Friday, March 18, 2016

Death Valley Trip, Getting There: Wave Clouds beyond the Sierra

Our trip began like this, although I didn't get any photos the first day, as we drove south, then east, then south again under fabulous wave clouds. It began with a bit of a rumble: The Jeep went into a noisy, rattling shimmy upon reaching 45 mph, and we had to pull into a tire shop. We got the tires balanced, ate lunch at a local diner—a lunch that included two large, old fashioned chocolate milk shakes—and went on.

We drove south with the high wind aloft evidenced by continuous and co-mingling stacks of wave clouds coming off the long linear range to the west. The waves were stacked almost indefinitely out over the Honey Lake basin and beyond, where they were coalescing into a high, thick stratus layer.
Approaching the first Red Rock turnoff, with Peavine not yet in view, the lenticulars came into their own, at first disintegrating from a near mass into many wispy and shredded lenses, and then turning into three or more parallel roads in the sky: the primary wave off the Sierra Nevada and the Carson Range, the secondary wave perfectly parallel to the first and a little ways off to the east, and the tertiary and quaternary waves ... well, they were there, but they were beginning to merge together, or to merge with the primary and secondary waves off the Virginia Range—close in they would appear as individual sets of stacked waves, farther out they would pile up against each other in a kind of jumbled mass, and even farther still they would metamorphose into a fluffy, wavy blanket.
The way it looked, sans color, when we began our trip down to Death Valley, looking south near Reno or Carson, 27Feb2016.
A couple times, as we drove south and then east, I reached a state of mind that I first noticed a long time ago when flying in some airplane: In this case, sitting in a Jeep while effortlessly driving, I seemed to be standing still while the mountains, clouds, roadcuts, and other drivers moved—instead—around me, as though I was in the middle of some 3-dimensional movie with the props being rapidly changed for my benefit. When I feel this way in an airliner, it seems as though I'm not going anywhere; instead, I'm just in some giant, crowded box, and people outside, who I can't see, are somehow shaking the box to simulate vibrations and turbulence, while they also somehow roll a scenery tape by my window. Before I got on the plane, the props (buildings, streets, people, everything) made the place look like Reno; by the time I got off, all the props had been changed to make it look like Alaska (they changed the buildings, streets, and people, and added steeper mountains and maybe some snow).

At Dayton, we drove under the secondary wave off the Carson Range, which was now a vivid, grayed yellow, almost the color I associate with incipient funnel clouds.

The cloud overhead was colored something like this.

A few tiny sprinkles hit the windshield of the Jeep, barely dusting it. The stacked lenticulars to the southeast, out over the Pine Nuts and beyond the river route to Ft. Churchill and Weeks, turned bright golden yellow, then faded to soft peach mixed with salmon, then faded even more to a soft pink. The distant hills past Talapoosa turned bright pink, lit by the last bit of alpenglow.
The river route from Dayton to Weeks (Weeks is the spot where the Carson meets Alt-95). The map is courtesy USGS. We didn't take the route, though it can be a nice drive. It can also be long and washboardy and is best driven during the day (unless you know the road).
Dark colors took over the skies as we turned SE onto the Ramsey-Weeks cutoff, and darkness set in. We drove into headlights, coming finally to a town we hadn't intended to stay in (we thought we would reach Tonopah the first night, but our delay at the tire shop changed our expectations). We had an average Mexican dinner, accompanied by exceptionally hot salsa and lackluster margaritas. We found a nice, cheap room and settled in for the night.
You can see the first part of our trip on this map, although the default view will change with more recent posts, so you might have to page around to find the first, northern leg. The two photos were taken at Honey Lake rest stop on 3Mar2016.

Related Posts (in order of posting):
Death Valley, "Super" Blooms, Turtlebacks, and Detachments
Death Valley Trip, Part 2: More of the Badwater Turtleback Fault
Death Valley Trip, Part 3: Northward, and over Daylight Pass

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