Thursday, January 11, 2018

Death Valley - Winter Break 2017 - Part Three

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We had briefly met Richard and Ginny four years before - December 2013 - at the Eureka Dunes. I went back to my blog post on that trip to refresh my memory -

"Our chairs were out between our campers. We were enjoying snacks and drinks and discussing our upcoming adventure. We watched a white Jeep Wrangler work its way around the dunes toward us. “Why are they coming in here?” Barking asked as they turned into our spot. He was on his feet. The Jeep stopped. Both doors opened. The driver approached quickly and said, “Ski3pin and the Lady must be here!” I got up and introduced the Lady and myself. “I’m Missing Link on Wander the West,” the driver explained. His next question was delightful, “Are one of you Ted?”"

How fortuitous, on this chance meeting Missing Link got to meet Ted!

We stayed out under the moon and stars and chatted. Both Richard and Ginny are delightful and were a welcome addition to our group. They shared our enthusiasm for the strange lights that rose straight up above the Black Mountains to the east with a bright single light. Each time the light would suddenly go dark. Strange lights indeed, UFO's. This had been our night time entertainment until Ted set us straight with the clear, levelheaded thinking of an engineer.

"Those are the landing lights of jets leaving the airport in Las Vegas," Ted carefully explained. They are coming right at us while gaining altitude. That is why they look to be going straight up. The light disappears when the landing lights are turned off."

"Then why don't we see the usual blinking red and green lights?" I asked, almost pouting. I wanted to believe the big eyes wanted to pop on over and check out our campers. But, as I heard someone on TV say one time, "The truth is out there."

"That's because," Ted was kind and patient with me, "they are so far away!"

Later in evening, when Ted took a break from the group and a light was rising in the east, Donna ran over to the spotting scope and watched the light go out.

"What did you see?" we asked as she returned to her chair.

"Blinking red and green lights."

Ted, did we ever share that with you?

The morning of December 30th was spectacular. Missing Link's truck looked right at home in the penthouse suite.

The shovel brigade looked pretty darn good too.

Richard and Ginny fit right in.

Our plans were to walk up Johnson Canyon. Our goal was the fossil ripples in purple mudstone, a well known outcropping at the confluence with the South Fork Johnson Canyon.

Our first stop was at the remains of the famous 1934 Chrysler Airflow.

We all examined it closely. I believe I started this one.

"You know, I think we can get this running again. First thing we'd have to find is the top end for this big old straight eight cylinder motor."

The group's enthusiasm built. Heads were quickly nodding in the affirmative.

"We could get this running again!" echoed round and round the little alcove.

The clear, levelheaded thinking of an engineer brought us back to reality once again.

"No way," Ted said and shook his head. "It'll never happen. Let's go find ancient purple mud!"

Richard is a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, so we all enjoyed and appreciated his expertise on our journey up the canyon.

Ginny was a seasoned professional at spotting flakes from tool making.

The Lady disappeared as we were photographing the deep purple rock in the cold shade at the South Fork. She had climbed to the top of the cliffs on the north side in the sun. She was chuckling because she was sitting on layers upon layers of fossil ripples.

Shooting into the sun washes out the color a bit.

It was a truly pleasant day. So many stories were shared as we walked together.

The Teds and the Missing Links were leaving in the morning so the Lady and I wanted to celebrate as if this was New Years Eve - that meant we'd try real hard to stay up past eight.

We brought out the bubbly.

We toasted old friends and new friends and best wishes for a wonderful new year.

Ted really hit it off with Richard and Ginny. He shared his bottle of Pliny the Elder!

I was up early on New Year's Eve. I wanted to sneak a peek through the Teds' spotting scope before they left  at the layering over in the Land of the Tinajas. I saw an interesting area to explore. It would not be easy to reach.

We said goodbye to our friends as they started the slow crawl down the road and toward their respective homes.

We suited up, got the boots on, and hit the trail.

We climbed a new canyon. There was a much higher series of tinajas the Lady wanted to wander through. The layers of rock made in a wonderful stair step climb up the canyon.

We were in for a surprise. A big surprise. Suddenly the rock changed dramatically. We were standing right atop a fault in the earth's crust.

On the west side of the fault was basement limestones. On the east side was welded volcanic tuff. This was really getting complicated.

I looked high to the west and suddenly areas I had scanned before were now vivid examples of this faulted area. I had missed it before, just did not know what I was seeing.

High above us in the direction we wanted to climb, I could see where the fault ran through the ridge line.

The rocks on the right were different then the rocks on the left. There was no way the layering would match up in the area I had looked at through the spotting scope. Everything was offset an unknown amount. The search would be damn near impossible. But what a thrilling sight!

The canyon ahead was impassable with a high smooth pour over. We climbed the left hand side to find a bypass. We climbed higher and higher on crumbling welded tuff, akin to rough ball bearings on smooth steep rock underneath.

We reached a high point with a view.

With this view of the tinajas below, the Lady's enthusiasm for chasing layers of stone waned. There was a playground to be explored!

I started down a steep talus slope with chair sized jagged rock. The Lady did not like my route choice.

"We could die if anything goes wrong with loose rock. I don't like it!"

I respected her decision and followed her as she backtracked along the vertical edge of the gully below.

She did an amazing job of reading the steepness of the terrain, staying right at the edge of what our boot soles could stick to - a very careful balancing act - and walked us right into the bottom of the gully.

The Lady's playground.

We took a water and shack break and then forged ahead to climb up to the layers to see if, in this offset mess, I could spot those distinctive layers we had seen two days before.

What a challenge!


After climbing and down climbing and climbing and down climbing several times it was time to head back to camp. We'd try a different route back.

Our shadows were long as we crossed the bajada on the ancient indian trails.

It was the last night of 2017. In our way of thinking, the location, solitude, quiet, was perfect for a celebration of New Year's Eve.

We stayed up late. We watched the jets leaving the airport in Las Vegas. We waited for the near full moon to climb above the hazy clouds in the east.

I hope that every one of our future years can end like this.

We are now back at the beginning of this story - the first day of 2018.

We enjoyed the drive down Johnson Canyon Road after we broke camp after four nights.

It was our third try at finding what the Lady suggested -

"Well, I was wondering," the Lady said as she snuggled in close. "Do you think we'd have time to see if we can find..........................."

Yes we did. This petroglyph panel is hidden in plain sight.

I really liked this classic hunting scene.

As I photographed, I lost sight of the Lady. Of course, all I needed to do was look up.

We made a lazy drive toward home. After our days of relative solitude, we were shocked at the amount of traffic on 395. We were in a different world.

We found our often used overnight camp spot in the Volcanic Tablelands at dusk. It was colder than our nights in Death Valley. The wind was picking up. There was a layer of high clouds across the night sky. The first full moon of 2018 gently rose above the White Mountains. The songs of coyotes moved across the landscape.

The Search - I ought not leave you hanging any longer....but I'm going to. Please forgive me.

New Years Day we stopped by the Visitors Center in Furnace Creek and made a report about our find. Since returning home we have been contacted by a DVNP Research Associate. Our find is a new addition to the Park's scientific database. I am providing a report with photos and details on the location. Park staff will be making a site visit.

No Pliny the Elders were harmed during this adventure.


  1. Lions, saber tooth tigers and Missing Links! We haven’t seen Richard and Ginny for a couple of years. Truly nice folks!

    1. Yes, they are truly nice folks and it was a pleasure spending time with them!

  2. More great adventures! Looking at the sedimentary layers sandwiched by welded tuff is like watching a slow-motion movie -- first the volcano, then the lake, then the volcano again, only to have the whole assemblage later thrust up into the sunlight. Well done!