The Death Valley Trip - November 2013
Slightly Anomalous


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The Death Valley Trip. Much anticipated, well planned, familiar.

And yet...there is always room for the unexpected. Which is what made this trip anomalous...very much out of the ordinary. In a good way or a bad way? mostly good, I'd say; it was a fun trip with fun people. But very different, as you will see.

I had made an interim trip to Death Valley in January; usually I go every 18 months, and since I went in April 2012, this (November 2013) should have been the next one. But I couldn't wait, and so I put together a trip during the winter for some friends who have wanted to come but hate the heat.

And it was a whole lot of fun...but it wasn't the usual kind of trip, and I was excited to have the kind with the group who goes together (the core of which is my family and Jo Nell and Tom) and do a lot of wild stuff- hiking, 4 wheeling, adventuring.

So in April, I sent out the email: Death Valley at the end of October (which was the weekend I had free at work). Who's coming?

Diana and Nancy, Jo Nell and Tom, me and Doug...and a whole lot of other people said they wanted to, but didn't actually make it. So it ended up being the six of us, which is not a bad thing; all of us have known each other for a long time and we're very comfortable together. And it ended up being two weeks later; even calling six months ahead of time, the cheap rooms (which we love) were booked up, and only the expensive rooms were available. So I emailed everyone and we moved it to the middle of November.

But Doug was disappointed that no other writers were coming along, although he does like all these people...this is the first trip in a long time without a 'writers' contingent'. Doug had to shoulder that burden on his own, which he did quite well, as you will see.

Also, while planning the January trip, I came across a whole lot of new things to do that I was saving for this trip, and had it all worked out:

  • Thursday: Fall Canyon
  • Friday: Harry Wade Road to the Ibex Dunes complex
  • Saturday: Wildrose Peak
  • Sunday: Westside Road and the canyons that open off it.

None of these are things I had ever done, and since my rule for DV is that I have to do three new things every time, this was going to work out nicely.

So we worked out who was bringing what, and I called the motel at Stovepipe Wells Village to let them know when all of us would be arriving and leaving, and we were set to go. Doug and I drove my pickup truck down from San Jose, Jo Nell and Tom drove in from Riverside, and Nancy flew from Sacramento to Long Beach and drove in with Diana.

The first hint that this would not be a usual kind of trip came about a month before the trip; I was surfing the web, looking longingly at pictures of Death Valley, and on the National Parks web site for Death Valley I saw an alert. And clicked on it. And found this report. The rangers issue these every day, around 9:30 am, and they are extremely useful. As you can see, the word CLOSED figures prominently in the road conditions section. Uh oh. So I got on the internets, and found out that in late July, they had a hell of a thunderstorm; it dropped over an inch of water and basically washed out every road in the place, many of which had not been reopened by the end of October, especially with the parks closure that happened the first two weeks of that month.

This was not good, since we had planned to use those roads:

  1. The Harry Wade road is the direct road to the Ibex Dunes complex, one of my four planned outings.
  2. The Westside Road was another planned outing.
  3. The Wildrose Road leads off the road that goes to the charcoal kilns and Mahogany Flat campground; it splits at the bottom of the canyon, and one part (which is in bad shape and often closed) goes to Trona and Ridgecrest, the other goes back toward Stovepipe Wells. This is one of the back roads into Death Valley from LA.
  4. Panamint Valley Road is the other back road and Diana likes to take this one into Death Valley.
Not good at all. So I thought about it, and restructured my plans: I put off Westside Road til the next trip, which is not bad because the canyons will be prettier in the spring and full of wildflowers. I decided to see what happened with Harry Wade road and Wildrose; chances were that even if the part that goes through Trona stayed closed, the park would make the charcoal kilns and Mahogany Flats accessible, since major hiking trails start there (Telescope and Wildrose peaks.)

And I emailed the Southern California contingent to warn them that the two roads that go through the small towns were closed, and that the 395 to the 190 into the park (the main entrance) was probably a better idea. I checked the report again the week of the trip, and found that the southern part of the Badwater road and Harry Wade roads were now open, but everything else was still closed.

All right, there's plenty of fun stuff to do...let's see what actually happened!

Wednesday
The entrance to the 178 from Bakersfield through Lake Isabella toward Walker Pass. Oh no! the crazy redhead is driving! There were a ton of these beautiful trees turning all kinds of yellow and gold...I think they are Fremont sycamores.

They were BEAUTIFUL.

Guys with heads...this one's for you, Scott.

And the hills are starting to get stripy, we're getting closer to Death Valley!

And more pretty hills! and our first sight of our friend, the waxing moon. The full moon was coming, on Sunday night, but all weekend we kept taking pictures of the beautiful moon hanging over various hills.
The 190 toward Death Valley. Yes, by this time the windshield was filthy. Another moon and hills pic. Boudika's shadow looks like a big monster with sticky-out ears!! Moon.
And the sun is setting as we enter the park...and we arrive around 5:30, just when we thought we would. Doug settles down on the patio in front of our rooms to wait for everyone else...
Our Patio
We usually ask for the same rooms- 9, 10 and 11, plus more on one side or the other if we have more people. We found out a few trips ago that not only are these nice rooms, but the patio outside them is really great to have, especially when we have a large group; it gives us a place to gather without getting in other people's way. But this time there were only six of us, so I didn't ask for those rooms, I left it up to the motel to decide where to put us...and they put us in the same rooms without me asking. They must have a warning label next to my name or something.

But when we unloaded our stuff, I noticed something- the green bench that used to be between rooms 9 and 10 was gone. It was extremely useful, so I went back to the front desk to ask what had happened to it. The nice guy behind the desk (whom I tormented that weekend, asking for stuff) said, it's over by the expensive rooms...and showed me on a map. He said we could go get it. I was about to leave when I had a great idea.

What about those tiled table and chair sets? can we take one of those?

Sure, he said, go ahead. I’ll pretend I don't know anything about it.

So we did. We went into the large open patio near us and brought back a table and chairs. And about half an hour later, I was reading at the table and a guy walked over to me. You took my table, he said. I did? I said. Yes, he said. And he showed me how on this patio, there is a table and chairs outside each room. Well, I said. I'd be glad to give it back, but look over there, there are others that nobody is using. How about if I help you carry one of those over to your room? And we did, and he was really happy because the new table was much bigger than the old table! and we enjoyed having our little tiled table outside our room.

And Diana and Nancy are finally here! they had (my emails about closed roads notwithstanding) tried to take the back road through Trona and Panamint Springs...and didn't get turned around in Trona. Oh no. The road was open all the way to Ballarat, 75 miles and an hour and a half out from the main freeway...and THAT'S where the road was closed and they had to turn around and go all the way back to the 395 and come in by the main road. They said they just wanted to see if it really was closed and how far they could get...well, they found out!
Here they are at last, 7:30 pm, ready to be done with the drive.

Nancy shows off the lovely scarf that Diana made for her...

and they are really tired. We hung out and talked a while, then went to our room and read and went to sleep.

But where are Tom and Jo Nell? I tried not to worry, but when we turned our light out at 11 pm, they still had not shown up...
Thursday
We got up the next morning, and as we had breakfast, we noticed (as we had in other years) the little brown sparrows hopping all over our cars. Mmm, said Diana, crunchy fried insects...and so it was, they are eating all the dead insects off the fronts of our cars!
And we had breakfast, but in between cups of caffeine I called our voice mail and also Tom and Jo Nell's house to see if I could get ahold of them. Once before Nell had gotten the day of the trip wrong and had had to work and send Tom on ahead, but I knew she had taken the whole week off this time...I couldn't imagine what was going on, and was really getting worried.

I went to the front desk and asked, but they had not called. A few minutes later, someone came by with a note from the front office- Tom and Jo Nell had called, and they were going to arrive today, later in the afternoon.

Whew.

So then the question was, what should we do today? I wanted to save the Fall Canyon hike for Tom and Jo Nell; I knew she hadn't been hiking much, but my understanding was that the first part of that hike, at least, wasn't hard but was very pretty. The 4 wheel drive and Harry Wade road were reserved for Friday, so I said, I'm going to do Wildrose Peak today...if the road's open. I had asked at the store, since the ranger report wasn't in for the day yet, and they thought the Wildrose road was closed but didn't know if that meant the whole road, or just the twisty part from the bottom of the canyon toward Trona. Doug was going to come too. Let's try it, I said. If it's closed we'll do something else.
Well, shoot. But it's not closed AT THE MAIN ROAD, oh no, you have to drive half a mile down the road to find out you can't get there from here. So we turned back and found another hike in my Falcon Guide to Hiking in Death Valley. The sand dunes are sure pretty this morning. The guide book gave good directions to the trailhead, but I missed one landmark, so here's Doug hiking toward the wrong canyon. I figured out my mistake pretty fast. And here's the right canyon: Pyramid Canyon.
Falcon Guides
This is one of the best books ever. It has dozens of hiking trails, with a map in front and all the trailheads marked on it. Each trail has a difficulty rating, the distance and three descriptions: one of why it's a cool trail in general, one with descriptions of all the landmarks you'll see (that let you know you're on the right trail and how far you've come) and a short list by milepoints of the same landmarks. I've used it several times, and have really come to rely on it, especially since many hikes in death valley are unmarked (like, oh, Pyramid Canyon)- the description of where to go was something like, "go 1.1 miles past the park boundary sign, and look for a big wash on the south/left side; there's a wide place in the road where you can park". The trail description is the way you know you're in the right place, and this was no exception.

Pretty rock. And here's the first landmark from the guidebook, the old car half-buried in the streambed. Very cool, full of rocks put there by flooding water...!
Mr. Man ponders something or other having to do with the car, which he says is some kind of car from the late 30s, but he couldn't get more specific than that. That's where we're going. Many DV hikes are just, 'walk up the streambed til the canyon ends'... Nice cactus, babe!
We saw Cooper's Goldenbush in Fall Canyon Saturday, and I think this is the same stuff. Very pretty canyon we're walking up, and the clouds are really nice too. Looking back across the expanse of loose rocks we had to cross. This was not a steep hike, but it was on loose rock a lot of the time.
The canyon is narrowing ahead... Hurr PAMCAKES!

My hubs made me pose with the guidebook upside down and a stupid look on my face.

This is me actually reading about what to look for next in this canyon... And there are beautiful rock walls.
NOW it's getting interesting! We climb over this... And here we are at the first of four dry waterfalls...that smooth gray stone in front is exactly what it looks like, polished smooth by water and about 8 feet high. I could not get up it...I tried just to the left (as the guidebook said) but no dice... Then Mr. Brilliant tried WAY over to the left... and sure enough, he's found the way up and over.
The second dry waterfall... and the third, both easy to get over, according to the guide...and that is true. And... the fourth and last, which is the end of the canyon. A selfie at the canyon's end...and now to return.
Spider-Jo, Spider-Jo, goes wherever a spider go... Mr. Rees demonstrates how to go back down the way we came up. Me? I think that polished granite rock face looks like a great slide. Here's a pic from the top looking down... then I hand the camera to Doug, who catches me crouched like Spider-Jo at the top...
And...WHEEE! Okay, it wasn't THAT exciting, but it was a bit of fun. At this point, the guidebook says you can see Telescope Peak. I had to zoom way in for it to be visible, it's pretty hazy out. Doug shows how a fashionable man dresses to blend in with the surroundings. And...so much for the clear sunny day we started with, it's overcast for the rest of Thursday.
Interesting wood. This is about the point where Doug's old hiking boots completely fell apart. The old car on the left, and my truck (very tiny) on the right. A closeup of a section of distressed metal on the old car.
While we were hiking, we talked about what to do next. I wanted to drive through Mustard Canyon, which was on the way back to Stovepipe Wells, right past Furnace Creek-supposed to be a pretty drive, and I had never done it, but I was so enamored of the 20 Mule Team drive last time that I wanted to try this one and see what it was like.

I also wanted Doug to see the Gnomes' Workshop, but with the cloud cover there was no point, that's a place you need bright clear sunshine for.

So we went to Mustard Canyon.

Inversion layer. We went back to the large pullout by the park entrance sign and had lunch.
Now, I love everything about Death Valley, and am often one to say that there is nothing there that is not interesting and beautiful...but I was wrong. Mustard Canyon was boring. I've hiked Desolation Canyon, which is the same sort of plain yellow runny-mud sort of stuff, but that's exotic and beautiful. This was the only place in Death Valley that I have seen so far that was really, really boring.
And back to the motel, around 1:30 pm. Diana and Nancy are off at Furnace Creek.

Doug shows how his shoes have come apart (and then we throw them away). I get a book (the newest volume of One Piece) and a bottle of tea. And we settle down to relax.

Nancy and Diana came back from Furnace Creek. Nancy was fascinated by Ralph, our ubiquitous and omnipresent ravens...she kept trying to get one to eat from her hand.

They also said they went to the 49ers restaurant at Furnace Creek (which is pricey but the food is good) and Nancy kept going on about the hamburger she had. The FIFTEEN DOLLAR hamburger.

Nancy: And it was FIFTEEN DOLLARS, oh my god. But it was really good. But it was fifteen dollars...but damn that was a good hamburger...

And it's getting toward sunset...the clouds are pretty nice, to the west...
Very nice indeed! And here are Jo Nell and Tom! Jo Nell swears she emailed me to say they'd be a day late; she ended up having to work Monday through Wednesday. Let the party begin! The sunset is certainly beginning! And I'm wearing my favorite beer shirt and drinking one, so someone had to take a pic!
The sunset is indeed beautiful. I took several pictures of us sitting around talking; the evenings were not warm, but not too chilly either. And I found this in one of the pictures, evidently a lacewing decided it was time for his closeup!
And that was the end of the day. We hung out, we talked, we had dinner (on the table there, noms). Doug read us many chapters of the book he is working on...and we all went to bed, to get lots of sleep so we could be ready for adventures the next day!
Friday
Morning in Death Valley. Everyone has to get pics of the ravens, and Tom is trying to get one to drink coffee. Didn't work, needless to say.
Cameras and pictures
The name of this trip is Slightly Anomalous...and this is one of the ways in which it was not usual: cameras.

Usually there are several kinds of cameras, from people's phones to point-and-shoot to high-end stuff with lenses and f-stops and all that amazing stuff. I actually brought a card reader to make it easier to get copies of all the pictures before people left DV.

This time? I had my wonderful Lumix. Tom had a slightly higher-end Lumix. Jo Nell had a Lumix that pooped out almost immediately (no batteries, I think). And Nancy had her cell phone.

And that was it. So it was easy downloading the pictures, and there were no compatibility/formatting problems at all.

Also, I usually have to have several narrative threads going at once, because different people do different things every day. This time? I did stuff and people joined me or not. There were many person/days of lazing around the motel room, going nowhere. We were all tired and stressed out, and nobody wanted to do much...so integrating the pictures was also really easy.

But as usual, I want to give credit where credit is due, so if you want to know who took any particular picture, roll your mouse over it or click on it- if it ends in a number (before the .jpg) I took it; if Tom or Jo Nell (they shared Tom's camera) took it, it ends in tj, and Nancy's end in n. The thumbnails all end in a, btw, so you need to go to the full-size picture for this to work.

Then we all piled into Tom's car. First we went to Furnace Creek so they could pay their entrance fee.

Another nice shot of the sand dunes, and these hills were in front of us on the way there, very pretty.

I found this man looking sartorially elegant, and he hung out while we went inside and asked the rangers about roads.

ROADS
Roads in Death Valley are interesting. There are three or four actual paved roads that go through the park, and a whole lot of dirt or four-wheel-drive roads that connect to them; it's possible to do a lot of stuff in a normal car, because many of the dirt roads are graded so that regular vehicles can use them, although sometimes you have to drive very carefully. But a lot of the most fun stuff is only accessible with a 4 wheel drive.

This trip, as you might remember, a LOT of roads had washed out. Some of them had been reopened, and some had not; some might not be repaired until spring, depending on where they go and who has to fix them. Some roads in the park are Caltrans, some are the National Parks Service, and some are Inyo County. When we stopped at the ranger's station at Furnace Creek on the way out on Friday, the rangers had a map of DV on the counter, with the closed roads marked in red.

Seriously, it looked like a slasher flick, there were red lines all over it. So we talked about roads, what was open, what was good and not-so-good...and we were on our way.

Then we all piled into Tom's car again...and drove to Farrabee's Jeep Rentals, about half a mile from Furnace Creek.
A word about four-wheeling
As I said above, some of the fun stuff at DV requires a four-wheel drive. Usually (the last five or six trips) we rent an SUV at the San Jose airport the night before, load it up and drive it to Death Valley and back, and return it the night we get home.

Not only is it a pain picking this thing up, loading it and having to completely unload and return it the same night. And it's gotten pretty darn expensive, up to five or six hundred dollars for the rental for the week, ouch!

Then two things happened:

  1. A friend went to Death Valley and rented a jeep from Farrabee's, which had just opened a rental place there and rented out 4 wheel drive vehicles; she said it was great, and they liked it. But it was 200 bucks a day, ouch!
  2. I went to DV in January 2013 with my great-nephew, and because the weather is so unpredictable in the winter, I didn't even think of four-wheeling; I just drove my wonderful truck, Boudika, down and back, and LOVED having my own vehicle, the ease of packing and unpacking, and NOT having to pay so much for a 4 wheel drive.
Plus the rental 4 wheel drive vehicles were really 'all wheel drive' and not meant for real off-roading, they were more yuppie wannabe vehicles.

So Doug and I talked about it...and we decided that this time, we'd take our truck, and reserve a Farrabee's jeep for two seperate days. That would still cost less than a week of renting an SUV, we'd have our own truck the rest of the time, and we'd see how we liked it. With the road closures, we cancelled one of the two days, and they were glad to move my deposit over to the other day, so when we picked it up it would be pretty much paid for. Sweet!

And we were all SO HAPPY with this Jeep! Unlike the Gimp Car (Jeep Grand Cherokee Traverse) of the 2012 DV trip, this one was seriously roadworthy. Totally tricked out for hard driving, with 10 ply tires with some of the air already let out, good suspension, real 4 wheel drive…lovely. Richard (one of the nice people there) and I had had a long talk when I reserved it; he said that the less expensive jeep was not as good for 4 people, but I went with it anyway. And it was HUGE. Plenty of room for all of us and an ice chest. Comfy, a joy to drive…and best of all, Farrabee’s gives you an EMERGENCY BEACON. Push the button anywhere under the sky and they load tires and water and all kinds of stuff into a jeep of their own and they will COME AND FIND YOU. What happiness to know this! We loved this Jeep, and Farrabee’s, and can’t wait to go back and rent one and go to the Racetrack!

Jo Nell has wrapped a dishtowel around her head to keep the sun off, and shows off her mad ninja moves. Badwater basin. The obligatory picture. The hills behind Badwater...
where this sign is visible about 2/3 of the way up the cliff face. Driving south on Badwater road, highway 178... which is a place I've never been, so I'm very excited! not to mention happy to be driving an awesome Jeep! And here's Harry Wade road, which just reopened; they had evidently just bulldozed it, because it was really nice.
< a name="ibex" >
And we're looking for the Ibex dunes, and the turnoff to Saratoga Springs. At this point, I thought the maps had gotten left in Tom's car; I remembered that the turnoff was to the left, but I didn't remember any roads to the right, and I also didn't remember how far it was...we took these pictures along the way. After a while, we came across some other 4 wheelers who had a good map, stopping them just as they turned on one of the right-hand roads I didn’t remember. They kindly let me see their map. I saw that we were right on target, our turnoff was about five miles ahead, and that there was indeed another road (which they were going on.) I also saw that the Saratoga Springs road continued to the paved road beyond the sand dunes, and we decided to go that way if we could.
And we found the turnoff for Saratoga Spring!
We got out and stretched our legs a bit, and I found the map that I thought I hadn't brought with me!
The road turned and twisted around the base of these hills...
And the road ends here. I liked this sign...do you seriously think I'm going to drive on that tiny track? We looked. Rushes. I guess this is the spring. Not as pretty as the pictures I had seen of it, by a long shot, but okay. And we climb up the trail, just to see what's there... passing the desert holly on the way...and...
HOLY JUMPIN' JIMINY!

Look at all that water!

Yes, even though it's Death Valley and one of the driest places on earth, there are several places (Furnace Creek, Cow Creek, Stovepipe Wells, Scotty's Castle and others) where there is water...and this is one of them. But wow, this is HUGE...if relatively inaccessible.

This is a closeup... and this is more what it looked like from where we were standing. A view up the valley we came from.
Tom walked way around the lake, almost to the other side. See him? How about now? Tom took this pic of the rest of us looking at him and the lake. Doug is interested in the remains of a cabin.
The interesting outcrop we walked by to get to the lake, and another pic of the desert holly.
More pics of the beautiful colored hills around Saratoga Spring. They reminded me of my cat Saffron!
I had been driving for a couple of hours, so when we left Saratoga spring, I asked Tom if he would like to drive, and he was happy to. And that was a good decision, because from there back to the paved highway, the road was very bad- sand, rocks, you name it. I was not experienced enough to have taken that on, and Tom did great, he's very good at this kind of driving.

So when we left Saratoga Spring, we decided to take the loop road up and over the Ibex Dunes (which we never actually went to, we just took pictures of it) and then loop up to the highway.

And on one of the maps that I had packed after all, there was a complex of roads that led to another spring, the Ibex Spring. Let's go there, we said!

So this is the road around the hills by Saratoga Springs, and here are many beautiful pictures of the Ibex Dunes...although the people who had let me look at their map said the sand dunes across the highway, the Dumont Dunes, were bigger. But these were very pretty!
This is the road from Saratoga Springs by the Ibex Dunes...there were warning signs about sand, but nothing Tom couldn't handle. A cute pic of Jo Nell! You can see the wind marks on the hills behind these bushes. Yet more beautiful hills.
We drove on...taking pictures...then when we turned north toward the Ibex Spring, the road got a lot rougher...and then...
We saw this dropoff in the road. Three of us said, nuh-uh, can't do that, turn back. Tom said, let's get out and look at it...and you know, when we actually looked at it, it wasn't that bad. I went to the other side to document the crossing. Tom got into the Jeep, and drove carefully across, and Jo Nell and Doug walked it so the vehicle would be as light as possible...and it worked! Yay Tom!!
Jo Nell is happy! And...what are those up ahead? Palm trees? Sure are! We pulled up and parked and walked all over this place. There's a spring (which we couldn't see, too many plants growing there) and several decaying buildings.
A great place for pictures! and a beautiful day; it looks hot, but it was only about 75 or 80 degrees, not much for Death Valley.
Another palm tree shot...they were pretty cool. Tom is stylin' in his green shirt. I'm on my way up the hill behind the spring, I got halfway up it before the angle and loose rock were too much for my sandals. This is about a 200 degree panorama from up on the hill, stitched together. Tom was looking in my camera's readout at the pics I took and mocked me for taking so many duplicates, but this is why; you need about 40 pics for something like this, the more overlaps the better.
A decaying house Doug: Are you coming down from that hill yet? A small building by the spring. What was it for? dunno. And the beautiful dunes.
On the way out (which was also hairy, so we were glad Tom was still driving) we passed a microwave relay station. OMG, a stop sign! CIVILIZATION! We took the 127 to Shoshone and passed these mud mesas. very cool!
We were glad to see Shoshone, and spent about an hour there. Gas, bathrooms, ice cream, cold bottled iced tea, and the little museum across the street.
more cool sculpted shapes. And the highway goes into some interesting hills... and the men are in front to get the first glimpse of Shoshone CA!
I think Tom took these in Shoshone, maybe in the museum? cool petroglyph pictures. We took the 178 back over Jubilee Pass, and since we were going by it, we stopped at Ashford Mill...which is just the outline of a building. I would have gone down to it and taken closeup pics but they all wanted to get back. Looking out across the desert along Harry Wade Road, which we took earlier in the morning.
The Ibex Dunes complex trip: pretty cool. I think if we do it again, we'll go down the Greenwater Canyon road and out to Shoshone; all the stuff we saw is MUCH closer to that side, saving a lot of bouncing on back roads (although pretty scenery). But there was a lot of hiking and looking we didn't do, so it's worth going back again. A good day!
And on the way back toward Badwater and Farrabee's we saw these moochers, who, as soon as we stopped the Jeep, trotted over looking for a handout. Not happening, fellas. Late afternoon sun on the beautiful hills just south of the 190. Lovely.
More hills, and Tom taking pics.
When we got back, everyone else disappeared; Tom and Jo Nell were taking Nancy to Artist's Palette for the sunset, but were too late and stopped part way there; Doug and Diana went after them and the same thing happened. But they all got some good pictures of the rising moon!
The ubiquitous and omnipresent cribbage games. This time I only had my domino dice, which are good to use in the wind, but not good this time because A) shuffling them is WAY loud and B) there was NO WIND. Anomalous.
Saturday
Saturday morning. A beautiful day, although the weather was getting cooler...not anomalous for November, but not my favorite kind of DV weather. I had put off the Fall Canyon hike to today, since I knew that Jo Nell and Tom would want to come along, and Doug said he wanted to go too.

But wait! Doug's only hiking boots are dead...he is not coming on this hike. And Top opts out too...so it's just me and Jo Nell. Which is fine, but odd. Usually pretty and easy hikes are like honey to ants, everyone wants to come along for a while.

Now, I had been surfing the web for months before this trip, and the Fall Canyon hike was the thing I was most excited about...it's an easily accessible canyon, just north of the Titus Canyon parking lot. You walk half a mile along the hillside on a well-worn trail to the canyon mouth, and just go in and walk up it.

But. You knew there'd be a BUT, right? The wash goes 3 miles, then <something happens> and there's an upper canyon which is EVEN MORE BEAUTIFUL that goes for 2 or 3 miles. What happens? well, it depends on whose web site you read; the dry waterfall that divides the two is anywhere from 20 to 80 feet, and anything from 'easy peasy' to 'you pretty much need ropes and rock climbing skills' to get to the second half. And here is how it went...

But yes, it was just me and the self-declared 'I am so out of shape' Jo Nell. What we ended up doing was taking two cars, so if she crashed and burned she could go and leave me to hike.
Beautiful daybreak on the hills. Doug should know better than to make the idiot face in front of my camera... and Tom's orange mouthpiece matches his shirt!
The Titus Canyon parking lot is about 30 miles up the Scotty's Castle Road, which is where the left picture is from; it's also the parking lot for Fall Canyon, the picture on the right is the road up to it...so we just left little notes on our dashboards saying Fall Canyon, in case disaster struck, and we were off!
Leaving from the Titus Canyon lot, you take a trail off to the left/north for about half a mile up the cliffs, mostly like this. Cool rock/shadow pic! and a closeup of the pretty rock. This is what a lot of the trail to the canyon is like...
And then the trail dumps you in a wash...and you're entering Fall Canyon. After you go up the wash. About a quarter of a mile up the wash...this is much like the hike we took on Thursday... But suddenly...I see pretty rock walls!
Very nice rock walls, and from then on, the canyon got alternately wider and narrower, but was really beautiful. And speaking of beautiful...no, seriously, there is a kind of picture that has been legendary for over thirty years, where I drape myself over some horizontal feature of the landscape and someone (usually Jo Nell) takes a picture of Josie Looking Sexy In/On (landscape feature). Jo Nell was behind me coming up the canyon and found Josie Looking Sexy On Rock. She laughed and obligingly took the picture. What a good friend!
Narrows... Jo Nell coming behind... takes a picture of me forging ahead. Jo Nell caught these tumbled rocks, very nice.
The whole canyon was like this. Big colorful stripy rock walls, sunlight and shadow... getting narrower and wider by turns. It really was amazing, and not that hard of a hike. Another photo op! lucky I wore my favorite shirt!
More pretty rocks, and you can see how big some of these canyons are...Jo Nell is in the first picture on the left, and looks tinier than in real life! Marks left by a waterfall, nice!
And what a good canyon to trot out my black and white filter in! I love that my new camera does this. Look Swedish! the "Say Cheese!" of Death valley. And we continue up the canyon...
By this point, Jo Nell was pretty done in. She caught up to me as I was eating some lunch, and said, I'm going back, give me my sandwich and I'll turn around. Okay, I said, take a bottle of water as well, and I’ll see you later! And she left. She took one more pic of me... and I kept going. She took two pictures before she realized that I HAD HER KEYS IN MY BACKPACK.

She said she yelled really loudly, but I sure didn't hear her.

Meanwhile, I'm going on, taking pics of the rocks, doing a selfie in the narrows, and then I came to these pretty flowers.
Tom had played with my camera settings and had turned off the macro setting, which I usually keep on, so I spent about ten minutes here trying to get the camera to do this...which it did, and nicely too. These plants are Cooper's Goldenbush. And then I had to take pics of these cool rocks...which is when Jo Nell caught up with me again. And at that point, it would have been silly to go back again, we were nearly at the end, so she finished the lower part of the canyon with me.
And we are almost at the end...the rocks are closing in...I stop to check my Falcon hiking guide...and...
we are at the end of the lower canyon! this was about 3 1/2 miles total from the Titus Canyon parking lot, and a very nice hike. But what about the upper canyon?

Well, you can see that the dry waterfall at the end is smooth and about 20 feet up, we're not getting up there.

But never fear! the Falcon Guide has this covered, and I quote: To continue up Fall Canyon, drop back down the wash less than 0.1 mile and look for rock cairns on the left (south) side (right side going up). This bypass route around the falls should only be attempted by those with at least moderate rock-climbing skills and experience. Begin by climbing a steep but solid rock pitch to a well-defined use trail that angles above and around the right side of the fall.

So if you look at the top right of the six pictures on the right, you'll see the climb. Doesn't look like much, does it? that's what I thought too, til I tried it. It's 15 feet straight up, with minimal hand and toe holds, and a drop directly onto rocks if you get it wrong. I made a stab at it, but I am no rock climber and it was beyond me. So next time, we'll bring a couple of strong young men with ropes, and we'll do it!

And we're on the way back out!
So yes, Fall Canyon was a wonderful hike, even though I was a little disappointed that I couldn't get up to the upper canyon. Next time, maybe; but even the lower canyon is well worth the time and effort required to do it.

We got back to our cars, and Jo Nell was done; she was heading back to the motel for a shower and a nap. Me? I felt great, and had one more thing that I had wanted to do for a while: the back side of Mesquite Dunes.

Mesquite Dunes are the sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells; as you know from other trips (not to mention what we did on Friday on this trip) they are not the only sand dunes in Death Valley. They are, however, very accessible and very photogenic, so mostly when you see pictures of sand dunes from here, that's where they are taken.

Back in the day, there were two parking lots that gave access to these dunes: the one that was repaved and upgraded about 10 years ago, which is the entrance near our motel, and the one near the original Stovepipe Wells, which was closed down and the road was ripped out.

The reason they did that was to keep the human interference with the sand dunes to a minimum; the current entrance is at one end of the dunes, but they go for miles to the north of that; few people go more than about half a mile into them from that parking lot, which is a good thing for the dunes themselves, and the plants and creatures that live there.

But in most of Death Valley, they limit vehicular traffic, but you are allowed to walk almost anywhere you please...and the upper parts of Mesquite Dunes are no exception. So I drove down to the road that leads to the original Stovepipe Wells, parked my truck, and walked about a mile across varying terrain to the sand dunes and back. And that was great!

Pulled in and parked near the Stovepipe Wells, and Ralph is there waiting for me! What took you so long? he said... This was the surface I walked on toward the dunes; it's hard crunchy mud with bits of volcanic stuff in it, probably basalt. A wierd little bit of plant life... Dead? or dormant? or doing just fine and it simply looks like that? I don't know...
Now I'm walking on dried mud flats... there are the sand dunes ahead of me. and there's an interesting bush skeleton... And now the ground has changed to this. I only left my truck ten minutes ago, by the way. An interesting walk...
Now I'm going up and down very low embankments, and you can see some cool drainage patterns, I assume from the storm in July. Beetle tracks, probably the ubiquitous stinkbug (which we saw none of at the motel, oddly enough.) I took a whole lot of pictures of sand patterns, just because they are so pretty.
All of these beautiful patterned dunes were something like five or ten feet from each other; every direction I turned was something amazing and different. And by the way, none of the above pictures have had anything done to them, no weird filters or enhancements or anything…the sand really looks like that, it’s amazing.
One of the fun parts of the sand dunes is finding animal tracks. These six pictures are, from top left to bottom right, tracks of: a bird, a scorpion (I think), a mammal of some kind. (second row) stink bug, kangaroo rat, kangaroo rat.
Four views across the landscape.
Salts leaching out from under the mud Pickleweed! And two places where the wind blowing on grass stems made patterns on the sand. Nice!
The original Stovepipe Wells and their plaque. Val Nolan was a real person who wandered out and died in the desert in the summer from not carrying enough water; his grave was a landmark for years, and nearly a hundred years later it's still there on the road to the Stovepipe Wells. The inscription says,

Val Nolan
Died Aug. 1931
Buried Nov. 3 1931
A victim of the elements

More beautiful multilayered hills, and the lower part of the Mesquite Dunes, on the way back.

The sky was hazy with what I would call smog, but they don't get much of that there; Diana says dust, and that's probably right. Usually the wind is blowing and blows all that stuff out of the valley; this was one of the few times I can remember that there was absolutely no wind, and by the end of the weekend, you couldn't see very far without the scenery disappearing into the haze.

I got back, and Doug and Nancy told me that they and Diana had gone to Furnace Creek for lunch...yup, my husband had to see what a FIFTEEN DOLLAR BURGER was like.

How was it? I asked. Damn good, he said.

Then Nancy, Doug and I went across the street for ice cream, which was DELICIOUS after all the hiking I had just done. Then Nancy and I went to Mosaic Canyon for a short walk- she can't hike, but it's close and the pretty parts are easy to get to. It's a beautiful canyon of polished limestone, and glows in the sunshine. Unfortunately, we went late enough in the afternoon that there was no sun on it...the time changed the weekend before this trip and we kept missing the perfect time for light by an hour because of that.

But Mosaic Canyon is always pretty. We only went there for about 15 minutes, just so Nancy could see a bit of it.
Whee! one more pic of multicolored rock... and back to the truck! you can see Stovepipe Wells in the distance. Diana is enjoying the sunset.
The moonrise was beautiful again. We had dinner at the Stovepipe Wells restaurant, which (after all these years) is finally good. Delicious, in fact, especially after all that hiking! And either Tom or Jo Nell caught the best moonrise picture, light on the sand dunes. Lovely!
Sunday
Morning! We actually slept in, til 8:30 or so. Lovely! Everyone but Tom does jazz hands. Tom and his toga (the decorative half-blanket from the beds.) The neverending quest for the perfect Ralph picture. Diana playing her ukulele.
I only noticed that morning that the table we had brought over to our patio had Ralph on it too! This was a great camper that drove by and then parked in the SW parking lot, and Tom and I went and took pics of it...it's some kind of old German truck that has been conv dnerted into a camper, and it looks great. I would have loved to see inside it, but the driver was gone by the time we got there. I found it on the internets after I got home, it's a Mercedes Benz LA 911B.
Jo Nell and Tom left around 9:30, and the four of us (Diana, Doug, Nancy and me) decided to pile into Diana's car and see some stuff that was outside our usual stomping grounds.

Here are more beautiful hills on the way there, and another neverending desert road...the 190 to Death valley Junction.

We went to DV Junction to see the inside of the Opera House (but couldn't, there was a matinee), to go to the railroad museum (but that was closed too, open Thursdays and Saturdays) and to have lunch at the Amargosa Cafe, which, thank goodness, was open...and the food was good!

Nancy got this great pic of the rows of chairs, going on and on like a reflection in two mirrors.

Then, of course, I had to have my picture taken by the giant cow on the way out of town...

The road out of Death Valley Junction. Next stop: the Ash Meadows Nature Preserve, which is on BLM land... and has very nice maps and info kiosks at all of its entrances... and also is the home of the Devil's Hole Pupfish!
This is actually a footpath that leads to the Devil's Hole (the fences on the left.) You go into this fenced walkway and look down on Devil's HOle.. The informational sign! And the hole itself. In real life, you can actually see a bit into it, and the water is an amazing blue-green, really pretty.
I read a bit about Devil's Hole before this trip; one of the things I read was that in the 60s, they sent divers into it to see how deep it is. Deeper than 500 feet, which was as far as they could measure. Plus during this time two of the divers were actually sucked down into the hole through some kind of fence and NEVER FOUND. Wow.
I'm on a side trail, coming back; you can see the road on the right and the car at the end of it. Next we went to an area called Painted Rocks that was supposed to be Bighorn Sheep viewing heaven...but not so much. Nancy and I walked on the boardwalk, and looked at the hills, but there was only bighorn sheep poop. (no joke, Nancy recognized it.) A tree FULL of thorns. Selfie!
And we went by King's Pool with the...yes, the King's Pool Pupfish, which were, amazingly enough, VISIBLE TO THE NAKED EYE AND CAMERA. Finally! Wildlife! Pupfish!
The hills on the way back to DV. First we went up to Dante's View, but the view was hazy and not so good. We decided to leave right away and try to catch the sunset at Zabriskie Point... We got there right at the tail end of it... because we are just not used to being there during standard time; everything is too early!
But Zabriskie Point is always beautiful, no matter what time you go.
I said to everyone, tonight is the actual full moon, let's go out to the Mesquite Dunes and see what it's like. It was BEAUTIFUL. Perfectly easy to walk out safely all over the dunes. My camera was not up to the challenge of taking pictures by moonlight, but I did get this one shot (with flash) of mule deer footprints. A lovely way to end the evening!
Monday
And Monday came, and it was time to go. Usually I'm sad; this time, although I had fun, I was ready to go home. I loved being here with all my people, but I really was ready to go back home and get ready for the holidays.
We left around 8:30 am. Here are the Sierras on the way to Olancha…no snow, in November. Doug drove nobly and well. Walker Pass, and the Joshua trees are waving their arms at us. More beauitiful Fremont Sycamores.
I really do love these trees! Lake Isabella is really low.
And so it ends. A good trip; kind of odd in many ways- the weather was cooler and less windy than usual, we didn't do as much, things were just a little out of kilter- but it was so good to be with my friends and family, and even when it's odd, Death Valley is still my happiest place on earth.

I'll be going back in 18 months...who's coming along?

REALLY low. A bit of the Kern River, on the way to Bakersfield... and sunset over Gilroy...and we're home.