Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Death Valley, CA

Last Wednesday, we left for our trip to Death Valley National Park. It was John's idea to make a trip here and it turned out to be a blast! Unfortunately, I forgot the SD card for the camera, so we only have a few pics of our own. Oh well--we still have great memories!

The drive there was about 6 hours without stops. We left at about 4:30 (John got off work early) and headed on our way. We stopped in a small town called Austin. It was one of those half-dilapidated small towns with tons of charm that I love so much! I couldn't get enough of all the little buildings and churches packed into the little area between the two canyon walls. We stopped at an old cafe in a building that looked like it must have been a saloon at one point. We chatted with a local woman and her elderly mother that were the only other patrons in the joint. It was a nice break.

Thomas had a rough time on the drive. His carseat sits straight up, making it hard for him to get comfortable to sleep. He is still in his "yelling"/whining phase and sometimes we all go a little crazy in the car. We made it to our destination at about 11--a small town outside Death Valley called Beatty (said Bait-ee). We finally found the ghetto-looking motel we'd reserved called the Atomic Inn (even though all the old lit up signs still said Pheonix Inn?). It reminded me a little of the hotel they stay in on Goofy Movie--it was quirky and had some charm. They had an "atom" logo on a bunch of stuff inside.

We got an early start the next morning and saw a neat ghost town called Rhyolite. It was amazingly in good shape, especially the casino/train depot (?) I took a picture with here:
After checking out what we could in Rhyolite, we drove on a narrow, one-way gravel/dirt road that went through Titus Canyon to get into the park. It was bumpy, windy, and oftentimes right on the cliff's edge! Several times I grabbed my armrests for dear life while we were bouncing along next to a 1000-foot drop! We stopped to check out a couple abandoned mines and another small ghost town (in the middle of the canyon!) called Leadfield. Any guesses on what they mined there?? ;) It was a neat drive and worth the 2 hours it took us. 
Pictures can't do the canyon justice...nor the tiny road!
 When we got in the park, we were struck by the barren-ness of it! Of course it's called Death Valley for a reason....but it really is stark country. And I thought Winnemucca, NV was desolate! The first thing we went to see in the park was one we'd heard a lot about: Scotty's Castle. Apparently it was built by a guy who was just a big conman, telling people he had a gold mine and taking "investments" and selling shares when he really didn't have anything. He wasn't even rich! One of the guys he ripped off was rich and ended up becoming his friend afterwards! (He was a true Christian....) They built this mansion in the middle of the desert with amazing features and technologies for the day (late 1800s). I was amazed when we came up to it that it looked like an oasis with a Spanish-looking castle! There were green bushes, Joshua trees, and tons of HUGE palm trees all around it, which when compared to the surrounding landscape was amazing. 
Scotty's Castle (picture from the internet)
 We opted to pay to take a tour of the inside, even though we had a cranky Thomas to bring along. Before too long, we ended up getting kicked out because Thomas was too loud (he was really frustrated he couldn't go anywhere or touch anything, and after all that time in the car!). Luckily, they gave us a full refund for the tour. What we did see of the inside was AMAZING--so fancy, old, and well-preserved! I love old stuff! :)
One of the rooms inside--again, not my picture.
After seeing what we could of the outside of Scotty's Castle and the visitor's center there, we had a picnic lunch nearby. It was very warm and pleasant. We glance at a huge crater, but didn't really get out to explore since the wind was ferocious! It was shaking the car!

We went on a hike to see Mosaic Canyon. It was a hot hike--the sun beat down on us and it was over 90 degrees. The hike went through some slot-type canyons with smooth marble-slab sides and many of the walls did look like a mosaic, with tons of tiny square-shaped pieces all put together. We saw lots of lizards ("doggy!") and birds ("doggy!"). The last thing we did/saw was Salt Creek, which was along a boardwalk following a little saltwater stream filled with pupfish. They look like guppies and chase each other around and play (like puppies). There were thousands of them! ("Ishy!!") It was a lot of fun.

We stayed in a "campground" that night. I have campground in quotes because it was unlike any campground I've ever been to--it was just flat, rocky ground with a couple of scrubby brush trees...and this campground was lush compared to the others! We put up our tent despite the crazy wind (it was very windy all day). We put it right next to the car and next to the little tree in hopes that both would help block the wind. We had our makeshift dinner of ham and cheese wraps, chips/salsa, and fruit. John had the idea to have Thomas sleep in the back of the car. We just made him a little bed in the back (we moved all the stuff out) and did his little bedtime routine and put him down. We had the windows down a bit so we could hear him and he could get some cool air. He cried for a bit, but then slept like a champ until morning! John and I talked a little, but went to bed not long after dark. (We didn't have the stuff for a campfire and were tired after a long day anyway!) It was a pretty good night!

We got up early with the sun and packed up. We drove to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the western hemisphere!! (282 feet below sea level) We didn't walk out too far. I liked the sign up on the mountainside that marked where sea level was!
Internet Pic of the salt flats
You can just barely see the "Sea Level" sign on the mountainside--another pic I stole :)

We then went on Natural Bridge trail, there was not another soul there! It was a short hike and the natural stone bridge was similar to others seen in Arches National Park in Utah. Next was a one-way scenic drive called Artists Drive that went by Artists Palette. It was a beautiful drive and many of the unique mineral deposits made the mountains green, purple, red, orange, brown, and yellow! After that, we went to Golden Canyon trail with Thomas in the backpack once again. It was hot by this time, and this is where all the people were. The canyon walls (as to be expected by the name) were yellow/gold throughout. I went on a side trail, thinking it would meet back up with the main trail, but it turned out to go straight to the top of one of the mountains! Once at the top, I looked down, but saw no sign of John and went back, then continued up the main trail trying to catch up. We eventually met back up with each other and finished the hike. It was quite a sight! (Though similar to those at Canyonlands and other national parks) After that, we went to see the Harmony Borax Works, a neat pace where they'd refine borax that Chinese workers dug up off the salt flats. The rusty machinery and stuff left behind was cool.

Though it sounds like a full day, after all this and eating lunch, it was only 2. We weren't sure what to do next, since we'd seen most of the park's features. Unfortunately, one of the coolest features was a 2 1/2 hour drive on bumpy dirt roads (each way!). It's called the Racetrack and is where huge rocks inexplicably "move" and you can see the long track they leave along the desert. We ended up not going (didn't think Thomas could handle that kind of drive added on to everything else). Instead we made the 1-hour drive to Darwin Falls. The landscape here was so different! Partway into the hike, the trail gets very lush, with green trees, bushes, grasses, and reeds/cattails. There was unbelievably green rock in the canyon walls made of what they call tortoiseshell. The trail follows a stream to some pretty falls at the end. I was amazed at how bad of shape the trail was in. A good portion of it was crossing streams via standing on thin tree branches and logs laid across the water or stepping across stones. It almost seemed like the forgotten part of the park! In a way, that made it even cooler. :)
Darwin Falls with pool--Internet photo
There were tons of tadpoles in the water and we saw one awesome big green frog. Though some sources said you could swim, it was shallow and gunky. The only people we saw were the couple that came up right after us, planning to take a swim. I think it was more of a wade... This was probably my favorite hike of our trip!

After getting back from that hike, we decided to go a little further out of the way to see some charcoal kilns we'd heard about. It was getting a little late by this time and we were all about at our wit's end, but I have to admit, they were pretty stinkin' cool. They were made by Chinese workers (probably why they're still around!) and though they were only used for 3 years well over 100 years ago, they STILL smell like smoke! They were huge, too... Guess they used the charcoal for the mines.
Someone else's picture of the kilns!
After seeing these, we made the long drive to Beatty (outside the park) and ate at Denny's. We got some good foods and "splurged" on deserts.We decided to get a motel again but had to stay at a different place since many of the hotels (including the Atomic Inn) were full because of a motorcycle jamboree. I've decided Beatty motels have something against giving you shampoo.

Anyway, we grabbed Subway for breakfast (pretty good!) and made our way to Tonopah and then went "the road less traveled" so we could see some awesome stuff John had found out about on our way home. First attraction was called Diana's Punchbowl. This was pretty amazing. It's a white dome in the middle of nowhere that when you hike up to it, has a huge chasm (50 ft across) and way down into it (probably 20 ft down), there is a hot pool (200 degrees F). It is blue like the ones at Yellowstone. I had a bit of a heart attack thinking about "what if" Thomas fell down there, even though we were holding on to him (there are no barriers along the edge and the sides drop straight down). We went and explored a little, following the warm/hot stream where the water came out and flowed along. We saw crawdad remains everywhere in the stream and think there must be crawdads that live there--crazy! A huge snake slithered by me (5 ft long--yes, I jumped!). We read somewhere there were places to get in the stream and soak, but didn't really see any. It was fun to explore, though!

We went on and stopped to see Toquima Cave. Thomas had fallen asleep, so we stayed nearby and marveled over the pine nuts littering the ground. I opened a few--some were still good! John's mind began churning, thinking about all the money we could make collecting them and selling them in the market. :) When Thomas woke up, we had a picnic and hiked to the cave that was fenced off. It had petroglyphs visible from the gate. I've seen other petroglyphs, but these seemed to have no rhyme or reason.

The next (and last) attraction we stopped at was Spencer hot springs. Turns out there were 4 places where they'd developed hot water into tubs/baths to enjoy. One was too hot for Thomas, so we went on. Two had RVs next to them with people using them. The last one had a van of people just leaving--perfect! The water was warm bathwater temperature (perfect for Thomas!) and diverted into a small cast iron tub sitting in a slightly bigger pond-like area. You sat in the tub and the extra water from the tub drained into the surrounding pond--which someone had planted with large goldfish! It was so fun, Thomas loved watching the fish swim around ("Ishy!"). Getting out into the cold windy air and changing was the least fun part. ;) It was a fun stop along the way!

We finished the drive in time for John to shower and make it to the Saturday night adult session of stake conference (we didn't have a sitter for Thomas, so I stayed home with him). Overall, it was a great trip! We had a nice break from the regular and made some great memories. 

Next adventure: close on the house and move in!
(Hopefully within about a week or so!)

1 comment:

  1. Talk about coolest trip EVER!!! I love how adventurous you both are. I'm a proud sis indeed. And I'm SO EXCITED FOR YOUR HOUSE!!!

    P.S. No shampoo are you kidding me?!?!?!