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Week 15: Ending 2/23/2003
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 10, 2003 5:28 pm    Post subject: Week 15: Ending 2/23/2003 Reply with quote

Week 15: Ending February 23, 2003

We decide to drive west into the depths of the desert and Death Valley. It is a short drive from Las Vegas, about 150 miles and light years from the neon lights.
We pick up a copy of Death Valley Park News provided at the entrance of the Park, so we know to turn into Zabriskie Point. What an introduction to Death Valley! We walked up quite an inline to peer into a valley of wind-sculpted hills of every color brown imaginable. Caramel swirl, fudge marble, mocha twirl and penuche fudge come to mind.

We arrive at the visitors’ center just before it closes. They direct us to Sunset Campground, one of several campgrounds throughout Death Valley National Park that are run by the Park. It is dry camping with NO hookups: No electricity, water or sewer at the “site” (a parking spot), but there is access to water and a dump station. Not surprisingly, we have no digital cell phone service, no Internet access and not a single TV station. This is roughing it.

Across the street from our very basics campground is the Furnace Creek Ranch and up the street, the Furnace Creek Inn. Palm trees and lush green grass surround each property, both of which also feature a swimming pool! The Ranch also offers a golf course! Both properties are privately-run and have operated for years. Some of their guests have been returning for years to vacation in the desert. Who would have guessed!

We must put in a plug for the National Park Pass. We purchased it for $50 in the Everglades. It provides entrance to any National Park that charges an admission fee. So it is a good deal for the traveler and helps support the National Parks system.

Just down the road from our campsite we pull into the Harmony Borax works of 20-Mule Borax Team fame. We see actual old wagons and ruins of the mining operations that went on many years before. Borax was the white gold of the desert, but mining for it in Death Valley is no longer profitable, although there is some mining outside of the Park’s boundaries for insulation and for material for the Space Shuttle tiles. The borax has a surreal appearance in that it looks like snow in the distance. Then again, so does salt that is strewn across the flat plains. Sometimes it looks like snow and other times it looks like ocean surf. Very neat.

We drive north towards Stovepipe Wells and encounter our first sight of real desert sand: the Sand Dunes. Unlike on Cape Cod, visitors here are actually encouraged to walk on the dunes. The sand is soft, yet surprisingly firm. Even on the Dunes, foliage survives: a strange sort of bush is abloom with small yellow flowers.

We stop at Stovepipe Wells for a late lunch. There is a privately-run motel, campground, gas station and restaurant & bar. Good food, beautiful fireplace and good value. (If any of readers do visit Death Valley, gas is about $0.20/gallon cheaper here than at the Furnace Creek gas station, closer to the south entrance.)

Next stop is Mosaic Canyon. Walls of beautiful matte polished marble mix with mosaic walls of sediment to form a small canyon of varying widths. Actually, water and wind created the canyon as evidenced by the curves of the walls. If the marble was polished, it could rival fine Italian marble in beautiful colors of pink and gray or off-white and gold. Very difficult to walk the canyon at times because it becomes quite narrow. At times, the smooth marble also makes up the floor. The best way to travel part of the marble floor is by the seat of one’s pants!) Words and pictures do not adequately capture the diverse beauty of Death Canyon. Definitely worth visiting, just not in July!

Today we stayed in the southern section of the park. Dantes View spans a peak of 5475 ft. and affords breathtaking views of the Badwater salt flats, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, and surrounding mountains, some which are snow-capped! Mesmerizing! The Natural Bridge Canyon, next along our trail, is imposing in size. Even more impressive is the fact that it has been entirely created by water and wind traversing the canyon. We finally wind our way to Badwater, 282 feet below sea level. Visitors are encouraged to walk along the salt flats, but are not allowed to drive on them. From atop Dantes View, the Badwater flats looked like ocean surf stopped in time. Now that we are actually on the salt flats, they look snow-topped. We taste the white powder: it is definitely salt.
We top off the day with dinner at Wrangler Steakhouse at the Furnace Creek Ranch. Food is good, service is excellent. Later that night, it rains fairly heavily! Death Valley only gets two inches of rain a year. The New England weather curse continues to follow us!

Northward again to Scotty’s Castle. Scotty’s Castle is an oasis in the desert at 3000 foot elevation. Begun in 1922, it was a vacation retreat for a wealthy businessman who became friendly with Death Valley Scotty, a Wild West gold miner and entrepreneur. HE is also described as something of a con man and snake oil salesman, but the two men became fast friends. We took a tour of the castle with a costumed interpreter from 1939. Inside and out, the castle is decorated with antique furnishings from Spain. Movie stars, socialites and politicians have vacationed at Scotty’s Castle. It was and is a peaceful retreat.
About 8 miles west of Scotty’s Castle is Eubehebe Crater. The crater was formed about 1000 years ago from a volcanic eruption. The Eubehebe Crater is 2400 feet in diamet and about 500 feet deep. Another breathtaking feat from Mother Nature. We did not tarry long at the crater due to the cold temperature and high winds.
Keane Wonder Mine and Mill is the last of the touristy stops we make in the Valley. In its heyday in the early 1900s, the Keane Wonder Mine netted over $750,000 in gold for its owners. The ingenuity of man to build such an industrial marvel so long ago is impressive.

Out of the Valley, towards the west coast. Several times during our stay we have heard deep, loud rumblings and couldn’t decide if the noises were earthquakes or military planes. We were told it was the latter since Edwards AFB was not far away. After we exited the Park, driving along CA 127, we saw two dark sleek jets flying slowly and very low to the ground together. Ron guesses that, since we were the only large mostly white vehicle driving around the floor of the desert, we were probably practice-targeted by the pilots. Who knows, but it is definitely a sight that I wouldn’t want to see as an enemy combatant.
Although we had planned to drive to San Diego today, by 3:30 pm., we were getting tired of driving and decided to pull into the town of Hesperia, about 90 miles west of Palm Springs. The Desert Springs RV Resort had plenty of spaces open and advertised lots of grass and trees. “Lots” is a relative term, especially in the High Desert, where Hesperia is located. But there are a lot of birds singing in the tress, which is a welcome sound to us.

Saturday, Sunday:
We decide to stay for two more nights for R&R while Joan recuperates from a stomach bug. San Diego will have to wait.
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