Back in the desert

Salt pan in the Death valley seen from Dante's Peak.
Salt pan in the Death valley seen from Dante's Peak.

It has been a long time since I have been in the desert. I want to say I missed it, but when I recall my adventures in Ethiopia, I can’t say it was party time either. But as time went by, I now see this period with nostalgia. This week I was in Death Valley, and no landscape I saw so far reminded me as much as the desert in eastern Ethiopia.
You can check this old post if you don’t recall my misadventures as I was trying to get through the Djibouti border.

Mission in San Luis Obispo.
Mission in San Luis Obispo.

But let’s begin by the beginning. This week started with my departure from Los Angeles and a first night in San Luis Obispo. A new routine began, and I am cooking every night, trying to save cash while the temperatures are still comfortable. Of course I am not speaking about cooking amid wonderful landscape in remote areas, but more in the parking of cheap motels. Still, I am glad to use my camping equipment again.

Oil field before Porterville, Ca.
Oil field before Porterville, Ca.

After a quick visit through the town, I continued my drive northeast toward Porterville, the last city before attacking the mountains. Between the cities, it is a strange area. Not much to see but endless agricultural fields, oil fields, and a dense fog as I approached the mountains’ feet.

Numerous orange trees and vines can be found close to Porterville.
Numerous orange trees and vines can be found close to Porterville.

The traveler can still be rewarded by trying one of the tacos truck along the route serving generations of Mexicans who came here to help with the hard farm labor.

In the mountain, the southern part of the Sequoia National Park.
In the mountain, the southern part of the Sequoia National Park.

I can’t say that Porterville was the highlight of my Californian adventures, and I failed to identify a true center in the city during a hike in the empty streets.

Lunch break at Isabella Lake.
Lunch break at Isabella Lake.
Entering Death Valley.
Entering Death Valley.

The following day, I was thrilled to go up in the mountain toward the Sequoia National Park. Unfortunately, after 30 miles up, the road was cut by snow. In the winter, snow is not cleared on this portion of the 190 going to Camp Nelson. My father and I went back down the road and tried with success a more southern route to get to Isabella Lake.
After a break there for lunch, we drove due east and spent the night in the high-desert city of Ridgecrest. All the poetry there can be found in the desert and the four mountain ranges surrounding the city.
But the best was to come. The following day, we started our trip through Death Valley, and I found myself unexpectedly back in time and living again my trip through Ethiopia.
When you drive cross country, it is worth getting the National Park pass “America the beautiful”. For $80, you and your party can go for free to any national park for one year. In my case, the pass will have probably paid for itself before the end of my road trip.

Death Valley.
Death Valley.

According to the National Park Services, Death Valley was given its name by a group of pioneers lost here in the winter of 1840s. Only one of the group died here, but they all assumed that the valley would be their grave. As they climbed out of the valley over the Panamint Mountains, one of the men looked back, and said “goodbye, Death Valley.”

The Red Cathedral.
The Red Cathedral.

We took a popular route through the Valley. We stopped first at the sand dunes and then went south along the Badwater road, to get to the Badwater Basin. At 282 feet below sea level it is the lowest point in North America.

Views from
Views from Zabriskie Point.

On our way back we took the Artist’s Drive and stopped at Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View, two locations providing breathtaking views on the park’s mountains.
At the end of the day, after sunset, we arrived at the Amargosa Hotel, a Spanish colonial style edifice built by a mining company in the 1920s. It is listed as the top-ten haunted hotel in the country, but tired, we didn’t witness anything worth more attention than our beds.

The Amargosa Hotel.
The Amargosa Hotel.

After driving few hours in the morning and crossing the state line, we arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada.

35 Replies to “Back in the desert”

  1. Death Valley may spark memories of Ethiopia but at least there are no armed strangers in the desert beckoning you to pull over, right? The National Parks pass was great idea. Now you can hit several highlights of our country for one low price. Can’t wait to see the photos!

  2. Looks like a great start on your drive across country. Hope you had good luck in Vegas. I see you are in Williams, Arizona, the Grand Canyon. A lot to see. Drive safely.

  3. Hi Nick, I love Death Valley and I’m so glad you got to enjoy it too! I hope your stay in LA was good–I was bummed I couldn’t make it to coffee when you got together with all your other groupies. 🙂 Best of luck on your cross-country trip & enjoy the last leg of your crazy and awesome travels. I am so sad that your blog is nearing the end… who am I going to live vicariously through after you are done with all the driving?!!? As always, thank you for the fabulous pictures. Take care!

  4. Death Valley National Park is stark, bleak, but absolutely spectacular, like a different world. it’s an excellent full day or longer trip to take with a rental car while visiting Las Vegas. Other potential visitors should be forewarned that daytime temperatures do go up near and over 120 degrees F between May and September, commonly, and that one should take in gallons of water and stick to the busiest park roads there in case of a breakdown in the summer. It’s also a risky place to be in the event of occasional monsoonal summer rains, as roads wash out, but beautiful a day or two afterwards as wildflowers explode into bloom. I just read an article on the Sacramento Bee website about people who have blindly followed their GPS down abandoned, closed roads in the park and gotten stranded and died in the summer or needed rescue and emergency hospitalization. Of course, naive and poorly prepared visitors were dying in the California deserts even before GPS was around.

  5. Woo! Hoo! You’re back “on the trail” again! I love your observations, writing, and photographs. Your book is going to be fabulous!!!! Go! Nick!

  6. Nick,

    Death Valley is truly a special place. March will really be the time to go there. Everything will be blooming. Have a safe trip!

    Victoria Picard

  7. Hey Nic!

    A bit of nostalga on this leg of the trip. I’m glad it’s not nearly as hot there as it was in Ethiopia. I remember waiting and waiting for your arrival and getting nervous that you wouldn’t make it to Djibouti. I’m glad you did though and want to remind you it was one of the most memorable experiences so far in my life. Good luck on your next leg of the trip and good luck on the blackjack tables in Vegas!

    Your friend,


  8. Dear Nick:

    Great photos and descriptions! It is already wonderful to see the vast land of the United States from your eyes and perspective. This matters because you have seen more of the world than most of us. it is also good to see your truck on the road again. Sometimes I look at the Land Cruiser as if I want her to speak and tell me what she is thinking about all of this….especially being back in USA. I do hope that you will never give her up, of if you must, perhaps to a museum. Seriously: We will see you in NY.
    -joyMaria, Paul, Anastasia, Daniel & Isabella

  9. Hi Nick,

    Excellent pictures!! It looks like you are having a good stretch of weather. Stay out west for a while-the midwest through the northeast is getting hit with snow, ice, sleet…you name it.

    I wish you safe and fun travels – even though the sights are back in the US there is still so much to see and ground to cover that while you will not have armed guards chasing you here (:-)), you will be able to meet some really cool people that you would not have otherwise ever had the chance to meet.

    Looking forward to more pictures & stories in your future posts!!!

  10. Nick,
    So happy to see you traveling again! It must be so much more peaceful here in the US, instead of all the hassels of the other countries. You have so many contacts here that it must make you feel much more comfortable if you run into problems.

    Where in the world will we all travel next year without you on the road?

    This last leg of the trip must be going by quickly for the two of you!!

    to joyMarie – if only that truck could talk! LOL
    Forge on my friend!

    Ms. Marti

  11. Welcome home! I have truly enjoyed following your travels! But from what I can tell of your prospective route, it looks like you will be missing out on some great opportunities to use your National Parks pass. Zions, Bryce and Arches National Parks in Southern Utah offer some spetacular scenery. Also, you don’t want to miss the ancient indian dwellings in the mountains of Mesa Verde in Colorado. And I think Carlsbad Caverns in NM is a national park too. It is cool to see the millions of bats flying out every night. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  12. Hope to see death Valley myself while I´m in the US. I´m from Venezuela and I´ve been following you since Bolivia. Soon, I´m going to Washington for a year to study and I hope to make at least a little bit of road trip sometime around emulating you.

    Good luck on the way!!

  13. That Amargosa Hotel you and your dad stayed at was featured on this season’s Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel. I lived in California all my life and I vaguely remember traveling thru Death Valley as a kid when we would take family trips up the central part of the state. But you made me want to check out SLO one of these days.

  14. Pretty amazing how I have been following your blog since Texas over a year ago. And now I read your travels have taken you to my small hometown of Ridgecrest. My family still lives in the gateway to D. V.

  15. Hi Nick,

    I’m noticing fewer comments on your posts now… I guess what is a major trip for a lot of people – road trip across the U.S. – really is just a “walk in the park” (“National” park, but park none-the-less :-)) for you compared to what you’ve experienced over the last year… It was a pleasure following your adventures and the photos are really spectacular… you might want to consider a photo book as well; overall, your pictures have been very inspiring and they’ve been telling a story at least as powerful as your words.

    Good luck with the rest of the trip – try not to get caught in the blizzards of central and northeast U.S….

  16. Greetings Nick,

    Nothing like a Great American Road Trip! I am closely following you progress back to NYC. Any details on your route home?

    Safe travels my friend!

  17. Nick,
    What great pictures of Death Valley. Death Valley to many of us exist only of a long deserted road in the dessert. We dont often look at our own country in being as exotic as we do other countries. Is it because we have seen so many pictures in books and have seen documentaries on the History Channel, not sure, but again it is nice to see those pics. I look forward to many more pics and posts as you cross the beautiful nation that we call home. Enjoy the remainder of your trip my friend, and I sure hope that it is as memorable and exotic as the other places you have traveled.


  18. Nick,
    one of the reasons you should write THAT book. You have a knack in your writing at showing people that have never met you a glimpse of your character. This is very intriguing and keeps people wanting more. For those of you who have not met Nick… He is as charming and engaging as he appears to be in print.
    joymaria – when he came to visit us ( the oldest followers) one of their questions was if he had a name for his truck, well nick have you named her yet? One more question from the oldest of your followers, if you had a chance to travel to the moon would you?
    keep on truckin’ Catherine in Cali

  19. Way to go, Nick and Papa! Only 160 more miles and you will pass the halfway mark of the USA!!

    Love the pic of Mission in San Luis Obispo and the sand dunes!

    Keep trucking! You’re almost home! Hope the snow doesn’t hold you back!

  20. OH my goodness, didn’t realize you were so close to the end of your journey!
    So sorry, can’t remember if I replied to your email, I would love to see you and your dad when you are in the beautiful state of Tennessee!
    I am a fantastic cook (if you are in need of a southern meal) or I would be thrilled to meet you somewhere! I have enjoyed your adventure so much and have considered myself an avid travel addict, until i “met” you. Hope to see Y’all soon!

  21. @ Catherine: What a great idea of the “senior followers” to name the truck. Lets see if we can help Nick out with such a name. How many followers can come up with a good name for the Land Cruiser? I have a couple…

    esprit libre = free spirit
    ole fidele = ole faithful
    Suzette = Little Lily ( a French Fairy)
    Eglantine = Wild Rose (a French Fairy)

  22. I have also been a follower since Day 1. I will miss travelling with you. One can only think that you will be very happy to get back to NYC. Thank you for the adventure.

  23. Put a chip straight up on number 22 for me 🙂 ! I hope you have a ball while in Vegas, greatest adult playground. I will continue to watch and read as you drive yourself back home and a Hello to your dad for me.. ! Wondering if you will be watching the super bowl in Vegas..

  24. I seriously doubt if a kindhearted soul like Nicolas Rapp is keeping track or taking notes on when TWE bloggers began following him, and I have yet to read anywhere that our dear friend is encouraging such a competition among bloggers. Does it really matter if we began following Nick from the beginning (before he left NY (my case)—Seattle Times, November 2009) or if we began following him last month, as I note is the case with a few most recent very sincere and humble bloggers? I think the majority of us are really all about learning from Nick’s experience, encouraging him along his journey across the world, keeping him in our thoughts and offering up our prayers for his safety. We are thankful that he has made it back to the USA and soon back to Brooklyn, New York., and a long ways from Egypt (lol)

  25. I haven’t checked in for a couple of days and after reading the comments, thought I am missing something. You’ll be home in a week!! How can that be!! What are “we” going to do!! I hope you and your dad are enjoying the drive and staying out of the way of the snow.

  26. Now that you’re on the home stretch I can’t help but wonder how you will feel when your amazing journey comes to an end. I can imagine there will be a wide range of emotions from joy to sadness, to a feeling of great accomplishment for completing your goal! As for your loyal followers there will also be a wide range of emotions. I will miss checking daily to see what our intrepid traveller is up to. But I am so greatful to have had the opportunity to share in some small way your wonderful adventure and I thank you for taking us along with you. Travel safe!

  27. I can’t believe it’s been almost a year and a half since you first took off on the trip. Glad you are back in the US and on the last leg of the journey.

    Can’t wait for the movie to be made 🙂

  28. I find it quite sad that in crossing the U. S., like so many travel writers and around-the-worlder’s before you, the entire northern part of the nation is ignored. This Route 66 routing has been done, many times, and considering the reach of the NYTimes, it seems a large portion of your readers will miss out on some of the most amazing territory, most of it quite undiscovered. The Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and the rest—all stunning, but already well publicized. The Steens? The Hi Line? The Selkirks? The Cabinets? You skirt the Great American Outback but miss the majority of America’s bush country, most of which remains unpopulated and breathtaking. Which, if you’re traveling the world, means you’ve missed out on some of its most amazing yet unheralded terrain.

  29. It appears Nick is in a hurry back home (not that I’m blame him). He’s already in Arkansas!

  30. Dr. JoyMaria. I’m not sure what “competition” you are referring to. Many people throughout this trip have recounted when they started following this blog. Were you referring to the posting by Cathering that referred to Nick’s oldest followers? She was using the same term that Nick used when he visited Greenwood care center in Oxnard. It’s obvious from Catherine’s postings that she was connected with that group. You say it doesn’t matter when we began following this journey, yet you make sure to tell when you did. Are you trying to say you are one of the oldest? Saying when we began following this journey is a connection between the people who have been followers. Pure and simple it is just that – a way of connecting with faceless others – not a competition.

  31. My concern is that people NOT feel as if seniority is important in regard to participating in the challenge of naming the truck. The idea within itself was good enough. Oldest-Youngest-Latest and a reference to joymaria was not necessary in that post, really; as it felt somewhat like we should now enter a competition where time matters. Yes, I am aware that somewhere along the adventure numerous bloggers (never me–since November 2009 and especially after personally meeting Nick in April 2010, 🙂 began their postings with a reference to when they began following Nick. I would gladly continue this conversation with you or anyone at, and not use this forum for tit-for-tat or syntax battling. It really wouldn’t serve a purpose and carrying on such a dialog with people I do not know or will never know for that matter is highly unattractive here. Thank you.

  32. hi Nick,

    I’m about a month behind on your blog… (going through a family tragedy)
    Please drop me an email when you make it back to brooklyn and have a gathering there.
    If I’m able to, I would love to pop by to say hello.

    I enjoyed your photos very much and am also most curious about language and map challenges….


  33. My humble appologies Dr. Joy Maria for using your name, the only reason was that you mentioned in your previous post how you would like “her ” the landcruiser to tell her story. which reminded me of his visit with us and they asked if he had named the truck. They all thought that if he spent that much time with it it should be a “her”. as far as the “oldest of followers” does not refer to time, but of age, As he mentioned in his post. No tit for tat, just clarification.

  34. Hello Nicolas !

    Te voilà décidément bien loin d’Andco et la rue de Chabrol. C’est à Caroline que je dois la découverte de ton site et de ce magnifique tour du monde… J’y reviendrai, il me reste beaucoup à lire et à voir…



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