Death Valley February 2010
Friday 2/12 - 7am rendezvous @ Chez Schulhauser. Furnace Creek Ranch cabin. Hank & Joe @ 7pm for dinner.
Saturday 2/13 - Trail Canyon day hike. Ghost towns and mining relics. Camp in Trail Canyon. Camping restrictions? Camp fire restrictions?
Sunday 2/14 - Eureka Singing dunes hiking. Scotty's Castle. Camp @ Eureka Dunes Dry Camp.
Monday 2/15 - The Racetrack. Homestake Dry Camp
Tuesday 2/16 - head home?
Mike -> 3x breakfast
Randal -> 3x dinner
Lunch will be hiking snacks
This was a trek at least 6 months in the making, having had my first "taste" of Death Valley when we skirted the Panamints on our return from climbing Mount Whitney (see http://hikearizona.com/photoset.php?ID=8725
). Letty's recent triplog, photos, http://hikearizona.com/photoset.php?ID=10104
and insightful PM's only made us drool in anticipation. My 25th work anniversary year is rewarded with a 1 week bonus vacation and I earmarked it for this trek. Well 1391 road miles, 19 hiking miles, 616 photos and 5 days later, here's the scoop...
Day 1 - Friday February 12th, 2010
Day starts with a 7am phone call from Mike Mattes. He's lost in the twisted maze of Ahwatukee trying to find my house. I guide him on the cell phone to my doorstep, load up his modified Jeep Wrangler and we are off! We decide to avoid rush hour traffic by looping south towards Gila Bend and up to Wickenburg via Vulture Mine Road. Plan seem to be working fine as we pull onto US93 heading northwest towards Las Vegas NV without any traffic delays. We pass the anomalous forest of Joshua Trees. A sudden "PING" sound punctuates the air and I ask "What's that?". At the same time we pass a sign indicating Wikieup 41 miles, Mike says, "That's my low gas indicator and we have 30 miles driving range left". Yikes! Drastically dropping our speed and with a few uphill anxious moments, Mike is able to guide the sputtering Jeep into the first gas station sighted in Wikieup. We pump 14.9 gallons into the Jeep's 15 gallon tank. Let's just say that increased vigilance to our half tank rule on unknown routes has been invoked... To help settle Mike's nerves, we grab a burger from the "Eat at Joe's BBQ" http://www.eatatjoesbarbecue.com/
. I make a couple of cell calls checking up on my Dad (released from hospital earlier that day having had a cardiac procedure the day before). He picked up the phone at home so he's mobile and I'd call it a "best case" scenario. Back on the road we soon join some traffic at Boulder Dam. My first visit to the area so I went into "tourist mode". I hopped out of the Jeep and walked most of the way while Mike did the stop-and-go thing through the traffic jam. Quick comment - the new arch bridge looks like it will be a design engineering masterpiece. Know many others will think it is a pox on the landscape (and John McCain was on the local radio declaring it "A bridge to nowhere"), but I think "it works"... Onto Vegas and an exit via US95. Believe it or not, but this is my first "non-airport layover" visit to Vegas. I'm surprised by the snowy peaks, local ski resorts, and preponderance of Joshua Trees. With PM warnings of $4 per gallon gas in DVNP, we gas up at the intersection of NV373 and US95. Interesting business combination of gas station and brothel (I'll hold onto the Cherry Patch II photos for future blackmailing...). We soon pull into the Furnace Creek Ranch http://www.furnacecreekresort.com/furna ... -1223.html
parking lot at "ground minus 200" in Death Valley National Park. Suddenly our $226 per night room seems like a bargain as multiple people are turned away at the reception desk due to "No Vacancy". We pull up to our room in the 900 block and see Hank and Joe in the parking lot. Hank starts to give us the "data dump" on multiple closures in the park due to flooding. West Side Road is closed so there's no access to Trail Canyon, Racetrack Valley Road is closed so there's no access to the Racetrack, no data on Eureka Dunes. Over dinner we hear some alternate plans pitched - Marble Canyon on Saturday and hold off on Trail Canyon until Monday with fingers crossed that West Side Road will be dried and opened. Sounds like a plan!
Day 2 - Saturday February 13th, 2010
6am wake-up call to room 936 in Furnace Creek Ranch. $12.95 removed from our pockets by the Xanterra Pirates to attend the breakfast buffet. Mike and I arrive at the morning rendezvous spot at 7:35am and we're given a hard time for being 5 minutes late... Hank and Joe lead the way towards Stovepipe Wells and the doubletrack heading towards Marble Canyon. As we bounce our way towards the TH, I'm scouting out an unexpected sight - Mesquite Dunes. We soon bend into a gap in the mountain wall which surprisingly continues to an inner basin area. The trail splits to the south for Cottonwood Canyon Road whereas the trail heading west is Marble Canyon Road. You even have a street sign indicating this remote intersection! A barrier sign marks the end of our 4WD trek and we hop out to start our hike. First narrows, the chokestone, second narrows, and third narrows as described in our Digonnet's "Hiking Death Valley" http://www.amazon.com/Hiking-Death-Vall ... 0965917800
. I begin to doubt Digonnet's claim that "Marble Canyon is blessed with more petroglyph sites than any other canyon in the park". As I blurt that out Mike points out our first rock art panel. We break for lunch about 3.25 miles up canyon before the fourth narrows. A little exploration after lunch and we head back to the trail head. Mike and I opt for a late afternoon visit to Mesquite Dunes - an unexpected delight even with the human population explosion scurrying like ants over multiple anthills. This is like a trip to the beach! We meet up with Joe and Hank again to be guided to our evening camp in Echo Canyon. A traditional camp dinner of dogs and beans with some beverages of choice and Mike and I retreat to our tents calling it an early star-filled night...
Day 3 - Sunday February 14th, 2010
Up at mornings' first light and Mike prepares a hot camp breakfast. We soon pack up our Echo Canyon Camp in anticipation of setting up in Trail Canyon later that day. Zabriskie Point is the first destination to catch some morning light off Manly Beacon. A music video shoot is in progress attracting a curious crowd. Can't say I recognized the musician... A second stop in Furnace Creek for gasoline and Valentine's Day phone calls back home to our wives. Zero cell phone coverage in Death Valley, so a pay phone at the General Store is our only option. We check out the Borax Museum - a treasure trove of local history. With conflicting reports about Racetrack Valley Road closure, we head Mike's Jeep up towards the Grapevine/Scotty's Castle area. Signage along the route warns us of the road closure, but the barriers are all open. Racetrack Valley Road has some washouts, but no issue for the lifted Jeep. Death Valley is always full of surprises - lava and cinder fields around Ubehebe Crater, a Joshua Tree forest near Tin Mountain Gap, and eclectic Teakettle Junction. Top it all off with a walk on the moon at Racetrack Playa. The playa has dried out so no risk of muddy footprints. I find the spot for Hommage de Shellye Poster http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/088150 ... dp_product
. I crisscross the playa multiple times - I'm stunned... With the sun starting to get low we hit the road towards West Side Road and Trail Canyon. We arrive at the intersection of Badwater Road and West Side Road to have our fears realized - the road closure barrier is still up! With our planned Monday morning 7:30am rendezvous with Hank and Joe at our Trail Canyon Camp now a washout, Mike and I head over to Furnace Creek Ranch to deliver the news and leave Joe's radio at the front desk with Raul. Always have a back-up plan. Ours is re-establish Camp Echo Canyon in the Funeral Mountains and go explore the upper canyon ghost towns and Lee mining district. Ravioli and a French loaf console our disappointment...
Day 4 - Monday February 15th, 2010
Mike cooks up some chocolate chip pancakes and bacon to start the day. A prickly pear vodka and O.J. to open the eyes. We leave our tents up at Camp Echo Canyon and head up towards Inyo Mine and ghost town http://mojavedesert.net/mining-history/inyo/
. We explore multiple satellite mines and continue up the 4WD path to the Lee mining district. We locate the drag cable to the Furnace Mine site. The pristine mining relics and smelting furnace was worth the steep climb up to the Furnace Mine site. After a late lunch we head into town for a couple of trivial supplies (paper towels and Doritos) and the Keane Wonder Mine site http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/ca/keane.html
. A late afternoon trek into Golden Canyon and beyond to Manly Beacon and an aborted climb to Zabriskie Point http://www.americansouthwest.net/califo ... l-map.html
. Heading back to Camp Echo Canyon we catch the Eye-of-the-Needle sunset shadow. Evening camp meal of chili and dogs and it's time to call it a night.
Day 5 - Tuesday February 16th, 2010
We have a return route plotted from Furnace Creek to Badwater to Shoshone to Mohave National Park to Joshua Tree National Park dumping onto the I-10 for a straight shot east to Phoenix. After gassing up in Furnace Creek, we capture plenty of reflection images off the flooded saltflats near Badwater. As we exit DVNP near Shoshone, I'm feeling satisfied that our Plan "B" delivered just as much as our Plan "A" promised. Mother Nature wreck our DVNP trek? Never! On CA127 towards Baker we "discover" the Dumont Dunes http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/barstow/dumont.html
. Cross over the I-15 and into the Mohave National Preserve http://www.nps.gov/moja/index.htm
. The Lava Beds and Kelso Dunes are interesting, but slightly imperfect bordered by hydro right-of-ways and railroad mainlines. An old section of Route 66 comprises part of the connection between Mohave and Joshua Tree. Commercial table salt operations are a curious sight. At Twenty-Nine Palms we enter Joshua Tree National Park http://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm
. There's plenty of eye candy here from the whimsical (Skull Rock) to the fascinating (Joshua Tree forests). Onto the I-10 and I take over the driving chores until we reach our Valley homes.
Racetrack Playa was by far my Death Valley highlight. The diversity of DVNP attractions is the big takeaway. And the pristine appearance (nary a piece of trash found anywhere in the park) a pleasant bonus. And a trivia factoid - a GPS can't record an elevation below sea level. I'm sure Mohave National Preserve has some hidden attractions, but we didn't get any hint during our traverse. Joshua Tree National Park has a smorgasbord of potential and it will get a return visit some day soon!
Helpful Death Valley Backroads Map contained in this Forum thread => viewtopic.php?t=4754
Thanks again to Hank and Joe for their help with some of the planning logistics. And special thanks to Mike for being my "ride". His Jeep http://hikearizona.com/phoZOOM.php?ZIP=122381
certainly has backcountry capability beyond my F-150!