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We set out for Death Valley Monday morning; being in the middle of the desert there was remarkably little to eat at 6am, but we managed to find a place that served 2-lb burritos; for some reason we took these to go and had scalding nacho cheese and refried beans dripping on our laps for the next 20 miles. The next hour was fairly uneventful; we went through some state park that was comprised of an impressive canyon with lots of big red rocks. It was in the small, borax-mining town of Trona that disaster struck.

It was a few months back when I was, as usual, carelessly careening down the hill where my lab is situated, that a family of pigs (a mother and two babies) abruptly decided to run across the road and my car effortlessly slaughtered one or more of them; since the massacre occurred, I've been labeled with such titles as "The Butcher" and "He Who Hunts with his Car," so I must point out that it was not I who was driving during yesterday's incident. At the time, I was working on my laptop and paying as little attention as possible to the outside world, so I don't know the exact details, but according to my dad's potentially biased testimony, the doverman sprinted from out of the desert, hit the fender, rolled up into the passenger side of the windshield and over the top of the car. This dislodged the turn signal and headlight, and put a noticeable ding in the windshield; in itself, this would be an annoyance, but the real damage was caused by the deployment of those bothersome, new-fangled contraptions, the airbags. My laptop's screen was cracked, warped, split open and otherwise completely destroyed; it still functions fine as an MP3 jukebox (unless you have a problem with a fixed playlist and the occasional cloud of noxious smoke) but other than that is fairly inoperable.

We called the cops, who had to be dispatched from the closest patch of civilation - a desert outpost about 60 miles away. They hit us with a long series of questions about our speed, the speed of the dog and the positions of both at the time of collision; this allowed them to plot the trajectory of the dog's flight and its maximum altitude. They were a bit surprised that we wanted to go 300 miles across open desert with the car in its current state, but they directed us to hack out the airbags so as to make the steering wheel operable again. There were some lasting annoyances: first, the horn seems to go off whenever we approach another car (this is going to get us shot), second, there are apparently motors in the car that retract the seatbelts whenever the airbags are deployed; now, every buckling-up is a painful struggle; we couldn't eat anything until we got to Vegas for fear that we'd no longer fit.

Think this looks bad? You should see the other guy.

So we took off for Death Valley, the rest of the trip was less scenic for me since it was no longer possible to see much of anything through the right side of the windshield. Our first stop in the park was a trailhead known as Mosaic Canyon up a 2.5 mile dirt road; this had massive granite walls, extinct waterfalls and treacherous hikes along the crest. The official end of the trail was 1.5 miles in at a big pile of rocks, but it was possible to scramble over a number of these hindrances until we reached a 20ft waterfall that we decided would be the end of our journey (we attempted to take a steep gravel path up to the crest trail where we could go over the wall, but we turned around as the certainty of death in pursuing this route became readily apparent.

The next stop on the trip through the desert was an area covered in huge sand dunes. We trudged to the top of a 150-foot dune for good views of the surrounding badlands. My dad came up with the brilliant idea of pulling a cardboard box out of a dumpster and using it to surf down the dunes; this didn't workhttp://www.cise.ufl.edu/~jdepree. at all.

We went down another mile-long gravel road to a section covered in tiny, razor-sharp crystals. There was a sign that said "Take care when walking in crystal fields." I've seen lots of unnecessary "Keep Out" signs, but this seems like the ideal place for an unequivocal "Don't go in here" statement.

We headed up a particularly bad gravel road to a hike called Natural Bridge; this wasn't particularly exciting, but had a crumbling, bridge-like rock formation overhead. At this point we were about a mile's drive from the lowest point in the country but we were so sick of the crappy roads that we turned around and headed for the exit.

Why does this guy keep getting in my pictures?

On the road out was an overlook known as Zabreski's Point (or something similar which shared a name with some 70s movie)http://www.cise.ufl.edu/~jdepree. lots of cool views here.

When we got into town, we went for the Motel 6 next to sthe strip (likely the only one with a sign made up of thousands of variable lights); there was an Amateur Broadcasters' Convention in town so we waited in line for half an hour, but in the end, we got a room, dumped our beaten and broken car, and headed for the strip. Since we hadn't had anything to eat since our seatbelts went on the fritz, we hit up one fo the countless ridiculous buffets (RoundTable at the Excalibur)http://www.cise.ufl.edu/~jdepree. even I had to concede defeat before I had sampled all of the available items. Then we wandered up and down the strip til 1 in the morning (distances are quite deceiving since every building is roughly the size of a shopping mall and each block is 2 miles long); I figured that everyone knows what Vegas looks like so I didn't bother taking any pictures (if you don't know, it's basically a whole lot of lights and naked people). The next morning, my dad's alarm woke us up at 5am sharp so we could sit around the motel room for the next 6 hours waiting on the insurance people to call. We eventually got permission to get our windshield fixed (we've decided to use the ducktape approach for our broken headlight and missing turn signal) and went out to Red Rock Canyon.

This canyon was one of the more incredible things I've seen (but I forgot my camera so you're out of luck as far as pictures go). We followed the 13-mile scenic drive around to the different hiking spots; the giant red walls were dotted with the tiny forms of rock climbers. We walked up a trail to a spring that offered a chance for seeing bighorn sheep; we didn't see any of those but there were a couple of goldfish swimming around in one of the pools the spring fed. At the end of the drive, we encountered a number of wild burros; fortunately none of them chose to leap out in front of our car.

After eating some Indian food and seeing an improv comedy act Tuesday night, we left at the crack of dawn Wednesday for the Grand Canyon.