Death Valley November 2016: Expect the Unexpected


Click on any picture to see it full-size.
Our sesquiennial family trip was coming up, and there were two new things about it:

1. I'm retired, which means the dates for the trip weren't tied to my work schedule, and
2. We have finally given up on the wonderful Stovepipe Wells motel; we love it, but at 175 bucks a night it has just been priced out of anyone's willingness to pay.

Regarding the first item, I know better than to try to go to Death Valley anywhere near Hallowe'en; it's full of people then. I also know that the 49ers (old foofs in RVs, mostly) have a two-weekend get-together at the beginning of November...but I also wanted to be home at least a week before Thanksgiving hit. I looked at a calendar and found out that there would be a full moon on Monday, November 14. I like the rhythm of the Friday-Wednesday vacation, where the place gets quieter once the weekend is over, so I set the dates: Friday, November 11 through Wednesday November 16.

Regarding the second item, my friends Scott and Jenny had, on a previous trip, stayed at the Atomic Inn in Beatty and really liked it; they described it as a fun and funky older retro motel. Beatty is half an hour from the main road in Death Valley, but one does so much driving there that we thought it was worth a try.

So I put word out: who wants to come? We started out with nine people in six rooms, and as various people dropped in and out (one two days before we left!) we ended up with six of us in three rooms: me and Doug, my sister Diana sharing a double with her friend Mike from LA, and Diana's old friends Jerry and Sandie. I've known Mike for a few years and he's great. I'd met Sandie and hung out with her a couple of times, and liked her; I had never met her husband Jerry, and Doug didn't know either of them.

So we all started discussing the trip. Then Jerry did something that made me really like him: he emailed the group of us to ask if anyone minded them bringing their mini-Schnauzer, Jock, along. And (this is the part I loved) he had already checked with the motel and the parks service to see if that was okay with them. Yay Jerry! Of course, we all said yes, we're all dog lovers, and Jock turned out to be an awesome traveling companion...and given how many places in Death Valley are off-limits to dogs, he still managed to come along quite a bit and have a good time with us!

So on Friday, November 11, we all started out: me and Doug from San Jose, driving through Bakersfield and Lake Isabella; Diana and Mike from Hayward, driving through Yosemite and Nevada; and Jerry, Sandie and Jock from Hemet driving up the 395.

And here is how it went...and (not to give anything away) we all thought it was a wonderful trip. One of the best DV trips ever, even though at times it seemed like it would fizzle...

Friday
Doug and I got out the door at 8:30 am. Diana said that she and Mike (who were going through Yosemite) would be leaving around 7:30; Doug and I were on the 5 heading south when I got a text from Diana: Just leaving now. It was 9:22.

She and I had discussed this. I've taken the Yosemite route to the 395, and it took ten or eleven hours...but we stopped a lot. She thought (after consulting Google Maps) that they could do it in 9. Tioga Pass was open, so they were going for it.

I jokingly texted, Midnight! but I seriously thought they wouldn't get there til 10 pm...

We went through Bakersfield and Lake Isabella. My husband, whom I adore in spite of his complete inability to find his way anywhere, turned wrong three times; twice he caught it right away, but the middle time I was texting at an interchange and he went south on the 5 instead of east on the 46.

I looked up. Where are we? I said, oh no, you didn't turn on the 5? I thought you knew this route?

Doug: mumble mumble um well mumble...

And of course, there are not a huge number of exits from the 5...it was ten miles before the next one. We decided to take it and turn east and see if it took us to Bakersfield. It was the Lerdo Highway, through Shafter, which had a very nice Del Taco (my choice for lunch, natch) and went right to the 5. Actually nicer than the 46 going the same way, because it had less big truck traffic.

But that didn't make up for all the wrong turns...

The Lerdo Highway. Pretty. Coming out of the other side of Bakersfield, about to go into Kern River Canyon...and a bit of the twisty windy road by the river.
The moon wasn't quite full, but was still SO beautiful! We drove in as the sun went down and the moon came up, and were crossing Panamint Valley; the dots of light on the mountains across the valley (3 or 4 miles) are cars coming down from Towne Pass, which is where we're going.
So we passed Stovepipe Wells and continued on, going down the Beatty road, through Hell's Gate and over Daylight Pass. It looked like it would take forever, but the second range of mountains, just past the Nevada border, is short, and Beatty is literally on the other side.

We had been through Beatty a couple of times, and a long time ago we had come there for dinner on previous DV trips...but hadn't really paid much attention to the town itself. We found the Atomic Inn, and...checked in behind Diana and Mike, who, even though they left an hour later than we did, had gotten there five minutes before us! So much for my pessimistic time estimates.

Jerry and Sandie and Jock were already there, having a much shorter drive, and we all convened, put up a table and had dinner around 7:30 that evening, starting to get to know each other. And we all loved Jock the Mini-Schnauzer! He was an awesome dog, friendly and calm but with an inquiring mind and cheerful personality.

Temperatures in DV were in the low to mid eighties while we were there, but Beatty is 15-20 degrees cooler. Every night we'd gather outside our rooms, eating and talking and hanging out, and every night I needed real shoes, a jacket, and (the last two nights) actual warm pants. Those who like it cold were happy, but I was just glad to get to DV every day and be warm...

Saturday
During dinner Friday night, we talked about plans for our four days, and especially for Saturday. Death Valley is one of the few places I'm willing to get up and out early, plus daylight saving time had just ended. This meant that the sun was effectively down at 4:30 and it got dark at 5, so if we wanted to go somewhere that took a long time (like, oh, say, the Racetrack) we would have to get out early anyway. Plus Beatty is an extra half hour away from everything in Death Valley.

So we decided to do a lot of the easily accessible "must see" stuff that day- Badwater, Artist's Palette, the Devil's Golf Course, Zabriskie Point...and then decide what we wanted to do afterwards, if there was time. I'd like to get out the door at 8, I said. Who wants to get up early? Mike and Doug.

So we decided that Mike, Doug and I would go hike Natural Bridge canyon, then meet everyone else at the Furnace Creek Visitor's Center between 10:30 and 11, then do the other stuff we talked about. And we were in my truck at 8...and ten miles out of town we realized that we had forgotten to fill up with gas

(Gas prices that week: Home: $2.79 Olancha: $2.89 Panamint Springs: $4.49 Stovepipe Wells: $3.49 Furnace Creek: $3.69 Beatty: $2.49)

so we turned around to fill up in Beatty. And spent 15 minutes driving through town in every direction (yes, it's that small) and there were no chain gas stations. So since Doug and I couldn't use our gas cards anyway, we spent the week filling up at the Rebel station right by the motel for cheap. And from then on, filled up the night before. Just so that we wouldn't forget again...

Driving down the Beatty Cutoff toward Furnace Creek. The day was cloudy/overcast, mostly, although it was warm, 75 or 80 degrees.
Mike reading the signs at Natural Bridge. I had hiked this in 2004, but hadn't been back since. It's a short (one mile) canyon with a huge arch in the middle that ends at a dry fall.
There are a bunch of dry (in this season) waterfalls in this canyon, and it's fun taking pictures in them.
The signs talked about a 'turtle fault' and this is the only thing we could find that could have been it. The canyon ended in a dry (rock, not mud) waterfall; I think there's about 100 feet beyond it and then it's impassible. I climbed up about halfway for a photo op, then (of course) slid down the smooth rock on my butt. Because it's fun. Yes, I yelled 'WHEEEE!'. One last shot of the arch, which was hard to get...there were many people hiking up the canyon as we left...
A shot of the valley from the Natural Bridge parking lot.

And this is a good place to talk about pictures...I have a wonderful point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix ZS50. Jerry had a real camera with a huge lens and settings and stuff. Diana and Mike had iPhones, which take amazingly good pictures for not being an actual camera. Everyone was kind enough to share their pictures, so I have integrated them with mine...sometimes (for an especially good shot) I will mention who took a particular picture, but if I don't, here's how you tell:

All the photos are named dv(number). Thumbnails have an 'a' at the end. If there is a letter after the number (and before the a, if you're looking at the thumbnail) the picture was taken by Mike (m), Jerry (j) or Diana (d). If there is no extra letter (or if the picture number is 369 or below) it's mine.

On the right are the beautiful hills on the way to Furnace Creek.

We all met at the Visitor's Center, paid our admission fee, bought stuff, and then met up and talked about the rest of the day. We decided that we would all go to Zabriskie Point, climb up and see the view, then the three guys and I would hike down to Golden Canyon, which is an easy 2.5 mile hike with amazing views. Diana and Sandie and Jock would meet us in the parking lot there, and take us up to the top of Zabriskie Point again to get my truck and to have a tailgate lunch party. Then we'd go down to Badwater and Artist's Palette and see all that stuff, then decide if we wanted to do anything else. And so we did.
Even without sunlight, the view from Zabriskie Point is awesome. The pointy thing is Manly Beacon, which Doug, Mike, Jerry and I will be crossing the face of in about an hour. Jerry got good pics of Doug and Sandie at Zabriskie Point.
Here we go! The trail actually starts from the Zabriskie Point parking lot, and goes down washes through the 'badlands', mud canyons and washes, then there is a fork; one way goes down Gower Gulch and then back a mile along the alluvial fan to the Golden Canyon Parking Lot, the other fork goes up, across Manly Beacon and down Golden Canyon.
I had told everyone that the hike was 2.5 miles downhill except for three short uphill stretches...here I am at one of them. Then we ran into a bunch of hikers going the uphill way as we crossed Manly Beacon...! And the righthand picture is of course me, going down a steep bit of trail on my butt. Because that's what I do there.
And we come out in Golden Canyon, which, when the sun is out, is actually bright golden yellow mud. Beautiful. Still pretty, even today in the overcast...
Sandie and Diana were there, just as promised, and we all piled into Sandie's wonderful Subaru Outback, Red Sonja. Sandie, when asked if she'd pick us up, said, will we all fit? and we gleefully told her about doing this very thing with SEVEN people in Diana's Honda Fit...Liz K and I were in the very back, folded up like origami. But there had to be a picture of me crammed in the back, so here it is.
We got up to the Zabriskie Point parking lot and had a tailgate lunch. Jock wanted to help with the food, but we wouldn't let him.
Then we went to Badwater, the lowest point in the continental US-282 ft. below sea level. There's a sign halfway up the hill on the other side of the parking lot that says, SEA LEVEL. There is now a boardwalk by the parking lot, and a trail (that looks huge when you're near it) where people walk out on the salt flats, where the salt melts when rain falls and recrystallizes when it dries... Mike and I went out and then veered off to the north to find an area that hadn't had so many people walking on it. All the white stuff in the following pictures is salt crystals...

We got a picture of four of us by the sign, and Jerry got a good one of Sandie on the boardwalk. Don't know what happened to Doug, maybe he was taking the picture...?

Tiny little salt crystal filaments!

In the picture on the left, the shape in the middle is actually convex; it dips down, rather than standing up. But every picture I took of it, it looks like it rises up from the ground. In the third one you can see our shadows, and the right-most one has Mike highlighting a mud arch like the one we had hiked to earlier, but smaller.
Then we drove down Artist Drive and stopped at Artist's Palette, a beautifully colored rock formation. Mike, Jerry and I took pictures of it and the clouds, which were pretty cool too.
And we went back to the visitor's center to ask the rangers more questions. Ranger Bob knew everything, told us about road conditions, and was generally knowledgeable and awesome. And we were there in time for a beautiful moonrise to the east, and sunset to the west...

Back at the Atomic Inn, Mike took this awesome picture of the front of the building.

And we had our lovely buffet dinner, and talked about the day, and about what we would do Sunday.

Sunday
So when we were planning this trip, we exchanged a lot of emails discussing what we might do. Mike and Jerry both wanted to go to the Racetrack (the place where the rocks move by themselves.)

I talked to Doug; we both agreed that since we had done it last year, we weren't interested in going to the Racetrack this year. But, I said, I've reserved a Farrabee's Jeep for Sunday and Monday. I have plans for one day but not the other, and I've already paid for half the rental as the deposit...if you guys want to pay the other half and take it for one of the days, that would be fine with me.

We talked more about it and decided that this would be a good idea, especially when it ended up only being six of us on the trip, so Diana and Sandie would have the option of going along if they wanted to.

So that was the plan. We would all haul out of the motel at 8 am, get to Farrabees at 9, and get the Jeep. Then all three cars (Diana and Sandie and Jock were in Diana's Fit) would go to Ubehebe Crater, because Racetrack Road and the road to the Eureka Sand Dunes (where Doug and I were going) both started there.

So we all met up at Farrabee's. And Mike, Jerry and I went in to pick up our rental. And...I like Farrabee's, and don't want to talk trash about them, so I will just say that the woman behind the counter was one of the rudest, most brusque people I have ever dealt with behind a customer service desk. She said and did several things that kind of pissed me off, which I will not relate. But (and this is important to what happened later) she asked for our proof of insurance (we had already given her our driver's licenses.)

Here's mine, I said. And...Mike and Jerry didn't have theirs. So Brusque Woman said, you (meaning me) have to be in the Jeep at all times, since you are the only one with insurance.

Sure, I said, no problem. The guys looked at me, since I had not planned to go to the Racetrack with them.

And we went out, where we were given the once-over for a four-door Jeep (they were out of the two-door, which is what I had reserved, so we got an upgrade) And I got in, saying, Let's meet up at the Visitor's Center! and we all took off.

We got to the Visitor's Center, and moved stuff (like a LOT OF WATER) into the Jeep, and I handed the key to Mike, who is an experienced four-wheeler, and I said, I'm not coming. DON'T BREAK DOWN, OKAY? We all looked at maps and made sure everyone knew where they were going and that Diana and Sandie knew where the Jeep and my truck were going. And I said to the guys, wherever you are at 3:30 pm, if you are not back on a paved road, turn around then and come back. You don't want to be on Racetrack Road in the dark.

And all three cars- Mike and Jerry in the Jeep, me and Doug in Boudika, and Sandie and Diana and Jock in Diana's Fit- left for Ubehebe Crater.

Doug and I stopped an hour north, at the Grapevine Ranger Station. This is the last flush toilet that we were going to see all day, and we wanted to take advantage of it. Diana and Sandie pulled up and met us. But we didn't see the Jeep, even though they had been ahead of us. We did see a convoy of about 14 of the same kind of Jeep (Rubicons) that belonged to a four-wheel driving club, though.

Doug and I went ahead to the crater; the Jeep convoy was in the parking lot, but Diana and Sandie, and the guys, were nowhere to be seen. We waited about fifteen minutes and were about to go when I saw both cars coming past where the road turns into a one-way loop. We met up, and off we each went to our adventures!

The beautiful layered mountains heading west; the foothills of the Grapevine mountains after we turned north; and in the picture on the right, if you look closely just above and to the right of the path, you can see the start of the loop road and Diana's car and the Jeep.

Ubehebe crater is a volcanic crater, and it's a half mile across. Really, really big. And fun to go down into, although not as much fun to come back out of, especially on a hot sunny day getting toward noon...so we didn't. Plus Doug and I had fun of our own planned...

Eureka Dunes is the largest sand dune in California. It's tucked away behind a range of mountains in the very northwest corner of the National Park.
From the Ubehebe Crater road, you turn right on Big Pine Road and go for twenty miles to (I am not kidding) Crankshaft Junction; then turn right, go up and through the mountains, and turn down a road on the other side, which goes to the sand dune. The road north toward the junction is graded dirt, but pretty good; Boudika did between 35 and 45 mph on most of this part.
Crankshaft Junction (the old sign says Crankshaft Crossing, but it's 'Junction' on all the maps nowadays.) From here, the road we're on goes west and south to the town of Big Pine, on the 395. Anyway...the other two roads are serious 4x4 roads, one going east to another small town, the last going north and (according to the map) it just ends.

Why crankshafts? Just...because. Someone told me (maybe Jerry or Mike) that they aren't from cars, they're from big machines, maybe from one of the mines nearby.

The first picture is at the top of the road, looking back down to Crankshaft Junction. From here, we turned right, went up a steep road into the mountains, past Crater Camp, through Hanging Rock Canyon.
The last bit of canyon...with about two miles of paved road with dirt road on either side. Why? Anyway, at the bottom of the hill on the other side we turned left, and drove to the dunes.
We got to the campground (basically the end of the road unless you have serious 4x4 chops...the road past the dunes is covered with deep sand) and had lunch, after which I put the camera on the truck tailgate and ran back to the picnic table to be in the picture. The day was gorgeous, and the dunes were beautiful.
We walked across the clay flats to the sand dunes; I'm mugging for the camera here, of course! But if you look beyond me, you can see two dunes, a lower one in front then the top of the whole thing. We barely made it to the top of the low one... This tree was about 12 inches tall. The back side of the mountains we had just driven through... and looking back up the valley we came down.
The next dozen pictures are animal and insect and bird footprints, from various places on the dunes; I just lumped them together for comparison. I noted what they are where I know.

Bunnies, among other things.

More bunnies and friends.

Ranger Bob told me later that the first three pics are raven footprints; the fourth is just beautiful sand ripples.

The tracks of the wild and elusive Male Hiker...

The last part of this dune was so steep we ended up clawing our way up with our hands as well as our feet...! Robbie the Geologist says that these dunes are full of magnetite, which is dark and heavier than regular grains of sand, so when the wind blows the sand up the tiny crests, the magnetite doesn't quite make it, and stays on one side; the dark lines are magnetite, not shadows. The views from the top, back the way we came, and to the west, were gorgeous.
So after we had spent a while at the top, Doug started making noises about going down, and I handed him the camera and asked him to take a picture of me from below...the picture on the left is what he took, from about 1/2 way down what we climbed up. Can't see me? I cropped down to the pic on the right. Yup, that's me!

Oh, and in the picture on the left, see the straight line trail on the left? that's Doug's butt trail...he went down the dune on his behind and hands, it was so steep. Made a great trail...!

One more wild animal party of footprints...

I got ahead of Doug on the way back to the truck, he's coming along...

And back to Hanging Rock Canyon, which is beautiful in the afternoon light.
Then we came back to Crater Camp, which is on the eastern side of Hanging Rock Canyon. We had decided to go the farthest we wanted to go first, then stop for stuff all the way back.

Crater Camp has been a sulphur mine (at one time the largest in California) many times over the years; you can smell the sulphur in the air. On the map of DVNP, there is a white area where it is, which means that it is actually privately owned, although hiking is evidently allowed; at least, neither the rangers, the maps or the guidebooks say not to. The last time I was here nobody wanted to hike, so I was excited to see some new stuff.

I had told Mike and Jerry that if they were not on paved roads at 3:30 pm, that was time to turn around and come back so that they wouldn't be on unpaved roads in the dark. Doug and I were taking the same advice; we got to Crater Camp at 2:30, and got to hike about half an hour into the hills, about a mile each way.

The first three pictures are what Crater looks like near the road; interesting, but I wanted to go back in the hills and see what was there. We went across country to the left, along the washes (notice the blue minerals under the topsoil) and picked up a trail/road there...
... Then we went past the bare tailings and mine stuff to where people lived...and ants live there too! We saw these anthills-afterwards, Ranger Bob said they were harvester ants, what he referred to as the 'Big Boys'...the stuff piled up around the holes (about 6 inches in diameter and 3 inches high) is the leftovers they threw out of the nests when they finished harvesting and went to hibernate. Then we went to look at the rest of the buildings, detritus and mining stuff. Here are pictures of some of it that interested me.

A broken bottle with the sun shining through it. One of my favorite pictures from this trip.

That's...a HECK of a sign!

Old bedsprings are so much fun to photograph!

And it was 3:30 and time to turn back toward Beatty. I should probably mention here that Doug had lost his glasses in the motel room in the morning. After searching for them, exasperatedly, I finally said, let's go, you'll be wearing your (prescription) sunglasses all day anyway...and we left.
And the road and mountains were beautiful on the way back. But of course that late in the day, the shadows were long enough that I had to drive all the way home...because all Doug had were his sunglasses. (After we checked out, the maid found them and gave them to Jerry, who was kind enough to mail them back to Doug. We looked for them for THREE DAYS!)

So we got back to the motel just after dark, with the beautiful moon hanging over the mountains, and there was the Farrabee's Jeep in the parking lot near our rooms. Great, I said to Doug, they got back okay. Hope they had a good time!

And suddenly my cell phone got a signal and went INSANE with text messages. From Mike. The Jeep broke down! Where are you? We have to come back! The Jeep broke down, we're coming back!

Uh oh.

So once Doug and I had unloaded our stuff from Boudika, we got the story. They took off from Ubehebe Crater right after we did (and right after the convoy of about 12 of the same kind of jeeps went the same way...) They got about 5 miles down the road and...rattle rattle rattle. They stopped. They looked at stuff like the jack that might have come loose. They went on. RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE. They stopped again. This time Mike (who actually knows about cars, thank goodness) got underneath...and the shock absorber mount had sheared off and was banging around loose.

This was bad but not life-threatening. But they didn't have me in the Jeep with them, as we were supposed to do...so they had three choices:

  1. Go on to the Racetrack and chance worse happening
  2. Use the emergency beacon to call Farrabee's and have them bring a new Jeep, or
  3. Drive back VERY carefully with the broken Jeep and do something about it the next morning.
And being smart men with a boatload of common sense, they opted for 3. Going on would have been risky (although the next day I heard a story about people who had done that very thing) and it wasn't really an emergency...the Jeep was driveable, just not very fast. So Mike and Jerry limped back to Beatty and had gotten there around 5 pm.

And I was sorry their day got shortened like that, but glad they had made the right decision.

Apologies to Doug and Mike for a pretty terrible picture of both of them...but I wanted to get a shot of that door between them. That opens about 3 feet from the ground...! Our rooms had about 4 steps up to the doors, so the floors were all pretty high off the ground, but this door has no way of getting to it...it's just...there.

Mike just told me that it's to access the plumbing. I would so much rather it be to another dimension...it is, after all, the Atomic Inn. Ah well, another dream shattered...

Monday
On Monday it was time to return the busted Jeep. We talked about it Sunday night and decided not to exchange and go out 4 wheeling again; by the time we got the Jeep back we would have wasted hours of morning fun time, and we were all worried about dealing with the rude woman at Farrabee's again.

But Mike found time to hang out with the cat that lived next door to the motel! He was a friendly kitty except when Jock was around...

So we all piled into our various cars and convoyed to Furnace Creek, me and the Jeep in front...and it wasn't horrible to drive, but if the road was curvy or not in good condition, I couldn't go over 40 mph...and the sheared shock absorber was LOUD.

And we got to Farrabee's...and as I got out, a nice guy about my age was there, and I recognized him at once. Mr. Farrabee? I said. Yes, he said, what can I do for you? And I explained what had happened with the Jeep, and he had his mechanic look at it, and he said that they had been having a lot of problems with suspensions and shock absorbers because they were putting really tough tires on the Jeeps, and the suspensions couldn't handle it. Our Jeep had a new shock absorber that he was trying out, and that obviously wasn't strong enough. He asked what he could do to make us happy, and I said a refund would be fine. He did that, telling me stories about people and Jeeps that made me laugh. He is the nicest guy on the planet, and I knew as soon as I saw him there that everything would be fine.

Once we got that all sorted out, we got into all three of our cars and headed off for Dante's View, which is south of Zabriskie Point. It's a viewpoint that is at 5400 feet (and the mountain it's on is called Coffin Peak, I just found out...cool!) and is almost directly over Badwater.
Here we all are looking out over the valley. Mike is stylin' in Diana's hat, and we have our group photo taken with the Dante's View sign.
The view is hazy but beautiful...and kind of chilly, in the morning and up that high. Mike, Doug, Jerry and I hiked up a hill to the south of the parking lot, where there is a rock outcrop that is a wonderful overlook.
In the fourth picture in this row, you can see Badwater. There is the place people walk out on the salt flats in the bottom of the picture (the brown line) and, even though it looked like a REALLY long way out when you're there on the ground, we can see that it barely goes out into the salt flat at all. Distances are deceiving...
Doug and Jerry coming down from the hill, and the guys going over to help some people from (I think) Switzerland whose car was having radiator problems. And the road leading out from Dante's View.
Then Sandie and Jerry and Jock in Sandie's Subaru, and me and Doug in Boudika, went to a place I know where there are petroglyphs. Diana and Mike went off on their own to find fun.
Another tailgate lunch. Because Boudika! Sandie's Outback was only a few months old and had never done anything exciting...yet! Here is the dust on her back window from the dirt road we had just come down... We thought Jock might enjoy a short hike with us, but he said, Nope! Time to get back in the car! So Jock and Sandie went to find fun while Doug, Jerry and I went hiking to the Petroglyph Canyon.
It's a pretty easy hike, about a mile and a half.
Not much blooming, but a couple of interesting plants. And a raven circling over the canyon in the last picture.
Jerry got some good shots of us and the canyon, including me showing off my 'zombie kitten' shirt. And the following pictures are canyon walls and petroglyphs. Our timing was not great; noon is the absolute worst time to try to see petroglyphs on dark rock, they just don't show up well. But we found quite a few!
And then we headed back to the truck.
Doug: Lizard. See? There. No, there. No, THERE. No...oh, never mind. Plant glowing gold in the sun And there's Boudika waiting for us! And an interesting rock formation on the way back to Furnace Creek.
So we went to Furnace Creek, where we had ice cream (Mr. Rees is enjoying a Choco Taco in the first picture) and met up with Sandie (the second picture actually has me, Doug and Sandie hidden behind the palm). Jerry also got a good shot of the Ralphs hanging out on the roof.
And what were Diana and Mike doing while we hunted the wild petroglyph? Well, after Dante's View, we had parted, promising to meet up at the Mesquite Sand Dunes at 4:30 for moonrise (the night of the Supermoon!). They decided to check out some of the backroads part of Nevada, and drove off down highway 190 to Death Valley Junction, then turned left on 373 and went to Amargosa Valley, where they turned on the 95 to Beatty.

In Amargosa, they stopped at what Diana described as a 'slightly alien-themed diner' for a really good lunch, taking a picture of this very amusing sign there. But where was it? I asked when Diana sent me pictures. I don't know the name of the town, she said, but it's where the road from Death Valley Junction made a T onto the 95. There was this diner, a post office and a Bunny Ranch brothel. Really? I said. Yup, she said, it was bright pink.

So I went looking for the town, and thought it was Amargosa Valley...but (solely to confirm that I was in the right place) I looked for the Bunny Ranch...and that is in Carson City. The only brothel I could find in the area was the Alien Cathouse, which is famous for being the place where the ladies dress as any kind of extraterrestrial you want and there are sets and props and all manner of SF stuff. (And no, I'm not linking to it, Google it yourselves...) I emailed Diana. You went by the Alien Cathouse and you didn't take PICTURES? Dammit...

Anyway. They had a great lunch and drive and naps before meeting us at the Mesquite sand dunes!

When I planned this trip, I looked up the date of the full moon (tonight) and made that the middle of the week we spent there...but what I didn't know until soon before we left was that that was the night of the Supermoon, the largest, brightest moon for eighty years.

So we all decided to watch moonrise on the sand dunes. Then Mike and Doug and I were going to hike Golden Canyon, and Zabriskie Point, before returning for dinner with the gang at the pizza place that Scott had said had amazingly good pizza.

To the right are the Mesquite Dunes as we drove up to them. We climbed to the top of a dune that looked good for moon viewing and waited the hour between sunset and moonrise. The light on the mountains as the sun went down was beautiful.

Then we began watching for the moon to rise, and it was indeed beautiful. My camera is a point-and-shoot, although it does have a night setting (with a 4 second exposure, so Doug was kind enough to go back to the car and get my tiny tripod).
After it came up, we joined back up with the others (the second and third picture in this row were taken on the way back to the car). We picked up Mike and promised to be back at the motel by 8 pm to go out to dinner.
We went to Golden Canyon, but it was too early; the moon wasn't shining there yet. So these are from Zabriskie Point, and are all taken solely by the moonlight, which was AMAZING. With, I might add, normal exposure times. That's how bright it was.

Looking off Zabriskie Point toward Manly Beacon and the badlands, and you can see my shadow.

Our three shadows, and Mike and me in the third picture; I figured out that they showed up much better on white rock and we found some for this picture.

Second row:

Manly Beacon and my shadow again, even brighter

Doug and Mike walking down the path to the parking lot, with the moonshine at the top

Boudika and Doug by moonlight.

Our friend Scott had told us that the pizza here, at KC's Outpost, was really good, so when Mike and Doug and I got back, we all walked over for dinner. And several pitchers of beer! Everyone ordered the veggie pizza...and the crust is FRENCH BREAD DOUGH, OMG IT WAS SO GOOD!!! Thank you Scott! Then we went back to the motel, and Mike and I played Scrabble in Mike and Diana's room while Doug napped. Diana took this, not me.
Tuesday
When we first arrived at the Atomic Inn and saw all the alien stuff in front, we all said that we wanted to take a group picture with the aliens...but here it was the last morning there, and Mike, Doug and I were all, PICTURES WITH ALIENS! but Diana, Jerry and Sandie were all, Meh. So the three of us went and had a photo fest and laughed like idiots about it.
We had decided to go to Rhyolite, the Goldwell Art Museum, and Titus Canyon on Tuesday, which meant everyone could sleep in and not get on the road til 9 am, since all of that was literally over the hill from Beatty, about twenty minutes away. Here's Doug driving us to Rhyolite, and I finally got a good picture of the road between Beatty and Death Valley heading west...just goes on and on!
Rhyolite is a ghost town that, in its heyday (arouond 1910) had ten thousand people living there. Now the BLM oversees it; there are parts of buildings, a bottle house, and an open-air art/sculpture garden/museum. The top of the town is about 2 miles off the road, and so we dropped everyone off at the high end of town, and drove the cars to the art museum at the low end of town, about a third of a mile away. I walked back up and joined Sandie, Jerry and Jock as they made their way down.
This is a tiny town made of found stuff from Rhyolite that one of the BLM caretakers built for his daughter. Pretty cool.
The Goldwell Open-Air Art Museum is at one end of Rhyolite, and is EXTREMELY cool. I was happy to see that the couch has been repaired again; the tile/mosaic starts coming apart due to heat and then people pick at it, and in March it was looking pretty sad. It was beautiful this time!
Then Mike, Doug and I went down about half a mile closer to the main road to take a look at the Bullfrog-Rhyolite Graveyard (Bullfrog was another town nearby but there's nothing left of it.)
And now...it's time to drive Titus Canyon! This road starts a couple of miles from the Rhyolite road. It's a rock and dirt road; I've seen sedans go through, but I only recently started driving Boudika through there; before that I took an all-wheel-drive car. It's not horrible, but some of the hills are pretty hairy. It is, however, EXTREMELY beautiful.

Red Pass

We're going up there?

Okay!

And after some pretty steep and bumpy twists and turns, we came to another ghost town- Leadfield. We stopped, had lunch and explored a bit.
As we came down the mountain, some of the curves were sharp and bumpy, and because we were going downhill, I couldn't always see the road in front of the hood. So on one sharp, bumpy, narrow, downhill curve, I purposely hugged the inside corner next to Doug, where there was a big ol' rock. And we heard an awful noise as it scraped along the side of my truck. Doug mocked me gleefully, even though I said I preferred getting too close to the rock rather than the edge.

So we stopped at Leadfield and got out the lunch, then remembered the damage I had done to my truck. It's the tiny line behind Doug's pointing finger. That was all. It sure sounded worse than that!

After that, I wandered around and took pictures just for the fun of it.

And after everyone had eaten and we were ready to go, I said to Sandie, it'll get wider then narrower repeatedly; eventually it'll be just a little bit wider than your car, and that's the end. Wait for us in the parking lot, and in the last part watch out for hikers. And she and Jerry and Mike and Jock went on ahead.
And Mike and Jerry took these three pictures.
And I took these two...and then what did Doug and I see? BIGHORN SHEEP.

We were driving along, and I was concentrating on the road, which was twisty and slidy-gravelly. I knew this was prime territory for chuckwallas, and said, you look for animals, I have to watch the road.

And we were approaching a curve and Doug pointed and said, ANIMAL! ANIMAL! He said he was so surprised he couldn't even think of what they were called.

The first picture is without zooming-you can see the buck right over the rear-view mirror, and that's how close he is. He looked at us, walked up the dirt ridge, waved his butt at us, and went down the other side...so I started up slowly and went around the curve, and there he was with his doe. It was AMAZING. And in the middle picture on the bottom, he's scratching his nose with his hind hoof...awwwww!

And of course we all took pictures of the Narrows on the way out-it was about 2:30 pm when we got to the parking lot, and we said, Did you see the bighorn sheep? and they hadn't, either from looking another direction or the sheep were behind the dirt ridge when they went by.
The info sign. From the parking lot just past the Narrows, down to the Scotty's Castle Road, is two-way, so lots of people drive up, park and hike the Titus Canyon Narrows or Fall Canyon, a half mile north. We just came out of there! Sandie's outback really needs a bath! What is it with Germans having the coolest home-made RVs ever?
We got to the parking lot around 2:30 pm. Sandie and Jerry and Jock were going to head back to the motel; I mentioned the turnout for the Stovepipe Wells marker and they did that on the way home. Doug, Mike and I went to Ubehebe Crater.
The view from the Titus Canyon parking lot. Doug and Mike hiked up to Little Hebe crater, these are Mike's pictures. I stayed at the truck and read in the lovely evening sunshine; Doug and I both remember him taking an awesome picture of me doing this, but it is not to be found. Ah well. This is at the Grapevine ranger's station, but Doug reminded me that Signe and I had gone out on this trail years ago and there were NO SNAKES. What a gyp!
The evening was so gorgeous I kept stopping the truck to take pictures.
This is the site of the original Stovepipe well...
And here is the well itself.
Val Nolan's grave. There is much debate over whether or not he actually existed, or whether this is a tourist thing from the 20s. Still, famous DV sight. And the sunset is still beautiful.
I finally got a picture of Beatty in the evening, with welcoming lights ablaze; being taken in the twilight, the focus is not good, but there it is. Our kitty friend hit me up for petting when I went to check out the night before we left. This is what dinner was like every night, in the space between our motel rooms. The motel staff kindly let me leave the table and chairs out all the time, so we'd just wander out and toss food on the table and eat and talk. The last night Mike, Sandie and I ended up in Diana's room playing Farkle and Yahtzee. It was fun, and much screaming was heard.
Wednesday
We left really early the next morning, we were on the road by 8. The clouds and valley were beautiful, and the sign in the fourth picture says, Thank you for visiting Death Valley National Park. No, thank YOU, Death Valley!
The Sierras are lovely on the way to Olancha; in the second picture, those stripes are cloud shadows. The third is the road toward Lake Isabella, and there is a beautiful Fremont sycamore turning fall colors...and we're on the way home.

Four months and I'll be back. Who's coming with me?