Bevis's Travels

Locked out in the Desert

  Locked out in the desert - saved by the Germans.

 It was April 1999, my second trip to California to visit my cousin in Los Angeles, and second trip to Death Valley. I had flown to Reno in Nevada, and driven down highway 395 on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. At Lone Pine I stopped and bought some bottled water, which you are always advised to do before going into the desert, and turned off onto highway 190 towards Death Valley. For some distance the road runs through mountains, but then drops down and levels out, into long straights stretching far into the distance, with the mountains set back several miles on either side. There was very little traffic on the road.

 A few miles after passing Panamint Springs, which just consists of a small gas station, motel and restaurant, I wanted to make a video showing the desolation of that part of the desert, and waited until I came to a suitable spot. The road was dead straight and flat as far as the eye could see in both directions. I got out of the car with the camcorder, and panned around, satisfied that I had captured the stark isolation of the desert, and went to get back into the car. Shock, horror, the door was locked and I could see the key still in the ignition.

 The sun was blazing out of a clear sky, and the temperature was about 85ºF (in the heart of Death Valley it was 110º). I was just wearing a T-shirt and shorts, with no hat or other protection of any sort. I picked up a rock and tried to break one of the little side windows behind the rear doors, but it absolutely refused to break. Possibly I could have broken the windscreen, but I did not want to do that at that stage, because it was a rental car and a replacement would be expensive, apart from which I would have to drive a long way without it.

 After a while a car came along and stopped. It was travelling towards Death Valley, and as I was within the National Park I asked the driver to tell the rangers where I was. On my previous visit I had encountered rangers patrolling the roads from time to time, but so far this time I hadn't seen any.

 After about ½ hour a people carrier came along and stopped. It turned out to be occupied by two middle-aged German couples. I explained the situation to them and they said they would go back to Panamint Springs and try to get assistance. After about 20 minutes they came back and said they had phoned through to a breakdown service in Lone Pine, and the people would be with me in about an hour. Lone Pine was 55 miles away. The Germans gave me a bottle of water and some white paper towel to put on my head, and departed. I thanked them profusely and they disappeared towards Death Valley.

 As I waited it seemed to get hotter and hotter. A couple of other cars and a motorcycle stopped and I explained that help was on the way, so they went off. After I had been there about two hours I was beginning to get desperate and on the point of breaking the windscreen when the breakdown truck arrived. It was manned by two all-American boys with baseball caps who produced a long thin strip of metal that you could buy in Wal-Mart for a few dollars, slipped it down though the door seal and in seconds the door was open.

 I asked how much I owed them, and the one in charge said he guessed it would be 100 bucks. If they hadn't been coming out to someone else as well it would have been 200. Considering the distance they had driven and the time I felt that that was actually not at all bad.

 A couple of days later, as soon as I got back to civilisation I went into Wal-Mart and got a duplicate key made for the car. Unfortunately, with the modern high tech keys it is no longer possible to do that, and nowadays you just have to guard the single key with your life.

Apologies for poor photos, which were extracted from video.