Category Archives: USA

USA Road Trip 2012 (5): Rhyolite and Beatty

On our way from Death Valley to Las Vegas, Rhyolite  and Beatty – both located in Nevada – were amongst our stops.

The road sign to Rhyolite ghost town is easy to miss. This town started in 1905 as one of several mining towns that appeared during the gold rush. Its fortune did not last long and by 1920 Rhyolite’s population had already dropped close to zero. The ruined buildings soon became a tourist attraction and set for movies.

Nowadays remnants of the Bottle House, the Opera House, the school, the hospital, the general store, and several other buildings offer great opportunities to photographers and ghost town enthusiasts. The surrounding mountains of Nevada contribute to the feeling of abandonment that characterises this place.

Beatty, the “Gateway to Death Valley”, is only 4 miles east of Rhyolite, and is a common stopover on the way to Las Vegas. The economy in this town is largely tourism-based and caters for those travelling between Death Valley and “Sin City”.

The wide and largely empty roads give you the feeling of a frontier town. There isn’t really much here: a handful of houses, a couple of pubs, a couple of motels, a small museum. And a brothel… Yet there were some good photo opportunities for someone like me, naturally attracted to quirky and/or solitary places. Apart from that, Beatty is a handy overnight stop where to break your long drive between the California and Nevada main tourist sites.

Next: USA Road Trip 2012 (6): Zabriskie Point is not just a movie

USA Road Trip 2012 (4): Death Valley

We didn’t spend much time walking around Death Valley. Famous for being the hottest place on earth, this below-sea-level basin matched the expectations on our visit.
Stepping out of the car, the heat was instantly unbearable. A short walk to the top of one of the sand dunes was all we could handle. Our car dashboard indicated 100F degrees (that is almost 38C degrees!). And it was only spring. Can you imagine how hot summers are?!

The extreme weather patterns in Death Valley National Park create a really harsh environment. Yet, a large variety of plants and wildlife (some endemic to the area) have adapted to this. More than 1000 types of plants live within the park and show adaptations aimed at reducing evaporation and/or capturing as much groundwater as possible. Over 400 species of wildlife characterise the park area, and most of them survive mainly by living a nocturnal life. Such an interesting environment there!

Last fact: Father Crowley Vista Point, the first viewpoint entering Death Valley from the west, is a good stop and it overlooks an area characterised by dark lava flows and volcanic cinders. It takes its name after Father John J. Crowley, also known as the Padre of the desert.

Next: USA Road Trip 2012 (5): Rhyolite and Beatty

USA Road Trip 2012 (3): Discovering the Yosemite National Park

A park. A National Park. World-renowned and designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. The Yosemite National Park. That was the first destination of our USA road trip.

A few hours’ drive north-east of Los Angeles, the Yosemite National Park is well known for its giant sequoias, waterfalls, clear streams, granite formations and biodiversity.   95% of the park is designated as wilderness.

Driving in and out of the park at certain times of the year poses challenges: the long winters at high altitude prevent car access to many of the passes due to snow and ice on the roads. Visiting at the end of April we had to work around some of the access issues but the longer drives never became a problem.

Countless waterfalls are one of the main features of the Yosemite park, with  Yosemite Falls (the tallest in North America) and Bridalveil Falls the most popular and impressive ones. Late spring is the best time for a visit, and we witnessed some spectacular natural displays. Water then flows into streams and rivers, and through meadows into ponds and lakes.

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, a must-see at Yosemite, is located near the park’s south entrance. This area contains about 500 mature giant sequoias, some of which are over 3,000 years old! A hike through the woods will let you get close to some impressive trees.

Next: USA Road Trip 2012 (4): Death Valley

USA Road Trip 2012 (2): First of all you need a car

What car would you choose for a USA road trip? Would you go cheap and cheerful? Would you choose a vintage model? Or would you go for the latest generation?
And how about a combi van instead?
These are important decisions when you are about to hit the road for over two weeks!

We went for the latest model of Dodge Charger…
And when I say “we” I actually mean “he”: my travel companion made the decision.
I had no idea what a Dodge Charger was or what it looked like, for a start. Not to mention the fact that – at a later point during our trip – after an hour behind the steering wheel I was kindly asked to return to the passenger seat, and I never left it since. I am not good with automatic gears, that’s all.

Back to the start: we picked up the car at Los Angeles airport, our meeting point, and named our sat nav “Britney”, as we could not stand the female voice it came with. And we finally hit the road!

Next: USA Road Trip 2012 (3): Discovering the Yosemite National Park

USA Road Trip 2012 (1): The start, or Jack Kerouac rules

Longing for a road trip.
That feeling when you arrive in a remote town in the evening, wide empty roads ahead of you, one large convenience store where to stock up on all you need, the sun setting, quiet and peace.
The feeling of freedom.

That feeling is what got me dreaming of a USA road trip.

The idea started taking shape in front of a hot chocolate on a cold winter afternoon three years ago. Location: a quirky coffee place in south London. Characters: a friend and I.

That friend later dropped out but was quickly replaced by another friend who lived down under and was keen on joining me in the road adventure.

Route 66, here we come!

Next: USA Road Trip 2012 (2): First of all you need a car

A photo from my archives: Rhyolite ghost town

Rhyolite Nevada USA "ghost town"

 Rhyolite, USA, 2012.

As you drive through Nevada after leaving the Death Valley National Park behind, you will come across the small ghost town of Rhyolite. There are no big road signs, so you’re likely to miss it if you’re not careful!

This town started in 1905 as one of several mining towns that appeared during the gold rush. After reaching a population of about 10,000 in a couple of years, its fortune was quickly over and by 1920 its population had already dropped close to zero. Rhyolite’s ruined buildings soon became a tourist attraction and set for movies.

Walking around this ghost town’s well preserved ruins is definitely a fascinating experience: remnants of the Bottle House, the opera house, the school, the hospital, the general store, and several other buildings offer great opportunities to photographers and ghost town enthusiasts. The surrounding mountains of Nevada contribute even more to the feeling of abandonment that characterises this place. And you won’t see many tourists there, instead you’ll probably find you are the only one(s).

By the way, do you know where the name “Rhyolite” comes from? Rhyolite is an igneous rock composed of light-colored silicates, usually buff to pink and occasionally light gray.