March 2, 2009

taking the long way to Death Valley

It was again time to scram on a road trip. On the multiple trips, my friends and I did to the West Desert this winter, we talked often of extending the trip to Death Valley because the gas prices were lower than they'd been in years, and the season was right.
I had a full week before I had to be back at the VA for the next checkup. So I went to the VA, did a lab draw for my Nadir check, then headed out. Had to stop along I-80 to take a couple pics of the Newfoundland Mountains, which because of the mirage looked like they were floating.

...and a picture of the mountain named for this natural phenomena, the Floating Island

I went into Nevada at Wendover then south toward Ely. North of Ely is a place called Lages Junction. At the junction is the Stage Stop Roadhouse. I could picture 1939....some gangster car parked under the canopy at the pumps on his way back to Vegas from wherever. An attendant working the windows while mister gangster stood out in the dirt parking lot having a smoke.


Next stop was Cherry Creek, Nevada. It is classic small town Nevada, exactly what I think of when I think of Nevada. The turn-off from hwy 93 is north of Ely. The road to Cherry Ck. goes straight across the valley in a long arc down into the valley then back up for 8 miles to the foothills of the mountains and the tiny village.


Interesting museum too. It talks of the mining heritage of this place. Like most of Nevada, they're very proud of their mining heritage and like to display the artifacts of it's hey-day. It's hard to imagine some of these small towns that used to be towns of several thousand people. How it must've been. They must've had gold fever really bad to haul all that stuff so far into the wilderness to set up their livelihood. Makes me wonder what people will think of our culture when they see the ruins of our cities in however long.


I tried going up Egan canyon out of Cherry Ck., but there was a flood happening, apparently from snow melt running down from on high. I backtracked out of the canyon and continued south along the west side of the valley, having a good time lollygagging along the dirt road. There were several ranches along the route. I stopped at the Steptoe Ranch to take a photo, got back into my truck to go and all I got was a click out of the ignition. I noticed before leaving Ogden that my battery cable needed some cleaning up of the corrosion that was there. It occurred to me pretty fast that was the reason it wouldn't start so I got on a sweatshirt and cleaned up the terminal with my leatherman tool. All happy, it fired right up and I continued on my way. I've learned to travel with a bunch of tools and spare parts incase of a breakdown in some remote place. I'd rather travel with tools and a little risk than to take on payments of a newer truck, or to not travel to remote places. Besides if I had to make payments I'd be so busy with work to make the payments that I'd never have the time off to go out yonder somewhere. Very easy answer to me.


When I got into Ely I decided I better stop into the Napa store to pick up a new battery terminal incase the old trashed one lost it's contact again. The Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall was a bit of a novelty and picturesque with the setting sun in the background.


From Ely I continued west on hwy 50; aka. the loneliest road in America. I guess that'd be another good reason to have some spare parts and tools even if you have a newer truck. I got to Eureka well after dark where I gassed up. I checked in with the good ol' boy in the gas station about road conditions of some of the dirt routes south that would connect me with hwy. 6. It was a good thing I did! A well known western adage says that travelers should inquire locally about road conditions. Especially true for trying to find a turnoff in the dark in Nevada with no moon. I found my turnoff to the Monitor Valley, drove out in the middle of nowhere and went to sleep. The next day I woke to nice long views off into the blue distance. Just as the sun came over the range the coffee was ready. The two together took the mornings chill and made me one heck of a happy guy. I checked out my rig to make sure nothing obvious was falling apart then started south for the 60 or so miles of the Monitor Valley.


Along the way I was amused with this sign and the sticker someone placed on it. Apparently, there is quite a campaign in Nevada to return all BLM land to the state. A so-called revival of the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 80's. I thought the BLM presense was pretty non-existent where I traveled. Hardly even a sign, which I prefer, let alone a BLM truck with someone out looking at the country they manage.


Also in the Monitor Valley was Diana's Punchbowl. An interesting geologic feature, that reminded me of the cenotes in Mexico only with steaming water in it's bowels. It's vertical walls are probably 30 feet from the rim to the water.


What would a backroad in Nevada be without wildhorses...

One of the reasons I decided to take the Monitor Valley south was to visit the Ghostown of Belmont. What a neat place stuck in time. Probably most famous for the courthouse.

Old trucks must've lived a hard life traveling back and forth from Tonapah, probably transporting mining parts and equipment. From the looks of things they started using 4x4's as soon as this Willy's pickup came on the market.


Dirty Dicks Saloon on main street is for sale! Hmm, I could do that.


After a couple hours of walking around Belmont I went into Tonapah to get gas then headed for Death Valley. I decided to take a back road into the park through the ghost town of Goldhill. There are still some peeps living there. Like most of Nevada towns it has a colorful history. I went up in the hills above town for a couple pics.


From Goldhill the road goes over a pass where I could see the High Sierra over the top of two other mountain ranges.


 The south side of the pass is another ghost town called Stateline that must've been quite the place in it's hey-day, with many ruins of stone houses. Might as well use whats there to build your house. From there the road goes into the head of Oriental Wash down, down, down to the park boundary where you need to leave the wash bottom at just the right place to pick up the two track that takes you across the desert several miles through the park without violating the wilderness boundary. My map actually worked really good. This is what was left of the sign at the park boundary at the California border.

I made it to the ranger station at Emigrant Springs just as Trevor and Anja pulled up.


 I spent a couple days wandering across Nevada by myself. The next day Trevor and Anja took Trevor's dads truck, since his Rubicon was down and out. He was bummed not to have his Jeep. We paid our $20 to the automated ranger in the wall, and talked about where we wanted to go. The choices for off road routes were many. Our original intention was to make a big loop of the entire park, but due to my pitiful fuel capacity, and Trevors nice new truck we didn't know for sure if we could make some of the routes "go" or not. We decided to go over the pass towards Beatty where we camped for free on BLM land just outside the park boundary a couple hundred feet from the Welcome to Nevada sign.


On the way up out of Death Valley I had a nice sunset in my mirrors. The next day we went into Beatty for gas. On the way back into the park we were going to drive Titus Canyon, but found it to be closed. We decided to backtrack into the park, go to the Furnace Creek visitor center, and find out what was open and what was closed. Maybe purchase a map, and refill water. At the Visitor Center was the largest Tamarisk I've ever seen.


The rangers in the visitor center chuckled when we said we wanted to go over Mengel Pass Rd. They asked if we had a winch. As it turned out I'm glad we didn't try going over Mengel from east to west. (more on Mengel Pass later). We decided to head for the Saline Valley. We passed by the famous sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells. At dusk the cars were parked along the road for a mile or so with people climbing all over the dunes.


Between the highway and South Pass was the coolest Joshua Tree forest.


Nice vistas from near South Pass into the north end of the Panamint Valley.

We camped at the turn-off for the Lippencot Road. It was a long drive to get there over terrible roads. I think these types of trips over rough roads is much more fun if the travel is limited to only a few hours a day. I was glad to get out of my rig and have some peace and quiet, but no such luck. Some military jets decided it was important to entertain us for a couple hours. The views were still amazing and the temperatures nice.

We would've loved to make the loop over the Lippencot to Racetrack then Teakettle Junction and back to Mesquite, but didn't want to chance putting carnage on Trevors truck. We just didn't know so we left Trevors truck and all of our camping gear in the valley. We took my 4runner over the Lippencot, and stopped for a minute to say hello to a Lippencot local.


The Lippencot ended up not being that big of a deal, a little over rated I thought. I can see why they'd over rate some of the routes though. Anyway, we went on up to the Racetrack where the day couldn't have been more beautiful for exploring the mysteriousness of where the rocks move.


We made it back to where we left Trevors truck in the afternoon. We decided to go back into Panamint for gas and water. I BS'd the clerk in the store about Goler Wash and Mengel Pass, and the Darwin area also. He explained how the Darwin Falls area was once inhabited my asian workers who stocked a pond with gold fish apparently to use as a food source and those fish are still there. We traveled south on BLM land to the mouth of Goler Wash over an even worse road, getting to our campsite after dark. Here are some of the locals near our campsite.


In the morning we needed to decide if we were going to try Mengel Pass or not. We thought we could go up Goler Wash a little ways then turn around when it got bad. What an amazing place Goler Wash was with Granite narrows and water running. Very nice! I don't know why I didn't take any pictures in there. Goler road wasn't as bad as folks said it was either, but the Goler/Mengel combination was worse than Lippencot. Going up Goler over Mengel and downWarm Springs Valley took pretty much all day. Very long and tedious drive. This photo shows what was probably the worst spot on the whole route, and is probably where the rangers were referring that a winch is needed for going up (the opposite way we traveled it). I think with some low gears and sticky tires one could climb this.


Traveling across miles of remote and beautiful country I noticed the greenery was everywhere and the buds were near to a bloom. The rangers said they had a year worth of rain in two weeks in early Feb. and were expecting a fabulous flower season.


On coming out the mouth of Warm Springs Canyon the road crosses miles of aluvium that spill out of the canyon, with the wide expanse of Death Valley spread out before me like a moonscape.

Once we gained the paved road we did some touristy stuff like a stop at the lowest spot in the western hemisphere; Badwater Basin made all the more dramatic by the 11,000ft. peaks just across the valley.


Trevor had to work on getting back to Ogden so we went north to the same route that I entered the park on and camped near a weather station on the Nevada border.

The next morning Trevor headed out early while Anja and I lollygagged around getting under way around noon. We only went a few hours north to a neat Hot Springs in Nevada. The wind was ripping and it was only around 3pm when we arrived so we pitched the Springbar and chilled out the rest of the day. It's nice to have a big sturdy tent to set up shop inside of during inclimate weather. A springbar is basicly a portable cabin.


Here are some photos of the backcountry cabins we came across. Some are in the park and some in the surrounding country. I won't put them on the internet with exact location, even though they seem to be well known, for fear of my karma re-paying me ten-fold. It seems that the public keeps them up. The cabins have a little bit of food, water, a stove with fuel, a journal, and tons of character. I'm sure your karma will re-pay you ten-fold for abusing these neat little icons.

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