CA: In which we are nearly defeated by the elements

Death Valley is the lowest point in the US, 282 feet below sea level. It's hot, dry, and empty.

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It's also the location of my favorite Christmas ever. I was 17, had just finished year 12, and was traveling around the West Coast with my parents. We were on our way to the Grand Canyon and realized too late that it was Christmas Eve and we weren't going to get out of Death Valley in time for Christmas Day. We stopped for the night at some tiny, rustic cabins in a place called Panamint Springs. The only food we had was a tin of beans. Those who have ever met me will know that I like Christmas. A lot. A dingy cabin in the desert with a tin of beans was not my idea of a good Christmas.

Luckily there was a little bar that made us some burgers, and even poured me an underage Christmas Eve Baileys. We chatted to a pair of teachers from North Carolina, who asked is if we were staying for Christmas lunch tomorrow. "Um," we said. "Hell, no." But then the barman joined in, telling us we must stay. So we did. We went for a hike the next morning, and when we arrived back, the tiny bar was transformed. Nearly a hundred people had come from all over the world for this free, traditional Christmas Dinner. We ate next to a Japanese fighter pilot and someone from Mum's hometown in Derby. It was wonderful.

We didn't stay in Death Valley this time, just stopped to look at the sand dunes and the salt flats and remark about how damn hot it was (about 38 degrees, relatively cool for DV).

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We drove out of the Valley and stopped in Bishop for the night. The plan was to drive through Yosemite the next day and end up in San Francisco, a 5-6 hour drive. The plan was not to be. A crazy storm system from the North dumped a pile of snow on the mountains, and all the roads to San Francisco were closed. ALL OF THEM. We ended up driving up to Reno, a four hour detour. It was a long day, with much snow. Snow. One day after 38 degree desert. California, you are peculiar.

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