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Archive for March, 2017

Saturday, March 18

Page, Arizona was our destination on Saturday, an easy 100 miles or so. We reserved at the Page Lake Powell RV Resort, a pleasant place at a convenient location. The main downside is a lot of highway noise when we’re sitting outside, but we did see our first bat of the trip here. We are trying to figure out which slot canyon to tour. Antelope Canyon runs around 32 miles and various Navajo families own the land. Some families run their own concessions, others allow commercial concessionaires to run the tours. It is one of the biggest businesses for the Navajos in this area and this time of year is popular with tourists.

Sunday, March 19

We decided to forego the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon Tours because they don’t offer photographer tours this time of year. That means that no tripods are allowed and you have very little time to stand around making images. Canyon X is 15 miles further down Antelope Canyon and is run by the family and a network of others. It does offer a Photographer’s Tour that lasted 3 hours for $64 each.

After a 2-mile ride from the parking lot to the top of the canyon, one young man escorted us down a steep, sandy path to the slot canyon entrance, told us he had to leave to “rope steers” and handed us off to another young man. A group of 3 photographers were already at the entrance. The guide said the light was perfect, knelt down and started throwing the fine sand into the air, revealing the light beam that shone down into the narrow canyon. Dave and I were behind them, so weren’t well positioned to capture it.

The guide changed my camera to what he said was the best settings to capture light in the canyon. I tried a few that way and then set it back to what I usually use. Familiarity is important in extreme light conditions. He escorted us in a ways then departed to take the other 3 men to another slot canyon about 100 yards away. We were on our own, just as we prefer.

X Canyon wasn’t as dramatic as Upper Antelope but it still had beautiful swirling walls and we were totally alone in there for about an hour. The only exception was a young Navojo woman with two little kids, Hannah and Cole. She said they had never seen the sunbeam strike the floor of the canyon before and was taking pictures of it.

When we were done shooting, there was nobody around, so we walked ourselves to the other canyon and spent some time in there. The sun had moved and was not optimal for lighting up the walls, but we managed anyway.

Predictably, I got a few silly shots done.

Because these slot canyons are so narrow and because we’re often shooting straight up on a tripods, we really have to twist ourselves into contorted positions. After 2.5 hours of this, I was tired. Another guide brought a couple to the slot as we were leaving. Walking back through the more open part of the canyon, we began photographing the gorgeous stone.

We took so much time that the guide and husband and wife emerged and I could hear bits and pieces of their conversation as they came up behind us.

“Oh, billy goats smell so bad.”

“When we butcher them, we clean out the stomach really good and save the blood.”

“Do you use hominy in your goat stew?”

We made it home pretty quickly and relaxed outside as the two neighboring Boston Terriers eyed us suspiciously.

Wednesday, March 20

We decided to attempt the Cathedral Wash hike near Lee’s Ferry. It went through a wash with interesting rock formations. I was daunted by tales of a 30-foot dry waterfall that was tough to descend but brought a book in the car if Dave forged on and I didn’t. Because it was still hot at mid-day, we left pretty early for the 40-mile drive to the trailhead.

In the Rav, we crossed the Navajo Bridge that spanned the Colorado just before we reached the hike. I parked at the visitor’s parking lot and we ambled out on the pedestrian bridge. The emerald green Colorado was far beneath us. There were a number of people on the bridge, grouped around a woman with what appeared to be an antenna. They were all focusing on the Navajo Bridge. Then we saw the birds perched on the girders under the bridge.

“Vultures.” Dave guessed. Nope. Condors. Every time we visit Pinnacles National Park we look for condors and have only seen them once. This mating pair were comfortably ensconced and we did not get to see them exercise their 9-foot wingspan. It was still neat to see them so close.

We soon progressed to our departure point. Cathedral Wash was probably 30 feet wide where we dropped into it but it narrowed down after a half-mile or so. There were many different configurations of rocks and mud from one turn to the next. The wash walls were so steep that the majority of the trail was in shadow, which was nice. We hit one or two short drops where we walked on ledges above the wash and then clambered back into it.

We passed an older lady who said she had reached the big dropoff but decided not to try it because she was hiking alone. We soon reached it ourselves. I was dismayed. Dave looked around for a way down but I certainly didn’t like the looks of anything I saw. Then, miracle of miracles, a couple came up the wash and we got to watch how they got back up. It looked doable, so we did it.

There were 4 or 5 more dropoffs that weren’t always easy to traverse but I managed it. The wash continued downward and the banks of the Colorado River were our goal. When we reached it, we were immediately rewarded by a bevy of boats getting back into the flow just upstream from us. There was a little rough water right by us so we got to watch Zodiacs and kayaks bouncing around as they went by.

We had lunch on a hot rock and then started the trudge back. Now we were climbing up all the drops we had done earlier. A few of them involved edging along a narrow ledge ten to twenty feet above the wash floor.

Then we got back to the big one. The way we had descended didn’t look so good now, but investigation didn’t reveal any better alternatives. Balancing on a small, unsteady boulder, Dave heaved himself up into a small pocket. Then he managed to scramble onto his feet, found fingerholds about 5 feet up and shallow foot holds and pulled himself up. I passed up the packs and his tripod and then it was my turn.

I was afraid. Without too much trouble, I hoisted myself into the pocket. I was on my butt facing outward. I had to get one leg up into the pocket, stand up and face inward, all without a place to grab onto. Dave couldn’t reach me until I stood up. I sat for a moment, gathering my resolve and then made the move. I got a firm grip on Dave’s hand. Now I had to find a foothold to raise me enough so Dave could help heave me up. He was bending pretty far over to hold my hands. “Take my other hand” he urged. That meant I had to let go of the rockface with my hands and hope my foothold would support my weight enough so I could help him pull me up. It worked. I was up. Phew! I hugged him as adrenalin coursed through my veins. This is probably another hike I will not be doing again, but I’m glad I did it.

We slogged back the last half-mile or so in the sun. The adrenalin had faded away and I was exhausted. But icy air-conditioning, lukewarm coffee and cookies, and flip-flops instead of hiking boots refreshed me for the 40 miles home. Then a shower improved things more and we had a nice dinner.

Tuesday, March 21

Takeoff day. It was more than 200 miles to Farmington, New Mexico, so we decided to only drive halfway there and camp somewhere. In the middle of Navajo country, there are few campgrounds near our route. Dave found Round Top Mesa, a BLM campground, using the Ultimate Campground application. The app only showed that the camp was near AZ-160 and gave GPS coordinates. I tried to confirm the coordinates on the Garmin and it looked like it was close but neither info actually showed a road.

After a pleasant drive through beautiful red-rock country, we passed the small town of Dennehotsu and looked for a likely turnoff. We found a large pullout off 160, unhooked and Dave went looking for the elusive campground. No luck. We ended up camping by the highway, hoping nobody rousts us.

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Wednesday, March 15

We headed out at our usual time, 10:30. At first I thought we had departed at 9:30, exceedingly early for us. But no, my watch was not set ahead for Daylight Savings time. We had to think about the time because Arizona doesn’t do Daylight Savings. We were going through a corner of Arizona but Kanab is in Utah. That state does do Daylight Savings time. Unimportant to retired people, you’re thinking? Think again.

Kanab, Utah is a nice little town near the Arizona border. It’s convenient to Zion National Park and kind of convenient (30 miles) to the Vermillion Cliffs. The Cliffs are mostly inaccessible to passenger cars. Even our 4-wheel drive Rav doesn’t have real high clearance. If it has been raining, nobody can access it – flash floods are endemic to the area. We’ve never before done anything in the Vermillion Cliffs area. This time, we decided to check out some of it since no rain was forecast.

The big world-wide attraction here is called “The Wave”. It’s a spectacular sandstone formation and everyone wants to see it. Back in 1997, the BLM decided to limit the number of people who can see it to 20 per day. Ten people can attempt to reserve online and you can guess how fast those spots go. The other 10 spots are offered by lottery out of the Visitor’s Center in Kanab each day. Each group (up to 6 people) fills out an application between 8:30 and 9:00 and the lottery is at 9. If you win the lottery, you get a permit for the day and can hike out to The Wave. We decided to give it a try.

We checked into the rustic Hitch N Post, a nice Mom-and-Pop-run place about a 3-minute drive from the Visitor Center. We were careful to set all our watches and clocks to Daylight Savings time before we went to bed that night.

Thursday, March 16

The next morning we started to prepare for our hike that day on Cottonwood Road. At 8:15, we heated up our coffee and went over to the Visitors Center. We were surprised: it wasn’t very crowded. When we went up to the desk to ask about the lottery, we were told it had happened already at 9:00.

“Did you come from Arizona last night?” the guy asked.

“No, we came from Nevada and we reset our clocks for Daylight Savings time.”

“Hmmmm.” He was stumped.

We finally figured out the problem. Nevada is on Pacific time. Utah is on Mountain time. Usually the maps we use indicate the change but not the one I used to come from Nevada. Darn! We hadn’t noted the time zone change.

We returned to the rig and finished packing for a long day on the road and trail. It was already hot (high 70’s) and we might have to do some wading on the trail. We didn’t realize that Cottonwood Road was 45 miles from Kanab, but it’s a very pretty drive. Then it was 14 miles down a dirt road but it was in pretty good shape. The first thing we saw was longhorn cattle. It looks weird to see a cow with long horns chewing away on her cud.

The scenery was nice but the light wasn’t great. Oh well. As the hills got more color, the telephone wires began to get in the way. Oh well.

We finally reached our point of debarkation. I was a little apprehensive. The trail description included wading through Cottonwood Wash, then climbing a 45-degree incline. Total elevation gain was over 1,000 feet. Dave led the way through the brush and we found Cottonwood Wash was only an inch or so deep. Then we reached the foot of the canyon mouth and looked up. I wasn’t sure how steep a 45-degree incline was. Now I know. It’s really steep! We finally reached a saddle with some nice views, then climbed a little more.

I was surprised at how fast and often I lost my breath. I’m not sure what the altitude was but this was certainly the most strenuous hike thus far on our trip. But when we caught sight of the Yellow Rock area, I was glad I had come. Although the sun was high, the light was good.

We struck out cross country for a half-mile or so, trying to avoid the small prickly pear cacti that were all around and finally reached the bottom of Yellow Rock. Although we were stopping to photograph, I was having to sit down every 10 minutes or so to catch my breath. (And it wasn’t due to the breathtaking scenery!) Dave had scrambled up to the top and was doing his own thing.

I was thinking about stopping my ascent up the hill and started heading parallel towards the north. A huge amphitheater started coming into view so I continued on.

And then, POW!!!! This stunning, multi-colored mountain appeared. Yellows, apricots, oranges and a lot of colors in between.

After a while Dave joined me and due to strong wind gusts, lost his hat. Luckily, it didn’t roll too far and he retrieved it.

We started our descent and soon I was looking down doubtfully at a quarter-mile of downhill. I hate going down steep, gravelly paths. Having no jetpack, I followed Dave down, sidestepping all the way, using my hiking poles to great advantage. My knees got shaky about halfway down but I finally made it. I was bushed! I dragged along behind Dave back to the car.

What a pleasure to change out of my steamy boots into flip flops. What a pleasure to shed the sweaty hiking pants for shorts. What a pleasure to turn on the air conditioning in the car. We still had a 60-mile drive back to Kanab. I was grateful that Dave did it. We had planned ahead to go out for dinner to Escobar’s, a little family-run, Mexican place. Unfortunately, they didn’t serve Margaritas, but Dave had a beer and I had a frosty root beer along with our large plates of comfort food.

Friday, March 17

After our exertions on Thursday, we had a down, down day on Friday. But, we did go back to the Visitor’s Center to join the lottery. This time we were timely and filled out the application along with 149 others. We were number 16. I was hoping for 17 since it was St. Patrick’s Day, but neither 16 nor 17 were drawn. Only 3 permits were issued for a party of 3, a party of 4, and a party of 4 who were going to have to leave someone out. That was it.

A note of amusement: On our first day in Kanab, Dave had noticed a police car sitting by the side of the highway and automatically slowed down. The next couple of times we drove by, the police car was always there. We guessed that’s all he had to do in this quiet Mormon town. As we drove slowly by, Dave noticed that the policeman was a dummy – literally. I brought it up to one of guys at the Visitor Center and he laughed and said “Yeah, he’s been there a while. The car used to have a bumper sticker on it that said “I love plastic donuts”.” When we stopped to look closer, we found the dummy had a little Hitler mustache.

We sat around all day, catching up with the blogs, reading and coloring. Yes, I’ve started coloring. It’s a great mindless pastime that won’t give me carpal tunnel syndrome like computer games can do. It’s very calming and I hardly ever swear while doing it.

I started checking out all the memorabilia around the RV park. All collected from the desert: rocks, petrified wood, bottles, animal skulls, rusted tools, an Army pot-bellied stove and several old washing machines. I loved the fact that this one is a Maytag. If fixed up, it would probably work just fine.

 

 

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Saturday, March 11

We sailed out of Death Valley on Saturday and spent a busy day in Pahrump, Nevada. We checked into a very pleasant rv park run by Best Western. Lots of palm trees and close to our shopping needs. I did 4 loads of laundry; Dave got 2 new tires installed on the RAV4. When he got back, I did two hours of grocery shopping, I really loaded up on wine. Not only is it cheaper in Nevada, it also is found in the supermarkets. In Utah, you still have to go to a separate “Package Store” for liquor, the selection is usually lousy, and it is expensive. Except for the separate store, the same is true for vegetables.

I came home with about 15 bags of groceries, made dinner and had a very pleasant evening. I relish the balmy warmth after the sun has descended. The moon was full (I think) and I eventually hauled myself outside to try a few shots. Several of our neighbors decorate their rigs so I took a few shots of that too.

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Sunday, March 12

On Sunday, before we left, I sought out the rv park “library”. Almost every rv resort has a “take one-leave one” area. Over the 37 years that I’ve been camping, the selection has declined in numbers and variation. This large park with many semi-permanent tenants had one table. There were about 10 by James Patterson and a somewhat varied selection of other stuff. Nothing I was interested in.

We were headed for the Valley of Fire State Park, about 50 miles north of Las Vegas. Vegas is so huge now and traffic is always busy. It’s difficult to navigate the LD and toad onto and off of  crowded freeways. I routed us through the southern part of town and then north through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, thus avoiding the central freeways.

Our America the Beautiful Senior card saved us another $20 entrance fee (good for 7 days). The road north was great: well-paved, winding through hills and mountains. There’s a fair amount of desert greenery and mountains of varying height, color and composition.

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We eventually reached Valley of Fire and found that both campgrounds were full. I had forgotten how popular the park is. We ended up 25 miles southeast at Echo Bay by the waters of Lake Mead. That’s not exactly true. We were in a nice, quiet little campground that was more than a mile from the water because the water has receded so far due to protracted drought. For the first time this trip, we ate dinner outside, then enjoyed watching the stars come out.

Monday, March 13

Early again? Oh, yes. We arose early and headed 25 miles up to Valley of Fire. We were there for two things. The first was the Rainbow Vista. The colors in the rocks here are insane. I especially like the grape lines lined up on the rock.

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After a while, we got back in the car, turned up the air conditioning and went to walk the 1.25-mile White Dome Trail. It’s short, but very, very sweet. So many different rock formations. We met a nice lady called Linda and exchanged life stories in ten minutes or so.

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Tuesday, March 14

The next day was hot once again. We lazed around until mid-afternoon, then took off to explore Northshore Road, running north-south alongside Lake Mead. Only Lake Mead is rarely visible from the road. Redstone is a picnic area about 25 miles south of where we are camping. It’s quite beautiful, with deep red rock. We attempted a walk but cut it short with the sun blazing down. Some other time, I guess.

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There were some lovely, soft-color scenes as we traversed the landscape.

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And not so soft.

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As always, I found some flowers.

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We departed Stovepipe Wells on Tuesday and drove 33 miles to Furnace Creek. The nice hookup campground was full so we ended up at Sunset CG, a gravel-pit. After settling in, we headed up to see the Pupfish, tiny little critters that inhabit Salt Creek. After all the rains here, they were all over the creek, looking for a little fun.

We had a boring drive through the dull Mustard Canyon and went home to see a spectacular sunset.

The next morning, we got up early. (Again!) Dave started to load the Rav, came in and told me “We’re dead in the water.” “Huh?” “We have a flat tire.” Apparently our little detour through Mustard Canyon had inserted a shard of something into the tire. My intrepid husband put on the spare and drove about a 100 yards to the only gas station in Furnace Creek. As luck would have it, the garage man at the gas station lived in Pahrump and if Dave ordered a new tire from there, he could pick it up and deliver it to Death Valley for us on Thursday. That’s service! So a half hour after Dave returned, we drove the 6 miles to Golden Canyon and were on the trail by 8:15, early enough to still have some shade.

Golden Canyon is our favorite hike in Death Valley. The soft golden shades are beautiful, there’s not too much going up, there’s lot of little side canyons to explore and you can loop around to Zabriskie Point or Gower Gulch.

The varieties of shape, color and consistency are mind boggling. How did all this stuff arrive at one location? (Could it be wind and water?)

As you wind your way up the canyon, eventually, a turn reveals the Red Cathedral, a radically different rock formation.

After that, as Dave puts it, we reach “Georgia O’Keeffe country”. The trail starts to rise and you look down at hills that are melty amalgams of beige, butter, tan, cinnamon, sepia and all their color cousins. I could photograph this stuff forever.

As an added bonus, you are high enough to have a line of sight to Death Valley’s floor.

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After a bit of a sit, we started down the other side.

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Our big decision was to go up to Zabriskie Point and return down Golden Canyon or make a loop out of Gower Gulch. We had tried Gower several years ago and were not impressed. But I thought we should try it again. And it was good. The light was good, it wasn’t super-hot and we weren’t too tired. There were colorful rock formations. So stuff looked good. It was fun.

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We were supposed to get our new tires on Thursday, but the service station guy had a really sore tooth and called in sick. He was going to pick them up in Pahrump, Nevada, where he lived and bring them to Furnace Creek. So no tires for us. We languished around the morning and early afternoon and then headed for a sunset at Dante’s View. At 5,000 feet altitude, Dante’s is a welcome refresher on a hot day.

Zabriskie Point is on the way to Dante’s and we made our obligatory stop there. We have spent several hours there before, but the heat defeated us and we took a few shots and got back in the air-conditioned Rav.

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It’s about 20 miles further to the Dante’s View. No flowers – a little disappointing. But we started winding our way up and arrived at the view around 5:30. Alas, the clouds weren’t that thick but the great light and color just wasn’t there. We stuck around until 6:30 and then headed back. The dusk critter count crossing the road: 1 vole, 2 moths and 1 jackrabbit. But the night was young – we were going to get a Death Valley pizza!

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Dave had a beer and I had a pretty insipid cocktail while we waited for the pizza. Then we took it home and enjoyed it. The crust was tough to cut through but the pepperoni was plentiful and the mushrooms were meaty. Afterwards, we finished our wine outside, identifying the Big Dipper and Orion. A nice evening.

We decided to check out Ashford Mill, about 35 miles south of Furnace Creek., so we got up early. Our critters of the day: two roadrunners in camp. One of them looked like it was begging – approaching very close to a guy in the next camp over. We hit the road about 8 a.m. and it was quite pleasant, with clouded skies.

A little before we reached Badwater, the lowest point in the United States, we saw something stalled in the middle of salt pan. Binoculars revealed either a van or a boat. We continued to Badwater and started walking out onto the salt pan.

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We saw someone walking towards the vehicle and decided to follow. About 15 minutes later, we found a Chevy van, deeply sunk in the muck. It’s tracks looked like the debacle was fairly recent. The hula doll in the windsheild hadn’t provided luck. Dave and I debated: had the guy got drunk and decided to camp out there? The next day, when he couldn’t drive away, did he walk back to the road and hitch a ride, saying he had car trouble? Did he call AAA? We’ll never know.

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As we started to walk back, there were two groups of people heading our way. Once people see someone else go somewhere, they will follow. (Well, so did we.) Although Dave lent me his ballcap, I had a slight sunburn from the sun reflecting off the salt by the time we got back to the car.

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As we headed south, we noticed the Creosote bushes were in bloom. So we stopped to photograph them. Further south, we found a small marsh with crickets singing away. The greenery lined up next to the road revealed some small wildflowers. If you look close, you will see.

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We finally reach Ashford Mill, a long-abandoned business.

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In 2010, we had experienced an exquisite bloom there, but it was too early or perhaps the bloom just wasn’t going to be great this year. I found one sand verbena blooming and Dave found 3 desert gold plants. Oh well, it was nice anyway.

We went back, knowing that we would get the new tires installed in Pahrump, and settled down for a slightly sweaty afternoon at the rig. Tomorrow, on to Nevada.

 

 

 

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On Friday, around 3:30, we gathered our stuff and drove a mile up to Mosaic Canyon. The canyon has been through a few floods since last we were there and rock that I call “Angel fat” because it usually looks rounded and golden-white, was grubby and broken. But the walk still starts with a few dramatic narrow twists before the wash broadens out. Usually, we go maybe half a mile before it gets too hot and we turn back. But it wasn’t too hot, so we continued slogging through the gravel wash and saw some nicely colored formations.

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Back at the parking lot, our parting gift was the final glow of sun on the nearby golden rock formations.

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Sunset, later that night.

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Dave found a hike we had never done, so on Saturday, we loaded up the Rav and drove 30 miles over the Panamint Mountains to the tiny hamlet of Panamint Springs. The valley we crossed before reaching the town still had some water from the February rains and the clouds were wonderful.

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We eventually found the bumpy, unpaved road to Darwin Falls. Two miles later, we were at the trailhead. It’s about a mile to the falls but the trail is easy to follow because a narrow water pipeline accompanies it all the way. I’m pretty sure the water this pipe conveys is how the town survives.

Halfway to the falls, a small stream appears. It is wonderful to see water in such a dry area. After a few stream crossings and rock scrambling, we made it to the tiny clearing in front of the impressive Darwin Falls.

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I was anxious to get back to Panamint Springs because I had seen a sign offering ice cream and milk shakes. Alas, the ice cream was anemic Blue Bunny bars and the milk shake machine “…wasn’t working too good.” The wind was picking up as we started the drive back and the alkali was flying.

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The Sunday weather wasn’t looking too good – high winds that meant flying sand and dust. We decided to hike into the west end of Titus Canyon, a lovely place that we couldn’t drive through because of winter road repairs. Dave thought that the wind might not be so bad in the tight twists of the narrow gorge. Going to Titus meant driving past the Mesquite Sand Dunes. The winds were already “picking up”.

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The wind was blowing pretty good when we entered Titus Canyon. I was experienced in the way of wearing contact lenses – I didn’t. I wore my ancient prescription granny glasses that always make my stomach churn when I move my head – peripheral vision is really different with glasses. Usually, we hike Titus on a hot afternoon; this time, a cool breeze made the walk a pleasure. For a while.

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The magic of Titus Canyon always entrances me. On my first photographic workshop in 1979 (thank you, Stephan Johnson), I got to ride through Titus on the wooden platform that George Ward (rest his soul) had built on the roof of his camper. Seeing the glowing silver and apricot colors of the rock was awe-inspiring.

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As we wandered along, gusts of wind increased in frequency, duration and intensity. It was unusual and kind of fun. For a while. Pretty soon, the view in front of us became hazy from all the particulate matter in the air.

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We decided to find a sheltered space for lunch, then head out of the canyon. Being removed from the wind let us hear it roaring as it approached. As we started back, sometimes the wind was in our face; sometimes at our back. Sand and small gravel started to sting us. I had to tuck my shirt collar under my backpack straps because it was snapping against me. Occasionally, the gusts got so strong I had to hold Dave’s hand to keep my balance. We think they were somewhere around 30 or 40 mph, but maybe more. I have never experienced winds like that before.

We got back to the car and watched sand fly as we had our coffee and the last of my chocolate chip cookies. The trip home was pretty much like the trip out – windy with low visibility.

We were horrified when we got back to the rig. Worried about how hot it would be inside when we returned, we had left a couple of vents cracked open and the kitchen and bathroom windows open. BIG, BIG mistake! The wind had come in the opposite direction from what we expected. There was sand everywhere. So we got to clean house for the next two hours and clean house some more the next day. We won’t do that again.

Monday was our final attempt at the dunes. Once again, we rose before dawn and this time walked further east to different sand piles. I was somewhat disappointed – I didn’t seem to find a good vantage spot for sunrise. But when I looked at images later, I liked some of the results.

Finally, the sun hit the dunes around 7:50 a.m.

By 8:10, the wind was blowing pretty good. Photography became difficult. We moved off the dune crests. Blowing sand softened all the images.

So what to do if you can’t shoot far? Shoot near.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We had a perfect drive to Death Valley. The weather was balmy and there was very little wind. As we rose up the Tehachapi Mountains, we got behind a camper with its back door open and bouncing around. Luckily, his screen door stayed closed. I tried to wave at him to give him a warning as we passed, but the old dude had his eyes glued to the road.

Once we were down the other side of the hill, we were glad to be back in the desert. Dave found a spot he wanted to stop at and I managed to pull off the road. Someone created killer rocks in the middle of nowhere.

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Soon the snow-capped Sierra  Nevada peaks were peeking out over lower mountains. We separated the Rav4 from the Lazy Daze when the 4,000+ foot rise to Towne Pass was ahead of us. Driving it after the Lazy Daze was like floating on a feather. We reached the pass and coasted down 4,000 feet to Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley.

After selecting our patch of gravel, we set out the chairs, changed into shorts and sandals, and enjoyed sweet Envy apples with blue cheese and Cuba Libres. We’re back in the high life again!

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The stars were very good that night, but the moon is waxing so we’ll get fewer stars and more moon as the week goes on. Maybe a moonlight walk in the dunes is called for.

On Friday, we woke up early to the dulcet tones of Dave’s iPhone alarm. The inside of the LD was 58 degrees at 5:15 a.m., pretty warm, considering. We chomped down a Clif Bar and headed for the dunes before sunrise. The up-and-down half-mile walk to the larger dunes got us out of breath but we reached them before the sun was up. When the sun reached them, the Cottonwood Mountains to the west turned an intense shade of red and bits and pieces of the dunes started to light up. And it’s quiet, so quiet.

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Dave wanders around somewhat, but I pretty much stay put and just keep looking. It’s amazing what attention allows you to see. Patterns, subtle tones and shadings, odd little things.

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Planes often fly over Death Valley and I ignored the sound of a nearby plane. When I looked up, a black Stealth bomber accompanied by a gleaming white plane was right overhead. It was unphotographable, in front of the sun, before I could get my camera off the tripod. The same thing happened to Dave but he got a decent shot. It’s an amazing sight.

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After 90 minutes or so, the sun was pretty high and the shadows were getting harsh. We sat on top of a dune and contemplated the view for a while, then trudged back to the car. After returning from the dunes, I started the bacon and eggs and we had a relaxed breakfast. We hung around, showering, reading, looking at the dune images and enjoying the ambiance of our uncrowded gravel campground.

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After a lot of loading over the weekend, we settled down on Sunday night to eat appetizers and watch the Academy Awards. I have a good new recipe for mini BLT’s served in baked Wonton wrappers. Also, a red bell pepper-cheddar dip. Also, salad mix wrapped in Prosciutto. So actually, pretty healthy. The awards were pretty good, though the end was certainly a mess.

Monday was a short driving day to our friends in Merced. Jeff and Betty Denno are always fun to spend time with. In the past, they have taken us out to find vernal pools, small bodies of water that only appear after lots of rain and maintain concentric circles of wildflowers while they gradually evaporate. There were lots of pools from all the rain this year in the Central Valley, but the wildflowers haven’t popped up yet. But the almond groves are still in bloom and the hills are a vibrant green. Wonderful to see after so many years of drought in California.

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I managed to spot the white head of a bald eagle and only realized later that there was a second one hidden in the branches of the distant tree. That was really neat.

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Our close friends, Mary Prendiville and Rick Lopez arrived later in the evening and the six of us enjoyed a rare night together. Mac, the Denno’s 17-year-old Cockatiel, contributed to the festivities, ringing his favorite bell and squawking.

After a long, luxurious breakfast the next day, we departed for Fresno, 40 miles south. Fresno sponsors The Blossom Trail, a fairly long circuit going through many nut and fruit orchards when they are in bloom. We took off around 3 p.m. when the light was getting lower. Having listened to the knowledgeable Jeff and Betty, we knew our almonds from our walnut trees. We determined orange trees by the oranges rolling around under them. We found large orchards with all their trees shrouded in netting. To keep out pests? They looked very mysterious.

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The backdrop for many images was the hazy, pale green hills in the distance. Behind them were the snow-capped Sierra. We had a good time, then drove west, into the sun to return home to our very unimpressive RV park in Fresno.

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The next day I called down to Carrizo Plain to see if they had wildflowers yet. Nope. So we lazed around and then Dave drove the rig 100 miles down the road to Bakersfield, where we often stock up before going to Death Valley. The smell: not very good. The visibility: abysmal. The town’s value is convenience. Tomorrow we’re out of here!

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