It was a pretty isolated drive along the Wildrose Canyon Road, with the ultimate goal being to make it to Mahogany Flat. The road, although paved, kept climbing to higher elevations, eventually becoming steep and winding and with a lot of hairpin curves. My least favorite kind of driving. But the mountains, becoming ever closer, compelled me to drive on, curve after curve, in order to see their broad silhouettes in the not so distant horizon. But for those curves, it was mesmerizing.
For some people, hearing the call of the open road means driving as fast as the vehicle's transmission will allow down any given stretch of road. Death Valley is not a drive through destination; not for those who want to experience it. Take the gas pedal off the floor of the car and slow it down a bit. You never know when you'll want to pull over in a certain spot that just looks perfect. Even if you've been here 100 times before, there's probably something that you've missed. If you've always driven through at 80 mph, that probability is a virtual certainty.
If you look closely, you can see tracks in the ground, which were supposedly made by wagons crossing this part of the desert in the 19th century. It seems unusual that they would still be here, but that's what the sign says.
In some ways, it is the desolate areas of Death Valley that are the most beautiful. It is easy to see beauty in dazzling rock formations, golden sand dunes or snow spotted mountains rising gracefully towards the sky. By contrast, flat brown land which stretches endlessly in desolate morbidity without a hint of green doesn't sound like anything you'd drive hundreds of miles to see. But driving these long stretches of road where nothing ever grows is surprisingly peaceful, surprisingly serene, and, most surprising of all, beautiful.
Because of the cloudless sky and bright midday sunlight, the best time for taking pictures is in the early morning or late afternoon. The light is most favorable during those times and pictures will come out better.
The first successful mining operation in Death Valley involved the extraction of borax, which is apparently a very valuable mineral. The sign explains the importance of borax and its uses. Click on the picture if you're interested in learning more about it.
Its a different crowd out here than the hordes of tourist that flock en masse to the Grand Canyon or Yosemite or the climbing jocks who congregate in places like Zion. Its a more quiet and subdued crowd. Those that are more into looking and observing than being easily wowed by obviously impressive scenery. This is a pretty out of the way place, one you have to travel far over desolate roads to enter and one which you have to patiently explore in order to truly see.
Its a perfect weather day. About 60 degrees, blue sky and only stray wisps of clouds break the otherwise endless vista. Death Valley is so stark, so extreme that is is soul searchingly, hauntingly beautiful. Barren land flanks the weather beaten road, salt and other minerals accumulate on the ground where they have been abandoned by long since dried up lakes and subtle rock formations in the form of mountains populate the horizon.
"We are at Barker's now, sneaked in at dusk. It feels good here all in one room, all in one circle. We're dusty brown and smoothly tough, with cactus cut hands of lizard scale and sun. The feeling is animal, of wind and rough ground under our feet, and real. We can't stay here at Barker's. There's too many of us. We are hunted. So tonight we dig. "
Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, 1969-Manson Family Killer
On the edge of Death Valley an intrepid traveller may find the Barker Ranch which is unoccupied but still remains on private land. It was here in 1969 that a group of 20 Hippie's belonging to the Charles Manson clan hid out from law enforcement. The above text is a journal entry written by a now imprisoned murderer about her stay at this remote shack in Death Valley. There are actually a few beds, a fire place, an old kitchen, and even a liabrary inside the home but nobody lives there. I imagine the stuff was left there by travellers who were passing through on a tour of the macabre. You can probably stay the night there if you are in Death Valley but don't let stories of the place being haunted scare you off. The stars are bright & glorious in the night sky but even that wont keep a vivid imagination at ease knowing that the Manson killers gazed upon the same night sky you now lay under.
Goler Canyon is an amazingly steep and rugged route into and out of Death Valley. Lined with mines and cactus from top to bottom, the 4.5 mile long canyon is worth a hike from the Ballarat entrance if you are without a 4x4.
Panamint Valley is one long raceway with the dunes at the north end of the valley the high banked turns. All day long F-16's and F-18's race up and down the valley sometimes barely 100-feet above the ground. We were even surprised by a B-1 bomber.
Don't assume that since it is a dry lake that it doesn't fill with water in the winter. This is Panamint Dry Lake just west of Panamint Valley Road on Highway 190 in late February with 12-24 inches of water which may last one week.
At the north end of Panamint Valley you'll find the Lake Hill(s). Rising several hundred feet out of Panamint Dry Lake geologist believe the hills slid down from adjacent hills.
1.9 miles east of the junction of highways 190 and Panamint Valley road is a graded dirt road that travels north 5 miles to the base of the hills where you can park and hike straight up to the top of the hill.
Visited Zabriskie Point and there was filming going on. The crew only spoke very limited English. They told me it's an Italian production called "Hollywood Flies". I did not recognize the director or any of the actors/actresses. It looked pretty small budget to me. I gave them a few filming tips. Hope they spell my name right in the credits. Well, don't expect to see the movie in U.S. anyway.
Beatty, Nevada is about 40 miles from Furnace Creek or Stovepipe Wells. It's the closest town to stay outside Death Valley National Park. Walked around the blocks and I found the town was made of a dozen or so hotels/motels and a handful casinos. In the casinos I only saw local gamblers (not a good sign).
According to census, Beatty's population was 1,173 in year 2000. Imagine the ghost town Rhyolite, just outside Beatty, had the population of over 10,000 at one time...