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