Friday, November 4, 2016

Death Valley Adventure With Mom

The desert is my Mom's happy place and she has always wanted to visit Death Valley, so for her birthday I planned a three day, two night stay at Furnace Creek Ranch. We hit the road around 8am and took a slow, scenic route finally arriving at the park boundary around 1:30pm.

We stopped off at the Ashford Mills ruins and were drawn to an old mining road in the hills on the north side of hwy 178. After a drive up a dirt road we came to a series of canyons. My mom and I walked slowly up the canyon and being the rock hound that she is, she spent most of the time playing in the adjoining wash.

Mom was super stoked to be in this new desert so we headed deeper into the park and stopped at the always crowded Badwater Basin which is the lowest point in North America. 

Mom wasn't super impressed with Badwater Basin so we pressed on toward Furnace Creek. The 178 winds thru a series of massive alluvial fans and she was blown away by the size and geological composition of the landscape. We arrived at the crossroads to Artist's Drive and Artist's Palette and I was happy the road was open. The website says they will be closing this area for construction later in the season.

The hills around Artist's Drive remind me of melted spumoni ice cream.

The sun was rapidly dropping and we made the final push to Furnace Creek Ranch in the heart of Death Valley. We got our room situated and everyone was super nice! The hotel is kind of pricy and it does show its age in the nooks and crannies the way most things in the desert do, but overall it was very nice and comfortable.

The view from our patio was great and I loved the rocking chairs! Furnace Creek does indeed have a creek flowing thru it and all of the landscaping and swimming pool are filled from the creek and high water table located under the area.

We dropped our stuff off in the room and headed out to see the property and get some dinner. There are horse stables right across from our room and we walked over to check them out. When we arrived at the fence I was puzzled to see a mare with her head virtually under the tale of a gelding. My mom has worked with horses extensively and attributed it to them being a bonded pair. Soon after we both laughed as the whole herd walked around the arena nose to tale in a definite pecking order. It seems these are trail horses, balls to bones, and they go everywhere in a single file line.

We decided to check out the restaurants and shops and this note inside a jeep gave me a smile. Mom giggled at the "see you again soon" sign on the ranch exit, when I asked her why she said that without her glasses her brain turned it into "see you agian soup" and it made her laugh. 

We enjoyed a tasty dinner at the steakhouse and went into the general store for a while where we read all of the children's books and laughed. Mom is always fun to hang out with, she is super weird and I love it. It was dark out so we took off in the truck to find a remote place where we could take in the stars.  I turned off toward the site of Harmony Borax works. A dilapidated building came into view and mom freaked out, she said she could feel a presence and so we scooted back down the road the way we came, hopefully leaving the ghosts behind to continue their mining. Eventually, we stopped in a more open locale and marveled at our unobstructed view out into space. Magnificent.

After a good night's sleep we decided to check out the Harmony Borax works during the day. Luckily any ghosts that were there were sleeping and it proved to be a really interesting site!

I have always wanted to see the Charcoal Kilns in Death Valley so we continued on hwy 190 toward the Panamint Mountains. We turned off at Wildrose Canyon and headed down the narrow but nicely paved road. Quickly the canyon showed signs of water with shimmering cottonwoods and rusty iron pipes. 

The further in we went we could see mine entrances dotting the hills. We stumbled upon what looked like an old mining site and decided to climb up the canyon a bit There were several old cars and lots of mine trash as well as abandoned slabs below two empty water towers.

Near the top of the hill we spotted a rusty vehicle flipped over in a pile of debris that included a couple of old refrigerators and building materials. Upon closer inspection we found a set of old ore cart tracks that disappeared under the pile and thought that maybe someone moved this stuff here to cover over the entrance to the mine. 

After thoroughly exploring the area we hopped back in the car and took the dirt road turnoff toward the old town of Skidoo. Shortly after rounding a bend we spotted this cabin on the side of the road. Some of the roof had been repared by the forest service and I loved that they indicated the date of repair on the wood so you could tell what was original and what was not. This cabin was now inhabited by birds and packrats

Across the road from the cabin and up a steep hill were the remnants of an old mine and we drove up to check it out. My mom needs a hip replacement so she is not generally first to climb up anything but she took this hill like a champ and was excited to see what was up top. When we arrived at the site we found a tunnel covered by a net. I dropped a small rock down the chute and listened for a good 20 seconds before I heard it hit anything. I don't know if this means the chute is 1/3 of a mile deep or if there are some sound physics at play. 

Off to the side of the chute there was a giant metal straw which I can only imagine was used to ventilate the deep mine.

 We continued up the hill on a little use trail and came to an opening made out of cinder blocks and lined with wood paneling from the 70's. I know in my gut that just behind this paneling is the opening to the mine and I wanted so much to throw a rock thru it and check it out but I controlled myself. These places are just so interesting!!

On our way back down mom slipped on a scree field but she popped back up like it was nothing and continued on. She's a trooper! We followed the road further and came across several false openings and homesteads. The rocks were super cool and many had an interesting array of quartz veining that clearly indicated a search for gold.

Talk about a room with a view. Off to the side there was a pile of old asbestos shingles which made me wonder about the date of this old homestead.

The road climbed thru the canyon higher and higher and took us onto the crest of the hill that was pretty narrow for my taste. I hoped no one would come from the other direction and make me have to back up. 

We finally arrived to the site of the old town of Skidoo and mom and I were both disappointed to find it was just desert, not even some abandoned slabs or anything! I was excited to see the High Sierra peaking out on the horizon though. Skidoo was once a booming gold town and even had a bank and a post office. I tried to imagine what it would look like and feel like to live here back then. The area kind of weirded me out though so we pressed on toward the kilns.

We backtracked our way to the main road and continued on toward Emigrant Canyon and the kilns. The road took us through a few narrow turns and my mom says she smells horse poop. I laugh at her thinking there is no way a horse trailer could make it through here, when all of a sudden there appears a series of piles of what look like horse poop. I looked at her like, wow, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a herd of wild burro crossing the road! I stopped at the entrance to Wildrose Campground and took some photos and video of the burros as they did hiked toward a water source.

The day was rapidly passing us by as we bid the burro goodbye and continued on toward the Charcoal Kilns. The road started to deteriorate eventually turning to dirt and the desert landscape gave way to juniper and pinyon pines as we climbed into the Panamint mountains.

At last the kilns came into view and we parked in front of them. I was amazed at how big they were! The sign said they were about 25 feet high and were used to burn the areas pinyon pines into charcoal which was then carted out mule teams down to a smelter several miles away. They were designed by Swiss engineers and built by Chinese laborers and I have to tell you, they are beautiful. The rock used to construct them is super colorful and soft and being among trees with views of the Sierra made me feel really happy.

We stayed for a while and walked around checking stuff out before heading back. I promised myself I would return and camp at Wildrose Campground and hike Wildrose and Telescope peaks someday soon.

I was sad the day went by so fast and there were a couple of things I wanted mom to see before it got dark. We zoomed up hwy 190 passed Furnace Creek and headed up to 20 Mule Team drive. This dirt road takes you through the area where the borax company's mine used to be. The road goes through some very tight turns in between mountains that look like they're made out of styrofoam! Sorry for the dirty windshield pics.

After winding thru the canyon we scoped out the parking area for Zabriski point and decided to come back to check it out after mom could rest her hip for a while. We stopped in to the Forty Niner Cafe and had a tasty dinner before collecting our gifts in the general store. While eating dinner I was curious about the staff and asked the waitress how she came to work there and how logistically things worked out. She told us she is originally from Kentucy and found the job thru her husband who works for the forest service. She said the staff all live on site and pay a low bi-weekly rent while receiving a generous salary. I want to do it! 
It was nice to talk with her and everyone who worked there was super nice. She suggested we watch the sunrise at Zabriski Point the next day and we thought that was a great idea.

The next morning it was cold and blustery and my phone had a hard time keeping up, hence the blurry pictures. It finally died just before the sunrise, of course but the predawn was beautiful in and of itself.

Seeing all of the photographers huddled up on the mountain made me miss Josh. I talked to my mom about how the worst part of break ups is the loss of the friendship and then I got choked up and started crying like a dork. It takes time I guess and it's probably not a good idea to follow the break up train on thought on the first day of your period.

After the sun was finally up we took off to embrace the day. I wanted to show mom Inyo Mine and we turned off hwy 190 at Echo canyon. This is where Josh and I stayed the first time we came out here but the canyon was almost unrecognizable to me this time. The entire canyon was a mass of flood damage and only a faint truck trail was pressed into the river rock. We drove up as far as we could until the river bed gave way to boulders that I didn't feel comfortable climbing without a solid off road spare so we retreated back the way we came. I remember that canyon beeing mighty narrow too so I wonder if I did climb those sharp boulders if we would have made it much further.

We stopped back at Furnace Creek and had breakfast before heading out to Salt Creek, the home of the pupfish! A short drive down a well maintained dirt road brought us to a boardwalk that paralleled Salt Creek. We mosied along the boardwalk and watched a lizard wrestle a bug while looking for fish. We never saw any of the pupfish but the plants were definitely interesting.

The day was heating up and moving quickly so we jumped back in the truck and headed out to the Ubehebe Crater. This attraction is waaaaaaaay out there and it took us a while to get there. I knew it was something mom would like though so it was worth the time it took to get there.

When I looked over the edge I spotted a tiny little speck of a person in the bottom starting their ascent. Seeing as that person was actually about 6 feet tall on the rim really put the depth of the crater into perspective! This crater was formed by steam from a volcano. The Timbisha Shoshone Indians called this Coyote's Basket and it was where the People began and moved out across the land. The USGS categorizes this as a moderate threat volcano, which is kind of trippy to think about.

After Ubehebe we headed back toward hwy 190. I had wanted to take the long way home and go over the mountains to join hwy 395 so I could peep the Sierra but the road to Scotty's Castle was closed, meaning it would be a big fat detour to get there. As we neared the junction that would take us to Nevada I proposed the question to mom to see if she was down to take the detour. She said she was so we spun around and headed north toward Nevada. On our way out we drove by the Titus Canyon turn off and Corkscrew peak which I really want to do next time.

After a long uphill drive we crossed the Nevada state line. In the distance we could see some old dilapidated buildings on the hillside. As we came closer we saw it was the old ghost town called Rhyolite. I had read about it in the literature at Death Valley ranger's station so we pulled in to see what was up.

There were several building remains and mines dotted the hillside in every direction.

This appears to have come after the mining town boom. The sign on the top said it was the Ghost Town Casino.

I super love old abandoned stuff like this old train car that was just sitting by the road.

There was no shortage of art on this side trip too. This is a house made entirely out of glass bottles.

I learned here that the penguin is an ode to the miner Shorty Harris' delirium tremens hallucination. He never saw pink elephants, just penguins. You gotta love that!

Having grown up in the desert, I find it interesting that the instalation art of desert dwellers is strikingly similar in style and vibe. Compare these to the sculptures in Anza Borrego or Hole In The Wall Welders in Palm Springs or Salvation Mountain. It makes me feel at home where it might make others feel uncomfortable. Hiker Town on the PCT is one example of this type of vibe. Many people hated it there, and I can see why, there was a definite tweeker vibe, but for some reason the smell of the sun beaten plastic and dust reminded me of my grandma's house and this place did too.

All that being said, these faces were definitely a little creepy. 

This is an artists depiction of The Last Supper. It is interesting from every angle and I couldn't stop taking pictures of it.

You've got to love the creativity though. The hum of the desert is palpable.

We had a long way to go yet so we jumped back in the truck and headed North thru Nevada. I remembered I had cannabis oil in my truck that I have been using for my arthritis. Even though it has no THC and is not psychoactive, I was still trying to pay special attention to the speed limit on the long flat stretch of road considering Nevada is not super accepting of these types of alternative medicine.

At last we arrived to the junction for hwy 266 which would bring us west back into California and wind us thru the White Mountains. The terrain was beautiful and turned to Pinyon Pines and Juniper as we crossed passes that were upwards of 6500 feet high.

Eventually we wound our way thru the Whites and all of their volcanic glory, finally popping out at Hwy 395 in Big Pine.

We stopped at the Totem Cafe in Lone Pine for dinner and my mom loved reading all of the old movie stars names that are written on the tongue and groove paneling. The sun finally dipped behind the Sierra and our tourring journey transitioned into the drive home.

We hit some construction on the two lane stretch of 395 and sat still for a long time which gave us time to goof around and have some of the heartiest laughs I've had in awhile. My mom is a goofball and is lots of fun to travel with! The only thing that would have made the trip even better was if my brother was there. The three of us have had some seriously hilarious adventures together.

We finally made it home around 2am and while I was super tired at feeling under the weather at work the next day, it was definitely a wonderful trip!


  1. Nice trip, you and your mom saw a lot of DV. If you drive at night during the summer thru DV you can find hundreds of those tiny opaque scorpions all over the road. They seem to come out at night by the hundreds onto the blacktop, back when I was running the Badwater course I would have to jump over many of them on the road at night.

    1. Hi Daren! That's a pretty crazy visual! I was lucky enough to see a bunch of them in Coyote Canyon in ABDSP one night. There were small gnats flying over the ground and the scorpions were catching them with their claws and eating them. Between scorpions and wolf spiders who's eyes twinkle like diamonds, night hiking has kind of changed my whole perspective on cowboy camping! 0_0