The Death Valley Trip, April 2012
Feel the Heat!


Click on any picture to see it full-size.

Time for the Death Valley trip again! The recurring theme of this year's trip is Be Flexible...we had many unexpected occurances, all of which we dealt with on the fly and we still managed to have a wonderful time. And of course there was a heat spike all over the west coast, more about that as we go along...

I emailed the usual group in October. Death Valley in April. Who's in?

Bill and Signe, of course. Me and Doug, natch. Diana and her fella, George, were rarin' to go. Jo Nell and Tom wouldn't miss it.

Then we started in on the friends...many people who wanted to come just couldn't (we missed you, Mark!) and others who did come were friends of friends, so we had a bunch of newbies along with us. I ended up reserving seven motel rooms for something like sixteen people...I told everyone to let me know for sure by April 1... we had some dropouts...and what we ended up with was six rooms:

  • Me and Doug from Wednesday to Monday, and Liz with us for the first two nights (til Anya arrived)
  • Bill and Signe from Wednesday to Monday
  • Diana and George from Wednesday to Monday
  • Jo Nell and Tom from Wednesday to Sunday
  • Tom's friends the Carpenters (Cindy, Dave and Hunter) from Wednesday to Sunday
  • Anya from Friday to Monday (and Liz would move in with her for the weekend.)

So I called Stovepipe Wells, and moved all the reservations around, made sure that they had the right names and arrival and departure dates on all the rooms (they were booked solid, so I wanted them to be able to make rezzies for nights we didn't need) and got it all worked out.

So it's Monday the 16th. We are supposed to leave Wednesday morning the 18th. Liz is planning to spend the night of Tuesday the 17th with us and drive down and back in our car.

Email from Liz: Can I bring one more friend? Martha is between quarters and really wants to come.

We'd met Martha a couple of times, and really like her, but although we are okay with sharing a room with one person, two is just too crowded for a relaxing time, when you add in showers, towels, air conditioning settings and the amount of food we all bring (because we live out of ice chests, the food has always been terrible in Stovepipe Wells...more on this later.)

So I emailed back: No.

Liz: long email about how awesome Martha is.

I start emailing back that it's not Martha, it's bodies...then at the bottom of her email I see where she offers to get a seperate room for them.

Perfect! I send her the phone numbers for Stovepipe Wells and also Furnace Creek. She calls them. There is no room to be had in either place (and Furnace Creek is a VERY BIG motel complex, btw) for Wednesday night, but they get a room for Thursday, and planned to drive down from San Francisco on Thursday, join us for part of the evening, spend the night there, then move to Stovepipe Wells on Friday. FLEX! Problem solved!

Then that night I check my email right before bed...Jo Nell, who visited me in March and during that weekend asked about the dates for this trip, and had received approximately 1,453,982 emails from me confirming reservations and travel dates for everyone, has BOOKED EMPLOYEE TRAINING FOR WEDNESDAY. She's the HR manager. She has to be there. Tom is not happy.

I email back. Bill and Signe are flying into Ontario and driving to DV, they could pick up Tom, and you could drive in Thursday, which is the price you pay for NOT READING ALL MY EMAILS.

I hear from her the next morning, saying good solution! but I didn't hear from him. So I have an even more brilliant idea: his friends the Carpenters actually live in Riverside, he could get a ride from them. I call him and he has had the same idea and has already set it up with them! so FLEX! Problem solved!

I took the day before the trip off (HIGHLY recommended) and had breakfast with a friend, had a haircut so I would look FABULOUS for the trip (actually, it was just time to get my hair cut, LOL) and did all the shopping. I packed everything in record time and managed not to forget anything, including <foreshadowing> my fiddle, my new camera and my computer </foreshadowing> and was done by about 5:30, in time to show our housesitter all the ins and outs of our new digs. Kasia came over to make cookies and we had pizza...and then we went to pick up the rental car.

Now, the rental car is a highly volatile issue on the DV trip. Doug and I rent a 4x4 because we like to go off into back roads and places you can't take a regular car. The problem is, the rental car companies will not guarantee you four wheel drive when you reserve the car; you have to wait til you actually go in and pick the sucker up to find out what they have. I had reserved a Rav4 from Advantage because they are awesome cars...but they were also 600+ bucks for the week when I made the rezzie, and the price went up on all rental cars in the intervening time.

About two months before the trip, Bill found a killer deal with Dollar Rent-a-Car for an SUV for a week for 218 bucks! it was a Ford Escape.

Bill, Anya and I all reserved them (everyone else was driving their regular cars). I emailed Jo Nell, since she and Tom own an Escape. What are the chances that it will have 4 wheel drive? I asked.

Not good, she said, it's too light.

So Doug and I went to the rental car counters at San Jose Airport with a bit of trepidation.

Sure enough, the Ford Escape was not 4 wheel drive. For 20 bucks a day more they offered to give us a Jeep Laredo...we had had one of these on the 2010 trip and hated it. What else have you got? we said.

Well, they said, for the same price we could give you the premium SUV, which is a Chevy Traverse. All wheel drive.

We talked a bit and took it. FLEX! Problem solved! And also (because of our 2010 experience) actually paid the extra insurance charge of 20 bucks a day, which would have gotten us a replacement car if we had blown a tire.

Question: Guess who had the ONLY RENTAL CAR IN THE GROUP THAT DID NOT BLOW A TIRE?

So we got our car, and I immediately christened it the Behemoth...it was BIG. One of those cars where you expect to find a tennis court hidden in the back. It had comfortable seating for SEVEN, three rows of seats, and with gas prices being what they were, I was terrified that it would get about six miles per gallon. Becuase the DV trip is a very driving intensive trip...everything you want to see is at least half an hour away. But it was a nice car, and we were pleased to have it...even with the extra charges, it was less than the Rav4 would have been. So that was good.

We came home. Went to bed early. Got up the next day with every intention of being out the door at 8 am...it was more like 8:45, but that was fine. Drove the 200 miles to Bakersfield...and got a pleasant surprise: the Chevy Behemoth was getting around 20 miles per gallon. Oh thank goodness!

And before we really begin...a word about pictures.

Of course everyone has a digital camera these days...so the last night people are in DV, they are kind enough to give me their memory cards to copy their pictures for use on this page, in return for copies of the pictures if they want them. So if you want to know who took a picture, roll your mouse over it. If the name of the picture is dv(number), I took it. If there is a letter before dv, someone else took it:

a = Anya, b = Bill, d = Diana, g = George, j = Jo Nell, l = Liz, t = Tom

Now...let's get started!

Wednesday - 100°

From Bakersfield, we take the 178 East past the Kern River and Lake Isabella. It's a pretty drive and cuts an hour off the trip, which is good when you come as far as we did.
I'm starting to see rocks...and Walker Pass...and more rocks...and Joshua trees! We must be getting into the desert!
Ridgecrest, CA. They were our rivals in high school... The view from the Father Crowley overlook. Rocks About to enter the Panamint Valley!
Beautiful red soil... and wait for it... Panamint Valley! we're almost there! This is one of my favorite parts of the drive in, this hillside looks different every time I drive by it.
Closer... And closer. I had just gotten a new camera, a Canon Elph310, and was very happy with the pictures it was taking. There's our motel! More colorful rocks.
And there's Bill, waiting for us. He and Signe had been there for about an hour; Doug and I arrived at 5:30. Signe is there too, and she's a REDHEAD! I loved her hair color, it was fun taking pictures of it. A nice sunset...
I am really liking my new camera! And Diana and George showed up soon after we did. Tom and the Carpenters came in around 9:30 pm. Bill and Signe got me an Angry Birds birthday cake! the day we arrived was actually my birthday. Thanks, guys! it was delicious! I think everyone is looking at the stars, which were amazing on this trip- Saturday was the dark of the moon, and there was a meteor shower all weekend.
Diana and Signe are happy, and Cindy and Dave Carpenter have arrived with Tom, and are talking to George.

Thursday - 102°

You've probably noticed the temperatures by each day on this page. There's a reason for that, and also for the name of this trip.

I had been to Death Valley in April twice before; the first time it went from 85 degrees and overcast to about 100 and sunny. The person I was with preferred cooler temperatures, so on the hotter days we went to higher elevations. That was the 2006 trip.

In 2009, it went from 105 to about 85 back up to 105. Hot but not so difficult to deal with.

This year the whole Western US had a sudden twenty to thirty degree spike in temperature the weekend we were in Death Valley...

So Wednesday night we all talked about what we wanted to do. Signe and I had said that we wanted to go to Marble Canyon while it was cool, so we, Bill, Tom and the Carpenters decided that we'd leave about 8 am and do that...it's a pretty nice hike, and the narrows are spectacular. I had hiked it three years before, but nobody else in the group had seen it. Bill and I both had all-wheel drive vehicles, so Tom and Signe went with Bill and I took Cindy, Dave and Hunter.

It was my first real chance to talk to them (Tom invited them, so I hadn't met them) and I really liked them- fun, interesting people. I was hesitant about a 15 year old coming along, but he did great on both the drive and the hike.

We're hanging out on our patio getting ready. Whoa! Check out Tom's hat! This was the good part of the road...we swing right, around those hills, and go down into a streambed for three miles on a pretty bad road... ...as you can see from this picture. I got hung up- one wheel on a rock, one in the air, and one spinning in sand. So I stopped, got out, looked at the car, waited for the other car to catch up, backed off and everyone grabbed rocks to go on top of the sandy bit. Got over it just fine.
Signe does not do menial labor in her lovely white shirt. Here she waits, cool and collected, for the cars to start up again. Here's where we piled up the rocks... Mine has gotten through the bad spot...now it's Bill's turn... And over he goes, and we're off!
This is one of my favorite parts of this drive...an actual street signpost showing the roads to Marble and Cottonwood canyons. Bill: A street sign? Really? Gotta take a pic of that! Why don't we have Jo pose with it?
Tom: Yeah, yeah, pictures, whatever. So after three miles of horrible road to get to the parking place by the trailhead, we find this Baja Bug! The guy who drove it (it was a family group, there was also an SUV) said it isn't 4 wheel drive but it's so light it just skitters over the rocks. Now THAT would be fun...! Parking lot shot! And off we go!
Marble Canyon is a long canyon that is used by backpackers- there is a place it connects with Cottonwood, and you can do about 20 miles round trip. What we were doing today was the first 2.5 miles to the Narrows, which are extremely beautiful- I had done this in 2009, and wanted to show it to everyone because it is SPECTACULAR.
We got to the trailhead about 9:30 am...still nice and shady in the canyon. It's uphill, but only slightly. Here's a place where the canyon narrows to about 6 feet. Good for a photo-op! The walls of the canyon are beautiful, almost as pretty as the Titus Canyon Narrows.
Bendy foldy rocks. Remember, these were created in flat layers and then tilted by earthquakes and tectonic movement. Amazing. And here are Dave and Cindy, and Cindy does big arms.
The canyon walls are closing in... and Signe is fascinated by this rock wall. What is she looking at? Little coin-sized pieces of black rock embedded in the gray, and sheared off flat. Pretty cool!
Throwing rocks at the flat rock face to bounce down. Cindy won the distance throw. Fun! Tom and Hunter continue on... and Tom contemplates rocks. This was really pretty, and it was right before...
the dry waterfall blocking the trail! Oh no! We all retraced our steps a bit, and took the side trail that goes up and over the dry waterfall. Dave and I are dwarfed by rocks... but Signe still finds time to look Swedish!
A Word about Wildflowers...

This was the third trip we had made to Death Valley in April. The previous two were during years when there was a RIOT of wildflowers...they were EVERYWHERE. All you had to do was hike or drive anywhere at all, and there would be lots of different stuff blooming.

This year? the rains were late and not very heavy. It was a terrible year for wildflowers, and many of us were disappointed in that. So one of our running jokes was to take pictures of EVERY SINGLE FLOWER WE SAW just because there were so few of them.

Whoa! Apricot Mallow! Our first flower! Bill, Tom and Signe have a discussion... My favorite piece of graffiti. There are supposed to be petroglyphs on this wall, but I've never been able to find them, they're probably way up at the top. And we're almost into the Narrows...
The Marble Canyon narrows are the reason I dragged everyone out this far...it's about a quarter mile of big overhanging black basalt cliffs in beautiful shapes and colors, and they are truly worth the effort, as you can see from these pics..
We got to the end of the Narrows, took a snack and water break, and headed back.
Bill and Signe mug for the camera. Desert Trumpet. Not blooming. The wide part is a seed pod. We go up and over the dry waterfall... Hey! Wait for me!
Signe adds rocks to the rangers' marker for the side trail over the dry waterfall. Here they come... and there they go! Blooming creosote. Hey, I'll take what flowers I can get, at least it's colorful...
A couple more pretty rocks... And our cars are right where we left them! We had no trouble getting out, and Signe was amazed at how smooth the sandy part of the road back felt...it was like driving on whipped cream after the streambed portion of our drive! And here's Ralph, welcoming us back.
So then there was some discussion, after lunch, of what everyone wanted to do. Jo Nell, Liz and Martha weren't really expected til dinner time. I wanted to go see some petroglyphs that were pretty far away, and tried to generate interest in going to another place we had talked about seeing, in two cars, and then those who wanted to visit the petroglyphs on the way back would do it with me, while everyone else came straight back. There was not much enthusiasm for this, and Diana decided that she wanted to do the other place one of the mornings, when it was cooler.

But I really wanted to see the petroglyphs, even though it was probably an hour and a quarter away. So Tom, Doug, Dave and I piled into my SUV at 2 pm and off we went. FLEX! Problem solved!

Because with this many people, you know that everyone is going to be doing different stuff, and one cannot do EVERYTHING...

A Word About Petroglyphs...

There are petroglyphs all over Death Valley. But they are sometimes hard to find because people are idiots and ruin them, and there aren't enough rangers in the world to keep an eye on all the stupid people. So the rangers won't tell you where they are, most of the time.

But I knew some people who went in January, and sweet-talked the rangers into telling them how to find an AMAZING bunch of the things. And they sent me perfect directions. Which I am not about to post on this page. If I know you, and you are going to DV, email me and I'll tell you how to find them...otherwise, just enjoy the pictures.

The directions my friend had given me were very good, the road was not bad at all, and hiking to the petroglyphs was like this, almost level. Tom, me, Doug and Dave. And Tom has found them!
The eight pictures above are the ones I took, which are pretty good, but Tom photographed ALL of them! his are below, and they're really amazing. Oh, and the gray rock doesn't have any petroglyphs on it, it was just extremely cool looking, all worn down by water.
One last petroglyph...and we went back. Lizard: Bill? Signe? Open up, it's hot out here... Jo Nell has come! Bill takes a look at my NEW CAMERA THAT I BROKE...
Yes, the new camera that I had bought a month before...I dropped it. Not while climbing on rocks or doing anything adventurous...just GETTING OUT OF THE CAR. I had an armload of stuff, and Doug (standing next to me) said, Isn't that your new camera on the ground? I said some bad words, and indeed it refused to work. So I took the 16GB card out of it and put it in my OLD camera, which could go through WWIII intact, and the pics were all fine. Whew. FLEX! Problem solved!
The sunset is pretty on the hills... and over the sand dunes. We ended up in our room (this trip it was always our room, probably because we were centrally located) where Doug, Signe and Diana amused themselves... while Tom, Jo Nell and the Carpenters played hearts. Cindy kicked serious butt.

Friday - 106°

We talked Thursday night about what we wanted to do. Liz and Martha stopped by when they arrived around 7:30 pm, and Liz really wanted to hike to Darwin Falls. So we decided to do that early, leaving around 8 am. I had a guidebook with good directions, and Bill and Signe had done it in a previous year, saying that the road to the parking lot/trailhead wasn't very bad. So we drove across Panamint Valley, through Panamint Springs, found the road, which indeed wasn't bad...til there was a sign saying 4 WHEEL DRIVE ONLY and it got REALLY bad. Sharp turns, rocks, steep dropoffs...we were laughing and appalled all at the same time. We went up and up and up...and finally came to an old mine, got out and took a bunch of pictures.
The view back to Panamint Valley... and the road we had just come up on. I couldn't find the name of the mine we stopped at, but the wooden structure by the road is an ore bunker, where ore would be stored before being taken to the smelting plant. Looking down on the rock foundation at the ore bunker and the road...
And Cindy is interested in the bunker! Martha finds an old mineshaft, which she knows better than to enter. But she's excited! Jo decides that she is queen of all she surveys.
So yes, there we were, the brave girls who had come up the hellish 4x4 road, conquered the rocks, feeling very adventurous...we started down the road to find the parking lot which HAD to be (and indeed was) before the steep 4 wheel drive section, and we were all talking about how we were glad to have a 4 wheen drive and how awful the road was...
Liz looking cute. Martha, queen of a higher hill. An old well.
Then we turned a corner and were behind THIS. Just a regular truck with a camper shell, doing just fine on the hideous road. Took the wind out of our sails pretty fast! The driver was a nice German guy and his wife, who pulled over to let us pass (at least they were having to go slow on the awful road!) and then followed us.
The German guy was kind enough to take a pic of us all at the trailhead. Darwin Spring/Falls is the actual water source for Panamint Springs, so a while ago the rangers pulled the trailhead way back and made it a 'foot traffic only' trail. You walk in about a mile and...whoa, that's WATER! And for the last half mile you're climbing over rocks and crossing streams on logs and rocks.
It's dry and rocky again, but not for long. Balancing rock, cool! This is a species of Prince's Plume called Panamint Plume that only grows in...you guessed it, Death Valley. Liz and Martha, best buds!
More water! And here's Jo, who stepped in the water more than once...and the mud, which smelled GROSS. Just GROSS. Cat-tails and what looks like a twining snapdragon (the yellow flowers in back.) Nope, it's a Mimulous Guttatus, a monkeyflower. Thanks, Liz J! Yay! More crossing hideous smelly mud on wibbly branches with no handholds! Um...sure, I'm all for it. Really.
Lizard! one thing about the heat, we saw LOTS of big pretty lizards. But THIS is not a lizard (what Martha is holding, that is. We know Martha is not a lizard either.) Look at that smile! What a pretty fella! He (or she) is, unsurprisingly, a California Toad. I like the rocks and greenery together! it was a beautiful hike.
This was kind of hard for me- you have to bend in the middle, with your feet on a tiny shelf and your hands holding onto not much and move sideways. Cindy gave me a hand, which helped a lot. Now it's Nell's turn... And Jo Nell sits and rests for a minute. This is not very clear when you blow it up, but it looks like water-cress.
Yay! the lower falls! Cindy and Jo Nell take a break. Hedgehog cacti trying desperately to bloom... and a close-up!
The falls again, Liz got a great shot of the reflection! Martha trying to climb up the rocks... And me? just having a snack. Again, Liz J. says this is Mimulous Guttatus, a kind of monkeyflower. Actually, she says Guttatus is NOT a monkeyflower, but the books say it is. Anyway. There it is, all pretty and yellow, for your enjoyment.
This one I do know, it's our old friend Mojave Aster. And here are the falls! which are quite beautiful, btw. It's possible to climb up to a second and third waterfall, but we were happy with the first. Diana has identified these as Juncus, and Liz J. says they're Juncus Encifolius Yay Diana and Liz! Oh, yes, the Chevy Behemoth has been through the mill...with more to come...
Then we left Panamint Springs, turned right on the Trona road and left onto Wildrose Road. Up through Wildrose Canyon to the charcoal kilns, while girls napped in the back seat.
We stop in Panamint Springs for ice cream! My best guess on this is Staghorn Cholla, but it's so similar to Buckhorn Cholla that I won't bet the farm on it.
And here we are at the Charcoal Kilns! Here's the National Parks Service info page. And they're fun to explore!
A shot of the (newly) snow-capped Sierras. Wildflower alert! Desert Paintbrush. Which I grew up calling Indian Paintbrush, but times have changed.
And two shots of hills on the way back.
And what were the rest of the crew doing while we girls hiked the falls? Bill, Signe, Doug, Diana and George went to Scotty's Castle to take the tour and hang out...it's up at 3000 feet, so it was about 15 degrees cooler there, and there are lots of trees for shade. Doug, Bill and Signe took the tour, and Diana and George hung out, found the spring behind the house and took pictures.
These first seven pictures are George's.
I think he took this across from the motel. I like how wild and lonely it looks. AWESOME shot. Some kind of cholla.
The Scotty's Castle complex Another hedgehog cactus Bill and the camera vs the desert... A marker for the Eichbaum Toll Road from Darwin Falls to Stovepipe Wells. The first part of the road we took that day from the highway to the parking lot at Darwin Falls was a chunk of that old road.
The next eight pics are Bill's, and they're all bits of interesting stuff from Scotty's Castle. If you want to see more pics of this extremely cool ranch resort, look in the 2007 and 2009 trips.
Liz took this. We saw this guy RUNNING at noon in the heat DRAGGING A TIRE LOADED WITH WEIGHTS. We talked to an employee of Stovepipe Wells on Saturday night and found out he's one of the dishwashers there, he does this all the time. He has also run from Beatty to Mount Whitney (about 100 miles) and has RUN UP MOUNT WHITNEY. Oh my god. Dust devil! Girls play games in the middle of the day. We were going to chill til 4 then hike Mosaic Canyon, which is right by the motel. Bill and Diana hanging out.
The Carpenters left after we got back from the charcoal kilns, which was earlier than they had planned (something came up), but they were cool and we hope to see them again on a future trip.

This was also the day where and everyone disappeared into their rooms in the afternoon and really didn't want to do anything. Which is fine, on this trip. I only herd cats that WANT to be herded. The problem was, everyone was all, Let's do this...then they'd disappear into their air-conditioned motel rooms. So by the time I finally figured out that nobody was going to do anything...it was also too late for ME to go anywhere. Fine. I'll play my fid...oh, no, I just broke BOTH my D strings. Okay then, I'll just read, hard to break a book...

And it's evening! the sun disappeared around 7:15 each night, and people would come slinking out of their motel rooms ready for dinner and hanging out. Liz is working on a loom making a little crocheted turtle. Bill, Liz and George are watching the last bit of sunset... and Doug reads some chapters from the book he's writing.

Saturday - 110°

Anya showed up around 9 pm on Friday, and during the evening we all talked about what we were going to do on Saturday. I had talked about going to the Mesquite Dunes right by the motel for dawn one morning, and Bill and Signe wanted to do that Saturday...and Diana wanted to drive to Dante's View...and Liz really wanted to take Martha and Anya on the Zabriskie to Golden hike, which requires a car at each end. I had originally said that Saturday would be the day for driving to the Racetrack, but all the weather reports I had seen before I left said that Saturday would be the hottest day of the weekend.

So I said to my peeps, let's do this: anyone who wants to be out the door at 6 to see the dawn on the sand dunes can do it. We'll take two cars to Dante's View at 7:30 and check out the early morning there. After that, those who want to do the hike will go there and hike, and before we leave Dante's View I'll set up a time with Diana for her to pick us up at Golden Canyon. And we'll do the racetrack Sunday.

This sounded like a good plan to all.

Dawn. 6:08 that day. Just the thought makes me shudder. I hate dawn and I hate snow. And here I am, taking a picture as the sun peeps over the hills... *sigh*. But it is beautiful, and not cold at all. The first section of pics are mine. It really isn't cold, even though Liz and Anya are bundled up a bit. The light hitting the hills around us is very beautiful.
Jo Nell is going off on her own... And here's the sun! The sand patterns suddenly pop out and are amazing. And the big dune is so beautiful.
Anya and Liz are ensconced. The big dune is lovely Jo Nell is hunting for pictures. Bunny tracks! the other cool thing about morning at the sand dunes is that you see all the animal tracks from the night before.
Lizard tracks! you can see the tail drag in between the footprints. And this is a pocket mouse or kangaroo rat track. Liz and Anya: still talking. Beautiful patterns in the sand where nobody has walked.
More beautiful sand patterns. Lots more animal tracks! lizards, mice/rats, the tiny pair that looks like a zipper is a stinkbug (they're about an inch to an inch and a half long) and the last one is a sidewinder; we saw lots of beautiful sidewinder tracks.
A closeup of the sidewinder track, you can actually see the scale print. Nice! And two girls without scale prints, that's nice too! Now we go to Bill's pictures. Here's a nice creosote bush with both yellow flowers and white seeds, with the dunes in the background. And here's Signe in the foreground!
Another nice sidewinder track... sand patterns... the big dunes... And more sidewinder tracks! those guys must have been having a party last night, their tracks were EVERYWHERE.
And now we move to Liz's pics...the light is hitting the edges of the dunes... Anya, happy to see the sun... beautiful dunes... And...hey, that's me! I was evidently there too!
And Jo Nell's, ditto light, dunes, sand patterns. Beautiful.
Ralph is waiting for us when we get back, and it's off to Dante's View.

Mugging for the camera is fun!

Martha enjoys the view: 5400 feet straight down. That's a mile, kids. Wow!

Liz has walked out to one of the hills...

and so have I, this pic looks back to the parking lot.

And you can see how many mountain ranges are visible.

Liz Does Dante's View! She spent her time taking sequential pictures, which her excellent sweetie Robin helped her stitch into panoramas. And they are amazing!
Here we are at Zabriskie Point between Manly Beacon and the Red Cathedral. Getting ready to hike down... and one more shot of pretty rocks.
And TWO Liz panoramas from Zabriskie Point!
This is one of our favorite hikes. We always make sure to take two cars and leave one at the bottom, or, like today, make a date with someone to pick us up...it's fun to hike down but up? not so much. The hike is about 2.5 miles, and I way overestimated the time it would take for us to get there, get on the trail and hike it...Diana was planning to pick us up at 12:30.
One more shot of the Red Cathedral... and down we go! I think this says Pathfinder 2012...hard to tell. The intrepid hikers!
Lots of interesting rock and mud in this canyon complex. And a lot of little trails going down valleys. One of the few places one must go uphill. Here! Here's the trail! I found it! We're SAVED!
We love this shot of hikers on the trail across the face of Manly Beacon. Liz took these two shots of pretty rock on Manly Beacon. Interesting fractured rock.
We got down into the top of Golden Canyon proper... and Bill and I started hiking toward the Red Cathedral loop, which was uphill...and I just pooped out. He kept going for ten or fifteen minutes, rubbing it in thoroughly... But I went back and joined my girlfriends in the shade for some water and snacks. And we're off again! Watch out- she's got a CAMERA!!!
And we love the downhill hiking toward the shade! This might be the infamous spot that Liz poured water on last time... Martha: Oooh, it's a huge rock! Here I am! <big arms>
A nice pic of her coming down. And we're getting toward the valley, you can see it in this picture. A lizard! Pretty spectacular rock colors from Liz...
and more! Blooming rocknettle And yet more rocks! stripes are my favorites. High kicks, girls!
And we reach the end of the trail at the Golden Canyon Parking lot... And there's shade. Which is a good thing... Because remember where I said I overestimated the time it would take to get to Zabriskie Point and hike the trail? we got here at 11:30...and I told Diana to pick us up at 12:30. But we had water, and snacks, and good conversation. And here's Diana's little red Honda Fit...she's right on time.
Diana and Signe were in the front seats...and the OTHER FIVE OF US managed to get in. Bill, Anya and Martha in the middle, and Liz and I folded up in the very back. It actually was pretty comfortable...and it was only ten or fifteen minutes back to Zabriskie and our own car. Bill went back with Diana and Signe, and what did the girls and I do?
We went to Furnace Creek for ICE CREAM!
We saw these cars several times in a procession across the desert and doing donuts in the parking lot and airfield (yes, airfield) at Stovepipe Wells. Bill found out afterwards that Kia has a warehouse in Beatty and they bring the new models out here to test the air conditioning...the fancy car bras are to keep anyone from seeing/photographing the new year models.
So then I took my computer off the shelf on the nightstand...and dropped it.

Everyone was taking naps for a while before doing whatever was next, and I thought it would be a good time to dump pics from my camera onto my computer...seriously, I only dropped it about four inches but that was enough. Screen GONE. Wierd colors and lines through it. Oh my god, I said, and went out to tell the crew what I had done. And they immediately said, you probably only broke the screen, if you hook up a monitor to it you can get your pictures off. And they were right...as soon as I got back, I went to my work and hooked it up to a projector screen and the computer itself was fine; I got the previous two days' pics off it and sent it in to be fixed.

But I'm getting tired of breaking stuff on this trip...and Doug made snide remarks whenever I touched his Mac for the rest of the weekend...

So we discussed what we wanted to do next. I wanted to take the girls on the Titus Canyon drive. Liz wanted them to see Rhyolite. Doug, Bill, Signe and George also wanted to go to Rhyolite. So we took two cars to check out this wonderful ghost town, and our car would leave from there (the Titus Canyon road starts there) and the other car would come back on the regular paved roads.

So we left for Rhyolite. Bill pulled over after a mile or so and let us pass. We turned left on the Scotty's Castle Road and I said to Liz and Anya (Martha wanted naps and air conditioning for the afternoon), the turnoff to Beatty is REALLY SOON and we have missed it before...keep an eye out for it, it'll be on the right.

Then we started talking. Then we pulled over for a picture of these hills and a car we thought was Bill's passed us. Then I thought we had missed it and gone too far, and just as we caught up to "Bill's car" (which wasn't) we also reached the other end of the Titus Canyon road, and it became obvious that we had missed the turnoff and gone too far.

So we turned back. It took another fifteen minutes or so to retrace our route and find the road, which indeed is almost immediately after the left turn onto the Scotty's Castle road. We drove through Hell's Gate and Daylight Pass. We got to Rhyolite about half an hour later than we had intended...we had a long slow drive ahead of us, and our dinner rezzies were at 7 pm, and we sure didn't want to be late, so we didn't stop and get out...We just drove up and down the main street, which had a LOT Of cars and people. We looked, waved to George and the crew, and went back to Titus Canyon for the 28 mile hair-raising ride.

Here are some nice pictures George took in Rhyolite of the train station, a building, and the bottle house with the outdoor garden/play houses that one of the caretakers made for his daughter with glass and bits of stuff found in the desert.
This is the beginning of the road, which starts near Rhyolite. The first eight miles or so are like this, then you get into the mountains and it's twisty turny steep time. You can actually do this road in a high clearance 2 wheel drive, but it's better with a 4x4. Look! I have the same expression as the zombie kitten on my shirt! I can has BRAAAAINS! Pretty rocks.
We stopped many times to get out and look, it's a beautiful drive. Lots of multicolored rock. Anya is standing in Red Pass looking at the road ahead (which you can see on the right.) Below is Liz's panorama shot from Red Pass.
Lizard! Anya is checking out Leadfield, a mining town that lasted about eight months til the couple of hundred people who moved there figured out that they had been scammed into moving there... We were thrilled to see a prickly poppy...not many flowers this trip. We're starting to get into the Narrows, with dramatic rocks and colors. And way fun to drive into.
The white flowers look like Amsonia...the leaves CERTAINLY do... and here's Liz taking a good shot of the yellow flowers... and my best guess for those is Shockley Goldenhead. Doesn't that sound like the hero in one of my fantasy novels? Barrel cacti.
mmmm, melty ice cream rocks... And the road enters the narrows... and gets narrower. Almost through the canyon! And a shot of the Mesquite Dunes as we go by...first from my camera...
then from Liz's.

We hit the Titus Canyon road at 4, and made it back to the motel by 6:30 (because we didn't stop much) and were ready for dinner. I had a shower and put on a sundress, and went looking for everyone.

And I found Diana. And George. Who was annoyed that we didn't stop for him in Rhyolite to see if he wanted to do the canyon. I hadn't realized that this was a possibility, and apologized. Ah well. But I was a bit worried about time and didn't think to stop and ask. So George, next time you have the front seat reserved for the Titus Canyon Drive. It's a date.

Bill got a great desert-and-shack shot. Tom took pics of the bottle house; I like the pattern of bottles in the wall. Bill and Signe on The Couch, which is deteriorating in the desert climate, sadly. And the prospector and penguin. Supposedly this is Shorty Harris, a legendary Death Valley prospector and character. No, he didn't have a pet penguin, I'm not sure what's going on there...
Diana and George did some shots for a ukulele CD that he's going to make...this is the one I liked best. This is the plaque for the 49ers who tried to cross Death Valley and got stuck. Beautiful clouds.
7:00 pm! Time for dinner!

We have always eschewed the restaurant at Stovepipe Wells, because as long as we've been coming here, it has SUCKED. They couldn't even make breakfast. This is why we live out of ice chests the whole time we're there...well, that and it's also fun having the dinner buffet.

But last year, new people took over the whole Stovepipe Wells Village complex...including the restaurant...and we had high hopes that the food would be good enough to go out once each time we came. So we made reservations for eleven people for Saturday night (everyone but the Carpenters, who left early) and all sauntered over there looking forward to dinner. And we were very very pleased! the food was delicious, well prepared and not too expensive. We complimented the waiter and called the (three weeks new) manager over to tell her how happy we were.

From the left: Jo Nell, Doug, me, Liz, Martha; Anya on the end; Tom, George, Diana, Signe, Bill.

It was LOVELY.

We went back to our rooms...and saw these guys. Now, Liz spent two months last summer in Africa and scorpions were a definite part of that experience. She definitely does not like them. And when she got to the desert she said, I really don't want to see any scorpions while I'm here. Oh, no, we said, there are big ol' stinkbugs but we've never seen scorpions here.

And guess what was near Liz's motel room when we got back from dinner? The first pic has Tom's foot for scale. The first ugly guy is a scorpion...the second is, and Bill nailed this one, a VINEGAROON. Which are as nasty as, and uglier than (if possible) scorpions. Then I saw the BIG GREEN LIZARD and said, OMG, it's the color of a banana slug! and ran over to take pics...but alas, it was made of plastic.

A guy named William who worked for the motel came by, and we started talking about a bunch of stuff, starting with the ugly visitors earlier. He told us about hiking out where we had seen the petroglyphs Thursday; I said, have you seen these? he hadn't, so I told him how to find them. Then a bit later I asked him how to find some petroglyphs I had seen many years ago but never been able to find again; he gave us excellent directions to find them. Nice.

Sunday - 113°

I am totally not joking about this temperature. But I get ahead of myself.

So on Saturday afternoon, I took my SUV over to the rangers' station to ask about the Racetrack road- we had decided to go Sunday morning, and I was up to drive, and I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to get any nasty surprises that I could avoid.

The ranger was very nice. The road is pretty much as it always is, he said, but what kind of car do you have? I showed him my Chevy Behemoth with all-wheel drive. It made it to Marble Canyon and back with no problem, I said.

Yeah, he said, but those are rounded river rocks, not the kind of sharp stuff on the way to the Racetrack. Look at your tires...they're pretty worn. If you take this car you'll have a blowout.

Damn. That was not what I wanted to hear, but he was right...my tires were pretty worn. Not awful, just kinda worn. So I went back to the motel and broke the bad news: I'm not taking my car to the racetrack. We all talked about it. Anya had rented a jeep with a 4 wheel drive and serious tires, and it looked like the kind of car that could make it if anything could. The girls all really wanted to go and so did Tom. So the decision was that Liz, Anya, Martha and Tom would leave at 6:30 am and go to the Racetrack and back. Jo Nell would check herself and Tom out of their room (checkout is 11, and they were expected back around 2) and go have fun with us in the morning, and when Tom and the girls came back from the Racetrack Jo Nell and Tom would leave. So Bill, Signe, Jo Nell, Doug and I packed lunches and took off around 8:30 in the morning. First we followed William-the-Stovepipe-Wells-Village-Employee's instructions to find the petroglyphs...

An early morning Ralph. We all got up around 7:30 and the Jeep was gone, so we assumed the Racetrack contingent were on their way... We drove out to the place with the petroglyphs, and William had given us perfect directions, we found them with no trouble. Except for some of us who had to go down the steep part on our butt... And there they are!
For such easy to find petroglyphs (my inability to find them notwithstanding) they are in pretty darn good shape, especially the bighorn sheep pictures. Very nice, and interesting rocks.
A couple more shots of the interesting rocks, and we're off. Bill was driving, and our next stop was Aguereberry Point, a beautiful overlook. After that we were going to check out Jim Aguereberry's Eureka Mine and the complex of buildings where he lived, all of which are close together.
A blown tire! within 200 feet of where Bill's tire blew three years ago...it was actually pretty amusing. Someone pick us up, please! Bill and Jo Nell figure out how to get the tire and stuff out, Doug reads the instructions, and I take the pictures.
Signe watches with interest, Bill changes the tires. Signe and I are distracted when we realize that we are wearing the same color of pink.
Tire off... Wow, look at the huge hole!

(Bill really hated this picture of him, but I wanted to keep the pic of the hole in the tire...so I fixed it.

Tire hub... And on with the new tire!
And Bill figured out something important...

We've blown tires the last three times we've been to DV, all three times in extreme heat...and TIRES ARE FILLED WITH GAS THAT EXPANDS IN HEAT. As soon as Bill said it, we all did a facepalm. NONE of us has been remembering to let air out of our tires to make up for the expansion of the air in them when it gets hot. And we think of ourselves as desert-savvy...how stupid can we be? As soon as we got back to the motel I borrowed a tire gauge from George and checked mine (my car had not moved since nighttime.)

On the side away from the sun, the pressure was 33; on the side facing the sun, the pressure was 40, still within acceptable limits...but when we got back from the morning trip and Bill checked the rest of his tires, they were all 3-5 pounds over the tire's limit!

So lesson learned. A tire gauge has just joined the necessary equipment for future DV trips, even when it's NOT hot.

As we drove carefully back on the bad road toward the pavement, the girls (in the back) were talking. I heard the word 'chuckwalla' but nobody went any further with it...it wasn't til we got HOME that I found out that Bill and Doug had SEEN A CHUCKWALLA (a lizard as long as my forearm, no kidding) and had NOT STOPPED THE CAR FOR PICTURES.

Damn them.

Jo Nell is bored and starts drawing petroglyphs on the truck. Bill demonstrates how the rocks here have teeth and will bite your tires. I take a pic of Aguereberry's digs as we pass...nobody would let me walk the quarter mile to check it out.
So we stopped at the old entrance station, by the Wildrose Road, for lunch. There is an old ranger's station, bathrooms with real flush toilets, beautiful tamarisk trees and picnic tables. Then we came back to the motel to hang and discuss our options.

Now, it was REALLY HOT. We hadn't looked at the temperature, but it was DAMN HOT. Bill wanted to get that tire patched (if you bring it back to the car rental company patched and useable in an emergency, they don't charge you extra) but it was Sunday, and we didn't know if the Furnace Creek garage would be open. Bill didn't want to drive all the way out there and find it closed, so he had Stovepipe Wells call and asked the front desk at Furnace Creek to call back and let him know.

They didn't call back. and around about 1:30 pm, Doug said, rather than just wait, let's go see and I'll buy you guys a drink, so we have a reason to go even if they're closed.

That sounded pretty good to me too, so I packed up all my stuff for the hike I wanted to take (Monarch Canyon) and went too. Doug and I were in my car, Bill and Signe in his. We were behind them. We were both going 50 mph because his spare was a donut.

So we're on our way to Furnace Creek, and it's REALLY HOT. And across the salt flats I see TWO HUGE dust-devils. I pull over. I go to the back of the car to get my camera. I DON'T HAVE MY CAMERA WITH ME. Crap. I was going straight from Furnace Creek to my hike, and didn't want to go all the way back to Stovepipe Wells for my camera. I decided to buy a single-use film camera for my hike, and I was sure Bill (who had pulled over ahead of me when I did) was taking pics of the dust devils. They were AWESOME.

So we get to Furnace Creek. The garage is open, and the tire guy says he'll do his best (it's a big rip) and it'll take a while. While the boys are talking to him, I ask Signe, Did Bill get a picture of those dust devils? No, she said, he didn't bring his camera, did you get them? Ah well.

We went over to Furnace Creek. At that point we saw that the temperature on their thermometer was 110 degrees. I went into the store and got a two-pack of single-use cameras, and joined Bill, Signe and Doug in the nice cool bar.

They had margaritas. I had iced tea. It was delicious.

It's too hot, says Doug. You shouldn't go hiking.

Nah, I say, I'll be fine.

We go back and forth a bit. He's kind of spooked by the morning's blown tire and the heat. Look, I say, it's not that hot where I'm going, it's up a couple of thousand feet. The WHOLE ROAD that I'm driving is two and a half miles, I could walk out to the main road even if my car isn't driveable for some reason. And I'm taking more water than I'll ever drink on this hike. I'll be back by 7 pm, please don't worry about me.

And off I went.

The part I didn't tell him was that I was also worried about taking a bad 4 wheel drive road after the blowout this morning, like it had jinxed me or something. But I am not one to give into irrational fears, and this really was irrational, we were both just spooked.

The pictures from now to the end of the Monarch Canyon hike are from the single-use (film) camera... not so bad, considering. Except this one, in which we all look pretty scary...
Driving north at the Beatty cutoff toward Hell's Gate. This was the point when I looked at the temperature readout in my SUV and it said 111 DEGREES. I was going uphill and wasn't sure about how well the engine would continue to do if I ran the air conditioner, and truthfully, I was pretty tired of being in air conditioning, so I turned it off and rolled down the windows. It was LOVELY. Yes, I'm a freak. The hills are pretty... And now I'm through Hell's Gate approaching Daylight Pass. I'm up a couple of thousand feet and the temp has dropped to about 95. And after worrying about the road, this is what it was like...not at all bad, except in a couple of spots. My pickup truck could have done most of it. There's a Jeep coming toward me, the only people I saw all afternoon. We both stopped and I said, How was it? Great! he said. And he was right.
More of the entrance road, which was pretty awesome. Lots of driving around little canyons. I stopped and parked a little before the real parking lot, just because I didn't want to go across the rocks on the left. I was only about a hundred feet away from the actual trailhead. This is the top of an 80 foot dry waterfall, which is where the trail starts.
Okay, that's kind of cool, but how do I get down there? the guidebook talks about a canyon on the left... which ends here...pretty, but still not where I need to go...I go back to the dry waterfall and look around again... Aha! Here's the old miner's trail down to the wash. And suddenly I'm in the wash and walking through all this reedy stuff...this is actually the trail.
And this is what the canyon looks like. Here's the stamp mill, with a chute coming from above. A lot of metal and equipment is still there, and there must be a mine up above, although it's not visible. Very cool! Next time I'll come earlier and get more closeup shots with a decent camera.
Continuing down the canyon toward Monarch Spring. Wildflower! didn't get a clear enough shot to figure out what it is...I think this might be a felt plant...the leaves look like it, and what I can see of the flowers do too... This was great, the skeleton of a deer. Not so great for the deer, of course... I had to pull the skull out of the bush beside me. Very cool!
And this is as far as I can go, a total of about 2 miles into the canyon. Here is the spring (that's why there's all the vegetation) and my trail guide says the canyon narrows and actually gets kind of dangerous from here on. So now I get to go uphill in the hot airless canyon...hm. Not as much fun in this direction, especially that last steep bit up just before the dry waterfall...that was hard. But here is the dry waterfall, which is EXTREMELY pretty... and I'm back! here's my Chevy Behemoth, ready to take me back to the motel. You can see a bit of the roof in the lower center of the picture.
I got back before Doug even had time to worry about me. Took a shower, hung out in the air conditioning til it was time for dinner. Lovely. And best of all, the Jeep had returned, which meant that the Racetrack group made it back safely. Turns out that Tom and Jo Nell had already left (which we expected) and Liz and Anya had gone in Liz's car to see Badwater and Artist's Palette...and do one other errand...
I've had a shower and Signe and I still match! And we're joined by Diana. The three of us drive to the Mesquite Dunes parking lot... Because the sand dunes are awfully pretty in the late afternoon light.
One more picture of the gnarly old trees at the Dunes... one more picture of Signe's brilliant hair... The sunset is pretty... and Liz and Anya have returned! here they are in front of Anya's wonderful Jeep!
As I said before, the four of them got up early and left at 6:30. Anya had gassed up the Jeep the day before, so they took off, drove up through the Grapevine exit, past Ubehebe Crater and onto the 26 mile legendarily awful Racetrack Road.

Where, three miles in, they blew a tire.

AND KEPT GOING.

Now that is the kind of thing that, in retrospect, after they got back safely, was exactly the right thing to do.

On the other hand, if they had blown one more tire, it would have been Stupidest Decision Ever. And I'm glad it turned out fine and I knew nothing about it til it was over! Liz said she spent the whole rest of the trip looking for shady places they could hole up when a second tire blew and they were stranded...glad they didn't have to.

Here's Martha and Tom changing the tire...and Tom looking very dashing in his silly hat.

Here is Liz's panorama of the whole playa; Tom, Anya and Liz's pics from the Racetrack; plus them stopping by Joshua trees for a photo op, and also Ubehebe Crater. Notice the car temperature reading...
And that was the errand that Liz and Anya went on, which is why they were gone when I got back: they went to Furnace Creek to get the tire patched. And because they were there, they also took pictures at Badwater and Artist's Palette. Here is Liz by her car, Will, looking pensive.
Anya at Badwater Look! It's the Sea Level sign! and it's a pretty time of day to be there. Beautiful light, even if it is hot.
And here's that same shot again, as a panorama (taken as they left Artist's Drive.)
The sunset is lovely... as are the hills and the Mesquite Dunes.
And what was Diana doing all day? she drove around to some of the small towns nearby- Death Valley Junction, Amargosa Valley, Lathrop Wells and Beatty. Here are the pics she took:
The chairs are ready... Diana is putting out dinner... And I join her. Diana, dramatically: Look at the stars!
The sunset is nice. and you can see the whole moon, even though it is a dancing slipper... the new moon was the night before. Jo kicks butt at cribbage once again. Doug and Liz have a nice conversation.
Then suddenly everyone but me, Diana and George was running off to Zabriskie Point to look at stars...D and G went to bed, so I read and packed until they got back...at 11:30, the stars were evidently really amazing. The three girls left early the next morning, before the rest of us got up.

Monday

Here we are at the breakfast buffet, which was nowhere near as awesome as dinner had been on Saturday night. Not bad, just not exciting and pretty expensive. We happened to pull off by these signs to change drivers. They're by Owens (dry) Lake. Interesting! And there is Olancha, which means this trip is over. Doggone it. I don't want to wait another 18 months to come back...
But wait! There's another Death Valley trip planned for January 2013!

FLEX! Problem solved!

Who's coming?