Hottest. Lowest. Driest

Gee, can they make Death Valley sound any more attractive (in addition to such an enticing name?) What a great slogan. It owns the hottest recorded temperature in the world (132 degrees Fahrenheit, I think. Back in 1913). It’s the lowest spot in the world at Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level). But, I’m willing to argue about it being the driest. We’ve camped there three years – one in early January, once early March, and this time in late March. Each time, we have endured substantial rainfall. Fun-killing, stormy rainfall. So, the feeble claim of “less than 2 inches of rainfall per year” isn’t really sounding too factual to us. But, what an amazing place to explore and camp.

For the first time, we spent three nights in the northernmost campground called Mesquite Spring, and it’s now our first choice of campgrounds.wp-1490669090641.jpg It’s about 35 large sites, tucked in along the Death Valley Wash. We had the perfect campsite – our door faced east, so our awning offered abundant afternoon shade, which was the envy of every camper there.

The Ubehebe Crater there is probably my favorite place in the entire Park. This huge crater is over a half-mile in diameter.wp-1490669158422.jpg Black cinder sides (up to 150 feet thick in spots) make an easy walk down to the botton 600 feet below, and a heart-pumping hike back to the rim. It’s gorgeous, and the walk around the rim’s circumference is not to be missed.wp-1490669171036.jpg For the first time, we cycled to the Crater – not a great distance, but with some long steep grades punctuated with strong swirling winds. It was a great day.

We decided to hike the next day at Fall Canyon, which we had never yet visited. wp-1490669048443.jpgTowering colorful walls line the canyon, which narrows to about 15′ wide at points. wp-1490998951249.jpgThe hike deadends at a dry waterfall about 3-1/2 miles from the parking lot. Although this doesn’t sounds tough, it’s a steady uphill trek through a gravelly, sandy wash to get there. It was a big relief to get to the end, and find a shady spot to site along the wall while we ate lunch.

After three nights, we were ready to move on to the southern end of the Park. The temperature difference was astonishing – Mesquite Falls is about 1800′, and Furnace Creek (appropriately named) is about -200′. There was about a 15 degree difference in the temperature. When we tow, we keep our window shades up, to prevent them from accidentally snapping up and breaking. Unfortunately, that also lets the sun beat in. By the time we secured a site at Furnace Creek and set up camp, it was probably well over 100 degrees in the Fireball. Of course, it was absolutely dead still, without a whisper of air to help push out some of the heat.20170327_194152.jpg Our puny ceiling fan really couldn’t help much. So, we parked our camp chairs in the shade of some large nearby shrubby trees, and waited for the sun to go down, and for things to cool off. It remained uncomfortably hot inside the whole night. It felt like this.20170327_194112.jpgOur campsite was only available for one night, so in the morning, we quickly cycled to Zabriskie Point to enjoy the color explosion there.wp-1490668553298.jpgwp-1490668567860.jpg We decamped for Las Vegas, taking the long route out, stopping at all the points of interest in the south end of the Park, and had a thoroughly enjoyable day on the road. Devil’s Golf Course was our first stop. These salt-encrusted mounds are stiff and prickly. You wouldn’t want to have a misstep and fall – it would be pretty painful.wp-1490668451319.jpgNo trip to Death Valley would be complete without a stroll at Badwater, the lowest spot in the world. A thick, dusty salt plain stretches as far as you can see. In the bright sunlight, it’s blindingly white. It’s a crazy experience.20170327_193158.jpgwp-1490668287193.jpgwp-1490668254541.jpg At the very southermost edge, we encountered a strange plant called Dodder, or witches’ hair, for the very first time. This wiry orange tangle of springy vine attaches itself to a host plant. It’s very odd to see, and even more unusual to touch, having kind of a dry, yet spongy feel.20170327_192532.jpgOn to Las Vegas, where we are visiting my sister Gail and Dan. We’re overdue for a few repairs (including the installation of a new converter), and a much needed total cleanup. Everything in and about the Fireball is looking pretty raggedy, and we were almost looking forward to the job of a good cleaning overhaul. A bit of quality family time, and some quality grilled goods (Dan’s fantastic outdoor kitchen + John’s great grilling skills) were all on the agenda.

Sadly, every good thing about being here has been overshadowed by the fact that Jezzy was attacked by a stray pit bull, while she and I were walking Thursday morning. It jumped her from behind, and had her down before I ever even saw him. You’d be surprised at how loudly I can yell, while kicking that beast as hard as I could. Two guys who were painting the house across the street ran over and were banging on the pit with an aluminum ladder, while I continued to kick and snap him with my leash. All this was to no affect whatever. John finally heard my screams and came charging out into the street. He grabbed the pit by the neck from behind, and dragged him off Jezzy. I was so relieved to see her spring up and run toward the house.

Long story short, we took her to my sister’s vet, where she had surgery that afternoon to close up her eye socket, which had been torn to the bone. She’s got a bunch of stitches under the eye, and a drain to help with the blood/fluid in the deep pocket that has resulted. Fortunately, her other injuries were superficial. The vet at Cheyenne Tonopah Animal Clinic was fantastic, and there staff provided comfort to the three of us, who were badly shaken. Here are pre- and post-surgery photos of Jezzy.wp-1491000060535.jpgwp-1490999047380.jpgShe may have some permanent nerve damage (can’t blink fully), but we won’t know that for months. Las Vegas Animal Control was also wonderful. The officer who picked the dog up was kind and sympathetic. Actually, the dog was very docile once removed from Jezzy, and was wagging his tail happily as he was loaded into the Animal Control truck. We’ve filled out all the forms, the owner has been identified. We’re not sure what may happen next. We may get restitution for medical costs, but that’s not a major issue for us. We want Jezzy well, want to get rid of the Cone (my brother-in-law Dan calls Jezzy “Motorola”), and try to put this behind us. For sure it will take me a while. I’m on the verge of tears every minute. It’s painful to see Jezzy colliding with walls and chairs, trying to navigate around the house, but she’s doing pretty well. We’re keeping the pain meds poured on, as often as prescribed, so we hope she’s not too uncomfortable, even though she seems pretty confused.wp-1490993109530.jpg It’s going to be even more difficult in the Fireball, as the Cone is as wide as our floorspace, meaning that she won’t be able to turn around. Somehow, we’ll make this all work. We’ve extended our stay here in order to take Jezzy back to the Vet for removal of the drain, but hope to be moving on again Sunday.

Yeah, onward.



Death Valley Days

If you visit Death Valley National Park with the expectation that it’s hot, dusty, dry, and kind of beige, you are in for a huge revelation. The variation in color, topography, and geology in this enormous Park is stunning. Although this was our second visit, there’s so much here, we have barely scratched the surface.

First of all, let’s dispense with the hot/dry myth.20160105_14181420160105_143022We didn’t have campsite reservations, but had no trouble getting a pretty good site – one with enough room for our awning (necessary in crappy weather), and with a wee bit of space between us and our neighbors.20160104_094115We knew for sure that we wanted to hike to the bottom of the Ubehebe (U-Be-HEE-Be) Crater, formed by one of the more recent geological events in Death Valley. The Shoshone Indians, who were the only residents of the area at the time, didn’t record this event, but it’s estimated that somewhere between 600-1300 years ago, magma met underground spring water, and erupted. The resulting crater is 600 feet deep, and about 1-1/2 miles in circumference. It’s eerie and beautiful.20160104_13443920160104_133434 We duped ourselves into thinking that it would be an easy hike (well, it WAS easy to get to the bottom).20160104_125329 The trek to the top from the bottom was another story – much like hiking the 400′ sand dune at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, for those of you from Michigan.20160104_130359 I was seriously huffing and puffing. It made the perimeter stroll seem much easier, although the soft surface in places required a lot of effort.20160104_132605On to Mosaic Canyon. Once again, Death Valley has provided a very other-worldly experience. One side has smooth curvy marble sides, and the other has a rough sediment layer pressed on, and around, creating the mosaic effect.20160104_11023420160104_11011220160104_110005 In the most narrow areas, it’s very apparent. In other spots, it might be easy to stroll through without noticing all the crazy differences.

Completing our Day 1 of textures, we wandered around the Mesquite Dune area20160104_103033then on to the Devil’s Cornfield.20160104_115120 As you step in the Cornfield, each foot breaks through the thin salt crust. Jezzy was spooked.20160104_115401This was the only area where we saw pickleweed, these curious, rubbery feeling plants. 20160104_115502Day 2 was continuous rain, so we stayed close to home, exploring the Visitor Center, with its excellent exhibits, and Furnace Creek Village, which consists of a bar/restaurant, post office, golf course, and the Borax Museum.20160105_12355620160105_123151 The mining of borax was one of the principal reasons people came to DV to live and work. Borax was hauled out in wagons, originally powered by mule teams (the 20-Mule Team Borax theme is everywhere).

Bright sunshine in the morning of Day 3 lulled us into thinking that the worst of the crap weather was behind us. HA! Leaving Jezzy snoozing on the bed, we set off in the truck to explore Golden Canyon, including hikes to the Red Cathedral, Badlands, and Gower Gulch. We got off to a great start, clambering up to the Red Cathedral to admire the views.20160106_112645 But the Badlands Trail was the highlight of the day. Golden fingers of rock and sand, eroded by wind and rain create a very unusual landscape.20160106_120901 Up and down, we wandered along, encountering very few other hikers. At the bottom of the canyon, we connected to Gower Gulch. The storms of the past week left their mark – some areas were thick with very sticky mud, which added pounds to each footstep. Yet, other spots had the distinctive cracked pattern one associates with DV – the difference was that the moisture enabled me to actually pick chunks out of the puzzle. About three inches below the surface, it was as if there had been no rain at all.20160106_122634 Looking about the Gulch, its easy to envision the rush of water that occurs with storms – it surely is no place you would want to be trapped.20160106_130533 As we got back to the truck, the wind was roaring, and once again, the rain started. We did catch one shot of the Firetruck against a glowing backdrop of Badwater Basin. You’d swear this was water, but it’s pure, dry salt.20160106_144603We still had time to drive through the Artist’s Palette Drive. The variety of minerals in this area provides an unbelievable palette of colors. Even now, as I look at my photos, I can’t believe these are the true colors. But they are.20160106_14100220160106_141103No journey for the Campshaws would be complete without calamity. Upon returning to camp we discovered that our front window had been torn completely off the Fireball by the wind, leaving poor traumatized Jezzy huddled inside.20160106_154744 Not only were the inside and outside panes cracked, but the frame was ripped off as well. Damn! John applied his Adapt and Overcome motto to the issue. Although it took the better part of an entire roll of duct tape to fix, we’re pretty sure the window will withstand the rest of our trip.20160107_16505420160107_165130 It adds to the Clampett look, don’t you think?