1 - March 29: People were asking me when is my next trip, so I
decided it must be time to take
one. That explains why on March 29, 2013, Janell and I were camped at Lone
underneath Mt. Whitney and a few miles from one of the several
far-flung entrances to Death Valley National
the first time here for both of us, so we were not entirely sure what
to expect, but we both enjoy the rugged beauty of the desert, and
Death Valley has that plus mountains, canyons, and a ton of other
stuff to see.
left Fresno a little after 8 a.m., and made good time, getting here
and set up by 3:30. Our trip included a quick stop for a snack in
the motor home at Tehachapi, and another stop at Ridgecrest, where
we rented a car. Although it's 70 miles away from Lone Pine, it was the closest
place to rent unless we continued north, then backtracked.
The first part of the
route is one I have taken many times, south to Bakersfield, and east
through Tehachapi to Mojave. Here we turned north on California 14,
a route I have driven on only once before.
The highway goes right
through the middle of Red
Rock Canyon State Park, where we stopped to take photos
of the multi-colored sedimentary cliffs.
Eventually 14 merges with
US 395, but shortly before that we took California 178 12 miles
through Inyokern and into Ridgecrest. We then backtracked as far as
395 and drove the final 70 or so miles north to Lone Pine.
Boulder Creek RV Park is about four miles south of town, and after
we got set up we drove to Lone Pine to check out the Visitor Center.
It serves visitors enjoying various federal lands in the area
including National Park, National Forest, and Bureau of Land
Management. We got some useful advice on places to see in Death
Valley, and a personal tour to the end of the building, where the
ranger pointed out Mt.
Whitney, visible through a large picture
expected, the weather in Death Valley is supposed to be quite warm - mid 90s throughout the weekend, although where we are is about
3,700 feet, so it's
between 70 and 80 here.
Day 2 - March 30: Having studied maps and thought about this
trip over the years, I was aware that Death Valley is very large,
with many miles between various points of interest. So we were
prepared to make a long drive each day into a different part of the
park. Friday night we got the crazy idea that it would be good to
get up very early and try to get into the park in time to take
pictures by the light of the rising sun. The only problem with this
idea was that "very early" was not early enough. We got up
a little after 5 a.m., and were on the road before 6, but the sky
was already getting light, and the road from Lone Pine to our first
stopping point, Father Crowley Vista, was a little over 40 miles. So
it was pretty much full daylight by the time we got there.
From Lone Pine we took
State Highway 136 for about 20 miles, where the road
becomes State 190, which comes in from US 395 to the southwest, and
is the main highway across the park.
actually made our first stop a half mile or so before the vista
point, when we
saw an interesting-looking row of large black boulders which stood
out from the lighter colored soil and rocks around it. I walked
along the line of boulders, getting some nice pictures,
while Janell wandered toward a canyon on the other side of the road.
The walk was over fairly level
ground, with some rocks but not hard
going, so when I turned around, it seemed that the car had gotten much
smaller and farther away than I expected. I tried to go to the end
of the boulders, but the formation dipped down a hill before
dwindling down to nothing, so I started back. Meanwhile, Janell
cautiously made her way to edge of the canyon to take some photos.
She was a bit annoyed when we stopped at the vista point a half mile
down the road to realize that she could have waited and seen the
same canyon ten feet from our car, but I pointed out that she got a
different view so her efforts were not in vain.
drive this far had been over more or less level terrain, at about
4,000 feet elevation. From the vista point the road became steep and
winding as it dropped down 3,000 feet to the Panamint
Valley. The valley is 65 miles long, stretching to the China
Lake Naval Weapons Station south of Ridgecrest, with the northern
portion lying in Death Valley National Park. Panamint Springs, at
the foot of the grade, offers food and lodging. We continued across
the valley, entering its low point which took us across a mile or
more of flat, white terrain, probably heavily alkaline. Although low
spots like this can be wet or muddy, we stopped and walked
out onto what turned out to be firm,
hard-packed sandy soil.
here we continued over the Panamint
Mountains through 4,900 foot Towne Pass, and then down into Death
Valley itself, where we saw the first elevation signs along the road
indicating that we were at or below sea level. Two paved roads head south
from Highway 190 along this stretch, one of which leaves the park
and goes back out to Ridgecrest. The other leads into Immigrant
Canyon and is limited to vehicles under 25 feet. There are a number
of points of interest along Immigrant Canyon Road, but we did not go
into this area.
continued on to Stovepipe
Wells, a "full service" village about 30 miles from
Panamint Springs. There is a visitor
center, general store
(combination gift shop/coffee shop/souvenir shop), camping, gas
and cabins, and a bar and restaurant here. We looked around the
visitor center, then went to
the store for coffee. Fortunately we did not need gas, since the
price was $5.50 per gallon.
short distance past the village and north of the highway are some
100 foot high sand dunes,
which we enjoyed from the road, stopping to take a few pictures.
There's no trail, but it's an easy two-mile cross-country walk to
the highest dune.
miles farther is a major road junction. Heading northwest takes you
to Death Valley Scotty's Castle and other points of interest,
including the western end of the Titus Canyon
Road. From the castle
this road goes northeast through Mud Canyon, over the Amargosa Range
and into Nevada.
junction, continuing in the northeasterly direction takes you to
Hells Gate and on out to Beatty NV. We took Highway 190 to the
southeast, which also goes out to Nevada, but we did not plan to
leave the state. We went past Furnace
Creek, another major resort
area, and on to Zabriskie
Point, one of Death Valley's most noted
vistas. I had heard of this location before I even knew it was
in Death Valley, due to the 1970 movie Zabriskie Point,
directed by the famous Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni.
movie gets lukewarm reviews, but the point itself is spectacular. The
area is a surrealistic mixture of weathered ridges, eroded gullies and
rock formations in various colors. It's virtually impossible to
describe adequately, so
I've included a number of photos below. A short walk from the parking area
takes you up to a point that overlooks Death Valley below, and of
course the mountains beyond.
here we continued on Highway 190 for about six miles and took a road
that goes 13 miles up to Dante's View, where you can stand at the
5,400 foot level, and look down at the valley and Badwater, the
lowest point in the United States, more than a mile below you. It's a
dramatic view, but not really as spectacular as Zabriskie. You can
hike a half mile or so to a higher point, but we could see quite
well from where we were without any more uphill walking.
backtracked to 190 and the junction with Badwater Road, about two
miles from Furnace Creek, and drove south as far as the road to Natural
Bridge. The parking area for this short hike is 1.5 miles off
the paved road on a very good dirt road, and the hike to the bridge
is about a half mile. The trail continues another half mile past the
bridge, and is located in a steep sided canyon about
50 to 100 feet
across. Along the way, as well as in other canyons, there are chutes
carved out by temporary waterfalls during periods of heavy rain.
back to Highway 190, we decided to investigate Artists Drive, a
nine-mile, one-way narrow paved road that winds through hills and
canyons east of the main road. This proved to be one of the park's
most scenic areas, especially the Artists
Palette, an area of rock stained with various colors.
we got back to Furnace Creek we parked by a picnic table near the
road and ate the
snack items we had brought. We also had an "official
discussion" regarding what to do next and whether to head for
the RV park and return the next day, or do some more sight-seeing.
One thing to consider was the fact that we were now over 100 miles
from Lone Pine, close to a three-hour drive.
we had got such an early start, it was not all that late, so we
headed back to Stovepipe Wells, and just beyond drove up the dirt
road to Mosaic
Canyon. This proved to be one of our three favorite
spots, the others being Zabriskie and Artist Canyon. The road is
fairly smooth gravel, two miles from the highway to the trailhead.
From there you can walk as far into the canyon as you wish, up to
two miles. However, there is plenty to see in the first half mile,
which is about how far we went. The canyon walls are made up of all
kinds of rock, including areas
where there are many large or small rocks embedded in what was
probably mud at one time. There are also sections of layered
marble, and lots of fantastic shapes and rock formations.
finishing this hike, we continued the long drive "home,"
stopping in Lone Pine for gas, and getting back to the motor home a little after six -
a good twelve hour day.
Day 3 - March
31: At the end of the previous day we had thought we would return
to Death Valley to hike to Darwin Falls, on a rare all-year creek
near Father Crowley Vista. This would still be a drive of 40 to 50
miles. We had seen the highlights of the eastern side of the
park, so did not plan to drive to that area again. We had realized
that between Highway 395 and the eastern
escarpment of the Sierra, we were looking at the Alabama
Hills. I had read a little about this area, but did not really
know much about it, so we decided to explore the hills our second
day. The hills were named in 1862 by Southern sympathizers, commemorating the victories of the Confederate ship CSS Alabama.
The low, rounded
Alabamas are strikingly different from the sharply sculpted Sierra
peaks above them, but they are still considered part of the Sierra
Nevada. From the east, in town or at our RV park, they looked like
low, rounded and fairly uninteresting brown dirt hills. However, a
short drive into the area revealed a strange and wonderful place
that we enjoyed as much as Death Valley.
As if to make up for
our early start the previous day, we did not leave the motor home
until around 3 p.m. Janell was not feeling well, so after breakfast
she climbed back into the upper deck, and ended up sleeping for
while. I read, walked around the park, and had a good nap myself.
Eventually she felt up to resuming our explorations, so we drove
into Lone Pine and turned west at the only traffic light.
two miles up Whitney Portal Road I realized I had forgotten my
camera. We both agreed that I would regret it if I did not take
pictures, so we went back to the RV park, got the camera, and began
our journey again.
of going into Lone Pine on our second attempt, we drove out of the
park straight across US 395, and into the hills on Lubkin Canyon
Road. We immediately began to see why this area has been used as the
location for many movies, especially westerns. The jumbled rock
formations give the impression that Gene Autry or Roy Rogers could
come riding up a canyon at any time, in hot pursuit of rustlers.
there are some cattle in the southern end of the area, as well as a
few homes and small ranches. At one point the road is barely one
lane wide as it goes through one of the ranches. Beyond this point,
the road joins an east-west route that has no name on my map, but is
an extension of the Tuttle Creek Road to the north. A left turn here
will take you to Horseshoe
Meadows Road, which goes into the Sierra to a huge meadow at the
10,000 foot elevation. There are campgrounds in the area, and trails
lead into the Golden
Trout Wilderness and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks. The
area is normally closed until May, but we had no intention of
heading in that direction anyway.
we turned right, and stopped at a location where we walked into the
rocks and explored for a while. These formations include boulders
large and small, in all kinds of fantastic shapes. In many places
it's possible to climb up on some of the rocks, always keeping in
mind that neither of us are as young as we once were. The granite is
what I call "sticky," which is to say, it's very rough and
firm, so you get a good grip with your boots. The opposite would be
the smooth granite found along creeks where centuries of water-borne
particles have ground off the rough surface. The granite is also
slightly tan in color, compared to gray and white colors that
dominate in most of the areas I've visited. Both the
structure and the color of the rocks reminded me of those in Joshua
Tree National Park.
read about the area on-line and in an Eastern Sierra Travel Guide we
picked up at a visitor center, we had a definite destination in
mind, Mobius Arch. From our first stopping point, we followed Tuttle
Creek Road which goes northeast down a canyon and joins Whitney Portal Road
just west of Lone Pine. We turned west and continued to Movie Road, which
goes through locations used by many films through the years. It
started in 1920 when Fatty Arbuckle came to Lone Pine to film The
Round Up, and includes the location of Under Western
Roy Rogers' first starring role. It was also here that John Wayne
made his last appearance before a camera, filming a commercial. If
film history is a special interest, you can follow mileage
information in the tour guide to visit the exact location of a
number of movies. There is also a film
history museum in town.
of a mile
and a half on Movie Road leads to a parking area at the trailhead
for the short loop trail to the arch. Like most areas with arches, the surrounding scenery is
just as interesting as the arch, and this location
would be special even without the arch. Mobius Arch is fairly small
(especially if your picture of what arches should be like has been formed
by visits to Arches National
Park), but its location permits dramatic
photos of Mt. Whitney thorough the opening. There are also a number
of "windows" or holes in rocks throughout the area.
you start your hike on the east or west side of the parking lot, the
trail immediately goes down into a wash, then it's up and down and
through rock formations all the way. As we came over a rise and down
into a wash coming back to the parking lot, we were a little tired
and not really happy to realize that there was another short climb
and descent into a second wash before the final section of uphill trail back to the
resumed our drive we continued north on Movie Road to Hogback Road,
which is a slightly rough dirt road that leads out to US 395 about
two miles north of town. We stopped in Lone Pine and had dinner at
the Totem Cafe, one of many choices in this small town of a little
Day 4 - April 1:
We had thought we would return to Death Valley for the hike to
Darwin Falls, but we weighed the 50 mile drive to that location
against another short trip into the Alabama Hills, and decided to go
for the closer area. This time we took a short connecting road from
the Tuttle Creek Road extension to Horseshoe Meadows Road and turned
north. Once again we found some interesting rock formations, and
started our explorations.
walk turned into a bit more of an adventure than I had intended.
While Janell went one way, I went another, then just kept going,
making my way up into the rocks where it was easy to climb.
Eventually I decided that I could probably keep going the way I was
headed and come out on the other side, but it took a lot of effort.
I had to backtrack several times, repeating the same backtrack twice
in one case. I considered going back the way I came in, but by this
time I had gone far enough that I was not sure how to do that, so I
kept going and had to do a little scrambling to get down out of the
rocks. Eventually I came out quite a ways from where I had started,
on the other side of a fence that ran across the open land but not
into the rocks.
Janell was calling me, but of course, I was too far away to hear
with all the rocks in between. She also came out on the wrong side
of the fence, but much closer to where we had started. In case
anyone thinks I should curtail my adventures, I would like to
emphasize that at no time did I feel that I was lost or in danger.
was still plenty of time left in the day, so we decided to see what
there was to see up Whitney Portal Road. Where this road ends, the hike
to the top of Mt. Whitney begins, but we had no desire to visit
this highest point in the continental US. We were happy to discover
that we could drive all the way to the end of the road, where there
was a small amount of snow, several campgrounds, and a beautiful
little creek rushing down the rocks, with snow and icicles for
decoration on the sides. We spent about an hour here, resting,
taking pictures and eating a snack. The total distance from Lone
Pine is only about 12 miles, with an elevation gain of either 4,100
or 4,600, depending on which Wikipedia entry is correct.
followed the road back down and walked around town, going in a few
stores and just enjoying the last few hours of our trip. The next
morning we got up when we were ready, had breakfast, and started
south on US 395. We returned to Ridgecrest to drop off the rental
car, then continued our trip home, with a desire to return some day
and see more of Death Valley and do further explorations in the
As I was
putting this report together, I realized I did not take any photos
of the hills from the eastern side. I did a Google
search, and it looks like virtually nobody takes pictures from
the east. This
is the best I could find, and it is a painting.
If you have
plans to visit Death Valley, there is a large-scale map available
from the American Automobile Association (AAA), which shows the
entire region. It goes from Las Vegas/Lake Mead on the east to
Tulare/Bakersfield on the west. From north to south it has Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park
at the top and Mojave National Preserve at the bottom. And
you can read another Death Valley travel report and see photos at Clayton
and Melinda Walkers' blog. There are many places we did not
visit, and some of them are covered in the Walkers' report.
Someone asked me how I remember all those details when I sit down to
I carry a recorder, or do I have the ability to picture my route?
That's the kind of question that causes me to give you a long,
complicated answer. I guess the basic reply is that despite the
number of brain cells I have managed to fry in 73 years, I still
seem to have enough to be able to recall the trips fairly well. Of
course, if a trip isn't memorable, why are you taking it?
always take my laptop PC, my iPad, or both, with the intention of
writing my report as it happens. Sometimes I am partially
successful. If there is a lot of "down time," as there was
during our hockey trip to Canada, I can get most of the report
done on the road (that one was 95% complete when we arrived home).
But if I'm involved with a lot of activities, or just traveling with
a friend, there never seems to be time to write.
typing on the iPad is far from ideal, the laptop now seems big and
cumbersome. It does have one big advantage - I can create the report
in its final HTML
format. With the iPad, I can use a text editing program with limited
capability, then transfer the document to my PC after I get home. In
Canada I used the iPad for part of the report, but wrote most of it
in Word in my daughter's laptop and Emailed it to myself. Then I
paste the text from Email or a word processing program into my web
design program. It still requires a little tweaking; for example,
pasted text has an extra carriage return between paragraphs, which I
have to remove one by one.
of the time I find myself doing a lot of the report after the fact.
I wrote part of the first day's events on the laptop the evening
that we arrived in Lone Pine, then never touched the computer again.
Fortunately, I can recall enough detail to complete the writing at
home. I rely on photos to remind me of things, and I consult maps,
travel brochures and Internet resources to fill in gaps in my
memory. And of course, only my traveling companions know if I left
out something important.
Estel, April 2013