Out of Death Valley and more (Mojave) desert.

24 Nov

The route today would be south and out of Death Valley but along the way we had some landmarks to IMG_3157investigate. The first was a display from the days of Borax Mining in the valley, teams of twenty mules pulled carts of processed borax to the railroad 165 miles away. Chinese labour earned $1.30 per day less board and food to extract and refine the cotton ball borax. Some lived out in the desert others close by the mine. A hard life in a harsh environment for little reward.

Slightly farther along the road another canyon, Golden Canyon called to us to take a walk. No scrambling today, a pleasant uphill climb along a wash from the cathedral cliffs high above us, again we were intrigued by the rock formations more investigation and research required when eventually we get an internet connection.

Then our final stop, the lowest elevation in the valley and one of the lowest IMG_3198points below sea level in the world, the salt flats at Badwater basin. I was very amused by the fact that a marker for sea level had been put high above us on the cliff face!

IMG_3195We walked out on to the salt flats and looked back down the valley, stark but beautiful landscape, very enjoyable at this time of year but unforgiving in the heat of the summer. A place of many faces, mountains and canyons salt flats and sand dunes, we had enjoyed them all. IMG_3199

The name of Death Valley had puzzled me before we arrived, was it that so many people had died their or perhaps because nothing grew there. I had my answer very soon after we arrived in the National Park. A group of 49ers on their way to fortune in California became stranded in the valley almost starving to death, they were eventually rescued and, as they left the valley, turned to say their farewells allegedly ‘Goodbye Death Valley.’ I too turned to say goodbye but not with the same sentiment, I was strangely sad to leave this place.IMG_3216

An overnight stop at Tecopa Hot Springs gave us opportunity to do some washing, the desert is dusty, it gets everywhere, I would like to turn haRVey inside out out wash him down with a pressure washer, but then I would rather have dust than mud and sun rather than rain! We have been enjoying at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit and overnight temperatures no lower than 40, can’t be bad for mid November! The campground had hot springs baths, private ‘cabins’ where you could immerse yourself in a pool around 8’ x 4’and 4’ deep, the water had a high salt content amongst other minerals and left my skin feeling very soft and silky. I don’t normally enjoy springs but I could get used to this one.

We knew we had a long drive ahead into the Mojave Preserve but we had so IMG_3227much maintenance to catch up on it was 11am before we left. Driving through the desert landscape close to Kelso we began to see Joshua Trees and more Yucca by the side of the road. Cinder cones from ancient volcano and a lava flow gave indications of how this area became the landscape we see today. IMG_3222

It was 2pm by the time we arrived at the beautifully restored railway station at Kelso, a real oasis in the Desert. This Park is very young in National Park terms, only 15yrs since its designation and they have recently celebrated that fact with the reopening of this buildingIMG_3239. It houses three floors of displays including a gallery and shop, natural and social history about the area and reconstructions of rooms which housed station workers, to how they would have looked in the hey day of Kelso.

We took advice from the Rangers on whether the gravel road was graded and suitable for us to access the campground, or, if we should go the long way around via the highway, we took the highway route and arrived at the Hole-in –the –Wall campground just as the sun was setting on another desert scene.

Our campsite had its own little natural desert garden area, with Yucca and cactus, I was delighted to spot a barrel cactusIMG_3256. It made a change from dry dust we have had recently all around us. There were obvious signs of animal life too, something had burrowed under one of the plants and left a mound of earth closing the hole. I was not sure if it was still inside whatever it was!

The Ranger outpost at Hole in the Wall opened at 9am and next morning we were one of their first visitors, to gather information for a hike we knew started near by. The ranger was very helpful in providing not only this information but telling us about the various Ranger led activities over the week end. The three mile ring loop trail would be just about the right distance for a morning walk then we could have lunch and be ready to take part in the petroglyph talk at 3pm. The trail took us from the visitor centre around the east side of the rocky outcrop known as hole in the wall, the sun was shining but a cold wind kept us moving along, we did however spot a rock with some petroglyphs just to one side of the trail and felt quite pleased with our find.

IMG_3297Quite soon we came to the rocky features the area is named after which were formed when a cloud of super heated steam and molten lava exploded from the earth gathering dust and debris with it, as it cooled the gases escaped and left behind the holes in the contorted rock. The trail took us right into the rock formation, and then gave us a challenge to climb out again.IMG_3298

IMG_3308The first crevice was around eight feet high there was then a short scramble to the second around six feet high. It would have been great to have had the rings for assistance on the Mosaic trail in Death Valley, I may then have been able to get up what was only half this height. (OK I am still miffed that it defeated me!) It was great fun and a sense of achievement, that is until we met some young people who were going to attempt to climb down rather than up!!!!

Ranger Glen led us back along the same trail in the afteIMG_3335rnoon and back to the rocks where we had spotted the petroglyths , Being the Ranger however he knew better than us and took us up the slope to view the back of a rock not too far from the trail with great images engraved on the surface. A debate took place regarding the interpretation of what the artist had drawn, we were then informed the experts have no idea, maybe the medicine man on a high or maybe the artist was an impressionist. Only he knows what he was trying to capture in his pictures


This one however is clearer, a big horned desert sheep is fairly recognisable, we were sceptical about its age, but who are we to argue with the experts?

With the promise of a cup of coffee if we arrived early there was no problem getting to the geology talk at 8.30 am on Sunday morning. This time the Ranger led us to sit in the amphitheatre in warm sunshine, no wind today. We listened and sipped coffee as he gave us some basic geology information and then a description of how the rocks around the desert came to be. We are still piecing information together and I came away with some extra understanding but also more things to think about and puzzle over, the more we learn the more fascinated we become but, we realise the less we know.

The sun was shining early and we were up with it, so, ready to set off around 8.20am to drive further south towards Joshua Tree National Park. There is an Interstate which would get us there quickly but, we don’t need quickly and see far more sights on the minor roads.

Once more we found ourselves on a part of Route 66, and again it was a long straight road with derelict towns scattered along its length. The monotony was broken by the low gravel bank at the side of the road where passers by had broken their monotony of the journey writing there names in pebbles. I considered we should stop and leave our mark, but we pressed on. In the distance we could see the Amboy Crater, a volcanic cone standing high in the landscape, it last erupted some 500years ago. Whilst taking in this view we suddenly spotted a very strange tree, it was covered in shoes, hanging from its branches like something in a children’s story book. We had to stop.

A car had pulled in too and the occupants were standing viewing the tree the gentleman, shoes in hand, ready to throw! IMG_3355

Having managed to place his unwanted trainers in the tree, he explained that he and his wife delighted in searching out weird places along their route. This spot on Route 66 is notorious but we just had not heard of it.

Along with the shoes items of underwear have been draped onIMG_3359 the lower branches, and our acquaintance told us of another tree adorned with bra’s, it must be something to do with long straight roads and monotony! For more roadside oddities visit www.roadsideamerica.com

A chance to visit a real volcano crater was too much to pass by for Robert andIMG_3363 we pulled in to the car park looking for interpretive boards. There were some nice picnic benches and a lookout pagoda but no information. A lady emerged from our right and asked if we were going to walk the trail, we asked how far she replied around a mile and half but to beware, there were no toilets up there and then rushed off to use the car park washroom! With walking boots on and water in hand we set off. I am not sure if it was the volcanic rock under foot absorbing the suns heat, but it was very hot. around 45 minutes later we arrived at the crater lower rim, I IMG_3369declined a scramble to the top, taking the easier option of walking into the lower middle area while Robert clambered up to view the surrounding desert from above.

It was interesting to observe the volcanic rocks surrounding the crater and try to remember some of the information we had learned from the Ranger talk the previous day. A very hot hour and a half later we arrived back at the car park, ate lunch then set off

On the minor road from Amboy we spotted small regular shaped hills on the very flat desert landscape and began to speculate if they were man made. Maybe wind breaks we thought as this was a very flat area, as we got closer Robert guessed correctly it was an area of salt mining, wide channels dug in the ground with white salty crusts on top, the hills we had spotted being the spoil from these holes, eventually we passed a sign telling us it was the premises of the American Chloride Company. Through the mountain pass and into another very flat valley beyond , this was Wonder Valley and left us wondering… miles and miles of flat dry land with many deserted and broken down small dwellings scattered the view for as far as we could see, there were a few habited properties and some for sale, a strange area we might ‘google it’ and try to find out more while at our overnight stop in 29 Palms with the luxury of electricity and mains water!


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