Into the Valley of Death
This morning I am reliably informed that it is Vin Diesel not Van Diesel (I really hadn't a clue who he is). Anyhow now that's cleared up we're off to Death Valley.
We pack the car with food and plenty of water and set off to travel over the state border into California.
Just before we reach Death Valley Junction we come across a little hamlet called Amargosa (it is miles from anywhere on desert roads). There is a motel and believe it or not an Opera House built in Adobe style. Apparently a resident artist called Marta Becket staged dance and mime shows there from the late 1960s until her final show in February 2012. It is still an operating theatre; the opening night of it's 52nd season being the 19th October, featuring the Vegas Opera. What quirky things we sometimes stumble across.
The pay point into Death Valley is unmanned but there are maps available and we set off to Dante's Point. We park up, don our walking boots and set off to the viewpoint. It is a breathtaking view 5000 feet above the valley. The Amagosa River runs underground through the valley leaving salt flats on the surface. It really is like something on a different planet and must have been a massive surprise to the first men and women who came across it.
Leaving the point behind we drive the 26 miles to the visitor centre. This place is huge, the largest National Park outside of Alaska. The visitor centre has a theatre showing a film about Death Valley on a loop which we watch before looking around the museum. Interestingly the Native American Shoshone Tribe work in conjunction with the National Park Service in conserving this whole area. This is the only National Park where the indigenous people have the right to live freely on the land. The garage we pass sells petrol at the extortionate price of $4.79!! so we decide that we must ensure we have a full tank of petrol when visiting any of the National Parks.
We set off to drive to Badwater Basin which is the lowest point in North America at 282 ft below sea level. This is what we could see from Dante's viewpoint. From up there it looked like smooth white plains, but the reality is bumpy salt flats. We walk out for about 2 miles and then back again. This is harder than it sounds as it is over 90F with no shade whatsoever. We each drink a whole bottle of water each whilst walking and we are glad to reach the car park after an hour.
Driving back to the main road which dissects the Park find ourselves driving the scenic route along Artists Drive. We stop at viewpoints along the route to view the multi-hued hills. The minerals create a palette of greens, yellows and reds. These colours are randomly placed along the rocks and cliffs and look like splodges of paint, hence the name of the largest viewpoint, Artists Palette.
The drive home seems a long one and we are ready for diner and star watching. The skies here are dark and full of stars. Sitting and staring we can appreciate the smallness of ourselves and the vastness of the universe.
I've had the best nights sleep since we set off on the 5th September (10 hours). The fresh air, hiking and comfy bed have had the desired effect for all of us. After packing the car yet again we set off. Mark would like to drive via Shoshone village, the tribes entrance to Death Valley. It's a longer route but we come into the valley through a different landscape. Luckily we filled the car up before setting off as the petrol here is over $5!!!
At long last we see our first coyote. It is near the side of the road and Marcus manages to get a photo. It is alone and looks quite scrawny and undernourished. This is a very harsh environment and it is difficult for life to flourish, nevertheless it does. We see lizards, insects, birds and flowering plants.
Along this desolate road we come across the ruins of Ashford mill which was where gold ore was processed in 1914. After only one year it was abandoned as the ore ran dry. It's sad to think of all the hopes that were dashed in the Valley.
Passing the Badwater basin again we head for the visitor centre and then to Ubehebe Crater. This is 50 miles north of the visitor centre, so we are set for a long drive. We taks a wrong turning and end up passing Stovepipe Wells Village. Marcus points out we going the wrong way and just as I get the map a State Trouper pulls us over. This is quite scary and Mark rolls down his window. 'You were speeding through a built up area' 'Was I? I didn't realise I was busy looking at the fantastic views' (seems an inane excuse to me). He takes Marks license and the car hire agreement and goes back to his car. On returning he issues a verbal warning and advises that we take more care as a night in the cells would spoil our holiday, a bit of an understatement.
We make a u-turn and set off back to the junction for the road to the Crater. There roads are really desolate and the warnings concerning water are understandable. The Crater is next to the plains where stones (big rocks) walk. No one has ever seen them but the rocks move leaving trails behind them. It's a phenomena nobody can explain and unfortunately we do not see any walking rocks!
The crater is is surrounded by other smaller craters. Ubehebe Crater is 1 mile across, about 4 miles round and 600 ft deep. We hike up to Little Hebe which doesn't seem that little. The walk up is difficult as we are walking up a steep incline on black ash. It's like walking on sand and very difficult to get a grip. Walking round the rim of this little crater surrounded by the Last Chance Range of mountains we feel like we're on top of the world.
The walk around the large crater is easier as the trail is not made up of ash, however Mark gets the heebeegeebees as it's close to the edge and sheer in places. Marcus is sensible and picks up a stick which acts as a good walking stick. Then to top it off the last 1000m or so are made up of that darn ash, sapping the last of out energy (it's hotter today than yesterday) and cramping our calves. We flop down in the car and drink what seems like gallons of cold water.
Our last stop of the day are the Mesquite Flat sand dunes on the drive home. These dunes rise nearly 100 ft from Mesquite Flat. This is what we thought the desert would be like, sandy. They are amazing and can be seen for miles. It's astounding how the landscape changes so quickly. We walk through the dunes but keep our boots on. There are warnings about rattle snakes, black widow spiders and scorpions. Walking along the ridges of the dunes we can imagine we are in the Sahara. There are no trails here as this landscape is continually changing in rapid time.
As dusk begins to fall we drive home, arriving as darkness descends. We have to cook our BBQ in the dark, which is a different experience. This is the end to a day full of surprises and experiences. We all agree it has been wonderful.
We are now 4 weeks into our trip and to quote mark 'We've packed far too many clothes. We've driven 3,000 miles and passed through many states and had so many highlights. Jane loves doing her blog it stops her having to listen to my constant drivel. We, me n Jane are still happy in each others company, we still laugh and joke together, and we realise we all need our own space from time to time. Marcus has sorted his sleep pattern out and we miss Alex. Here's to the next month of Jane's planning. Airbnb and motels have been superb. I'm still nodding and saying ooh sounds great and yes, let's book it. Keep it up Jane.'
Here's to the next seven months, yeah.