Travels in the American Southwest

Into the Valley of Death

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Photos of Death Valley-2002

Our trip through the Wilds of Nevada and Central California were coming to an end. All we had to do was make it through Death Valley and we'd be back in the neon capital of the world. I had wanted to tackle Townes Pass early in the day but didn't leave Panamint Springs until mid-morning. just a little more cleaning, lingering over yet another cup of caffeine and playing "spot the military aircraft". As morning dragged on, we became more proficient. At the speed they were traveling, we knew that if the roar of the engine was coming from the southeast, we'd better be looking to the north! More often than not, we'd catch a glimpse just before it slid behind the mountains. We also had an agreeable chore to complete before we entered the boundaries of Death Valley National Park. We decide to plant a Geocache while we were in the desert however National Park regulations forbid doing so within park boundaries. If park personnel learn of a cache, they remove it. After verifying that we were well outside the park's boundaries, MSO and I hid The "X" cache - "In a land where few go, few live, and few see, lies a cache without a name, only a symbol to identify it."

That mission accomplished, we eventually crossed Townes Pass at noon, the RV laboring up the 4,956 foot crossing. Following the road, I slowly wove our way down, always down. Death Valley's white alkali basin grew larger and larger as fluffy clouds gathered above the mountains behind us. The sun was bright, the temperature hot. A sign marked Sea Level. We pulled over for photos and to check our GPS units' calibration. Mine read an altitude of 22 feet; MSO's read -22. "That's OK", I quipped. "We'll just add them together and divide by two!" Drove past Stovepipe Wells. A motel offering less expensive accommodations, grocery store, gas station and camping area makes up Stovepipe Wells today. A short distance north are the Sand Dunes. Feel like Lawrence of Arabia as you trek across the sea of sand. MSO and I bypassed that hike; I was still a tad stiff from the Glacier Peak outing! Turned south remaining on SR190, our sights set on the Visitors Center. Missed the parking lot driveway, accidentally taking Airport Road. Couldn't turn around on the narrow two lane road so we rode it to the end. Signs warned "Authorized Vehicles Only" as we swung the rig around. We just had to get out and shoot some pictures of the deserted airport. As the hot wind blew, I couldn't get Rod Serling out of my mind; It was that errie. While MSO was exploring, I hopped in the RV awaiting her return. The juvenile in me came out, I slipped the RV into gear. Here she comes. I roll forward a dozen feet. Her mouth drops open. She walks forward. I roll forward again. A look of exasperation. She caught up to the RV, "I was wondering when you'd do that," she said icily. Fortunately, at these temperatures, ice melts quickly as I begged forgiveness for my immature (but fun) prank!

Back to the visitors Center. paid our $10 admission fee, receiving maps from the park ranger. To the right of the cash registers is a large stand containing pamphlets highlighting different sites in the park. If you see one which interests you, a helpful ranger will be pleased to provide you a copy. The center hasn't changed much over the past few years. Displays line the walls discussing geology and topography from eons ago to the present. Other displays detail the arrival of the pioneers and the Native Americans they discovered living here. A short film gives further appreciation of the park and its wonders.

Continued south on SR190 passing the Furnace Creek Inn. Its easy southwest style architecture belies the fact that it is the most expensive accommodations in the park. A long list of stars and starlets have graced the Inn over the past decades. We decided to follow SR178 south, I got to be tour guide again. Artists Palette, which we could only admire from a distance; The RV wouldn't have made it through the narrow canyon. Mushroom Rock; Guess what the seven foot tall rock looks like? "There's West Side Road where I got my flat in '94," I commented putting on the turn signal. The icy glare returned so I knew a trip down that particular memory lane wasn't going to be happening! It was just as well. On and on we went heading for Badwater. I mentioned that things seemed farther apart than I'd remembered. MSO suggested that I was going considerably faster in a car than the forty-five I was doing in the RV

Badwater sits 280 feet below sea level. To get the the lowest point (-282') requires a four mile hike. That's eight miles round trip with the temperature at 113 Fahrenheit. I'm sure of the temperature - We'd brought a thermometer. An obviously European couple, seeing the thermometer asked, "How hot?" My reply of 113 was met with uncomprehending stares which quickly cleared when I said, "Forty-four" (Celsius).

At least the 113 was cooler than the 128 we'd seen register earlier when placing the "X" geocache! Probably cooled down because the fluffy clouds we'd seen had coalesced into a blanket of gray. The rains from Yosemite were chasing us. We decided to continue south to Shoeshine. We could see sheets of rain falling from the clouds but only a few raindrops made it through the dry atmosphere, surviving to hit our windshield. We rounded Mormon Point heading east and out of the park. Again, the speed limit signs mocked us permitting 65 when we were climbing the grade at 40. As expected, we saw few cars but all that we saw we exchanged waves with.

There's a seam of obsidian just outside the park's boundaries before you arrive in Shoshone. Tourists delight in stopping and running their hands over the black rock. Many visitors will pry a chunk out for a souvenir. MSO thought that this would be a perfect place to locate our final cache of the trip. The container was a champagne bottle, originally purchased in Amsterdam in 2000. Never opened it, we were always too tired at the end of the day. Champagne goes to America where it remained unopened. It did side trips while in the states but as always, we were just too tired at the end of the day. Bottle goes back to Amsterdam in 2001. And a week and a half later returns yet again to the US, unopened. Same old story. I was determined that if brought out west this year, it would be opened and enjoyed or donated to charity. It was way back at Spensers Springs that we opened the bottle. The well-traveled champagne was excellent. It travels quite well! MSO and I decided that its final resting place should be here in the west. Not simply thrown away like yesterday's paper, the well-traveled bottle became the container for "A Toast to Death Valley - A cache to toast Death Valley! Located outside the park in a very 'seam'ly area"

As the sun began to set, we hit Las Vegas. The last night was to be in Circus Circus RV campground, The RV would be returned tomorrow morning. Plans for touring the Strip vaporized when after long hot showers, exhaustion finally claimed us. Glad we drank the champagne at the springs!

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