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Death Valley Odyssey


Peter Richards

death valley

Last spring, I drove out to Death Valley, via back roads from Oakland, California - I did this alone as a fitting conclusion to my car building project.

I drove south from the Bay Area along San Andreas Fault to Carrizo Plains (a national monument that hosts one of the few remnants of California open grasslands.) We had a wet winter so the wild flowers were everywhere - gorgeous! I spent the night nearby and then turned east the next morning, up the Kern River and over the Sierra Madre Mountains and into D.V. I stayed at a hotel at Stove Pipe Wells, an oasis at bottom of the valley.

death valley

The next morning it took an hour to get out of the parking lot because of the queries about my weird metal steed. Among the admirers was a young attractive French woman who was very excited to know that it had a 2CV engine - her favorite car was the Citroen SM. It was a pleasant conversation. Soon after I stopped at the lowest point on the continent at -282 ft. This was early morning - it was cool clear day - life was beautiful! As I was driving on, I was thinking, "Jeeze, I should have offered her a ride". Just as this thought formed in my mind, there was a huge clunk from underneath - I pulled over, the engine was still running, so, I turned around to see what it was and found my alternator, in a battered state, sitting on the pavement. This, of course triggered many nervous thoughts about surviving in the heat of the desert, how to get home, and if God was really listening in on my thoughts. While driving back to Stove Pipe, I decided to buy a spare battery so I could drive on home to Oakland. I learned the nearest place to get one was 60 miles east in Pahrump, Nevada.

I took the risk driving out there even though it was in the opposite direction from home. The fellow at the auto store checked my battery and deemed it nearly 100% - this was after close to 100 miles with no charging. I did buy an extra battery and then retraced my trail, back through D.V. and further, spending the night in Lone Pine. I checked the original battery the next morning and it was still above 90%. I made it home that afternoon (500 miles) with no problems.

ebbets pass

I noticed that the car had more power and better mileage after the alternator fell off. This started me wondering why have an alternator at all? The deep cycle battery is built to withstand multiple charges so why not just charge it up after each drive? All of my driving lights are LEDs so they draw little. I am putting this notion to test now - I haven't bought a new alternator - I have the a larger deep cycle battery mounted behind the seat and all seems to be working well.

By the way, the day before the alternator fell off, I remembered grazing a rock that was out in the road on a blind curve - I didn't think much of it when it happened because it seemed like a slight tick but I guess that is what caused the alternator bracket to fail. I am planning a run up to Bellingham, Washington in late April, through the high desert of eastern Oregon and Washington. I will be keeping my mind on the road. Will report how it goes

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