25 March 2001
Drove all day the long way (down south and around the Sierras then back up)
We listened to books on tape including Jorge Luis Borges as we made our way through the mountains and into the desert.
We came into Death Valley at night and got the last campsite at Stovepipe Wells
Realized we forgot sleeping pads!
Slept in tent under a little bush with some shade
26 March 2001
Devils Golf course
Looked at 4 different shapes of salt crystals - fuzzy hairs, little coral-like knobby things, spiky rain-eroded like brain coral, and snow-like.
Loraine and Matt
a giant white field of salt. We walked out far onto the salt flats beyond where most people go. Saw the way that water was just under the surface, because all of the holes were filled with water. In the holes, we could see the crystals of salt as they were being formed. We were at -280 feet below sea level. The lowest point is somewhere way out in Badwater at -282'. There was a cool sign on the mountain that labeled sea level that brought home how far underwater we would be if we were at the coast!
Matt way out on the Salt Flats. Notice the dirt ridges...
And here is a close-up of the ridges. They form when the salt-saturated mud shrinks and expands as water comes and goes. The expansion causes them to thrust over adjoining "plates" of salt making them an interesting analog to plate tectonics. This section looks a bit like New Zealand where the subduction zone switches polarity -- at the top of the picture, the right plate thrusts over the left plate, but in the middle of the frame, the opposite is true. You can even see a triple junction where three plates come together. What are the mechanical similarities and differences between these salt plates and the earth's lithospheric plates?
Lunch in the shade at Golden Canyon, with a beautiful view. After, we walked up the canyon a bit and explored the geology.
Harmony Borax Works
Borax was mined here in Death Valley back near the turn of the century. They set up a processing plant and everything right there under the sun in the middle of the searing hot valley. The product was carried out of the valley by the famous "20 - mule team." The workers (i.e., slaves) were imported from China and lived in shacks in the valley. They scraped the minerals off from the floor of the valley and hauled them to the hot boiling vats of the processing plant.
Ice cream sundae break back at Furnace Creek, and a short visit to the date palm orchard.
Furnace Creek Inn - the resort.
Fancy, fancy. They had an extensive garden with waterfalls and some of the lushest grass we had ever seen anywhere. It was beautiful, but somewhat extravagant for being in the middle of Death Valley - the driest place in the US.
Artists Palette at sunset.
Artist's drive is a 7-mile drive that took us past a beautiful colorful mountainside. It has many bloches of reds, pinks, oranges, yellows, greens, whites, and blacks. At the most beautiful spot, we climbed up to where we could get a good view and sat peacefully as the sun went beneath the horizon. Then we went back to another great spot and hiked up to a point where we had beautiful views almost 360 degrees around us, with no other people in sight. There we had dinner, and we stayed looking out at the stars long into the night.
Back to sleep in Abe's trunk
27 March 2001
We rose early in the morning to see the sun rise at Zabriskie point. From this scenic outlook, we could watch the light and the shadows move across mountains in the distance, and gradually forward until it reached the beautiful rock formations below us.
Shadows and light!
Headed to 20 mule team canyon, and found a place to nap in the shade.
A point far above the valley at ~5500 feet, where we could look out and see the entire valley, including all of the vast, dry salt beds. Ironically, it was cold and windy at this elevation - enough that we needed to bundle up in our coats. We walked out onto a ridge where we could survey the country beneath us.
Believe it or not, that's Matt bundled up in his jacket in Death Valley -- the hottest place in the US. Of course, the valley is 5700+ feet below him!
Salt Creek Believe it or not, there really is water in Death Valley! But, the water that does exist is saturated with salt. Salt creek is a small, shallow length of flowing water that seems to come out of the ground from nowhere and then soaks back into the sand somewhere downstream. It's typically only about an inch deep, but amazingly, there are fish living in it! They are tiny, nimble creatures called pupfish that look a bit like guppies and are believed to have adapted to the harsh living environment after being cut off from the ocean when Death Valley formed millions of years ago. They are quick and agile, and able to swim upstream even when the creek gets shallow enough that their bottoms are dragging in the sand and their tops are out of the water!
After spending yesterday burning in the Death Valley heat, the natural spring at Scotty's Castle provided trees and grass for a much needed oasis. The castle didn't actually belong to Scotty but rather a Cornell engineer who made his money in insurance named Johnson. Frank Lloyd Wright submitted a design, but the modern look was rejected in favor of a Stanford graduate's design (he was actually a friend of Johnson's wife). It was built in the 30's right before the Great Depression and consequently never quite completed. Highlights included a hydroelectic power system designed by Johnson himself, a player organ, and lots and lots of redwood beams that, like all the other materials, had to be hauled into the Valley.
This is a crater where an ancient volcanic explosion left a really big hole in the ground and exposed pretty layers of reddish and yellowish rocks. Matt has a picture of this crater above his kitchen sink.
After a tall glass of lemonade at the local store, we headed out to the Sand Dunes for sunset. We trekked our way through the sand along with our beach chairs and some dinner to a place with a view of both the setting sun and the largest dunes. We popped the cork on our sparkling cider and watched in awe as it flew through the air in a perfect arc to its resting spot on the next sand dune. (When we retrieved it later, we noted its impressive impact crater.) As evening fell, the bats and the sand flies came out, inviting us to head back to camp.
Matt way out on the dunes.
Loraine in her beach chair watching the sun set.
28 March 2001
Sunrise Adventure the next morning
We tried yet another method of sleeping in order to find a way to get comfortable in the absence of sleeping pads. This time, our approach was sleeping in the reclined front seats of the car. Not only was it surprisingly comfortable, but when we awoke slightly before sunrise, we simply drove off into the sunrise -- moving to a perfect spot to snap a picture of the sun ascending and casting remarkable shadows on the sand dunes. It's the fastest I've ever left camp -- zero to sixty in about 6 seconds.
Red Rock Canyon
After gassing up and braving the pass out of Death Valley, we decided to take a brief break at the tilted rock layers of Red Rock Canyon.
While navigating the ideal route to Death Valley, we discovered the words "Loraine" in very small type indicating a bustling metropolis somewhere in the middle of the Tehachapi mountains with Loraine's namesake and the proper spelling. We decided that a trip to Loraine, California, was definitely in order. The trip took us through deep green hillslopes covered with seas of orange, purple, and white wildflowers. Cows and other animals not only climbed to precarious grazing positions on extremely steep slopes, but they also roamed freely and shared the roads with us, making for occasionally slow progress. As the road twisted along, the canyon walls began to converge and we drove beside a creek that carved the narrow passage with near-vertical walls. We came upon a discouraging sign that indicated "Lorraine" was just 11 miles further along, but with an extra "r." Could the map have been in error? We decided to press on and eventually came around a corner into the middle of the small town of Loraine. We snapped a few pictures with Loraine standing beside the small green sign (whose post also supported two mail boxes for town residents -- probably totaling nearly half of the population!). On the way out we had lunch by the one of the sharp meanders in the creek near what looked like some kind of old mining or milling ruins.
This was the only sign in town. We have no idea what the population is, but it couldn't be that big!
We pulled up to Matt's house on Berryman Street at the exact moment that our Tony Hillerman book-on-tape mystery came to its exciting conclusion. Perfect timing for the perfect ending of a perfect trip (except for the sleeping pads).
The trip was a great success. We saw lots of animals including: