The Southern Valley

Tuesday, March 7Tuesday morning we drove the 30 miles down to Furnace Creek. There are 3 campgrounds to choose from here. Furnace Creek Campground has hook-ups and trees and is usually booked until forever. Texas Springs is set back in the hills somewhat, has some trees, but does not allow generator use at all. The sites are mostly pretty close together and offer little privacy. The hills are nice though. It is mostly for tent and small vehicle camping, but anyone can use it if you can fit in the space. This campground was also full. So we are in Sunset campground. It is basically a parking lot with a view, but we won’t spend many daylight hours here so we can live with it for a few days.The days are still very warm – in the 80’s. It works out well to do things early and late in the day to take advantage of cooler conditions. We hung around our site until it cooled off in the late afternoon, then took the short drive out to Salt Creek. This spring fed creek is home to the ancient but diminutive Pupfish. When water is flowing, the Pupfish bloom (or hatch) and make hay while it lasts. We walked the boardwalks that allow easy access to this marshy area enjoying the nice air and peaceful location. On the way back to camp, we decided to do the short Mustard Canyon drive to check out the colorful hills there. By now, high clouds had knocked out any sunlight and the formations we drove through lost their appeal. We drove the route without making a single image, then headed back to camp.After dinner, we sat outside as an unexpected show began to form in the sky. The clouds that had previously blocked out the sun were beginning to catch the light and glow orange, and then red. The mountain horizon became a silhouette under the fiery fluff of clouds and sky, so we grabbed the cameras once more. Here are my favorites once again from the evening.

Golden Canyon
Tuesday, March 8We woke right about dawn to get a cool early jump on our favorite hike in Death Valley. The 4.5 mile canyon loop trail is one that seems to always reveal new surprises. My first surprise this morning though, was walking out to load the car and discovering a completely flat rear tire. I quickly found a metal shard sticking out right near the edge of the tread. Nothing to do but put on the spare and move on. We still made it to Golden Canyon by 8:30 and it was still nice and cool with a slight cool breeze.I prefer starting from the Golden Canyon trailhead and doing a loop down Gower Gulch, then out along the foot of the mountains back to the parking area. It could also be accessed from Zabriskie Point. The trail starts off winding up the canyon wash. This early there are still nice shadows that offer both shade and interesting patterns to work with. It is a gradual rise and easy walk.The trail soon branched off from the wash and we found ourselves walking up and alongside badlands mud hills of pale gold, peach and green. The trail narrows quite a bit and rises more sharply alongside what is actually the base of Manly Beacon, best seen from Zabriskie Point. It looks a little scary, but up close it’s quite easy. Just remember to turn around once and a while to watch the changing view. From the high saddle point, looking back down toward the canyon, for me is the closest I ever seen to a Georgia O’Keefe painted landscape in the way the lines of mountain and mineral veins combine. We lingered here over an early lunch and just observed the landscape for a time. Doing this, new compositions begin to appear. Some so abstract that scale comes into question and what it actually is, seems less important. People traffic was increasing by now with more and larger groups making their way up the trail. This was a good time to continue on.The trail down the other side wiggles around more mud hills before coming to a junction. At this point hikers can either turn left and walk up to Zabriskie Point via a new Badlands loop, or turn right down to Gower Gulch for the return trip to the trailhead.The Gower leg is all downhill to the exit point of the gulch. It starts as a wide wash, but soon narrows and winds through multi colored hills. I’d somehow forgotten how nice this portion of the walk was. It seemed that after each bend in the wash, another wonderful scene was revealed. But the fun did have to end sometime. At the exit from the gulch, the trail is kind of a slog back about 1/3 mile to the car. The hills we passed on the way back were actually very nice, but the harsh early afternoon light was doing glaring things to them, and we were ready for a rest and cool drink.But first, I went over to the local service station to find out if my flat tire could be repaired. It could not. Too close to the sidewall. Tim the mechanic said if I called into Big-O Tires in Pahrump and bought what I wanted, he’d pick it up in the morning and install it later tomorrow. Sounded good to me. Unfortunately in the morning he called in sick with a bad tooth. Which was true. I could see how much pain he was in when we talked earlier. Still no problem. We were here for a few more days.

Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View
Wednesday, March 9I didn’t find out until mid-morning that our tire would not be in today because Tim would not be in, so we kind of blew off doing anything this morning – getting too hot already. Instead, we waited till late afternoon for a trek up to Dante’s View, via a stop at Zabriskie Point. The warm afternoon light really highlighted the yellow in the hills. The new Badlands loop trail runs down from here, but that will wait for another time. Then it was up to Dante’s View, about 15 miles from camp. The views from the parking lot are pretty grand, but I like to walk down the rocky trail to several other overlooks along the ridge. From this high up, around 5476 feet, the land takes on a very differ feel – especially in this foreign terrain. It almost felt like I was in orbit, or at least flying high overhead. We stayed well after sunset hoping for a fiery sky, but tonight was a sunset dud with the cloud cover snuffing out any chance of a big finish. Can’t win em’ all.

Badwater and Ashford Mill
Thursday, March 10
Tim was out again. Our tires remain in Pahrump. For our last foray in Death Valley, we decided to drive down to Badwater and the Harmony Borax Works ruins. I was a little nervous about traveling without a spare, but it’s all paved road so I take this chance. From up on Dante’s View last night, I could see a tiny object in the vast salt pan next to Badwater. I had no idea what it was. Today as we drove down, I got a better look. From the road it look like either a boat or a vehicle of some sort but still too far away to know for sure.From the parking area at Badwater, we walked over a well trodden salt pan, now completely flattered. Along the way I stopped for detail images of undisturbed formations along the edges. As we walked out further, we could see that the object was indeed a vehicle stuck in the salt pan. We decided to hike out to it. Apparently it was someone on a joyride who, once stuck, abandoned the van and fled. Up close, we could see attempts to un-stuck it. The crust of the salt is very thin and fragile. It is amazing the van made it this far out. It looked to be in pretty good shape. A 4-wheel drive van just abandoned. Wow. We continued down to the borax works, stopping from time to time for view photographs. I never get tired of the long, vast views. We’d hoped for some nice wildflower views as well, but it is just too early and we won’t be around for any of the bloom. There are lots of plants, especially in the Ashford Mill area, but almost no blooms yet. We did find some creasote bushes with their small yellow flowers.Few flowers at Ashford either. Just single examples of Desert Gold and Sand Verbena.
Finishing up our day at Ashford, we headed back to camp. Our tires were still not in – Tim couldn’t get a dental appointment until today, but promised he’d be in tomorrow. Instead I arranged to get them myself since we would be stopping in Pahrump on our way out for wash and restocking anyway. It’s a nice service to have if it works, but not in this case.

Overall, it was a great stay in Death Valley – the exception being the sandstorm and aftermath. Time to move on again. We’ve decided that on the way to New Mexico, we should stop at a few of our favorite spots for a day or two here and there. Tomorrow we head to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada for a brief visit.

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