Friday, March 25, 2016

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

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

The soft crutch of tire on gravel woke us around two thirty in the morning followed by the arch of headlights running across the canyon walls. The truck quietly drove by, turned around, and backed into the wash about a hundred yards up from our camp.

"Think that's them?" the Lady voice quietly asked in the night.

"I suspect it is," I answered and I had to add my usual response, "We'll find out."

The Lady is so tolerant.


I was out with the camera and tripod before dawn. The so familiar sounds of the Lady's fussing inside the camper and the sudden aroma of coffee at the first pour through comforted me. This place felt like home. I put my face to the window.

"It's almost ready!" the Lady's voice resonated with happiness.

"See anybody moving at the other camp?" the Lady asked. "Is it them?"

"Yes, looks like Scott's walking over here." I gave a wave.

"We didn't wake you, did we?" Scott asked when we met.

"We went right back to sleep. Drive your truck over and join us."

Scott looked over the vehicle route in. "Quite the driveway." he said as he returned to his truck.


Scott and his buddy, Ian, got settled and started in with building breakfast. We quickly found out Ian loves photography.





 Ian Tuttle photo



Thank you Ian for permission to use your photos! Ian's website can be found here -


We met Scott near the summit of Corkscrew Peak on our last trip to Death Valley. He joined us on the descent and we quickly found this young man was easy to be with. We traded stories about our Death Valley adventures and it was obvious Scott's love for this place ran deep. At our parting Scott remarked, "It would be so cool if we could get together sometime on a trip!"


We exchanged emails. Scott shared his blog - - with us and we discovered he was an adventurer, accomplished international traveler, climber, and writer. He recently told us of his next planned trip and asked if we'd be in Death Valley also.


Ian is just as cool of a young man; easy to be around, energetic and happy. We were a bit mystified why two accomplished and fit young men would want spend time with a couple of old farts, but everything about them put us at ease. We knew today would be a good day.



We made it to Thursday's pass and entered new terrain.








The desert was alive with flowers, bugs, and rocks. It one spot large beetles were gnawing on Notch-leaf Phacelia and hooked together engaging in sexual activity. I haven't yet identified the species and am looking for help. We called them Very Happy Beetles.








This was a great day that still causes me to chuckle. The majority of our travels have been up canyons or to mountain summits. This was an open country cross country route over and through many different landforms. We are old enough to know a simple planned line on the map is only a small part of the story and a topo map's contour interval of 40 feet can leave out a lot of detail. Today, Death Valley was going to give us a good workout.



But besides obstacles, Death Valley also revealed new details and treasures around every corner.  At our first dry fall to down climb, the fossils were amazing.








When our way down a canyon was blocked with a series of large pourovers, after scrambling up rocky walls to exit, we found a jumbled terrain to work through with hope the pass we chose to reach held promise of an easier route ahead.








The pass led to more interesting terrain. We were all like kids and I think it was Ian who called this feature "the rainbow staircase".








The Lady enjoyed the company of her new buddies.








In the photo above we are walking on the top of a large fanglomerate formation. I'll come back to this in the narrative. Since returning home, I've dreamt about this area, and wished I'd taken many more detailed photos.




We finally reached the canyon we were seeking. We were awestruck.






Ian's photo with us walking along the edge puts the massive size of the walls cut into the fanglomerate formation into perspective.





 Ian Tuttle photo



We climbed to a high spot where we could gaze down into the void.





 Ian Tuttle photo





Ian Tuttle photo



"This looks like coral!" Scott drew our attention to the dark brown streaks running across the limestone at our feet. Fossils we believe are associated with ancient coral reefs were all around us.




























We climbed back down from our highpoint, still in awe of the massive cut of the outwash from this canyon. 






Our initial plan was to explore the inner gorge of this canyon, but it was already past our turnaround time. Death Valley had made us work for this view. Although the line drawn on the map indicated only 5.5 miles to the canyon opening, it was obviously much further in actual walking distance. I'm reminded of the time my little buddy Barking Spider explained the difference between "map miles" and "trail miles" and what an agency can/should put on signage. "Map miles" is measuring the length of the line you drew on a map. "Trail miles" is actually "rolling the wheel" (distance measure devise) along a trail and getting the actual distance. Trail miles are always a larger number.


I don't think any of us were disappointed. We had seen and experienced incredible terrain. We now all had the gift of dreaming of return trips. And, we had the journey back to camp ahead of us to enjoy.


We climbed out over a pass and returned to the vast plain of the fanglomerate. Now that we knew more about the country, we made adjustments to our route on the way back.








Here's my interest with this fanglomerate formation. This stuff is cemented alluvial material. This formation does not match up with the current drainages. The drainages now feeding the area are not large enough to account for the large volume of material. It makes me wonder if the large canyons, at an earlier time, emptied out of the mountains to the southeast and are the source. Was there a more recent uplift to this part of the Cottonwood Mountains that was responsible for the newer significant (rapid?) down cutting into the limestone of the gorge and also into the old alluvial deposits? In the photo above, to the left, just visible is the cut edges of a box canyon. To me, it sure appears that new cutting is occurring as drainage features are being eroded back into this fanglomerate formation. 20 to 40 foot pourovers are the entry points for these drainages into the growing box canyon. It is fascinating and I want to go back!



We had much work ahead for us as we moved back through this inspiring maze.


















We all still carried big smiles.








Ian took advantage of photographic opportunities, the pro that he is.





 Ian Tuttle photo





Ian Tuttle photo



Ian and Scott stayed with us for the evening. And a wonderful evening it was, even keeping the old folks up past their bedtime. Stories were told, we laughed together, friendships grew, we had a great time - a very pleasant Death Valley evening. Thank you gents!



Up before dawn, watching the light, putting my face to the camper window in anticipation of that first cup of Peets coffee, and a long walk together - Saturday morning was perfect.







It was time for us to head out of the National Park and think about home. But, we always have that list of things to do and see, and the Lady had a suggestion......................................


........................and the Lady's worn out shorts with the ripped out bottom have been officially retired.



Our adventure continues in the final chapter, Part Five. Please Click Here.


1 comment:

  1. I agree with your phone comments about the canyon! Wow!!! The fossils are fantastic! Thanks for bringing us along, and thanks to Ian for the additional photos.