Sunday, March 4, 2018

Death Valley and Beyond, Part 2

As we continue with our Cali/Nevada explorations we find one of the more unusual features of Death Valley—sand dunes. The Oregon coast has a great expanse of sand dunes between North Bend and Florence. 
Anne with the team at Pistol River

I’m very familiar with these dunes because I used to train and run my sled dog team around and over those dunes, but the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in the north end of Death Valley seem very strange. Called tawny dunes which rise as high as 150 feet and located near Stovepipe Wells, these dunes are like a small Sahara in the valley. 

In the early morning it was easy to find tracks from the night before.

The sand is quartz and feldspar which have been broken down from larger pieces of the nearby Cottonwood mountains. Also in the northern part of the park and near the Mesquite Sand Dunes parking area is an area known as the Devil’s Cornfield. 

Here Arrowweed grows tall in the desert salt flats with the soil mounding around their base making them look even taller. Thus they resemble corn stalks from which only the Devil could harvest corn.
Before leaving the valley we visited a portion of a major jeep trail called the Titus Canyon Road. From the highway which runs from Stovepipe Wells to Beatty, NV, the one-way jeep trail covers 26 miles of badlands, desert, and canyon only accessible by Four Wheel Drive vehicles. 

The approach and road to Titus Canyon.

But from the Stovepipe Wells area there is a three mile two-way access road with parking at the canyon entrance. 

Found some lovely quartz in the canyon walls.

Anne and I walked a little less than a mile of the tightest canyon section, called The Narrows. The road, a wide walking path for us, winds through varied colored rock walls and formations with different scenes around every corner. 
Leaving Death Valley via the road to Beatty, 
Looking back toward the dunes and Stovepipe Wells.

Corkscrew Mountain on the way to Beatty.

we stopped as we have before at the ghost town of Rhyolite (one of several in or near the valley—Ballarat, Leadfield, Panamint City). Rhyolite is the largest and at its peak between 1905-1911 had over 10,000 population with two churches, 50 saloons, 18 stores, and 19 lodgings. 
The ghost town just seems to demand black and white photos.

Today, there are remains of a few commercial buildings, one hotel/saloon, a house made out of glass bottles, and a couple of derelict residences. We’ve visited several times and can see very small changes in the condition of buildings, but the desert will eventually claim it all. 
Besides Death Valley, during our Las Vegas stay we ventured out to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on our way to Valley of Fire State Park. The Lake Mead Recreation Area was created in 1964 as the first national recreation area and contains 1.5 million acres. 

Called “America’s first playground,” the Northshore Road gives very little access to the lake itself—I was expecting scenes like I see of Lake Powell in Arizona. What we got was a nice drive through badlands and red stone outcroppings on our way to the east entrance of the Valley of Fire.
Nevada’s first state park, Valley of Fire, is about an hour north of Las Vegas via freeway (or closer to two hours away via Northshore Road). Dedicated in 1935, the 46,000 acre park is in the greater Mojave Desert region. 

Named for the bright red Aztec Sandstone outcroppings, the park has been used often as a major movie location. Once used by the Ancient Pueblo People, known as the Anasazi, their Rock Art (petroglyphs) remains a major attraction. 

We saw some of the petroglyphs on this trip first behind The Cabins—three shelters built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and used as shelters by travelers on the Arrowhead Trail which ran between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles via Las Vegas. Next we took the Mouse’s Tank Trail (aka Petroglyph Canyon), a trail named for a local outlaw who used the canyon as a hideout in the 1890s. 
Beginning of Petroglyph Canyon.

The 3/4 mile trail leads to “the tank”—a natural basin where water collects. The canyon is filled with native petroglyphs. Our final stop was at Atlatl Rock which is a rock monolith with numerous panels of native rock art--
Atlatl Rock

A panel of petroglyphs like this is often called an Indian newspaper.

—including those depicting the use of an atlatl, a notched stick that aids in throwing small spears or arrows. You can see atlatl throwers on the main panel, but all around the rock are numerous groupings of petroglyphs.
Anne at the picnic area at Atlatl Rock.

     After the 70-85º temperatures of Las Vegas, Death Valley, and Valley of Fire, it was quite a change to come home to even the tiny bit of snow we got in Canby. Oh well, back to reality.

NEXT: About my new book.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Death Valley and Beyond (Certainly Not Below)

Coming into Las Vegas over Red Rocks Canyon.

Anne and I just got back from a nine day adventure to Las Vegas. There’s plenty to do in Vegas—casinos, golf, eating. We chose to spend three of our days driving to and staying in Death Valley National Park, and there’s plenty to do there as well. Let me tell you and show you some of the highlights (or should they be called “lowlights”?) of one of America’s grand national parks.
First, I'll provide a little description of Death Valley, the hottest place on earth with a recorded high of 134º F (July 13, 1913) and an average daily July high of 115º--it was 85º when we got there. Choose carefully when you visit. The valley is bordered by the Great Basin area, various mountain ranges to the west (Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48 states at 14,505 feet, is 85 miles away), and the Mojave Desert. It’s an area of salt flats, sand dunes, and badlands. It’s been home to several groups of native peoples and is currently home to the Timbisha tribe (formerly known as Shoshone). The valley was declared a National Monument in 1933 and became a National Park in 1994, the largest in the park system. 
A treat for us is a stop for breakfast at Mom’s Diner in Pahrump, NV, about an hour from our Worldmark timeshare on south Las Vegas Blvd. 

Anne has a tuna melt and I have burger steak and eggs.

This diner is funky fun and serves up great home cooked food. It’s so friendly and good that we planned our route home to include lunch at Mom’s after our time in the Valley. 
Desert scene outside the park.

Going towards the park from Death Valley Junction.

Cyclists wave as I'm self-paying at the southeast entrance to Death Valley National Park. They were a little sad when I told them they had 18 miles to go to reach the junction.

The great desert scenery starts before you get into the actual national park, but within the park boundaries our first adventure was Twenty Mule Team Canyon, a 2.7 mile one-way loop road through very impressive badlands. 
Near the entrance to Twenty Mule Team Canyon.

The next view point is the most famous in the park; Zimbriskie’s Point, has views of the Badwater Salt Flats as well as towards the  Furnace Creek oasis of green. 

The ancient rock dunes at the point are spectacular both at sunrise and sunset. Next on our way to the lowest point in America was a stop at the Devil’s Golf Course, an intriguing draw for golfers. 

You certainly don't want to fall on this golf course...ouch!

This large expanse of rock salt eroded by wind and rain, though, is a course “only the Devil could play.” We finally arrived at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. The salt flats can flood when it (infrequently) rains and there is a spring which provides a little running water most of the time—water so saline that it deserves the name “Badwater.” 

This is the view of the valley and salt flats from just south of Badwater.

Here you can walk out quite a ways onto the salt flats, but a couple of hundred yards is probably enough. Take a look back at and above the parking area to see the “Sea Level” sign high on the mountain.  
From the low point of the trip we head back up towards Furnace Creek with a side trip to drive the Artist’s Drive, a nine mile one-way loop road through varied multi-hued sedimentary and volcanic rock formations. 

I hired a professional model for this shoot.

Me and my shadow...and the Artist's Palette.

Serious photography happens all throughout the valley.

The drive, especially with a stop at the Artist’s Palette, is best in afternoon light. From Artist’s Drive we found some of the very sparse green vegetation in the valley at Furnace Creek Golf Course (a course you don’t have to be the Devil to play). 

Ignore the boots; Anne forgot her tennies this day.

The valley heading north from Furnace Creek.

This is the lowest golf course in the world at 190 feet below sea level. The course is kept so lush that there are spots of mud to be avoided. We played several other courses in the Las Vegas area, including Boulder City, Wildhorse, and Revere Concord. A final stop, as we headed towards our lodgings for two nights at Stovepipe Wells Hotel in the north part of the valley, was at Salt Creek, a small stream that is home to the much endangered and rare pupfish (I did see one). 

The half-mile boardwalk loop through pickleweed and other vegetation (staying on the boardwalk helps maintain the fragile desert environment) is especially lovely in the late afternoon. 

Both nights of our stay in the valley at Stovepipe Wells we ventured out in the dark of evening for skywatching. The park has been designated a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. Views are especially spectacular from the north end of the valley. It had been years since I had seen the Milky Way, our glaaxy, in all its true glory—no photos, but unbelievable visual memories. 

Please, let me hear from you about photos you particularly like.

NEXT: A continuation of our exploration of the beauty of Death Valley and a visit to Lake Mead National Recreation Area and to the Valley of Fire State Park.