Last Sunday, we drove from Carrizo Plain to Bakersfield on a highway we hadn’t been on before. It wound its way through the Temblor Mountains and there were wide swaths of wildflowers all over. Then we got to the top and began the descent. At the bottom of the hills, we were driving through a gray, barren landscape covered with insect-like oil pumps, courtesy of Chevron Oil. Ugh! What a difference on the two sides of the mountain.
Our usual RV park neighborhood in Bakersfield is a rather unattractive area close to the highway heading into the Tehachapi Mountains, but it gets the job done: supermarkets, cheap (relatively!) gas and laundry facilities. We looked for the movie “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” but it wasn’t playing anywhere in Bakersfield. I guess Swedish-language films aren’t too popular here. (By the way, the book is a great read.)
Tuesday was driving day to Death Valley. A short hop over the Tehachapi’s and we were happy to be back in the desert. Another steep rise over the Panamint Mountains and we were coasting into Stovepipe Wells. Ah, it was joy to be back in the middle of nowhere. Wednesday, we got up very early and went out to the Mesquite Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells. The weather was great, cool before sunrise and warm but not too hot after sunrise. We both like taking abstracts of the dunes. They have subtle patterns that vary sharply from dune to dune. Then there are the weird little tracks of beetles, lizards and other small creatures, as well as bushes that create their own patterns on the dunes. I also discovered a bee burrowing under the sand. He repeatedly would go into his little hole and push a little bit of sand out. Then there’s just sitting on the top of a dune and contemplating things. There were a few other photographers out there, but we all kept far enough apart to maintain a feeling of solitude.
That afternoon, we drove to the Charcoal Kilns, an odd place in the Panamint Mountains, where they built beehive-shaped ovens to make charcoal out of nearby trees. There was still snow on the ground at 7,000+ feet, and we were chilly in our Bermuda shorts.
On Thursday, we went to Titus Canyon, one of our favorite places in Death Valley. But before the canyon, we stopped in Rhyolite, a ghost town that has quite a few buildings left standing. Their big strike was in 1906-07, and the town grew rapidly. Now, the train station is mostly intact, but fenced off. Bits of the bank, the school and the mercantile still stand. The neatest building is the bottle house, built with heaven-knows how many bottles, set in cement. I followed a moto-cyclist in full regalia to a little miner’s shack. She let me take her picture in the doorway, looking like a space-person, recently landed. Right next to Rhyolite is the Goldwell Open Air Museum, with its strange collection of artwork. We found a new addition on this trip: a bench created with tile, bottle caps, glass, abalone and other ephemera.
After that, we started down the gravel road to Titus Canyon. The first 10 miles are fairly unspectacular; then you get into the foothills and enter a multicolored mud-hill heaven. After some serious switchbacks, we reached Red Pass, a small space with parking for about 3 vehicles, that looks into two valleys. After a slow, bumpy descent, we reached Leadfield, a defunct mining town. Then it’s into Titus Canyon. For about 6 miles, you gently descend into the canyon, that gets narrower and narrower, as the walls get higher and higher. To top it off, the walls vary between silver and peach-colored stone. The light wasn’t as perfect as the first time we went through (in 1980), but was still quite beautiful.
Friday was moving day – all of 26 miles from Stovepipe Wells to Furnace Creek. We were in line at Stovepipe, waiting to dump our gray tank, when I heard a wonderful sound. Peering out the window, I saw a guy playing a Xylophone, a little way in the desert, like a pied piper. I went over, with a few other people, and discovered Michael Charles Smith (marimbamike.com) and found out that he was playing a marimba, not a xylophone. Great music – check out the website. After clearing the gray tank, we did the short run to Furnace Creek and settled into Sunset Campground, a huge gravel parking lot, with nary a tree among 750 campsites. But it gets the job done and it’s possible to see the snow-capped Panamint peaks if you get a good campsite.
We went for an afternoon drive to Artist’s Palette, which is a multi-colored conglomeration of mud hills that look like melting ice cream. (Speaking of which, we haven’t had any ice cream on our trip yet!)
Today, we got up early and went for a hike up Golden Canyon. The quiet beauty of the Death Valley won us over once again, as we hiked up canyons of every color of cream, gold, rust and brown. The wildflowers haven’t run amok yet, but there are bits of greenery all over the place. It’s nice to be here in spring.