Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares
The Bill and Kit 2010 Excellent Adventure Journal-Issue #12
Tuesday, February 9, 2010: Headed out early from March ARB taking I-215 toward Barstow, California. It was overcast and warm.
We shifted to The Mohave Highway heading east which led us up into the San Bernardino Mountains.
As we climbed into the mountains we encountered the lower cloud layer and visibility began dropping. It was very quiet and kinda spooky driving in a cloud….mist was swirling around and visibility was about 30 feet. Fortunately there was little traffic on the road and the surface conditions, although wet, were pretty good. At 4,190 feet we topped out at Cajon Pass before heading down toward Barstow, California.
Coming down the backside of the mountain we came out of the clouds and back into the clear. The sensation was similar to an aircraft descending through cloud cover to land….all of a sudden we could see for miles once again. As we continued to descend into the Lucerne Valley we noticed snow in the higher elevations to the south.
Stopping at Barstow we gassed up and re-supplied. Back on The Mojave Highway continuing east toward Baker, California where we jumped over to US-127 heading north. We soon left civilization and approached the middle of nowhere. The place looked like the surface of the moon.
Soon we came to a crossroad leading to the strangely named town of Zzyzx, California. Found out later that back in 1944 the founding fathers, and maybe some of the mothers, named it so their town would be the last entry on the US Board of Geographic Names. Bragging rights I guess. Not much doing in downtown Zzyzx…..it is basically just a collection of retired snow birds.
Arriving at Death Valley Junction which sits at 2,000 feet elevation we took US-190 West descending rapidly into Death Valley National Park. Passing Twenty Mule Team Canyon we were at 1,000 feet and still dropping. Hit sea level in another 15 minutes and…..we were still dropping in altitude. Yikes!
Finally leveled off at – (that’s minus, folks) 196 feet and pulled into the visitor’s center. It was closed as was the Furnace Creek Campground ranger station. However a very pleasant campground host greeted us and said to pick any unoccupied site and settle up with the rangers in the morning. We set up and turned in for the night. And it rained; all night…..apparently a rare occurrence.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010: Morning dawned clear and cool; with unlimited visibility. Taking a walk around I found a very nice campground nestled in the only trees for miles around. And, due to dumb luck or as we now put it “Road Magic” we unknowingly picked one of the nicest camp spots.
I walked up to the Ranger station to register for last night and the next two evenings when I came upon some other early risers. These guys were serious shutter bugs from Florida who drove to Death Valley specifically because there was predicted to be a “weather event” as they specialized in landscape photography. They had a purpose built truck with a platform mounted on top, a ladder up the back and tons of photo gear stored in their securely built truck cap.
The guy with the large format “bellows” camera let me look through the viewfinder under the black hood. The image covered the whole rear of the camera and was upside down and reversed?! Bet it takes great photos however. I felt kinda inadequate with my puny Canon Elf.
As you can see in the photo above the rain in Death Valley resulted in snow in the mountains surrounding the basin. Everyone was commenting on how beautiful everything looked…..even the seasoned rangers. And with the moisture the desert wildflowers are predicted to pop up within a week or so. Since this area only receives two inches of rainfall a year getting almost an inch overnight was unprecedented.
At the rangers station there was a sign warning of wild animals that reside in the park. It also mentioned that camper’s pets who were off leash have met with trouble. Below the warning sign there was a rather amusing handwritten comment. Actually more like a scoreboard, it read: “Meals on Wheels: Coyotes=2, Dog’s=0”.
Death Valley National Park at close to 3,000 square miles is the second largest national park in the system, behind Denali. I always figured it to be an empty wasteland but quickly realized the surrounding mountains, extremes in altitude, diverse plant life and wild animal population create a fascinating park.
On the way back to the campsite I struck up a conversation with a couple from Arlburg, Denmark, a place I visited while in the Navy. They were impressed with the landscape as I was and mentioned that Death Valley National Park was bigger than their entire country.
The campground has no hook-ups so we will be dry camping for the duration. In addition there is no internet or cell phone service…..oh well, we will survive…..well, I will anyway.
Stopping at the visitor’s center for maps, info and road conditions we decided to devote today to exploring the southern half of the park.
I learned that Death Valley was given its forbidding name by a group of pioneers lost here in the winter of 1849 who all assumed they would perish. In 1850, as the pioneers climbed out of the valley one of the men turned, looked back, and said “goodbye, Death Valley.” The name, and the story of the lost 49’rs, became part of Death Valley lore. The place can be a bit forbidding…..in July 1913 the temperature hit 134°F. Winter is definitely the time to visit.
I was reminded that in the 1950’s there was a TV show called Death Valley Days which was hosted by Ronald Reagan. The show was sponsored by 20 Mule Team Borax and featured stories of the American West many of them in and around Death Valley.
Pulling out of the visitor’s center we immediately enjoyed a beautiful landscape. What came next was unbelievable. For those, like us who thought Death Valley was a vast wasteland not worthy of a visit…..you are sadly mistaken.
Kit’s Corner: Well, I thought I might feel deprived not having cell or internet service but I managed just fine. Actually, at the Visitors Center, they did have Wi-Fi from 9 AM- 3 PM so I made use of that on our way out in the mornings. The scenery here was absolutely beautiful! Nothing like what I expected. The campground was great; I would not have minded staying a full week. Our site was real nice and we visited with our neighbors who were from Oregon.
Stay tuned for the wonders of Death Valley National Park!
Love, Dad/Mom, Poppy/Guma, Bill/Kit