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Old 03-23-2012, 04:13 AM   #1
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Default while you were working (or whatever) part 11

Trip C (continued) March 1st to March 4th, 2012 12575 to 12800 trip miles

remember: <wow> = fill in your own superlative, we’ve run out : )

So there we were in Death Valley; what a contrast to the lush Oregon coast that we just left. Yup, some of it is at sea level or below, but there is much of it that is mountainous, both the rim and inside of “the bowl” (my term); the whole park is some 3.4 million acres. While some of the ground is sand or salt, most of it is gravel. I was not as enamored with this stop as Marti was, so she gets to try her hand at composing this part of our trip (with a few edits and snide comments from me).

We don’t remember it happening, but apparently we landed on the moon (aka Death Valley). We arrived just before dark at the Stovepipe Wells campground (named for stovepipes that stuck out near wells in this area long ago) and spent a quiet night (compared to the truck rest stops of the previous 2 nights) here at the ranch-type village.

“Beam me up Scotty”: We drove north (and up some 3000 feet) to Scotty’s Castle in the morning. It had been built for and owned by Albert Johnson – he’d made big bucks in Chicago as an insurance executive back in the 1920’s. He used this place as a way ‘to get away from it all’ winter vacation home for nineteen years, but only for a mere 6 weeks per year. Park visitors saw this huge place and were curious about it. There was a guy, nicknamed ‘Scotty’, who would act like he was the owner (at the real owners’ request) and he would show people around the castle, inside and out, year round. If the real owners were there, they just acted like guests. This arrangement went on for many years. The National Park Service eventually bought the property, lock, stock and barrel, for a mere $800,000 and now charge for people ($9-11 for adults, depending on age) to see it. It’s not as superfluous as the Hearst Castle, but fancy, spacious, and fully furnished, It is decorated in a Spanish motif, and cost some $2 million dollars to build in the 1920’s, so it is a tad fancier than your average double-wide mobile home! Tours are led by rangers in period uniforms of that time. In the parking lot on the way out, we spotted ‘Wylie’ coyote, but no (sign-bearing) roadrunners – dang!

From the castle, we went to Ubehebe Crater, a rather large hole in the ground, 500+ feet deep and 1/2 mile wide. The brochure said it ‘formed a few thousand years ago by a massive volcanic explosion caused by magma mixing with an underground spring.’ From the parking area, you can see much of the crater. It seemed reasonable to ‘go the distance’ and make the full 1-1/2 mile trek around it, but the hike up to the first vantage point got the leg muscles thinking twice about that notion. One climbs up shifting lava/gravel, almost like quicksand, to a high spot some 300 feet above the parking area which allows you to look down into the colorful hole. The dubious rest of the path around was quite narrow and would have gotten the muscles in an uproar, so we headed back to the van and then to another campsite for the night, Mesquite Springs.

The next morning we had what turned out to be a very busy day and got lots of exercise in the park, to make up for our ‘travel times’ when we rarely take time to stretch our legs. We drove by (but didn’t stop at) the huge angular sand dunes that sort of look like pyramids, and are said to make strange noises (but we missed the acoustics. We drove on to Salt Creek Trail, an easy 1/2 mile boardwalk trip (following a tooth-rattling drive to get there via a washboard gravel road). There we were pleased to spot rare, tiny, and endangered pupfish, which survive only in this very saline environment, up to10 times more salty than the ocean, depending on time of year. We timed it right, as they’re best seen in late winter/early spring. A few tiny lizards scooted in front of us, enjoying the boardwalk as did we. Thankfully, we missed the occasional and dangerous flash floods (they only get 2 inches of rainfall a year, but it seems to come in just a few bad storms).

From there we continued south to the Harmony Borax Works, an easy 1/4 mile walking tour about this important site in Death Valley’s history; it became famous through the use of 20 mule teams that moved borax from Death Valley to far away communities. It’s mind-boggling to imagine the back-breaking work required to extract the borax, get it loaded on the wagons and then enduring long, bumpy ride to and fro, not to mention the heat. Yikes! We also took the one-way (for obvious reasons) Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road, which must have been a real fun challenge for those folks (2 and 4-legged alike). No modern conveniences like springs, shocks, air conditioning, power steering, padded seats, etc.

Onward to Zambriski Point – beautiful and unworldly (yep, guess we’re still ‘on the moon’) badlands – rocks of any color, shape, texture you can imagine up here amid the arid landscape. Then on to Dante’s View, which took us from slightly above sea level to 5475 foot elevation to incredible <wow> views in all directions of various shaped and sized mountains in the distance (the ranger said you can see 100 miles away from this spot). A mile down is the (seemingly pure white) Badwater Basin which is advertised as 282 feet below sea level, and on the other side of it is snow-capped Telescope Peak that is over 11,049 feet high. Between the Badwater Basin and Telescope Peak is the greatest elevation change in the shortest distance. The people below who were walking on the salt bed looked like tiny ants from here. After a listening to a talk by a Park Ranger, we took a short hike around and tons of photos, then headed back down.

We drove to the Natural Bridge area with another (less rough) gravel road to the trailhead. It had warmed up to 75 degrees (it’d been much cooler with the breeze up on Dante’s View) and we felt the dry heat on the 1/2 mile upward hike to the bridge, but we were rewarded by seeing the nature-formed bridge amid the high walls surrounding it – very photographic. While there, we saw a pair of ravens who called this home, as well as spotting several large cracks in the high walls – this is a fault zone after all, so we didn’t press our luck and linger.

We finally arrived at the Badwater Basin, ‘the lowest place in the western hemisphere’ and we became the ‘ants’ which we’d observed from above. Rather than being the pure white (like an ice skating rink) we’d thought it was from observing above, the only white part actually was where tourists had trampled the rough, brownish salt deposit upper surface off. We walked out a bit, where before us lay 5 miles of this brownish (and deep) solid salt; nope, we didn’t walk the 5 miles out. From down there you could see a sign reading ‘sea level’ placed rather high up on the mountain, below Dante’s View. <wow>

The salt flats are full of various depths (very deep in the center) from thousands of years of salt deposits that are ever-accumulating. Actually the magma under the salt bed and the tectonic plates in between cause the height of the surrounding mountains to rise about 2-6” annually, while the depth of the salt bed sinks lower (it’s really 284 now, but they don’t want to repaint all their signs) and gets thicker annually. It’s not a true ‘valley’, as the salt bed had been a fresh-water lake thousands of years ago and now a stream from the mountains trickles under it; but the water evaporates so quickly that only the salts remain on the surface.

Hoping to catch a great sunset, we headed north to another one-way (for obvious reasons) paved road called ‘Artist Drive’ with very stunning scenic views and at one point we went up to ‘Artist’s Palette’ where dozens of other people, with and without expensive cameras, were capturing final glimpses and photos of the rapidly disappearing sun casting its light on sections of walls of stone with pastel blotches colors of every color of the rainbow – very beautiful and colorful, just like the name suggested. Coincidentally, we stayed overnight at Sunset campground, but it isn’t located right there.

Our final stop was to Golden Canyon, an easy 1 mile hike between tall walls of rock, of many hues, having enduring obvious erosion and cataclysmic changes over the millennia, forming curves, gouges, tilts, some of which are homes for the poor creatures who somehow survive those harsh conditions.

Images that we’ve seen here (btw, thanks to Jan and Jerry for insisting that we should not pass up this national park, as we’d originally planned to do) are beyond description. <wow> Amid the bleak, arid land with fallen rocks, dried sage, pulverized sandy grit lying around, every turn of the highway offers a surprise and panoramic mix of every color, texture, size, shape, angle, strata you could imagine. To a chemist, they see elements of copper, iron, salts, etc in those magnificent hues; but the tourist sees a tapestry of wonder and awe. <wow> This area is a geologist’s dream. Death Valley is far from dead; it’s vibrant and a mysterious place that we’re lucky to have in our delightful and varied collection of National Parks! (Nope, my name is not Ken Burns.) Just don’t come here in the summer – you’d have a totally different description then – like hotter than ____. Well, it’s time to move on and get back to ‘earth’.


Dick, Marti, & Glen RT09/10C190P “no more deadlines” Allegany NY
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