Many thanks to Josh Hewitt over at Wanderlust Photo & Travel Blog for inspiring this post. A few days ago he and I were exchanging some blog love around our respective travels – my past travels and his future ones – in the stunning American Southwest. It was then that I realized that I had never really written much – aside from my Fonzie-esque jumping the snake episode – about the three-week, 5500-mile road trip the husband and I took with Bobbie this past summer.
As I mention in my About page, I love all types of travel. I could never assign a rank-order to the different kinds. Relaxing beach vacations, history-and-culture-laden international trips, short city breaks – they all have their own unique and wonderful experiences to offer. But when it comes to spontaneity, for us anyway, nothing can compare to the long-distance road trip. A lot of that has to do with the fact that we pull our beds along with us and rarely make advance reservations at campsites. This gives us the freedom to decide last-minute that we’re going to extend our stay in a place that is unexpectedly amazing, or cut out early from somewhere else.
Take this past summer for example. The husband’s goal to locate the very Joshua tree that appeared on U2’s album cover of the same name had us extending our road trip (16 hours round-trip out of our way) into and beyond Death Valley.
This in itself was not a spontaneous decision. The husband had strong-armed it onto our itinerary months earlier, during the planning phase, after he’d gone to see the heroes of his youth play in concert near our home. (He came back from that concert with enough U2-themed merchandise to fill the Bobbie and fund Bono’s next 50 sunglasses purchases, as well as a dogged determination to find that tree.)
Also, we’d been to Death Valley over a decade earlier and the husband had fallen in love with it. He’d been pining to return all these years, and this U2-themed scavenger hunt was the perfect
excuse rationale. So back we went. Our plan was to depart the not very impressive but humorously named Pahrump, Nevada (which was about the last place we expected to find a fabulous, expat-run French bakery in a run-down strip mall, but that’s exactly what happened), drive through Death Valley to the western edge of the park, dry camp at a place called Panamint Springs, and depart the following day to find the iconic (but now dead and toppled over) tree. We would then continue on the road trip from there. Instead, here’s what happened:
We stopped a short distance from the eastern edge of the park to take some photos.
We noticed a gorgeous resort – a literal oasis – in the distance. We remembered seeing this place (The Oasis at Death Valley) on our previous trip a decade earlier. The husband mentioned offhandedly that he’d always wanted to stay there. I replied, “What the heck. We don’t have reservations at Panamint Springs, it’s 1,000 degrees, and if we keep to our original plan we’ll have to sleep in this heat.” (The Bobbie is not air conditioned. It’s a choice we made long ago and now we have to live with it.) “Let’s at least go see if they have a room available.”
And they did. (Lots of them, actually. Turns out not that many people are dumb enough to visit Death Valley in the middle of the summer.) Now, the campsite was going to cost us $20 and the Oasis was $320, but YOLO, or whatever the young’uns are saying nowadays.
We got settled into the room and went off to explore the park. Our main destination was a place called Ubehebe Crater, which was enjoyable to see, but even more fun to say. It’s pronounced yoo-bee-HEE-bee. Give it a try: yoo-bee-HEE-bee.
On the way back to the Oasis, more spontaneity occurred. The husband lamented the fact that we had such a short time in his favorite national park. “Well,” I said, “why not see if they can accommodate us for another night?”
Guess what. They could.
So the next day, after waking up at 5:00 am to watch World Cup® soccer from the comfort of our bed while I excused myself to journal (necessary evil) and do the crossword (unnecessary joy) on our porch (I was not yet the avid soccer fan I am today – wink, wink), we undertook the journey that had been the husband’s dream since he was a gangly teen.
We set off in a northerly then southwesterly direction, crossing Death Valley, the Panamint Range, and Panamint Valley along the way. We marveled at the lunar-like landscape around us as I narrated the journey using our trusty new park guide.
We exited the western border of the park, near Darwin Falls, and shortly thereafter arrived at the designated mile marker. If this kind of arcane hunt is right up your U2-loving alley, you should know that the GPS coordinates given online are a bit off. We spent a good hour wandering around the desert, our car a little speck in the distance, engaged in a “divide and conquer” search offensive. Eventually, we noticed a handful of people gathered not that far from our Matchbox-sized vehicle, and decided it wouldn’t hurt to go see what they were doing out here at Mile Marker 33. Same thing we were, it turns out. Only they had better directions, because when we came upon them, we also came upon the tree.
The husband grew very quiet. I knew this was practically a religious experience for him, so I just kept my mouth shut and let him have his moment. After a while, the other devotees drifted away and we were left alone to contemplate the decades-long musical influence of Bono and the boys. Then, important life event accomplished, we got back in the car and made our way back through the surreal landscape to our hotel for one last night of luxury.
So in the end, instead of paying $20 for a night in Death Valley, spontaneity cost us close to $1,000 (gotta factor in the no-holds-barred meals at their not inexpensive restaurant). It’s OK. We didn’t spiral into some vacation-souring black hole of debt. Saving money for travel is my inner money manager’s raison d’etre, and the husband’s spending can usually be controlled – unless he’s unsupervised, such as at the liquor store or bike shop, or the aforementioned wallet-busting U2 Concert & Spending Extravaganza – so we had some flexibility in our finances. We also had to give up our planned time in Joshua Tree National Park, a good four hours south of Death Valley. Again, not a problem. Like a movie that ends on a cliffhanger, it created the perfect excuse to go back to the desert Southwest in the future. Only this time, I hope it’s not a decade before we return.