Death Valley…Once Again…

We are still in the process chronicling our travels during 2016-2017.  This chapter of our blog covers the 3 months we spent as Camp Ground Hosts for the National Park Service at the Furnace Creek Campground in Death Valley National Park from November 1, 2016 to about January 25, 2017.  You won’t read much about the actual time we spent working (4 days on, 4 days off, usually, and we worked hard.)  Rather, this post covers all the great things we saw during our off time.  This installment is a l-o-n-g one, so crack open a beer, kick back and take your time.  We hope you enjoy the read and the pics.


Our Host campsite at the NPS Furnace Creek campground. Lots of tamarisk (non-native) trees for shade. This was our home from November 1, 2016 to January 25, 2017.


This cluster of dead salt cedars was directly across from us in the Furnace Creek campground. Woooooooooooooo…spooky..


The first beers (with many to follow over succeeding weeks…) at the Corkscrew Saloon in Furnace Creek. One of our favorite haunts – always a delight!

We have been going to the Corkscrew Saloon, in Furnace Creek, for beers since the 1970’s. Alas, by the time you read this post it may already be gone forever…a victim of ‘progress’ as it is being demolished as part of a massive remodeling project (by Xantera Corp., not the NPS.)


Near Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, part of Death Valley NP, but not in Death Valley proper.  Located outside of the Park, on the way to Pahrump, Nevada.  It is operated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Extensive fencing to protect the rare Pupfish from human intrusion, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.  Click to learn more.


A small herd of Mountain Sheep (all bucks) we spotted at the abandoned White Point talc mine on Warm Springs Road, at the extreme south end of Death Valley National Park. The white substance you see are talc spoils from the mine…not snow.


A portion of The Grandstand, a rock formation at The Racetrack Playa.  Twenty five miles of rough road to get here; multiple flat tires are not uncommon.  No country for Honda Accords…

Another view of The Grandstand, in The Racetrack Playa.

The Racetrack Playa…pristine and undisturbed, as it should be.  Click here to learn more.

The Racetrack Playa, violated by jerks who think it’s cool and macho to wreck the place for others. Driving on this Playa is a Federal offense, punishable by huge fines and prison time. Because this area is so remote, it’s hard to catch these idiots in the act. However, these guys WERE caught, thanks to advanced GPS techniques and good investigation by the NPS. And, after several years of these destructive activities, the NPS is finally creating a volunteer watchdog/educational position to be a presence at the site.

Dee Dee and the famous moving rocks, The Racetrack Playa.

More moving rocks at The Racetrack Playa.

Teakettle Junction, about 20 miles down the dirt road to The Racetrack Playa. This is one seasons’ worth, left by travelers down this road. The NPS removes all of them every year, to make room for new ones. Sadly, they are disposed of; volunteers have offered to collect, catalog and store them, but the wheels of Government approval grind at a snails pace…


Our friend Bob McNamara (aka, “Texas Bob), who knows virtually every square inch of Death Valley. He guided us to many new and exciting places during the 3 months that we were there this stint. Bob is a retired commercial photographer from Minnesota. He was a fellow Campground Host who worked the Texas Springs Campground (hence the name “Texas Bob.”) While there, he developed a bad case of shingles that, luckily, healed rapidly. This pic shows some of the scabs that developed. (Pretty gross, huh?)

Thanksgiving Day found us heading back to Marble Canyon, about 20 miles of rough road from Stove Pipe Wells, off of the Cottonwood Canyon Road.

Entering Marble Canyon slot canyon. Some of the most magnificent geological formations in all of Death Valley.  Their beauty will take your breath away.

 

Texas Bob demonstrating one of the narrowest points in Marble Canyon. Before the Stop Rock blocked the entrance years ago, you could drive to this point. Only small 4WD vehicles could make it through.

Back on the Cottonwood Canyon Road, after leaving Marble Canyon. What a magnificent way to spend Thanksgiving Day!


Aguereberry Point, arguably with a better and more expansive view than the popular Dante’s View, which is located on the eastern side of the Death Valley.  Dirt road for the last 10 miles, the last 1/2 mile of which is not for the faint of heart.  Look off in the distance and you can see the salt pan on the Valley floor.  Click here for more information about this place.


Texas Bob and I heading over Hunter Mountain. Yes, this is still in Death Valley, on the extreme western side. We made an elevation gain to over 5,500 feet. We encountered snow and ice, in some place treacherous (we almost slid into a bank on a bad curve.) The day after this pic was made, the road was closed due to heavy snow. Incredible country.

Coming down Hunter Mountain. The road is MUCH steeper than it looks.

Visiting an old mining camp, off of Hunter Mountain Road.

Inside the shack, pictured above. Many visitors pick up artifacts, but leave them here, as they should, so that other can enjoy seeing them.


Waiting at The Rio in Las Vegas to see Penn and Teller. Great show. And, we had great seats…4th row center.

This is Teller, of Penn and Teller. He is the one who never speaks while on stage. This was taken during one of their great magic tricks. And he DID talk to that fellow, who was sitting right behind us.


One of the advantages of an NPS Volunteer is that you get the opportunity to go to places in the park that are closed to the general public. The following 3 pics were taken on a trip back to the Keane Wonder Mine, that has been closed for several years due to safety concerns. By the time you read this, the NPS will have completed restoration work and it should be re-opened to the public. Get more information about the Keane Wonder Mine by clicking here.

Keane Wonder Mine. Dee Dee is bringing up the rear of the line as this guided group hikes to the platform you see pictured below.

Keane Wonder mine structure. The tramway you see at the top of the hill, behind, extends another 3,000 feet up the mountain.


We make another quick trip over to Las Vegas to ride the giant ferris wheel. We had tickets to the special “all-you-can-drink-in-30-minutes” car. It had a full bar and held about 10 of us. It was all we could do to down 2 drinks and a shot. In our younger daze, it would have been a different story… The wheel never stops moving, so you board on a long platform, and have to pace your entry with the car’s movement. Easy getting on, not so easy getting off after the drinks…

Us after getting off the ferris wheel. The drinks were still apparent. And yes, that is a full moon.


Dee Dee had to stop to barf.  Enough said. We did not take the opportunity to go into this store (he is always the opportunist, eh?), but odds are that most of the stuff in there was made in China. (Or Russia.)


At The Artist’s Palette with our good friends Mike and Gloria Hardcastle-Taylor, who we knew from our time living in Dan Diego. We spend a great 3 days with them and took them to see lots of stuff. Great time!


Scotty’s Castle, at the north end of Death Valley, was closed in October, 2015, due to catastrophic flash flood damage to Grapevine Road and portions of the Castle itself. The NPS has already allocated over $50 million for repairs, mainly for the road.  As we told you above, because we were NPS volunteers, we were given access to the area, through this locked gate. For more information on the Scotty’s Castle closure, click here.

Entering Grapevine Canyon, going to visit Scotty’s Castle.

Grapevine Canyon Road, or what’s not left of it. The flash flood damage was horrific. Look carefully and you can see that the elevation of the original road sits ABOVE the roof of our Jeep.

Entering the grounds of Scotty’s Castle. We had the whole place to ourselves. All furniture and antiquities have been be removed due to the lack of proper control of heating, air conditioning and humidity controls. They are being stored at a secret location in Southern California.

Another view of Scotty’s Castle, looking over the never-completed swimming pool. Click here for some more history of Scotty’s Castle.


We took another trip with our friend, Texas Bob, to the Eureka Dunes, located at the extreme north end of Death Valley National Park, and accessible by driving 50 miles of washboard road. Most people are familiar with the sand dunes near Stove Pipe Wells; the Eureka Dunes dwarf these. Their scale is incredible; very few people ever visit them.

Another view of the a portion of the Eureka Dunes. In the picture above, note the people standing on top of a dune, in the distance.

Dee Dee and Texas Bob walking the Eureka Dunes.

Our plan after leaving the Eureka Dunes was to keep going and take the pass over to Big Pine and Highway 395. However, it started snowing hard at about 7,000 feet, and we still had to gain another 1,500 feet to cross the 8,500 foot pass. We opted to abort and turn around…good thing, as we never would have made it. There was a blizzard in the Owens Valley that closed Highway 395.


Still another trip with our Friend Texas Bob was back up Warm Springs Road to the Geologists Cabin, located about 20 miles from the West Side Road, 4WD all the way, in some places serious 4WD. This pic was taken inside the abandoned White Point Mine.  You can learn more about this particular mine by clicking here.

On the way back to the Geologist Cabin…

Dee Dee and Texas Bob at the Geologist’s Cabin, located in Butte Valley. Striped Butte can be seen in the background. The rock cabin is one of the more famous overnight backcountry hostels in the Park. People treat it with great respect and most leave it better than they found it.

Texas Bob inside the Geologist’s Cabin. For more information about this place, click here.

Exploring a portion of Butte Valley, about 25 miles from the nearest paved road. It’s hard to tell from this picture, but those are some steep, gnarly hills in the background.

After we left Butte Valley, we headed back to the West Side Road and decided to drive about 50 miles out of our way to visit the Crowbar and have a beer. I had been here before, several times, and it’s worth the trip. This day, however, it was closed…


And so another chapter of our Blog draws to a close. We leave you with this great image of two fellas we encountered on Warm Springs Road. We were driving along slowly, and they seemed to be following us…


Still In The Magical Place…

Badwater Shadows

Our shadows, at Badwater.

Badwater Flats

Salt flats, Badwater, 255 feet below sea level.

Weird Camper at Furnace Creek

We are thinking about upgrading to a new RV. This is a distinct possibility.

Marshall Dylan Sleeping

Marshall Dylan, the Sun Magnate.

So, one of the problems with blogging while travelling is having to deal with crappy connections to the Inner-Net.  I sit here at the Furnace Creek Campground in Death Valley.  It’s the Day-After-Thanksgiving Day and I am thankful for being here with Dee Dee and our crazy friend, Gary (whose back has gone out – he is really suffering, poor guy.)  What I am not thankful for is the fact that every man, woman and child in the western United States is emailing, texting, browsing on their phones, most using Verizon.  Access to the Inner-Net is non-existent…the Personal Hot Spot on  my iPhone has puked…  And, the camp ground here is packed with Thanksgiving visitors.

OK, enough whining!

The Pointers at Bad Water

Holy Crap! Is that Superman??!!

I actually started writing this chapter two days ago, but suffered a brain-fart, probably due to that Bloody Mary I decided was an important element of the creative writing process.  Maybe I can become a vegan and live solely on BM’s?  Or not.

Telegraph Canyon Flowers

Delicate flowers in Telegraph Canyon

Outside Cottonwood Rocks

On the way to Cottonwood Canyon.

Farrabee

The REAL Farabee, owner of Farabee’s Jeep Rentals. A very cool guy.

I have posted a few more photos of our Farabee jeep-rental travels; Titus Canyon (this was our 3rd trip through…that’s enough for a long while), Cottonwood Canyon (out of Stove Pipe Wells) and up Telegraph Canyon (near the Mesquite Dunes).   Lots of fun…but made for a loooong day.  I think everyone had a good time.  BTW, John, Gary told me I had to mention your name in this post…so I did.)

Titus Canyon Back View

Looking east towards, Beatty, Nevada, from the top of Titus Canyon Road

Inside Titus Canyon

Inside Titus Canyon, entering The Narrows.

Coming out of Cottonwood

On the road to Cottonwood Canyon, outside of Stove Pipe Wells.

Gary Climbing Wall

Gary, risking his life wall climbing, a sport of which he has little knowledge. At this point, he had gone up about 100 feet.

Raven at Stove Pipe

Heckle, the raven, helping us eat lunch at Stove Pipe Wells. Jeckle, his brother, is just out of the picture.

We continue to delight in the wonders of Death Valley, sometimes travelling around, sometimes just sit’n and think’n.  Except for Gary, who is always moving, moving, moving – we keep telling him his is now RETIRED and to lighten up.  I think he is trying…but it’s a slow process for him.  He keeps us on our toes, that’s for sure.  We encourage him to relax, but our advice falls on deaf ears.

FC Hotel Martini

Martini’s on the veranda, Furnace Creek Inn. Miss Welch, our friendly waitress could not be convinced to give us more than two olives…a small request for a $12 drink.

Ranger Alan

Alan, an NPS Ranger, lead us on a very informative and interesting tour of the Furnace Creek in. This guy was a font of knowledge.

FC Hotel Pool

View of the spring-fed pool at the Furnace Creek Inn. Rooms here rent for about $350 – $450 per night. Believe it or not, summer is their busy time.

Last Sunday, we ventured over to Pahrump (sometimes pronounced ‘Pa-Dump’) where we blew in for shopping at their Super Walmart – mainly to buy ice and vodka for our Bloody Mary’s.  I swear that this is the store where all those Inner-Net Walmart photographs come from!  It was a visual wonderland.  Gas in Pahrump was $2/gallon for regular, so we were happy about that.

Dee Dee and Gary by Fire

Gary and Dee Dee at Furnace Creek – while in Death Valley we had a fire pretty much every night. We hauled in a lot of wood.

Cooking Foil Dinners

Cooking Dee Dee’s favorite – foil dinners on the fire.

I have enjoyed playing crappy golf at the Furnace Creek Golf Course.  The course is good…I am not.  Both times I have played I have been by myself, which is sorta fun.  I have seen the occasional other hacker out there, but not many.  No coyotes, either…which is unusual.  Maybe they all headed up to Pahrump to visit their relatives for Thanksgiving.

Tourists at Father Crowley Point

Tourists at Father Crowley Point, on the western edge of Death Valley National Park

Jet at Father Crowley Point

Your tax dollars at work, entering a canyon near Father Crowley Point. Death Valley NP.

 

Photographyer at Father Crowley Point

Waiting for the jets, Father Crowley Point,

Lars at Father Crowley Point

This a Lars, an incredible bicycle guy we met at Father Crowley Point. He has just peddled up the hill – a steep one. He cooked the hamburger he was eating over his little stove, in the parking lot. A very neat guy.

Gary at Father Crowley Point

Gary and his new tourist friends, at Father Crowley Point, Death Valley.

On Tuesday (November 24th) we headed up over Towne’s Pass, across the Panamint Valley, up the other side towards the Owens Valley.  It was a beautiful drive.  We stopped off at Father Crowley Point, which has one of the more spectacular views of the Panamint Valley.  Lots of tourists…just like us, I guess.  While we were there, the United States Government (‘your tax dollars at work’) treated us to an  absolutely spectacular air show.  The mountainous terrain here is a training ground for fighter pilots.  A couple of jets came blasting up the canyon in front of us, at a very low altitude, several times.  On their last pass they exited the canyon right in front of us and climbed straight up doing spins and wing-overs, and flying upside down.  Wow!  The noise literally shook your rib cage.  We had the feeling the show was just for us…and I bet it was.  What a thrill.

 

Dee Dee Victoria and Gary

Dee Dee, Victoria and Gary at the Panamint Valley Restaurant; Victoria is one of the owners.

On the way back from Fr. Crowley Point we stopped off at the Panamint Springs Diner for a beer and lunch.  Still the great place we remember from our past 3-4 visits there.  Panamint Springs Resort is in Death Valley National Park, but it’s an ‘island’ of private land, family owned.  There is the restaurant, an RV park and a gas station ($5.50 for regular, but it’s the only gas for about 100 miles in either direction, so they sorta gotcha.).

As we departed Panamint Springs, the wind really started to howl.  It was blowing so hard across the Panamint Valley that visibility dropped to zero and the road was almost impossible to see.  The cross-winds were at least 60 MPH, and we were worried that the blowing sand and pebbles were going to pit the paint on the car.  (Not the case, fortunately.)   Once we started ascending Towne’s Pass again, the wind seemed to abate, but by the time we got back to Furnace Creek it was still blowing like Hell.  Tents flying through the air.  People running around trying to find all of their stuff that had taken flight.  We had packed up pretty good before we left, but even so, a lot of our stuff was scattered around.  We managed to find all of it…some was 3 campsites over.

FC Thermometer

Nice and warm.

The high winds lasted until about 4 the next morning and pretty much cleared out about 50% of the campground.  We don’t know where they all went at 10 PM, but we assume either Pahrump or Las Vegas motels/hotels as all the lodging here was pretty full.  And once again, we had to pull in our slide-outs as it was blowing so hard.  Charlie and Marshall Dylan were pretty freaked out by all the noise.

We had a nice visit with our good friend, Shellye, who is a Ranger here in the Park.  She is the one who hired us back in 2010 when we worked as Campground Hosts in Stove Pipe Wells.  Shellye is a real hoot and fun to be around…and extremely knowledgeable about Death Valley.  We always  look forward to these visits with her.

FC Bar Popcorn

Another not-wasted day at the Furnace Creek bar. Love those ‘Stellas.’

So, there ya go, folks.  A lot less words than last time.  Enjoy the pictures.  We are here for a few more daze, then off to Sam’s Town in Las Vegas for a week.  One of our favorite spots.  But all that is the next chapter…

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

 

 

 

Death Valley

Our new best friends, wish us the best as we leave Las Vegas (look carefully to the right and you will see Dee Dee waving back)

Our new best friends, wishing us the best as we leave Las Vegas (look carefully to the right and you will see Dee Dee waving back…)

So, after 5 days in Sin City, we were really ready to be ‘Leaving Las Vegas.’  We parted friends with the KOA People at Sam’s Town, even though this stay was a mild hassel.  The drive to Furnace Creek in Death Valley was an easy one, with very little traffic.  Better yet, by the time we arrived, the Thanksgiving Crazies had left and the park was quiet and almost empty.  A great time to be here: post-Thanksgiving and pre-Christmas.

We experienced the same heavy rains as many other southwest US areas.  Some roads here were closed due to washouts (Twenty Mule Team Canyon and Titus Canyon), and there was a lot of water flowing across asphalt roadways, flowing down washes and alluvial fans.

I played golf a couple of times at the Furnace Creek Golf Couse, a nice track in good condition with lightning-fast greens; the 2nd time I had the entire course to myself for the first 15 holes.  Dee Dee took several long bike rides and got to know the area around Furnace Creek a lot better.  This was a somewhat off-year for coyotes;  I only saw 2, on the golf course, and Dee Dee did not see any.  Charlie-The-Dog spent a fair amount of time smelling them.  Dylan-the-Cat was kept on-lease; no coyote bait for him.

We rented a jeep one (very rainy) day and explored Hole in the Wall road, Echo Canyon Road to the Inyo Mine, Chloride City and Titus Canyon (our 2nd trip through).  All of the roads required 4WD high-clearance vehicles.  The road to Chloride City got pretty technical.  Lots of big rocks and steep, slippery turns, due to exposed bedrock and the fact it was raining.  That drive was white-knuckle all the way.  (Ted and Mary Ellen, you would have loved it; I would have jumped out, only I was driving.)  We were probably the last vehicle through Titus Canyon.  It was raining hard and the road on both sides of the pass was starting to wash out.  And, we never saw another person.  The parking lot at the end was empty.  This was one of the very best days we have had in our 40+ years and many visits to Death Valley…lots of excitement and we saw new stuff.

Last night (Thursday, December 4th) Dee Dee was outside and saw huge flames and lots of smoke coming from the historic Furnace Creek Inn.  It looked like the whole place was on fire.  This morning (Friday) we drove up there and found that it was the laundry building across the highway that had burned.  Totally gutted and still smoldering; no damage at all to the Inn.  The entire Valley was filled with haze-induce smoke from the fire, that must have taken most of the night to extinguish.  When we got there, about 9:30 AM, it was still smoldering and they were still doing ‘spot-squirts’ on hot areas.  The Park Service had closed Highway 90 in front of the structure and was routing traffic through the Inn’s parking lot.

Of course we had to visit the local saloon and have a beer (or 2) every day.  Our theory is that beer is good for your health, at least in our book. We rode our bikes the mile up and back, so that balances off the beer (and some days French fries and blue cheese dressing dip.)

Tonite we are having dinner with our good friend, Shellye Poster, who was our NPS Ranger Supervisor when we were Campground Hosts at Stove Pipe Wells in 2010.  Shellye has also published a wonderful book, “The Photographer’s Guide to Death Valley.”

OK…enough words…here are some images (and captions) for our latest installment.  (Our next stops will be Bullhead City, AZ, the Grand Canyon, Prescott (where we are visiting our friends Gary and Debbie), and then Apache Junction (where we will meet up with long-time friend, Neil, who I met in graduate school at ASU, in the early 1970’s.)

(Sherry, this post is dedicated to you…not many words, lots of pictures, just the way you like it…)

Storm clouds over the Funeral Range

Storm clouds over the Funeral Range

Creosote bushes, Echo Canyon Road

Creosote bushes, Echo Canyon Road

Dee Dee and Charlie at the Inyo Mine

Dee Dee and Charlie, Echo Canyon Road, at the Inyo Mine

Old mining equipment at the abandoned Inyo Mine, Echo Canyon Road

Old mining equipment at the abandoned Inyo Mine, Echo Canyon Road

Table at the Inyo Mine where travelers put stuff they found (rather than stealing it)

Table at the Inyo Mine where travelers put stuff they found (rather than stealing it)

Creosote bushes

Creosote bushes

The Bush and The Bob, Echo Canyon Road

The Barrel Cactus and The Bob, Echo Canyon Road

Eye of the Needle, Echo Canyon Road

Eye of the Needle, Echo Canyon Road

Exfoliating stone, at the end of Hole in the Wall Road

Exfoliating stone, at the end of Hole in the Wall Road

Mysterious symbol found at the end of Hole in the Wall Road, probably left by Aliens

Mysterious symbol found at the end of Hole in the Wall Road, probably left by Aliens

Probably an Alien spaceship, commandeered by the NPS, near Furnace Creek

Probably an Alien spaceship, commandeered by the NPS, near Furnace Creek

Dee Dee and Charlie, at Hole in the Wall

Dee Dee and Charlie, at Hole in the Wall

Round the turn at the top of the pass, dropping into Titus Canyon.  We call this "Oh Shit Corner," because that what you say when you get there.  Although can't tell, it's an abrupt 180 degree turn going down a steep slope.

Rounding the turn at the top of the pass, dropping into Titus Canyon. We call this “Oh Shit Corner,” because that’s what you say when you reach this point. Although you can’t really tell from this image, it’s an abrupt 180 degree turn going down a steep slope.

Looking down, from top of pass, into Titus Canyon.  You had to be there to experience the sheer vastness of this scene

Looking down, from top of pass, into Titus Canyon. You had to be there to experience the sheer vastness of this scene

Beginning of Titus Canyon Road washing out

Beginning of Titus Canyon Road washing out

Charlie leaving his mark at Leadfield (on the Titus Canyon Road)

Charlie leaving his mark at Leadfield (on the Titus Canyon Road)

Entering the Narrows, Titus Canyon

Entering the Narrows, Titus Canyon

Sine wash, flowing into Furnace Creek Wash

Arterial wash, flowing into Furnace Creek Wash

Furnace Creek Wash

Furnace Creek Wash

View of burned out Furnace Creek Inn Laundry Building

View of burned out Furnace Creek Inn Laundry Building

View of burned out Furnace Creek Inn laundry building (across Highway 90 from the Inn)

View of burned out Furnace Creek Inn laundry building (across Highway 190 from the Inn)

Dead mesquite trees, NPS Furnace Creek Campground

Dead mesquite trees, NPS Furnace Creek Campground

Side wash, flowing into Furnace Creek Wash, about 4 miles above Furnace Creek

Side wash, flowing into Furnace Creek Wash, about 4 miles above Furnace Creek

'Exploding Bush,' Echo Canyon Road

‘Exploding Creosote Bush,’ Echo Canyon Road