Sunday, January 5, 2014

Death Valley Déjà Vu – December 2013 - Part One

 please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version

The Friday before New Years found us in our favorite spot to the east of Eureka Dunes. With no need for fire rings, out house, or table, this spot is away from the groups that gather at the dry campground at the north end of the dunes. It was early afternoon. Our predawn launch from home had worked. We were alone in this area of the dunes. We settled in.

The Barking Spiders were along. After a couple trips to Death Valley with us, Mom Spider wanted sand dunes. We figured the biggest dunes would work just fine. The Lady and I have explored the area several times. This was déjà vu.

The holiday season had been hectic for all of us. We were looking forward to a chance to relax, put the feet up, take in the views. Well, at least as much relaxing and putting the feet up as we are prone to do.

Our chairs were out between our campers. We were enjoying snacks and drinks and discussing our upcoming adventure. We watched a white Jeep Wrangler work its way around the dunes toward us. “Why are they coming in here?” Barking asked as they turned into our spot. He was on his feet. The Jeep stopped. Both doors opened. The driver approached quickly and said, “Ski3pin and the Lady must be here!” I got up and introduced the Lady and myself. “I’m Missing Link on Wander the West,” the driver explained. His next question was delightful, “Are one of you Ted?”

No Ted. Barking Spider ably filled the void. It turned out the Spiders have connections with the area the Links are from. Yes, small world. They were soon busy with conversation.

“So, how did you know it was us?” I asked Missing Link.
“We saw the gray from the campground and suspected pop ups. We read about your new camper but it was the Ranger that gave you away. Not many have Rangers.”

This was a fun start to our adventure. We made new friends. It was interesting and surprising that we would be recognized. It was not quite a surprise that someone would be asking about Ted. The Teds are celebrities. We were looking for Ted too.

We settled in to enjoy our first night in our new camper. This was the long awaited maiden voyage. This was very special. It was a beautiful evening. Everything was just right thus far.

High thin clouds obscured most of the stars. It was dark this moonless night. The Lady and I took our night walk down the road and out into Eureka Valley past the dunes. Several more groups had come in. Most holed up in the campground but a few just pulled over into a pull out. Of course there were those that ignored the rules and drove off road out across the flats and set up camp. Soon dogs were running loose and illegal fires were blazing. The temperature was warm, in the low thirties.

Morning dawned clear with a low of 27° and little wind. It was amazing weather.

Our first objective for the day was the dunes.

We continued up.

We were soon on the top.

The Spiders returned to camp the way we came. The Lady & I continued south on the crest of the high dunes.

The texture and movement of the sand is amazing. Slow avalanches moved down slope from the crest.

It was captivating, the smooth sensuous undulations of the sand below us.

It is way too easy to think of dunes as lifeless. It is far from the case. Tracks in the dark dust blown from the hills to the west gives evidence of all the life that makes this place home.

We took a break on the south summit, alone. We continued south as the ridge line dropped to meet the seldom explored southern dunes. We stopped and watched sand move down slope ahead of us, unassociated with our movement. It sang. This was our first time experiencing the magic of singing dunes.

This area of the dunes is rarely visited and quiet. We continued to drop.

We were making a large circle back to camp. We discovered this on the east flanks of Eureka Dunes.

Sara with USGS provided the following information:
“Your photo of the instrumentation is rather artistic - I never thought of it that way. I am also happy to see that everything looks like it is in good condition. We are currently conducting a study of the dune grass and evening primrose growing on the dunes and their response to varying environmental conditions. You may have read about these species on the interpretive sign near the bathroom out at the Eureka Dunes. The instrumentation you photographed extends underground and measures soil moisture, so we can assess how it changes with precipitation events. Last year was a spring of very poor rainfall, so we are hoping for a good contrasting year this spring.”

The uniqueness of this very special area always amazes. In this relatively untouched land new discoveries are possible around every corner. The Eureka Dunes and all of Death Valley National Park is full of possibilities.  With the growing number of visitors, it becomes more important to limit our individual impacts and leave no trace. Because of the ignorance we witnessed by some backcountry users, I am a supporter of annual backcountry camping permits required for camping outside of established campgrounds. Its purpose would be education. Unfortunately it appears that most rarely visit the Backcountry Camping page on the DVNP website or the information on dogs.

We headed back toward our camp.

When we reached camp, the Spiders were ready to go. There were canyons to explore! We picked one and headed up the alluvial fan.

It looked like it was right there, so close. Explore the backcountry of Death Valley and you soon discover distances are under estimated as is the amount of elevation change. We soon cranked off two miles and were far above the height of the dunes.

We encountered a pour over around the first corner.

Barking and the Lady were soon at the top of the second, very interesting, pour over.

This would be our turn around. They reported another higher pour over with an overhang immediately above. I could tell Barking was kicking himself for not having his climbing shoes along.

What climbs up must climb down.

The sun was low as we exited the canyon and started back to camp.

The night was clear. During dinner we joked about the incident of the night before. For the Lady and my night walk we headed south. Tonight the sky was clear. We gave our eyes time to adjust and walked without headlamps. Night is half the day. We find it essential to quietly wander as far from camp as possible in the dark. There is a whole new world out there to experience.

Sunday morning we packed up and headed into Death Valley proper. One of my earliest memories of desert travel is this lonely crossroads with an intriguing name.

Someone has placed new artwork dated 2012

We were at the top of Death Valley itself. A long road led south into the depths of the valley and onward into our déjà vu adventure.

Our adventure continues in Part Two.

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