Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

Death Valley National Park

For a long time I’d wanted to go to Death Valley. to see Badwater, the lowest point in North America. To see the colors of Artist Palette, the view from Dante’s Peak, the scale of Zabriske’s Point and the oddity of Scotty’s Castle.

We drove in through the town of Lone Pines and hit the long straight road. There was little to see in Panamint. The general store and motel comprised the village of Stovepipe Wells. We got out and walked around and felt the sun bask down upon our heads.

Happy to get back in the air conditioned car, we spotted the Mesquite Sand Dunesand got out to walk among them. Created from the blown sand off the neighboring rocks and the walls of rock that block the wind from taking the sand away, the dunes are huge.

These were the first of the amazing geological history and formations that exist in the park.

Next day, we got out early to do some hiking because the temperature would rise to 109 degrees.

We saw Badwater and walked amid the crunchy salt lake that is all but gone. The first picture hints at the scope of this land and the second shows you up close. You look up to the mountains from the salt bed and see a sign that tells you where sea level is–Badwater is 282 feet below sea level.

Ira and I jumped into the car and walked into a canyon.

After being outside for awhile we decided to stay in the car and drive the Artist’s Drive, which has the famous Artist’s palette. Built by the great work of the 1930’s federal government-sponsored Civilian Conservation Corps, the road bends through very colorful rock formations. Thank you to the foresight of the people behind that work so we can see this beautiful environment.

The artist’ palette contains rocks including exposed copper, iron, which accounts for the coloring.

The Park is huge and there are ruins from early twentieth-century mining operations in the Park and in some of the towns on the outskirts. We visited the town of Rhyoline, where the old bank and school represented the ghost town.

This far east section of the park housed the local spectacle of Scotty’s Castle. A former player in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, Walter Scott conned various people with claims of mining holdings in the area. When Albert Johnson came to see his mining operations, he found nothing but somehow formed a relationship with Scotty. He and his wife built a castle in the desert and for awhile Scotty lived on the premises.

We watched our second desert sunset from the Harmony Borax ruins near the Furnace Creek Ranch where we stayed.

Next day, we started early again and were amazed at the beauty from Dante’s View, over 5,700 feet above Badwater.

We left the park and ate at the sole location in Death Valley Junction. Now, we faced a new choice, stop at a date farm or a national wildlife refuge on our way to Las Vegas.

I’ve brought in electronic records from the Fish and Wildlife Service that show the geography of the wildlife refuges and also records that show threatened and endangered species, so I wanted to go to the refuge. Ash Meadow was, like much of the area, a water rich area. After a fair amount of time in the 20th century as a cotton farm, the federal government bought the land to preserve the 21 endemic creatures that only live in this area. They include the Pupfish and several different kinds of birds.

While walking along the trails we saw a jack rabbit and a road runner!

Driving California Highway 395

Not many people think much of interest exists between Yosemite National Park and Death Valley National Park. George Cantor’s book, Pop Culture Landmarks: A Traveler’s Guide  offers no locations. Highway 395 runs between the end of the Mojave Desert and the top of Washington State. Our trip took us through the famous Owens Valley were Los Angeles grabbed its water supply.

The information we had mentioned the Eastern California Museum. We rolled at 25 miles an hour into Independence, California anyway, so we made a right turn, passed the house of 19th century author  and pulled into the small parking lot of the museum. It was 94 outside with a scorching sun.

The information mentioned the museum’s collection of Native American baskets by the local Timbisha and Paiutes. We walked inside and were blown away. The baskets and other items were there but so was much more.

Details regarding the water struggle with L.A. still fascinate. On the rear wall was a map drawn by a local showing the
Valley and the path of the river, lake and small towns along it that used the water for their once thriving agriculture.

Striking photographs of the Japanese-Americans who were relocated to the nearby Manzanar camp during World War II. Since the buildings were immediately removed after the end of the War, the Museum holds the most substantial collections of the materials for the now National Historic Site. I showed John, the Museum’s Services Administrator, how to look up the National Archives’ database on the internees in the camps.

We left and talked about the collections along the drive. We saw the marquee of a theater and old movie posters when we slowed down going through the town of Lone Pines. I said that we had to turn the car around and go inside. Glad we did!

Another amazing jewel. This old mining town had long served as the backdrop for the filming of many Hollywood westerns.

Inside the old theater which still showed movies, was a treasure trove and some amazing memorabilia and descriptions of moving making in the area.

Among the fun exhibits is a collection of hats worn by male and female movie stars during the movies they shot in the area.

The movies shot in the area form an extensive list. The biggest names for me included: Demi Moore’s G.I. Jane, Cary Grant’s Gugna Din from 1939, Star Trek: The Final Frontier (1989) and Kevin Bacon’s Tremors from 1990. The data base can be found below.