Posts Tagged ‘gold’

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

Wicked Wendover of the West

26th January 2011 by Helen

Wendover is a town divided by a State line.  The part known as Wendover had numerous run down looking motels with broken signs.  There were a few run down looking shops and not many houses.  Looking towards the west the bright lights shone out in the dark.  Neon flashing lights.  Bright colours.  The difference was stark and began exactly at the State line between Utah (Wendover) and Nevada (West Wendover).  Each side of the road in West Wendover lavish but garish buildings spread before us.  Posh hotels, with full car parks.  Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King, Denny’s, to name but a few of the fast food outlets that nestled between the hotels.  Still few houses though, and the only supermarket was right on the very edge of town.

The prime site hotels on the border had taken their buildings right up to the edge of the State line.  Their advertising hoardings and car parks in Utah, their main buildings with their lavish casinos in Nevada.

If ever there was a town that depicted the degradation wrought by gambling, this is it.  We found it sad.  A whole town given over to gambling.  Poor on the one side, catering for the gamblers down on their luck, unable to afford to stay in the posh hotels.  The rich casino owners getting richer on the other side on the hopes, dreams, aspirations, and addictions of others.

After spending much of the day there catching up on emails and phone calls we were glad to head out into the prairies of Nevada and Utah, camping just past the small gold prospecting town of Gold Hill.

Campsite – Gold Hill

Distance travelled – 66 miles

Fairbanks to North Pole

8th November 2010 by Helen
North Pole street decoration

North Pole street decoration

Back down in Fairbanks, we found our way around and stopped for some supplies at Safeways and caught up on emails using their WiFi (but no power available).  All pretty normal stuff. 

We didn’t try it but apparently in Fairbanks you can still pay for goods in the shops in gold nuggets and there is still a bit of a frontier town feel to it. This is about as far north as ‘civilisation’ really goes in Alaska and there is still a strong culturally diverse community here.

Only real problem we can see at the moment is a modern one in that we don’t have an inverter in the car and soon we won’t be able to charge phone, camera batteries or laptops.  With that in mind we found a café called the Red Couch that advertised having WiFi and where we could charge the laptops while we were there.  It’s a fascinating little café, very homely with a couple of couches as well as tables with chairs, selling home-made baking.  The owner has found out what customers want and set out to provide just that.  And doing a pretty good job of it.

Snowman Lane

Snowman Lane

Just as well we stopped at the Red Couch because right at the last minute a new email came in telling us that Landy’s container won’t be stopping off at Japan as originally planned but going straight to Seattle, and now due to arrive in port on the 13th.  That put us in one heck of a spin I can tell you.  What it means is that we now have to go straight to Seattle, and fast.  So if you’d been following our plans to drive through the central states to Florida – that’s changed!!  First stop – Seattle.

Rumour has it that Landy’s heard we’re driving a J**p and so, with the aid of rescheduling his arrival in Seattle, plans to catch us ‘in flagrante’.

Which all means, that, rather than an overnight stop just outside Fairbanks and a planned look at North Pole (the town, that is) where they celebrate Christmas all year round, we headed straight out of town south down the Richardson Highway.

Santa Claus House North Pole Alaska

Mural on side of Santa Claus House, North Pole, Alaska

We paused at North Pole and took some photos in the dark of Santa Claus’ House, and some of the road names, like St Nicholas Way.  According to the various guide books the town started with the Davis family, who moved there in 1944.  When they were bought out the town was renamed North Pole in the hope of attracting toy manufacturers to set up there.  When the Millers moved there from Fairbanks in 1952, Con Miller, who had previously lived in Fairbanks and been in the habit of dressing up as Santa and known to all the local village children, was recognised by one of those children who asked if he was building a new house there.  And so the idea of Santa Claus’ house was born.  What can I say.  Apparently the locals are all proud of their town and celebrating Chritmas all year round.  The serious guide books give it little mention.  I don’t think I could live there!!

We struck lucky for our campsite tonight when we found a summer season site by the edge of Birch Lake.  Although closed now for the winter it’s still possible to get down there and use the facilities, and so we did.

Route travelled: Fairbanks / North Pole / Birch Lake campsite