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.
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).)
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!
Some of the more memorable moments from a vacation trip that involves sightseeing seem to take place when you take a chance and experience something unexpected or quirky, perhaps something that is different and unique, something that tickles your brain cells in a manner that you are not expecting.
And so it was with our visit to the Longstreet Inn and Casino in Nevada.
We were on a week long vacation, part of which involved a drive down the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range from Reno, NV, to Death Valley in California. We were spending two days in Death Valley, noted to be the largest National Park in the United States outside of Alaska (more about the experience of Death Valley in a separate blog). It was towards the end of our first day exploring Death Valley, and the sun was setting as we turned onto the road that would get us to Amargosa Valley in the south. We were headed for the hotel we were using for our stay in that area. A half-hour drive out of the park through quickly darkening skies got us to the T-junction at Death Valley Junction at the end of California’s Route 190. We turned left at this point and headed further east towards the border with Nevada.
As we drove through the emptiness of the now dark western evening, we started thinking more about our final destination for the day. We were trying to figure out how much longer we needed to drive to get to Amargosa Valley and our hotel. We could not get our GPS device to recognize the address that we had for the place. There was nothing of interest by the roadside and no landmarks that we could use to guide us on.
We arrived at the border of California and Nevada about seven miles down the road. We saw some bright lights ahead of us to left side of the road. There is nothing else in sight. As we got closer we noticed the flashing neon lights advertising an inn and the casino. It was our destination! The location of the town of Amargaso Valley was still many miles away according to our navigation tools. Apparently our destination was on the “outskirts” of the town, in the middle of nowhere.I entered the building through the door leading to the casino. It felt like I had entered a strange place. The lighting and decor was a little off. In front of me was a mannequin of a man on a motorcycle. He appeared to be wearing sunglasses. Off to the right I could see and hear the slot machines of the casino. There were people sitting in front of some of the machines, seemingly staring at them blankly, lost in their own world. Off to the left was a restaurant, Jack’s Cafe, and and next to it, separated by a passageway that led to the hotel rooms, a counter behind which lay a convenience store. In front of me was a bar that did not look too busy. There were little antique statues and doodads around the place that looked like they were from the 50s. I must have stepped into a time machine and landed in a far away time and place.
Some other folks who were checking into the hotel asked for the nearest gas station and were told that they needed to drive 17 miles down the road into town to get to one. We also ran into some folks who were staying at the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel, another otherworldly establishment down the road at Death Valley Junction. Apparently the restaurant at our hotel was the only place to get dinner at for miles around!
Our hotel room was comfortable enough, but it also had a somewhat worn out and dated feel to it. The soap and shampoo that they supplied were quite basic and they had not bothered to give us enough towels. The wifi signal was poor (and the internet connection finally stopped working on the second night). The commode was leaking slowly and the flush going off every few seconds. (It never got fixed during our stay!) But we had to take all of this in stride and in the right spirit. We were in the middle of nowhere. In a way it was also a part of the holiday experience.
The restaurant itself had a well-used air to it. The carpeting and seating, and the menu items, were typical Americana. The pace of service was slow. The two young Hispanic girls who were serving us had a pleasant and unhurried air about them. I could not help thinking that these youngsters must have traveled a long distance to get to work. I wondered how close their school was to where they lived.
We enjoyed our drinks while waiting for the food, trying to be patient, listening to the sound of the slot machines in the background from the casino close by. There was the faint odor of stale cigarette smoke hanging in the air. Once in a while, folks from some of the other tables in the restaurant would get up and walk to the bar to get more drinks to consume while they waited for their food. When dinner finally arrived we all dug in with gusto. It was standard American grub, but it was quite tasty. Our wait had been rewarded!
The next morning, I stepped out of the hotel to get a better look at the lay of the land.We were indeed in the middle of nowhere.There were mountains off to the north, and one could see the trailer park where you could rent some place for your trailer instead of getting a room in the hotel for the night.The border of the two states was within walking distance of the hotel.On the second day of our stay in Death Valley we decided to have dinner at a resort in the park itself in order to avoid the slow process at the restaurant in the hotel. After dinner, we drove through the dark and arrived somewhat late at the hotel. We went straight up to our room to chill out and get some rest.
We left our hotel very early the next morning since we had a long ride ahead of us that day. The sun was rising rapidly across the plains and over the distant hills to our east, and beginning to light up the mountains to the west.On our way out of the hotel after checking out, I stopped to take the following picture of a plaque that talked about Jack Longstreet (click on the picture to expand it). He appears to have been an interesting character from the wild west. Perhaps I will read a little more about him.Our stay at the Longstreet Casino and Inn was a unique experience. I enjoyed the visit back to a different time and place, to a place in the desert where things appear to move at a different pace, a world where people probably have a very different way of life than people in the cities and towns, a place where life is in all likelihood somewhat harder than ours. Experiences like this help you further appreciate the diversity of people and experiences that build up this land. Everyone has their own story.