Ever since the days of my youth, I used to imagine what the great open expanses of the wild west would look like. (Some of my visions may have been a result of seeing too many Westerns!) I felt the urge to visit those places some day. I was not disappointed during the trip to Death Valley.
The article I have provided a link for below is quite good even though its title may be somewhat misleading. The deprivation of intelligence because of the ubiquitous use of search engines like Google is not what is addressed primarily in the guts of the article. It is more a listing of the practical issues that the author sees with the current construct and use of search engines.
But I was drawn in by the title, which was something I have been thinking of for a while. I realize that while I have access to a wealth of information because of the existence of the search engine, information that I am also able to freely share with others at the drop of a hat, I am really not getting any smarter because of this. It is questionable whether the amount of information that I can retain in my mind, and the kind of critical thinking that is crucial to my intelligence, have really been helped. In fact, because of the easy availability of information, I might be less inclined to try to figure things out, and even retain information. After all, why would I bother deriving the area of regular dodecagon when needed when all I need to do is look it up on the Internet.
A visit to Death Valley reminds you of the complexity of the natural processes that form this Earth. This picture of Artist’s Palette, taken as the sun was setting, shows what is possible. You get a fusion of many different colors all in one place that is quite hard to imagine.
(According to the article in Wikipedia – These colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals (iron compounds produce red, pink and yellow, decomposition of tuff-derived mica produces green, and manganese produces purple).)
Spring has returned with a vengeance to the C&O Canal towpath. One’s spirits are lifted at the sight of a trail lined with flowers.There are so many different kinds spring flowers to be seen, some of which I still cannot identify in spite of all the years I have spent on the trail!
Suffice to say that a walk along the canal is the spring time can do wonders for you!
Death Valley was the home to the Timbisha Shoshone group of Native Americans for a long time (about a thousand years) before the White Man made his appearance. They called the land Tüpippüh. It was not an easy place to live in, but the Timbisha did not think of it as a place of death. They adapted to the region and found a way to live off the land using whatever natural resources were available in a sustainable manner. Indeed, if you go to the desert, it is not really devoid of life. There are hardy plants that have found a way to survive in the tough conditions, and even flowers during this spring season which has brought an excess of rain to California.
There is even flowing water in the desert (this picture is from Salt Creek)and animal life that has found a way to survive.
One of the wonders of this desert is the endangered pupfish,
a fish that can survive in the saline waters of Salt Creek. You can see literally thousands of these tiny fish in the clear water.
The White Man was the one who named the place Death Valley. Their initial passage through the desert on their way west in search of gold was not an easy one, and life in the desert has not become that much easier since then.
But the fact that the White People had such a negative impression of the place did not prevent them from eventually trying to exploit the resources of the area. Borax, talc and silver were mined. The Harmony Borax Works was known for their 20 mule teamsthat were used to transport the Borax out of the valley. Development in the desert got to the point where they even built a resort (still in operation as a high-end hotel, The Inn at Furnace Creek), and a railroad line to bring people into the area.But the only things that survive today in the desert from the non-Native American perspective are for the tourist, a tourist who is interested in experiencing the natural wonder of the place, and perhaps even learn something, while willing at the same time to tolerate the extreme weather conditions.
The only places of commercial operation remaining are at Panamint Springs, Stovepipe Wells, and Furnace Creek.The once thriving mining towns are now ghost towns that are only visited by the tourists. We went to the ghost town of Rhyolite just outside the park boundary across the state border in Nevada.
The National Park Service manages the park out of a location very close to Furnace Creek, with a Visitor Center at Furnace Creek itself. It is good to note that the Visitor Center has been upgraded over the years to operate in an environmentally conscious manner.
Death Valley was declared a National Monument, i.e., a protected area, in 1933 and became a National Park only in 1994. While the coming of the White Man and the mining operations in the 19th century began to change the Timbisha’s way of life, the designation of the place as a National Monument actually hastened the loss of their land. The small numbers that remained finally ended up, unofficially, on a little patch of land near Furnace Creek for many years. It was only in the 1980s that they finally were officially recognized as a tribe. They continued to occupy the small space they had near Furnace Creek, but also continued to battle the federal government for more of their land in the courts. It was only in the late 1990s, well after the formation of the park, that they got additional land for their use in the park. These days the park service has formed a partnership with the tribe when if comes to running of the park to ensure that resources within the park and the Timbisha’s traditional homeland are protected and enhanced.
The struggles of the Native Americans is an ongoing story. Consider recent news from South Dakota. I cannot help thinking that because of our greed we are not good at learning our lessons from history.
This was the first place we went to in Death Valley. The crater is located well north of the main gathering place for tourists arriving at the park. We had to get off the main road that runs through the park and drive to a more remote section of the valley. It was well worth the detour!
Ubehebe Crater was formed by a volcanic explosion, but is was an explosion of steam rather than lava. The explosion was caused by the underground magma meeting up with the groundwater and sending the water upwards as steam.
It was extremely windy when we arrived at the crater, and the occasional gusts of wind had you spread your feet to seek some kind of a balance. You were completely exposed to the elements along the rim and there was nothing to support you! It was extremely hard going, trudging up the hill on the loose sand (which, on the other hand, seemed to have the benefit of anchoring you and preventing you from getting blown away into the crater) as we climbed along the rim to get a view of Little Hebe crater. When we got to that point, rather than return to the parking lot directly, and in spite of the challenge of hiking under those conditions, we decided to complete the loop around Ubehebe crater. I had to work up my nerve to walk along the edge (which under these conditions appears to be narrower than it really is!). The wind, and the surface of the trail, which looked loose and a little unstable in some parts, did not help. But if others could do it, why not not us? And we did it!
We did not try to descend the bottom of the crater. It is considered an easy hike going down, but strenuous coming back up. It was an effort I was not prepared to undertake under the conditions, especially considering that there were other destinations we wanted to get to in the park.
Here are some pictures from Ubehebe Crater.
Against the wind! This is in the parking lot. You can see the place we climbed to to view Little Hebe in the distance.Early view of Ubehebe crater.Bracing against the wind while climbing towards the viewpoint for Little Hebe. The parking lot that we have climbed from is in the distance.Hikers on the far slope who have gone beyond the stop for Little Hebe.A view of the trail from a lookout. We had some nice cloud conditions during the hike that lit up different parts of the landscape at different times.Angela walking back from the far side of Little Hebe.Little Hebe from a distance.The parking lot and trails to the bottom can be seen in the distance.A sandy patch of trail that terminated at the edge of the crater!Vegetation on the trail.Towards the end of the hike.
Death Valley, located in California, is the largest national park in the United States outside of the parks in Alaska. It is an absolutely stunning place!