The Death Valley Trip 2010

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Ah, the Death Valley Trip. We come here every 18 months, so far without fail (at least since 2004, not a bad record. Before that, we went every two or three years.) I email everyone who has ever expressed even the faintest interest six months ahead of time, reserve some motel rooms at Stovepipe Wells, and try not to let my head blow off from excitement as the time gets closer.

This time, one couple cancelled (work for one, illness for the other) so we were going to be nine people in four rooms (people often share rooms, they're big enough and have two double beds):

  • Jo Ann and Doug from San Jose and Liz from San Francisco
  • Jo Nell and Tom from near Riverside
  • Diana (my sister) and our friend Mark, both from LA
  • My brother Bill and his excellent wife Signe from Portland OR

Bill, Signe and the three of us were staying from Wednesday November 3 through Monday morning, November 8. Diana, Jo Nell and Tom were arriving Wednesday and leaving Sunday morning. Mark has a lot of commitments, so he was planning to arrive Thursday night and leave Saturday after lunch. And that all worked, even though for a while it looked like Jo Nell and Tom wouldn't arrive til Thursday; they got in around 9:15 Wednesday night.

On Tuesday, I picked our friend Liz up from her parents' house near where I work. We came home and we met our housesitters (I had m met Al, but not his wife Ana; Doug had met neither of them.) They are friends of my sister's that have become email friends and now actual meet-face-to-face friends. They were awesome housesitters, and we loved seeing them.

And with that, we'll start the trip pictures!

Note: just to be sure that you are well prepared for any upcoming DV trip you may wish to join, I am going to make sure that

The Rules

are very clear. Pay attention to these, they're important for a safe and fun trip!

And after pizza, around 8 pm, Doug and I went to San Jose airport to get our rental. I usually reserve two cars at two different companies, hoping that one of them will be acceptable (i.e., not a Ford)

Rule #1:
Don't bring a rental car you don't trust on the Death Valley trip.

One company (who shall remain nameless, but it was the same company as the April 2009 trip) offered us a Ford Explorer. We looked at each other and went across the car rental area to Dollar. What have you got for this price with a four wheel drive? we asked. They had a Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, which seemed okay to us. And overall, it was.

<foreshadowing>Especially the emergency equipment...</foreshadowing>:

So we brought the car home, hung out for a while and went to bed, visions of deserts dancing in our heads.

Pizza the night before we leave is not a rule, it's just a good idea. Kasia, Liz and Sam partaking of same. Our excellent housesitters, Al and Ana. The Pile o' Crap, ready to be loaded into our rental car.
Now it's Wednesday morning, and we are ready to leave. Wild and crazy people that we are, we have decided to go through Tioga Pass.

GPS girl says: there are basically two ways to get to DV from San Jose: one, the way I've gone for the last six years or so, is to drive down the 5 to Bakersfield, then take the 178 east past Lake Isabella through Walker Pass, pick up the 14 to the 395 and then turn right in Olancha on the 190.

The other way is to go out through Manteca, take the 120 toward Sonora, then through Yosemite. Tioga Pass is the pass from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite NP down the eastern face of the Sierras; from there, you take the 395 to Lone Pine and turn off for Death Valley.

They are within 20 miles of the same distance, but the Yosemite drive takes longer because you're going through steep twisty windy slow roads...but it's very beautiful, and there were added reasons for doing it:

  1. Liz had never driven through Yosemite
  2. The last four times I went to Death Valley, I went the Bakersfield way; seeing something different seemed like fun
  3. Mr. Rees is now old enough to have a lifetime National Parks Pass, which means that we could drive through Yosemite without paying 20 bucks for the privelege. No kidding, even though it's a seriously important pass through the Sierras, you have to pay to go through the park.

But there was a problem: as soon as there is a serious amount of snow, Tioga Pass shuts down for the winter. It usually closes between mid-October and mid-November, and opens sometime in late April or early May. It had been a mild fall, and the pass was open.

Until the night before Hallowe'en, the Saturday night before we left...when it closed.

Ah well, I thought, that'll be it for the winter.

But no! it REOPENED two days later, and when I checked Tuesday morning, it was clear. I checked the weather: clear and sunny. So we took our chances on a sudden storm, and off we went for Tioga Pass.

Rule #2:
Always check the weather.

Wednesday
Going up Old Priest's Grade on the way to Yosemite; it's so steep that although I'm willing to drive up it, I take the longer road (which you can see across the valley) on the way down. We're on the 120 through Yosemite, nearing Olmstead Point, which I insisted we stop for... Because the views are AMAZING. Not to mention the wildlife!
Rule #3:
When driving all day, take time to stop and enjoy pretty stuff. You'll be happier.
Liz and I both liked these trees growing around/out of the rocks! We are stretching our legs a bit... and another pretty tree...
This part of Yosemite is full of great rocks. Doug and Liz go exploring. Yes, that's me. My hair is black, I dyed it for Hallowe'en. Deal with it. Another of Liz's great ROCK AND TREE shots.
And we say goodbye to Olmstead Point. Next landmark: Tenaya Lake. This is a big lake near the Tuolumne Meadows campground. Speaking of big, what a great hunk of rock!
Remember the part where Tioga Pass was closed over the weekend? this is why. California! Snow in the afternoon, desert heat in the evening. God's own country. Lembert Dome across from Tuolumne Meadows campground Prettiness on the way out... We show Doug's park pass to the ranger at the east entrance...and we're ready for Tioga Pass!
Here we are at an overlook. You can see the road hugging the mountains behind us. THAT'S why they close it in winter, from Lee Vining to Crane Flat. Another pic without all those annoying people in it. The sun and clouds were BEAUTIFUL. Yup, Doug is driving...
And if Doug is driving, and I'm in the front seat taking pictures, that means Liz must be...yup, there she is, napping in the back.
A Word About Pictures

Everyone brings their digital cameras nowadays, and I always bring my laptop, so before people leave they dump their pics onto my computer so I can use them on the trip page. I also give everyone copies of everyone else's pics, but that's getting harder as we take more pics...anyway. About half of the pics on this page are mine, the rest are other people's. If I'm in a picture chances are someone else took it!

You can see who took the picture by scrolling the mouse over it or clicking on it and looking at the picture name; it's dv, then a number between 1 and 768, then (if I didn't take it) a letter: l is liz, d is diana, b is bill, t is tom.

And now, back to our trip...or better yet, someone else's!

Diana came in from LA and took pics of all the directional signs she passed: getting on the 395. Yup, that's the Trona Cutoff, all right! then the 178 through Trona and Ridgecrest... Woo hoo! the 190, the first DV sign.
Entering DVNP... the turn for Stovepipe Wells (30 miles before Furnace Creek) There it is! Stovepipe Wells! And Diana is the first one to arrive at the motel.
And now back to us.

Yes, it really does look like this. Just wait.

Entering Death Valley! Liz catches my favorite hill, that glows orange in the setting sun. This is nice too! Death Valley its ownself
And the first of many beautiful sunsets. Hangin' out on our patio. We always ask for these rooms, because of the patio in front of them. Time for the buffet dinner! Bill and Signe pulled in fifteen minutes after we did, so everyone was ready to eat. Liz: You want me to get up? for DINNER?
Mr. Rees: Please refrain from using your camera's flash towards those of us who are astronomically inclined. Thank you. Liz uses Bill's big ol' binoculars. Jo Nell and Tom have arrived (around 9:15 pm) And Diana and Liz are having a blast.
Diana went to her room to change into her jammies soon after that... I joined her, then Liz joined us, then Signe, then Jo Nell. Then Doug came to the door of the room. We're having a girls' discussion in here, we said. Please, he said, can I join you? they're talking POLITICS out there...we let him in. What else could we do?

When the guys got tired of political discussion, we talked about what we wanted to do the next day. We decided that Liz and I (and anyone else who wanted to) would go to Mosaic Canyon, one of our favorite places and right by the motel, in the morning; then we'd come back, pack lunches and go to Scotty's Castle to eat at their picnic tables. Doug, Liz and Signe would stay at Scotty's Castle and take the tour, and Bill, Tom, Jo Nell and I would drive north to the Last Chance Mountains and check out what was to be found there.

Because I had a list of things in my head that I planned to do this trip:

  1. Take Mark and Liz (and anyone else who wanted to go) to the Racetrack
  2. Take a batch of people to Marble Canyon, a beautiful hike I took in '09 that I thought would be fun
  3. Take Liz around to some of the Must See places in DV: Badwater, Scotty's Castle, Zabriskie Point. Some of the well-known stuff.
  4. Go at least two places I'd never been before
  5. Hang with my buddies as much as possible.

We'll see how I do on this list...

Rule #4:
Be flexible.

Thursday
Rule #5:
Don't pick up a mug overfull of boiling water by the top edges.

I learned this one the hard way- we bring coffeemakers and an electric teakettle so everyone who needs it to function can have their caffeine of choice in the morning. I burned my thumb badly, and it hurt all day. By that evening, a half-inch blister had come up...and it pretty much stopped hurting. But lesson learned.

And the sun rises on the Cottonwood Mountains across from our motel. The Mug Shot. I love this picture. The ravens in DV are ginormous moochers. Doug named this one Ralph, after a raven in a book he's writing. It stuck, and they were all Ralph from then on. Another shot of Ralph.
Of course I have maps! I ALWAYS have a map of wherever we're going... Signe and Liz deep in discussion in the parking lot. Ralph and friend A National Guard helicopter practicing desert landings. There is actually an airstrip across from our hotel, but this was way too far away, he was just coming down in the desert.
Off we go to Mosaic Canyon! we go here almost every time we visit Death Valley, and I probably take the same pictures every time...but it's just so pretty. A whole canyon full of polished marble. The hike is about a half mile, with some scrambling over edges and (on the way back) sliding down on your butt. Way fun, especially in the morning or evening when the shadows make the rocks look pretty. This time, it was me, Liz, Jo Nell, Signe and Doug.
And we bid farewell to lovely Mosaic Canyon. In this picture, you can see our motel on the flat...time to go back and pack some lunch!

Speaking of which, this hike was when we all started talking about eating Lizzie if we got stranded somewhere or ran out of food.

She's the youngest and tenderest of us all, said Signe.

I can run faster than any of you, said Liz.

Oh, you won't know we're coming for you til it's too late, I said.

And from then on, whenever we went somewhere or something happened, we would say, And then we'll eat Lizzie.

Rule #6:
If you DO plan to eat your friends in an emergency, make sure you sneak up on them quietly.

Back at the motel. Liz has her lunch packed and is waiting for us go get ready. We drive to Scotty's Castle, an hour north, and SOMEONE* got a speeding ticket.

 

*me, of course.
Rule #7:
Make sure you know the speed limit on Scotty's Castle Road when there's a CHP guy around.
But lunch was lovely, on the grass at Scotty's Castle. Doug, Signe and Liz stayed to tour the castle, with a car to come back in. I took the Jeep, loaded it up with Tom, Jo Nell and Bill, and off we went for parts unknown. To us at least. First: a pic of the beautiful gate outside Scotty's Castle. Thanks, Bill!
And here was our first New Thing! Many of us have been to Death Valley A LOT. And although it's always beautiful, I do like seeing new things...it's not like we can ever run out of new stuff to do, in a place like this.

So the last time we came here, I bought two day-hike guides and went off exploring and had a WONDERFUL time. This time, I had added a book of hikes and mines in Death Valley (there are something like 3000 of them in the park boundaries, most of them dangerous and falling down) and also a National Geographic map of all the hiking trails.

Rule #8:
You can't have too many guide books.

One of the things I noticed was a road I had never gone on, that cuts off from the Ubehebe Crater road near Scotty's Castle, goes north to the Last Chance Mountains (don't you just love these names?) and cuts through the north end of these mountains. There was a crater marked on the map, some hiking trails, some old mines, a place called Hanging Rock Canyon, and then if you keep going east from there, then turn south, you come to the Eureka Dunes, which are the second highest sand dunes in the country. (Great Dunes in Colorado is the highest.)

So off we went! the road was good, it's actually rated 2 wheel drive, and it was indeed a relatively smooth road to travel.

So here we are on Big Pine road, heading toward the Last Chance Mountains. We have a couple of maps and guides, but none of us has ever been this way before. Some of the mountains we're driving by. Doggone hitchhikers! oh, it's Tom... Very pretty!
And here's our first landmark- Crankshaft Junction. So Bill...what is a crankshaft, anyway? Turns out it's the thing that turns the up-and-down piston motion of an engine into rotary motion to spin the wheels. This description led into a discussion of Mazda and Wankel engines from the Boy side of the car... Jo Nell stares in bemusement Look! Crankshaft art!
At Crankshaft Junction we turned left and headed straight up into the Last Chance range...this pic is taken about ten minutes after we turned. In the center is a dark spot between the curve of the road and the whitish point of a hill...that's Crankshaft Junction. It really was pretty. We kept stopping to take pictures of the road and the hills. But onward to the CRATER! clearly marked on our map.
We drove by this old mine with its attendant outflow pipe with brilliantly colored chemicals in a fan on the soil...and kept going. Hi, Jo Nell! We're buddies!
And here we are driving through Hanging Rock Canyon, which was extremely beautiful and afforded many photo opportunities. And then...we were on a long downslope and suddenly there was the road for Eureka Dunes.

But wait! the map showed two roads going by the Crater, and hiking trails coming from them. We didn't see either road, and hiking would be nice. And we like craters!

So we turned around. We had a mileage marker on the map, which said that the crater was 5.5 miles from Eureka Dunes Road. So we looked at the odometer and went back through Hanging Rock Canyon.

And it was just as pretty coming back, plus the boys spotted yet another old mineshaft in the hill by the road. And we got to our mile marker...and there was the same mining area that we had just driven by. No roads. No crater. And the map definitely had a dot and the word Crater.

Bill figured it out: the MINING TOWN WAS CALLED CRATER. Sure enough, I found it on the internets: Crater Camp, where they mined sulphur in the 1930s. We laughed pretty hard, but although it was interesting, and Tom found some sulphur rocks (little ones) it wasn't enticing for a hike.

Rule #9:
Maps don't always say what you think they're saying...

An old icebox and what Bill figured was dynamite storage. Bill took this pic of some kind of rock crusher/sorter Now isn't this enticing? doesn't it make you want to stupidly go into this area? but it's a great sign. Another cool bit of stuff that Bill found.
Notice the sky over the dunes...it's clear and lovely.

But there are dark clouds coming from the west, and you'll see them in the next few pictures. This will start a debate we will have several times over the weekend: stay or go?

Because rain in Death Valley can be really dangerous; a lot of hiking or driving is on canyons and washes...and those are places you do NOT want to be in a sudden rainstorm.

So we looked at our watches...it was 2:30, dark was at 5:30 and it was probably going to be another hour to the Eureka Dunes. Did we want to do it? heck yes! Here are hills along the way... and our first glimpse of the Eureka Dunes And they're getting closer!
Another photo op. His and hers pictures. Here are the dark clouds. Coming in from the west. Getting bigger. But facing east toward the sand dunes? clear and gorgeous. I'm going over THERE. Actually, I walked for about 20 minutes from the parking lot at the campground (yes, you can camp there, lovely and quiet. Bet it's cold. No shade at all.) and never actually reached the dunes...they kept receding, as desert landmarks do. They were probably a mile from the campground, and I didn't quite get there.
Bunny tracks... Bird tracks... Interesting rocks... and a snake track!
I zoomed in on Tom and Jo Nell from pretty far away... and here's Bill with beautiful mountains over him. A nice shot of the striped mountains and the alluvial fan and canyons just to the left of the dunes.
This is the direction we came from. Remember how clear it was? Still is clear to the east, over the beautiful striped mountains... Bill and Jo Nell are looking around... A bit of old mud lakebed peeking out from under the sand.
And here are four pictures my bro took of the dunes, very nice!
So you might have noticed that the name of this trip includes Watching the Skies.

And you saw the pictures of the very dark clouds coming over the mountains to the west, and by the time we finished at Eureka Dunes about an hour later, half the sky was cloudy and much of it was dark.

Rain, I said.

Nah, said the Boy Contingent.

Yup, I said, rain. But we drove home just fine, and got there in time for a GORGEOUS sunset...and although I was right, and it did rain, it had the grace to wait til we were asleep to do it.

There will be more sky-watching ahead, things will get pretty spectacular along about Saturday night...

And what, you may ask, were Doug, Liz and Signe doing while we were risking life and limb to explore The Great Uncharted North? They were touring Scotty's Castle. Here are some of Liz's pictures of the Grapevine mountains on the way up there, and then the house and grounds...it's one of the things you HAVE to see when you come to Death Valley.

So the adventurers get back around 5:30 pm. And a little while later, I look west.

Hm, I said to myself, this is kind of pretty... then suddenly the sky just burst forth in color. These are Liz's pics of the gorgeous sunset.
And these are mine, including Doug and Bill saying, Wow, what a beautiful sunset!

But now it's time for the dinner buffet!

The two writer guys share a bottle of wine and discuss the book they are writing together.
Bill and Signe share a cuddle moment. The ongoing series of cribbage games. My count of wins was, by the end of the weekend, Jo 5, Jo Nell 2, Liz 2. Not that it was any kind of championship, of course...but just sayin'. And we ended up, as we often did on this trip, in someone's room having a wonderful time. Mmmm, good neck rub...Liz is purring...
So far, so good. A nice day, all in all.

Our plan for the next day: I'm driving the Jeep to the Racetrack. We can fit six in, if one person is willing to ride in the very back of the vehicle. We check with everyone; five to seven of us are interested, so I say, okay, I'm waking everyone up at 6:30 am, and we're pulling out at 7:30...if you're not up and ready, we'll just go.

And we all went to bed, knowing that 6:30 am was going to come waaaaaay too soon...

There was something Jo Nell said at this moment that was so misinterpretable that we were all in hysterics, and I took a pic so I could use that saying as the caption. Can I remember what it was? no, because my brains are cheese. But The Bevingtons are cute... Doug is reading the first chapter of the book that he and Mark are collaborating on, and have been emailing each other about since our LAST trip to Death Valley. It was great. Girls are rapt!
Friday
So we got up at 6:30. At 7 I walked over to the store to buy ice for the ice chest and looked over my shoulder at the east, which, from our rooms, is blocked by the motel.

And I said, oh my god! and ran for my camera. This was dawn.

Ralph found a cherry tomato that someone had dropped off the buffet table the night before. Why he didn't see it before we got up, I don't know...maybe he wanted an audience. But here he is, having his breakfast. The sunrise hits the mountains.
Signe is pensive and interesting... But she's always ready for a buddy shot. And speaking of buddy shots, isn't this a nice one? And here we are on the road heading north.
Rule #10:
Cats Must Be Herded.

So it was morning. We were going to the Racetrack, which is a long drive: an hour north to Grapevine Junction (almost all the way to Scotty's Castle), then ten miles down the road to Ubehebe Crater, then a 26 mile bad washboard road to the Racetrack. I wanted to see the Ubehebe Lead Mine, which is about 2 miles down a side road from Teakettle Junction, and I figured we'd all stop to see Ubehebe Crater as well.

So we got up. Tea, breakfast, ice, sunrise, herding cats. We only had one four wheel drive vehicle on this trip (sometimes someone will rent a second one, then we can all go) so only six of us could go. Doug and Mark in the front, Liz, Jo Nell and Signe in the middle, and me in the very back.

And we're ready to go at 7:30, right on time. And we're driving up the road, talking, taking pictures, men are having Serious Writer Talk in the front.

We've been driving 45 minutes...and I said to Doug (across the length of the car): Oh my god, I forgot to get gasoline.

And for the first time that morning, he looked at the gas gauge. Which was below half, after all the driving of the day before. And NOBODY had thought to get gas before we left.

Rule #11:
ALWAYS FILL UP THE TANK BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE MOTEL.

I was truly appalled that not only I, but everyone else, had forgotten this. Because there IS NO GAS anywhere in Death Valley except the two motel complexes, Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek. We (briefly) debated driving to Beatty, forty miles away, but I said, nah, Stovepipe Wells is just as close, let's just go back.

So we did. We also debated whether to go right out again. The problem is, like most things in DV, noon is just the wrong time to see the Racetrack. Early morning (we would have gotten there around 9:30 am) or late evening are best.

Jo Nell said, let's go back out after lunch and get there in the late afternoon, that'd be great.

We all agreed with this, so we decided (once we reached the motel) to meet back at the car at 1 pm and drive out to the Racetrack then.

Which left us a question: what to do in the meantime? we had about three hours to kill. I said, Liz has never been here, so I'm going to take her to see the famous stuff that you just drive to and look at: Zabriskie point, Badwater and Artist's Palette.

Doug, Diana and Signe came too.

The sand dunes. These, by the way, are the Mesquite Dunes...as we found out Thursday, there is more than one dune area in Death Valley. We are in the parking lot of Zabriskie Point. You have to walk up a steep but wide path to get there, with three switchbacks and benches at the corners. But the view is worth it. This is looking north. Here are side views from the top... another pretty side view, but wait for it...
Manly Beacon! this is arguably the most famous and recognizable symbol of Death Valley: the view from Zabriskie Point looking out over Manly Beacon. And here are some of the girls in front of Manly Beacon! Liz got us to take a couple of just her with her camera...yes, you're really here...
And here comes Doug up the steep path, last but not least. More beautiful rocks. They had new signs in a lot of places, some money had come through and they had done a lot of work on infrastructure in the last 18 months...unfortunately, as Doug found out when he actually READ the signs... they are WRONG. The first sign has a nonexistant word (fluxuating) and the second has an apostrophe in a possessive 'its'. I was SO ANNOYED. This reminded me of the '06 trip when Marti found actual factual errors in a sign that had been there FOREVER (that is now gone...)
Same girls, different background. It's like ants! first one comes... then another... then a whole bunch!
Liz took these of the totally unnamed hills around Zabriskie point, which is so spectacular that these don't really stand out...except they do, of course.
Back down the hill to the car... and we're driving down to Badwater. Look! it's Bad Water! (very very salty/mineraly. Only pickleweed and brine shrimp can live there.) We all took pics of this thing, I think it's a weather station.
First Diana... Then all five of us get the traditional picture taken by the sign. Liz and I go exploring. These are salt crystals that are way over on the edge of the big white area where everyone walks...
Off where nobody is stomping on it, the salt gets some amazing shapes. We'll see more of this in Bill's West Side Road pics. Whoa! We've come pretty far, haven't we? let's go back...
Here come Liz and Doug. I went to the parking lot looking for Diana and Signe, and didn't see them...then someone laughed and I looked across the road in the shade...there they are! We were in the car and I was belted into the middle seat and someone said, did you remember your apple core? which I had set near the DV sign to throw away after we had our picture taken. I was going to go out and get it, but Liz beat me to it, since I was in the middle.
Rule #12:
Clean up after yourselves.
And here's the road back the way we came. Off to our next stop, Artist's Palette.
This is a 5 or 6 mile loop drive that takes you past very colorful hills, including a side road to a parking lot in front of the most colorful part, the Artist's Palette. Very very pretty
Back to the motel!

Mark is there, he has managed to make the wireless (which was very slow and hard to use, because so many people were trying to use it) send the short story he owed to his editor THAT DAY. Very nice.

And he and Doug hung out some. And at 1 pm we will all leave for the racetrack...

And what were Bill and Tom doing while the rest of us were driving north, not remembering gas until an hour later?

First Tom took these nice morning pictures of the hills and two Ralphs.

Then they went to the Mesquite Dunes. Here are my favorites of the pictures they shot there...these first four are Bill's...
And these four are Bill's also, and are all of animal tracks, very cool! the next bunch are Tom's, he got some amazing contrasts and shapes.
Then they visited The Devil's Cornfield...
They came back after we left at 1 pm; Signe opted not to try for the Racetrack a second time (smart move, it turns out) and so they went off to Furnace Creek to check out the museums and stuff. Here is a nice display of arrowheads and also a chunk of sulphur from the Last Chance Mountains.
One of the cool 'old tech' exhibits behind the Furnace Creek shops. More cool 'old tech'... and speaking of old, mugging for the camera isn't a new thing! And it looks like they visited Zabriskie Point before heading back to the motel.
And back to the Racetrack trip...here I'm trapped in a car with a feral barracuda... The Grapevine Mountains are lovely, and look at the sky!
We drove an hour north to Grapvine Junction, then turned left towards Ubehebe Crater, a volcanic crater that is another well-known tourist place. These are Liz's pics of the area around there...and then we reach the parking area for Ubehebe Crater itself.
This is the new info kiosk/railing, this wasn't here last April. Mark gazes toward... this. It's a half-mile-wide volcanic crater, very beautiful. Liz, Doug and Jo Nell are checking it out.
A closeup of one wall of the crater Yes, the wind is blowing pretty hard! Doug walks partway up to Little Hebe crater This is cool, an aerial map of the crater complex.
Now, this is the part of the trip that will take some explication.

Firstly, any of you who have read about our previous adventures will remember the story from the '06 trip about blowing tires on Racetrack Road...the short version is, stupid people do it all the time, and if you don't have a spare, or you are REALLY stupid and continue on and blow out your spare, you have to wait HOURS for someone to call you a tow truck (remember, cell phones don't work, you have to send word with someone else) and then when they send one that's big and tough enough to get down the washboard road to your car, it costs (and I am not joking about this) 1500-2000 dollars for a tow.

I have driven this road twice, both times with no problem, and ditto for the couple of times I have ridden along with people. I have nothing but contempt for people who think that having four wheel drive makes them bulletproof, and drive slowly and carefully on bad roads.

Then, on the '09 trip, my BROTHER had a flat in a perfectly innocuous gravel parking lot (at the end of a washboard road, but still...) and I teased him unmercifully about it.

So back to our story in progress. We got away at 1 pm- me, Doug, Mark, Jo Nell and Liz. The plan was: Ubehebe Crater, Teakettle Junction, the Ubehebe Lead Mine (about 2 miles from the junction) and then back down to the Racetrack in the late afternoon, when the light would be best.

And we started down Racetrack Road. And it was AWESOME. I have never seen this awful washboard road in such good condition. I was marveling over how good the road was, and going about 25 miles an hour, watching for big rocks (and there weren't many) when...

The little exclamation point with parentheses light in the dash came on.

Pull over! everyone yelled.

It's the tire pressure, I said. Isn't it just telling us to check the tire pressure?

NO NO NO STOP THE CAR RIGHT NOW!! they all yelled. And I did.

And they were right. The right rear tire was losing air so fast you could hear it.

And thank goodness our rental car had a spare, a good jack and an instruction manual. Because we used all three. And of course I documented the whole process!

The Flat Me trying to figure out how to get the bottom of the back open. Jo Nell knew this. The boys put rocks around the front tires. I figured out how to lower the spare on its cable.
Mark remembered to loosen the lug nuts before jacking the car up The girls are thumbing for a lift. Actually, no other cars went by til we were almost done, which is good because we were right in the middle of the road. The spare is free, now how do you put the jack together? This is how! says Jo Nell.
Oh, like THIS? Jacking the car up... taking off the lug nuts (I got to hold them) taking off the wheel...
No wheel! putting on the spare (which, thank goodness, was a real replacement, not a donut) Tightening the lug nuts... And here's the hole (which was pretty big)
And we even stopped for pics on the way back; this was an interesting alluvial fan.

We also pointed out to Liz that, thanks to the spare, she wasn't the main course for dinner.

Another pic of the sand dunes. They're like crack, you just can't resist them. Every five minutes they're different. And the intrepid explorers have returned with what was known, from then on, as 'the gimp car'. Because we really did not like it. Lizzie working on the neverending needlework.
So we got back just fine. And about twenty minutes later, at 4:45, I got on the phone (a pay phone in the sun, no shade. I had a chair and a bottle of water and of course a pen and paper.) to Dollar. Because I wasn't sure the tire was patchable. They were singularly unhelpful, since I don't get the optional insurance (I have AAA, which evidently is good for everything but this sort of situation) and they kept offering to have a new car brought out to me from Vegas for FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS towing fee. They said Amex might cover it, since I charged the car on Amex, or AAA...and after TWO HOURS on a pay phone, in the sun (although I did bring a chair over to the phone) arguing with Dollar, Amex, AAAy and calling them back and arguing more...I was DONE.

I was talking to the AAA enhanced benefits insurer who, after AAA told me that these people would cover whatever costs I needed to have covered and I asked him about that, said you'd have to ask them. I did, I said, and they said you did. Well, I don't know, you'd have to ask them. We did that dance a couple of times, he put me on hold for over five minutes and I thought, I don't care, I'm just not wasting my time like this any more.

I hung up the phone, walked over to the party already in progress and said, I NEED ALCOHOL RIGHT NOW.

And you know, after food, alcohol and a shower, things looked A LOT BETTER. My bro (who was still gone when we got back) said that when this happened to him last time, he got it patched, they told him to keep the patched tire as a spare, and the car company didn't charge him extra. This was encouraging.

Diana caught a nice pic of the sunset Our group portrait, except I still had the exposure on my camera turned way dark. Oops. We said something that horrified Liz and she's hiding from us. Might have been about the fact that we were all sharing the room, I don't remember. Nice to know we can scare her. Useful. Conversations were excellent!
And we adjourned to Mark and Diana's room, where Mark read us the holiday story he had sent in that day, and it was excellent. After that we partied with the German tour bikers who had come in from the Grand Canyon that afternoon- about 20 of them on a ten day tour of the Southwest. They were loud- talking, playing music and singing in chorus...they were loud enough that one of the motel people came over and asked if they were bothering us. Not at all, we said, they're great. Tom went over to talk politics and one by one we joined them for various conversations. When I got there I saw my husband with a BUDWEISER in his hand, wish I had brought my camera over for that! but it was fun, and most of them spoke pretty good English. And the day ended very amusingly.

Rule #13:
ALWAYS carry a spare

Rule #14:
Make sure there's a man or two around when there's dirty work to be done.

Rule #15:
Don't beat your head against a wall if you don't have to

Saturday
Before we broke up for the night, we discussed the next day. Mark was leaving after lunch, so we wanted to do something fun with him. I had been in cars for three days straight, so I really wanted some hiking. And I had to deal with the tire.

Signe had talked about driving to the Titus Canyon parking lot and hiking the Narrows. What time? I asked.

About 8:30 or 9 am, she said.

Perfect! I said. Tomorrow I'm getting up early to take this tire to the Furnace Creek garage at 8 am when they open. Why don't you guys wait for me til 9 am; if I'm not back then, leave for Titus Canyon. If I can, I'll join you there, it's not like we can miss each other.

And that was agreeable to all.

Our morning Ralphs, five this time. And evidently they invited a four-legged friend to come over for breakfast...
Sunrise on the Cottonwood range. One of our little bird friends. He seemed to fly fine, but kept sitting right on the ground like this, and would sometimes lean on his wing...I think one of his legs was hurt, but he sure did get around. The sun hitting the Kit Fox hills More beautiful pink early morning mountains. I don't think I slept past 7 am any of the days we were there...not very restful...but dawn was sure pretty.
A flock of Ralphs I took these three as I drove over to Furnace Creek, where there is a Chevron station with a small garage.
A garage where they are wise in the ways of blown tires. So I showed up at 8 am and talked to the guy there. He took my tire and put it on his machines. I think I can patch it, he said, but I can't do it until a second person shows up at 9 am.

That's fine, I said, I'll go have breakfast. And I went to the cafe there and had the worst English muffin I ever had (I've said it before: the two basic restaurants in DV are GOD-AWFUL. The restaurant in Stovepipe Wells was closed due to a kitchen fire, and word is that some other company than Xanterra is going to buy the concessions there...hope so, maybe the food will improve...)

Anyway. I had the awful English muffin and many cups of tea, and read my excellent book, and when I got back to the garage at 9:02, they had patched the tire! The mechanic said, don't use this, keep it as your spare...but it was patched, and even better, they managed to get it back under the vehicle where it belonged so it didn't fill up the back compartment. Much better for driving home. And even better? it was only TWENTY BUCKS. Happy Jo!

Rule #16:
Sometimes things just work out if you let them. Letting them is the hard part.

So the tire was fixed, and that was good. I drove over to Titus Canyon, and got there about 9:40. And THEY WEREN'T THERE YET. I was putting on my hiking boots when Bill's car drove up and a bunch of people got out of it- Doug, Mark, Signe, Bill, Liz and Jo Nell. Very pleasing!

Titus Canyon is a 26 mile drive. It's one way, from Nevada, and goes into the mountains and up and down and comes out in the Narrows. The last three miles of the road (from the Narrows to the main road) are two way, so you can drive up, park, and hike the Narrows, which is a whole lot of fun-not too steep, and very beautiful. And that's what we did.

Here we are waiting for Douglas to, um, <euphemism> admire the scenery</euphemism> Here we go! Titus canyon! Woo hoo! One last look at the valley behind us... and...Hey! Wait for me!
Bill and Signe... and notice how the sky goes from glowing fog to sunshine? It just kept going back and forth, it was COOL.. Death Valley Hiker Girls! woo hoo! And rocks.
This part of the road is really fun to drive, by the way. It's fun to hike too! More rocks. Is Jo Nell doing the hula? hard to tell... Bill took this one, very nice.
The thing about Titus Canyon is, there are rocks. Really, really nice rocks. And the best way to see them is on foot. Ooh, look! More rock!
Signe and Liz conversing... And Signe looks thoughtful beside a wonderful rock. Yes, the canyon just winds and twists... one turn after another, all full of pretty rocks. It's GREAT.
Bill: Look! A rock! WONDERFUL stripes. Good perspective, shows you how big this place really is. Even though Jo Nell is small. And more...well, you know.
Signe looking Swedish... and Liz toiling uphill. Bye, Jo Nell! Come back soon! And yet more rock. Love this place!
Here you see everyone but Doug (who is taking the picture), and Bill is pointing to more rock. Liz caught the Monkey-face Rock! Beautiful sunshine... and Jo Nell, our bellwether.
Rock... tree... more canyon... and more rock. We aren't tired of it yet!
One last beautiful rock face... One more twisty windy corner of road... Jo Nell has found the way out! and another picture of the sand dunes on the way back to the motel.
Back at the motel. Jo Nell feeds the animal, we have our lunch buffet, we get one more group photo.

We decide to go to the gift shop at Furnace Creek so that Liz may sample its delights. Diana, Jo Nell, Liz and I go. Tom gazes after us as we start to leave, then I need to go back for something. Tom has forgotten about us and is creating the Fountain of Bevington.

The gift shop is excellent, and on the way back the hills were all kinds of pretty.

While we had lunch, I had consulted my day hiking books for a good hike for the afternoon, something new and interesting. Something that I didn't need four-wheel drive to go to, also, since we were driving on the spare; regular roads and good dirt roads were fine, but I wasn't taking the risk of a bad road again for the rest of the trip.

One of my hiking guides listed Grotto Canyon, which had an entry road about 2.5 miles east of the motel. On our way to the gift shop and back we spotted what had to be the right road (the only one, two tracks across gravel going up the alluvial fan on Tucki Mountain) but there was no sign.

So, being a good parks-conservator-obey-the-signs kind of girl, I got Jo Nell to stop at the Ranger's station near our motel on the way back.

There's no sign for Grotto Canyon, but the road is there. Is it open?

Yes, it was but only for four wheel drives.

Oh, I said, I have a 4x4 but I blew out a tire on the Racetrack, so I'm not taking it on any more rough roads, since I'm driving on the spare.

I wish everyone was that smart, said the ranger. Made me laugh. People are idiots.

He told me about the road: not bad til you get to the streambed where the power pole is, then you REALLY need four wheel drive; that's about a mile up the road, the canyon goes about 3 miles farther. Nice hike.

And how do you feel about sidewinders? said the ranger.

I looked interested, so he told me that anyone who wanted to see sidewinders, he sent them to Grotto Canyon just about this time of day. Lots of them there, he said. Just don't put your hands or feet anywhere you can't see.

Cool, I said, thanks.

And I went back to the motel, where I made a point of telling Tom about the sidewinders, since he had said he wanted to see some.

Bill had a high-clearance 2-wheel drive, so he offered to drive as far as it could go, and we thought we'd just walk from there.

And here we go-me, Tom, Liz and Bill!

We're walking up a canyon/streambed. You can see the 'road' where serious four-wheel drive vehicles have gone, but we are walking it, and it's kind of steep. It's also sandy/gravelly, hard to walk in. For, it turns out, three miles.
A Sagebrush Checkerspot butterfly And this is where we're going. Bye, car! We'll be back! You can see how steep the grade is already; that line beyond the car is the main road, the 190.
Now here is where it starts to get interesting. See the big black clouds off to the right? and where are we walking? up a CANYON. On a STREAMBED. We discussed this, and decided to keep an eye on the clouds; if we saw or felt rain, we'd go, fast. Tom has found an anthill! these were everywhere, big ones. And Liz got a good pic of the ants! Did I mention that rain clouds were moving in fast? these are behind us to our right, over our motel.
You can see the divided sky, it was pretty cool. To the north, it was clear and beautiful...at first Here's where we had the discussion: should we turn back, what with the rain clouds? Decision: NAH. And upward we go. This was steeper than it looked; it wasn't awful, just steadily upward.
Tom with the long legs is leading the way. It was a really pretty hike... but Tom really wanted a sidewinder. So he walked up the edges of the canyon, beating on the bushes and looking under the edge rocks. No kidding. We thought he was nuts. Wow, look, the sky is beautiful over here!
A bunch of really cool bendy-foldy rocks. and the canyon is narrowing...
We're looking for snakes...Liz is trudging uphill...and we've come to the end of the 4x4 road, it's all loose gravel from here on in.
Two views of a really nice slab of rock. Liz got two really nice shots of a butterfly. Without seeing a side view, it's really hard to identify, but my best guess is: Orange Sulphur. If you know more about butterflies and can tell me what it is (if I'm wrong) please do so!

Rule #17:
Always get a pic of the butterfly from the top with its wings open, or from the side if its wings are closed, if you want to identify it.

We're getting closer to the end...the walls are narrowing and there are interesting things up on the sides of the canyon, like this cave with a trail leading down from it (or up it) Tom: I bet there's a snake under here!

No, there isn't. But look! I can do impressions!

Aaron with his snake staff! Dowsing for Snakes!
Can it be? Have we finally made it to...THE GROTTO? Yes! Yes! We did it! Oh joy! <mock collapse> Here it is!
Lizzie vs. The Grotto Bill is egging her on to climb this sheer smooth wall of rock Liz says: this is as far as I go, take a picture of my butt before I slide down. We left the grotto and came to this side canyon which the three of them decided to explore. You can see Bill on the left and Tom's head and shoulders on the right.
So I'm standing on a rock just inside the edge of this canyon (too many big loose rocks for me to want to climb there) and thinking how cool it would be if I saw a sidewinder and they were all off somewhere else...when I heard it: tink tink. Uh oh, I thought. And heard it again: tink tink tink.

I held out my arm...and a few drops of water fell on it. RAIN! I yelled as loudly as I could. They all heard and came right back, and we hiked out of that canyon forthwith. Luckily, it only sprinkled on and off for the forty-five minutes it took us to get back to the car.

We took pics of several cool pieces of rock on the way out... and look at the clouds, which have pretty much covered the sky. Oh my.
The sand dunes are amazing... and I've fallen behind to take pics. We are the conquerors of Grotto Canyon! and Tom does the snake-hand. And look at the valley floor out there! By this point, Liz was seeing lightning off to the west.
And more amazing views of this thunderstorm coming in. We are having so much fun!

There had been talk of catching the sunset at the Mesquite Dunes, so we had said we'd meet whoever wanted to do this at the brand new parking lot by the dunes at 5:15. We got back to Bill's car at 5 pm, drove the mile down the hill and then the mile to the parking lot in about three minutes. We got out of the car and the storm was seriously sweeping in, and the rain was starting to come down.

Liz got a pic of me walking to the bathroom to get on the OTHER SIDE of it so I (unlike her) wouldn't have a bathroom in my picture... Then this silver Jeep drove by in the rain, with Doug at the wheel and Signe in the passenger seat. She rolled down the window and said, we're not meeting you, you know. It's RAINING! And they drove off. One more pic of the rain sweeping in, and we went back to the motel. And it's just as amazing there. The storm was sweeping across the valley toward and over us, and you could see the lightning getting closer and closer. Everyone was out in front of their rooms eating and drinking and everytime lightning struck you could hear lots of peoples say WOW! Nature's own light show.
We put out the dinner buffet, but then Liz and I saw this. The store. Where they have a microwave. And we said HOT FOOD! and went and got burritos. Which were TOTALLY NOM. And we're taking more shots of the storm. Seriously, it was so much fun.
What a great evening. Here we are sitting out watching the storm; the table is out for the buffet in a few minutes. Now you can see how hard the wind is blowing when the storm hits us...the wind was so strong we had to move the buffet into Bill and Signe's room!
Doug told a story and read us the first chapter of The Juliet Spell. I'm told Jo Nell read a Just So story but I missed that one, unfortunately. Corpses at Play. That is just a scary picture of Liz. We ended up having Girl Talk in our room. A nice end to the evening.
Rule #18:
Whatever the weather is in Death Valley, it's always wonderful.
Sunday
Good morning! Drinking milk is good! A quiet moment I'm out of breakfast, but Diana shares her peanut butter with me, and I smear it on apples. NOM! This is the kind of expression that the camera is way too good at catching on my face.
We're going hiking! says Liz. And she's right!

The Zabriskie Point to Golden Canyon hike is a tradition, and with good reason: it's not very hard, and it's very beautiful. The trick is: you have to have TWO CARS. Because hiking down from ZP to GC is nice...hiking back UP is not so nice, I've done it.

Rule #19:
Do Not Hike Uphill in Golden Canyon if you can easily avoid it. It's just as pretty going the other way.

So we all said good-bye to Diana, who was leaving that morning, and me, Doug, Liz, Jo Nell, Bill and Signe got into Bill's car and the Jeep and took both cars to Golden Canyon. Then we all piled into the Jeep and left Bill's car in the parking lot, and drove to Zabriskie Point.

Another sand dunes pic on the way. A nice tourist lady took our picture at Zabriskie Point at about 8:30 am. And we're off! Bill is right behind me. This is such a beautiful hike, and after yesterday's big rain, everything was clean and smooth and lovely.
I grab Signe and eat...no, I don't, it's LIZ we're going to eat. Signe speeds up some just in case. Bill shows off his swan impersonation. Liz got some great rock pics.
A bit of uphill... The Red Cathedral, we'll be walking right by it. Manly Beacon. We're going to cross the far face of it soon. A string of hiking pearls...
It really was a beautiful morning, clear and hot but with the aforementioned cool breeze...there is almost no shade on this trail, so many of us were very happy for that breeze.
Hiking through these hills is so much fun! Kinda like ants...first you see one or two... then more... then more!
You can see the trail markers to the right of Liz and Doug, in that landscape that's all that was needed. Bill's favorite sign! Signe is approaching Manly Beacon... and we're getting closer to the Red Cathedral on the other side of it.
You can see Liz's tiny shadow as she takes this pic! And here comes Bill, bringing up the rear. A cute pic of Jo Nell and we're starting the only serious uphill bit.
Signe stops to rest for a moment. Liz really liked the multicolored rocks, she took some really good pics of them! And Doug, Liz and Bill are catching up with us.
This is so cool it almost looks fake, like we're using a blue screen and painted a landscape on it. But it really looks like this, and here we go up the only really steep part.
Bill is behind us still... and here is a cool part of the rock above where we're crossing one side of Manly Beacon. And here we go! We look like ants! A zoomed in pic of us; the trail isn't as hair-raising as it looks, and even if you did trip, you'd just slide to the bottom and walk out the ravine. But it looks very adventurous and cool.
Bill took a pick looking upward at the face of the cliff, very nice! Yes, this bit is so steep I'm going down it on my butt. Deal with it. Whoa! Look at the view! Oh, wait, we have to turn around and have our picture taken...
As soon as you get past that cliff face and turn the corner, there are ALL SORTS of multicolored rocks and valleys ahead of you.
More interesting rock The back side of Manly Beacon. This is from the rainstorm last night And Signe, resting again. Actually, I think she's waiting for us to catch up.
Jo Nell poses for a pic. This is looking up the end of Golden Canyon (which our trail just joined onto) at the Red Cathedral. Liz gets more pretty rocks Douglas the Bold.
And here's the official trail junction. We've come 1.5 miles from Zabriskie Point, and it's one more mile to the parking lot at the foot of Golden Canyon. This is where we started seeing people, maybe fifteen minutes before we got to this sign. All of them going uphill. Some of them not looking happy about it in the least. We tried not to feel too smug. Bill poses for a picture. And here we go, down Golden Canyon! Very nice rock slabs.
Signe is cool and elegant in the shade. A side canyon... And another. You can really see where the runoff from the rain came through. And more pretty rocks.
Red Cathedral is quickly receding... but it gets closer when I zoom in to see Doug and Liz up close. And Liz's closeup of it. Stripes! I love the stripes.
Jo Nell and Rocks Very nice patterns! The canyon is getting wider now... And we're all here but Bill, so he must be taking the picture.
Are we Nice... or Naughty? I emailed Liz when I saw this picture. Did you pour water on the rocks, I said, or were you unwell? (I knew the answer, just chain-yanking...)

No, of course it's water! she said. I wanted to see the rock colors.

Another beautiful canyon. It's not actually hard to hike up Golden Canyon til you get to the Red Cathedral and have to go straight up with no shade. we were still smug.
Bill is wearing a shirt that matches this part of the canyon very well. More beautiful rocks. By now we're sauntering, talking, having a lovely time. It's all easy downhill hiking, wide enough to walk and talk with people. What a beautiful day this is! we are saying. Aren't we glad we came on a hike!
And we're getting farther down the canyon, and coming up on some beautiful greenish rocks, probably serpentine, the State Rock of California. Very nice!
Another cool side canyon, showing effects of the rain. And here we've gotten down to the remains of the old paved road; there are pictures of model T's (or A's, I never know the difference) driving out of Golden Canyon. I had a friend who had been born in 1952 who remembered driving up Golden Canyon with her parents. Sometime in the 60s or 70s they figured out how silly and expensive it was to keep repairing a road that is washed out every winter...and just let it go. Now there are just a few bits of asphalt left, including one drop of about three feet that you have to scramble down., Come on! says Signe. We made it! We're out! We don't have to eat Liz! And there's the parking lot and the valley in front of us.
One more shot of pretty rocks; these were behind the bathrooms, so I had to go off to one side so as not to photograph the embarrassing building...

And I'm the troll as we go to pick up the other car at Zabriskie Point.

Bill and Signe and Doug went from there to drive West Side Road. Liz and Jo Nell and I wanted to go to the Ranger's Station, then back to the motel for lunch before deciding what to do on our last afternoon at Death Valley.

We drove to the Ranger's Station/Visitor's Center/Museum/Gift Shop at Furnace Creek. I got out of the car and the two of them were standing in the parking lot staring at the grass... A ROADRUNNER. Standing in the grass saying, Take my picture! Then he sauntered over ot the concrete walkway and said, This is my good side. I'll put my crest up and stick my tail feathers out, if you'd like. Amazing. I've never seen one that was so mellow. Seriously posing for the tourists. This sent us into HYSTERICS. The front of the shirt says, Death Valley.

The back says, Bring a compass. It's awkward when you have to eat your friends...

We showed it to Liz and laughed very hard.

I finally got a good pic of the titanothere skull in the museum! this is from Titanothere Canyon, part of the Titus Canyon drive.
Twenty or so minutes later, when we left the motel, doggoned if that roadrunner wasn't still posing for tourists! he had jumped up on a rock in the gravel/creosote planted area in front of the visitor center, and three or four people were taking pictures. What a little guy! Back to the motel. Lunch, nom, although food was running out. Tom grabbed my camera and took a couple of dozen more pictures of Ralph; these two were the ones I liked best. And a bird of a different feather!
People were starting to show up for 49ers days the next week; this couple had an extended cab and SIX Viszlas (Hungarian hounds) in the cab. They were so cute!

Liz took a reading break, and I caught two more Ralphs.

While Liz, Jo Nell and I had encounters with roadrunners and tshirts (and I also took this opportunity to fill out a feedback form telling them that the signs on Zabriskie Point have grammatical errors, oh yes. The ranger I spoke to at least had the grace to SAY he was appalled...) Doug went with Bill and Signe out on West Side Road.

This is the road over the salt flats that starts near Badwater, swings west in a big loop and comes back to the same main road many miles south...it's a great drive, mostly because you are really out in the middle of nowhere in a very wierd landscape. Bill took some nice pics both of the salt flats and closeups of the crystals.

And a vintage truck that happened on by, as well.

Jo Nell and Tom left for home. Liz and I were getting ready for our afternoon trip, and Bill, Signe and Doug pulled up. We're going to Rhyolite, I said. Anyone want to come?

Doug did, Bill and Signe opted out, hanging out quietly was their goal for the afternoon.

So off we went.

Rhyolite is a ghost town on the way to Beatty NV. It's not actually in Death Valley, but is on BLM land. It hit its peak around 1910, when 10,000 people lived there, but once the gold was gone, it went the way of many another California gold town. Now what's left are partial buildings, a bottle house, some streets and street signs, and a graveyard about 2 miles outside town. There's also a group of artists who do open-air artworks just southwest of town.

So there is a lot to see and do. You can see Rhyolite in two movies that I know of: The Island, in the scene where they come out to the real world (just a couple of minutes of film in Rhyolite); and Six-String Samurai, which is a great movie, and was filmed all over Death Valley and Rhyolite.

But I digress. So off we went to Rhyolite. There are two ways to get there from Death Valley: one is to go up the Scotty's Castle Road a couple of miles, to the Beatty cutoff; the other connects to the 190 about halfway between Scotty's Castle Road and Furnace Creek. We went there by the Scotty's Castle Road cutoff, and came back the other way.

The Bottle House. Usually the caretaker is around, but this day nobody was there, so the fence around it was closed. This is a village of bits of glass and stuff that one of the caretakers made for his daughters in the 70s. Including a wishing well. And the mercantile building.
The next 16 pics are mine; I've been here many times, and taken pictures, but this time I walked around the building and played with the walls and open windows and had some fun with the angles.
These four are Liz's. I think this one is my favorite. She sneaked up behind me... Doug was wandering around making notes for a book he and Mark are writing, part of which takes place here. Lizzie really wanted to see a Joshua tree. yay!
Liz on her way to the train station. A lonely street sign Liz by the really big Joshua tree. Another interesting wall
Shots of the landscape around Rhyolite. The sky was going from very overcast to cloudy/sunny to clear in different combinations. This caboose was behind the train station with DANGER signs on it (you can see on on the end) and three Eastern European women who kept going into it and leaning out the windows to have their pictures taken. We kept waiting for the sidewinders that weren't in Grotto Canyon to attack them...but no such luck.
Two views of the train station. Landscape with beautiuful light. Doug is walking down to the Bottle House, and we are off to see the artworks.
There are lots of pics of everything in Rhyolite and all the artworks in the '06 and '09 Death Valley trips; we only took pics of a few things this time.
Liz loved the penguin! And the couch. There is all kinds of cool stuff stuck onto the ends of the couch... like Star Trek insignia...
And buttons...and poker chips... Then I saw Liz doing this. What are you taking a picture of? I said. I'm trying to get a shot of myself in this mirror mosaic, she said. And she did. I tried it, it's harder than you'd think.
Spiral woman! Liz in the Last Supper. Notice her cool new Death Valley sweatshirt. This pole with all the cool stuff nailed to it is not something I remember seeing before...
Then we went to the Bullfrog-Rhyolite graveyard. We took lots of pics of this on the '09 trip, so I didn't duplicate them. Here's Liz looking at one of the graves. This is just kinda cool and forgotten looking. You can see Doug and Liz, very tiny, on each side below the central mountain. Here's a view of Rhyolite from the graveyard.
The first of these 8 pics is a view of Death Valley, driving in from the other Beatty cutoff toward the 190 and Furnace Creek. Wow. I can't remember coming down this road in daylight before, it's beautiful. The rest of these are Liz and my attempts at catching sunsets and pretty mountains.
Back to the motel. A whole lot of Ralphs in the trees behind the motel. Then us, hanging out front, eating and talking. Liz shows off her new earrings while we play cribbage.
As we left Rhyolite around 3:30 pm, we said, maybe TONIGHT we'll make it to the sand dunes for the sunset! and as these pics show, by the time we reached the motel at 4:30, it was dark. Because the time had changed. Doggone it! I said, I really wanted to catch sunset at the sand dunes but we're leaving tomorrow morning. Maybe I'll get up early and go there for dawn.

And I checked with the rangers...remember, the time had just changed? Dawn was scheduled for 6:15 in the morning. What Liz calls the ass-crack of dawn. Oh man.

But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it. Signe said she was up for it too, so we decided to get up at 5:45 and leave at 6:10, and get to the sand dunes by 6:15, dawn its ownself.

Liz: No way, I'm sleeping in.

Monday
So. Monday morning. My alarm goes off at 5:45. I roll out of bed and grab my clothes, trying to be as quiet as possible so I don't wake Liz and Doug more than necessary. I get dressed, grab my tea and camera, and go to sit out front.

6:00 am. Liz comes out. You got up, I said in surprise. Yup, she said, I want to see the sand dunes. She has a cup of tea too. Where's Signe? she says. I haven't seen her, I said, but she knows we're leaving at 6:10.

6:05 am. Signe opens the door and pops her head out. She looks at us in surprise. Are you coming to the sand dunes? we ask. No, she said. Okay, we said, we're off.

And we drove, then hiked about half a mile to get a good view of the dunes and settled in to watch. And boy, was it worth it.

On the left is a picture of one of the stinkbugs that are all over the motel area. The rest are the pics we took that morning. These are the GOOD ones, we took a lot... but as you can see, it was beautiful and the colors changed every minute or two. We were turning from the sunrise in the east across the valley to the big sand dune in the north to the mountains on each side.

The ones on the peach background are mine, the blue background ones are Liz's.

   

Rule #20:
Sometimes it really is worthwhile getting up way too early.

And what is a visit to the Sand Dunes without the pitter-patter of little feet?

The first pic is a sidewinder track, although they don't have feet. The second is stinkbug tracks, and the third is a lizard going into the caved-in hole.

The fourth might be a snake, since there aren't real clear prints on each side of the squiggly line (a sure sign of lizards), but I suspect it IS another lizard. The fifth is the line where a bird ran and took off.

And the sixth? just the beautiful lines on the sand the wind made.

We got back at 8 am and happy hour had started! There's Bill with the rest of the liquor!

(He had actually put it out to send it home with us...)

A couple of final Ralph shots The clouds on the Cottonwood mountains across the valley from our motel...
Doug, Bill and Signe watching the beautiful clouds. We find the stinkbug stowaway and turn him loose out front...and we're on the road again. The hills on the 190 as we leave Death Valley
And we're back to the 395, and...is that snow on the Sierras? Sure is. Tioga Pass is closed for the winter. Excellent timing on our part. On the 178, Liz finally gets to see a LOT of Joshua trees!
Bill and Signe took this on their way out of town, on the Trona road...it's the 49ers coming to Death Valley for the weeklong celebration. Very cool!
So there you have it. A good trip, and overall we had an excellent time, even though a few things went wrong. The company was congenial, the weather was lovely, the food was good...makes me want to go back again.

What are you doing in April of 2012? because you know where I'll be...

Rule #21:
Death Valley. Every eighteen months. No exceptions.