Friday, December 8, 2017

Back to Death Valley! - November 2017 - Part Two

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The wind built throughout the night coming down canyon from the east. When we dropped into Death Valley it was shrouded in windblown dust. Not a good day to head south on the West Side Road. We decided on an experiment. We wondered if the winds were accelerated down the long valley troughs. Perhaps the wind would be more bearable up country?

We have long wanted to explore the Chloride City area and find the old trail that connects to the top of the Keane Wonder Mine. We headed up Daylight Pass and turned onto the Monarch Canyon Road and took a left to head to Chloride City. I suspect that the road condition has deteriorated since the last edition of Mitchell's Death Valley SUV Trails book.
The winds were not too bad up high but dark low clouds were moving in from the north.

We parked at the intersection with the Chloride Cliff Road that comes in from Beatty. We wanted to stretch the legs and scout out the climb ahead. The clouds had built to a  towering black wall that was fast approaching. We still stood in sunlight but were pelted with wind driven sheets of rain. It was marvelously dramatic! But, probably not the best idea to venture into new terrain.

We decided to check out the much easier route in from Beatty and dropped onto the edge of the Armargosa Valley. The storm winds were roaring through the valley from the north, dark clouds above and occasional short blasts of rain.

We filled up with gas in Beatty and had lunch. The clouds were clearing and moving fast so we decided to see if weather and wind were calming some over in Death Valley.

We were correct. Death Valley had cleared and winds were tolerable. We headed to our next destination - up Trail Canyon Road on the east side of the Panamint  Range.

We were alone as we picked out a campsite high on the alluvial fan before the road drops into the wash. Although the sun leaves here around 3:30 pm, the vistas are spectacular.

We walked up the canyon at night. The moon was a waxing half and directly overhead; a brightly lit night.

Our high spot received early sunlight the next morning.

Perhaps because of my recent bout of flu and the Lady's "touch of a cold", we were feeling lazy. We wanted the luxury of leaving camp all set up, a cozy refuge for whenever we returned. So we decided to do all our exploring on foot. Besides, there were things we were looking for along the canyon that could be easily missed while trapped in a vehicle.

There are two side canyons that look quite interesting for future explorations.

Ascending Trail Canyon is a geologic trip back in time. Because the layers in the rock dip into Death Valley, you encounter older and older rock as you climb. I believe one of the guide books mentions that we would cross a time period of 250 million years.

A little over five miles up was the confluence of the North, Middle, and South fork of the canyon. Visible up the North Fork was the top of the long abandoned - washed out, slide prone - road that once climbed up to Aguereberry Point

This road was constructed in the 1950's as a transport route for tungsten ore from the mines in Trail Canyon. It was last passable in the early 1970's.

Climbing up the South Fork, the Lady stopped to remove a stone from her boot.

The road ends at the McBride Camp. This is a more recent mining camp, similar to Uncle Erv's place.

The buildings boasted flush toilets and showers and got me wondering where the plumbing drains went. I did not go looking.

We were surprised that we just missed SunMan. With the Teds, that would have been an unprecedented two Truck Camper Magazine celebrities in one trip!

The McBride Camp was a bit over seven miles from our camp and a gain of 3200 vertical feet - not counting the 250 million years.

On our hike up the South Fork I noticed a faint trail that could be a shortcut over to the Broken Pick Millsite. It worked out great as we crested a saddle and dropped into these ruins.

The quartz samples lying about were beautiful.

The old Willys was the centerpiece of the junkyard.

We found the large trailer intriguing.

Since it had a bathroom complete with a small bath tub, I was wondering if it may have been hauled up here by an enterprising madam, a mobile bordello, to harvest money from these miners with long lonely nights with only the coyote's song for company.

Others had questions about the trailer also.

Me? I would have liked to watch it come down the road from Aguereberry Point.

We headed back down after exploring a couple other spots and enjoyed the solitude and lengthening shadows.

The views were amazing from our perch above Death Valley. Across from us was Artist Palette..........


..................Badwater and Dante's View

....................and Manley Beacon.

This was a fine place to immerse ourselves in a desert night.

We packed up and headed back toward home Wednesday morning. The day ended up kind of like déjà vu all over again.

"It doesn't hurt to check!" the Lady said as we walked into the office at Benton Hot Springs.
"Are we going to get lucky again?" the Lady asked.
"I'm looking out the window at this beautiful weather. The board's behind me. What do you see?" the fellow sitting at the desk asked.
"That we'll have the whole campground to ourselves unless you get another walk in!" the Lady replied.

This was pure decadence. The waters, sky, surroundings, and company were perfect.

It dropped to 30° overnight, 29° colder than the previous night in Trail Canyon. It was hard to leave the tub of hot spring water in the morning. Again we were lazy. The Lady suggested breakfast at the Hays Street in Bridgeport on our way home.

It is open again as a Mexican restaurant after being closed for three years. No more cinnamon rolls but the breakfasts were good. We'll stop again.

This was our return to Death Valley. Looking at the Lady's list of places she wants to visit, I believe we will be back to Death Valley again................................

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Back to Death Valley! - November 2017 - Part One

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A Gift For Ted

It started with an email from our friend Ted. He inquired about our Thanksgiving travel plans. They would be in the Volcanic Tablelands. Could we connect? Ted added that he'd been searching around on Google Earth and spotted a primitive road in a canyon. It was not on the topo for the area. Would it go? Could it provide a quiet secluded campsite along with canyons to explore? That's what they'd be checking out on Friday.

We left before dawn on Friday morning, grabbed a store bought breakfast in Lee Vining, and continued south toward Bishop on highway 6. We left pavement and soon found the trace of a road running up the canyon just as Ted and Google Earth described. There were no recent tire tracks.

"I guess they are not here yet," I said to the Lady. "There may be another way in from a road to the north. Let's look around that area, get the lay of the land, and maybe the Teds will show up."

We drove in the road to the north a few miles and found a side road that led down into the canyon. It did intersect the road in the wash. On our route in I also noticed one new set of tracks. The truck had a wider stance than our rig and was running BFG All Terrains.

The road was rough with a couple of tight turns in the narrowing canyon bottom. We found a wide spot that offered an opportunity to turn around.

"Let's head out, " I suggested to the Lady. "And drive toward Bishop until we get cell service and see if we got a response from Ted to the message we sent early this morning."

It was a beautiful warm morning as we drove out the canyon route - to check it out and maybe intersect the Teds on their way in. We stopped at the intersection with the main road and swept the canyon road free of tracks so we could see if anyone drove in after us. We set a track trap to catch Ted.

We were on the outskirts of Bishop before we got cell service. No message so we headed back to check the trap. We were almost back when a truck appeared on the horizon coming our direction.

"That's the Teds!" the Lady exclaimed. "Why do you think they're coming this way?"

We all pulled to the side of the road to say howdy.

"Thirty feet!" Ted cried. "If you had driven thirty more feet you would have seen our camp!"

"Thirty more feet up the canyon road? You guys were already up there?" I asked for confirmation.

"Thirty more feet!" Ted confirmed. "We watched you drive away and I was setting up to film you coming up canyon."

The Lady added, "And you packed up to catch us?"

"We sure did!" Ted and Donna said in unison.

"Oh dear!" the Lady and I said together.

I gave Ted a hug. "Ted, you are a great guy and I figure we just gave you a gift - a good story to tell about us for a long time!"

The road ended where we set up camp with the Teds. We were all anxious to explore up the canyon. A canyon we quickly named "The Canyon of Columns." The lava flows had cooled and split into columns. They towered above us.

The middle section of one column was gone. What held the top piece in place?

In several places the columns formed a fan pattern.

We arrived back at camp from our hike at dark. Dinner, stories, and star gazing rounded out a nice night.

Up before dawn, the Lady kicked me out of the camper for her morning fussing. It includes brewing us Peets coffee so I cannot ever complain.

 Ted was up also so we wandered down canyon to yesterday's errant turn around point.

"Thirty feet!" Ted reminded me and shook his head.

"A gift, Ted," I said. "A gift."

The columns are spectacular as they rise straight and true out of the wash.

Ted remarked that the only thing missing was a statue of a Roman god atop a pedestal.

I could smell the coffee as soon as she opened the camper door. The Lady joined us. Ted headed back and the Lady and I explored a side canyon that was cut into welded volcanic ash.

Donna joined us as we wandered. Camp was almost in sunlight when we returned.

We said our goodbyes to the Teds mid morning. I was due in Lone Pine at one pm to meet a musician from the Los Angeles area and do a minor adjustment for him.  Everyone was on time and by two pm we headed east, back to Death Valley.

Our plans were loose but the Lady has been going through our dog eared copy of Hiking Death Valley and making note of new hikes she wants to do. We decided to pull into Hole In The Wall because of its convenience and also because the Lady was feeling ill.

We popped the top and the Lady immediately crawled up into the bunk and curled up. She had a fever and respiratory congestion. I was recovering from a bad case of the flu, the first in years. Now it looked like it was the Lady's turn.

At times like this I remember the John Cleese character in Monty Python and the Holy Grail "Stand and fight! It's only a flesh wound!"

"You're getting the flu," I said. "It may be best that we return home."

"No!" she whispered hoarsely. "It's only a touch of a cold. You'll see it the morning. I want to hike Sidewinder Canyon tomorrow!"

She was hot to the touch and coughing. I covered her up with the comforter and she was instantly asleep. I quietly made dinner for me, cleaned everything up , and went for a short walk in the night.

It was a warm night. We slept with the windows open. The overnight low was 60°. The Lady slept like death.

John Cleese said she was better in the morning. We headed to the trailhead for Sidewinder Canyon.

Sidewinder Canyon is cut into a massive alluvial fan. Recent uplift of the Black Mountains caused a new round of erosion into this deep bed of fanglomerate.

Several deep narrow slots enter the main canyon. These slots are what we came to explore.

Hiking Death Valley, Bird and Hike, and the Park - handout for the hike are available at the Visitors Center - all number the slots differently. We first entered the only slot in the north canyon wall. It was narrow with a steep gradient.

We climbed all the way up and out for the view.

We retreated back down the slot to the main canyon.

We explored a slot into the south wall. It was narrow and climbed with several short pour overs until ending in an amphitheater. It was amazing terrain.

One broad side canyon quickly narrowed into two forks. We wandered up the first and then moved to the next.

It was hard to believe this little crack to the right of slickenside was the entrance. We left the packs. It was a crawl, then a four foot climb up, and then an unimaginably tight squeeze, followed by another crawl. This was fun. The Lady's "touch of a cold" was cured.

This was a very narrow slot. A short ways up the roof squeezed together. Not a hint of sunlight entered. It was pitch black.

A flash photo.

I wanted to return into this chamber and try photos with just light from headlamps. It turned out there was so much more to see in other slots that no time remained to return.

This was an otherworldly landscape.

We returned to the main canyon. We again encountered another hiker - "Stuart the Staff Man" because of his long bamboo hiking staff. Coming up canyon was "Carl the Kid" just arriving to explore. He fell in line behind the Lady and me.

"What's your name?" the Lady asked. The Lady has a gift with questions and conversation. In the course of the next couple of hours we learned just about all there was to know about "Carl the Kid." I should add, although he said he goes on hikes for solitude, "Carl the Kid" likes to talk. He was pleasant company and it was insightful to learn about a gifted young man in the computer/internet field who makes enough money to take weeks off at a time to see what is out there. He lives in his Sprinter van. Carl has a deep love and concern for our blue planet. It was refreshing to meet a young person who deeply cares about natural processes and our affects.

Of course, Carl knew nothing about keeping up with the Lady. He gave it his best shot as we entered the next slot.

This canyon had the longest continuous narrow slot, just over a shoulder width wide.

We climbed all the way to the end and topped out on the ridge after some very challenging terrain.

After taking in the views and discovering there was no easier way down, we back tracked and down climbed into the narrow slot we had ascended.

After exiting again into the main canyon we turned up canyon. Sidewinder Canyon now had wondrous narrows of its own.

Sidewinder finally climbs out of the fanglomerate and the narrows are carved out of bedrock. We stopped at a high pour over and turned around.

We had one more slot to explore. This was the most impressive slot and is not for the faint of heart.

In the dark depths of this slot we found two natural arches.

This canyon kept going.

I caught up with Carl. He had removed his pack at a constriction in the canyon and placed it next to the Lady's. Where was the Lady? I heard strange grunts.

"Where are you and what do those grunts mean?" I asked.

"Down here! You have to crawl!" she answered.

It was around 20 feet of crawling and slithering. The canyon beyond was darker. We came upon a pour over capped with a huge chock stone.

"I'm going to continue," Carl said as he worked his way up. His grunts were similar to the Lady's when she crawls and slithers.

We checked the time. Even if we turned around now, it would be close to dark when we reached the trailhead down canyon. We said our goodbyes to Carl the Kid.

We took our time at the trailhead, stashed the packs in the camper, changed shoes and clothes. When we saw Carl exit the canyon in the distance, we knew he was safe. We started the truck, hit the headlights, drove out to pavement, and turned north on Badwater Road.

"I told you I'd be fine!" the Lady smiled from the passenger seat. "I loved Sidewinder Canyon! Didn't you?"

"Yes, I loved Sidewinder Canyon too," I answered. "It is an amazing place. I'm convinced this is the place to come if either of us are ill. A visit here will cure damn near anything. Look at you!"

"A touch of a cold," the Lady said. "Only a flesh wound."

What were we up to? Where would we head next?

Our adventure continues Part Two. Please Click Here