Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Death Valley = Vanagon Death

Sorry for not posting last night, but yesterday 6/16 might have been one of the worst days of my life!

It started out great.  We woke up in Zion and got ready to leave and head to Death Valley.  Our plan was to drive all the way to Death Valley to camp over night and to leave early the next morning to go to Sequoia National Park.  This did not happen.

The drive from Zion to Death Valley was only about 4 hours and we were enjoying our drive SO much.  We had a stellar playlist going, I didn't fall asleep, and we just had a happy disposition.  Who would have thought that the day from hell was in front of us.

We entered the park and found our way to the visitor's center.  We walked in and we should have knew something was not right when they did not have the white oval National Parks stickers we had been collecting at each park.  We were bummed and bought a stupid, weird, not matching sticker for the park.  Mistake #1.

We then looked at the map and saw that there was not too much that we really wanted to do.  This was disappointing, but what do you expect being in a place that is 110 degrees.  Lame...  We saw that there was a point in the park that was the lowest elevation in all of North America.  Kind of cool.  We decided to drive down there, snap a few photos and get the heck out of there.  Mistake #2  It was only 15 miles and not a hard drive.  As we reached the parking lot, Brad noticed white smoke coming from the van.  GREAT!!!!!   We are in the spot that holds the record for the hottest place in the WORLD and our car is producing white smoke.  Needless to say, we freaked.  Brad assumed that the van was just over heating and that we just needed to give it a break.  He checked everything out and he noticed a small oil leak.  Even better.  We were there for about 20 minutes checking the car, not smiling and taking pictures like the rest of the freakin tourists.  We then got back in the van, said a little prayer and headed back up to a gas station.  We made it up the hill, but left one of our friends lying at the lowest elevation in the world.  We like to call him Brad's Iphone.  He dropped it while working on the car and did not realize it.  Mistake #3

We pulled into the gas station and Brad was so appalled at the fact that gas was $6.58 a gallon that he reached for his Iphone to snap a picture.  No phone.  We ripped that van apart and did not find it.  There was no way that we could have drove back down there in the heat of the day after already doing it once and failing at it.  We returned to the visitor's center.  Brad went in and filled out a lost and found slip while I sat in the car.  We were both feeling pretty miserable.  Brad ran into a couple that was heading down to the lowest point to do fun tourist things and Brad asked them to look for his cellphone.  They said they would and so we waited in the visitor's center.  And waited.  And waited.  We waited in the visitor's center for 2 hours.  We were both so on edge that we did not speak.  The only good thing about this was that there was air conditioning.  While people watching, I became even more mad watching  the grumpy old man that ran the gift shop.  He was being rude to people and was just down right miserable, maybe more than I was.  This made me feel really bad for him and put me in an even worse mood.

After watching Brad pace and fidget for 2 hours, the couple came back with Brad's phone!  Woohoo!!  Trip saved!!! NOT

Brad thanked them profusely and then we headed to the van.  We looked on the map to find the campsite that we planned to stay at.  At this point we just wanted to pop the top, have a beer, and sleep.

We started driving.  We had no service on our phones, but we had our map.  We followed the roads we needed to.  We then were driving and driving and did not see the camp ground.  So, we kept driving and realized that we had gone WAY past it.  There was no signage NOTHING!  We did not even see anyone camping.  This was frustrating.  So we looked at the map and found another camp ground that we could make it to.  We continued to drive, but this time up mountain passes.  This was terrible.  The car was not running great, we had some white smoke still and we were just chugging up mountains.  Before we knew it, we were several miles past the campsite.  We could not believe this!  Again, no signs and no one around.  We stopped the car.

We decided that we just needed to get the heck out of that park.  It was cursed.  Nothing but trouble.  We looked at the map, which at this point meant nothing to us, and saw that there was a town right outside of the park that said it had gas and lodging.  We had just enough gas to get us out, so we did- fast.  Worrying about the gas, the smoke, and now freakin SAND STORMS.  It was almost impossible to see anything.  We honestly could not believe it.  We could only see about 15 feet in front of us and the sun was totally blocked from view.  The very high winds mixed with sand were ridiculous and so hard to drive in.  We kept going.

We still had no cell service and the sun was starting to set.  We drove along a deserted desert highway like the ones you see in movies.  We did not see any cars for miles and miles.  We stopped for a minute and put our back up supply of gas in the car.  Not long after that, we passed a ghost town that was a little unsettling.  We kept going thinking that we just had to make it to Trona.  The magical city of Trona that would be the place where our luck would turn around.  We could see the city coming up and we were optimistic- Mistake #4

Trona was an extremely small and rundown town.  We pulled off at a gas station to purchase oil and gas.  We decided after looking at the town, that we would drive 25 more miles to get to the city of Ridgecrest.  We finally had cell service and could see that Ridgecrest was WAY WAY nicer than Trona.  We started the van and then...  As Brad pushed on the gas, the van bucked and hesitated to accelerate.  Tons of white smoke now came out and we could not get any father that about a block.  At this point, we admitted defeat.  We called AAA.

We called for a tow truck and were told that it would be 2 hours before someone got there to tow us.  Sure enough, it took them 2 hours to get to us.  We were stuck in a dark, rundown town for two hours.  This was the point that we realized that we had not eaten lunch or dinner.  At this point, we were to mad/worried/exhausted to eat.  We waited and waited and the tow finally came.  We watched our home get lifted onto the flatbed.  We had the tow driver take us and the van to Ridgecrest.  We knew there was several repair shops and several hotels.  Luckily, the tow driver was very nice and sociable.  We dropped the van off at the shop and then got ourselves dropped off at an EconoLodge.  It was midnight by this point.

We walked into our room and looked at each other both feeling so defeated.  We had a granola bar and went to sleep.

We woke up this morning (6/17) and Brad called the shop that we thought would work on our car.  They were booked five days out.  Brad then had to walk to six different shops just to be told that they would not work on the van because it was a German car.  He finally found a shop and the man said he had time to look at it.  Then we waited.

We finally got news on the van around 3:30 that he had figured it out and thought it was good to go.  He said it was the transmission fluid.  Luckily, it did not cost us much, but we still wish it could have been avoided.  We decided that it probably was not a good idea to go to Death Valley and we plan on staying far away from it no matter what vehicle we are in.

We are leaving Ridgecrest and heading straight to our aunt and uncle's house in Santa Maria.  Unfortunately, we had to skip our two day trip to Sequoia National Park.  We plan on visiting the park sometime in the near future though.

We will keep everyone update on our travels tomorrow to Santa Maria.

<3 Chelsea




  1. That was some day! At least you are both safe and sound and on the way to some family time and Brad doesn't need to replace his phone. <3

  2. Glad everything got fixed ok. Nothing like making memories!

  3. And at least you did have cell service to call AAA. Ask Brad about the Windstar breakdown in the middle of Kansas, it was an adventure. Glad the repairs weren't more extensive and you are back on the road.

    1. We were scared about the van dieing with no cell phone. But luckily we got cell phone service only 10 miles before it died!