Burros, Bunnies, Hiking and Heat


Click on any picture to see it full-size.

Since last fall, Jim and I had been talking about going to Death Valley in July, and maybe hiking Telescope Peak. When my year of doing stuff had taken shape, I told him that he could pick anytime in July that wasn't near the Independence Day weekend and we'd go. So this is the week we picked, July 10-14. And Mike said, Me too! So the three of us made plans.

And let's just get the questions out of the way, because I certainly heard them from EVERYONE I mentioned this trip to (except the people who went along for it...!)

  • Q:You're CAMPING? In DEATH VALLEY? In JULY?
    A: Yes. Yes. Yes.

  • Q: But...isn't it hot then?
    A: Yes.

  • Q: Are you NUTS?
    A: No.

    Q: WHY on EARTH would you even THINK of doing that?
    A: For a whole lot of reasons:

    1. Because we'll be camping at 4800 feet and mostly doing stuff at higher altitudes; the temperature drops about 5 degrees per thousand feet, so already our campground was 20 or so degrees cooler than the 120 (no joking) at Stovepipe Wells all week.
    2. Because I camped there last July just to see what it was like and really had a great time.
    3. Because hiking Telescope Peak is a big goal for me, and it was snowed in til a month ago (seriously, more on that later).
    4. Because I got a canopy on Craigslist, so we had shade in the campground (REALLY helped).
    5. Because it's the desert. Which means that if you really want to see it the way it is, you have to go in all seasons including SUMMER. We saw a TON of animals this trip, and had a wonderful time. As you will see.
    6. And because, as most of you know, I'm pretty impervious to heat, so it really didn't bother me. Sure, I wasn't hanging around in the sun at Stovepipe Wells for hours; it was nice being higher up and a bit cooler. On the other hand, I did go out on the sand dunes looking for iguanas at noon one of the days, but didn't find any. The guys stayed in the car and ran the air conditioner. Just sayin'.
So we planned it. Mike lives in Southern California but preferred to fly both ways and drive in and out with us, so he flew in the weekend before, we all went shopping for food and stuff and got ready, and left on Monday morning. Since the Wildrose-Trona road is still closed, we had to go in by Olancha and down the 190 almost to Stovepipe Wells and then back south to Wildrose Canyon.

Monday

We drove through a hella thunderstorm on the 190 as we approached the park; there was so much rain on the road I literally couldn't see the center line, although the edges of the road were clear, thank goodness. You can see the storm behind Boudika in the first picture, and of course we did the 'We're here!' selfie in the second, even though we were still an hour and a half away from our campground...!
The Father Crowley viewpoint is one of the landmarks as you enter Death Valley, and is the summit of the first range of mountains you drive through to get there.
The top three pictures are Jim's favorite stop, in Panamint Valley, looking up the road to Towne Pass. He also took one looking back at Boudika and Panamint Springs.

There are two pictures of my favorite colored rocks as you come up to Towne Pass, and a shot of a wierdly decorated car that was in front of us that caused much speculation among the guys.

And now I'd better say a few things about cameras...

  1. Jim and Mike had smartphones, Jim had a tablet with some GPS photo software on it, and I had my Panasonic Lumix. So all the pictures have been taken by wildly different kinds of devices.

  2. The photos on this page are a mix. They are all named dv and a number. The thumbnails have an a at the end. If there is another letter after the number, j means Jim took it, m means Mike took it.

  3. The Lumix I started this trip with is my trusty ZS-50, which got a boatload of grit in the lens at the March SJSU Death Valley trip; I took it to a local shop to be repaired, and this was the third time they had given it back to me saying that it was fixed...I used it the first day, but had cleverly bought a brand new one on Amazon and brought that along too, just in case.

  4. Neither one of the guys knew how my camera worked at first, and they each pushed the video button instead of the shutter button, so I ended up with a bunch of short wierd videos of stuff instead of pictures, and had to do screen shots of the things I wanted to keep. The lower three pictures above are done that way, and there's one more later where that happened. Next time we'll have camera class before we leave...!

BURROS!

So when I was in Death Valley in May with my friend Kathy, we were THRILLED to be driving from Beatty to DV and see some wild burros WAAAAAY over there; we took pictures and talked about it all day. I knew they were there and had heard about sightings but never seen any myself before this.

Jim and Mike and I drove in up the Emigrant Canyon road, over Emigrant Pass and through Nemo Canyon. As we were driving along a straight part just before the curves and Wildrose Canyon, Mike said, look at all the poop on the road!

Yes, I said from experience, it looks like horse poop, must be wild burros that come through here.

And not five seconds later the guys made me pull over because they saw the herd off the road on the right. And they were SO CUTE! There was even a baby!

On the left you can see about how far the herd is, I think I took that one without zooming in.

On the right is a jackrabbit with OMG EARS! that was hanging around too.

The third one is Mike and Jim saying Wow! Look at the burros!

The storm we drove through, still raining off in the distance. Setting up camp... And we're all set up! The people on the far side of this photo are Alex and Courtney, two Germans who camped a few spaces down from us on Monday night. They were on a 13 day camping tour of the western US, and were very nice. But what are they looking at?
The burros have come to the campground! There were trails in the hills above the campground, and a spring of water on the road that ran across the road; the burros were not the only wildlife that hung around us this week, as you will see!
THE CANOPY

Having camped at Wildrose last year, I knew that the only thing missing was shade. So I got on Craigslist in early June and found a pop-up canopy for 20 bucks. Not in very good shape, but it did what we needed and held on til the last day, so yay canopy! We did, however, have to keep moving our chairs to be in the shade...

Then, as it got dark, the burros all started wandering up and down the road, hee-hawing to each other, with their head guy calling them all in for the night. A little later on, we were talking about it, and I brayed loudly...and was answered by one of the burros. Hilarious!
The sunset was beautiful and the moon was huge and golden. A lovely night.

Tuesday

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SKIDOO

I had a friend once who (more than once) told a long funny story about this hell-day she spent with her partner at the time in Death Valley, where everything went wrong- the car broke down and had to be fixed, it was way too hot, they got lost, on and on. The story ended with them driving a long way in the dark down a bad road because after everything, the partner insisted that they had to see one thing in Death Valley, and they were damn well going to get to Skidoo. They finally got there, well after dark, and when they did, the capper of the story was, all that was there was a sign: SITE OF SKIDOO.

She was a great storyteller, and it was screamin' hilarious. But as many times as I've been to Death Valley, I have never been there, because from that story, I thought that that was all that was there.

When we were planning this trip, I looked through my hiking and mine history books to see what was around Wildrose Canyon (higher altitude and relatively cooler) and found that there is actually stuff left over from the town there, including (if my guide book was correct) a huge old stamp mill.

We were planning to attempt to hike Telescope Peak on Wednesday, and wanted fun stuff to do on Tuesday, so I said, let's go out to Skidoo and see what we find. And so we did!

The first picture is the road, which was perfectly fine for Boudika, my lovely pickup truck. She's not 4 wheel drive, but she is high clearance, and thus can go on most roads in Death Valley.

You can see the sign that tells about the town, which was here for 10 years and had 700 people living in it. This was actually one of the most successful and long-lasting towns in the Valley, even though very little is left; when people moved out of desert mining towns, they'd tear their houses down and take the lumber with them!

The long picture is about a 270 degree panorama of the area.

We spent a while wandering around to see what we could find...

The guys were fascinated by this, and they finally decided that it's a piece of an old car.
Mike got a shot of some sun glass we found, and Jim and I caught some handsome side-blotched lizards!

SIGNAL!!

Yup. No matter where we were, even in the middle of nowhere, we might suddenly hear both guys' cellphones and Jim's iPad going off because they just got a connection and they could each check their email...sigh. I was patient with them, because I'm nice like that. This is one of those moments, in the car.

We also had to use all the plugs and sockets in the front of my car to charge stuff everywhere we went...

We went a mile or so down the road past the Skidoo sign, and came to a place where the road split, each side going up the side of a wash; the middle of the wash looked like it had been a road but was marked no entry. The side roads looked fine for a truck, but there was no way to see if there was a place at the top to turn around, so we parked. Jim and Mike went to the left, I went to the right. Their road (which had a barrier across it to keep cars out, so good thing we parked) led to the old stamp mill; mine went up to a bluff facing the mill, which was a great place to see the whole thing and also Death Valley itself. There were a lot of fires that week, and storms, so the whole valley was full of haze all week. Ah well.
Here is the valley as I start up my road. Looking across at Jim and Mike on their side of the valley. You can see that there's something big at the end... And the guys are posing in the mineshaft across the way!
This is the stamp mill across the valley, and it's huge. We were amazed at how much of it is left, almost a hundred years along. Lizard! Pretty red rock.
One more picture of them at the top of the far hill, as I make my way back to the truck and up the road they took. They passed me and went to Boudika, and I went on to the stamp mill, and the next set of pictures are the ones we all took on that road.
The fence across the road and the warning sign. This is what the stamp mill looked like, a hundred years ago. Two shots of what it looks like now, from the road. There's a trail to go out to it, but it's signed as closed.
Looking down into the wash, and one of the mines that's right on the road to the mill.
Three more side views of the mill, because it was so cool, and the last pic in this row is me across the valley. Really. I'm tiny but I'm there, just a bit below the top of the hill.
Lizards! Including a lovely collared lizard Jim saw. And me and Mike, having a great time.
The road back. We stopped a couple of times to look at old buildings... And bunnies! And EARS!! And an old building, with Mike by it for height comparison.
The front doorstep of the shack. Let's use the checkerboard to seal up the hole in the wall! But then what'll we do in the evenings? Mike welcomes us to his abode. Pretty desert glass!
Then we came to this framework of a cabin, which was way fun to poke around in. In the first picture, I'm taking the picture of the desert glass.
Then we went to a place I know where there are petroglyphs.
A nice bush/rock shot, and we go back to Boudika, who always waits patiently for us.

By the way, most of the time there are pics of Ji with his tablet, he's NOT doing email; he has an app that will add GPS and USGS data to a photo, and he tests it everywhere we go.

And we went to Stovepipe Wells (temp: 120 degrees) for lunch and ice and gas, and found the car we had been chasing the day before! It's a skin. The guy said it's the newest Audi and offered to sell it to me. I said no, politely. Especially not right near Boudika! Don't want her mad at me... This made us all laugh so hard. There is actually a wash right behind this sign, and there was obviously some water in it the day before, from the thunderstorm we drove through, but seeing a FLOODED sign in DEATH VALLEY in JULY...LOL. Beautiful clouds. It really was an amazing few days, weatherwise. And single Joshua trees, which you don't see much of; either there are lots or none, usually.
This made us laugh a lot. Death Valley Roadblock! we said, and laughed some more. We drove closer (slowly) and honked, and they moved aside. This also made me laugh, but I have (according to my husband) a low and vulgar sense of humor. We joked about 'donkey dongs' the rest of the weekend...
It was a bit windy when we got back from Stovepipe Wells, around 2 pm. We chilled a bit, and decided to do something that had been in the plan: I had brought six three gallon water bottles, one for the campsite, one for the truck, and four to hold down the canopy. We ended up putting two in Mike's tent because the ground was so sandy that stakes wouldn't hold well, and here we see how Jim has rigged two more up to hold the canopy down in the wind...this is important for later...
Then we drove up to the charcoal kilns at Wildrose. This is on the way; the Skidoo pipeline brought water from the mountains to the town, 23 miles away. The road is beautiful but you can see the daily storm building up. And here is the sign telling about the charcoal kilns and how they were built.
And they're just an awful lot of fun to play around in. Oh, and some nice Sulphur Flowers. First flowers we've seen. There'll be more tomorrow...

Another side-blotched lizard. They're pretty common.

Mike got signal inside this charcoal kiln and called my sister, just for fun. He thought that was hilarious!

I think the flowers are dried-out purple sage, but it's hard to tell.

The storm was moving in, so we went back to camp. We didn't get any rain, but it was darkish and there was a lot of wind...still 100 degrees, of course, but at least the wind helped...

until we got back to camp and found this...! I'm holding it against the wind til the guys can tie it together better. And the guys are enjoying the newly fixed canopy! Mike's tent was also a casualty; one of the two central poles broke, so Jim took a piece of rope and tied it together.
And Mike helps him, and they got that tent to stay together til we packed up and left. Good job!
After all the excitement, I wandered down to the road to check out the spring that came up across from the campground and ran across the road. I saw a jackrabbit (moving VERY quickly), the thunderstorm dumping rain down the valley, a good shot of the anti-erosion fences we've seen all over the Valley. I could also see our campsite, because the canopy stands up so tall!
A big ant nest! and as I get around the corner, there are the burros, just hangin' out.
Their opinion of me is obvious... Then I heard a loud noise... And there were four Ralphs flying around and fighting over something. Back to camp, and it's time for the nightly burro meeting.
They were all over the hillside on the other side of the campground, and they were grooming each other! So adorable. You can see in the last picture, with our heads in it, how close they were.

Wednesday

The Telescope Peak Story

This was not my first dance with the Telescope Peak trail. The road to the trailhead keeps going from the charcoal kilns, a mile and a half, past Thorndike campground to Mahogany Flats campground. This is not only a GORGEOUS campground, at 8000 feet, it's also the jumping-off place (so to speak) for this hike.

So yes, I tried to do it twice before. The first time with my friend Morgen, around 2000 or 2001, and we got on the road to Rogers Peak instead of the actual trail; the road was full of snow, and when we got to the top, saw the telecomm equipment and realized we were in the wrong place, we could see Arcane Meadows below us, and cut over to the real trail and went on. When we got about 1/4 mile away from Telescope Peak (and the last mile is killer, not only the altitude but the steep switchbacks), I had to stop- every time I started walking uphill I had a violent coughing fit. Just couldn't do it, although I could see it right in front of me. So I waved Morgen on and waited for her.

The second time was in 2004, and here's what happened.

So I was pretty determined to climb this damn thing. I had done research on the actual trail- the trailhead is at 8000 feet, there are two and a half miles of steep trail up ridges, then a little over three miles of level and pretty easy trail to the last bit, which is extremely difficult, as I had discovered last time. Plus there's temperature; a month before we were doing this, there was still enough snow on the summit that people were using crampons to hike it. There is a sixty-degree difference between the valley temperature and the peak, so when it's 120 degrees at Stovepipe Wells (which it was all week) that's about 60 on top of Telescope. So we had to prepare for cold weather, and also keep an eye out for the thunderstorms that had been moving through the valley every day.

And here's how we did...

Early morning was like a Disney movie, there were so many critters around. Jim took this pic of a bunny on the top of the far hill by the campground (and this is another screen shot from a video); the lizard was just adorable, and driving up toward the charcoal kilns we saw this handsome fellow! He's a California Kingsnake, and he was just out on the road getting a bit of sun.
And here we are, ready to go! It's just past 8 am as we hit the trail.

I signed us into the trail register, and the entry from the day before was from a couple who started late, saw a thunderstorm coming in as they hit Arcane Meadows, turned back...and he proposed to her on the trail back and she said yes. It was a lovely story.

These two pictures give a good idea of the first few miles of the trail; it climbed up around ridge after ridge, sometimes with trees and shade, sometimes without. There were lupines blooming the whole way. They were so pretty. Jim went ahead, and Mike stayed behind with Slow Jo. Here we're taking a short break.
Purple sage Mike has pulled ahead of me. Desert paintbrush Signal! We thought this was hilarious. He called my sister from the trail, just for the fun of it. He was getting signal from Rogers Peak, which we were getting close to (the trail runs right by it.)
Looking off the side of the trail, down the canyons. Mike is still ahead of me. Jim is way ahead of both of us. Oh look! (pant pant) More beautiful lupines! (pant pant gasp)
And on top of that big heap of rocks...
This shady spot is where Mike looked ahead, said, there is no shade on the rest of the trail, I'm outta here...and went back. Jim climbed to the top of the ridge and waited for me... And over the ridge is Arcane Meadows, three miles of pretty easy trail!
Was the MOST ADORABLE LIZARD!!! This beauty is a Southern Sagebrush Lizard. If we had caught him and turned him over, he would have had a blue belly...but we didn't want to disturb him, plus, you know, lizards. Hard to catch without a lizard stick.
Views of the trail ahead, a stand of bristlecone pines, and Panamint Valley (the one we crossed coming to Death Valley two days ago.) A shame it's so hazy...we're looking down about seven thousand feet...
A whole lot of the trail was shale and rock, just like this. But look! Jim took a good picture of me! I guess I was taking this hike as well...!
The last picture above, and this one, are from a saddle; the first one is Panamint Valley, the second is Badwater Basin. There were several places on the trail where you could see both.
Our first really good look at Telescope Peak. These bad boys were everywhere, making rattling sounds as they jumped around. Speaking of bad boys...probably another side-blotched lizard. And a mariposa lily! This was the only one I saw.
Another look at Panamint Valley. And looking back at Rogers Peak; the second one is a close-up, you can see the trail we hiked along to Arcane Meadows. Back in the bristlecone pines, and here's Jim, the intrepid hiker.
Stopping for a bite and a rest, I noticed these pretty flowers. Desert Wooly Star. They were tiny, about an inch and a half high. There's Jim. This was also the point where Jim said, I'm running out of water, I don't know if I can make it. Well, I said, let's do what we can and see how far we get. Firecracker penstemon I think these are Yellow Frocks, although it's pretty high altitude for them...
And we went on, me stopping often to breathe. You can see how steep the trail is, but the views are spectacular, and we're back in the bristlecone pines. More Desert Paintbrush and Firecracker Penstemon.
Then we reached this old girl, the mother of all bristlecone pines. She was GORGEOUS. And we stopped, and Jim said, I'm out of water. I have enough to get back, and that's it. Well, I said, I could spare half a pint, but that's about it...how far would that get you? Not up the last mile, Jim said, so I'm turning back here. What do you want to do? If you go on, I'll wait half an hour for you...

Well, I wanted to get to the top, and said so. I turned and walked up the trail. He took my picture as I started around the corner...and I looked ahead (the last picture in this row) at the steep climb up the last mile, and I thought, I'm stopping every fifty feet to pant...there is NO WAY IN HELL I'm making it up that. And I'd rather go back with Jim than alone.

So discretion won out.

Telescope Peak 3, Jo 0
We ate lunch by the beautiful tree, then started back. We had hiked six miles in four hours, and the afternoon thunderstorms were moving in. Amazingly enough, it was much easier hiking back down, and just as pretty!
Maybe Varicolor Buckwheat? Jim is ahead... Mojave Aster, although again, very high up. and now he's behind! I think he stopped to do some GPS stuff.

Sulphur Flower

Varicolored Buckwheat A beautiful pinecone No idea what this one is. I actually used the 'level' function to take this picture. That's the angle the tree's growing!
One last look at Badwater... Sulphur flowers with an awesome bee. Clouds! Time for the afternoon rain storm...which didn't hit us, thank goodness. There wasn't a huge amount of cacti along the trail, but this one was pretty.
Boy, if the beginning ridges seemed to take forever in the morning, I could have sworn they added extra ones while we were on the trail! It took FOREVER to get back down the last two and a half miles. We got back to Mahogany Flats and found Mike and the truck. He had had a nice day, and had not been waiting for us for very long. We all agreed it was an awesome hike, even though nobody made it to the top.

The second picture is a lupine about to blossom.

The road back to Wildrose. You can see the thunderheads building up.
And as we approached the spring that was just outside the campground, we saw the burros again! We literally had to slow down to a crawl and drive through the herd. They were right outside the truck windows. So adorable!!
We got back, sat a bit, then we all cleaned up after hiking...I was pretty gross and stinky, and was glad to have a wash and put on clean clothes. We were hanging out, it was hot, I didn't feel like sitting but the guys were happy, so I volunteered to drive to Stovepipe Wells and back and get some ice, which I knew would take a couple of hours...but sitting in an air conditioned truck listening to tunes the whole way? and a cold bottle of water at the end? Hellz yeah!

I had a great time, and drove through the rainstorm as I passed Aguereberry Point, although it was not as bad as the one on Monday. I got ice, talked the guy at the market into selling me some decent beer (their refrigerator doors were broken, so they had some big ice chests with cold drinks and water and crap beer; someone was kind enough to go in the back and get the good stuff for me!) I got gas, and fixed up the ice chests, and came back a little earlier than I thought I would. I didn't see the burros on the way back until...

RUSH HOUR IN DEATH VALLEY!

The burros had gone past the campground and the winding road that led to it, and when I was returning so were they...I had to slow way down again and follow them.
I walked down the campground to the end overlooking the spring when the light started fading to see what I could see. Here's a Ralph, drinking from the spring...
One of the ubiquitous loud birds which (and I know NOTHING about birds) I think is a Sagebrush Sparrow, and the beautiful sunset. A good day, all in all.
And then an amusing thing happened...after I saw them coming in on the winding road, we didn't see the burros again that night; we figured they had gone down the closed Wildrose road. Just after sunset, two seperate cars pulled in and parked across the campground from us, right by the hills and the burro trail, and each couple set up a tent. It got dark. Still no burros. And just as we all went to bed, around 9 pm, ALL THE BURROS were suddenly on the trail right by the two tents, and they all started honking and braying at once. It sounded like hell's own orchestra tuning up, and I guess they didn't want these strangers in our campground! I have no idea what the campers thought but we thought it was HILARIOUS.

Thursday

Morning! The full moon is still visible over the hills, and one of the beautiful orange dragonflies landed for a moment on a bush...but it didn't stay very still...
After we packed up, we had Jim stop the truck at the exit to the campground, and Mike and I walked quietly down toward the stream to see what wildlife there might be...there was a whole flock of fat little birds, who ran across the road and up on the rocks above the stream...they didn't fly at all, just ran, and as soon as they got to the rock, they seemed to think they were safe! Again, I know nothing about birds, but they look to me like a flock of teenage chukar partridges.
Stovepipe Wells. Now, my idea had been that we'd get out of the campground in a leisurely fashion, and get to Stovepipe Wells around 11 to get gas and ice and have lunch. Then we'd drive north, stopping to hike and look along the way, and arrive at Eureka Dunes around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, when the sun isn't so fierce.

Unfortunately, I was dealing with guys who were all 'Let's go!'. They were half packed by the time I got up at 7 am. We got to Stovepipe Wells at 9 in the morning, and left there at 9:30 or so...and you'll see what happened after that...

Also while we were at Stovepipe Wells, I talked to a young lady at the desk of the motel, and she Google Mapped the directions from there to Big Pine through Eureka Dunes (with a little help from me, lol) and we figured out that it was a total of about 180 miles, which meant (whew) that we could easily make it on one tank of gas; this was the only part of the plan I wasn't sure about, and it turned out just fine.

Next we drove an hour north to Ubehebe Crater, which is beautiful. Mike was interested in climbing down, but not a think you want to do in the summer; it's a long way to the bottom, and coming out is climbing up (literally) on sand- it's hard and takes a long time, and there is NO breeze down there. So I promised Mike that we'd go down there the next time we came here in, oh, WINTER...
The road north to Eureka Dunes, twenty miles of pretty good dirt road. And the biggest damn anthills! two feet wide.
Crankshaft Junction (although the old sign says Crossing) Looking back down the hill at Crankshaft Junction Prince's Plume, left over from the spring
Crater Camp, an old sulphur mine. I suggested stopping here for hiking, as I had at Titus Canyon. No, said The Guys, let's just go to Eureka Dunes. So we went. Helicopter. Jim said it was search and rescue. More Prince's Plume... And more. It was really pretty.
Up close and personal, and we say goodbye to the Prince's Plume. We turn down the road to Eureka Dunes, and see the dunes grow in the distance.
The mountains to the west are beautiful, and we reach Eureka Dunes...which is flat and windy and hot. Here is where I point out that I was trying NOT to get here in the middle of the day...it's about 1:30 pm and around 110 degrees. We pull into the bare and deserted campground, and the guys look at me, like, what are we doing here? I wanted to be here for dusk and dawn, I said, there are always a ton of animal tracks in the sand around the campsite, and that's what I wanted to see. But it's early afternoon, so it's hot. We put up the canopy immediately, and hide under it. In the third picture, you can see that it's tied to the truck, because the wind was so strong.

We talk about staying there, and Mike is dubious, and Jim is ambivalent. Okay, I said, we haven't had lunch yet. Let's have lunch and hang a bit and see how we feel. The first thing I pulled out was the watermelon. It was DELICIOUS...!

An F-18 jet flew by along the western mountains, very close to the ground. Jim said, There'll be another jet right behind him, making sure he's okay. And sure enough, there it was. The two pictures here are of the second jet.

Third picture: this is the campground.

Fourth picture: Mike and Jim trying to be calm in the heat and strong wind. Our canopy is literally disintegrating; two of the struts are broken and the top seam, with the pointy cap, has split and it's fallen down (you can see the bare pole in the middle) and is flapping in the wind.. Not good.

Okay, I said. I'm fine with this, but you guys want to go, don't you? <hemming and hawing from guys> Seriously, I said, I'm okay with cutting and running for a motel in Bishop. But if we're going to do it, I'd rather do it now than later; we don't know how long it'll take us to get there, and if we're going, we may as well just go.

The Guys look at each other.

I'm fine with it, really, I say.

The Guys: Let's go. And we did. And fifteen minutes later we were on the road north.

Driving North

When Jim and I originally planned this trip, I added one night in Eureka Dunes to the three nights in Wildrose we started with. I wanted to see this area in the dusk and dawn, as I said, to check out the wildlife. And since we were going to be there, I thought we could leave and drive north on the Big Pine road, which I had never done; the three times before that I had visited Eureka Dunes, we had gone back south on the same road we had come in by.

But it's called the Big Pine road because it ends up on Highway 395 in an actual (small) town called Big Pine.

But there was one flaw in my plan: SNOW.

And here you're probably saying, what? how can snow have anything to do with Death Valley in the summer? It's well over a hundred degrees there!

Remember Telescope Peak, which we had attempted to climb the day before? Remember how a month before we hiked it people were using crampons and hiking through the snow? Well, going north from Eureka Dunes to the 395, the shortest way home was to go north through Bishop, CA, and over Tioga Pass, through Yosemite on the 120 and then south to San Jose.

I had been keeping an eye on Yosemite and Tioga Pass. In the second week of June, the upper part of Yosemite, Crane Flat, was still 10 feet deep in snow. Snow plows kept working on it, and on June 29, almost the latest date in recorded history that this had happened, Tioga Pass opened.

This is what the parking lot near the entrance station of Tioga Pass looked like the day they opened it.
So I was watching the Tioga Pass reports like a hawk, because if it DIDN'T open in time for us to go through, or opened and closed again (as has happened) we couldn't go north from Eureka Dunes; we'd have to go south, and it would take us a LONG time.

But Tioga Pass opened June 29, and so on July 13 we left Eureka Dunes for Bishop, planning to spend the night there and go through Yosemite on the way home on Friday.

The other reason I wanted to do this is that I've never driven on this road. The Big Pine road goes north from Eureka Dunes, then turns left, goes into the mountains there and becomes Joshua Flats Road. And it was GORGEOUS. Mountains, a narrow two lane road (often with no center line), rocks, huge valleys full of Joshua trees...it was AMAZING. And, although it was hard to believe, we were in Bishop in an hour and a half.

The road north from the Dunes. You can see it going up into the mountains on the left.

And a huge valley full of Joshua trees...I took this with my panorama setting, it's about 160 degrees of view.

Our first sighting of the Sierras.

And this awesome sign lets us know that we've reached what passes for civilization. Half an hour later we were entering Bishop, CA. I had stayed in the motel 6 here many years before, and remembered it as one of the better ones I've visited, so we went there. We asked for a room with two beds for three people, and were horrified to find out that even with my AARP discount, it was a HUNDRED AND TWENTY BUCKS. Motel 6. In Bishop. The not-very-helpful woman behind the counter said that this is the tourist season, but still...!

But we ponied up, took what we needed into our room (Mike put his air mattress on the floor so Jim and I could have beds. I love it when those young pups defer to us old folks...) and talked about what we wanted to do about dinner. The guys wanted showers; I decided to wait til it was time to put on my jammies, since I was pretty much out of clean clothes. Then we went out to get dinner.

Mike has the bright idea to use the blower that inflates his air mattress as a blow dryer for his hair.

Jim's shirt, on the way to get pizza.

Pizza! Delicious hot food that nobody has to cook!

We played Scrabble and 500 rummy til nearly midnight, and there might have been some beer involved as well. But as we said at the time...what happens in Bishop, stays in Bishop.

Friday

Operation Dumpster

The next morning we were going to get an early start, have breakfast in our room (thanks to the microwave and fridge!) and get on the road. I woke up early; there was almost no light in the room, and everything outside was quiet. Obviously way too early. I spent half an hour or so trying to get back to sleep, but couldn't. Finally I decided to get out my ipad, see what time it was, and if it was 6 am or after, I'd wake the guys.

IT WAS 8:30 AM. We WAAAAAAAAAAAAY overslept. So I said, um, guys? it's really late, get up...and we had caffeine and breakfast on the run and were on the road by 9:20.

We were driving north on the 395 through Yosemite, and wanted to have time to stop and look at the pretty a bit. And we had one more mission...THE DUMPSTER.

It was time to ditch the incredibly heavy and seriously damaged canopy. EVERY SINGLE DUMPSTER IN BISHOP (at least the ones we found, and we checked all of them on the way out of town) was locked, so as we drove up the 395, we kept our eyes peeled. We felt like undercover agents trying to complete the secret mission, and it was actually pretty fun.

We found the Crestview Rest Area, 45 miles north of Bishop, and it had two huge dumpsters that were UNLOCKED. They were also right out in the open. As Mike and I looked at each other, gauging our chances of dump-and-run safety, a maintenance guy pulled his truck up and started unloading stuff into the dumpster.

We asked, can we throw some stuff in there? Sure! he said. Camping equipment? Sure thing! he said, and so we did. He also showed us how to open the door on the side, because the openings on top were 7 feet up...never occurred to us that there'd be an easier door...!

So Operation Dumpster was a success.

This truck made Mike laugh, Team Reefer...

At the top of Tioga Pass. Waterfalls were running anywhere there was a rock face. Mike and the snow. See the snow? Six hours from 120 degree heat. I love California. More waterfalls. Looking back at Tioga Pass. It's obvious why they close it in the winter!
Tioga entrance station for Yosemite National Park. We were grateful to Jim for being old and having a Parks pass, because otherwise you have to pay the twenty bucks even if you're driving through on your way somewhere else...

And another impromptu waterfall.

Tenaya Lake
The first picture is a rock face across from Tenaya Lake; there were rock climbers near the top, around the side, and they are so far away that although we could see them with our eyes, you literally can't see them in this picture.

We stopped at Olmsted Point to see the pretties and have lunch. That's Half Dome in the second picture, by the tree, across the valley.

Since Tioga Pass had only opened two weeks before, Tuolumne Campground was not open, but there were lots of people in the park; as we drove on, there were more and more, and as we left Olmsted Point we ended up in the middle of a line of (no kidding, Mike counted) over THIRTY vehicles trapped behind what turned out to be two people in rented rvs traveling together VERY SLOWLY. Gaaaah! Mike kept his cool very well, though. Luckily, most of the line turned left to go to the Valley, whereas we were on our way home.

There were flowers blooming all over beside the road but I only got pictures of these penstemons, which were BEAUTIFUL. And EVERYWHERE. Pride of the Mountain, they're called. And well deserved.

And speaking of beautiful, you know where we ended this trip. Aaaah.