October 25 to October 26, 2008 — We are in Death Valley today and tomorrow. Absolutely beautiful — it is right up there with the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. We don’t have Internet in our room so I’ll update with pics as soon as we are back to civilization. Evenings here are for star gazing, not computing! _______________________________________
Nov 1, 2008: Finally, I have a chance to post photos and tell you about our wonderful 2 days in Death Valley!
We arrived here on Saturday Morning after spending a (not so restful due to awful bed) night in Barstow, California. There a several entrances into Death Valley, each requiring that you drive up over a mountain and then as you descend you see the beautiful valley below. Mind you, Death Valley is so large that it is impossible to see it all at once as you come in.
We came into Death Valley on 178 (we took 15 to 126N to 178) at the southern tip of the Funeral Mountains. This entrance has you drive through two passes (which means that you travel up to the peak and then back down again) not before we went by the Salsberry Pass (3315 ft) and then the Jubilee Pass (1290 feet).
Our first stop in Death Valley was at the Ashford Mill ruins. We poked around a bit. Here’s the history: In 1910, Ashford had the rights to the gold mine, but he and his brother worked it 4 years without a strike. They sold the rights to an Australian count for $50, 000 who later sold it to McCausland for $105,000. McCausland did find gold ore and processed $100,000 worth He employed 28 men. He shut it down because the cost to process exceeded the profit.
Everywhere we looked was just picture perfect — but I couldn’t keep asking Carl to stop so I took minimum photos until we came to the Badwater Basin. As I said, Death Valley is a big place; surely more than you can see in a couple days. There are two things, that epitimizes this place — one is the large salt flat known as Badwater. There is a small spring-fed basin of water — and the reason this is called Badwater is that a prospector complained that the water here was so bad that not even his donkey would drink it — hence, “badwater.”
There is a stretch of salt that us tourists are allowed to walk out on. Carl says that when he was here with his brother, Ole, nearly 20 years ago (and this place was only a National Monument and not a National Park), people could walk anywhere that they wanted, thus there were RVs out on the salt flats. Now there are fences and such to protect this naturally occurring wonder.
Certainly one needs little imagination to picture that this whole valley was once filled with water, about 2000 to 4000 years ago. You can see the water level as you look out at the surrounding mountains. When the weather changed and the water began to evaporate, it left behind the minerals, which is this salt bed. Carl and I walked out on the Salt Flats about as far as we were allowed to walk — and then back again. Nice exercise. The temperature was in the high 80s — dry, sunny and perfect. By this time it was around 3:00 in the afternoon and we still needed a place for the night. So rather than stopping at each and every spot as outlined in my book, we headed over to the Stovepipe Wells Village. There are three places to stay in the park (without camping equipment or an RV); of the three, this one is the least expensive. Carl was smart to hurry over to Stovepipe (despite my dismay as we passed the artist’s pallette, the Borax Works, etc) — we got the last room! Though it was one of the high end ones — with a TV. After thinking about how much we still needed to see, we took the room for Sunday night as well. After that, we went over to the Stove Pipe General Store and picked up a sandwich and headed over to the sand dunes for dinner. Pleasant.
When we got back, we brought our computers over to the lobby area. The access was about good enough to get mail. I decided to read instead of work on my computer. Carl tried to follow a couple of the RV auctions that he was following but finally gave up.
The next morning, we had a real breakfast at the restaurant and then headed off to visit Rhyolite ghost town just over the border in Nevada. This meant leaving Death Valley via route 374 out through Daylight Pass. Looking out the back window, you could see that this would be a pretty spectacular way to come into Death Valley.
Rhyolite had a few building structures left — and these were marked with signs that said what they once were.
The most popular spot to visit was the Bottle House since it had a curator giving a tour. When we arrived it was filled with people and then when we came back from our walk around “town,” a whole new group had just arrived, so we decided to not explore it.
The town came into existence as the result of a gold rush that began in 1904, and had its peak population from 1905 to 1910. By 1907, the town had electricity with an estimated population of 3,500 to 10,000. Looking over at the land that was this town, it is hard to imagine that many people lived here — it had to be really crowded. When gold production decreased, the population declined and the town was abandoned by 1919. In the desert, wood lasts forever, and thus if they had left the wooden structures in place, this whole ghost town would have a different appearance. But, in those days, when towns were abandoned, people took apart the houses and brought them with them!
When we left Rhyolite we head east to Beatty, Nevada. This is a picturesque historical town. Of course, it was bit marred by so many McCain signs. But that’s just me. Oh, and there is still an active mine in this area.
After Beatty, we continued outside Death Valley, and found ourselves in Death Valley Junction and the Armagosa Opera House and Hotel. This would be an interesting place to stay for one night. It feels like a ghost town. Watch this video. Unfortunately the opera house was locked so we couldn’t take a look inside.
This brought us back into Death Valley, and yet another entrance (highway 190). There is still a lot mining going on this side of Death Valley and looking at the map closely, we could see that National Park border does scoot around this area.
We decided to take the road up the top of the mountain to see Dante’s View — and here at last you can see all of Death Valley from 5475 feet up. We then stopped at the Zabriskie Point look out, which was just a turn off and not nearly as dramatic a ride — but the view was.
When we came down from here, we headed over to the museum and spent over an hour looking at all the exhibits. It is really well done with lots of information on the geology, mining efforts, the area’s native people and the first white people to stumble into the Death Valley.
After the museum, we went over to look at the Borax works — or what is left of it. Carl remembers the original “20 mule” Borax ads — I don’t remember that as much, but I do recall commercials with laundry products touting “with Borax” as the special feature. Is Borax still used for laundry? Anyway, from what I learned between the Borax works site and the museum is that the works hired about 40 people, many of them Chinese workers. Essentially they dug the salt out the flats and then boiled out the borax, and then hung metal poles in a barrel and let the pure borax crystalize. The couldn’t make it in the summer because the crystals wouldn’t form in the high heat. Even at other times of the year, they wrapped the barrels to keep them cool.
We were fairly wiped out by this point and we headed back to the cabin at Stovepipe Wells. We shared a sandwich by the pool and read our books for awhile, until sunset. Then went back to our rooms for a bit more book reading. Love this life. I hope we have another opportunity to visit Death Valley again soon — maybe after we by our RV — we only saw a fraction of what the National Park has to offer.