I've been anticipating some of these for years. Some are blue lines connecting breakfast with lunch, ways of moving the trip forward, and I go into them with no expectations.
Today's drive to Lone Pine was supposed to be nothing more than an hour's drive to get brunch. It turned out to be one of the most exhilarating drives I've ever done.
Like Death Valley, the floor of Panamint is desert, with the road cutting straight across, to the 'town' of Panamint Springs. Think caravan park and petrol stations. It was the only civilisation I would see before arriving at Lone Pine. From there, it was back up into the hills - but this time much tighter curves. Sheer drops one side, cliff faces the other, until I reached the plateau at the top, at 4,250 feet.
From here, I parked the car and took a walk out to Father Crowley Point - a chance to look back into the Panamint Valley and see where I'd come from. It was only 10am, and I'm higher than Ben Nevis, so the temperature was actually quite bearable. The mile walk to the outlook was definitely worth the effort.
Up here I could see the entire valley, with the road only a scratch in the desert below. It was completely silent, the only distraction being an eagle swooping close above me, intrigued by this lone human.
From here it was a short trip to Lone Pine, at the base of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the USA.
Lone Pine is famous as being the location of almost every single Hollywood Western. It's a short drive from Los Angeles - shorter than Texas or Wyoming - but has everything a filmmaker could need. Deserts, canyons, snow capped mountains.
Almost every B move western from the 1920s onwards was filmed here, plus any other TV show or movie that needed a rugged outdoors - the opening titles to The Lone Ranger, the town terrorised by man eating worms in Tremors (one of my favourite films), the canyon scenes from the original Star Wars ... thousands and thousands of films. And I learned all this at the wonderful Museum of Western Film in Lone Pine!
After Lone Pine, it was a less dramatic drive to Bishop, where I would spend the night. I'm on the US-395, driving through the heart of the 'other California' as it's known here. It's the thin strip on the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, a long long way from the sprawl of Los Angeles. On my left are snow capped mountains, on my right, the older hills that lead back to Death Valley.
I spotted a little micro-brewery on my walks, so went back there later and had a flight of beers (6 quarter-pints, one of each beer they make). All were delicious - and quite strong in the American craft beer style. They washed down a squash and goats cheese pizza (see, I don't only eat burgers here). The night ended with a trip to the local independent cinema, then back to the Motel for more planning.