This morning I caught up on some emails, had leftover double-layer veggie pizza from last night (even better cold!), and left snowy Lake Tahoe (fresh snow this morning - in June!) and my friends Peter & Sara and Cory. I took scenic Highway 395 heading south to Death Valley National Park; the drive was gorgeous, following the mammoth, snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains the whole way. Stops/activities along the highway included:
Detour from the town of Bridgeport to Mono Village for a great view of Twin Peaks mountains. I stopped into the little cafe down by the lake and had a beer while I let my car cool off, then I took a drive along a narrow, cliff-side, dirt road past Buckeye hot spring and back down to Highway 395.
Mono Lake Viewpoint - A "gulls-eye view" of the Mono Basin, Mono Craters, White Mountains and Sierra Nevada Mountains
Mono Lake National Recreation Area - Navy Beach (former weapons-testing site) and South Tufa Trail (a one-mile trail winding along the shoreline among the strange tufa towers rising from the eerie lake). I dipped my fingers in the slippery water and tasted the extreme saltiness of it. Mono Lake is 2 1/2-times saltier than the ocean and 100 times more alkaline!At nightfall I pitched pulled off the road and pitched my tent in a valley among the beautiful snow-capped mountains in an area of hot springs common with the locals, a few miles south of the town of Mammoth, off Benton Crossing Road, that Peter filled me in on. While I didn't have the conveniences of a campground, it was probably the most beautiful place I've ever camped on!
Tuesday, June 7th
Immediately upon packing up the tent this morning, I crossed over the 3rd cattle guard on Benton Crossing Road of Hwy 395, and turned right onto a rough dirt road down to a hot spring that Peter highly recommended. I parked the car and followed the boardwalk a 1/2-mile or so and laid my eyes on the most beautiful, idealistic hot spring one can imagine. Tranquil, scenic, clear water, no people, plenty of room, rocks to rest your back on, and the temperature of the water made it absolutely PERFECT. I chatted with a couple of guys from Santa Barbara that arrived after me, and took one last moment to soak it all in, before hopping out and heading onward down Hwy 395. Stops and activities included:
Turnout for the Mount Tom vista
Erick Schat's Bakkery in the town of Bishop - Samples of fresh bread, a cinnamon-raisin pecan sticky bun, a fresh-to-order veggie sandwich on Volkoren whole wheat bread, and "Chili Cheeze" focaccia bread - all very delicious!
Short walk and a little learning at Division Creek Roadside Rest Area
Scenic drive through the Alabama Hills, aka "Movie Flats" in the town of Lone Pine, an natural landscape featuring piles of huge boulders and rock formations that Hollywood has been the backdrop for many years and many films including Tremors, Maverick, Gladiator and Iron Man.
Got a view of Mount Whitney (whose peak rose above the clouds), the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states
Grabbed a map and must-sees of Death Valley National Park from a fun girl at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor CenterFrom the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center, the views changed dramatically, from snow-capped mountains to arid desert. Red, blue, green - these were just a few of the hints of color picked up in the massive desert mountains I passed. I saw many Joshua trees, wildflowers, and more. Upon entering Death Valley National Park, I checked out the free campsite I was planning to stay at, then stopped into the Stovepipe Wells area to get a park pass.
Hottest, Driest, Lowest: A superlative desert of streaming sand dunes, multicolored rock layers, water-fluted canyons and 3 million acres of wilderness. Home to the Timbisha Shoshone people and to plants and animals unique to the harshest desert - that's Death Valley. Wear sunscreen!
I headed up to Rhyolite Ghost Town, driving an extra 4 miles for gas and snacks (garlic pistachios!) at the huge nut & candy store in Beatty first. The old mining town of Rhyolite features a modern open-air sculpture museum, tram depot, house made of bottles (cool!) and ruins of a mercantile store, school, residence (or brothel?), bank, jail, and perhaps one or two others. While there I met a couple of newlyweds from Oklahoma, who decided to get hitched in Vegas on the cheap, and spend 5 weeks traveling for their honeymoon. Oh, and I saw my first jackrabbit! It was a full-grown adult and speedily hopped across the road! Those things are FAST!
Heading back towards camp, I explored (and rolled down) the Mesquite Sand Dunes w/ some girls I met there, who are interning at Scotty's Castle. The dunes are spectacular, taking on the shapes and graceful, sweeping curves and shadowed ripples I've only ever seen in the movies, in fact that have indeed been used in several movies including films in the Star Wars series - unlike many of the dunes I've seen previously that were impressive, but more like big mounds and hills. I stayed for the sunset, then pitched my tent at Emigrant Campground, a free site at 2100' elevation (cooler than the desert floor) with water and restrooms. I had dinner and journaled for a little while then hit the sack - the wind grew stronger and I thought the dang thing was going to blow over had it not been for the heavy rocks I helped hold it down with, and of course my body weight.
Wednesday, June 8th
This morning I packed up the tent and left the campground at about 8am, and made my way down Emigrant Road to Skidoo Road - an unimproved, cliff-side dirt road (meant for high-clearance vehicles!) to the Skidoo townsite, and old mining boomtown that flourished for 10 years (much longer than most in Death Valley). There are no visible remains of the town, but it was interesting taking a look down the old mine shafts, and the ruins of the mill that extracted gold from ore and was one of Death Valley's most profitable operations.
Afterward I returned to Emigrant Road to another, slightly less rough dirt road to Aguereberry Point, stopping to take pictures of the red and purple wildflowers on the way. Once at the top, at 6,433-ft elevation, I took in an expansive views of the Badwater Basin and the Panamint Mountains. I took some more photos of wildflowers, and the white, red and green mossy growths on the jagged, rusty rocks.
On the way back down the mountain I checked out the remains of Eureka Mine and Cashier Mill. Abandoned for many years, it's now the winter home of the endangered Townsend Big-Eared bat. Then I rejoined Emigrant Road and continued down to the Charcoal Kilns. "These ten beehive shaped masonry structures, about 25 feet high, are believed to be the best known surviving example of such kilns to be found in the western states." Built by Chinese laborers in 1879, they were used to produce charcoal for mine about 30 miles away. I took some photos of the yellow and orange wildflowers before heading to the popular Furnace Creek section of the park, a gateway to the popular sites and activities I would d0/see today, including:
20 Mule Team Wagon Train from 1885
Zabriskie Point- "Surrounded by a maze of wildly eroded and vibrantly colored badlands, this spectacular view of thick deposits and folded layers of mult-colored clay, sandstone and saltstone make up the "Furnace Creek formation," one of the park’s most famous
2.7-mile, one-way, unpaved loop drive winding through 20 Mule Team Canyon
Dante's View - "The most breathtaking viewpoint in the park, this mountain-top overlook is more than 5000 feet above the inferno of Death Valley"
Up close and personal with a desert lizard (chuckwalla?)
Amargosa Opera House & Inn (opera house unfortunately closed)
Ashford Mill ruins - Gold ore processing mill
Site of Lake Manly, which dried up 10,000 years ago
Visit from a friendly coyote that approached my car after I nearly hit it as it sat in the middle of the road for someone to feed it (I balled my eyes out when I had to leave it behind)
A walk onto the salt flats of Badwater Basin (lowest elevation in the U.S. - 282 feet below sea level, the driest place in North America - average yearly rainfall of less than 2 inches, and the hottest place in the Western hemisphere - 120 degrees fahrenheit in the summer!)
Devil's Golf Course - Harsh landscape of jagged rock salt formations eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires, that are so incredibly serrated, "only the devil could play golf on such rough links”
Artist's Drive and Artist's Palette - A beautiful 9-mile, one-way scenic drive winding the colorful brown, white, tan, yellow, orange, red, aqua, and pink volcanic and sedimentary hills
Golden Canyon at sunset - deep, rich blood-orange color
Caught a beautiful sunset on the multi-colored mountains at Furnace Creek Ranch before pitching my tent at the campground there
After setting up camp and catching up with my good friend Alida for a while, I went to Wrangler Steakhouse just down the road, and had the "California Field Spinach" salad, "a petite leaf spinach combined with brie cheese, red onion, tomato, and sunflower seeds in a sun dried tomato vinaigrette." Yum!
Thursday, June 9th
This morning I got up early, packed up my tent and hiked the easy, one mile interpretive trail at Golden Canyon to "Red Cathedral" - a geological formation of steep cliffs, composed of red-colored oxidized rocks, and "Manly Beacon" - "Death Valley's signal landmark, a banded prominence of gold-hued sedimentary rock named for William Manly, an intrepid member of the ill-fated Bennett-Arcane emigrant party which got stranded in Death Valley on their way to California in late December, 1849."
Afterward I went back through Furnace Creek and checked out "Old Dinah," a steam tractor and ore wagons from 1864 to replace the 20 mule teams.
Then I went to Harmony Borax Works, an old ore processing plant that "produced 3 tons of borax daily."
Completing my visit to Death Valley National Park, I walked the 1/2 roundtrip boardwalk along Salt Creek, a flowing stream on the valley floor 200 feet below sea level, which contains wildlife including jackrabbits (spotted one zipping away from me at crazy speeds), birds, the sidewinder snake (wish I could've seen one, but they're nocturnal), the quirky and curious zebra-tailed lizard (say oodles of 'em) and Lake Manly's last remaining animal, the rare Salt Creek Pupfish.