Category Archives: Long Trip

July 3: A flowery, historical, viewful long drive

Middlesboro, Kentucky, where I spent last night, is just outside of my eighteenth (I think) national park of the trip (I’ve sorta lost count, and this is a guess from looking at my road atlas). Anyway, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park is right up my alley. It’s one of the main passes that the early settlers passed through on their way from the 13 original states to go west and explore. Daniel Boone was not the first white man to pass through Cumberland Gap, but he was one of the early people to do so.

The Gap, I was amused to find out, was named after the Duke of Cumberland. The same guy who led the forces that beat the heck out of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites at Culloden, which battlefield I visited twenty years ago last month.

A morning glory in the garden outside of the visitor center.
A morning glory in the garden outside of the visitor center.
A log cabin perched in the middle of the huge mowed lawn outside of the visitor center.
A log cabin perched in the middle of the huge mowed lawn outside of the visitor center.

The visitor center was interesting, and also had a lovely garden out front. Also a lot of lawn. I’ve seen more mown grass since I arrived in Kentucky than I think I’ve ever seen before. I’ve passed hundreds of houses, big and small, with huge rolling lawns surrounding them. It’s bizarre. Bluegrass, I guess, although I always thought that was referring to what the thoroughbreds ate.

The other high point, and I mean that literally, was a six-mile corkscrew drive up to Pinnacle Point, which tops out at about 1500 feet above the gap below. You can see three states (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia) from up there. Today’s been pretty darned humid, so you can see the haze, or smoke, that gives the Great Smokies, a hundred miles or so to the southeast, their name, as well. It’s not real smoke. It’s what happens when you have millions of deciduous trees transpirating all at the same time.

A rhododendron -- in July! -- along the road up to Pinnacle Point.
A rhododendron — in July! — along the road up to Pinnacle Point.
This was up at Pinnacle Point.  It's a quote from Frederick Jackson Turner, the guy who decided the frontier period was over in 1890.
This was up at Pinnacle Point. It’s a quote from Frederick Jackson Turner, the guy who decided the frontier period was over in 1890.
A view from Pinnacle Point, looking down at the Gap.
A view from Pinnacle Point, looking down at the Gap.
Another view from Pinnacle Point.  That's the small town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, below.
Another view from Pinnacle Point. That’s the small town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, below.
Trumpet vine, or what I've been thinking of as the bad hair day vine, alongside the road to Pinnacle Point.  Near my mother's old house in Texas, there's a huge trumpet vine growing up a power pole.  It loses its leaves in the winter, and just looks awful.  One day my sister was driving by it, and there was a sign tacked to the pole reading, "bad hair day."  So that's what we've called it ever since.
Trumpet vine, or what I’ve been thinking of as the bad hair day vine, alongside the road to Pinnacle Point. Near my mother’s old house in Texas, there’s a huge trumpet vine growing up a power pole. It loses its leaves in the winter, and just looks awful. One day my sister was driving by it, and there was a sign tacked to the pole reading, “bad hair day.” So that’s what we’ve called it ever since.

More flowers along the road, too. And I did manage to keep Merlin from rear-ending himself on the hairpin turns [g].

The rest of the day was seeing how far I could get heading towards Fayetteville and my friends Morgan and Kaz, because it’s about 360 miles total, and I want to get there tomorrow, which is the Fourth. I made it across the far northeastern corner of Tennessee to North Carolina, where I crossed the border just north of the Smokies (which I visited and was not all that impressed with on my last Long Trip, which is why I didn’t revisit them), and down through Asheville and across the southern part of North Carolina almost all the way to Charlotte. I’m in the town of Gastonia tonight, having crossed the French Broad River, the Broad River, and the 1st Broad River on my way. The name Gastonia sounds like it ought to be in France, too.

Coming down out of the mountains to Asheville, there's a viewpoint with a veterans' memorial.  This is the view from there.
Coming down out of the mountains to Asheville, there’s a viewpoint with a veterans’ memorial. This is the view from there.
I was always under the impression that Bruce Wayne lived in Gotham City, but maybe he's got a vacation cave near Asheville?
I was always under the impression that Bruce Wayne lived in Gotham City, but maybe he’s got a vacation cave near Asheville?

Over 200 miles today, which means I only have about 150 miles to get to where I’m going tomorrow. Not too shabby. I did drive about 100 of those miles on the Interstate, though, both for time’s sake and because for most of it there really wasn’t a viable alternative [sigh]. I hate the Interstate.

I am truly in the South (a bit farther than I expected to be, but that's okay).  Crepe myrtle outside of my motel here in Gastonia.
I am truly in the South (a bit farther than I expected to be, but that’s okay). Crepe myrtle outside of my motel here in Gastonia.

Oh, and I should mention that this is the first time on this trip that I’ve intersected my last Long Trip, seventeen years ago.  I drove the Blue Ridge Parkway on that trip, which passes through Asheville, and, on my way down to Atlanta, actually drove a chunk of the same Interstate that I drove today.  I knew I’d end up doing that at some point, but I never was sure where it would be.  Now I know!  Actually I’ll be going up the East Coast the same way I went down it on that trip, but I’m going to do my best (except for Washington, DC, which I also spent time in on that trip) to go on new roads, and not the ones I’ve already been on.

I am not fond

West Texas
Along the highway in west Texas, fall, 1999

Of the kind of platitudes like, “If one door closes, another opens,” or “every ending is a new beginning.”

I also hate how you have to end some things to start new ones.

But I’ll be 57 years old next week (how the heck did that happen???), and there are things I will regret not doing, and I don’t have too many more years before I won’t be able to do them at all.

So.  I have made two, no, three concrete steps towards ending some things so that I can start some new ones.  In ascending order, from least to most scary.

First.  I test drove and have about decided on a new vehicle.  My current car is 10 years old with 123,000 miles on it.  It’s time.  Also, the new vehicle will facilitate the rest of my plans.

Second.  I have started de-cluttering my condo, so that I can put everything in storage.  I also need to figure out what to do with my cat, but much as I’d like to take him with me, I suspect that’s not practical.

Third.  I just spoke with a real estate agent.  I don’t want to leave my condo empty for that long, plus I don’t need to be making mortgage/HOA payments on an empty house.  Plus, as some folks already know, there are other reasons I need to move, and those reasons were basically the straw and camel’s back thing.

Once the condo is sold and the new vehicle is purchased, I am going to hit the road, the way I did in 1999, the journey that resulted in Cross-Country.  For at least three months, possibly longer.  Last time I went across the northern part of the U.S. to Vermont, down the east coast to Florida, and back across the South to California and on home.  This time I’m going to go across the center of the U.S. to the Other Washington (D.C.), up the east coast to Prince Edward Island, and back west across Canada.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I get back, but I do know I will be coming back.  I can only live so long without looking at Mt. Rainier, after all.

Deep breath.  Here we go…


Two weeks ago, Day 9

And so on towards home.

From Sheridan — well, actually from Twin Bridges, the next little town down the road — there were two ways to go. One north, which I hadn’t driven before but which led to I-90, which I’ve driven at least a couple dozen times, and one southwest towards I-15, that stretch of which I’d never driven before. Even though it was about twenty miles further, guess which way I took?

And I’m glad I did. The first bit was very pretty, through sparsely populated ranch land ringed with mountains and down into the town of Dillon on I-15. I’ve only been to Dillon once before. It was the first place on my Long Trip in which I couldn’t find a place to stay (due to it being Labor Day and the annual rodeo).

From Dillon I headed north on I-15, and, less than twenty miles down the road, I happened to glance over to the right and saw a bald eagle perched on one of the posts holding up the wire fence running alongside the road. Fully mature, white head and all, he had to be two feet tall, I swear. Too bad I was going 70 mph on a freeway — I’d have tried to take a picture of him. He was amazing.

Deer Lodge Pass over the Continental Divide south of Butte (where I-15 and I-90 cross) is much more gradual and less steep than Homestake Pass due west of Butte. But because of that I think I was climbing pretty much all the way from Dillon to the pass. At any rate, once I hit I-90 I was on familiar territory and pretty much ready to head home.

I stopped for iced tea in Deer Lodge (the town, not the pass, which is about forty-five minutes from Butte (the highway signs say west, but the road runs almost due north-south at that point). I stopped for lunch and more gas in Missoula.

And I crossed over Lookout Pass into Idaho and the Pacific Time Zone about the middle of the afternoon, aiming for Spokane.

I won’t bore you with the hunt I had to make for a motel room in Spokane. Suffice to say that I think I’ve found a new reasonably-priced convenient place to stay there on my way to wherever, which is a good thing as the one I was used to using had upped its price out of reason because of Hoopfest (I’m assuming) that weekend.

Only one photo today, taken along I-90 between Missoula and Lookout Pass, probably closer to Lookout Pass. I was trying to take a photo of the rain falling ahead of me, which actually turned out to be mostly virga (that is, not hitting the ground).

Stormy weather along I-90 in western Montana.
Stormy weather along I-90 in western Montana.

And that was the penultimate day of my trip, two weeks ago today.

Two weeks ago, Day 8

Sometimes traveling at the last minute just doesn’t work out. But then sometimes it does.

So. I was supposed to switch from hostel bunk to single room two weeks ago this morning. I had been informed when I originally made the reservation that the rate of $95 would include an ensuite bathroom. I was informed this morning that it was one of the rooms in the old building that shared the same bathroom as the hostel.

You have to understand. I’ve stayed in one of those rooms before (about seven or eight years ago, when they cost what a hostel bunk costs now). It wasn’t worth what I paid for it then, for two reasons. One, the room had a horrible bedbug infestation (the bunks have always been clean), and two, that’s where I had a really frightening experience with what I’m pretty darned sure was — well, I’m not going into that here. Let’s just say that the only reason I was willing to pay $95 for a room was because I thought they were going to put me in the new part of the building. The new owner and I went round and round about it, and I ended up having him refund my credit card.

But now I didn’t have a place to stay tonight, nor did I want to waste the day looking for one. So I drove back into the park figuring I’d make the best of whatever time I had left, and I’d head on out this afternoon to find somewhere to stay farther from the park before heading home tomorrow a little earlier than planned.

Which all turned out to be a good thing. At least timing-wise this morning. I headed back out into the park, towards the geyser basins again, and decided my first stop on this cloudy-but-not-raining-yet morning would be at the Fountain Paint Pots.

The Fountain Paint Pots.  This early in the year, they're kind of runny.
The Fountain Paint Pots. This early in the year, they’re kind of runny.

The Fountain Paint Pots (and the long-gone Fountain Hotel, which was nearby) are named after Fountain Geyser, which is just off the boardwalk there. It was a geyser I’d always wanted to see, but it’s not officially-predicted, and I didn’t know then about the unofficial predictions, so I’d never seen it.

So what do you think happened? Yup. Just as I walked up, it boiled over and started erupting. And if I hadn’t ended up wasting the time arguing with the owner of the Madison Hotel this morning, I’d probably have missed it — again.

Glorious, glorious Fountain Geyser, which is much taller than it looks in this photo.
Glorious, glorious Fountain Geyser, which is much taller than it looks in this photo.

As for those unofficial predictions, just as Fountain was beginning to wind down from its glorious half-hour long eruption, a very nice lady named Maureen, who turned out to be on the Geyser Gazers Facebook group, strolled over and we struck up a conversation. And she told me about the unofficial predictions available if you have a smartphone. I really do need to get a smartphone…

The rest of the morning was still wonderful, if a bit anticlimactic. I mean, there’s nothing better than a new major geyser to add to one’s life list. But I stopped at all the usual suspects that I hadn’t wanted to get soaked over before — Midway, with the clouds of steam hanging over Excelsior and Grand Prismatic.

Runoff looking back towards Grand Prismatic Spring.
Runoff looking back towards Grand Prismatic Spring.

Biscuit Basin, with its glorious Sapphire Pool.

Biscuit Basin's Sapphire Pool.
Biscuit Basin’s Sapphire Pool, which erupted in 1959 after the earthquake.

And Black Sand Basin, with Cliff Geyser, which is James’s geyser. The one where he finally found out where he really came from, in a brief timeslip one sunny October afternoon in 1959/1983 in Finding Home.

James's Cliff Geyser.
James’s Cliff Geyser and hot spring runoff into Iron Creek.

By then I was way overdue for a late lunch, so I waved farewell to my favorite place on the planet once more, already making plans for a hopefully longer visit next year, and stopped in West for KFC, where the manager was having her Chinese employee write something to do with the Fourth of July on the window in Chinese characters, for some reason.

Want some Chinese fried chicken for the Fourth of July?
Want some Chinese fried chicken for the Fourth of July?

I then headed northwest on U.S. 287 towards Earthquake Lake, which is, obviously, the site of the earthquake I mentioned yesterday that was part of Chuck’s time travel device in Repeating History. On August 17, 1959, a 7.3-7.8 (estimates vary) earthquake struck here and an entire mountainside fell, blocking the Madison River and burying a campground, killing twenty-eight people. The quake also did a lot of damage in Yellowstone, just a few miles east of the epicenter, and, incidentally, sent my hero Chuck eighty-two years back in time.

Today it looks very peaceful, although the slide is still strongly evident fifty-five years later, and there’s an interesting, recently redone visitor center, too.

The landslide triggered by the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, which created a new lake, and, unfortunately, killed 28 people in the process.
The landslide triggered by the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, which created a new lake, and, unfortunately, killed 28 people in the process.

By the time I got that far, it was midafternoon, and while I had a good idea of where I wanted to spend the night, I needed to get moving again. I drove down the Madison River valley and turned west on Montana 287 (as opposed to U.S. 287) at the town of Ennis.

The Madison River Valley south of Ennis.  You'll note that the weather improved drastically as soon as I left the Park .
The Madison River Valley south of Ennis. You’ll note that the weather improved drastically as soon as I left the Park .

I wanted to see Virginia City again. Virginia City, and the neighboring ghost town of Nevada City, are two of Montana’s earliest settlements, and I hadn’t been there since my Long Trip fifteen years ago. It’s a fun, touristy place with an interesting history as a mining camp (of course) where vigilantes dealt with the infamous Plummer Gang. Lots of false-front buildings and even a stagecoach offering rides, and plenty of historical markers. I spent a rather pleasurable hour or so there, before I climbed back in the car one last time for the day.

Boardwalks of another kind, at Virginia City, Montana.
Boardwalks of another kind, at Virginia City, Montana.
Charley hated detachable collars like the one in this Virginia City storefront.
Charley hated detachable collars like the one in this Virginia City storefront.
Want a stagecoach ride, little girl?
Want a stagecoach ride, little girl?

On my Long Trip (as documented in Cross-Country), I was desperate for a place to stay one night in this part of the world when I finally ran across the tiny town of Sheridan, Montana, and found a nice little place called the Moriah Motel. I was banking on it still being there, and it was. I think the same elderly lady was running it, too. It was reasonably priced and modern and that was all I needed.

So some things do work out okay. But if a friend and I do go back to Yellowstone as part of our WorldCon jaunt next year, we’re going to make our reservations in January.

Cross-Country garners a terrific review

Whilst doing some housekeeping on my Amazon pages this afternoon, I clicked on Cross-Country‘s page and discovered a really wonderful new review.

I am still new enough at being a published writer that when a perfect stranger writes words like these about my own words, it pleases me more than I can say.  I suspect I will always be new enough at this to feel that way when this happens.

Oh, and when I wrote Mr. Frauenfelder to thank him, it turns out he’s written a longer version of the review on his own blog.

Sometimes things are so much niftier than they have any right to be.

Cross-Country: Adventures Alone Across America and Back

400T E cover

I am proud to announce the publication of my new book, a non-fiction travel narrative entitled  Cross-Country:  Adventures Alone Across America and Back:

After a childhood of summers spent in the back seat of a car, and four months before the turn of the millenium, M.M. Justus decided to follow in the footsteps of her heroes John Steinbeck and William Least-Heat Moon, not to mention Bill Bryson, and drive alone across America’s backroads for three months.  Like the bear going over the mountain, she wanted to see what she could see.

The places she visited ranged from the homely to the exotic, from the Little Town on the Prairie to Scotty’s Castle, from New York’s Twin Towers to an ‘alien’ landing site in Wyoming.  From snow in Vermont to the tropical heat of New Orleans. 

After over 14,000 miles, history both public and personal, and one life-changing event, she finally arrived back where she’d started from, only to discover it wasn’t the same place she’d left behind at all.
It is available in print through Amazon and CreateSpace, and through other retailers coming soon, and as digital editions through Amazon and Smashwords, with other retailers coming soon:

You can read the first chapter for free here:

Thank you for your time.

M.M. Justus

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 45

Fullerton, California

Monday, July 30, 1973

HOME!!!”  Which is all that my diary says for that day.  And plenty.

Just out of curiosity, I put our itinerary into Google maps’ directions screen, and discovered that in 45 days, we went roughly 7600 miles, not counting side trips or out-and-backs.  That equals roughly 180 miles a day.  Which really doesn’t sound like much, until you think about it being the equivalent of 180 miles every single day for 45 days.

When I was forty years old, I made what I still refer to as my Long Trip (uppercase intentional).  I drove over 14,000 miles by myself in a little under three months.  I went from here near Seattle across the top of the U.S. to Vermont, down the east coast to Florida, then across the South and Southwest to California, where I rolled my car in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  I then managed to make my way to my sister’s home in the Bay Area and flew home from there.  A year ago I blogged that journey day by day.  Like our Alaska trip, this was another journey from which I still date events in my life.  It was one of the best things I ever did.  The really funny thing is, I drove an average of almost exactly 180 miles a day on that trip, too.  And I thought I was being leisurely about it.

I am hoping to make another Long Trip in a year or two, if I can afford the gas and figure out what to do with my two cats for the duration (for my last long trip, the pair I had at the time went to stay with a friend, but I don’t want to impose on her twice).  This time I want to drive across the middle of the U.S. and come back across Canada.  If I do, I hope to blog it in realtime, or as close as I can manage given where and when I can find wifi.

Anyway, for all of you who stuck with me through forty-five days of driving to Alaska and back, I hope you’ll stick around to see where I’m going in the future.

And I hope you will want to check out my novels:

Repeating History is the first of my Yellowstone stories, and is available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes.  It is about a young man, Chuck McManis, who, by virtue of being in absolutely the wrong place at the wrong time, is flung back in time from 1959 to 1877 in Yellowstone National Park, straight into the middle of an Indian war — the flight of the Nez Perce to Canada, pursued by the U.S. Army — and into his own family’s past.

True Gold  is the second in this series, and picks the story up in the next generation.  It is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.  It is the story of Karin Myre, a Norwegian immigrant teenager living in Seattle, who decides to escape a future of too much drudgery and no choices by running off to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897.  Stowing away on one of the many overcrowded ships bound north, she finds herself trapped in the cargo hold with a crowd of second thoughts.  But her rescue from the captain and a fate worse than death by a determined young prospector from Wyoming and his photographer partner is only the beginning of her search for a future of her own making.

The third novel, tentatively titled Finding Home, picks up the story of the widowed father Chuck left behind in Repeating History, his search for his lost son, and what that search reveals to him about his own murky past.  It will be available for purchase in the spring of 2013.

11 years ago today, Day 81

The last day, for all intents and purposes.  I drove up I-5 in the rental car, to my sister’s in the Bay Area.  I had been supposed to arrive there just before Thanksgiving, but due to the wreck, I’d decided to cancel the reservations I’d made at Sequoia and Yosemite, and just go on to her house. 

I got there about the middle of the afternoon.  She helped me unload the rental car and return it, and I accidentally got more bits of glass in her washing machine when I attempted to wash the rest of my clothes (I’d shaken them out as well as I could, honest).  At least it didn’t damage her machine like the one in the motel. 

I spent the weekend with my niece at her apartment, then went back to my sister’s for the last couple of days before Thanksgiving.  The day after Thanksgiving I climbed aboard an airplane headed for Seattle. 

The plane ride was a bit — boisterous.  You see, I arrived home in Tacoma the day before the World Trade Organization riots in Seattle in late November, 1999, and the plane was full of protestors.  I’d been so out of touch that I had no idea what was going on, but my memories of the WTO protests are mixed in with apartment hunting and car shopping (don’t ever, ever try to buy a new car and find a new apartment in the same week) and pouring rain and a lot of running around like a chicken with my head cut off. 

I did eventually find an apartment.  And a car.  And, in the midst of all this, before I moved in, I went to the library to check my email and found a message from my other sister (I have three) telling me that my oldest brother-in-law had died.  The message was a couple of days old, and they were holding the funeral as I read the message.  I liked my oldest brother-in-law.  I wish I could have made it to his funeral, but I like to hope he would have understood.

At any rate, on December 1, 1999, I moved into my new apartment, went to bring my cats home from their temporary lodgings, and settled back in to normal life again.

Even given how it ended, I still wouldn’t have missed that trip for the world.  It certainly didn’t cure my itchy feet — in 2000 I drove to both Crater Lake and Yellowstone, and went on a kayak trip down the Missouri River, and I’ve been traveling as much as I’ve been able to ever since.  I hope someday to make another long trip, this one across the midsection of the U.S., north to the Maritimes and back across Canada.  Maybe in another four years…

And maybe I’ll blog that one as it happens.

11 years ago today, Day 80

Picking up the pieces.  The first thing I did the next morning was finish arranging for a rental car.  I was out in the middle of nowhere.  I had to drive myself out.  Fortunately, Ridgecrest was large enough to have an Avis franchise, and they rented me — another Chevy Cavalier, just like Owl, only two years newer and red. 

My next stop was the towyard, where I finished salvaging what I could out of Owl’s wrecked innards and took a few pictures for posterity.  I’ll inflict just one on you:

He was pretty crunched

“Salvaging my stuff was an interesting experience [now that I think about it, in the Chinese sense].  I found everything but the sweatshirt I’d bought at Niagara Falls.  It may very well be in amongst all the clutter, but I didn’t see it.  I left all but a couple of the audio tapes behind.  They were ruined with the dust and dirt.  Ditto for a bunch of the paperbacks.  The cooler [which was smashed].  The food.  I did salvage most of the cooking implements.  And I rescued the magnets and [some gifts].  Most of the brochures I’d picked up.  All my clothes except for the aforementioned sweatshirt.  And the little pot I’d bought in Death Valley was sitting on the back seat, its box open, most of its padding gone, without a damned scratch.  I laughed so hard I think I was a bit hysterical.”

I said goodbye to my poor dead Owl, climbed into the rental car, and headed west towards Bakersfield.

“It was scary driving at first, and I had to consciously keep myself from squeezing the steering wheel, and I know I drove the people behind me mad because I didn’t go very fast, but I did okay.  And I’m back in the saddle, which is good.”

After I crossed 395 again, the road climbed “over the southern end of the Sierra Nevada.  I went over a 4500 foot pass, then stopped at Lake Isabella for a late lunch.  The road down from Lake Isabella was narrow and winding, but I was careful and handled it just fine.  It was also very beautiful,” but there weren’t really any good places to pull over and take a picture.

“I drove on through Bakersfield to Buttonwillow, which is on I-5, and found a motel.  Tomorrow I’ll be at [my sister’s house — she lives in the Bay Area].

“And I’m alive and in one piece, dammit.  The top of my head hurts a little, my left shoulder aches, and I’m stiff and sore all over, but I’m alive.  And I’m not in the hospital.  And I didn’t put anyone else there, either.”

Which was saying quite a lot right then.

11 years ago today, Day 79

This is going to be the hardest post of the trip to write, especially as I don’t particularly want to shortchange what was mostly another lovely day on my Long Trip.  So bear with me, please.

Anyway.  I spent most of the morning exploring more of Death Valley.  First I drove up to Scotty’s Castle, an extremely absurd place up on a hillside overlooking the valley:

The castle
The main entrance

I’ll let you read the link for yourself, but suffice to say that the living history tour (given by a docent who pretended it was 1939 during the house’s heyday) was fascinating.

After that, I drove up to Ubehebe Crater, a placename I never could find the origin of.  It’s a meteor crater, way up on the hillside, and it was very cold and windy up there, at least for someone wearing no more than shorts and a t-shirt:
From the edge

After that I headed back to Stovepipe Wells where I bought, among other things, a small pottery jug as a souvenir, and ate lunch.  Then I headed west, out of the park and over the Panamint Mountains to U.S. 395, the highway that runs north-south east of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  I needed to go south almost to the bottom of the Sierras before I could cross them, because most of the more northerly passes, here in late November, were closed for the winter (I suppose I could have gone north a hundred miles or so to I-80, which stays open all year in spite of the snow, but I don’t remember why I didn’t do that). 

On my way out of the park I stopped to take a picture of a coyote:

He was interesting to me because he was so different from a coyote I’d seen in Yellowstone a couple of months before.  Longer legs, thinner fur, bigger ears, longer tail.  Obviously the Yellowstone coyote was compact and furry because he needed to stay warm during the long, cold winters there, while this Death Valley coyote was lanky and less furry because he needed to stay cool in the desert heat.  At any rate, I found the contrast interesting (and I still regret not being able to get a photo of that Yellowstone coyote to demonstrate it).

Outside the park, I turned south on US 395, a route my parents and I had traveled many times on our way from LA to Oregon and Idaho for summer vacations when I was a kid, and drove south through the desert for an hour or so:

The Panamints from US 395

I was headed for the town of Ridgecrest, which is about the only community of any size in that neck of the desert.  I had just turned east on CA 178 when I glanced at my map, as I had hundreds of times before, for over 14,000 miles in fact, to see how much farther I had to go. 

It didn’t turn out the way it had hundreds of times before.  Apparently I bumped the steering wheel by accident, because the next thing I knew the car was on the shoulder of the road about to plow headfirst into the sand.  I panicked, waythehell over compensated, and, well…

I came to hanging upside down from my seatbelt.  I let myself out of it and, carefully avoiding a number of sharp, pointy things, managed to get myself upright.  I shoved on the door.  It wouldn’t move.  I reached up to the steering wheel and honked the horn.  It worked. 

A few minutes later, I heard scrabbling noises outside the car, and a couple of minutes after that, the door opened.  I crawled out and stood up.

There were about a dozen people, half a dozen cars, and at least three cell phones.  When I asked how they knew to find me, there was a chorus of “dust plume.”  A state trooper arrived a few moments later and took charge. 

I and my car (which had to be loaded on a flatbed tow truck) were hauled to Ridgecrest, where Owl was taken to a towyard (after the trooper liberated some clothes and other belongings for me — including my camera and binoculars, which were undamaged inside the armrest storage thing between the front seats) and I was taken to a motel, after declining a trip to the hospital since I had survived, so far as I could tell at the time, remarkably unscathed (I did develop some interesting bruises and a small sore spot on the top of my head by the next day, but that was it — yes, I know how lucky I was).

I will be the first to admit I was in shock.  My heart is pounding now even just thinking about it.  I made phone calls, insurance and family and a rental car.  “I walked two blocks to a little fast food joint called the Golden Ox and struggled to keep the tears back long enough to eat half a hamburger.” 

Oh, and I tried to run a load of laundry, only to have the washing machine at the motel die in the middle of the cycle, apparently from all the crud in my clothes.  Bits of glass and rocks, mostly — oh, and mud.  If I may make one recommendation for anyone who travels with a cooler, it is to please empty the melted ice out every morning before you set out.  Just in case.

Anyway. I didn’t get much sleep that night.  I spent quite some time on the phone with a friend back home, but I couldn’t close my eyes.  I kept seeing the accident, over and over and over.

And that was how I came to roll my car out in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  As my brother-in-law told me a few days later, “You understand that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, don’t you?”