Monday, March 23, 2015

Death Valley

We left Davis at 6:30 am for the long drive to Death Valley, stopping once for a picnic, once for gas in Nevada where it's much cheaper, and another stop at Manzanar, the Japanese Internment camp (or American concentration camp as the Japanese refer to it).  I'm glad we did.  The visitor's center had a wonderful 19 minute video and lots of things to read and look at.  We did a driving tour around the vast site, stopping at the memorial and cemetery (150 died here) and walked through one of the barracks.  We couldn't imagine 3 families, complete strangers to each other, living together like this with only one doorway to go in and out, after walking through your neighbor's living room. 
Next on our itinerary was a stop at Darwin Falls.  It was a short drive on a very dusty gravel road and then a hike of about half a mile. Simply beautiful. 

The long road into Death Valley.  We have arrived!
After checking in, we mostly crashed then headed to the Tollroad restaurant right next to the Badwater Saloon.  Food, service and prices were great.  We went to bed early for an early rising.  The temps were high and we wanted to do things in the morning, saving the afternoons for resting and reading--I read two books.

First stop the next morning was the Ubehebe Crater, a 1.5 mile hike around the rim.  It's 600 feet deep and half a mile across.

Part way around the rim we were able to view Little Hebe Crater.

Next we drove over to Scotty's Castle with low expectations of this tourist spot.  However, we were happily enthralled by the tour and the stories and the sheer beauty of the place.  All the guides are dressed for the 1930's.  We also did the underground tour which focuses on all the technology, circa 1930, that kept this place running with hot and cold water, heat and cooling as well as electricity.

Another early night for a predawn rising the next day.  Our goal:  the Mesquite Sand Dunes at sunrise.

This view reminded me of a Frank Gehry building all stretched out.  It was spectacular watching the sunrise and walking among and on top of the dunes.  We saw several animal tracks and probably a snake track.

We continued on to Golden Canyon, still early enough that it was cool and beautiful.

Driving through this section of Death Valley had one stop after another.  Now we were at Natural Bridge.
Badwater Basin was something we were both excited to see.  It's incredible to see how far it goes and it's like walking on a non-slip ice rink except it's hot out.

Since we were this far, we decided to head on to Jubilee Pass, known for its wildflowers.  We found a few.  

Jubilee Pass was a bit of a drive, about 50 miles from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and it was 1:00 pm by now and the sun was high and hot.  Fortunately, our next stop was Artist Drive, to be viewed inside an air conditioned car.  A gorgeous 9 mile drive through the mountains and back onto the main road.

Our third day was another predawn rising so we could watch the sunrise at Zabriski Point.  A few others thought it was a good idea too.  Most of them were photographers with tripods.  I just used my iPhone camera.

We enjoyed driving along on the beautiful, smooth roads to our next view point, Dante's View.   This turned out to be the best thing of all, mostly because we met a woman, Nancy, who is a photographer.  I took some pictures of her sitting way out on a rock and then we started talking.  She told us about a great place to go, China Ranch, on the way to looping around and finding the really good wildflowers.  It turns out we were only about 3 miles short of where they are at Jubilee Pass yesterday.  We had no plans after this stop and it was only 9 am so we decided to go for it.  Her directions were great.

Nancy taking pictures.  It doesn't look like it but there is a long drop (we were at 5,000 ft., directly above Badwater Basin) from the end of that rock she's sitting on.

We followed her directions, driving on some fairly bumpy, gravelly roads and entered a slot canyon that we drove through with our mouths in an "O" and our eyes wide open.  When we came out we found the signs to China Ranch, down a winding gravelly road and entered an oasis.  It's a date farm. 
After our fantastic, best ever date shakes and date-chocolate-chip-oatmeal cookies (great lunch), we walked the creek trail and then the Amargosa River trail back to the date palms where we wandered some more.  There was even a tiny museum about this ranch that was started by a Chinese man named Ah Foo in the late 19th century.  He grew vegetables that he sold to the miners.  Now, a couple owns it and grows dates.


We drove on to the Salsberg Pass for wildflowers.   

Miles and miles of yellow carpet.

This interesting "plant" is called Doddor Parasite.  It wraps itself around a plant then feeds off of it.  I thought it was beautiful.  It's like a web and a little sticky.  

For our final full day, we went to the Mosaic Canyon, again early in the morning.  Each of these mornings we ate a peanut butter and apricot jam sandwich for breakfast.  Perfect.  We had lunch things back at our room at Stovepipe Wells and generally ate in our room.  By then it was just too hot to be outside.

 Chuck scaling a slippery area down through the canyon.

The rest of the day we relaxed and read.  That night we had a great dinner, then sat by the fire while watching our last sunset.

Up early again on our final day, we were on the road by 6:20 am, had a great breakfast in Lone Pine, then drove up and up towards Tahoe where we panicked at seeing "Carry Chains" alerts and very stormy looking clouds.  Fortunately, we talked to some people at a rest stop and they assured us we didn't have to worry.  We were in T-shirts and it was 36 degrees!

What a great trip!  We're so happy we went and so glad we stayed at Stovepipe Wells.  Furnace Creek Ranch was a zoo.