Archive for February, 2008
When the annual rains arrive, Death Valley’s mars-like landscapes explode with a profusion of flowers. These plants know how to jump and make use of the slim opportunity they’ve been given – their entire life cycle takes place with the urgency of a cardiac resuscitation. The fields of gently swaying plants look peaceful, but in the plant world this pretty view is a mad stampede to beat a terminal deadline. The penalty for tardiness is death. Water falls from the sky briefly and drains away instantly. In mid-late February it is pleasantly cool, but all too soon, the sun will be become a merciless executioner. Sprout – bloom – germinate – ASAP!
We timed our visit carefully; we wanted to arrive a little after the rain had started, but earlier than the hordes of tourists that show up (just like us) to see the desert bloom. It was a success in both regards. The desert was already flowering and quite beautiful. I’m sure that there would be more flowers a little later in the season, but when we arrived most of the flowers were found on the broad plateaus through which the park’s paved road runs as it heads north from the Titus canyon road.No comments
After leaving Leadfield, the road became surrounded by steeper and steeper mountains until I could tell that we were soon going to be in Titus Canyon proper. Leadfield was far out of sight, hidden by sheets of stone, and the weather continued to provide us with dramatic light.
Throughout Death valley there are a number of places where aboriginal people scribed pictographs into the stone. Nobody is sure what they mean, or even which people were the artists. A sad fact is that people tend to deface such things, so the location of many are kept secret. This is one case however where everyone knows the location: on the Titus Canyon road between Leadfield and Titus Canyon, there is a bus-sized ridge of rock on the north side of the road that has a number of pictographs on its west face. The insets show magnified versions of the glyphs.No comments
When Titanothere canyon bottoms out, there is a broad valley containing the ghost town of Leadfield. There is a lot of info about Leadfield on the net – I won’t repeat it here. Walking around the site gave me an appreciation for the kind of excitement that must have existed back in the day, when anything seemed possible – the youth of the country and all that – but really, it is palpable. Of course, there are plenty of abandoned mineshafts here. Because this site is visited frequently during peak visitor times, the park service has constructed heavy-duty barriers in the tunnel entrances to prevent fools (like me) from going inside. On this day, we had it all to ourselves. Don’t worry – if you are bent on going into a mineshaft, there is no shortage of open ones in Death Valley. You just can’t go into them directly in Leadfield.
Leadfield’s scenery was mysterious; the sun came out, but it started raining, even though there wasn’t a visible cloud in the sky for at least two miles.15 minutes later, it was overcast again. I have no doubt that one could spend a week exploring just this area. A number of trails can take you into the hills surrounding the valley, where sheep and other animals are often seen.No comments
The road tilted radically upward and began to twist on itself in earnest. We drove smoothly up the crunchy gravel road, coasting over a narrow pass and entered Titus canyon road. The view took our breath away! The weather was highly variable and changed every 15 minutes from rain to sun to and back again. Shadows rolled across slopes visible for 30 miles in all directions.
We stopped to make lunch and then began the descent into the canyon. Only a few other drivers passed by; most of the time we couldn’t see any sign of human activity.
The Titus Canyon road does indeed run through the canyon of the same name, but first passes through the startling Titanothere canyon and the ghost town/mining complex of Leadfield. You can pick up the dirt road near Rhyolite, which takes you through scrubby flatland, then transitions to switchbacks up to a cresting point in the grapevine mountains at over 5000 feet.
Here is the view from near the entrance of Titus Canyon road near Rhyolite. I love places where the road and the destination are visible at the same time; it’s so exciting to see the open road and the promise of adventure looming in the form of mountains under a brooding sky.No comments
Rhyolite is home to a sculpture garden. The concept is visionary: leaving a deserted ghost town redolent of ages past, visitors gaze upon statuary, augmented by a breathtaking sweep of desert background – a unique place de l’art. The kind of place where artfully placed shrubs complement tasteful bronzes while visitors sip from fluted goblets and listen to chamber music. Remember, this is Nevada, where creativity, money, and desire are bounded only by the limits of human imagination. A place where people think big. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you this, the fruit of desert creativity, fertilized with the unique flavor of Nevada culture:No comments
We overnighted in Beatty’s Exchange Club. This is a perfectly wonderful place compared to the minimal Panamint Springs resort and the cramped (but charming) Furnace creek cabins. It has no charm, but everything works and there is lots of room.
As mentioned previously, it seemed as if all of Death Valley’s 1.9 inches of yearly rain occurred during our visit! We left Beatty in a spray of mud, headed towards the celebrated ghost town of Rhyolite. Rhyolite is the most-visited ghost town, and can be something of a circus. Thankfully on this day, perhaps because of the weather, few visitors were there. The stormy sky was challenging photographically, but presented wonderful opportunities for the patient and the prepared.No comments
Once upon a time a man bored a hole into the multicolored stone of Tucki Mountain, looking for the gold thought to be hidden within. He found it. For years, he ran this business and made a modest living from it, until Death Valley was turned into a national park and industrial activity was suspended. Mr. Journigan lost his mine, and now it’s part of park history.
It’s hard to resist the call of an actual old west abandoned gold mine (well, maybe not so old, he was working in in the 1970s). The road to the tucki mine is hard to find, but lies near the junction of 190 and Emigrant Canyon road. You need a 4WD to drive here. The road – invisible near its start – goes through telephone canyon and takes you about 9 miles into the mountains. It would make a great hike on foot, or on horseback too. We 4-wheeled it, because I was sick and also short on time. This is another place where you could spend all day. The initial part of the road ius not for the faint of heart. Having read all of the park material about how dangerous it is to break down, how you can starve to death before anyone finds your dessicated corpse, I was wryly amused to pass this carcass.
Don’t worry, we had a week’s worth of food and water! We ended up leaving most of it for fellow travelers when our trip was over.No comments
Near Panamint springs lies one of those magical places where water transforms the desert. A short hike was all I could do on this day (being sick) but I’m glad I did it. If I go back someday I’ll spend all day in this canyon; there are several levels of falls which can be reached by rock scrambling. It is supposed to be a good place to see birds, but i saw hardly any. Maybe the season wasn’t ripe yet – we were there in mid-February. The temperature was fall-like, not too cold, but I always had warm clothes on. A hiking stick is useful in this area, as there’s lots of mud and slippery rocks.1 comment
We stayed in the Panamint springs “resort,” a title claimed – but not necessarily earned – by an establishment not actually in the Panamints and without springs of any sort. I admit that both of these things are nearby – but naming the place “Panamint Springs Resort” is arguably an exageration. The room was better than a tent; think of a chicken house or horse stall with an electrical socket and a mattress. Still, it is better than a tent, and where else are you going to go? If you’re here, it’s the only game in town. In fact, as far as I could tell, it was the town. Perhaps I’d been spoiled by Furnace creek, with its golf course and small airport.
On the other hand, the Panamint Springs restaurant was superb. In fact, all of the restaurants run within the park were better than I expected. The view from this restaurant is striking, and while we were getting gas at the nearby station (one of the few in the region) I noticed that military jets, probably from China Lake, were streaking down the panamint valley. Here is some of the scenery:
Looking south down the panamint vally below Panamint Springs. If you click through and look at the large version, you can see dust devils twirling in the desert. The line of clouds echoes the lay of the land, for some meteorological reason following the contours of the Panamint valley.No comments