Posts Tagged ‘canyons’

Death Valley

28th February 2011 by Helen
Outside the general store in Shoshone

Outside the general store in Shoshone

Having ‘camped’ just outside Shoshone last night we went into town to fill up with fuel before heading out into Death Valley (25th).  The town sign says the population is 100 – the woman serving in the garage said they might have reached that many by now!!  She happily told us that the town is owned by Susan Brown, granddaughter of Senator George Brown.  Although the town has its own museum there are also artefacts everywhere else – an old range in the garage, a couple of cupboards, old fireside tools, etc.  Even the post office had artefacts on display.  Probably the work of Susan Brown who apparently also takes the trouble to make sure the shops stock interesting and varied souvenirs, and none of them were tacky.

ruins at Ashford Mill

ruins at Ashford Mill

Once inside Death Valley we visited the remains of the old Ashford Mill.  Death Valley has several disused mines.  Although gold and silver were mined here, so too were a number of other minerals, including Borax and Bakelite.  The first mine we explored was the Queen of Sheba mine, where an old bunkhouse and shower block are still standing.  Some of the buildings have collapsed but much of the machinery is still recognisable and we followed the lines of pipes and machines, working out how the old mine had worked.  While the Mill was on the main road through Death Valley, the mine was at the end of a long ‘4×4 road’ to the side of the main road, and we saw no-one else out there.

Salt Formations and Devil's Golf Course at Badwater at lowest elevation in Death Valley

Salt Formations and Devil's Golf Course at Badwater at lowest elevation in Death Valley

Passing through the middle of Death Valley we reached the lowest recorded point in the US, where our Sat Nav read that we were over 300 feet below sea level at one point.  Here is the remains of a river running through, but it is almost solid with salt deposits.  Here too are strange mud formations, encrusted with salt, and nicknamed Devil’s golf course.  To say it was windy would be an understatement.  Paul tried to get out of the car to take some photos and could hardly shut the door again against the wind.  In this there were cyclists, fortunately going in the same direction as the wind – I doubt anyone could have cycled against the wind.  Cycling is pretty popular here for some reason, not quite sure I could fancy it.

There are numerous canyons inside Death Valley’s mountain ranges and on our first night here we camped in Echo Canyon.  By now the wind had died down and it was as calm as calm could be.

one of the huts at Inya Mine in Echo Canyon, Death Valley

one of the huts at Inya Mine in Echo Canyon, Death Valley

The next morning (26th), after a night of high winds, with me lying in bed imagining the early scenes from the Wizard of Oz, where the house is picked up by a tornado and poor old Dorothy ends up in Oz, we explored more of Echo Canyon.  Further on from our camp we found the disused Inya Mine.  Here too were some fascinating examples of old machinery.  An open air museum almost.  Paul marvelled at the inventiveness of some of the early machinery, using what looked like car parts in places, the whole mechanics of everything.  Me, I just marvel at the transition from the agrarian age to the industrial age, marvelling at the creativity of invention.

derelict machinery at Inya Mine in Echo Canyon, Death Valley

derelict machinery at Inya Mine in Echo Canyon, Death Valley

Travelling back down Echo Canyon we took a diversion off along the road towards Amargosa Desert.  The road came to an end (my version), slightly rockier patch (Paul’s version), but I really didn’t want to chance going any further and so we turned around.  It was then we noticed, next to what appeared to be the remains of some kind of ruin, that a wire ran up the mountainside, along what appeared to be a smooth path.  Paul followed the wire up, probably 1,000 feet, and over the crest, only to find the upper reaches of the mine we had explored earlier – and more examples of early machinery.  How they got it up that far we can only guess at.  Determination.

And so, as it’s possible to camp in most of Death Valley (as long as you are more than two miles away from the main road), we headed out towards Cottonwood Canyon for another night in the tent under the stars.  No wind this time.

Chert (flint) in the rock in Marble Canyon in Death Valley

Chert (flint) in the rock in Marble Canyon in Death Valley

It was a bit warmer when we woke up the next morning (27th).  Continuing to follow the Cottonwood Canyon Road we turned off towards Marble Canyon.  There we came across a couple of tired looking hikers who turned out to be two members of a group taking part in a geology field visit to Death Valley.  We gave them a lift right into Marble Canyon, with them riding our ‘tree sliders’ and hanging on to our roof rack for as far as the road would go.  Then we hiked into the canyon together.  They enjoyed the ride and we had the advantage of some expert information as we travelled.  Needless to say a lot of the rock was marble!  The geologists pointed out geological features.  Then we spotted some strange rock.  Dark grey with black circles of another rock embedded in it, making it look like the rock had a bad attack of the measles.  Turned out the darker embedded rock was Chert (or Flint as we would call it).

After leaving Marble Canyon we stopped to admire the well trodden Mesquite Sand Dunes before hitting the road to head back out of Death Valley.  Not before one more night of camping under the stars!!

Finally, the next day (28th) we explored the road to Chloride Cliff where we found some of the workings to the closed Keane gold mine.  Overworked to the point of being in danger of collapse the mine area is closed to the public.  Our final stop was at the ghost town of Rhyolite (with seated row of ghosts at the town entrance) where we met a group of photographers just starting a short break in Death Valley.  Just past here were a small group of Burros.  The Burros had been introduced to Death Valley, presumably during the height of the mining in the area they are now being rounded up and removed because they, along with the horses, are not native to the area.

We finished the day many hours and a long drive later just short of Reno in Nevada.  Once again in the cold and snow we found all the forestry roads had been closed because of the winter weather and we were unable to find a campsite.  Eventually found a tiny roadside layby.

Campsite – just outside town of Walker, Nevada

Distance travelled – 503

Wending our way through the Canyons

4th February 2011 by Helen

 

After our visit to the Island in the Sky we hung around Moab for a few days largely because the weather forecast had been for so much more cold weather.  With our water tank already frozen there seemed little likelihood of it defrosting anytime soon and it’s not only tedious having to defrost all your water for cooking, drinking and washing, it’s not that sensible to be camping out in isolated places when temperatures are below -15C.

Moab itself is a bit of a one horse town.  Because of the vast areas of canyons in this area it caters mainly for the summer tourist industry.  This time of year many of the stores that rely on a tourist presence are closed.  There remains open the usual plethora of fast food joints, along with a much recommended Moab Diner.  Jim, the man we met at the rest area when we first arrived in Moab recommended it to us and I’m ashamed to say we left it rather too long to try it.  Would happily have spent more time there.  Liver & onions, roast beef dinner – much better than the fast food stuff, and just as cheap if not cheaper.

rest area at night

rest area at night

Wednesday (2nd February) we debated long and hard where to camp tonight.  Should we return to the delightful little campsite we’d discovered previously, William’s Bottom, or opt for a cab sleep at the rest area just south of Moab.  If only we could combine the two – the beautiful scenery and peace and quiet of William’s Bottom, with somewhere to sit in the warm and facilities to have a warm wash in the morning of the rest area.  Eventually the rest area won, but it was a close call.

Kane Creek Road - the view ahead

Kane Creek Road - the view ahead

Thursday (3rd February), with the weather forecasts improving, we stopped in Moab to fill up on breakfast and fuel before setting off for the canyons again.  This time we are taking the 4×4 off-road route down through the canyons, starting off along Kane Creek Road and following the line of the Colorado River, before turning on to Lockhart Basin Road. 

icicle along the road - Kane Creek Road

icicle along the road - Kane Creek Road

Why am I here I wonder?  Heights are not my favourite thing.  I peer out of the window to see huge massive drops one side or the other for much of the time (Paul thinks this is a bit of an exaggeration).  Paul is driving oh so sensibly.  We are not racing madly round corners or doing anything daft but it suits me well to be peering carefully at the map and the GPS screen, comparing the two so I know exactly where we are, and negating any necessity to look at the scenes outside the window.  At other times I’m quite happy walking along taking photos of Paul driving, or the scenery from the vantage point of terra firma.

Here we are at Hurrach Pass

Here we are at Hurrach Pass

One of the marvels of this place is the lack of thoughtless desecration.  When we came across an abandoned beaten up camo style painted old caravan that had obviously been dumped in the canyon it was quite a surprise.  And I’ve seen no more than maybe half a dozen empty bottles or cans over the whole of the drive through this canyon.  There seems to be a pride here in looking after the land.  When graffiti does appear (such as at the rest area we visited), there’s someone around who will clean it off pretty quick.  What is evident however, is that any sign or marker (or abandoned old caravan), is used for target practice.  We’ve seen bullet holes in pretty much anything that’s not moving.  On the Pony Express trail many of the signs had bullet holes, as did an isolated mail box sat right on a T-junction, and all the signs at the Bonneville Salt Flats, to name just a few.

morning campsite - Lockhard Basin Road

morning campsite - Lockhard Basin Road

But back to today’s story.  Finally, the day is drawing to a close, signalled by a setting sun.  We are still well and truly in the middle of this canyon.  We are not legally allowed to camp anywhere along this road but there is no way we want to continue driving in the dark so we set up camp anyway.  Far enough away from a cliff edge to keep me happy of course.

Friday (4th February) we woke to beautiful sunshine again.  Frozen water, but beautiful sunshine.  Paul cooked up a luxury breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausages, mushrooms and tomatoes, while I slowly built up my resistance to the cold air outside my nice warm arctic sleeping bag.  We again admired the scenery here in the canyons before setting off.

Once again we are startled by the magnitude of the canyons.  We debated the geological history, the marvel of the creation of the canyons over such a vast region, the height and depth of them, the wonder of the layers of rock that have been a part of their formation.

firepot cookin - Indian Creek campsite

firepot cookin - Indian Creek campsite

We saw a few small rodents (a bit like voles or marmots, not sure exactly, they run so fast), the first creatures other than a few birds we have seen since entering the canyon.  Later we saw some deer tracks, and possible some cattle tracks.  And that’s pretty much it on the animal side.

By the middle of the afternoon we had reached the end of this stretch of road and arrived at the Visitor Centre in The Needles National Park.  Paul in particular was disappointed to learn that parts of the road he had wanted to drive are closed.  Elephant Hill had been recommended as a good piece of off road driving and a definite must for anyone visiting the area.  Except the park authorities say it is too dangerous still as there is still some snow and ice on the road.  With that section of the road closed it effectively cuts off the whole road and so we turned back to camp at a lovely little campsite we’d just passed, called Indian Creek campground.  Rather like the previous one we stayed at it’s quiet and peaceful, this time with a small brook running nearby.  The surface of the water is all frozen over but we could hear the water running underneath.  Paul got a good fire going in the fire pit that we used to cook up a stew for dinner. The stars came out and littered the sky with sparkling lights.  And so another cold night began.

 

Campsite – Indian Creek campsite – Indian Creek Reservation

Distance travelled – it’s taken us two days but we’ve covered about 90 miles since leaving Moab