One of the most memorable finds was the Warm Spring Camp, a modern collection of buildings that once supported a nearby talc mine. Complete with a pool, kitchen/mess hall, and main building, this collective was established in the 1930s and eventually became property of the National Park Service. A hundred or so yards away, a massive mine opening was sealed with a metal grate, allowing us only a peek at the giant operation that once pulled powder from the earth.
In the course of working our way through the Panamint Mountains, we encountered no true challenge to the H2's ability. While in some regards this may sound like wimping out when we should be pushing the full-time 4WD Hummer to its limits, conquering all challenges and emerging from the desert safely is considered a success. Trust us, with heat hovering around 115 Fahrenheit and help being hours away even when summoned via sat phone, returning to pavement unscathed is reward enough in itself. That we made it without even a flat tire was a great ending to our off-road adventure.
Luck can be both fleeting and fickle, as a horrific single-vehicle accident on route 178 reminded us. A minivan from a large group of French tourists rolled tragically, seriously injuring at least one occupant. By the time we arrived at the scene, park rangers, fire/rescue specialists, and a medical helicopter were in action. To protect the workers, GM engineers blocked the road with an experimental full-size bus. Undergoing evaluation, the bus was fitted with an Allison electric drive parallel hybrid system, and it was trailed by several caravanning trucks from the Arizona Proving Grounds. All we could do was give the distraught French travelers the icy drinks from our cooler, then wait for the road to clear.
Although the sun was beginning to set behind the Panamint Mountains, now to our west, we maintained a somber speed in reverence to the accident victims. Long minutes later, we arrived at Badwater for mission-critical photos chronicling one of the four pillars of our nation-wide trip: the lowest point in the United States. Aptly named for the nasty standing water pooled in the dry lake bed, Badwater has the distinction of being 280 feet below sea level. This now leaves the highest driveable road and southern-most road left to be checked off our list.
Our plans to refuel in Furnace Creek were foiled by our long day and an early closing time. We had sandwiches at a restaurant and got directions to the nearest gas station. Pahrump was well within our fuel range, but it was a little nerve-wracking watching the fuel range display tick quickly down. Especially when, for a while through the mountains, we were sucking down gas at 5 miles per gallon.
With the tank topped off and our cooler replenished, Bart drove the Hummer on to Las Vegas. Becoming weary, the group listened to more Fred and chugged energy drinks to stay awake. Kiwi worked the PowerBook for the entire trip, resizing, and color-correcting images in preparation for upload.
Not quite finished when we rolled into the neon-lit town, Kiwi put the Apple computer to sleep while he got the essential establishing shot with the Vegas sign. Another prerequisite shot involved driving back and forth on the strip with a tripod mounted on the roof, trying to get a great action photo with streaking casino lights.
Bart needed to fly out the next day, so the group pulled into an airport hotel around 1:30 a.m. Kiwi worked the images for another 45 minutes, then he and Brian hit the road again. Desperate to escape the Vegas morning traffic and keep on schedule, the duo continued on to Mesquite, Nevada, a short distance from the Arizona border.