Death Valley Postcard – Day 5 – On the way home

Since we had an evening flight out of Las Vegas, we decided to take our time driving back. We headed south, using the excellent (if sometimes confusing) driving tours in Explorer’s Guide to Death Valley. We had no sooner passed Coyote Hole (a small spring) when we saw a coyote! It ran across the road then stopped to watch us. I was enchanted.

We stopped at Shoshone for lunch, then drove back via Pahrump, because it’s so much fun to say. (“I didn’t get a Pahrump out of that man!”) We drove the 12 mile Red Rock Scenic Drive which was PACKED with people – very strange after being in so many places with few people. But it was very pretty and made us think about going back there to do some hiking. Maybe not during a major holiday season.

Final Mammal Patrol report: 3 coyotes (!), 1 rodent, 5 burros, 19 bighorn sheep. Definitely a record for us in the park.

Death Valley Postcard – Day 4 – New Years Day!

Jim had read about a hike to a place called Grotto Canyon that “some thought more spectacular than Mosaic Canyon.” You get there by driving up a dirt road on an alluvial fan, 4WD recommended. Well, we had high clearance, but not 4WD, so we decided to try it. About a third of the way up the hill, the road gets very gravelly and slippery and the RAV4 was not a good match for it. Jim barreled along until he found a place he could turn around without losing too much momentum and we barreled back down the hill. When we got back to solid ground we pulled off and hiked the rest of the way up. The fan is just across from Eureka Dunes, so we could stop and admire the views while we caught our breath–because in Death Valley, all hikes start up hill!

When the canyon narrowed we were impressed by the beauty of the rocks. Unfortunately, a 10 foot high dry waterfall blocked our way. Some people with rock climbing experience climbers were right behind us and made it up the first dry waterfall, but not the one after it.  We scrambled up an alternate route of big rocks, but also found the way was going to be tough going with a series of smaller waterfalls, so we headed back down. On the way down I proved again my ability to attract nettles on two continents.

We couldn’t go as far as we wanted, but we had a nice walk, got some lovely pictures and enjoyed the bit of the narrow canyon we got to see.

We stopped at the Ranch to continue our tradition of having ice cream if we’re below sea level. The wind had finally calmed and the weather was nice enough we enjoyed some time out on the deck at the Inn, admiring the view, reading and napping. After dinner, we headed out to the Harmony Borax works for some more sky photos.

No new mammal sightings today.

Death Valley Postcard – Day 3

We woke up thinking we’d head to Scotty’s Castle, since we’ve never been there. But then Jim said, “Let’s do Titus Canyon” and I said “Do you think we can in this rental car?” and Jim said “Hell yeah, it’s a rental car!”

We headed to Beatty for a change of scenery for breakfast. All Xanterra food all the time can get a bit boring and expensive. We found two places in Beatty: the Denny’s at the casino and a local place called “KC’s Outpost and Saloon.” We have a firm vacation rule to skip chains when we have a choice–unless coffee is involved, sometimes you just want a cup of coffee you can trust.

KC’s turned out to be a lucky find. They bake fresh French bread for their sandwiches, roast their own turkey, make their own meatballs, their potato and macaroni salads are actually good, and they include a small slice of homemade cake with every order of one of the specials. I ordered the special #1 (turkey with homemade stuffing and cranberry sauce), Jim ordered the meatball sub and we split the cake. A tasty breakfast. (They have a breakfast sandwich but the regular sandwiches sounded better and it was a slothly 10:30 in the morning.)

At the beginning of the long open stretch of road heading into Beatty we’d seen a sign for burros and kept an eye open all through the wilderness. As soon as we got into town we saw two just walking up the street! At breakfast someone told us there were more on a  back street so we headed over there and I grabbed a photo out the car window again.

This was our second time driving Titus Canyon and it was good to go back–like a lot of Death Valley, it’s the kind of beauty you just have to experience. Photos don’t completely capture the scale, the silence, or even the vivid and subtle colors. The first time we’d gone to Titus Canyon we’d seen bighorn sheep, so I keep my eyes peeled, scanning the steep craggy mountain sides especially closely for sheep. But we saw no mammals in the canyon, other than other humans. (Including a UC Berkeley alumni making a miserable journey in his Hyundai Sonata. Not a high clearance vehicle and he told us he wished he had a rental!)

After leaving the canyon, we headed to Rhyolite to catch it in the late afternoon sun. I was driving to give Jim a break after the rather focused driving in the canyon. As we headed up the road back towards Beatty he yelled, “stop the car! stop the car!” There were eight bighorn sheep across the road from us. We stopped and crossed the road for a better look at the sheep about 100 yards from us. Then we looked up the hill and saw at least another ten!  It was very exciting and after visiting cold and windy Rhyolite we stopped at the ranger station to fill out an official wildlife sighting.

Our New Year’s Eve celebration was dinner at the Steakhouse at the Ranch and then some night sky photography at Devil’s Golf Course. A beautiful way to end 2014.

Mammal Patrol: 2 coyotes, 1 rodent, 5 burros, 19 bighorn sheep


Death Valley Postcard – Day 2

Since it is really and truly cold here, we aren’t adopting our normal routine of rising early for a hike before things heat up. (Bear in mind that for me, “heat up” means over 72°F and “cold” means below 50°F.) Instead we slept in, drank coffee and read in our room, and then headed out to the Ranch for breakfast about 9. So hedonistic!

I’d read about a hike in the Death Valley guide that I was pretty sure we hadn’t done before: Desolation Canyon. It’s a 3 mile round trip “moderate” hike and seemed like a good warmup hike for our first day, since we could just turn around at any time. The hike took us into a lovely slot canyon that kept narrowing. Eventually we reached a 7 foot climb that I couldn’t commit to. Jim climbed up solo (see excellent butt shot below) but ended up turning around when he saw there were several more similar scrambles. While he explored, I took pictures of rocks. Because I love rocks!

We then took a drive up to Aguereberry Point. It’s an AMAZING view. It was 27°F and windy when we got there, but the drive (high clearance vehicle recommended) and weather were worth it for the stunning views framed by giant quartz-like rocks. On the way back we stopped at Pete Aguereberry’s Eureka mine and the Cashier Mill, which he purchased from another prospector. Pete worked claims in Death Valley for forty years.

We got back to the Inn, made coffee and bourbon toddies to warm up, and then had a lovely dinner at the Inn. We had time for a drink in the lobby before hand – I love sitting there and pretending it’s the thirties and I’m escaping from the drudgery of my studio contract in Hollywood.

Oh! On the way to Aguereberry Point, we saw another coyote, and on the way back a small rodent. Perhaps a kangaroo rat out during the day because of the cold weather?

Mammal patrol count so far: 2 coyotes, 1 rodent.