Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Winter Break Trip - December 2014 - Part One

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

It is winter and a quick moving storm brushed by on christmas day dropping a bit of snow in the high country here at home. With the clearing storm on the 26th, the morning was cold and it definitely felt like winter. The Barking Spiders were again along with us for the first part of our winter break trip. At our first pee stop before sunrise the temperature was 16°.  Further along as we passed Tom & Martha's place at Devil's Gate north of Bridgeport on highway 395, the temperature had dropped to 4°. We stretched our legs in Bishop and checked out the sales at Wilson's Eastside. The Lady and I bought a fun gift for Barking that we presented to him at our first camp, again up on Lemoigne Canyon Road in the wonderful Death Valley National Park. We told Barking we wanted to be sure he was always playing with a full deck.

Would the third time be the charm?

Our first stop was again in this area so we could check out further leads I had uncovered on that mystery we have been searching for. Mom Spider also wanted to see Roods Rock. Saturday morning the Lady & I were up early and oriented our new possible clues. With her "see mores" the Lady saw a pop up camper a mile or so below us, camped. I took a look and recognized the distinctive placement of a gas can on the camper. Could it be our friends the Lighthawks?

They drove up and joined us as we were wrapping up breakfast chores. They had spotted pop up campers also. It was a happy chance meeting.

The Lighthawks departed on an exploration up the canyon................................

............................and we began our search. Roods Rock inscription was enjoyed by all but we struck out again, no charm on the third try, with our main search. More clues are needed - more on that coming up - before we try a fourth time.

A special note - Research of records (census, land deeds, newspaper articles) detailed in  Proceedings, Ninth Death Valley Conference on History and Prehistory document how W.B Roods (Rude) changed the spelling of his name over the years. This adds further confirmation that he made the two inscriptions in Death Valley on a return trip in 1869 and not in 1849.

Early afternoon we were back on the road. After a stop at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center we made camp at the Hole in the Wall.

There is nothing like a winter night in the desert. The temperature drops dramatically with the setting sun - very early so close to the winter solstice - and gives the air a nice bite. Clouds in the sky catch fire with color before the stars take over.

Possibly because of the cold temperatures, Hole in the Wall was almost devoid of other campers and quiet. We didn't mind.

We were ready to go the next morning.

Our first stop was to try and figure out a safe and doable route through the boulder jam at the start of Undertaker Canyon.

It had changed since the Lady and my last visit up here. The route we had explored was now blocked. Barking and I climbed to a high spot and I recognized, from my high perch, three of the obstacles reported by Jim Boone. After a group discussion we decided to head over to Slit Canyon..................

............................and we could show the Spiders some of the wonders up this spectacular Canyon.

First we visited the slick pour overs below the impassable grotto.

We then tackled the bypass route.

We made our way up the namesake "slit" of Slit Canyon and the Lady was first up the high pour over at its end. She got in position to haul up our packs.

From the top of the pour over, here is a view down the slit.

We continued up Slit Canyon to the massive 50 foot pour over.

"You know," Barking Spider said as he looked up, "If we could protect this, we can climb this!"
Perhaps on a warmer day with longer daylight, we will return and give it a try. Speaking of the cold, at the base of the pour over, in the cold shadows, we found a tarantula. He was not moving, possibly dead. We moved it to a warm sunny spot in an attempt at revival.

We enjoyed a long break in the sun ourselves and monitored the arachnid's recovery. The Lady tried dazzling the tarantula with her new colorful boots.

He did not move, did not bark, or show any other signs of life. We left him on the warm rock in hope all he needed was more time in the sun.

We returned to the top of the Slit.

The Lady started her down climb.

Part way down it is necessary to traverse to the right. The footholds are there but small and the dance is delightful.

Barking set up a belay and put Mom on a rope. I followed the Lady down and spotted from below. Mom is not as experienced a climber but executed a nice confident down climb. She was thrilled with her success climbing the obstacle (both up and down) and we all shared in this highpoint of the day.

The Lady led the way back up and over the bypass.

I took a few minutes to scramble down canyon to the brink of the grotto below.

We hiked back down the wash to the Hole in the Wall and our camp beyond.

The shadows were long and we were bathed in the warm light of the late afternoon.

The next day we moved camp. We were heading north to Mesquite Springs for the rest of the year. But, there was one spot to visit along the way. We wanted to pay our respects to John LeMoigne who  died in 1919 while crossing Death Valley. His body was discovered later and buried where he was found. As in most things Death Valley, the truth is clouded in controversy. Apparently in those days the county coroner provided a $40 payment for properly taking care of a body. Two men collected the fee and, of course, at a later time Death Valley Scotty claimed he took part as the third person and complained he never got his share of the money. Others claimed they had found and buried LeMoigne but wanted no money for having given "Old Cap" a decent burial.

The journey out to Lemoigne's grave is a Death Valley experience.

We discovered the faint remains of the old road.

Do you want to know where "Old Cap" rests? Can you read a map and have navigation skills? The grave is shown on the USGS seven and a half minute topo.

As we were driving to the start of the hike, Mom Spider noticed the map indicated another grave site. It was only a few miles away. We again tested our navigation skills.

A special note - remember us wanting more clues for the continuing search? Later in the week the Lady and I spoke with a Park historian. Concerning LeMoigne's grave, he was curious if the cross was still intact. On his last visit he did not find the grave and believes it is sometimes buried by the shifting sand. He was pleased it is still undisturbed. We asked about who rests in the other grave. "Unknown," he said. But our question reminded him of another incident where visitors came in and asked who was buried in a grave. He started into a talk about the historic grave sites but was interrupted. "No, we think this is much more recent," they said. "Clothing is visible under the rock pile! You should go look at it." It was discovered a man had killed his father-in-law and disposed of the body in a shallow Death Valley grave.

We reached Mesquite Springs Campground and set up camp. A very nice young couple in the next site, also in a pop up truck camper, came over and introduced themselves. They are readers of our stories here. Wolfman Matt is his handle on the Wander the West forum. They shared great stories of their own and it was pleasure meeting them. We hope their visit to Death Valley was a grand time for them!

Overnight the wind increased; a storm front was passing through. The next morning was the most spectacular sunrise of our trip.

It was now Tuesday morning. We had a very special day planned. We were looking for slickensides!

Continued in the next part, click for Part Two.


  1. I am in awe at your winter explorations, especially those parts that required rope work.

    You mentioned how cold it was when you started out, but what was the temperature range there in DV? Or did I just miss that in the post?

  2. Bill, thank you for your nice comments. It was mid twenties for overnight and would top out in the high forties during the day. Wind chill was quite cold at times.