Sunday, April 15, 2018

Death Valley Part 3: Marble Canyon/Artists Drive/Badwater Basin

Hiking out of Marble Canyon

Sign at Stovepipe Wells

Getting hot in Death Valley

Artists Drive

Salt in the Badwater Basin

Moosie, Camo, and I woke up around sunrise and ate some breakfast. The plan for the day was to hike out of Marble Canyon, do the Artists Drive, and find some dispersed car camping near the Badwater Basin. First, we wanted to explore a side canyon near our campsite. Our hike was cut short when the canyon came to a steep cliff where a waterfall would exist during rain or a flood, and there was no easy way to continue exploring up the canyon. We decided to turn around and hike the few miles back to our car. Again, it was warming up a little more, we took a couple short breaks but mostly hiked straight to the vehicle. Camo arrived first, and when Moosie and I arrived, he was already sitting in the shade under the canyon wall, resting and snacking. We had beer in the car, so the three of us enjoyed a nice long break, drinking beer, eating olives, and feasting on the desert view into the valley. Again, it was the simple joys of this trip that I appreciated the most, and this was a good break.

After our rest, we drove back to the Stovepipe Wells visitor center to clean up, rehydrate, and buy a few resupply items. There, we found a nice bench in the shade and enjoyed sandwiches for lunch. After maximizing our lunch break, the sun forced us off the bench and back into the car. We drove to the Furnace Creek visitor center and checked out a few exhibits, and then hopped back into the car and did the Artists Drive.

Once we finished the drive, the full moon began to creep up over the mountains while the sun was setting in the west. We drove across the Badwater Basin and started looking for a place to car camp. We eventually found a road that led up into the mountains below Telescope Peak. We found a flat spot halfway up in an exposed, moonscape. There was a steady breeze, but nothing too extreme. We cooked dinner in the dark under the full moon. Camo put on some tunes, Moosie pulled out the folding chairs and we all popped open a few more beers. I have to say it was a surreal night. Warm breeze, full moon, moon rocks everywhere, and the most expansive view of the Badwater Basin all set out before us. All of this enjoyed in a folding chair pretty much made the night...

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Death Valley Part 2: Marble Canyon

Sunrise in the Panamint Valley: Just what the doctor ordered.

Moosie, Camo, and I leave the Panamint Valley and head for Marble canyon after stopping by the Stovepipe Wells visitor center.

Moosie drove her car as far as her vehicle would allow. An entrance to the canyon, but a couple miles from the Marble Canyon trailhead.

We begin hiking the hot, exposed jeep road towards Marble Canyon

Camo enters Marble Canyon.

Interesting spots on walls.

Near the camp for the night.
Moosie, Camo, and I woke up on day three on the desert floor of the Panamint Valley. Temperatures were perfect for sleeping and my soul rejoiced in the clean air and open space. I woke up just before sunrise and took a short walk. After breakfast, we all jumped back into the car and planned to drive to Marble Canyon and do an overnight backpack trip there. The day was quickly getting warmer. We stopped by the Stovepipe Wells gift shop/gas station/ visitor center and cleaned up a bit. It felt real good to wash the face. After milling around for a few minutes, Moosie confirmed directions to the canyon, and we began our drive down the bumpy dirt road.

We picked up a fellow hiker who parked his car several miles from the canyon and saved him a few miles under the intense sun and uncomfortable heat. Moosie drove her car and bottomed out a few too many times so we decided to park the vehicle right at the canyon's entrance. After packing up our packs carrying close to two gallons of water each, we still had a couple miles to hike before we reached Marble Canyon's trailhead. It was hot and exposed, but overall not too bad.

Once we reached Marble Canyon, Moosie, Camo, and I entered and enjoyed walking in shade when the opportunity presented itself. We tried to make sense of the canyon, the geology, the strange shapes in the rocks, the lack of fossil evidence. We took our time, stopping often, having no real destination, mileage or schedule to maintain. The highlight for me was the narrows and the interesting light from the afternoon sun on the canyon walls. We only hiked a handful of miles before setting up camp just after the narrows. We hiked a mile or two up the canyon in the evening after setting up camp since we had time to spare. By evening, bats were flying overhead as we made our way back to camp.

A near full moon rose over the canyon and we enjoyed the sound of crickets in the evening. Once again, it felt great to just throw the sleeping bag down on the ground and cowboy camp for the night. Stars were dimmed by the light of the moon, but I enjoyed watching a few satellites fly overhead.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Death Valley Part 1: Wildrose Peak, Darwin Falls, Panamint Sand Dunes

Camo and I spend first night at Moosie's house.

Cold night, late dinner

Charcoal Kilns from the late 1800's. Beginning of hike up to Wildrose Peak.

Old pinyon pine, gnarly old tree limb.

Nearing the summit of Wildrose Peak

View west towards the snowy Sierra Nevada.

View south towards Telescope Peak, highest mountain in Death Valley.

First two nights camp at an old ruin off a dirt road. Very cold first two nights.

Beautiful Darwin Falls.

Driving towards Panamint Sand Dunes

Camo hikes on Panamint Sand Dunes

Camo, Moosie, and I.

Desert Wildflower
Last week I spent a memorable 8 days exploring parts of California's deserts with trail friends Moosie and Camo. We spent most of our time in Death Valley, but also spent time in Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree National Park, and Anza Borrego State Park. Boy, did it feel good to be back in California, experiencing relief from Maryland's long winter, and spending time with good friends.

Our trip began with Camo and I flying into San Diego airport and meeting Moosie there. My flight came in the latest around 9:30 pm. I was still on east coast time so my body felt like it was 12:30am. I was also just recovering from a 3 week cold so I was worried about running myself down early. One breath of that Pacific Ocean air felt great however, and looking at the palm trees swaying in the breeze at night made me feel better too. On top of that, Moosie, Camo, and I bought California burritos stuffed with French fries for dinner from a taco place near San Diego. It was gearing up to be a great trip!

After spending the night at Moosie's house, we packed all of our gear into Moosie's car and left San Diego for Death Valley. I enjoyed seeing my old stomping grounds, the giant mountains around Los Angeles as we traveled north. The sharp contrast to Maryland's trees and vegetation that I've now become accustomed to made the scenery more enjoyable. It was fairly cold our first day driving into the desert. As we approached the Sierra Nevada mountain range and Death Valley from the western side, we saw several flocks of snow geese.

Our plan for the week was to do some dispersed car camping, and possibly some backpacking. I'm a big fan of dispersed car camping now. Moosie was able to take her 4 wheel drive car down some rough dirt roads and we were able to find some isolated camping areas as a result. We were able to enjoy the best of both worlds, the luxury of having a car along with solitude.

Our first couple of days in Death Valley were cold. We found a dispersed car camping site near the ruins of a building, possibly a CCC structure of some sort. The site was around 6,000 feet and we actually had snow flurries the first night camping. The next day, we hiked up Wildrose Peak, a scenic 8.4 mile round trip, the mountain summits at 9,064 feet. The three of us coming straight from "the cubicle," this mountain was a perfect fit for our out of shape hiking bodies.  It was frigid and extremely windy at the summit. We were able to enjoy views of the snowy Sierra Mountains and then had to retreat off the mountain out of the wind. After camping in the same spot the following night, Moosie, Camo, and I drove to the Darwin Falls trailhead the following morning. The hike was easy to the falls, probably a little more than a two mile round trip. The hike led us through a dry, rocky wash, and then into an oasis, a hike along a little stream with beautiful, emerald green vegetation and an array of plants and some wildflowers. The hike was fairly crowded, with many other visitors embarked along the trail. The falls were beautiful though, the sun was intense and the air gradually warmed. After finishing the hike, the three of us sat in the shade of the car, tailgate style, and feasted on sandwiches. The simple joys made the trip. After finishing lunch, we refilled our water jugs in the Oasis village of Panamint Springs, and drove towards the Panamint Dunes. It was getting late in the afternoon. As we entered the valley via a dirt road, Moosie exclaimed, "the world is our oyster tonight for camping!" There was plenty of dry, flat, open space to park the vehicle and camp for the night. The feeling of freedom was practically overwhelming. We reached the end of the dirt road where there was an 8 mile round trip, cross country hike to the dunes. It didn't look like 4 miles to the dunes from where our car was parked but distances were definitely deceiving in the valley. Around 4:00pm we took off cross country on foot to reach the dunes. This meant we would probably get back to the car after dark. As we hiked towards the dunes, the car became smaller and smaller, the dunes larger and larger. After a couple hours hiking, we finally reached the dunes an hour before sunset. It was a surreal world, with changing patterns in the sand, colors, and shadows. We hiked to the top of a few large mounds, making what appeared to be the first tracks of the day. The wind was blowing hard, so our tracks probably became covered pretty quickly. After enjoying an hour on the dunes, we turned back towards the car and resumed our trek. The sun was setting, the colors magnificent, the desert quiet except for the occasional military jet plane streaking just above the valley floor. Soon a near full moon appeared over the mountains, and we picked up our pace to reach the car in the fading light. We eventually reached the car in the dark after the three of us fanned out and targeted the area where we thought our car would be. We drove fifteen minutes down the dirt road and found a secluded spot to park the car in the expansive valley. After eating dinner under the moonlight, I simply threw my sleeping bag and ground pad on the sandy desert floor for the night. One of the luxuries of desert camping. The air was warmer down here, and the three of us the next morning commented on how well we slept...