Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sand dances

I know I said Scotty's Castle would be the next one up, but it will be a long-ish post and I can't count on the internet to be available for the time it will take to write it. I've been told that when the Christmas crowd goes home this weekend the internet will be back to normal, and do I have my fingers crossed! This is the first park we've been to where connectivity has been an issue. At Petrified Forest I whinged long enough that the Museum Association installed a booster that took the signal from the Post Office and tossed it out to me, but even before that, I could get decent wifi at the Post Office or Visitor Center. At the North Rim, there was great wifi at the Administration building but at the house we had to install satellite internet which was as slow as it was expensive. At Andersonville and Tumacácori we did fine with our own hotspot. But here? Pffftttt.

Instead of Scotty's Castle, I want to show three photos from the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. HH and I went looking for them with a map the other day and whoa! they were where they were supposed to be. We probably looked right at them the first time we drove their way, but missed them altogether because of the blowing sand. 

Saturday was a gorgeous day and the crowds that hog the internet met us at the dunes. Many people, us included, think desert=sand, but less than 1% of Death Valley is covered in sand.

 I think this is my favorite photo of this park so far.

The park's website says these dunes (there are four others listed on the website) are just 100 feet high but cover a vast area, without saying just how much that is. You can get an inkling, though, by seeing how insignificant the people are in these photos. The photo above in particular, taken from a distance, shows someone as a speck near the bottom of the sunlit curve at the far right.

This is an ever-changing show. The wind that comes through this valley constantly resculpts the lines and smooths the footprints. I read somewhere that seeing them by moonlight is a different experience, and I do believe there's a full moon rising.


Thought of the day:

They dined on mince, and slices of quince, 

Which they ate with a runcible spoon; 
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, 
They danced by the light of the moon. 

- Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat

Friday, December 26, 2014

The vastness of place

This post was supposed to be up yesterday - HH will back me up on this - but the internet is a fickle fiend. We have problems almost everywhere we go, and I guess it could be said that it's the price we pay to live in God's big acres, but I love me my internet and it makes me crazy when it's not working better than dial-up or when it's not working at all.

Last weekend we took our first field trip, to an intriguing place called Scotty's Castle, and those photos will be up in the next post if I can get them uploaded. Here, though, are some images of the landscape near us.

I tried walking along the main road for my almost-daily constitutional but there's too much traffic on Highway 190 to make it safe. The park gets a million visitors a year, a figure hard to comprehend when you look out over the vast land and see no one, but they have to come in on one of the roads and 190 is the main drag. I gave up that route after being forced to the uneven, rocky shoulder too many times, and found there's a nice, uphill route right near my house.

We live in the Cow Creek area, which is a few miles from Furnace Creek, where the fancy Furnace Creek Inn is. Above us are the Resource Management offices, the CalTrans maintenance yard, and some employee housing. This photo shows some of the housing on a day the sun finally came out. I stopped to take the photo mostly so I could catch my breath, because even though we're at sea level, it's a mighty hill to climb.

I think these are the Amargosa Range mountains.

To the north are more arroyos, more mountains, more color.

The road continues to go up in a loop through housing. It's a lovely moment when it finally starts its descent and I always think, at that moment, that it's not such a bad climb after all. 

This is on the way down the hill, looking northwest across the salt flats. The flats are miles and miles long; this view is about 25 miles north of Badwater Basin that I wrote about last time. To give an idea of the vastness of this place, look for a whitish speck just below where the blue changes to brown, about halfway between the shrubbery on the left and right. That's a car.

Yesterday we started a drive out to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes but didn't make it. It's not that we got lost, but that we didn't know where we were going. There's a difference. I was sure I'd seen the sign on the road to Scotty's Castle but it had disappeared and after burning about $15 worth of diesel we gave up and went home. It turns out that the dunes are on the road we first went down but backtracked on because we thought it was the wrong road. Oh, cruel irony.

It was a beautiful, sunshiny day even though wind was howling and buffeting the house, raising sand that nearly obscured the Panamint Mountains later in the day. This photo was shot after we turned around the second time, as beautiful as it was miserable to be out in.

We're going to give it another shot today, armed with - aha!! - a map.

Our kitchen window looks to the west and the first hint I had that the spectacularity below was beginning, a few days ago, was a glow on our neighbors' rigs seen through that window. This made the dreary clouds we experienced for several days almost insignificant.

Thought of the day:
(This refers to Space, as in Sky, Universe, &c., but also aptly describes Death Valley.)
Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long walk down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space. - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Out of one desert and into another

Two friends have noticed a lull in posts here and my big sister has put the fear of God into me about it, so now that I know people actually read cruisingat60, I'll see if I can dredge up more content.

I finished at Tumacácori the first week of December and we hung around Tucson for a week before heading to Death Valley on Sunday. The week in Tucson, which I hoped to be a nice week of rest, wasn't. It wasn't like I was doing heavy lifting, but the little things that had to be attended to before leaving the kind of civilization that has shopping for the kind that does not, like a haircut, flu shot, teeth cleaning, Costco, and cleaning the carpet and upholstery in the house, sucked all extra time away and it felt like we were on the go all week. Plus, I am determined to learn at least 1st grade Spanish, so estudio español, and that can morph from an expected 20-minute online session to an hour without my even noticing it. There is not enough time, that's all there is to it.

We took two days to drive over, stopping outside Kingman for the night before getting on the Joshua Forest Scenic Parkway between Wickenberg and Wikieup, Arizona. According to the link about the Parkway, "Joshua trees are to the Mojave Desert what saguaros are to the Sonoran – huge, perfectly adapted endemic plants that live nowhere else in the world." When I started noticing the plants, before seeing the sign that identified them as Joshua Trees, I thought they were a kind of yucca (also a member of the lily family), and it turns out they are. Mormons gave them their name, seeing in them the Biblical Joshua's arms reaching toward heaven. These remarkable plants can tolerate a temperature range from 30° to 125°. And did I get one single photo? No. Nada.

But here we are. Neither HH nor I had ever been to Death Valley and even with the advance reading we'd done, didn't have much of an idea what to expect. Our first impressions were along the lines of Wow! and Look at that! and haven't much changed, except we're already tired of the overcast but have been assured it won't last. 

The museum curator, who I'll be working for until the end of April, took us on a tour of part of the park yesterday afternoon. The place is huge, 3.4 million acres, so we saw a miniscule portion of it, and jaw-dropping it is.

One spot he took us to is called Badwater, salt flats at 282 feet below sea level that were thought to be the lowest point in the Western hemisphere until a place in Argentina was discovered to be -344 feet.

 This sign is at the entrance to the flats,

and this, below, is looking in the opposite direction. If you look nearly dead center on the hillside you can see a tiny sign with tiny letters that say Sea Level. As small as they look, the letters are about three feet tall. My boss has rock climbing experience and placed the rigging that the actual sign installers used to haul themselves and the equipment upslope. He said it's nothing but a lot of loose rock up there, so once he was done with his part he got off the mountain and hid behind a car.

Walking out on the flats reminded me of walking on slush, but when I picked up a bit of it, it felt like nothing more than damp sand, gritty on my fingers. All along the walkway that shows in the photo below we saw holes, large divots, that people had dug, just to see what was underneath. What? We also noticed large graffiti carved into it, and he said maintenance crews will come out periodically with water and rakes and try to smooth it out,

and that he really doesn't like going out because every time the walkway is wider and longer, caused by people wandering farther and farther out.

Another view to the north.

Then we went to a place called the Devil's Golf Course, more salt deposits but in the form of big chunks extending out to the horizon. This can be treacherous walking. The chunks are hard and irregular, and it would be easy to make a misstep and break a bone. I can't wait to go back out and get more pictures! I'll take crutches.

This is the only one of the closer shots I took that turned out halfway decent. I was surprised by the fibrous-looking growths along the edges and suppose they are more crystals growing. When it rains, some of the salt dissolves but as the water evaporates clean crystals are deposited.

We also drove along Artist's Drive, a loop road among multi-colored rock formations, but were losing the light quickly and didn't stop. There are hikes out from Artist's Drive as well as hundreds of miles of other hikes in the park, so I'll be back, hopefully when the sun makes a regular appearance, but I'll never see it all.

Thought of the day:

Each thing in its way, when true to its own character, is equally beautiful. - Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire