great time, we're not ready for it to end.
Tonight we are in Panamint Springs, CA, on the western edge of Death Valley. There wasn't much along the drive here on CA 190. We passed a couple of small towns off of the highway, but other than that it is wide open spaces: desert, mountains, Joshua Trees, and scrub brush. But the sunset over the Sierra Nevadas to the west was beautiful.
The motel we are staying in tonight has no phone and no TV. Neither service is available here, but the location is very special. When we came to our room, we looked overhead. The sky is so clear, and there are so few lights around that we can see every star in the sky. The Milky Way looks like a long cloud stretched across the sky, and the constellations are everywhere you look. Ursa Major is so low on the horizon that it is sitting on the mountain crest. If we had chaises, we would probably fall asleep out there, gazing up at the night sky.
We are reading about what there is to see and do in Death Valley, and if the weather cooperates, there is a lot. There are four sections to the park, some miles from the others. I'm doubting that we can do it justice in one day. We'll know by tomorrow night.
P.S. There are straight roads in the west! We found them today, and it was a wonderful change: the first time since we left Glacier NP, however long ago that was.
TODAY'S ROUTE: from Visalia (VI-sail-yuh) CA 198W to CA 99S to Bakersfield; then CA 58E to CA 14N to US 395N to CA 190E to Panamint Springs (not shown on our map)