Warning: this will be long. I have a week and a half to cover. I couldn’t post in segments because the data service was too poor.
I love Death Valley. That may sound odd to those of you who think only soft landscapes with trees are beautiful, but I really do love the place. At Death Valley (and many other desert parks) you can see the real bones of the land unobscured by soil and vegetation. The colors are amazing – everything from the crystal white of the salt pan to creams, yellows, golds, reds, browns, and the blacks of the lava.
We went to the Death Valley 49ers Encampment again, 3 – 13 November. The 49ers emphasize history, western music, and fun, and the Encampment is their big meeting of the year. This year was challenging. Xanterra, the owner of the Furnace Creek resort where Encampment is held, is remodeling the entire resort. It was a disaster of a construction zone requiring all kinds of adjusting of dates and locations. Luckily the NPS crew worked extraordinary hard to accommodate us. The National HR crew of NPS identified issues with the process for hiring seasonal custodial staff, and there were no custodians for the period of the Encampment! The big campground, Sunset, was closed because there was no one to clean the bathrooms and pick up trash, something rather important for 350-400 RVers. The park rearranged staff assignments, worked a bunch of overtime, and allowed the campground to open specifically for the Encampment. There was administrative office staff cleaning toilets! I can’t say enough about how great they were.
We arrived on Friday at 12:30 after the campground opened at 12:00. As we came in we saw some mountai sheep right off the road, moving away from Furnace Creek.
As usual, I only got the back end of the sheep!
There were already probably 100 units setting up when we got to the campground. We got a prime spot at the end of a row, looking east. Most of the campers there during the week were 49ers and stayed for the duration, but there were some regular vacationers who were probably quite surprised at the crowds.
Monday we were able to take a four wheel drive trip to Lippincot Mine off the Saline Valley road. We found a wonderful forest of Joshua Trees.
These were among the best Joshua Trees I have ever seen. We then continued to the Lippincot Mine over a Grade 3 road, meaning a moderate 4×4 road requiring careful driving and a locking 4 low. I called it a goat track! Scary. It was more challenging for us because we had a big 3/4 ton quad cab pickup truck, not a skinny jeep. We ended up with only some minor dents in the running boards, so it was ok.
Lots of lava and wide open views across the Saline Valley.
It really was a goat track! And this was before it got really bad.
The mine is actually in good shape. You could walk in a short way though I didn’t. Lots of other artifacts around too.
On the way back we drove by The Racetrack, home of the famous moving rocks. I didn’t take any pictures. We did stop at Ubehebe Crater, the remnant of a volcanic eruption only a few hundred years ago. Water got to a hot spot and resulted in a massive explosion. It was late in the day so the shadows were extensive, but you can get the idea.
The next day we did Titus Canyon, a relatively mild road the needed high clearance vehicles and a good 4 low. We saw some burros just before the road officially began, but they were too far away for a good picture.
This is a good example of some of the colors in the mountains. You can see the Titus Canyon road in the first picture.
The 49ers do a historical costume contest. Here are the contestants.
There was also a wagon train that came in after driving the 100 miles from Pahrump to Furnace Creek by way of Shoshone. They have been doing this for 51years, which I think is amazing. It is a big deal with the Highway Patorl blocking traffic as they come down the road. I have videos, but they won’t upload for some reason. There were 7or 8 wagons with everyone in period dress. They really live out of the wagons during the trip, some pulled by horses and some pulled by miles. There was also a cute little gig pulled by miniature horses! There is also a man who comes every year with wagons and Belgian draft horses. He gives free rides around the camping area. If you want to leave “carrot money” you can do so, but it isn’t required. Here is one of the wagons and two of the horses on the last day.
Another 49er standard is the historical character reenactor. This year the character was Arnold Johnson, the man who built Scotty’s Castle in the park. It was fascinating.
There are lots of other things to do in Death Valley. We spent time at the music offerings in the evenings, drove some of the wonderful gravel and dirt roads in the park, and generally enjoyed ourselves tremendously.
On Sunday morning we got up early to head to Zabriskie Point, one of the classic photo spots. Sadly it was overcast and the pictures aren’t sharp. You can get at least a little feel for the striations and colors in the mountains though.
Oh, and do you want to know why they call the campground “Sunset”? Here is a good reason:
Summary: We had a wonderful time, saw gorgeous scenery and lots of animals (burros, wild horses, mountain sheep). I highly recommend the trip, at least in the fall and winter. We are now in a private campground in Lone Pine, CA in the Owens Valley for the next week – water, electricity, sewer, and WiFi! The Sierra Nevadas are immediately west of us, so expect a post about this area soon.