Our road trip began in San Diego. We departed from my apartment at about 9:30 PM, headed toward Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park.
Just before midnight, we stopped in Hesperia to top off the gas tank and grab a bite to eat prior to getting on US-395. Though the food at In-N-Out is quite normal at midnight, the same can't be said of some of their customers. There was one man in the store who appeared to order two items -- a strawberry shake, and a water cup. He proceeded to fill the water cup about 1/3 full... with ketchup from the ketchup pump. Remember... he didn't have any food. Just a strawberry shake. We left before seeing what became of the ketchup.
At 3:30 AM, we encountered our first major problem of the trip: Neither of us checked to make sure that the roads we intended to traverse were passable. This isn't a problem when all the roads are open and in good working order, but when coming across a "Road Closed" sign on an unmaintained desert road that goes over a mountain in the middle of the night... that's a problem. We spent 25 minutes debating what to do, and ultimately decided to modify our route, attempt morning photography at the Sand Dunes near Furnace Creek since it was close enough to be reachable by sunrise.
Around 4:45 AM, we see an FJ Cruiser in a turnout with its hazard blinkers on, and a man with a head lamp on waving his arms as we drove by. Since this was the only vehicle we had seen in hours and it just seemed like maybe the guy was in some sort of trouble, I turned around to make sure he was OK. He wasn't. At about 10:00 PM as he was taking a curve to the right in the road, the entire front passenger wheel came completely off his vehicle. By some sort of miracle, he skidded directly into a turnout where he came to a stop, instead of going the other way off the cliff. Five of the six lug bolts on his axle had completely sheared off, rendering his vehicle completely immobile.
Apparently, we were the 9th car to pass by in the almost 7 hours he was stranded there, and the first to so much as slow down. We collected an assortment of information from him (his roadside assistance number, name, VIN, exact GPS location, and the closest mile marker) and called CHP and a tow truck for him as soon as we got to a pay phone, which we found at a park entrance station about 20 miles down the road.
The delays we encountered for doing our good deed put our arrival time at the sand dunes about 10 minutes before sunrise. Unfortunately, this eliminated our planned "nap time" as well as impacted the volume of photography we were able to do... and forced us to rush things just a bit. We'll have to make another attempt at sunrise photography later in the trip. While we were there, we decided to go play around on the dunes a bit to get the blood flowing, and then got back in the car at about 7am, planning to get to Las Vegas as soon as possible. We needed sleep.
We arrived at our hotel in Vegas at about 11:00 AM, and "pre-registered" for our room. We were told to come back after 1:00 PM, because our room would not be ready until then. With three hours to kill and both of us being exhausted and hungry, we went to the brunch buffet at Paris. Honestly, I was so tired I didn't care what the food tasted like -- but I'm pretty sure it was delicious. I had a large plate of "breakfast" food followed by a large plate of "lunch" food, followed by a plate of desserts. We finished eating with even more time to spare... and being the geeks we are, we went to Fry's Electronics to kill the rest of the time. I bought some blank CDs to burn MP3's on (Our 4Runner has an MP3-CD capable stereo, but the AUX jack for an iPod sucks) and some cough drops. Darrick bought a Slinky.
We got keys to our hotel room at 2:30, and immediately went to sleep. We went to dinner at a Chinese restaurant recommended by Walter's mom around 8:30, and took a stroll around the strip just after midnight.
Epic Failure: Road Closed.
Here is the modified trip map. (EDIT: The map is wrong. I need to fix it.) Marker "B" is where we encountered the closed road and had to turn back. Marker "C" is approximately where we stopped for sunrise and took some time to go climb on a bunch of sand dunes.
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