Tuesday, February 4
Monday we moved all of 25 miles north to the Stovepipe Wells campground. This is pretty much another large gravel lot with spaces to park in, but there are not a lot of people here at any one time, so if you pick your spot carefully, you can manage a pretty nice view. There is a small resort, with a gift shop, restaurant, general store and gas station. Inexplicably, gas at this station is 55 cents less expensive than at Furnace Creek. But at $4.33, it is still no bargain. We won’t be buying gas here. Also, there is no phone or internet connection here, so all posts pretty much have to wait till we are out of Death Valley. About 3 miles from here, at the junction of highway 190 and Scotty’s Castle Road, we have managed to get a couple of bars, so as we move past that spot, we stop to download mail.
Wednesday, February 5
This morning we were up before dawn to do a dune walk on the Mesquite Flat dune field, located about a mile from the campground. This is about my favorite thing to do here in D.V. Well the walking part is not much fun, but the photography part is. The dunes are always best after a wind storm so that all footprints are erased. Unfortunately, it simply has not been windy enough to do the job. As a result, virtually every ridge shows all the evidence of every visitor for the past couple of weeks. Disappointing, but being out there so early in the morning is still something worth experiencing.
We were well into the field before sunrise and were able to stake out good spots for first light. It does tend to be quite cool this early, but with no wind, it’s really not too bad. As soon as the sun rises, it starts warming, and in no time, the gloves are off and it becomes very comfortable. We tend to split up while walking around out there.
Mary is pretty content to hang around in just one or two spots, while I tend to slog through as much area as I can while the light is still nice. It doesn’t take much distance for new compositions to appear though. Just the sun getting higher can change how a spot looks, but I still move around a lot. Eventually, we met up somewhere along the way and headed back to camp.
Later in the afternoon, we took the short drive up to Mosaic Canyon for a hike. We’ve done this hike so many times, but it’s still a favorite. You can walk up this canyon for several miles, I guess, but the best part is the first mile or so. The canyon mouth is very curvy and narrow, and the rock carved and polished smooth. A little too smooth however, because I took a pretty good spill as I was attempting to scamper up one section. The only damage was a banged knee and an awkward position.
The colors here are mostly warm. Tans and golds, nearly white and grays. The veins and layers can keep me busy making photos for quite a while. Late in the afternoon, the sun tends to bounce off the walls and reflect onto opposite walls, giving some spots a very nice glow. It’s another great way to spend a day.
Today will be busy. Our first stop is to be Rhyolie, a ghost town about 30 miles east of Death Valley. There are some stone ruins of the town and some other nicely preserved buildings. Just outside of town, is a really odd onsite art installation called the Goldwell Open Air Museum. It was started in 1984 as an artist project of Belgian sculpture Albert Szukalski. We have visited this spot only once before, but it is fun to see what other odd art pieces have appeared since then. There are some interesting shrouded figures lined up on a pedestal, another shroud holding a bike, a large woman made from cinder blocks, and various other sculptures and carvings.
We wandered around both the art installation and Rhyolite for an hour or so before driving on to the real town of Beatty, Nevada about 6 miles further east. Mary needed to do some shopping, so before doing our planned drive through Titus Canyon, we stopped there for supplies. Beatty has always been mining town on hard times. Lots of bars and a couple of rundown casino’s. But gas here is around $1.50/gallon cheaper and there is a good cell signal for uploading blogs and checking mail. Mary did the shopping, we gassed up and went to the town park for lunch and uploaded last weeks’ blogs.
We got out of there around 1 PM and headed back toward Death Valley and Titus Canyon. The Titus Canyon drive is a one-way dirt road that travels across the desert top for a way before descending down into a spectacular valley and eventually into the narrows of Titus. 4-wheel drive is not required, but it is recommended that a high clearance vehicle be used. We’ve never had a problem in the Rav. This road is often closed by flash floods or other problems, but the mild winter this year meant that it was still open and in good shape.
The first part of the drive is pretty boring as it just crosses the desert top at around 1000 ft. or so. The road soon drops into the valley and really wonderful views begin to appear. We tend to stop a lot for photos. Eventually we pass the really really ghost mining town of Leadville. There isn’t much left here but a few shacks and lots of hole in the ground, but it is nestled into the creases of the surrounding mountains that are rich in minerals. The colors of the earth vary from green to black to red and everything in between.
Moving on and ever downward, the road then enters the actual canyon. It starts off quite wide but soon begins to narrow. The canyon walls get higher and higher, and the road gets windyer. Great pressures have bent the many layers of rock into amazing contortions. In late afternoon, light bounces off one canyon wall onto another and creates a glowing effect that is great to see. Depending on what time of year you are there, the timing on that changes. The effect is best toward the end of the canyon where it is narrowest – just wide enough for a car to pass through.
Eventually, we begin to see hikers walking up from the auto exit point. There is a parking lot there and hikers can park and walk up the narrows of the canyon. The most narrow points are the first couple of miles from the parking lot. If the weather is hot, it can be a long hot slog uphill on uneven gravel, but worth it if you want to avoid the long drive through the canyon itself. After exiting, we parked and had coffee and enjoyed the view. Tomorrow, we plan a long hike that leaves from this same spot, but goes up a different canyon.
Thursday, February 6
Today we wanted to hike a new-to-us trail. It is the 6 mile round trip hike up Fall Canyon and leaves from the Titus Canyon Parking lot. We’ve always seen trails snaking around this area on previous visits, but it really isn’t well signed and we’ve not investigated it further. This time we did and discovered a really great walk. The last couple of mornings have been partly cloudy and cooler, so we thought the weather would be good for a long walk up a deep canyon.
The ranger we talked with at the visitor center about this trail said it was largely an informal trail through the gravel of the wash through the canyon that eventually ends at a 30 ft dry waterfall. Apparently there is another side canyon reached after a scramble over another dry waterfall nearby, but we never found it. The narrows there are said to be the best there.
The ranger also said the hike was a case of two steps forward, one step back. You know the type. But the reality was much easier than expected. As you face the Titus entrance, the trail for Fall Canyon skirts off to the left. There is a small blank signpost next to the restroom, but there is no indication that this is an official trail – but it is. It first skirts along the base of some hills before rising up over them and eventually into the wash of Fall Canyon.
It is very wide at first and moves ever upward in the way washes do in DV. We brought our trekking poles with us and that may be why the going seemed so easy over the gravel of the wash. There really wasn’t any loss of ground for each step as the ranger suggested. Using the poles gave us plenty of stability for walking on the uneven areas. It is a steady uphill though.
The canyon begins to narrow as the walls get higher and more shear. You really begin to feel small compared to the surroundings. The various strata of the layered rock walls are bent into some pretty amazing shapes. The canyon becomes quite deep, and growing in the gravel of the wash, we saw a surprising number of blooming wildflowers. We eventually made it to the dry waterfall, but by then, clouds have come over and it got pretty cool, pretty quick. We had our lunch and headed back. Of course it was much easier on the way down. It was a fun hike and we only saw a few other hikers all day. I just love having hikes to ourselves.
More Dunes and Other Stuff We Did
Friday, February 7I wanted another day on the dunes, but sunshine has been in short supply during the morning hours. It’s not essential, but it really makes a difference when creating compositions. Thursday morning was cloudy at the horizon, so I stayed in bed hoping Friday would be better. It was in fact worse. All the heavy rain pummeling the north hasn’t reached DV, but cloud cover has. Friday was completely overcast, but it was my last real chance, so I went out anyway. Mary stayed in bed.
Photographing in this soft light means I cannot use the low shadows cast by first light of sunrise that can emphasize the texture of the dunes. I cannot use the contrast of shadow against light. It becomes much more of a challenge to just use what is there. There are plenty of shapes to play with however, and enough contrast between the various sections of dunes for me to work with.
It was really pretty nice out there. For a good hour I was the only person in the entire dune field. I guess everyone looked outside, saw the cloud cover and decided to stay in. I walked all around, eventually making to the top of the highest dune. I had a great vantage point from there and could look out 360˚. The light was flat and the dunes were still heavily walked on, but I found enough areas free of too many footprints to photograph.
After returning to camp, we got a quick breakfast and headed out to Scotty’s Castle. Walter Scott was a sort of flimflam man. He fell in love with the Death Valley area in the 20’s and managed – through some pretty shady dealings – to secure a grubstake enough to build an elaborate estate within what is now the borders of Death Valley. By securing a couple of pieces of raw gold ore from Colorado, and flashing it around in the east, he convinced people he was sitting on a real gold mine. There was no gold, just his stories. He was staked and befriended by one Albert Johnson and wife Bessie. The real story is a bit murky, but Albert was wealthy and kept Scott in business for a good 10 years. Together they build Scotty’s Castle.
Mary wanted to do a tour of the grounds, partly because her geezer pass entitled her to a 50% discount on the price of the tour. I had to pay full value. But it was a pretty good tour. Our guide was really into it. She was dressed in period garb, and with a click of her heels, would bounce between the persona of guide and 1920’s news reporter in order to give both the myth and facts of the man Scotty. The estate is in great shape and all of the furnishings are original, down to the hats and ties Scotty would wear. It really is quite an amazing place – especially when considering what it must have take to get all the materials here in the 20’s.
We finished our tour, had lunch and motored off to Ubehebe Crater. It is volcanic in nature and has several smaller craters around it. We hadn’t been here in many years so decided a revisit was in order. It was VERY windy at the crater. Why couldn’t some of this wind make it to the dunes? It was too windy for Mary, but I had to go for a shortish hike along the rims of the various craters. There is a trail to the bottom and we have hiked it in earlier visits. I can tell you it is not worth it. The trail is sand like ash and as hard to walk in as sand. At up to 700′ deep, it is a lung buster.
The wind on the rim, while cold and stiff, really wasn’t too bad. I just wore a hoodie for protection and I stayed quite warm. The light was changing nicely and I think I got some nice images of the crater and surrounding landscape. I finished up my hike and we returned to camp. Saturday we head out of the park. We’ll spend a night in Bakersfield before heading out to the coast. First stop will be Pizmo State Beach. There is a good campground there (though expensive at $23/night with senior discount). It is right next to the beach though, and adjacent to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve. Not sure if they are in town just now, but we’ll check it out.