Friday, October 8, 2010 Sunny and 55 degrees in the mountains in the morning; sunny and 90 degrees in the valley in the afternoon.
Death Valley would take a whole dictionary of words to describe, and forbidding and foreboding might be the first two, but it is fascinating as well. Below are some nouns and adjectives to describe some of what we saw today.
Mountains: round, peaked, ridged, banded in shades of rust, red, gray, black, yellow, and orange; some with stegasaurus-like ridges
Mesas: some high, some low, rough sides, smooth tops
Valleys: wide, open, flat; littered with moon-like rocks, salt flats, volcanic cinder cones, or lava fields
Canyons: wide and open, box, steep sides, varied colors
The physical features of the park change with surprising rapidity, and only a geologist could explain why. We were driving into the mountains along a wide open ledge---and I was experiencing acrophobia---and suddenly we were in a box canyon barely wide enough for two cars--so now I was claustrophobic. Good thing I wasn't driving.
Below are the six different areas we visited today.
Wildrose Charcoal Kilns: At the end of a rough gravel road were ten beehive shaped charcoal kilns constructed of stones mortared together. Each kiln held four cords of wood which burned for 6-8 days and then cooled for 5. The charcoal was used at the Madock Mine Smelter for processing silver and lead.
Eureka Mine: We hiked up a hill to look into the adit of a gold mine. All these years later, the shafts, cashier mill (which pulverized the ore), and some of the equipment set there as if the miners abandoned it a decade ago. Below the mine is a tiny town where the miners lived.
Aguereberry Point: At an altitude of 6,433 feet, we had expansive views of Death Valley. Mountains rise in all directions---even the Sierra Nevadas far to the west---and in between are valley areas, flat barren, and some layered with salt. The vastness of the park is obvious from there.
Mosaic Canyon: An amazing, narrow canyon. The eastern wall is marble, striped in colors of yellow, cream, gray, and tan. Beautiful. I'd like to take some home. But the western wall is a mosaic of rock fragments cemented together creating a massive free-form mural inlaid with rocks of different sizes, shapes, and colors. One canyon; two very different faces.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: While no sand is naturally occurring in this area, four different types of sand dunes have been created by the winds blowing across the valley floor. They occupy an area just east of Stovepipe Wells.
Salt Creek: We followed the boardwalk through stands of pickleweed and salt grass across the desert floor which is 267 feet below sea level. This time of the year Salt Creek is dry, but in the spring it is home to pupfish, found nowhere else on earth. They are able to live in this harsh environment even though the water in the creek becomes saltier than sea water. Not surprisingly, pupfish are on the endangered species list.
If you had our map, you would see we traveled over a large portion of the western part of the park today; however, it is so vast that we only drove through about a third of the "friendlier" areas of the park. Tomorrow we go back to check out the southeastern section.
TODAY'S ROUTE: from Panamint Springs, CA 190E with side trips, and then NV 374E to Beatty, NV