April 6, 2009

Death Valley

Yesterday, my mom, Frank and I went to Death Valley. We wanted to check out the spring wildflowers. We saw some, but once we got there we set our sights on a new adventure. Rather than visiting the popular sights near Furnace Creek we took off toward Stovepipe Wells Village, Panamint Springs, and Hunter Mountain to see the Racetrack. Home of the mysterious sliding rocks.

We entered Death Valley via 190 near the Armagosa Opera House. It's a short drive from my mom's place in Pahrump. When Frank and I visited before, in 2005, all access points from Pahrump were washed out from heavy rains. On that visit, we entered from Baker and drove through the park, eventually departing via the Beatty cutoff. This trip, it was a quick ride to the Furnace Creek visitor center. We picked up a backcountry road map that shows all the unpaved and 4WD roads. It's fairly well detailed there was only one part where we got turned around, that was right before we headed into Hidden Valley.

Our first stop were the sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells. Those were neat to see. There's several places to spot dunes in Death Valley, these were the only ones we saw upclose. We continued on paved road until a little way past Panamint Springs. We stopped at Father Crawley Point to take in the views of the Panamint Valley and Rainbow Canyon. Then we continued on an unpaved road threw Lee Flat Joshua Trees and up Hunter Mountain. Near the peak, we found several herds of cattle. They roamed free; some relaxed under the shade, while others grazed on vegetation. As we climbed elevation, the temperature got cooler and we came across snow. Frank couldn't resist pulling over just to throw a snowball at me. We slowly made our way down the mountain and then approached Hidden Valley. It was around 5 o'clock we stopped and ate sandwiches I had packed. Then, we pressed on, we began to wonder if we'd ever see these mysterious sliding rocks. Finally, we came upon Teakettle Junction. The sign said it was 9 miles down a washboard road to the Racetrack. It was a terribly rough ride, we shook so much the air-intake case came loose. It caused the engine to die, boy, were we relieved that it was such an easy fix. We stopped at the first marker, but no rocks were found, just vast openness - the lake bed is huge.

We, then, decided to continue on further south where most of the sliding rocks can be spotted. There we found all kinds of trails from the rocks sliding. Some rocks were small, others were a few hundred pounds. It's something you have to experience to fully appreciate. It's really unique! We stayed until the sunset and then we made our way back. About half way down that 9 mile road, we smelled something, we took a look, there was a leak on the passenger side. We couldn't tell if we blew a shock or if we were leaking break fluid. We were in the middle of no where, all we could do is press on and hope we'd make it out. Once we hit Teakettle Junction it was another 30 miles on washboard unpaved road. It was awful, our bodies ached from being jarred around. We reached paved road just before Ubehebe Crater. The sun had already set, but we did catch a glimpse of the crater before it was too dark to see. Amazing! We'll definitely have to make a trip back to see that in daylight sometime. Again, the air-intake case came loose and caused the engine to die, we fixed that and headed to Scotty's Castle. It was too dark to see anything, maybe we'll finally see it on our third trip? We made it to Beatty fine. We stopped for nuts and candy - largest selection in the State. At 11:30 we were back in Pahrump. We dropped my mom off at home. It was a long day - 12 hours drive time - but it was absolutely beautiful. Death Valley surprised me again with its geological wonders. We had another hour drive home, and fortunately made it safely. Thank goodness the Suburban was a trooper. Frank took it into the shop today, we did blow a shock and we wore away some sort of grommet that holds the brake line in place. That washboard road sure puts a vehicle to the test.

There's a slideshow below that covers all the spots we visited.

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