Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Death Valley - December 2016 - Part One

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Horses, Sheep, and Camels, Oh My!

"Wow, it is cold outside!" we both exclaimed as we climbed back into our truck, idling along the highway in Hope Valley. This was our first pee break as we started our winter break trip between the holidays and it was still well before sunup.

"What does the outside thermometer read?" I asked the Lady.

"Ten below zero."

"It should feel cold then," I answered as I turned the truck east on highway 88. "Next time we pee, let's put our puffy jackets on."

It was thirteen below zero as we passed through Bridgeport on highway 395.

"You like this." I said to the Lady, content in the passenger seat and gazing out at the marvelous landscape as I drove. It was both a question and a statement.

"I do." The Lady answered.

On this bright clear morning after a storm, chain controls were still up on 395 between June Lake and the turn off to Mammoth. The road was packed snow and ice but the sun was warm through the windshield. Traffic was thankfully light on 395, where many find for the first time 4x4 helps you go faster but doesn't help one bit at slowing down or stopping. Please observe the posted speed limits on highways in chain control restrictions.

Once again, we were heading to Death Valley National Park and we hoped to ferret out more of its secrets. Much research and planning had gone into this trip. Would it pay off? Horses, sheep, and camels, oh my!

A couple of years ago I heard about a rock art site that contained pictographs of horses, indicating that this artwork was post European contact and the introduction of the modern horse into the western hemisphere.  With research from several sources, I figured we had a better than 50% chance of success of finding the site, "The Three Horses Shelter" and we were anxious to get on with the search. We parked a bit away as I know, when I see a vehicle parked by itself in an interesting location, I'm asking, "I wonder what they might be off looking for?" and my research begins.

After a few miles of hiking, we investigated a shallow alcove that looked not the least promising.

But, as in many things in life, it is best to be patient and take a closer look.

Red sheep were painted over older black pictographs.

Several ghostly manlike figures adored the small area.

And here were the three horses!

The top horse could possibly have a rider and the bottom drawing is a more complicated work that is possibly two horses side by side looking in opposite directions. Or maybe "Siamese Horses" as the Lady thinks? My money's on a "Push Me Pull Me Horse."

This was a very intriguing pictograph as the creature appears to have classic sheep horns but does it have a rider? To me, this may be another horse with rider.

This is a very special site that should be treated with the utmost respect. Please do not touch or disturb anything if you visit an archeology site. Leave not a sign that you were ever there.

We continued our exploration and were delighted to find several habitation sites.

One site was the most intact and undisturbed site we have visited.

We felt we had hit the jackpot, this was more than enough to mark this as a fantastic trip!

As always, we will give no directions or location information so please do not ask. It is far more rewarding to put in a lot of homework and have it pay off.

We drove up Johnson Canyon Road to our planned camping spot for several nights. It was cold and clear but so so much warmer than ten below zero. The quiet was exquisite and the dawn everything you could hope for in a Death Valley morning.

The storm had also moved through Southern California and brought snow to the mountains and rain to lower elevations of Death Valley. West Side Road had standing water in places on our drive in and washes showed signs of running water. This was a special time to be in Death Valley and we decided to spend the day searching for tinajas.

We explored the broad outflow wash from Johnson Canyon.

We climbed to the north and looked back at our lonely campsite.

The Lady's preferred direction of travel is always up, and up we went.

We were heading for a large outcropping of what appeared to be volcanic tuff  that we thought could hold tinajas, waters sources important to so many creatures.

Once again, we felt like we were hitting the jackpot. Most tinajas were frozen over this cold morning.

What did I say about preferred direction of travel?

We spotted another outcropping that had potential.

We just had to figure out a route to get there.

This canyon caught our eye.

Its steep side canyons held tinajas, one after another.

We climbed, explored, snacked and dozed in the sun. We could have stayed in this spot all day.

The rock to the south was tilted layered strata that dipped under the tuff. One canyon held beautiful sandstone. We explored.

This led up to over lying layers of purple. The Lady could wander in the purple zone here for days.

We explored yet another canyon that held a long series of tinajas. We were, of course quiet and on the watch for critters, especially sheep.

We found sign of a bobcat moving just ahead of us.

Alas, the first bighorn sheep we found was deceased.

We had found several sheep beds along with fresh scat -

It starts with an S and ends with a T

It comes out of you and it comes out of me

I know what you're thinking but don't call it that

Let's be scientific and call it scat

source - 6th grade environmental school song

At times like this the Lady says, "Lots of sheep pellets. I want to see the containers!"

She kept her eye out for her bighorn buddies.

I've written many times before about the Lady's magical association with bighorn sheep. This trip was no exception so hang on to your hats as this story unfolds in the upcoming parts.

We knew they were up there, keeping an eye on us.............................

This day was incredible giving us hours of exploration and wandering we both so enjoy. We soaked up some sun and then headed back to camp. Much lower down we were surprised to hear human voices. We rounded a corner and met a young man and his mom. After one question from the young man I said, "You must be Andrew."

A surprised look from mom and son and a quick answer, "Yes, I am!"

We introduced ourselves.

Andrew is a young man just starting his college work toward a degree in geology. On top of that, he has a close knit family that thrives on long hikes, exploration, natural inquisitiveness, and adventure. What could be nicer than that? Andrew has an Internet site called Exploring and Informing

Andrew, his mom and dad, and sister headed down canyon after we said goodbye.

We headed up and intersected a well defined old Indian trail. Several of the rock cairns showed desert varnish that matched the surrounding rocks showing they were placed ages ago. These old cairns should not be disturbed or added to.

"A bighorn! " the Lady whispered as we dropped into the broad wash of Johnson Canyon.

The large ram moved ahead of us for several minutes as we worked our way back to camp.

From our high perch at camp most of the Johnson Canyon Road climbing up from below was visible. We were surprised to see a rig with a pop up camper slowly working its way up.

The truck climbed closer and closer. We could hear the crutch of rocks under tires and the clatter of a diesel.

Who in the world was it on this beautiful cold Death Valley evening?

Our adventure continues in  Part Two. Please Click Here.