Saturday, April 30, 2016

Death Valley California

April 21 - 25, 2016:

The trip started off calmly heading north on route 14 to route 178 and passing through the towns of Inyokern and Ridgecrest.  We then stopped at the Trona Pinnacles National Monument a few miles east of Ridgecrest.  We left the RV in the parking lot and took the Jeep 5 miles down a dirt road to the Pinnacles.  There are roads going off all over in this salt encrusted barren landscape.  The Pinnacles are impressive as you are able walk around and through them.  The Pinnacles were formed under water when this area was covered by a vast sea.  A sign indicated that many films have been shots there and as we were leaving a film crew came in with several large trucks.

They are much larger and impressive when walking amongst them

We next came upon the vast Searles dry lake and the town of Trona which was a company town that over the years has produced the minerals Trona and Potash.  It looks to be mostly poverty stricken by the ramshackle and abandoned houses along the route.  Outside of town was an interesting junk yard that I could roam around in for a while.  
Heading down route 178 I encountered something very special, a jet fighter aircraft flying towards me at low altitude through the valley parallel to the highway. That was a WOW moment !  I then stopped at a roadside marker for a nearby mining town called “Ballarat”, prominent in its day, now a ghost ghost.  Of particular interest, George Schuster in his 1908 Thomas Flyer automobile that won the around the world New York to Paris to auto race in 1908 stopped in Ballarat.  We then entered a wide valley, nothing but desert as far as the eye could see.  The wind had picked up and sand was blowing across the road, then the pavement ended for a couple of miles and so much dust.  We next enter Death Valley thinking it will be an easy drive until I see the sign about 7-9 % grade with a few 30 MPH curves, for the next 10 miles.  This was a brutal hill climb up Townes Pass at 4,956 foot elevation, I was down to second gear, pedal to the metal at 35-40 MPH for miles.  Once gaining the top, it was then a curve filled  6-7% down hill run for 10 miles. It was a great relief to finally get out of the vehicle at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center.  It’s was hot as hell, really, the thermometer at the visitors center said 105 degrees F.  There are a few electric hookup sites in that campground, but they were all taken, so we set up in a dry camp site, will be a hot night, but $6 camping site is not so bad.  I go to the visitors center, with that thought in mind, and get myself an ice cream. 

On our first morning we go on a beautiful 1 mile hike into Golden Canyon where I find a wallet belonging to a Czech tourist with ID and credit cards inside.  We looked around for someone looking like him with no luck, there was no place to leave a message, so we took it to the visitors center.  Hope it gets back to him, because that has to really suck.

The trail into Golden Canyon

We then rode to an area called the “Devils Golf Course” where it started to get extremely windy.  Not just windy, but hurricane force, rip the car door off windy !

The Golf course, you would lose many balls here

Next was “Bad Water” which is Death Valleys lowest area at 272 feet below sea level.  There were a lot of people there, bus loads and everyone needed to take a photo at the sign.  it is a place where you can walk out onto the salt flat, very scenic, the only problem again was the extreme wind.

It starts as a boardwalk, then you walk on the spongy salt flat

Next we did a U-turn and took the Artist Palette loop drive.  This is a great drive, the colors of the rocks are amazing.

The photo doesn't do this justice

We then headed back to the visitors center to see the exhibits and get out the wind.  We had left some windows open in the RV knowing it would be 100 degrees again and were not surprised to see much dust covering interior surfaces of the RV.  We closed everything up and sat in the heat, with the RV rocking and rolling like a ship in a stormy sea.  These cheap class C RV’s don’t have any stabilizer jacks, something I would definitely want on another one. 

When we looked at the interior thermometer and saw that the temperature was 105 degrees, that was enough, we went to the air conditioned Village Cafe where we split an order of nachos and had a few beers.  The wind abated in the evening, the temperature started to drop and everything returned to normal.  

Day 2 and the weather is much improved and the temperatures is about 15 degrees cooler.  We take off to one of the most scenic places in Death Valley, Zabreski Point.  We look around from the scenic viewpoint and then decide to do the 2 1/2 mile loop trail.  It’s a spectacular trail, but as usual in the west very poorly marked.  I really wonder about the park service at times, this is one of the most popular hiking trails in the park and many of the trail signs are unreadable, missing or poorly placed.  So, on the back side of the trail, we missed a sign and ended up going the wrong way up a steep rocky slope.  We realized something was wrong shortly and had to backtrack to get back on the correct path.

Amazing view from the scenic viewpoint


On the trail trying to find our way

Next is a drive to Dantes View which at an elevation of 5,475 feet affords a great panoramic view of Death Valley.  The air temperature was in the high 50’s there, quite a change from the valley, a whole different climate zone.

View from Dantes View

On the return, we take a 3 mile ride on the “20 Mule Team Canyon Road”.

It's wild looking country

On Sunday, we move about 30 miles away to the Stovepipe Wells Village area to another $6 per night dry camping site.  It is virtually empty this time of year and in fact they close in a couple of weeks  for the summer.  It is near the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes which we wander around in after setting up camp.  I then take a ride to the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail.  Salt Creek is real running stream and habitat for the endangered Pupfish. I thought I would be lucky to see a single Pupfish, but there were actually thousands of them in this small stream.  This is their only habitat in this part time water source, consequently their life span is short, but somehow they manage to reproduce and survive.

View from our campsite at Stovepipe Wells

View in Mesquite Sand Dunes

It's great to walk along the crest of the dunes

Salt Creek Oasis

The Pupfish

Stovepipe Wells gets its name from a water well in the area, the only reliable source of drinking water for the early settlers.  A piece of stove pipe was attached to it to make it easier to see from afar.  Stovepipe Wells was the original path of the earliest settlers crossing Death Valley and ironically also became the first tourist resort constructed in 1926 originally called Bungalette City.

No handle on the well these days

Death Valley had a wild rainstorm in October 2015 in which 2.7 inches of rain fell in single day which is about the usual annual rainfall amount.  As a result, flash floods raged everywhere, washing out lots of roads.  Scotty’s Castle one of the top attractions received heavy damage and remains closed.  Scotty’s Castle is another amazing story involving a very wealthy man, Albert Johnson, who came to the area looking to invest in a gold mine promoted by an former cowboy named Death Valley Scottie.  Scottie was a colorful character who had once toured with Buffalo Bills’s Wild West Show and had concocted a mine con scheme.  Johnson soon realized that the mine was a scam, but became best buddies with Scotty anyhow and fell in love with the area. He built his dream house in the valley, Scottie's Castle, and even allowed Scotty to live in it. 

We have  experienced much crazy weather here, first 105 degree heat, then almost hurricane force winds, then last night a rain storm and wind howling again.   They say it is a land of extremes, we can vouch for that !

On our final day we did a 4 mile hike into Mosaic Canyon which was beautiful with the polished walls of the slot canyon and incredible rock walls towering above.  There are a few tricky rock faces to scramble over and then you come to a rock dam.  I was able to get over it and go a ways beyond, but it is tough going.  The rock walls are polished smooth about 25 feet up in places from eons of water flow, you wouldn’t want to be here during a flash flood !

Mosaic Canyon view

The Canyon is getting narrow and the rock layers fantastic

Twinkles admiring the beautiful polished landscape

Edward Abbey did have a way with words

Death Valley has been exciting, we now head for the mountains and colder air.

Next stop is Lone Pine, California;
Twinkles and Slick

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