Death Valley in Winter


Click on any picture (and on the large purple titles) to see them expand.
Why Winter?
I go to Death Valley every 18 months. I love Death Valley, it's my happiest place on earth. And for me, the hotter the better; I usually go in April and November, which are pretty toasty but not so hot nobody will come with me.

But I have a lot of friends for whom even the November temperatures sound like the ground floor of Hell. And the last time I went to Death Valley, I was so happy that I just could not bear to wait 18 whole months to go back. And I had a friend who went in January of 2012 and had beautiful weather and a great time.

All right! I said. I'll do it, just this once. I'll go to Death Valley IN THE WINTER. So who among my heat-hating friends is coming? I put the word out, and we ended up with seven of us: me, my wonderful sister Diana and our great-nephew Nick in one room, Scott and Jenny in another, and Art and Margaret in the third. Diana is, of course, an old DV hand. Margaret had been once before and wanted to come back and bring her husband Art. And Scott and Jenny, although not fond of heat, are usually up for a good adventure. So the seven of us reserved three motel rooms for the last weekend in January.

Nick
My brother and his wife love Death Valley. And several times I have gently suggested that their grandson, my great-nephew Nick, might enjoy it as well. But they don't get many vacations, and sharing your room, even with your awesome grandkid, is not the same as actual time together alone.

Then, when this January trip was being discussed, and Bill and Signe said they were not coming, I said, how about Nick? Diana, who was sharing my room, agreed that sharing a room with a 14 year old guy could be a whole lot of fun, and the plan was made. Doug and I gave Nick his plane ticket as a surprise Christmas present. I was so happy to have Nick coming along- he's really great, and I hoped he would have a good time. He's also one of the few teens that I was totally sure would fit in with the group, and I also thought that the other grownups would enjoy his company.

Cameras and pictures
I have a Panasonic Lumix camera. It's old and thrashed- I've dropped it and kicked it and someone who shall remain nameless *cough*Sarah*cough* spilled sangria into the shutter. It has been through WWIII and still works, after a fashion...but it's been time to replace it for a while. I tried a Canon Elph last year (the April 2012 DV trip) but I dropped it and killed it.

But also in April, my friend Liz had a newer version of my faithful old Lumix, which she highly recommended...so I got one a week before this trip. And I am SO HAPPY with this camera!

Now granted, I haven't dropped or kicked it or spilled noxious substances on it...but DAMN does it take good pictures. And I discovered a black and white setting that's really easy to turn on and off, so there are a lot of b/w pics in this trip, and many of them are quite beautiful.

And speaking of pictures, most of them on this page are mine; the rest are from Nick, Scott and Jenny, and Margaret. You can tell whose pics are which by running your mouse over the picture, in which case the name will appear in the bottom browser bar, or clicking on it and looking at the name in the address bar.

All the full-sized pictures are named dv[number].jpg, if I took them. If there are letters (n, sj, m) after the number, it was taken by Nick, Scott or Jenny, or Margaret. If there's an a, ignore it, I add an a to the thumbnail.

Oh, and I crop my pics, just in case you're wondering. That's why there are so many long thin mountain ranges with clouds.

And so it was January. The holidays were over and it was time to start thinking about the Death Valley trip. Everyone checked in and talked a bit about food and stuff. I sent weather reports every day or two (low 70s and rainy off and on, was the final report.) Nick's mom Rhi, Nick and I talked about food and clothes and stuff on the phone.

And it was Wednesday the 23rd! I picked Nick up from his first solo airplane flight and brought him home; we settled him down on the couch for the night, and got to bed not too late. Up at 7 am the next morning! we loaded and gassed up my lovely truck Boudika, got ice for the ice chest, and Scott and Jenny came by to compare maps and exchange cell phone numbers. We were going to caravan to Death Valley and keep in touch by cell, as long as service lasted. Art and Margaret had left early, but we caught up to them in Bakersfield, and all stayed pretty close together for the rest of the drive.

Here is Nick holding up his Christmas present from his Uncle Doug and Aunt Jo...it's a scroll telling him about the trip he's going to take in four weeks. Here's the scroll! Although Linda is included in the scroll, she had to cancel at the last minute; we're hoping she'll make it in November.

So we were off. Got to Bakersfield just fine. Nick could read in the car, so that was good...an 8+ hour drive each way was the only thing about bringing him that made me hesitate, but he was fine. And he put up with my music! Had lunch at Del Taco, of course. Then we turned east on the 178 by Lake Isabella...and that's where things got interesting.

Thursday

Because there were clouds blowing around all over the hills on the other side of the lake, and it was BEAUTIFUL. I kept pulling the truck over to take pictures for about 30 miles, from the lake itself right up to Walker Pass. And I think the righthand of these four pictures, with the Joshua trees, is one of the best pictures I've ever taken. I love the colors and the composition...and I REALLY love my new camera!
So yes, Lake Isabella and then we're getting close to the desert and Walker Pass, which is a bit twisty-windy, and is at 5200 feet... when all of a sudden we hit a wall of fog. Here is what the road was like, although I'm taking this picture off to one side.
And as soon as we got through the pass and below 4000 ft, the fog went away.

Then we got on the 190 to DV, and as soon as we got into the hills, ANOTHER wall of fog closed in, even worse than the first...but aside from me making Nick get out in the cold to have this picture taken, all was well.

We crossed Panamint Valley, went up toward Towne Pass...and this time there was no fog. It was RAINING.

But around 6:15, we reached the motel...where Diana, Art and Margaret were waiting for us. It was warm enough outside for music til about 8:30, and you can see how warm and inviting our motel room is, with this pic Nick took between our cars, my Boudika and Diana's Connie.

My awesome truck Boudika
Normally, when we go to Death Valley, we rent a 4x4. Since it's a six day trip (a day on each end getting there and back and four days in the place itself) that's a week's rental, and is expensive. But we're talking about January here, and there is no predicting the weather (well, it's probably not going to break 80 degrees, but otherwise? anything from warm and sunny to cold and snowy, and sometimes both at the same time, see Sunday.) And rain means no back roads, since many of them follow or cross streambeds...I like four-wheelin', but I'm not stupid. Plus we were bringing newbies to Death Valley, and most of the really famous stuff that people want to see is easily accessible by a regular car. So I decided NOT to rent a 4x4 for this trip.

Instead, I brought my own wonderful pickup truck for the first time ever...and she was AWESOME. High clearance, comfortable seats, lots of storage in the back for things like plastic chairs and an extra ice chest and the folding table. Wonderful. She did everything I wanted, got decent mileage (better than an SUV) and didn't cost extra.

And that made me really happy, especially with the price of gas there...at a time when it was running 3.60 a gallon at home, it was 4.31 at Stovepipe Wells and something like 5.17 at Furnace Creek. This is where people with good mileage cars are very smug...

Just for fun...

Diana is a huge fan of Girl Genius, which is a long-running online comic that's kind of cool and steampunkish (Adventure! Romance! Mad Science!). She was an early subscriber to something or other on the site and got an app for her ipad that lets her add characters from the webcomic to any photo. See if you can spot the Girl Genius characters who will show up in Death Valley!

Friday

Our first morning! We had had a discussion the night before, and the consensus was that, since Friday was the day that the weather reports said was the most likely to have rain, we'd do stuff that wouldn't be dangerous or awful if it DID rain. So the plan was to hike part of Titus Canyon, then drive up to Scotty's Castle and have lunch there on the picnic tables, then those who wished to tour Scotty's Castle (Nick and Art, as it turned out) could do so; those who wished to hang out on the interesting and beautiful grounds could do so, and those (me and Scott) who wished to hike Ubehebe Crater could do so. And Diana and Margaret hung out together at the motel for the morning.

Art has coffee, he's rarin' to go!

Yes, it's obligatory to stop and take pics of these beautiful striped hills on the way. Margaret gets a beautiful close-up. She had a real camera with all the settings and she knew how to use them; the rest of us were point-and-shoot. Scott is doing this the easy way... And the clouds are...interesting.
Hikers: Ready! Nick is prepared, rain or shine! No! don't go in! look at the sign!! Ooooh...pretty rocks!
Titus Canyon is one of the best things to do in Death Valley. There are two ways to experience it: you can take a slightly white-knuckle drive down a one-way 26 mile road from just over the Nevada border that comes out in the parking lot we are entering the canyon from, or you can park in that parking lot (and that's as far as you can go east, the rest of the road is one-way toward the parking lot in the other direction) and hike in. It's a lovely hike- gorgeous rock canyons, sun and shadow, and sometimes a car or motorcycles going by. Not hard, a lot of beautiful for very little effort. And the parking lot is accessible to almost any car.

And if you're lucky you'll see Agatha Heterodyne there...

And here we go! these are from 3 cameras- mine, Nick's and Scott's.
Lovely day...overcast, but we saw some sun from time to time. And here's where I discovered some of my camera settings...it does standard, sepia, black and white and a setting called (no joke) 'happy', which I think just pops the colors a bit. These three pictures are taken in (respectively) standard, happy and b/w. And the black and white setting? in DEATH VALLEY? Oh HELLS yes, it was so much fun. Just wait and see.
More hiking, more cool rocks, a bit of sun...and we're almost back to the parking lot.
Nick enjoyed mugging for the camera, which is fine with me!
Is that...SUNSHINE??? No! Not SUNSHINE!!! Quick! Get out of the SUNSHINE!!! come this way! it's SHADY!!
The preceding is a slight exaggeration, but not much...Scott and sunshine are not friends. He kept doing an imitation of a slug being shriveled up by the rays of the sun, complete with waving antennae and sound effects, but would never do it for my camera...I wonder why?
Then we went to Scotty's Castle for lunch; this is a resort built in the 20s and early 30s, and was the home of the caretaker, Death Valley Scotty, a Genuine Character.

On the way, we stopped for the real bathrooms at the Grapevine Ranger's Station. Jenny's comment: Girls just wanna have flush.

Driving up to Scotty's Castle, which is at about 3000 ft. The fence posts on the left are made of concrete. Nick took a nice pic of the bell tower emerging from behind a hill. Time for lunch! The sun actually came out a bit, it was nice. One of the bonuses of eating out of ice chests for the weekend is that it's easy to pack lunches and take them places. Walking toward the main compound to check tour times and pay our park entrance fees. The ranger who sold me my national parks pass put a piece of tape over it. No, she said, this is NOT a piece of tape. It's an SPD. Signature Protection Device. That's an official government initialism...
The plan: Art and Nick were taking the 1 pm tour of Scotty's Castle. Jenny would hang out in the grounds and bask in the sun, since she was getting over a cold and was tired. And Scott and I would drive to Ubehebe Crater, about 20 minutes away, and hike down into it and back out (much harder). The Scotty's Castle folks would come and join us after the tour ended at 2 pm.
There were a BILLION frogs croaking away in this little stream under the plants, but every time we got near them they'd shut up. Never saw a one of them. We love this door, all the hinges and hardware are sea-themed. And this gate is on the outside, you see it on the road back...which Scott and I were taking to get to.Ubehebe Crater.
Ubehebe Crater! I've been here often, but hardly ever hike down into it...with good reason, it's a BEAR to climb out of. But today was the day we were going to do it, me and Scott! You can see how windy it is up on the rim, my shirt is like a sail! Part way down, a very cool looking manzanita bush... that looks good in b&w.
This is the trail down, it's loose volcanic rock and is much steeper than it looks here. We dug our heels in all the way down for traction. Scott is ahead of me but has turned around for some reason. A little plant in the middle of rock... And Scott is on the mud playa at the bottom.
Here I come! this shows how steep it really is. Not too hard to get down, but going up... We were both fascinated by this big white rock; I liked Scott's pic of it better than any of mine. Cracked mud, a nice pattern Alluvial fans! and notice the little canyons, I'm going into a couple of those in a few minutes.
Interesting rocks... and here's a canyon! I got about ten feet into this, it was about six inches wider than my shoulders. Another canyon... with this at the end. I looked at these rocks, and I could have climbed up them to see the top part of the canyon...but it had been raining, and the walls of this little canyon were mud, and I thought, if those rocks come loose with me on top of them, that would not be good. So I didn't do it. Later on, in Desolation Canyon, I will be faced with a choice of whether or not to do something that might be unwise...will I do it? wait and see...
I'm now halfway across the bottom of the crater looking back on the two canyons I just explored a bit...wow, they look tiny... Pretty canyon edges! Scott zoomed in on an ant colony.
And he's on his way out... and it's steep and hard. See the branching trails above him? he opted to go straight out; I took the easier but longer way we came in, to the right and over the white rock. I was fascinated by the patterns of the playa and the size of the cracks in the mud, and also the damp earth on top of the cracked mud. Really cool patterns.
More mud cracks... and this is how far Scott has gone while I walked around and took pics of the mud. Okay, it's my turn, here I come! This is from halfway up the trail out of the crater.
I made it! I'm on the rim! we were both amused by these signs. Really? you have to warn me not to fall in a hole HALF A MILE WIDE? The hills in the distance are beautiful. Then Scott decided to climb up to Little Hebe crater, which I had done and was NOT interested in doing again. Here he is (and two other guys) slogging up the very steep trail... And he made it! Yay Scott!
Two shots of the inside of Little Hebe... and a picture of the parking lot (and me!) below. You can see Boudika, past the big white truck. And here's an aerial map of the volcano craters.
And Art, Nick and Jenny came to get us. Here are some of Nick's pictures in Scotty's castle (I just picked a few I really liked.)
And a couple of shots Nick took when they came to get us. Jenny at Ubehebe Crater, and the light on the hills in the distance.

I was hoping Scott would still be hiking and invisible to them when they came, so when they said, where's Scott? I could look innocent and say, isn't he with you? but he was back before their car pulled in. Doggone it!

While we were adventuring, Diana and Margaret went to Furnace Creek and hung out. Here's Margaret's picture of Old Dinah, the borax train.
We got back and Margaret was painting...Diana was knitting...Art and Margaret made some music (she's using her paint box and a paint brush like a bodhran!)...we had some dinner...and we sat around and talked.
Then Jenny, Scott, Margaret, Nick and I went to Golden Canyon (about three miles south of Furnace Creek) for a ranger-led program. The rangers have started doing Full Moon Festivals for the three days of the full moon, and we were there for that weekend! Usually we tend to be in DV during the dark of the moon, which is excellent for stars...I don't remember ever being there for a full moon. And it was WONDERFUL. Even with cloud cover so thick we couldn't actually see the moon itself, there was plenty of light for the group of us to walk up the first mile or so of Golden Canyon. It was so beautiful in the moonlight, and Ranger Alan was interesting and funny. We loved it and decided then and there to go out on the Mesquite Dunes after dark one of the other nights we were there...which never actually happened. The night we planned to do it was Sunday night...which you'll find out was not a night to be out of doors.
What is DV without games? I never taught Nick cribbage, but that will come. He did give me a run for my money at scrabble, and it was fun playing right before bed.

Saturday

Saturday we all agreed to sleep in, which for me was about 8:30 am. Nice. It had started sprinkling as we walked out of the canyon at 8 the night before, and serious rain started on our way back to the motel. Margaret said she woke up at 3 and looked outside and it was still raining...it was one of the big storms of the year, and the next morning everything was damp, it was amazing. We got up and the clouds were blowing around and changing every ten seconds, they were so beautiful, although it made Margaret crazy because she wanted to paint them and they changed too fast. We all took a bunch of pictures.

Here's the motel, it's bigger than it looks here. Our rooms are on the far left of this pic, one facing the parking lot, two facing the road.

Margaret was up at dawn. Three shots of the hills across from the motel, taken minutes apart. Lovely.
And our morning birds! Ravens in DV are collectively known as Ralph, and this was a very handsome Ralph indeed. And the brown birds are all over the place too, although they are careful not to get in the ravens' way.
Nick, Margaret and I went to the Mesquite Dunes to see what they were like after a rainstorm. No animal tracks to speak of, but the clouds were amazing. These first six pictures are Margaret's.
The next two rows are mine. I had so much fun with the b&w and color settings!
Nick taking pictures Amazing light Here's where you can see that the rain soaked in about half an inch, and see the dry white sand underneath where someone's footsteps have broken through the crust. Nick and Margaret, probably waiting for me...
And these eight are Nick's. I especially like the top center one, of the branches/trees. Nicely done!

We were driving back and saw a whole line of people pulled off the road and lined up...they were photographers, so we pulled off too and joined the line....and this is what they were all photographing. Wow!
So when we pulled off to see what the photographers were looking at, we all had cameras and used them on each other...

Here's Nick's picture of me, taking a picture of Margaret, taking this picture of the dunes.

I love this!

The Great Capri-Sun Flood of 2013

I had brought a box of Capri-Sun drinks, which was taped shut...and Nick decided to open them. But instead of sliding the sharp serrated instrument of cutting sideways under the tape so as to open the box with a minimum of damage...he STABBED THE BOX WITH IT and sawed at the tape. Which punctured more than one packet. So (because he is a good and thoughtful boy) he came to tell me what had happened, and showed me that he had put the mortally wounded and leaking box on a towel so it wouldn't drip its life blood on the carpet.

Which was good thinking, as far as it went. Unfortunately, he had punctured more than one of the hapless drink packets.

So I made him bring the box out to the patio, open it, squeeze every packet to find the ones that were beyond salvation (four of them) and either drink them or squeeze them into a cup. Here he is sorting good from bad, and he and Diana are dispatching the mortally wounded. And all was well, the motel carpet was saved, and many of the capri-suns made it out without a scratch. And Ralph is amused at the whole thing.

Then all of us but Diana went to Mosaic Canyon, which is one of the prettiest places in Death Valley, and literally right beside the motel; the road up the alluvial fan starts 1/4 mile from our motel room, and it takes ten minutes to get to the trailhead. It's stunningly gorgeous, and the prettiest part is about 1/4 to 1/3 mile, so it's a short and not-too-hard walk. Everyone loves this place...and we all took a LOT of pictures of it.

And unlike some other places here, the pretty starts immediately after leaving the parking lot. We came at a very nice time of day, too, around 9:30 am; the light and shadows were just about perfect.
You meet a lot of both geologists and photographers here; we ran into photographers this time. Everywhere you look, the rocks are amazing, whether you do the big-picture thing or focus on a little section.
The rocks are also a lot of fun to climb and slide on, as Nick found out.
The prettiest part of the canyon is about 1/2 mile long; the rest of the canyon goes a total of maybe 1.5 miles. I've hiked to the end, but the rest isn't as pretty as the first bit. Margaret stayed about halfway up that first part, to work on some paintings, and Art stayed with her. Jenny, Scott, Nick and I went on up the canyon.
Climbing Boy is climbing! and we continue up the canyon.
Rocks, Nick, rocks, and...hey, that looks like a slide!
Nick: nah. Jo: Wheeee! <slides down on butt> Nick shows off his awesome shirt that gets colorful in the sun. Jenny vannawhites the beautiful rocks.
Scott: all alone. This niche was awesome! Jenny was sorry she hadn't brought a plastic dinosaur to put there. Instead we put cameras there and took these pics!
Time to go back... No more vannawhite... Back down the canyon. And...continuing down the canyon.
Actual standing water from the rain the night before, wow! the rangers said this was one of their big rainstorms of the year. Beautiful shadows from Margaret. Everyone clambers down the steep slidy part in their own way. Jenny contemplates the drop...
Everyone looks good in beautiful rocks like these...
Margaret spent the time painting. I love the middle one! she said I could use it.
The wildly grinning redhead! and more beautiful rock pics.
There was a whole wall of this stuff, which always fascinates me. Self-portrait by Nick And we stagger out to the parking lot, thinking thoughts of lunch. It IS eleven am, after all! Jenny and Margaret: Are you coming?
And one last pic as we leave, and you can see our motel on the right, the white line in the middle.
We got back to the motel, had a very quick lunch, and left at noon. The plan: to take all the newbies to the famous places- Badwater, Artist's Palette, maybe Furnace Creek. Maybe hike Zabriskie to Golden. Jenny was interested in Salt Creek and the pupfish. Then those who wished to (I was one of them) would go to Zabriskie Point at 5 for another ranger talk, this one for moonrise, which was scheduled between 5 and 6 pm. Then back to the motel for dinner and hanging out. At least that was the plan...
A great pic of one of the long, straight roads in DV. More beautiful clouds. The 'bad water', so salty and full of weird minerals that only pickleweed and brine shrimp live in it. There's a lot of water, from the rains last night.
Hey, wait a minute, what's that? The official Badwater sign photo. Jazz hands! And we are joined first by Krosp, King of Cats... and then Agatha comes back for another visit!
The parking lot and hill across the road from the salt flats. Yes, the famouse SEA LEVEL sign is there, we're just too far away to see it. Pretty salt crystals, up close and personal. A lizard! we love lizards. Art coming back over the salt flats.
And this is what happens to your shoes and floor mats when you go hiking over the salt, LOL.

We didn't stay long at Badwater...people really wanted to split up and do different things. We decided we'd go to Artist's Palette and from there, go our different ways, and those who wished would meet at Zabriskie Point a little before 5 pm for moonrise.

Artists' Drive is a short paved road that goes in and out of very nice hills, with a turnoff in the middle to a parking lot that lets you look at Artists' Palette, a very colorful rock formation.
Nick really liked this little white car!

Two shots of Artists' Palette...it looks better than I would have expected in black and white.

Me and my truck in sepia!

Rocks near the parking lot

Nick holding out his blue sugar candy by the colorful rocks.

And Diana's little red car recedes into the distance. Scott, Jenny, Nick and I went off to Salt Creek to try and find pupfish.

Salt Creek is a marshy (yes, marshy) area where, when there is water available, the Death Valley Pupfish (that's actually their name; there are other kinds of pupfish in other places.) come out from the mud where they hibernate in summer and spawn like crazy. We were a bit early to see them, and had no luck...although there was other wildlife to be found...

This is what Salt Creek looks like. There is a boardwalk to keep people out of the actual marsh. Jenny and Nick looking for fish... and what do they see? A coyote! A very handsome fellow!
He was lovely, and I was pleased to see that although he didn't seem to be afraid of the tourists (there were a few other people besides us) he didn't get too near. He trotted up the boardwalk behind NIck, got off in pursuit of something, did a little hop-and-grab, and came up doing the nom-nom-nom with his jaws. Trotted down the boardwalk and off into the marsh. Just lovely.
Scott looking sexy on boardwalk. He's trying, in vain, to see pupfish.

After Salt Creek, we all went to the Furnace Creek Visitor's Center/Ranger Station, talked to the rangers, checked out the newly remodeled museum, and hung out til it was time for the moonrise program. Scott and Jenny decided to give it a miss, so Nick and I went to Zabriskie Point to see it, and met up with Margaret there.

And Nick caught up with the car he liked so much!

These first eight pics are sunset around Zabriskie Point. The ranger who was supposed to lead this program was sick, and Ranger Bob had taken over for her. He admitted that he forgot his posters in his car, and didn't talk much about the moon, but rather about himself (retired and loving being a ranger) and the National Parks. I found out from him that one of my favorite places, Pinnacles, is now a national park rather than a monument (parks get more funding and are better kept, so yay!)
And here we go! Shining on clouds, a bit of moon, then the full moon leapt out from behind the hills. Lovely and satisfying, since the clouds blew away just in time. The last pic shows Ranger Bob looking at the moon.
Saturday was our night to all go out to dinner at the restaurant at Stovepipe Wells village, which (now that new people have taken over) is a yummy restaurant, with not too bad prices. Then we went back to our patio and played games before bed. Nick had fun taking this pic...!

Sunday

Sunday. Day of rest? not so much...because Scott really wanted to see dawn either at Dante's View or Zabriskie Point. Shoot me in the head before I get up early enough for dawn at Dante's View, I said, it's an hour and a half from here. But Zabriskie is doable...if we leave at 6 am, we should get there just at the right time.

And also...we wanted to hike from Zabriskie to Golden Canyon, a nice, easy mostly downhill 2.5 miles...if you leave a car down there or someone agrees to pick you up.

We all looked at Diana. When? she said.

Well, I said, dawn is at 7 am. Let's assume half an hour for pics and such, and the hike really doesn't take more than an hour and a half. How about picking us all up at Golden Canyon at 9 am? if you don't mind bringing your knitting in case we're a bit late...would that be all right?

Sure thing, she said, and it was done.

And 5:30 am came a LOT earlier than I wanted it to...

Margaret and Jenny below Zabriskie Point, looking at the Badlands There was a photography class on the hill below Zabriskie, which made taking pictures a bit more...interesting. Scott at dawn. We fell into conversation with this nice lady from Baltimore, who had never been to the American Southwest before and LOVED Death Valley. She was great!
You can see the pink dawn sliding down Telescope Peak... the Red Cathedral... and Manly Beacon. But black and white is pretty too!
The first three are mine, the last is Margaret's...a lot of hers were very pink and purple, beautiful.
Two more of Margaret's, and two of Nick's.
And it looks like the sun is up! Time for hiking!
Zabriskie Point to Golden Canyon
This is a favorite hike, we do it almost every time we come to DV. It's pretty, not very long and (if you do it right) almost all downhill. There's a part where you're walking along the face of Manly Beacon that isn't very dangerous, but it FEELS wild and crazy, and it's a wonderful photo op, as you'll see.

The problem is, if you don't want to have to hike UP the same way, you need two cars, or someone reliable to pick you up, so that you can get from the parking lot at Golden Canyon back up to Zabriskie Point, where you left your car(s). Last time we did this we ended up cramming seven people (Seven ADULTS. Seriously.) into Diana's Honda Fit!

The other thing is, you always have to climb up the hill to Zabriskie Point and say, Ooh! Aaah! because it IS one of the iconic views of Death Valley...the one scene everyone recognizes is the view over the valley with Manly Beacon in the foreground. And we have always done that, then started our hike from the top of Zabriskie Point.

So this time, we were up there for sunrise, and way off to the right I saw something...that looked like a trail. Oh my god, I said, there's a REAL TRAILHEAD for this hike, it isn't just tiny self-made trails through the badlands til you reach the wash! And when we got to the parking lot, we found that this was true...probably half a mile of trail that WE HAD NEVER SEEN BEFORE because we just start from the top of the hill instead of the parking lot, and there are so many small tracks through those hills where people go on their own that it LOOKS like the trail.

So here is the same old hike...with a new beginning. Enjoy!

In the parking lot: don't those look like trail markers? Margaret and shadows. Yup, that's the trail, let's go! Bush. Nice.
So here's the new part of the trail, which is much more 'official trail'-ish than the way we've always gone. It's still very early, 7:30 am, and it's cold. Scott loves that, though, so he's happy. Nick is mugging for the camera, and girls are talking, as they do.
Rocks and mud and shapes and patterns. Gotta come back and do this in the light.
Manly Beacon and Red Cathedral. That's pretty much where we're going. Picking our way through the badlands. Where's Margaret? oh, there she is, she's painting.
A nice shot from Nick of us all coming around the corner of the trail. Did I mention that it's cold? the wind is blowing pretty strongly, too. Jenny is using Scott as a windbreak. Everyone is ahead of me here... and now I've caught up.
Here we go! These are chunks of volcanic rock in the middle of the muddy-looking badlands. One of the few uphill bits on this hike. A line of stagged-off rocks, looks like a garden border. Each piece is about 4 inches long.
We're going down there! Hiking across the face of Manly Beacon. It's not as scary as it looks, but it's a great photo. Group shot! From here to the bottom of the canyon, it's kind of steep downhill, and the wind is really blowing.
The badlands in black and white. Nice! Margaret is sitting on the trail painting and I want to take a pic looking up at Manly Beacon... the wind was blowing so hard I had to lie down to take this picture! Everyone is ahead of us but we'll catch up. We join the group. Scott is not there. I say, where's Scott? and (because of my plan at Ubehebe crater) they tried to convince me that he was with me and I had mislaid him. Nuh uh, I said, and looked up the canyon. There he is!
Red Cathedral in the sunshine. Nick with the trail sign. Golden Canyon in black and white. which way do we go? Oh, downhill, of course.
Scott and Jenny in Golden Canyon A really nice tree skeleton With desert holly Jenny and friend.
Look! Out in the parking lot! Diana is here! we were actually about 10 minutes late, but she was fine with that. Nick loved that I was willing to ride in what my family always called 'the caboose'. He made me do this. And Diana is in front of us as we drive back to the motel. But wait! who's that at the mesquite dunes? Looks like Zeetha!
Lunch! And a guy (who had come by and said hi a couple of times) came by to tell us that he had telescopes set up in the patio of the motel, and we were welcome to come view the sun. Which Nick and I did. His name is Jim Galvin, and he was great. Here he has two telescopes set up, one for seeing sunspots, and the other showing solar prominences (aka flares). And we really saw them! it was so cool. That's Nick under the black cloth looking in the telescope. So then a bit later Jim came over and was talking to us, and said he's a photographer (turns out he has beautiful photos in the rec room and restaurant of Stovepipe Wells.) He asked (after we had talked a bit) if we wanted to see some of his pictures. Sure, I said, and he brought over a stack of beautiful big prints, which we had a great time with- we tried to guess where each was taken as I vanna whited them.
Talking to people

One of my favorite things about visiting Death Valley is what I call the 'Garrulous Old Coot' factor. And I hasten to say right here that Jim is NOT of that persuasion, he was great, and fun to talk to...very knowledgeable about a lot of stuff. But it seems like every time we go there, we find one or more people who know a lot of stuff, have been places in DV that we haven't, and are happy to share. That's how we found the petroglyphs last time. I also run into people who go on and on with nothing really to say...these are the Garrulous Old Coots, but they can be fun too, if you're not in a hurry.

So we're going through Jim's pictures and there was a really pretty one. Where's that? I asked. That's the Gnomes' Workshop, says Jim.

We all look at him. The what? we say.

The Gnomes' Workshop. Then he tells us a story of trying to drive there and being turned back by rangers, and when I googled it I got all kinds of stories about rangers not letting people go there and speculation as to why. Turns out (as far as I can tell) that there are tiny little salt crystal growths there that are very fragile so they are trying to keep stupid people (and all vehicles) out of there.

Jim gave me excellent directions (and marked it on a map).



So then Jim went away, and we hung out. I was kind of reading, Art was playing his fiddle (and attracting people like flowers attract bees, seriously. Everyone loved his music. As they should.) We were all sitting around talking...and Jim came back. With the camera he uses to take his lovely pictures. This is it, and he took it apart to show us how it works. He said there are actually two companies that still make this kind of film for it, but that's all. Amazing. And fun. He was just great. Sorry the pic of him is so awful, I didn't realize it til too late.
My favorite thing to do in Death Valley

So then I got up. Well, I said, I'm going out for the afternoon. I'm going to hike and explore, especially the Gnomes' Workshop, that sounds cool. Anyone want to come with me? No? okay, see you later.

<Consternation from Art and Margaret>

What? I said.

They were not comfortable with me going out alone. Well, I said, I can leave a list of the places I'm going, although I don't know what order I'll be doing them. And I did: Mustard Canyon drive, 20 mule team drive, Desolation Canyon, and the Gnomes' Workshop. I'll probably be back around 5, I said, and I'll definitely be back before dark.

And I happily drove off.

Because my favorite thing to do in Death Valley?

Going exploring in new places all by myself and having adventures. Which I did. And it was great.

South of Zabriskie Point is 20 Mule Team Canyon, and I had been there many years ago but didn't really remember it. So that was the first place I went, mostly because it's on the east side of the hills, which meant that the sun would be on everything else I wanted to do for a longer time. I drove around and took pictures. Oh, and I saw Gil Wulfenbach thumbing for a lift, but I didn't give him one, I already have an evil overlord. Next time, Gil!
This was a cool place; any car could drive it, it was short but pretty in a 'stripy rock' sort of way. A good start!
There was a place where I climbed up on a little hill, and tried taking pictures for a panorama. When I stitched it together, I found out that one actually needs to overlap ones pictures A LOT for it to turn out well. Still, this isn't bad for a first try. This is 360 degrees.
Next, because it was kind of close by, I went to hike Desolation Canyon. I had gone there before, in 2009, but only hiked the first easy mile; my hiking book says that if you keep going for another mile and a half (much harder) you end up looking down on Artists' Palette. Sounded like fun, and I was up for a hard hike.

So I drove there, and parked (at this dirt road turnaround that is the end of the road to the trail) behind a Ford Ginormobus Expogigantocar. I saw a canyon. I remembered that I hiked up a canyon, so this must be it. So off I went, up the streambed.

Funny, it didn't look anything like I remembered- no golden/yellow mud and close canyon walls. No clearly marked trail. But it had rained like hell two nights before, and I could see evidence of that everywhere, that must have changed the trail...

Here is an interesting rock. Here is what I THOUGHT was Desolation Canyon. Here is where the trail seemed to go... And here I am at the top of that streambed, having figured out that I am in completely the wrong place, and now I have to get back down without damaging myself, since I'm not in the place I was supposed to be and if the rangers have to find me, it'll take them longer to figure out where I am...I was VERY CAREFUL getting back down that steep stream bed.
So I go back out, checking as I go to try and figure out how I missed the trail. And here you see my truck and the SUV ahead of me...which, it turns out, was BLOCKING MY VIEW of the trail.

Here is the WILDERNESS marker where I had just hiked (I figured that was just to keep vehicles out...)

and here is the actual trail marker that was not visible from my truck when I got out of it behind the Gigantobus.

And now I remember! The brown stripy hills! you walk TOWARD the brown stripy hills and down that canyon! Here we go! and I've only lost an hour of time and hiked about three hard miles the wrong way...

And yes, indeedy, I remember this canyon, it was great. Beautiful melty yellowy mud walls, a nice trail.

Then I got to the steep part...and almost immediately, I came to an 8' wall. Made of basalt-like stuff, that sharp volcanic rock. I looked at it. I thought about it. On the one hand, I was alone and didn't want to do anything stupid...on the other hand, it was only about 8 feet; at worst, I could slide over on my belly, walk my feet down and extend my arms, and drop a foot to the bottom and I'd be okay. So up I went. I didn't get a picture of it, I'm sorry to say, I was concentrating on climbing instead.

And later where the canyon forks, you can see that someone marked the right trail; at that point, I was grateful, it was hard to tell which way to go.

So up I go. It got pretty steep, but I was chugging right along...til I got to a bowl-shaped depression. It wasn't clear which way the trail went, but I knew that Artists' Palette was to the right, so I went up the gravel slope...and couldn't get to the ridge, it was too slidy. I didn't want to go all the way back down, it was a long way and had been hard to get there, so I invented the Right Upward Butt Scooch- crabbing sideways using my hands to brace myself in the gravel, (and they sure hurt the next day!) and going upwards toward the top.

So I get to the ridge...and there is actually enough fairly level ground to sort of stand. Except that the wind is blowing HARD. And the place I think I need to go is even higher up a steeper slope...and there are dark clouds almost overhead. And I have to go back about 2 1/2 miles out a mud canyon...so I took this pic of the part of Artist's Drive that is visible from where I was, and got out of there.

This is the slope I had to go down. Nuf sed. A pretty piece of rock with quartz in it. So I get down...and I can't find my truck. I see the Badwater road, I see where I must have driven in, and it looks like I have to go straight north over a little hill...and I still don't see my truck...and I'm getting a little worried...and I turn and look back the way I came...and I have (second time today) gone in ENTIRELY the wrong direction. This picture shows how far afield I went; my truck is almost in the center, but is very tiny. Driving back north, this is a picture of the Panamint Mountains and Badwater. Wow.
I took these pics on the way to Furnace Creek Ranger Station. It was getting cold. I had zipped the legs off my hiking pants for this hike, but as soon as I got there I zipped them back on and grabbed a jacket. I went in and there was Ranger Bob.

Tell me about Desolation Canyon, I said.

So he tells me all about the Death Valley Centennial Celebration in 1949.

That's actually extremely cool, I say, but tell me about the hike.

And he confirms what I thought- I was really near the part where you look down on Artists' Palette when I turned back. So next time...I'll do it!

Then I set off to find the Gnomes' Workshop.

I had directions. I not only had the very clear markings on the map that Jim had made, but I also googled it and got another person's directions. And it was pretty darn easy to fine...oh, that's gotta be it, I thought. I drove past it, looked to be sure I wasn't hiking up the wrong valley, came back and parked. And here's what it looks like from the road.

Jim had said there were some columns of some kind outside the canyon, but I didn't see them. On the other hand, it was getting dark and stormy and I was pretty much exhausted...

And this is what it looked like. I knew I was in the right place; there are even hints of a trail, although I mostly stayed in the streambed, figuring that the next rain (coming that night, obviously) would remove all traces of my presence. From what I could see, this place must be amazing in full sunlight; even in the gloomy cloudy not-very-bright late afternoon, it was wierd and colorful and interesting.
A nice skeletal bush outside the canyon. Red rock, cool. This rock was just sitting like this, fractured into slices. I saw several of these, and have never seen anything like it anywhere else. Beautiful gold rock.
And I came back out, and the first picture above is toward the south, from just outside the canyon. Then I looked west, and the clouds were closing in, the storm was coming and it was getting dark. Better get back, I thought, but I stopped three times to take these pictures.
I got back at 5:20. My sister came out to my car. Better go see Art and Margaret and tell them you're okay, she said.

Evidently they got very worried when I wasn't home by 5. I went to their room and assured them that I was not only fine, but on time, since I had said I would be back before dark, and indeed there was still light in the sky, and one could still see the (cloud covered) mountains around us.

They had all gone to Rhyolite while I was out hiking, and at 4 pm, as I reached my truck and decided that it was cool enough to change back to long pants after wearing shorts all afternoon...they saw ice pellets raining down from the sky. Glad I didn't go on that trip!

This is a pic Nick took; I think he was hoping to see one...

So then I staggered into the motel room, filthy and tired and just wanting a shower.

We've all decided to go out to dinner again, said my sister. We're tired of the food we brought.

Sure, I said, what time? Up to you, she said. I looked at my watch. 5:30. How about 6 pm? I said. And checked with the crew, that was great, so I had a LOVELY shower and we did just that. Dinner was again awesome and many stories were told. What a great crew that was for a DV trip...I was sad that it was our last night.

Nick took this pic of the sign with my camera, very nice! After dinner we played music in our room while Margaret iced her ankle again (she had twisted it in Golden Canyon, thirty feet from the parking lot at the end. Good timing, said I.)

After music, Scott, Jenny, Nick and I played a game of Munchkin, but I was way too tired to really enjoy it, after getting up at 5:30 am and hiking somewhere between 8 and 10 miles (best guess) that day. And then we had to pack for leaving the next morning...and then I tried to read a bit but my eyes...just...closed.

Monday

And Monday morning. 7 am was too early. We got up and had caffeine. The plan was to pull out at 8 am and have breakfast at a new place in Ridgecrest, since the place we liked in Lone Pine had closed a couple of years ago. And since Jenny wanted to see petroglyphs, we were going to go out through Wildrose and stop and see the ones on the way there.

Here is one more shot of dawn on the Cottonwood mountains.

So when Diana and I checked out that morning, I asked about the Wildrose road, which is not great at the best of times (although beautiful)...and there had been a storm and maybe snow the night before. The lady at the front desk said the rangers' report didn't usually come in til 9 or 9:30 am. Doggone it.

So I went over to the store, where there were a couple of Garrulous Old Coots. They discussed it at length and thought that there wouldn't be snow on the Wildrose road, but the road was in bad shape; a pickup truck could do it but it might be too low for a sedan. They didn't know if Towne Pass (the main road out to the west) had gotten snow, but figured it would at least be passible.

So I took all this info back and talked to Scott and Jenny. We decided to give Wildrose a miss, since if we had to turn back it would take an extra hour to get back to the other road; instead, we were going to take the 190 through Towne Pass, the way we had come in, but turn off in Panamint Valley for Trona and Ridgecrest. Which we did, and the roads were all just fine.

Here is the road toward Panamint Springs, coming out of Towne Pass. We're going to turn off just before the far range of mountains...and then we heard a really loud noise. An F-15 from one of the air bases nearby was flying up and down the valley, buzzing the tourists! Ranger Bob had said that with all the air bases around DV in California and Nevada, Panamint Valley was a favorite place for them to do maneuvers, flying as low as 500 feet. Nick got some really good pictures of it, considering how fast it was going and how hard it was to see. Yay Nick!
And we're in Ridgecrest! it's about 10:30 am, so I'm ready for some food! The Sierra Nevada range. This is the new breakfast place, and it was awesome. Good food, great staff, excellent prices. And the final mug shot...and we parted ways. Diana went down to LA. Scott, Jenny, Nick and I met up for lunch in Bakersfield, and then home. Nick caught his plane that night, right on time.

And me?

I was pretty happy. It was a very good trip, mostly becuase the company was so excellent. Nothing is as good as a good vacation with people you know well and whose company you enjoy. I loved having a whole weekend with Nick, and that he was so much fun to be around...all the adults told me what a great teen he is and how glad they were that he had come. It was so wonderful to be back in Death Valley, the Happiest Place on Earth, again...but it was just too cold, not nearly sunny enough.

Good thing I'm going back at the end of October! who's coming with me?

Jo, Desert Rat, signing off.