Posts Tagged ‘snow’

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

Arctic Conditions

3rd January 2011 by Helen

Who’d believe it could be so cold.  We really have been testing the tent and ourselves in arctic conditions here in North America.  With the temperatures being too cold for the thermometer we have only been able to guess at how cold it has been.  Certainly it has been down to at least -25 degrees centigrade (the point where the LCD on the thermometer goes off).

[31st December]  Although we want to head south as quickly as we can to get to where it is a little warmer, we are also hoping to see some of the sights on our list.  So it was that after we left the forest campsite we continued our journey east to pick up some of the key Lewis and Clark sites of interest.

We have also figured that with most of the forestry campsites and roads closed we might as well make use of the rest areas.  We know we can put our tent up at most of them.  Even though there are signs saying no camping our tent is on the roof and not pitched on the ground so we consider we count as an RV and haven’t been challenged on that view.

New Year’s Eve – we found ourselves at a rest area near a town called Anaconda in Montana.  Our plans to defrost and cook some of our food were thwarted by being unable to even get the key into our high security padlock on the back door.  That precluded a short drive into Anaconda, past Opportunity and Wisdom (hmmmm, might be something in that), where we found McDonald’s already closed but the discount supermarket Alberstons open, enabling us to feast on sourdough bread, ham and cheese, and one of Paul’s favourites, a large box of doughnuts.

Knowing the tent was already full of ice from the forest neither of us had the heart to tackle putting it up again and settled into our arctic sleeping bags for a cab sleep.  We’ve got quite practiced at this over the last few months since leaving the UK.  Paul likes to be completely snug in his sleeping bag, fully zipped to the neck.  I tuck my feet in the bottom of my bag, zip it up as far as the seat to stop the draft coming up from the floor, and then use the rest as a duvet.  That gives me much more room to fidget around, flap the cover open if it gets a bit warm (not much chance of that on these nights), and use the hood to completely cover my head and so keep out the noise and light pollution.

[1st January] Engine wouldn’t start again this morning.  This time the fly spray trick didn’t work.  So especial thanks to Emerson and Tammy who stopped and helped us out with a jump start. 

checking out the bank in the ghost town of Pony in Montana - not going to get much fundraising done here

checking out the bank in the ghost town of Pony in Montana - not going to get much fundraising done here

Montana 'cowboy country'

Montana 'cowboy country'

Sadly we found the Lewis & Clark Caverns were closed but we stopped at the ghost town of Pony, which is nestled in the foothills of the Tobacco Root Mountains, and posed for photos outside the old bank there.  Although billed as a ghost town, it is still very much occupied with just a few of the old buildings left standing empty.  Further on we passed through both Virginia City and Nevada City ghost towns which appeared much better preserved, whilst still occupied.  There were many more of the old buildings still standing, and although we passed through in the dark it was possible to get a sense of what life might have been like here.

Montana scenery

Montana scenery

A stop at a garage proved the lock on the fuel filler was also frozen shut.  After much application of de-icers it eventually released its grip so we could fill up with fuel and the garage kindly gave us a large cup of almost boiling hot water to defrost the padlock on the back door.  Needless to say, by now we can’t lock pretty much any of the car up!!

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Montana scenery, but by tonight we have made it into Idaho for the second time.  It’s not got any warmer and another cab sleep begins with the temperature already dropping below minus 15 degrees centigrade.

[2nd January] – We awake to minus 17 degrees centigrade and an engine that won’t start.  However, today we really must get some charge into our phone and laptops so we can communicate whenever we reach internet access and so, rather bizarrely we spend much of the day sitting in the rest area’s lobby plugged in and charging.  That is, after we had played noughts and crosses in the ice on the inside of the windows.

playing noughts and crosses in the frost in the mornings

playing noughts and crosses in the frost in the mornings

It was here we met Pete & Laura, before we travelled a little further south and camped just outside Salt Lake City, where the next morning [3rd January] we found the temperatures much improved, sufficient for us to put up the tent (in Walmart’s car park), brush out the ice and get the tent and bedding aired for the first time since leaving the forest.  Our problem now is what to do with all that frozen food, which is fast defrosting now we are no longer in freezer conditions!!

Camping in the forest

31st December 2010 by Helen

[29th December]  Not long after we got up this morning a US Department of Agriculture Forestry Officer (not sure if I’ve got his title right there) stopped to speak to us.  Clint McCaffrey was a lovely man.  He told us a little about his unusual family and we told him what we were doing and why.  He explained that the particular rest area where we had stopped is on Forestry land and run by the Forestry department.  Unfortunately the campsite at that rest area had already closed for the winter but he gave us directions to another one that remains open all winter, a few miles back the way we had come, near a town called Superior.  After cooking breakfast we headed off, found Superior, bought some supplies, found the campsite (called Trout Creek campground), found some wood, got a nice fire going in the fire pit and cooked dinner (on the petrol stove), before settling down to an early night for a change.  While putting the tent up, horror of horrors, after all the kerfuffle with USDA in Seattle, we discovered some dried grass seed and mud on our ground tent!  Brought all the way from Mongolia!!  Oops (we dealt with it appropriately of course).

[30th December]  Next day we pottered around the campsite for a bit but it was very cold.  Nothing much seemed to be working.  It’s too cold for batteries to work, pens are not writing either, frost is forming on the inside of the tent (we watched it rise up the side of the tent even as we sat with the stove on keeping ‘warm’), batteries are not working, and everything else is frozen or freezing.

[31st December]  Waking this morning Paul found the petrol stove wouldn’t light, the only water we have that is not frozen is in the thermos flask, and even that is already forming ice crystals, and, as before, nothing else much was working either.  There was no point in staying any longer.  In fact, if anything, it was dangerous.  Sure, we’d been warm enough in our nice warm arctic sleeping bags during the night but with the stove playing up and now having to defrost all our water we were not going to get anything much else done other than survival.  It was no contest.  We both agreed it was time to move on.  After a short walk in the forest, we made one last feeble fire (to burn our rubbish) before getting Landy’s engine started.  Mind you, that was a job and a half.  With our cooking oil solidifying in its bottle it wasn’t hard to imagine the effect of the cold on the oil in the engine.  With the thermometer not working we had no idea what the temperature was but didn’t think it was quite cold enough for the diesel to be waxing.  The starter motor had been playing up for a while and continued to do so.  The batteries were already depleted, purely due to the cold, and Paul was wary of wasting what precious little power they had left.  Paul took off the front of the air intake and handed me a can of fly spray.  As he cranked the engine, I listened for when it fired and simultaneously sprayed the fly spray straight into the air intake.  The trick worked.  The butane in the spray did its trick and Landy’s engine fired up, held on and kept running.  We were both relieved not to be facing a seven mile walk back to Superior.

And so it was, both reluctantly and thankfully, we were back on the road again.  Wondering this time what the new year would bring.