Death Valley

Over the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend, Chris and I visited Death Valley and crammed in as much sightseeing as we could. It had been seven weeks since I’d done any hiking. Shortly after Thanksgiving I began having some pain in both knees which I think may be rheumatoid arthritis, and I just hadn’t felt like hiking since then. However, when the time came for our annual January trip to California, I was eager to get outdoors for some hiking and camping. A friend had heard about my trip plans and recommended that I read Death Valley in ’49, which really enriched the trip ’cause I had been completely unaware of the 49ers’ plight in the area. We left my house late Friday afternoon, stopping twice for fuel and once for “camping supplies,” and arrived at our planned campsite at the Pads just west of Death Valley Junction before midnight. We stayed up late, enjoying a camp fire and the aforementioned camping supplies.

A great bargain on camping supplies in Mesquite
A great bargain on camping supplies in Mesquite

Camp fire at the Pads
Camp fire at the Pads

I slept comfortably all night. On Saturday morning we headed into Death Valley National Park, first stopping at Zabriskie Point and then hiking to the natural bridge in a canyon not far from Badwater Basin.

Funeral Mountains viewed from my sleeping bag on Saturday morning
Funeral Mountains viewed from my sleeping bag on Saturday morning

Our camp at the Pads

Our camp at the Pads<br />

Manly Beacon seen from Zabriskie Point
Manly Beacon seen from Zabriskie Point

Death Valley 49ers Gateway plaque
Death Valley 49ers Gateway plaque

Badwater Road
Badwater Road

Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge

Telescope Peak, highest point in Death Valley National Park
Telescope Peak, highest point in Death Valley National Park

Next we stopped at Badwater Basin and hiked onto the salt flat among a horde of other people. That would be the most people we’d see all weekend–the remaining places we visited were fairly remote and less visited. From Badwater, we headed back north and checked out Artist’s Drive and the Artist’s Palette, then visited the Borax Museum and the Harmony Borax Works at Furnace Creek.

Badwater Basin sign
Badwater Basin sign

Parked along Artist’s Drive
Parked along Artist's Drive

Artist’s Palette
Artist's Palette

Death Valley Railroad engine number 2
Death Valley Railroad engine number 2

Old Dinah, a steam tractor used to replace 20-mule teams
Old Dinah, a steam tractor used to replace 20-mule teams

Wagon train at the Harmony Borax Works
Wagon train at the Harmony Borax Works

After a quick stop at Stovepipe Wells, where I should have fueled up but didn’t ’cause I still had half a tank, we gained some elevation driving up into the Panamint Range. At the former settlement of Harrisburg we poked around some old buildings and mine tunnels. Farther up the road we enjoyed some very nice views into Death Valley from Aguereberry Point. In Wildrose Canyon we saw some large charcoal kilns. There were quite a few people there, including some women from Utah who had locked the keys in their Toyota pickup and received some help breaking in from another group at the parking area.

Roadside flowers along CA-190
Roadside flowers along CA-190

Burned Wagons Point plaque at Stovepipe Wells
Burned Wagons Point plaque at Stovepipe Wells

Chris in the Stovepipe Wells fire truck
Chris in the Stovepipe Wells fire truck

Two-seater outhouse at Harrisburg
Two-seater outhouse at Harrisburg

Chris in the straight-8
Chris in the straight-8

Mine tunnel at Harrisburg
Mine tunnel at Harrisburg

View southeast from Aguereberry Point toward Badwater Basin
View southeast from Aguereberry Point toward Badwater Basin

Cottonball Basin
Cottonball Basin

Wildrose charcoal kilns
Wildrose charcoal kilns

Wild burros in Wildrose Canyon
Wild burros in Wildrose Canyon

We’d hoped to make it to Ballarat before darkness came, but fell short. Instead, we kept driving south until we crossed into Searle’s Valley where we found some cell service. We were well outside the park and could enjoy another camp fire this night. We went to bed early and planned an early start the next morning. I slept poorly and developed a sore throat overnight, which plagued me the rest of the weekend. We awoke to find that we were camped on a huge tailings pile near some sort of quarry.

Camp at the north end of Searle’s Valley
Camp at the north end of Searle's Valley

Sunday’s sunrise
Sunday's sunrise

Waking up atop a tailings pile
Waking up atop a tailings pile

Quarry near our camp

Quarry near our camp<br />

After breakfast and packing our gear, we headed back north into Panamint Valley and wandered around the old town of Ballarat. There are several old buildings, vehicles, and mining equipment nearby, as well as a cemetery. An old Dodge truck was purported to us by a resident of the town to have belonged to Charles Manson. The resident also told us about Manson’s name carved into a door frame inside the old jail, but the accompanying date is well after Manson was arrested and jailed.

Ballarat sign
Ballarat sign

Ballarat jail and morgue
Ballarat jail and morgue

Dusty Dan, 1897-1948. Sur. by three wifes, five offspring, two burro, and one dog.
Dusty Dan, 1897-1948. Sur. by three wifes, five offspring, two burro, and one dog.

Chair inside the jail

Chair inside the jail<br />

Table with funnel
Table with funnel

Signage in Ballarat
Signage in Ballarat

Dodge truck at Ballarat
Dodge truck at Ballarat

Piano
Piano

Painting inside the Ballarat store
Painting inside the Ballarat store

Portrait of a miner
Portrait of a miner

Charles Manson was here 12-1-69 (probably fake)
Charles Manson was here 12-1-69 (probably fake)

Charles Ferge, “Seldom Seen Slim,” headstone in the Ballarat Cemetery
Charles Ferge,

Here Lies Missy
Here Lies Missy

Reflection near Ballarat
Reflection near Ballarat

From Ballarat we drove north toward Panamint Springs. I had planned on fueling up there, but fuel was an outrageous $4.50 a gallon (for comparison, it averaged $2.20 at home) and they didn’t take credit cards at the pump. I’d noticed that fuel was $3.15/gallon at Stovepipe Wells the previous day, and the computer on the Jeep estimated 37 miles left until the tank was empty, so we decided to risk taking the 30-mile drive to Stovepipe Wells, even though there was a steep mountain range between the two towns. We foolishly decided to detour a few miles down a dirt road just to see a couple of old abandoned cars, then got back on the highway where it climbed east over the Panamint Range. The remaining fuel range didn’t drop as quickly as I’d imagined during the drive up the mountain, but driving down the other side it dropped alarmingly fast. With 12 miles left before reaching Stovepipe Wells the computer said 0 miles to empty. We managed to make it to the station without running out of fuel, and surprisingly I could only squeeze 18 gallons into the tank (the owner’s manual says it will hold approximately 20 gallons). We left the park again briefly and visited the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada, and the nearby Goldwell Open Air Museum.

Old cars in Panamint Valley
Old cars in Panamint Valley

Zero miles to empty
Zero miles to empty

Tom Kelly’s bottle house in Rhyolite

Tom Kelly's bottle house in Rhyolite<br />

Colorful bottles
Colorful bottles

Chris in another old truck
Chris in another old truck

Cook Bank
Cook Bank

Lady Desert: The Venus of Nevada
Lady Desert: The Venus of Nevada

Sit Here!
Sit Here!

Negative, Ghost Rider
Negative, Ghost Rider

We re-entered Death Valley National Park via the one-way road through Titus Canyon. It was a very enjoyable drive with mining ruins, petroglyphs, and narrow, towering walls in the lower part of the canyon. We cruised toward the northern end of Death Valley and checked out Ubehebe Crater just before sundown, then headed south toward Racetrack Valley as it grew dark. It was fully dark when we reached Teakettle Junction, and we turned toward Hidden Valley to find a place to camp. With no cell service and no camp fire, we turned in very early that evening. It was eerily foggy and everything, including our sleeping bags, got soaked with condensation. I awoke in the night to relieve myself and noticed that the fog had cleared, but at our 5:30AM wake-up call it had returned.

View from Red Pass toward Titus Canyon
View from Red Pass toward Titus Canyon

Wall riddled with bullet holes

Wall riddled with bullet holes<br />

Titus Canyon
Titus Canyon

Klare Spring petroglyphs
Klare Spring petroglyphs

Klare Spring petroglyphs
Klare Spring petroglyphs

Titus Canyon
Titus Canyon

Ubehebe Crater
Ubehebe Crater

Spotlight in the fog
Spotlight in the fog

On Monday morning our first order of business was to visit the nearby Lost Burro Mine. The road climbed about 500 feet in elevation, which put us just above the fog. We looked in some old mine buildings and tunnels that surprisingly still held many artifacts. A short hike from the mine put us on a ridgeline that separates Racetrack Valley and Hidden Valley. Both valleys were beautifully filled with fog.

Sign for the Lost Burro Mine
Sign for the Lost Burro Mine

Lost Burro outhouse
Lost Burro outhouse

Buildings at the Lost Burro Mine
Buildings at the Lost Burro Mine

Lost Burro cabin artifacts
Lost Burro cabin artifacts

Inspecting a mine tunnel
Inspecting a mine tunnel

Thieves will be prosecuted
Thieves will be prosecuted

Sunrise over a foggy Hidden Valley
Sunrise over a foggy Hidden Valley

Ubehebe Peak (left foreground) peeking out of the fog
Ubehebe Peak (left foreground) peeking out of the fog

Foggy ridge
Foggy ridge

We descended back into the fog and drove to the Racetrack. First we walked across the playa to the Grandstand, then drove a little farther south and found some rocks that had left tracks across the now-dried mud. On our way out of the valley, we stopped at the Ubehebe Mine, where there were several mine tunnels with tracks still lying in place along their bottoms. That was our final stop of the trip. From there we headed back toward Utah, getting to my house at around 9PM. We’d driven 1,400 miles (about 400 miles of which were in and around the park) and seen and done a lot in three days. It wasn’t the usual getaway from cold, snowy weather at home since we’ve had such a dry and mild winter, but it was still nice seeing some new country and hiking after so many weeks of being sedentary.

Teakettle Junction
Teakettle Junction

The Racetrack
The Racetrack

Chris atop the Grandstand
Chris atop the Grandstand

Transition from Grandstand to Racetrack
Transition from Grandstand to Racetrack

Chris on the playa
Chris on the playa

A rock and its trail
A rock and its trail

Rock placed 12/17/2017
Rock placed 12/17/2017

Twin rocks
Twin rocks

Looking for the Ubehebe Mine through the fog
Looking for the Ubehebe Mine through the fog

Chris on a tram cable
Chris on a tram cable

Tracks
Tracks

Inside a tunnel
Inside a tunnel


Photo Gallery: Death Valley

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>