Coordinates of California

It’s not always that you hit the lowest and yet feel so wonderful. To understand this better, we had to go all the way down to the lowest point in North America.

This is the story of 1264 miles of a scintillating 4-day road trip across California. It began on a piece of paper. Like an artist, Sid scribbled all possible routes and spoke about the choices as if he was presenting in front of a large audience. The joy with which he was making plans was itself good enough to convince us that this was going to be one hell of a trip. After a few crazy sketches, we finalized on 3 primary destinations.

Road trip discussions

We hired a Subaru Legacy and started off at around 7.30AM. The 4 wheels befriended us as fast as we could drive on the freeway.

I must admit that in the initial part of the road trip, I was getting goosebumps with the high-speed driving. I mean when you drive at 30km/hr every day and suddenly hit freeways where the minimum speed is 55miles/hr, it does provide some inexplicable thrill.

4 hours of conversations, general rants and some occasional sleep brought us to the middle of the world’s largest trees (not the tallest). We were at Sequoia National Park. The massive Giant Sequoia made us feel so tiny. Our necks were mostly trying to twist beyond 90 degrees to assess the height of these trees. We drove further into the woods to see the 275 feet tall Giant Sherman Tree. Big, strong, old and tree-pretty.

In front of a Sequoia

We were at 6000 feet above sea level.

To halt for the night, we drove to Ridge Crest and spent our evening looking for food, packing it up, eating in our rooms and throwing away most of it. Not because it was bad. We just had misunderstood our appetite.

We had no idea that the next day’s drive was about getting carried away by disorienting turns, highs, lows and drifts. We were headed into Death Valley.

Our first halt was at Trona where we collected some unusual pictures. That place shouted of silence, history and a lot of buried stories. We were already feeling deserted.

We were at 550 feet.

Life in Death

The drive from Trona deep into the valley was even more puzzling. One couldn’t be sure if it was scenic or scary. There were 3 colors that we could see – blue for the sky, sand color and the tar color of the road; and there was nothing to hear. The 3 of us were mostly silent and I wonder what was going on in everyone’s mind. The temperature was rising but we were dropping through the roads before we finally hit the bottom!

There was a man who brought his thirsty horse to a small pool. The horse lowered its neck to quench its thirst but then refused to drink it. The man tasted the liquid and made a face (probably) and said that it was badwater. That’s the mythical story that goes behind the name of this saltwater basin.


G&I decided to run here. Why? Since it is one of the lowest points, the density of oxygen is very high here. We wanted to test if it makes running any easier. While G did not feel breathless. I can’t be sure if I felt any different. But it was like running for our lives in the middle of Death Valley.

Badwater Basin

As we were walking towards the car, our heads turned up and we saw the board way up ‘238 feet‘. Yes, we were low, very low, the lowest.

We were 238 feet below sea level.

A colorful Artist’s Drive, Zabriskie point etc. later, we halted for the night at Furnace Creek. We discussed life, ‘death’ and much more over few pints of Badwater Ale – a unique beer that’s (as they say) best enjoyed below sea level. Also, while at the lowest point in North America, we convinced Sid to join us for the highest run in the Himalayas.

Sunset at Zabriskie Point

Next morning began in a leisurely way. Post a delayed breakfast, we headed out of Death Valley, grasping a glimpse of Joshua Trees & the Sand Dunes. The stretch of the drive where you leave deserted, low hills behind and see the snow clad mountains ahead is best experienced in reality.

It was a long drive through Mammoth lakes town, Silver Lake, June Lake all the way to Mono Lake. Silver Lake’s partially frozen water against white mountains was just enough for our cameras to fall in love. Some serene 15 minutes were spent with the sound of the camera clicks.

The highly alkaline Mono Lake and its history kept us busy for a while as we walked along the lake shore. It was almost sunset. We had to head out, otherwise we would have loved to spend more time admiring the still water body. The next few hours in the darkness of the night, we searched all the way up to Lake Tahoe!

View from Tahoe

We were at 6000 feet above sea level.

A relaxing night stay was followed by a pretty, cold morning. The cable car tour up the snowy mountains felt like a landscape documentary slowly revealing its mind blowing frames. We spent sometime absorbing what we were looking at, grabbed a snack and went down on the cable car. Met a stranger who had come to Tahoe to ski with her children from Minnesota. Chatting with her and for some other unknown reasons, inspired both of us to learn Skiing. We decided to come skiing down the snow next time!

The route traversed

The route traversed

Yes, the drive back to Sunnyvale was yet another incredible thing. But how much can we express what rests in our eyes? How much can we make someone else feel the way we did, dipping down to deserts and gaining heights? If we could tell all, everybody will travel through books. And books don’t let you experience highs & lows while you traverse horizontal distances, the way we did.

Elevation profile

We were back to where we had started, 128 feet above sea level.


Thanks to Sid for most of the pictures here.

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