Before completely leaving the Red Rock area, we stopped in town one last time. The internet connection hasn’t been good enough to effectively upload any of our blog posts or do any other real online work. I’ve had several juried photo exhibits I needed to get entered into and, while we have had 3 bars of 1x connectivity, it hasn’t been enough to do anything but download email. So it was to Starbucks and their free WiFi we went. We spent several hours there, but got it all done.
In the morning, we headed out, but only to Pahrump. We could have gone directly to Death Valley, but decided to stop at the RV Ranch Resort for laundry and dumping. It was well off the road and very quiet. Seemed like lots of permanent residents in this park. While dumping, I talked briefly with my neighbor, shuffled out with his oxygen tank. I asked how long he’d been living here and he replied about 7 years. I asked where he moved from and he pointed East – from space 27, where he’d been for 3 years. We had an amazing sunset in the evening, but woke up to very windy conditions.
It was a breezy ride into Death Valley, but uneventful. This is our eleventh visit to the park over the past 35 years or so. It always seems like we’ve done everything here, but we always manage new experiences at the same places. The Sunset campground is pretty much an open parking lot. This time of year it’s not very busy, so there still is a feeling of some separation. We have nice views of the valley, with not too many rigs close by. We sat for awhile before deciding to go up to Zabriski Point for a look around. The other Furnace Creek campground is Texas Springs. It’s a bit nicer because it’s nestled into the hills a little further up the slope, but the spaces are quite close together, and no generators are allowed. We could live without the generator, but why?
We took the short drive up to Zabriski Point as the first excursion of our stay. It is an interesting spot with a wide view of mustard colored eroding hills set against the mountains. Its always fun watching the (mostly foreign) visitors amazement at the sight. One couple we saw was photographing a Pringles can everywhere they visited. I guess that was an Amalie moment.
There are quite a few paths that can be walked into the hills, but only one trail that leaves from the viewpoint. It connects to the Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch loop accessed from within the valley on the other side of the hills. We will do some combination of these hikes another day. Enough for one afternoon. It was back to camp for a happy hour of Cuba Libre’s and potato chips. Hey, we deserve it!
Friday we set a full agenda for the day. We actually had a few drops of rain fall the evening before, and in the morning a few more. There was still lots of cloud cover. The plan was to head south out of Furnace Creek as far as Badwater. At 282′ below sea level, is the lowest point in the U.S – 17 miles away,. About 3 miles south, begins the Artist Palette Drive. The drive loops up an alluvial fan formation into and through some wonderfully colorful hills. I call them hills, but the thing about this place is it’s immensity. It’s the thing that keeps coming back to me when I’m here. Everything is huge – the hills, the mountains, the sheer space. The challenge is to convey this in the photos we make. Not sure we succeed, but it’s fun to try. We stopped several times to walk around and watch the light change over the valley.
The drive eventually winds closer into the hills before arriving at Artist Palette itself. The pastels of the various minerals come to crescendo here. It is a unique spot, and one we lingered at for awhile.
On the way back down to the main road, I spied a coyote crossing the road in front of us. It stopped briefly, but moved on before I could get a camera out. I tried backing up a bit to get a better view, when another coyote crossed behind us. This one did stop, hoping for a hand out. No dice from us. It was nice enough to pose for quite a while though. Each time he (or she) began to wander off, I’d shout “Hey” which would cause him to stop and look again.Back on the main road, we continued down to Badwater. In big rain years, this place can be really interesting. As it is today, not so much. I guess if you’ve never been here, it still is. It is basically a jagged salt flat. There can be interesting hexagonal formations when there is more water, but it’s been so long since those conditions, that the path has been flattened into a white solid compact mush where people have walked. There is a little water, but not of much interest to us. We walked it some for a bit of exercise, walked up to a canyon/cave-like spot we hadn’t seen before, returned to the car for lunch before turning back to continue our tour.
The photo above is a direct rip-off of friend Stephen Johnson’s image. I saw it there, and just couldn’t resist doing a version of it. On the way down to Badwater, we passed the turnoff for Natural Bridge. I thought the light be better on it later in the day, so we decided to come visit it on the way back. The bridge is located about a mile up a deep canyon/wash and is a nice leg streacher. It is a gradual rise and easy walking and has lots of interesting elements beside the natural bridge. There are dry waterfalls, worn smooth from flash floods, melted candle wax like formations and other side canyons to explore. We spent another hour or so here.
Back on the road, we took another turn-off to Devil’s Golfcourse. This short road leads out into the large salt pan formation that makes up large portions of the valley floor. There was some interesting light streaming down from the partly cloudy skies against the mountains. Looking in the other direction, dappled light moving across these mountains was also interesting.
We had to decide whether we wanted to drive up the 30 miles to The Dante’s View Overlook that sits at 5475′. On windy days in the valley, it can blow a freezing gale up there. It was still very cloudy and cool, but not windy at the bottom, so we decided to give it a try. The clouds seemed to thicken as we got near the top. If the peak was in clouds, the view would be obscured. I really expected it to be blowing like crazy up here, but surprise, it was calm as could be.
The air was quite cold, but we came prepared with coats and gloves. The intermittent light over the valley was gorgeous! The clouds were not down on the mountains where we were, and we had a view of the entire valley. There is a rough half mile or so trail out along the ridge which we walked had photographed. There were so many opportunities for abstract views, so we were kept quite busy.
As sunset approached, the light just kept getting better – at times lighting up particular parts of the valley and mountains. Once the sun nearly down, a very light snowfall began. I just added a surreal finish to the day. In all, we probably walked only a a few miles, but we were quite tired from all the driving and in and out of the car. Tired but happy, we returned home.