please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version
Tuesday morning was again calm with cool overnight temperatures (low of 44°) and absolutely glorious. We fixed a special breakfast and started in on that question asked the night before - "What should we do tomorrow?" There was still plenty, more than plenty, to do around this area, but, I guess wanderlust was building and the urge to see something new. I speculated out loud whether, after the recent deluges, there was still water in Lake Manley in the depths of Death Valley proper.
The lady's instant reaction - "I want to wade in Lake Manley!"
That was settled.
On our drive out we passed a familiar and iconic sign post in the desert.
Hold it, hold it, hold it. I need to back up. Except for a couple of landmarks named, I have not told where we were or how we got there. Let me take a seat in the confession booth and you can put on any kind of religious garment you like, take a seat on the receiving team's bench, and hear my confession. Or, just pull off all your clothes and go completely naked because this story includes the Saline Valley Hot Springs. .
We got an early start Saturday morning. With the short daylight now, it becomes harder to profit with a late Friday afternoon launch. Breakfast was had at Virginia Creek Settlement. We always stop in the park in Bishop and take a walk down to Wilson's Eastside to check out the shoe sale. Driving past a couple of Road Closed signs - Inyo County will sign roads closed to limit their liability, so realize you are on your own if you choose to proceed - and we were at the Saline Valley Hot Springs by 1 pm.
What a diverse and varied crowd that hangs out here! All drawn together by the desert setting, hot spring water, and the Saline culture. I love the place. Every time I have seen something I have never seen before in my life. This time was no exception. The folks we have met here are good people. Today we drove on through and never stopped. Many will think of this as utter sacrilege. Unforgivable. How could we just drive through paradise, the center of the real Death Valley experience? Sinners.
The place was busy and the pools were full. We never intended to camp here. We don't mind the people, nudity, culture, in fact we find it refreshing. We just don't much care for neighbors. A remote and lonely camp, no one else around for miles, quiet, solitude, that's our idea of paradise. That's what we drove hours for.
Our destination was elsewhere. Our general trip plans were to explore canyons above Steel Pass and then canyons below Steel Pass. Late summer thunderstorms wiped out portions of Steel Pass Road above the springs. We needed time to figure out the road and evacuate conditions and get set up in a camp before dark.
From the middle spring to upper spring the road winds up the braided wash. Following tire tracks and the occasional cairn, it is not hard to follow, but it is slow going. About a half mile above upper spring, the old road is intact and easy to follow. The area right before Steel Pass is what stopped us. There were always tight turns through, around, and over big rocks in this section. It is now far worse. The Lady spotted us through three short hard sections and we reached the washout. This is at the head of the main wash at its narrowest point. After negotiating a very tight turn between two large rocks, the route now climbs steeply out of the wash. It is not pretty. But doable? That was the question. I would not do it without walking the road further to see if there was a worse section ahead that would negate the work it would take to get through here. It was now late in the day. That's when accidents happen, as soon as you start to hurry. We talked it over. It was time to back off and still have enough daylight to get set up in our Plan B spot.
I'll bet you'll agree Plan B wasn't too bad at all, was it?
Now back to Tuesday morning and we are on our way to wading in Lake Manley. The Springs were busy, the pools full, we didn't stop. Sacrilege again!
A tundra pickup was driving into the springs. We passed on the Bat Road. The bed was packed with camping gear, completely filled up to confines of the lumber rack. A woman driver with a woman in the passenger seat. So much stuff! As we approached, the passenger held a large inflated pool toy - a unicorn - out the window. Big smiles on their faces, the unicorn's head in the wind like a happy dog; they were going to the springs for Thanksgiving.
Sometimes things are just meant to happen and the littlest things, like a butter and jelly sandwich, can lead to making it so. We pulled off of Saline Valley Road at the intersection with Lippencott and took a break. The Thanksgiving migration to the springs was producing a few interesting inward bound vehicles.
"Want an early lunch?" the Lady asked. "How 'bout a butter and jelly sandwich?"
I opened up the camper and the Lady climbed in. After an appropriate amount of fussing, she had all the ingredients of a nice lunch together, including that butter and jelly sandwich. We had a nice break. The temperature was cool, we had on our wool shirts, but the sun had power. It felt great.
Back on the road heading south I pulled to the side for an large inbound vehicle. In the rearview mirror I noticed an approaching white Toyota Tundra pickup with a pop up camper. I smiled. The inbound vehicle passed and I waited for the Tundra to pull along side. I rolled down the window.
"You know it was inevitable that we meet out here sometime!" the driver said with a grin.
"SunMan, it is nice to meet you. This here's the Lady."
We had a nice time chatting for a bit, a gap in the inbound migrants allowed it. He was heading home for Thanksgiving and we were going wading in Lake Manley.
It was a nice inevitable meeting. It was good to meet you, SunMan!
The wind was howling when we reached the top of South Pass. We debated our decision to head into Death Valley, especially with the north end of Panamint Valley consumed by a massive dust cloud. Looking across the valley from Panamint Springs Resort, the wind was blowing dust across 190 but we could see all the way across Panamint Valley. That, of course, changed when we were in the middle of it. We slowed to a crawl watching the white line on the edge of the road. The driver of the vehicle behind looked relieved he had a vehicle to follow. I was relieved I had a bummer car spacer behind for if we all get rear ended.
There was not a hint of wind at Stovepipe Wells. We filled up with gas and water. Furnace Creek area had a lot of blowing sand at ground level. We headed up the newly reopened Hole in the Wall Road and returned to one of our favorite spots for spending a night.
Lenticulars over the Panamints at sunset told the story of high winds aloft.
This was the night of the full moon.
The wind rocked the camper all night but died down in the morning.
Lake Manley was dry. The Lady needed cheering up.
"You have always wanted to hike up Jayhawker Canyon. We have more than enough time to do that today," I offered.
I had hit a home run. Life is good.
Although not mentioned in Digonnet's Hiking Guide Book, there is a use trail across the bajada from the parking area to the canyon. I wonder if it dates from the early tourist days in Death Valley or is possibly a continuation of the Old Indian Trail that runs between Emigrant and LeMoigne Canyon.
This canyon is thought to be the exit route out of Death Valley taken by the Jayhawker group of the Death Valley 49ers. Inscription rock at Jayhawker Springs is the common destination when hiking up here.
The historic inscription most want to see is by William Roods, a member of the Jayhawker group, dated 1849.
It is believed Roods actually made this inscription on a return trip in 1869 when he found the other dated inscriptions by later prospecting groups searching for the legendary Lost Gunsight Mine.
Of interest to us, of course, was the ancient rock art petroglyphs.
There was a cold wind blowing up the canyon. We put our backs against the lee side of Inscription Rock and enjoyed the warm sun. We were going to be in wind until we exited the canyon so this was a nice break.
The Lady was asking about the Jayhawkers as we hiked down canyon. I was filling her in and answering her questions from memory as we enjoyed the walk. Ahead I saw two hikers approaching and I let the Lady know.
We got an unexpected greeting from this delightful husband and wife team.
"You are ski3pin," the man said.
"What?" I asked. I wondered if the wind and fleece hat over my ears were screwing with my hearing.
"Ski3pin," he repeated.
"He recognized your truck and camper," his wife added.
"On Wander the West. I'm shadyapex." he said and offered his hand.
We chuckled about it and very much enjoyed meeting these new friends. We had a nice chat and found we explore many of the same areas.
Team Shadyapex, it was great to meet you.
We made one more new friend a little further down the canyon. A rattler pup with just a button.
Returning to the parking along highway 190, everything was in order.
The storm was coming in as we found a good overnight spot in the Alabama Hills.
The wind was blowing hard, it was 33°. We still walked and climbed the high hill behind that offered a commanding view of Lone Pine below. It was dark when we returned to our camper. After dinner and severely whooping me in a game of scrabble, the Lady climbed outside for a quick break.
"No clouds, stars everywhere. Wind's still blowing. The moon is up." She gave a surprising and concise weather report upon her return. We added the comforter over our sleeping bag. It was going to get cold tonight.
The wind was still blowing in the morning. It was 24° as we broke camp. But it all was worth it with the first sun on the spires of Mt. Whitney.
Above Bishop we had considerable distance on 395 under chain controls. Many of our fellow travelers were just plain stupid, maybe ought to have the training wheels put back on their vehicles. My money was on the yellow H2 Hummer with snowboards in the racks, that we would see it on its side or roof a little further up the road after it passed us. The Lady's bet was on a lifted crew cab long bed Ford F250. The winner was a surprise - a Black Nissan Armada, only the young male driver in the vehicle. It was on its side in the right lane of 395 south of Lee Vining. That has to be a hard climb out the passenger door window.
We made it home safe. I cooked a big dinner for friends and family on Saturday. Turkeys were on sale on Friday! I did two on the grill. Still eating leftovers. Life is good.