Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Chasing History - Death Valley - Spring Break 2016 - Part Two

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"I did not know they go to sleep at night!" the Lady was bent over looking down at her favorite flower, the one lonely Desert Fivespot near our camp.

"The flower is closed up, this is pretty cool to see." I added.

We were on our morning pre-dawn stroll, slowly sipping from our coffee mugs. The wind that rocked the truck most the night died down around 3 am. It was cool enough that our puffy jackets were just right as we walked, watching the day's beginnings. After ample portions of goat meal - covered in high-tech, all natural and organic granola, along with handfuls of blueberries, and just a splash of organic 2% milk imported from Wisconsin - we were ready, once again, to hit the trail and chase some more history.

Today's plan was to investigate where the visible old trail running north from LeMoigne Canyon took us. On a previous trip we had followed it to where it disappeared at the entrance to a nearby canyon. We then spent a wonderful day exploring that canyon. Today we would continue a few miles further along the front of the Cottonwood Mountains and see if we could find any remnant sections of the old trail. We also had our eyes set on a pair of canyons that spilled down into Death Valley. Getting far enough over to explore one of them would make a grand consolation prize!

We started off, at least we made a good effort, but we kept getting held up by flowers, hardly a bad thing to have happen.

The flowering Beavertail really stood out. The Lady calls these Paddle Cactus.

In the Lady's continuing effort to gain as much unnecessary elevation as possible, we climbed one small mountain that we could have easily hiked around. From the top we watched two vehicles slowly ascend LeMoigne Canyon Road, the first vehicles on the road since we had driven in Saturday afternoon. The cliffs we had to handle to get off the mountain just added to the fun.

We hiked on desert pavement down the bajada. We hiked in washes. We slowly grew closer to the corner we wanted to turn.

And then the Lady took us high............................

...............................only to have to descend and find a crossing of a major wash from the first canyon.

We found an entry down into the next canyon's wash and headed up into the narrowing walls. A soaring Golden Eagle caught our eyes, so huge and powerful. The Lady instantly had her see mores and followed the raptor's graceful flight. She stopped. "That's strange," she said, eyes still glued to the see mores. "It looks like that little jet is getting a drink from the big jet." She was correct.

As we entered the canyon, we found our friend the Rock Nettle was also dressed up for Spring.

We encountered the first pour over around the first narrow bend.

The narrows were short but dramatic. Our long hike was being rewarded.

In one cove the Lady hovered over a cluster of Desert Fivespot.

Also plentiful here were my favorite Death Valley flower, Gravel Ghost.

The Gravel Ghost has broad leaves that hug the ground, out of sight of the floating white flowers above on almost  invisible stalks. The name is perfect for this flower. It fits the flower and it fits this place called Death Valley. And, just so you know, they go to sleep at night too.

Also joining in on the springtime splendor was the rock under our feet.

We stretched out in the gravel ourselves, trying hard to become part of this place. We snacked and drank water. We listened to birds, their voices unrecognizable to us, very novice birders that we are. Besides the Golden Eagle, the only birds we recognized were what we call LBB's, little brown birds.

We headed out of the canyon and started the long trek back to camp. The plant life continued to surprise us. Here the Pincushion Cactus flowers have turned to fruit.

We had noticed it on our hike in and had followed short sections. We investigated further as we hiked back toward camp. Although gone in the washes and across the bajadas, there were pieces of the old indian trail still visible where it ran on hillsides.

We called this a very successful day.

It's a little joke with us when we are out hiking and the day is drawing to a close. It is the time of day it is easy to pick up the speed and hurry back to camp whereas our little joke is to look at each other with a smile and ask, "Would we rather be here or back at camp?" The former always wins out and the journey back becomes an eyes still wide open slower walk. Today we were a wee bit different. We were anxious to see if a friend had found our campsite and would be joining us for the night.

Mark was returning from a long trip exploring dream spots in Arizona and had inquired if our schedules may match up. We added him to our SPOT list so he received the daily message containing the coordinates of our campsite. Due to our independence and wanderlust, friends had insisted we get one of these devices so they could keep track of us. We are still feeling like gps collared bighorn sheep.

It was great to meet up with Mark again and hear of his adventures. Thanks Mark! He mentioned he had followed two jeep vehicles up LeMoigne Canyon Road on his way in and they had continued up the wash. They drove out as Mark and I were chatting. I waved, my pack still on, and down by our truck the Lady engaged them in happy conversation.

Later on the Lady wandered up the road to check. She knew what she would find. That one lonely Desert Fivespot, her friend in the desert, the one that announced whether it was day or night with the opening and closing of its delicate orb of a flower was crushed, decimated, ground into the gravel. I worked to cheer her heart, "Maybe this is where gravel ghosts come from." It did not help.

We told Mark of yesterday evening's wind event and right on cue the downslope wind out of the southwest shook our trucks. We took refuge on the lee side of Mark's. This wind was stronger, a bit more out of the south, and immediately launched a plume of dust blowing north in Death Valley.

We all turned our see mores (this time of day we should really call them spy glasses) over to the small tent only Emigrant Campground three miles away and observed some intense product testing taking place. Our hearts really went out to them.

Despite the wind - that by desert standards really wasn't that bad with gusts probably into the high thirties - the evening was gorgeous.

The wind again calmed in the wee hours of the morning and I was able to take a long exposure predawn photo of our quiet camp.

After three quiet nights spent up here, Tuesday was a travel day for us. We had more history to chase. We were only going a few miles but it would take several hours.

Early afternoon we were set up in our campsite near the end of Cottonwood Canyon Road. Wednesday would be a big day for us. We'd be working on answering those "why" and "who" questions, finding that "Cottonwood Water", and exploring another section of the old historic trail.

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch and finding it dam near impossible for us to sit around camp, boots and packs were on and we headed up canyon to explore the springs. The road ends near the first spring in Cottonwood Canyon. The system of springs stretches for 4 miles up canyon until reaching the most reliable spring, "Cottonwood Water" on the old trail.

Cottonwood Canyon is an oasis in the desert. Its large cottonwood trees are truly special.

Flowers stretched across the floor of the canyon.

Desert Dandelions were added to the mix (they go to sleep at night also).

Late afternoon was a wonderful time to stroll back down Cottonwood Canyon.

It was turning cooler and we enjoyed the 15° drop in temperatures.

We walked a couple of miles down canyon in the night. We were alone. Stars bright in the sky overhead.

We woke to an overnight low of 44°. Nestled in a canyon, we knew direct sunlight would be a late arrival.

We headed up canyon looking for answers..........................................

Our adventure continues in Part Three - please Click Here


  1. Wonderful adventures, great photos! But I have to ask -- what is goat meal? For once, Google has failed me.

  2. We call the oat meal the Lady eats in the morning Goat Meal because it sure seems to give her the energy of mountain goats.