Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Panamint Springs to Morro Bay

Leaving Panamint Springs Resort after another wonderful breakfast (for me, it was Pancakes, crispy fried bacon and an egg, smothered in maple syrup) we rolled our way to the car and headed for Surprise Canyon and then onto the ghost town of Ballarat.

Before we left, a couple of the quotes we saw on the walls of the resort really struck me:

We need the tonic of wilderness. We can never have enough of nature! - Henry David Thoreau

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page... - Saint Augustine

I was left feeling that the wilderness of Death Valley had revitalised us both and had shaken some of the yucky feelings induced by Vegas and Anaheim. I also was hit with how much I was enjoying reading more of the book of the world and looked forward to further chapters.

Panamint Springs Resort (well, part of it)

Yes, that is snow on those mountains. Even deserts get snow.

In fact, Antarctica is technically the world's biggest desert

Surprise Canyon (we never found out what the surprise was)

Hang on, I think the surprise was Borax (or was it gold?)

Wild burros (click to zoom in)

After Surprise Canyon, we went to Ballarat (a former goldmining town) which is now a ghost town.

Birth of Ballarat

Ballarat sign

Very true that you learn nothing by sitting in the car!

Ballarat was fascinating, and we examined the rather odd collection of buildings, both inside and out. The Ballarat store and museum was well worth the visit - a true feeling of history pervades and we even found an abandoned truck once owned by Charlie Manson.

Outside the store/museum

Inside the store/museum - what a big gun

A film set in Panamint

Webclam has advised checking out this link for more info.
The film tagline is "For a woman like her...BOLD MEN BECAME BOLDER!"

An eclectic mix of history and scantily glad girlies

Seldom Seen Slim

Seldom Seen Slim was a Ballarat gold prospector who, surprisingly, was seldom seen

Whatever you do, don't annoy Seldom Seen Slim

An interesting fridge

Wanted poster - $1000 reward!

Have a read of this - it is fascinating, especially the bit about "...send there bloody ears". You will need to zoom in and scroll to read it clearly.

The Ballarat Jail-Morgue (very handy!)

Charlie Manson's old pickup truck

Needs some TLC and a lick of paint

Look at all the pretty stars...

Me and the truck

It appears that Charlie Manson was arrested at Barker Ranch which is about 10-15 km from Ballarat. Manson was found hiding in a cabinet beneath a bathroom sink.

Ballarat graveyard

Seldom Seen Slim's Grave (or maybe just his memorial stone?)

I love the quote "Me lonely? Hell, no! I'm half coyote and half wild burro"

Spotted as we left...brilliant that you can pick up a gun if you need one

Some more history for you folks playing along at home

From Ballarat we headed west, via dying borax processing towns,

Who knows, a ghost town in progress?

Very industrial and desolate feeling

then onto fishing townships around Lake Isabella,

down through Bakersfield where we stopped for lunch at a diner and finally we drove past huge, far reaching agricultural lands before reaching an enormous criss-cross of powerlines.

Giants striding across the landscape

After a very bumpy final leg of the journey (the roads rapidly alternated between low dips and high rises, which made it feel like a roller coaster) we arrived in Morro Bay, a delightful small seaside town. The motel owner was Indian and when we told him where we were from, he immediately started talking about cricket. I managed to bluff my way through.

The next day we planned to check the shopping area along the beach and then head north to the coastal town Monterey. This would be our final stop before we arrive in San Francisco.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Death Valley to Panamint Springs

We left the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel at Death Valley Junction and proceeded onto Death Valley proper.

Death Valley is a massive desert which gets really hot during summer. It has amazing rock formations, interesting wild life and did I mention that it gets really hot? While we were there in the middle of winter, it peaked at 17 degrees Celsius. Of course, this isn't THAT hot, but in the middle of summer it can max out at a whopping 46 degrees Celsius. While we are on the subject of summer, in 1913 the temperature peaked at 57 degrees Celsius, which is just insane.

From Death Valley Junction, we headed west for Dantes View (highest point in all of Death Valley at 1669 metres high),

then on to Zabriskie Point,

down to Badwater (lowest point below sea level in the US) and the water is undrinkable hence the name,

back up to Artists Drive where there is an amazing multicoloured stone formation called Artists Palette

and on to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center (we saw a wild coyote! Sorry for the poor photo).

We then saw the Harmony Borax Works Interpretive Trail,

All the white snow-like stuff below is borax

then drove through Mustard Canyon

and from there headed for Panamint Springs. Last stop before Panamint Springs was to check out the giant Mesquite sand dunes.

We stayed in Panamint Springs Resort, which was great - a real desert pub and motel on the edge of Death Valley. We had a great meal, the staff were friendly and the beer selection was second to none. Sha in particular, was very taken with the Alaskan Smoked Porter - very tasty indeed. We also got to meet the resident pub cats who were both very cute and overweight. The walls of the dining room in the pub were swathed with all manner of photos of the desert and inspirational quotes. They even had the mounted head of a Jackalope too!

Well, that's all for now but check out this link for more Death Valley places of interest. Next up we encounter Charlie Manson's truck in a ghost town and then head west to the Californian coast.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Amargosa Opera House and Hotel

It's been awhile since the last post - but never fear, I should be back on track with the latest thrilling updates shortly. Oh, and Merry Christmas!

Before I forget, while we were at Shoshone in the diner, the only other couple (some lovely cornfolk) were talking about their daughter entering a same-sex marriage on Jerry Springer. It appeared this was very stressful to them both and a third local was telling them that you could get through it as long as you had "joy in your heart". Very amusing hearing the locals talk about this!

After leaving Shoshone, we headed for Amargosa and in particular the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel. We had heard about Marta Becket and there has been a documentary made about her which we both really want to see. Marta is a dancer and artist who in 1967 while on tour through the US, got a flat tire in Amargosa, stumbled upon the abandoned Amargosa borax building & old run-down theatre and took ownership the following year. Marta eventually brought the town of Death Valley Junction in 1974. She created the Opera House where she gave performances (dance, theatre, spoken word) every Saturday, sometimes to audiences of zero. She therefore went about painting the inside of the Opera House, the centrepiece being the King and Queen on the back wall and when she performs, she performs to them. The ceiling is also very impressive and the hotel has also been adorned with murals in her unique style. Martha is now 82 years of age, however she still performs even now, although the dancing aspect has been replaced with spoken word. If we were here in the evening, we would have definitely attended her performance but we had the rest of Death Valley to see, so alas we couldn't stay.

Unusually for Sha, we hadn't planned on going to Amargosa prior to leaving NZ - we kind of stumbled upon it while looking at maps the night before. We arrived at about 9am in the morning at the hotel (previously the Pacific Coast Borax Company building building) and saw a sign mentioning tours. We tentatively asked if these were running and were then shown around by the Manager who had a wealth of knowledge of the history of the place. He told us about the Opera House, hauntings, the wild horses, the Borax Company, the previous lackadaisical management and too much more to mention. He was a really nice guy to boot!

The whole Amargosa experience really was one of the highlights of our America trip and we were left feeling that if we ever made it back to Death Valley, we would have to stay the night at the Amargosa Hotel.

Amargosa Hotel (on left) and Opera House (far right)

Hotel Hallway - secret door somewhere down there...

Hotel dining room mural

Another dining room mural

The actual Amargosa Opera House

Some interesting information

Inside the Opera House...

Armour and South American Indian murals

The stage

Ballet dancers and a Viking

Pot belly stove


The stage, close up - notice the costume changes

The King, Queen and court

Cherubs on the ceiling

Ceiling centrepiece

Once again, the ceiling

Watching from the side stage

Fun and frolics

Behind the Hotel...

Wild horse coming in for lunch

These horses are wild, but still like to be fed

Yum, horse feeding! Awww, cute.

Crumbling building behind the Amargosa Hotel - Sha in awe

More Photos from Jeffrey Sward

Well, that's all for Amargosa, next post is all about Death Valley itself.