The Death Valley Trip


There were five of us on this trip...me, my old buddy Jo Nell, her excellent hubs Tom, my sister Diana, and her equally excellent hubs Dennis. I drove in on Wednesday. Diana and Dennis were already at the motel when I got there, in the room on one end; I took the room in the center, and when Jo Nell and Tom got there about 9:30 pm, they got the third room, on the other end. The rooms were nice, comfy beds and very quiet... the fact that there were no televisions or telephones in the room might have had something to do with that, it was lovely! Less lovely was the sign over the bathroom sinks (I am not making this up) informing us that the water in the bathrooms was not potable and we were not to drink it. Good thing we all brought a lot of bottled water...!
Wednesday, November 3
I got there about 5 pm. Here's the sunset on the hills above the valley itself. Gorgeous colored and striped rock, you betcha! And the clouds were SO PRETTY...  
Thursday, November 4
The next morning, I woke up early. I got some ice, made some tea, and opened the door of my motel room to let the others know I was up and the water was hot...and this guy and his buddies were waiting, and proceeded to tell us VERY LOUDLY that it was time for their breakfast. Needless to say, we are not the sort to feed wild animals, even beautiful and loud ones, but it was kinda cute. Tom referred to it as the "alarm clock" since it went off whenever the first of us opened a room door each morning... We drove down towards Furnace Creek to pay our entrance fees and find out what was closed from the previous week's storms (several roads were closed, including the ones to Zabriskie Point and Titus Canyon, darn!) and stopped at the Borax Museum. Ah, the first of many camera-themed pics. Three of us had brought our beloved digital cameras, so there was much...um...camaraderie. (ba dum bum!) Sorry, couldn't resist that one. Golly gee whiz, don't Jo Nell and Tom LOOK like newlyweds? Shucks.
Anyway. This is a place where Chinese workers were brought in to mine borax (scraping it off the ground, basically) and process it before shipping it out by wagon to the rest of the world. This beautiful plain with the mountains is where the workers lived...really pretty, and only about 80 degrees in the daytime...in NOVEMBER...! Behind Diana and Nellie is the place where the borax was refined and purified, of course involving boiling and heat, let's make it as awful as possible! Diana waves her water bottle at me to say HI!
After checking in with the rangers at the Furnace Creek Ranger Station, and finding out that the Telescope Peak road was pretty well snowed in, we set off for Badwater, about forty minutes down the road. Here we all are at the lowest point in the continental US. And yes, here is the 'bad water', which was a REALLY bad thing for pioneer parties who found themselves here in the hot months, since this stuff is of course FULL of salt and totally undrinkable. On the other hand, pickleweed (the green stuff) and brine shrimp find it quite congenial. There's a lot of water here today, remember the storms last week (and I'll remind you of them again later, don't worry...) This is the view from the end of the boardwalk westward across the salt flats to the mountain range about 2 miles away. Those are the mountains that Tom and I are discussing climbing on Saturday morning...the trailhead is 8000 feet up, and the tallest of those snowy peaks, Telescope, goes to just over 11,000 feet. It's a beautiful hike, but I know from previous experience that most of the trail is on this side of the mountains...the side where you can see all the snow... And this is the new boardwalk/walkway they've built there. Used to be a dirt parking lot and you just walked down the edge of the slope to Badwater...but of course, that many people must have been wearing the slope down, even in Death Valley. Not a bad looking piece of work, this boardwalk. Nice benches too, we had lunch there.
All the white stuff in the next few pics is salt, it just looks like powdery snow. And it isn't powdery, it's a nice hard surface. Dennis, Tom, Jo Nell and I are playing in the salt and walking out across the flats. Diana is back with the truck. "Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the white salt road..." Looking north at the hills around the basin.
And no one ever saw them again... Yes, I came along on this trip too, who do you think took these pictures? OK, about two dozen of them are from the ones Tom sent me (Thanks, Tom!)...but the rest are the ones I took. Driving by some of the beautiful colored rocks here, I just love this stuff. The next thing we did was a hike up a canyon to see an arch called (imaginatively) Natural Arch. Diana went part way up, then found some nice shade (it was hot in that canyon, no breeze, perfect weather for me!)
If you look close you can see three teeny-tiny people there, this shows how big this canyon was. And Tom discovers the arch! "Look what I found, honey!" Tom and Jo Nell pose for pictures... It was pretty darn cool. Mostly mud and rock aggregate, not a solid rock arch (like at Arches).
Dennis was behind because he stopped to take lots of pics. You can see the canyon we walked up, very nice. And it's time for a rest. Dennis photographing the arch ("Make sure you get my good side!"), shows how big it is, wow! This is a cool waterfall beyond the arch. No water right now, of course, but you can see how hard it flows when it wants to.
I lightened this up considerably so you could see how they made me get in the waterfall. Are these people really my friends? :-) Yes, I'm tiny, it was a long way away, distances are very confusing here. And we are leaving the Natural Arch canyon, looking out over Badwater Basin as Tom picks his way delicately among the rocks. You can see Tom's Trooper in the parking lot. All five of us fit in it nicely (four in the seats, one in the back) and it had four wheel drive. Perfect for the weekend! Whoa! Photo stop!
And here's what we all took pictures of, wow. Beautiful lines and colors. Everything in Death Valley is called "the Devil's" this and that (Doug's favorite nonexistent place is The Devil's Vestibule) and this is...the Devil's Golf Course. Salt leaches up around all these wacky rocks and forms beautiful crystalline forms. These round bumps are hard as rocks-you can walk on them, and only the tiny points on the very outsides will break. Tom is photographing Jo Nell's attempt at escape...unfortunately, we had the snacks and gossip magazines, so she had to come back...
This are four pics that I took just sticking the camera out the side of the car as we drove along...hard to take a bad picture in DV, and I do love these melting-ice-cream looking mountains.
Here's Dennis, demonstrating why the person in the back of the Trooper became known as "The Troll"... This is Golden Canyon, a beautiful hike that usually leads up to Zabriskie Point (which was closed that weekend)...although the hike DOWN from Zabriskie is much easier! This whole canyon used to be a paved road, but they decided to stop maintaining it, both because it cost a lot to keep open, and so that people would walk and not bring their cars. You can see what's left of the asphalt...all of that was still complete the last time I came through here, three years ago. This is the view looking out of Golden Canyon to the west. We dropped Diana and Dennis off at Furnace Creek to pick up their car, and Jo Nell, Tom and I continued beyond our hotel about 1/2 mile, then up a washboard road to the mountain, to see Mosaic Canyon. For the first mile of hiking in this canyon, you are walking through bands of solid, polished marble...here is some of it.
A lot of the trail was like this, pretty cool. A beautiful combination of marble and different kinds of aggregate in softer rock. There are lots of curves like this that have been eroded by runoff...would love to see a flood in this canyon, from a safe distance, of course! Jo Nell, who NEVER takes her purse off. Couldn't believe it! She's looking at one of the parts of the canyon that you have to scramble up and then, coming down, slide on your butt. Fun!
Jo Nell and Tom on the trail. I've climbed up a ledge at the curve to take this pic. More beautiful marble. The sun was going down, so most of the canyon was in shadow.
     
Leaving Mosaic Canyon. Just past the edge of the parking lot, there is a line of tiny white buildings...that's the Stovepipe Wells Motel, where we were staying.      
Friday, November 5
Filling up with gas at the motel, we looked out the window...and saw the local panhandler, scoping for handouts. Tried to get to the sand dunes, but evidently they are now only open to hikers. On the way, we stopped to see the original Stovepipe Well. I just love historical plaques, don't you? Tom and the pump are both from Indiana.
Photo stop on the way to Ubehebe Crater. And the crater itself. It's a mile across and half a mile deep, and when you climb down in it you really realize how big it is. It's a volcanic crater, rather than a meteor crater. Pretty hills on the way south from Ubehebe Crater to the Devil's Racetrack. Tom rescues local wildlife from the road.
Hey, Mom, can I keep him? he followed me home... Teakettle Junction marks the place where two tiny roads cross...and of course people bring teakettles to hang on the sign, although a lot of them are also very old. No idea how it originally got its name.

Here's a web page with many pics of the junction, with different kettles.

Jo Nell's turn as troll. We spent the trip down and back reading gossip magazines, it was an hour and a half each way... Bye, Dennis! Good luck getting back to the motel! <evil laughter>
Here you can see Racetrack Playa and the Grandstand (the black rocks sticking out of it) in the distance. Hard to see because it was noon, no contrast, but this is a cool drainage pattern at the edge of the playa. This is looking northward from the south end of the playa, back the way we came. Here I am with one of the mysterious rocks. We walked about a 1/2 mile across the playa to see these.
The Mysterious Rocks:
Well, the rocks on Racetrack Playa move. Really. They do. That's why it's called the Devil's Racetrack (other than that everything in DV is called the Devil's this and the Devil's that)...the rocks are obviously moving, you can see the trails they leave in the silty hard mud of the lake bed...but nobody knows why or how they move. The latest theory (and it's just a theory) is that even in DV, there is a tiny amount of dew or condensation most mornings, and that that makes the surface slick and the wind blows the rocks a tiny bit each time. But they curve, change direction, and do all kinds of things that that theory doesn't seem to be able to account for. Also, once an impression is made on the mud of the playa, it stays pretty much forever, since that part is never under water...so there is no telling what the time frame is here for these trails, but it's obvously years, probably many years. The rocks are anywhere from as big as my two fists together, to a little bigger than my head.

So here's a bunch of cool pics of the moving rock and us looking at them. Many of these pictures were taken by Tom.

   
After that, we went north to Scotty's Castle (and were very grateful for the amenities at the ranger's station on the way, you betcha! one of the problems with Death Valley...anything you do takes you far away from plumbing...) and then went to Scotty's Castle for a while. Tom and Jo Nell took the tour, but since I have a million pics of it I didn't take any this time. Then we went off to Beatty NV for dinner at the Exchange Club, and what a yummy place it was! good steaks cheap, good beer, gambling, made my heart glad.
Saturday, November 6
Ah yes. Saturday morning. Tom and I had agreed to take a stab at hiking the Telescope Peak trail. Every time we asked about it, and specifically about the road leading up to the trailhead, the person we were talking to would look at us like we were stoo-pid and say very slowly and clearly, You know it's snowed in, don't you?

I had tried to hike Telescope once before in November, and although there was snow, and it was pretty dang cold (especially when we got on the wrong trail on the wrong side of the mountain) it was still very hikeable. Except that I couldn't quite make it...the trail is 7 miles, from just over 8000 feet to just over 11000 feet, and is pretty darn strenuous, especially at that altitude. Just to get to the trailhead, we were getting up at 5:30 am, on the road by 6, and planned to get to the trailhead at 7:30 (after driving through exotic-sounding places like Emigrant Pass, Nemo Canyon and Wildrose Canyon). The road is good to the charcoal kilns at Wildrose, then the 1 3/4 miles to Mahogany Flats is very bad and steep...the last time, I'd done it in a light Toyota truck with careful driving, but we really needed the high clearance, the road was awful.

So I asked for a wakeup call at 5:30 am (which, in a place without phones, consisted of a nice man banging on my door and yelling, Wake up! Wake up!) and we got on the road. I keep swearing that I will NEVER do either dawn or snow again...and there I was, willingly doing BOTH.

Dawn. And snow. We were driving up into both. And it was friggin' COLD just stopping to take these pictures... And more beautiful dawn. So we get to the charcoal kilns, and start up the road to the trailhead at Mahogany Flat. And you know what? All those people were, of course, right. It was SNOWED IN. This is the patch of snow, about 3/4 of a mile up the road, that stopped my good truck, the Queen of Spades. The curve has a section of ice that is slippery and wet...and try as we would, backing up, getting a good start and driving like hell, we couldn't get past it. I tried four times, rolling back off the snow each time to the dirt road lower down, then Tom tried a couple of times...here he is, revving the engine like mad...
And there he goes!!! And he's stuck again. Of course, even if we had gotten past this section, we would have stuck in the next one forty feet on, so just as well. We backed the car up to the campground before the previous curve, Thorndike campground, and left it parked there by the bathrooms with a note on the dash for the rangers, in case they found it and were wondering what it was doing there. We'll just walk to the trailhead, we said. No problem. Here is Tom, laboring up the hill. Notice who is carrying our pack, full of enough food and water for a full day of hiking? hm, must be the person taking the picture...! Actually, Tom realized pretty quickly that I was carrying a lot of weight (IN THE PACK, FOLKS) and took it, the nice man. But it was steep, and the altitude was killer...and we finally decided that we would be DELIGHTED if we could just make it to the trailhead. Tom dubbed it Whoop-ass Mountain...it certainly was that day. Here's the proof, we made it to the trailhead...
...although not all of us were ambulatory. I fell several times on the ice, ouch! This is looking back where we came from...the line of white just to the left of the dark green trees is the line of the charcoal kilns, so you can see how steep that road was. Wow! Here's Tom, checking out the kilns. They were built by Swiss engineers, run by (big surprise) Chinese laborers, at the end of the 19th century...ran for 3 years, deforested the hills, then were abandoned when the smelting plant they supplied closed. After some lunch (at 9:30 am! but we were hungry.) we drove out to Aguereberry point, in the same mountain range as Telescope Peak...it's an overlook above Furnace Creek, and the views are supposed to be tremendous...althought the only other time I had been there was with Bill and Signe, and there was so much water in Badwater that all we could see was a 6500 foot wall of mist from the sun hitting the basin...this is the road out to the point.
And here's the sign, although the road continues up a steep section to a beautiful overlook. I'm out at the farthest part of the overlook, and Tom is coming up behind me. And here he is! Say Hi to all the nice people, Thomas! The view is, of course, stunning. That's 6500 feet down, kids, and every inch of it is beautiful. Can't imagine how pretty it must be on a clear sunny day.
Serious photo op, of course. Notice we're still in our heavy snow wear, it's still darn cold in the wind there. Uh oh, they let the redhead in...I'm just relieved to be somewhere the ground stays still under me. More beautiful valley... This is looking north, towards Badwater, where we had been on Thursday.
A quiet, contempletive moment. Hi, Tom! More beautiful rocks and clouds and stuff. One more shot of the valley with the neat cloud shadows moving on it...and we're on our way.
The Queen is covered with alkali dust and dirt and mud, she looks like a really tough truck. We lazed around the rest of that day, and then about 3 pm took off for Rhyolite, Nevada, a ghost town just outside Death Valley with many cool things to recommend it. Here is a shot of part of the town that still has buildings that you can go into...in its day (1910 or so) Rhyolite had over ten thousand people in it...now it's just a cool ghost town... More dueling cameras. If you look closely, you can see my reflection in Dennis' glasses. One of the old mines in the hills across the road from the town.
There is an open air museum with sculptures outside it there too. Here are some of the works on display. Been there for years, but they're obviously being taken care of, all were clean and undamaged.
A shot of the area with several of the artworks, the main building and the hills framing it all. The town is up the road, which is where I went next...my sister was at the Bottle House. ...and so were the KITTENS!!! Five grey and marmalade loveys, all orphaned by a coyote before their eyes had opened. The summer caretaker found them, literally brought them back to life, and raised them right. They were friendly purry playful kitties, and we had a wonderful time letting them know how much we liked them. Diana found a good friend... ...as did Dennis. Just what the happy couple needs, kitties!
Getting to be dinnertime... ...and time for pounce and play. Wonderful cats, happy they have a good job entertaining tourists. Visit them the next time you're in Rhyolite, you'll be glad you did. Anyway. Back to Rhyolite. Here are some of the old buildings, the closest on the left is the bank. And here's the train station...where we were sitting when it was decided that we all wanted to go back to the Exchange Club in Beatty for dinner instead of eating out of our ice chests yet again.
On the way to Beatty. I was troll on that trip, so this was taken out the back window of the Trooper...Diana said this is a gold mine, that they're strip mining from the front of the mountain to the back. Whatever works... Sunset in Beatty. A closeup of the cool yet sad looking neon lights for the parking lot outside the Exchange Club...kinda sums up Beatty. Yes, we've had so much to drink that we're blurry. The waitress took our pic, but my shutter speed was set way slow. Ah well, we had good drinks, good food, and the poker machines loved me. What could be better?
Sunday, November 7
 
My alarm clock bids me farewell... The mountains are beautiful, but the rain clouds are less appealing...sure enough, it rained most of the 8 hour drive home. And the three ravens outside my room wait for me to give them a handout...  
So. There you have it, our trip to Death Valley. It was a lot of fun, even with road closures and changes of plans...we were a congenial group, had an excellent time together and all got time apart as well. Tom was a total driving GOD, especially the long day to the Racetrack and back, and the Trooper was the perfect vehicle for the five of us. But...I still want to go when it's HOT HOT HOT. Anyone else interested? what are you doing next summer...?

This is Jo, intrepid hiker, signing off.