Sunday, April 15, 2018

Death Valley National Park - March 2018 - Part Two

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

"You've got a little critter climbing up your thigh," I said to the Lady.

We were relaxing in our chairs after arriving back at camp. On the Lady's light colored nylon pants, the tiny tick was easy to spot.

"I just hate these things!" the Lady said as she picked the little insect up between her fingers, placed it on the ground, and pounded it into pulp with a rock.

"Boy, you really do hate them," I remarked as I witnessed the execution. "No lethal injection for that little bastard.  Stand up and let me check you out and then you can do me."

We both passed inspection and relaxed until it was time to begin dinner. I went inside the camper.

"Here's another little blood sucker climbing on the inside wall," I called out to the Lady. "Want to kill it?"

It was a satisfying sound, rock banging against rock.

Note - a very thorough inspection was done as we showered later. This has become a bit of a ritual.

Dinner, sunset, our night walk - everything was perfect.

The moon, approaching fullness,  was already up in the eastern sky. The ever present wind still rocked the camper. Our bed felt so good after a hard day of hiking, climbing, and exploring.

"Comfy, cozy," the Lady said as we snuggled in.

It was time for sleep.

My breathing was deep. Sleep was almost upon me as I felt something moving on my eye lid. I instinctively picked it up between my thumb and forefinger.

"Get your light," I aroused the Lady. "Let's see what this is."

The Lady rose up in bed,  grabbed her light and turned it on. Its light washed across her pillow.

"There's a tick on my pillow!" she announced.

"Could be a brother or sister to the one between my fingers," I added.

I expect you all have an idea how hard it was to fight the hebegeebees at this point. The picture of lying in a bed full of ticks was hard to suppress.

We boldly held panic at bay and did a search of all our bedding. No other ticks were found. Just another night in the outdoors - a little more fun than usual.

We slept soundly.

This, we believe, was the source of the ticks in the camper. At one point in our climb out of the canyon, in a cliff section, the Lady went head first up through a creosote bush. She tossed her hat and sunglasses on the counter in the camper when we got back to camp. The little hitch hikers were probably aboard.

Note - all hats will be inspected prior to being tossed inside the camper.

Today - Friday - we would explore the upper canyon. Our first objective was to hike over to the very start of the canyon on the crest of the Funeral Mountains. It was not an easy task. Although the waypoint we had set for that point was only 1.1 miles (as the raven flies) away, we had a vast system of side canyons to circumvent that required a wide arc of around 2.5 miles. The 7.5 USGS topo map depicted the ground as flat, but the contour interval was 40 feet. A lot can hide between contour lines and this terrain was textbook. 

We reached the board crest of the Funeral Mountains. The feature that drew us to explore here.

The Lady sent out a bread crumb to friends to mark our starting point.

The canyon was only a shallow gully at its start.

As you can tell in the above photo, we would have a dramatic drop in elevation ahead.

We reached a section of canyon where the gradient relaxed. We stopped and looked back up at the mouth of the beautiful gorge we descended.

The canyon wound about, curve after curve. Each new corner held us in wonder, what was around the next bend? My question about this possibly being an ancient route to cross these mountains was answered with rock covered in some of the oldest - faded - petroglyphs we have found.

Not only had the ancient ones traveled through here, so had Death Valley Curly.

We dropped down through another exciting and beautiful gorge.

The canyon widened and we again encountered breccia.

Around one corner was a broad wash. The canyon had cut down parallel with the rock layers. Note the smooth rock faces to the left of the Lady. One mine claim was on the bench to the right and a short tunnel cut into the mountain.

Possibly the miner working here had an artistic nature and, inspired by the ancient rock art, produced this nice rendering of a bighorn ram.

We continued down canyon .

The displays of breccia continued our geology lesson.

The gorge sections continued with easy pourovers to down climb. We reached S³4.

Down canyon from S³4 our exploration of the canyon was complete. Our boot tracks from the previous day were now visible. It was warm. An overhang of breccia offered a nice shady shelter. A Zebra-tailed Lizard posed for photos and asked if we might have ticks for it to eat.

We pulled our boots off, stretched out with our packs for backrests, and enjoyed the cool shade. Time seemed to stop here. This place felt old, ancient really. I could feel waves of time pass down this canyon. There were ancient events to contemplate - uplifts and then down cutting by flowing water, rubble cementing into breccia, springs bringing water to the surface, ancient people moving through. And then time sped up, measured by the passing of a single day and in tune with the racing heart of a tiny hummingbird working to bring a new generation to life.

We both nodded off to sleep. The spirit of this landscape moved through our dreams. 

It was mid afternoon when we started back up the canyon. We would take a new route back up to our campsite.

We climbed into a side canyon that entered on the north side. It started off with a series of pourovers to climb and we rapidly gained elevation. The rock layers, including fossil water ripples, were amazing.

The canyon narrowed to a tight slot that was filled with water - a tinaja. The chute on the opposite end was polished smooth.

The canyon above was guarded by the remains of bighorn ram and Desert Globemallow in bloom.

Our way up this side canyon was finally blocked by a massive pourover with a deep plunge pool still holding water.

The only possible route was up the east wall of the canyon. We climbed high out of the network of gullies and canyons.

We were back to camp a little after five. It had been a wonderful two days exploring this place.

In the evening we waited for the near full moon to rise above the cloud layer in the east. The evening light on the land was glorious.

We lingered in the morning because it was hard to leave this place with its solitude and incredible views.

Our plan for Saturday night was either the Alabama Hills or The Volcanic Tablelands for our last night out. We arrived in the Alabama Hills around 3:00 pm and found it packed with campers and sightseers. What did we expect? It was a Saturday in Southern California. Even what we thought were secret tucked away places were taken. We were about to rejoin 395 and head north when we found one hidden away spot empty.

We went for a long walk after an early dinner. We were waiting for March's blue moon and the first full moon of spring to rise.

Clouds to the east obscured the actual moon rise but its light began to light the landscape all around us. The Lady sat and read by red light so not to impair her night vision and her enjoyment of this special night.

I shot long exposures and was amazed by Betelgeuse, the red supergiant's  prominence in the night sky.

The night was still, not a hint of wind. We stayed up late and watched the sky.

We were also up early Easter morning, before dawn to watch the moon set over the Sierra Nevada.

The landscape slowly brightened as we walked in the stillness.

Sunlight finally reached our little tucked away spot and it was time to head north and home.

This was our last trip to Death Valley this season. I expect we'll return again in the Fall. Now we are starting to dream of wild trout rising to a fly...........................


  1. Monte this is one of the best reports,except for the "ticks"hate those things.
    The rock formations and the fossil water ripples fantastic.
    Your full moon also a terrific series of shots.
    Thanks for all your great reporting and the time you spend giving all of us a great trip.

  2. I’ve yet to read the article, but just can’t get enough of your open shutter shots of the stars at dusk. The full moon shots are also breath taking! Article downloaded for off line reading. Thank you!