Death Valley National Park, Day 4: Mosaic Canyon and Salt Creek

Mosaic Canyon

The one day I wanted to be up early was the one morning my alarm went off before I got up and I wanted to stay in bed. It was 5:30am and it was my aim to be at the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes for the sunrise.

I dragged myself out of my warm and comfortable bed, let the dogs out and made lunch while eating breakfast. I loaded the cooler and we headed for the truck, the early morning sun just barely turning the eastern horizon cerulean.

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Once again we crossed Daylight Pass into the park and paused at a parking area at the junction of 190 and 374 to watch the first rays of light hit the mountain peaks and the sand dunes. It was worth the early rise and braving the chilly morning to get some good pictures. The sand dunes look very out of place when seen in the grand vista of the basin and are only found in two places in the park; Mesquite Flats, and Eureka in the north (a lot tougher to get to). The only reason for the sand dunes in these places is due to the geographical locations and climate anomalies these places share.

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From Mesquite Flats we drove through Stovepipe Wells Village and turned onto a dirt road that took us 2.2 miles to the base of Mosaic Canyon. I was the first one there for the morning and quickly got myself and the dogs situated.

If you know me at all by now you know I like to make things difficult for myself and without much guidance except a very poorly-diagramed map in the parking lot I wasn’t completely sure which way to go. Two tracks led away from the parking area and having seen the one that traversed the hillside, and knowing that the elevation gain was 1200ft, I hiked up the steep side of the mountain. Now the view from the top was incredible but it certainly wasn’t easy.

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From the top I looked down into the wash of the canyon and carefully made my way along treacherous, scree-clad paths to the safety of the flat, gravel wash. I was once again surrounded by copper-colored majestic peaks although a myriad of colors could be seen complimenting the common copper and yellow tones.

I hiked up the flat wash and made detours to check out other narrow canyons and washes that flowed into, out of, or parallel to the main thoroughfare.

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After about a mile the canyon started to narrow and some rock scrambling was required. I was excessively careful as I still didn’t have the strength or dexterity in my right hand to grip rocks or save myself from slipping if I needed to. I am always careful when on my own (even when carrying my GPS SOS device).

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Slot canyons made up the last 1/4 mile of hiking and there were certainly some tough places to get through, despite my being constantly careful. The trail finally ended at a 30ft rock wall although a trail (50ft earlier in the canyon) seemed to continue further up if one was inclined to climb more.

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I paused for a bite to eat as I was once again feeling shaky after the 1200ft of climbing and needed an energy boost. I also made sure to stay hydrated.

With my belly full and feeling a little more energized I headed back down the canyon, surprised to not have run into the couple that had pulled into the parking lot less than 15 minutes after I had left. I had the canyon all to myself and I continued to take some amazing pictures as the sun provided some really amazing lighting.

Upon reaching the trail I had followed down earlier I decided to check out the lower canyon, thinking it would be blocked by a massive boulder that was could not be traversed…and hence the reason for the up-and-over trail. But, NO! This was the actual Mosaic Canyon trail and it was much easier than the route I had taken. Oh well…saved the best for last and was pleasantly surprised and got the best of both worlds….views and the narrows.

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One side of the narrows was smoothed white marble while the other was a compact mixture of pebbles such as you see on pebble-dashed houses…and hence the name Mosaic Canyon. The whole thing was beautiful and I’m actually glad I made the mistake in taking the upper trail so to be surprised on the way back…I’d actually recommend it.

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From Mosaic Canyon we took a short drive to the top of the pass into Panamint Valley where I had thought we might hike Darwin Falls. I, however, made the mistake in thinking it was a 6 mile hike (I’d looked at the wrong hike on the visitor guide)  instead of the 2 miles it actually was…something I now regret not double-checking…and I made the decision not to continue on to the trail head and save on fuel.

We paused at the Devil’s Cornfield, a salt flat near to the sand dunes that is home to strange corn-sheave-shaped plants. These are caused by the roots of the plants forming a solid base that resists erosion from water and wind as the dirt and other sediment is washed or blown away around it.

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Salt Creek

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So with my mistake not quite computing yet I drove to Salt Creek and took a short 1/2 mile hike on the interpretive boardwalk trail. It is times like these that people REALLY PISS ME OFF when you see the remnants of the actions of people who think the rules don’t apply to them. Salt Creek is a very fragile and delicate habitat and stepping off the board-walk is prohibited to protect it…but everywhere you look people have left footprints in the salt marsh and mar the landscape…there were even tiny kid’s footprints with adult prints which tells me that parents are teaching their children that its okay to break the rules. It makes me so mad!

Moving On…

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Salt Creek is the only home of the very rare Salt Creek Pupfish.

Thousands and thousands of years ago Death Valley was the home of Manly Lake. When the climate changed and became drier the water from the mountains needed to sustain the lake disappeared. As the lake dried up pockets of pupfish remained in various locations, all now different and distinct species from one another despite all descending from the same ancestors.

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Salt Creek Pupfish have a pretty tough life, having a one year life-span on average, and they rely on small pockets of water from a small spring to remain consistent throughout the summer. They retreat to these pockets during the heat of the 120*+ summers when the rest of the creek dries up. The Salt Creek pupfish have adapted to living in water that is often many times more saline than sea water, and unlike many salt-water fish they actually have to drink water or they get dehydrated. There are around a dozen different species of pupfish in the deserts of California and Nevada that can all trace their ancestry back to the same locations.

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Winter and spring are a good time to see the creek at its best and to see the rare pupfish that live in its waters.

After having learned about this unique and intriguing habitat I headed home to get fuel without the trailer in tow and get ready to depart Death Valley.

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Death Valley National Park, Day 3: Titus Canyon, Or the road that left me speechless

The day started at a more reasonable hour for a change but I was quickly dressed and out the door as I wanted to be ahead of whatever crowd Titus Canyon might draw, and to appreciate the drive in the early morning sun. Not to mention the joy of seeing two wild burros, a momma with last year’s foal, as I left camp.

The turn off for Titus Canyon was only a few miles from my RV on the main highway. Unfortunately the dirt road was nothing but washboards for four miles and the going was rough and slow. The National Park Service only recommends a high-clearance vehicle and not four wheel drive for this road.

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After crossing the valley we started climbing into the foothills where the terrain was very reminiscent of Wyoming and I felt instantly at home. The gradual climb was the easy part as the road suddenly dived steeply down into another valley, complete with sharp twists and turns and harsh grades. It was fairly easy to navigate in low gear for my truck but I wouldn’t recommend attempting it anything much larger (even a dually may struggle). What amazed me the most was the huge variety of color in the rocks…something neither of my cameras could pick up very well…blues, greens, red, purple, yellow, black, white…every color of the rainbow.

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After dropping into the valley the road turned across the draw and started another steep climb to Red Pass. Another narrow road with another steep drop-off…but nowhere near as bad as the track that led down to the Colorado River from Canyonlands NP. On this road I felt safe, and of course knowing that it was one way traffic helped…I wasn’t going to run into someone coming the other way.

I paused briefly at Red Pass to assess the road, snap a few pictures and let the dogs take a break, especially since Cody hates bumpy, windy roads and tends to destroy anything left in the back of the truck. One or two of the remaining buildings of the ghost town of Leadville could be seen in the distance.

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The road down from the pass was definitely a little more hairy than the drive up; it was narrower and steep cliffs threatened mirrors and paint work. At one point I was hugging the cliff so close I had barely two inches between my mirror and the wall of the cliff. The steep descent was short and we were soon in the valley and paused to take a look at the old mining town of Leadville.

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A jeep passed by as we were parked and headed down into the canyon. We followed a few minutes later and soon we were swallowed by the towering walls of Titus Canyon. The road followed a wide wash and we were hemmed in by massive slabs of sandstone and granite. It made me feel extremely small.

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The road remained good and confirmed what the ranger had told me…it was the best he had ever seen it. If it hadn’t had been for an occasional large rock in the path with a large drop or a couple of large holes it would almost have been suitable for a high-sitting car.

The wash widened slightly and yellow grass covered some of the slopes. I really started looking for big horn sheep but wasn’t having much luck, despite knowing what I was looking for. My stomach was growling and I found a place to pull over to eat lunch. I let the dogs out and grabbed my cooler, and that was when I heard the skitter of loose rocks down the wall of the canyon. Expecting to see a rock slide I saw nothing, but then caught the flash of movement of two big horn sheep traversing the scree and knocking rocks loose.

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I watched the sheep for a while and took some pictures…easier said than done since the sun was almost to bright to see the LCD screen of my camera. I enjoyed watching them for a while as I ate my lunch. I was still watching them as another vehicle passed by; I was staring up at the mountain and I’m surprise they didn’t stop to see what I was looking at…but I didn’t have my camera out.

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With a full belly and with the dogs having had their fill of water we continued down the canyon and into the narrows/slot canyon section. I can honestly say that I have rarely felt so amazed by a road (hiking trails, yes, but not roads) and I felt dwarfed by the narrow path that led me between sheer rock walls. I stopped so many times to take pictures that I lost count…but of course the pictures really don’t do justice to how it looks and feels.

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Four more miles of windy canyon paths and following the gravel wash finally dumped me out in the parking lot of Fall Canyon trail head. In hindsight I am glad that the one way road ends where it does…the slot canyons are absolutely stunning and a great finale to an incredible drive.

A couple of videos of this amazing drive…forgive their length and the wind

A quick stop at Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station to report the sheep sighting (something they request you do if you see any) and I headed home.


Titus Canyon Road is a 27 mile gravel track limited to one way travel from the east to the west and the access point is well sign-posted about 6 miles from Beatty, NV on the way into Death Valley National Park. A 2WD high-clearance vehicle is required due to infrequent rocks and a number of washouts in the road but with gravity on your side there is no need for 4WD. Experience driving on narrow canyon dirt roads would be beneficial but certainly not necessary. If you don’t have a suitable vehicle for this drive I highly recommend renting a jeep for half a day and taking your time…I rarely got out of 1st gear as I wanted to soak it all in. This trip was the highlight of Death Valley for me and something I would put on the must-do list if you are visiting the park.

Death Valley National Park, Day 2: Golden Canyon Hike

Day two in Death Valley started at the more reasonable time of 6:30am…although reasonable for me it may not be for others.

With the sun barely peeking above the eastern horizon I packed my lunch, loaded up the dogs and headed for the Park. The Visitor Center at Furnace Creek didn’t open until 8am and I filled the time with the Harmony Borax Works Interpretive Trail.

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Despite many mining hopes and claims for gold in Death Valley the area’s most lucrative mineral was Borax, a salt mineral used by many professionals including blacksmiths, meat packers and housewives. Borax was mined and concentrated in a handful of places throughout the valley and then transported by twenty-mule teams 165 miles south to the railroad city of Mohave. It was due to the distance and the high costs of transportation that Borax was refined on site in Death Valley. To this day Twenty Mule Team Borax is a well-known and recognizable brand in many stores.

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A quick stop at the visitor center to get a map for Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch, and to inquire about the road through Titus Canyon preceded my hike.

The parking lot for Golden Canyon was small and half full at 8:30am. As always I parked so the dogs had shade in the back of the truck and left them a bowl of water. With a liter of water and my cameras ready I headed up the canyon.

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The first section was pretty and easy and I quickly passed a photographer who had set out before me. After the first mile the pathway splits and a half mile out-and-back trail leads to the Red Cathedral, a towering red rock formation that can be viewed while hiking up the canyon. I chose not to do the side trail and from the split the path climbed high into the badlands and was in sun exposure. Even at 9am in the morning, in February, the sun was hot and brutal and I quickly drained a third of my water.

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The height of the trail peaks just beneath Manly Peak and then winds its way down through what looks like ancient sand dunes. I was starting to feel the effects of the heat already despite drinking plenty of water before I left and remaining hydrated while hiking.

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Thankfully the trail continued to go down and there was no more climbing.

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The trail flattened out and to the left was the turn-off for the Badlands Loop, another 0.8 miles I chose not to do. I was still feeling a little nauseous and weak when I remembered I hadn’t really eaten anything for breakfast (a serious oversight for me) and I paused in the shade of Gower Gulch’s towering cliff walls to eat my sandwich. I quickly began to feel better.

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Gower Gulch started as a wide open wash for a half mile before narrowing between steep rock walls and jagged peaks. There was more shade and it was far more rugged than the first half of the trail, including a few rock scrambles down to the lower canyon. It was beautiful and the colors easily rivaled those of the Artists Palette I had seen the day before.

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Ninety minutes after starting the hike I found myself escaping the canyon and looking down over a dry waterfall…I can only imagine how amazing it must have been with water flowing through the gulch. The trail led along the edge of the cliff face and above the sandy wash for another half mile before taking me back to the parking lot and my truck.

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I quickly grabbed a cold diet Pepsi to cool my body temperature down and then let the dogs out for a brief potty break before heading back to the visitor center to peruse the museum.

The museum would be worth seeing prior to the hike (and really any excursion in the park), as well as the 30 minute movie, but I also don’t recommend starting to hike the Golden Canyon/Gower Gulch loop much later than I started, even in winter. I carried a liter of water and my lunch but I could have done with another half a liter of water. Shade is sparse but available in winter due to the lower angle of the sun…I wouldn’t recommend this hike in the height of summer unless done very early in the morning.

 

 

Death Valley National Park, Day 1: Artists Drive, Badwater Road and the Devils Golf Course

I forgot to change my clocks to Pacific time. With that in mind I looked at my alarm clock…it said 5:30am. It is not unusual for me to be up at that time due to work…however on Pacific time that is 4:30AM!!!

Well I was awake and had slept decently although suffering through some very strange dreams. Of course I didn’t realize just how early I had crawled out of bed until I was about to step out of the door and head to the Park for the sunrise…way too early.

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We left anyway and stopped at the information kiosk for a map and visitor’s guide. Dante’s View sounded like a great place from which to watch the sunrise…and I’m sure it would have been if it hadn’t been closed. I made it half way up before the road was closed due to construction. “Insert sad face here!!” I watched the sunrise anyway and got a couple of nice pictures of the multi-colored peaks in the dawn light, complete with the moon. I can only imagine how amazing it would have been to see the Super Blue Blood Moon here at the end of January.

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With the sun rising above the mountains and creating some great picture opportunities I headed towards Zabriskie Point. A brief detour took me through a one-way canyon called Twenty Mule Team Canyon…a windy and stunning moon-scape that took some ingenuity to build a road through. Of course something that amazing is always ruined by at least one person…for me it was the idiot driving the wrong way on a one-way, one-lane road. And of course, with me having the large truck, I was the one to have to maneuver around him because I had the capabilities…I made sure to let him know I was not impressed.

Zabriskie Point was a short walk up a steep paved path to a stunning view over the badlands. The early morning sun created some amazing texture and contrast for pictures between the peaks, ridges and valleys.

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I had previously decided to take a loop route south from Furnace Creek and turned onto Badwater Road, a 72 mile route that ended at Shoshone.

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The first point of interest was Artists Drive, a 9 mile loop that carves up above the valley floor. It has a 25ft vehicle restriction…and they mean it. Artists Palette is the well-known highlight of the loop but I found the entire drive to be well worth the time, and I marveled at the route and construction of the road more than the scenery. Tight turns, steep dips and rises, and walls that risk your paint job mean that this road isn’t recommended for anything wider than a pick-up or van, and vehicles longer than 25ft are prohibited…and I can see why.

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I wasn’t back on Badwater Road for long before I turned off again to the Devil’s Golf Course, a rough “field” of salt spires. Salt was initially deposited by thousands of years of floods and the spires were then shaped over the millennia by the erosion of wind and water. Care should be taken when walking in this area as the footing is treacherous and lacerations and broken bones are a real possibility.

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I paused briefly at Badwater, the lowest point in the western hemisphere at 282ft below sea level, before continuing south to Mormon Point and Ashford Mill. The Mill was owned by three brothers who used the mill to crush ore from a mine 5 miles to the east before sending it on to a smelter in another location. It was run by the brothers and lessors for a short time before finally closing.

Badwater; about a half mile out in the valley:

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Can you see the tiny Sea Level sign on the cliff above my truck?

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The highway then took my up and over Jubilee Pass which gave me a great view back over Death Valley from 1200ft. It then climbed another 2000ft to Salsberry Pass before dropping me back down and into the rinky-dink town of Shoshone where I had to sell a kidney on the black market for 15 gallons of diesel…I cringed at the $4.79/gallon cost. Cost of fuel…one of the many reasons I wanted to avoid California for my drive to Oregon.

Back at camp I took the dogs for a quick walk before settling in for a quiet afternoon and working on some pictures.

Kingman to Death Valley National Park

After a final appointment with my orthopedic doctor I headed back to Golden Valley to finishing packing up. It was bitter-sweet as I would miss the folks I had been renting from for the past three months, but I was ready to get on the road. A brief stop with one of the few friends I had made in Kingman to air up my tires and fix my steps had me leaving Kingman later than I planned and I didn’t get on the road until 1:30pm.

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The now-familiar Hwy 93 stretched out to the northern horizon, banked by the Black and Cerbat Mountains to the west and east respectively. I by-passed Las Vegas as much as I could but stopped to pick up a couple of packages from an Amazon locker in Enterprise. It was getting later than I’d planned and I filled up with fuel before heading west on Hwy 160 towards Pahrump. With the remaining daylight available to me I was not going to make it to my planned destination outside Death Valley National Park.

I braved my first over-night in a Walmart parking lot, grabbed a quick burger at Sonic and watched some NCIS on my tablet in a cramped RV (no putting the slide out). I didn’t sleep particularly well (the semi that parked next to me that kept turning his engine on and off didn’t help). As soon as it was daylight and the dogs had had their chance to relieve themselves I hit the road again.

The Pads, a remote off-highway RV parking area, came recommended on freecampsites.net and it did not disappoint. It is understood that this place was originally supposed to be an RV park and the concrete pads (hence the name) had been poured but no other services were ever installed. I pulled in around 9am and was set-up by 10.

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I had installed two new solar panels less than a week ago and my Amazon locker pick-up was the wiring to hook them into my current system. With this in mind, and already having lost some of the day and thus not inclined to head into Death Valley National Park, I spent the rest of the morning deciding on the best way to re-wire my solar system. What I had initially envisioned was not going to work as I had inadvertently left the connectors in such a manner that the wires could not be pulled out to their full length. I had a quick think and went with a plan that was backwards to what I had originally thought. It worked and by noon I had 600 watts of solar panels set-up in a 3×2 series/parallel system. It was time for a beer.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent taking the dogs for a long walk up the hill behind the camper and having another couple of beers as I watched the traffic and people go by. As sunset approach I hiked back up the hill to take some pictures of the sunset, which wasn’t nearly as pretty as I had been hoping.

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After watching half of a movie I took the dogs out one final time and got stuck staring at the heavens. Even in the wilds of Wyoming I’m not sure I’ve seen so many stars so visible and bright. I was awe-struck and I think I laid on the ground for a good 30 minutes just staring up at the millions of tiny lights.

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Kingman, AZ – All Work and Very Little Play

KINGMAN, AZ

After looking at the historical winter temperatures for southern Utah I made an educated decision to head further south for the winter…something I would later come to regret.

I had been to Kingman, AZ some years earlier and thought it would be a small enough town to enjoy but not so large as to be overwhelming to a small-town girl.

I initially found a decent boondocking location fifteen miles east of town which gave me the chance to get a feel for the area and start looking for work. Within a week I had found a piece of property to rent and from there, with power and good cell service, I was able to search for and secure a decent job for the winter.

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Almost immediately I realized my chosen rental site was not going to work…the dreaded puncture vine was everywhere and my dogs were suffering, not to mention the amount of stickers I was pulling out of my shoes daily.

I was contacted by a wonderful couple (via my Craigslist ad) who had a fenced area and full hook-ups available and after three weeks I moved my RV to the new spot, in a much nicer area of Golden Valley, the day before I started my new job.

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For the next two weeks I also had a friend in town and we explored the area together. These are the highlights of the Kingman area:

Route 66

The famous highway goes straight through Kingman, AZ coming in from Peach Springs and Seligman to the east and heading out to Oatman in the west. The old downtown of Kingman, Beale Street, has been run down for a long time but new investment and new businesses in the area are beginning to revitalize and renew the beautiful old town. Places of note include the Black Bridge Brewery, Floyd’s Wood-Fired Pizza Company, Diana’s Cellar Door Wine Bar, the Arizona Route 66 Powerhouse Museum and the Mohave Museum of History and Art.

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Oatman

Oatman is a town in the Black Mountains of Mohave County, Arizona, west of Kingman. Located at an elevation of just over 2700 ft on Route 66 it began as a small mining camp soon after two prospectors struck a $10 million gold find in 1915, though the vicinity had already been settled for a number of years.

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Oatman’s most famous attractions are its wild burros, which freely roam the town streets. Many can be hand-fed hay cubes otherwise known as “burro chow,” readily available in almost every store in town although this is highly frowned upon and not recommended. Burros all have “Do Not Feed Me” stickers on their foreheads. Though normally gentle, the burros are in fact wild and signs posted throughout Oatman advise visitors to exercise caution and I saw a couple of people threatened with kicks and several received bites.

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The burros are descended from pack animals turned loose by early prospectors, and are protected by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Weekends in Oatman can see anything from classic car rallies to mock “Wild West” shootouts right down the middle of old Route 66

Keepers of the Wild

Thirty miles east of Kingman is a non-profit sanctuary for dozens of wild indigenous and  exotic animals that were rescued, surrendered or re-homed with the facility by other animal welfare agencies. Housed within large enclosures you will find wolves, lions, leopards, monkeys and many more animals who have found a secure and safe home for the rest of their lives. The animals are healthy and happy, and while the entry fee may seem a little steep it all goes towards continuing rescue, rehabilitation and education. This is not a zoo and do not expect it to be as such.

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We did not take the guided tour but I suspect it would have been worth it; the tour provides the history and stories of each of the animals in the sanctuary.

They are currently hoping to expand their operation and continue the process of providing a safe and secure home for rescued exotic and indigenous animals.

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For more information, or to donate to their wonderful cause, please check out their website: Keepers of the Wild

Hualapai Mountain Park

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An afternoon drive up into the Hualapai Mountains is worth some time. From scrub desert you climb swiftly into pine trees and beneath moderate peaks. It is the gem of the Kingman area. We were lucky enough to see a large herd of elk, including a couple of large bulls, in the yard areas of some of the homes. The area is reminiscent of any alpine settlement and it reminded me of my home back in Wyoming, although slightly warmer and a lot drier. There are a handful of good hiking trails as well as a nice lodge where decent food and cold beer can be acquired.

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Other Kingman recommendations:

Food: Kingman Chophouse (amazing steaks), Bangkok Thai Cuisine (pretty good Asian food for a desert town), Five Guys Burgers (is there any where else for burgers?), El Rancho Restaurant in Golden Valley (very good authentic Mexican food).

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Things to Do or See: Any of the copious abandoned mines in the area especially one just north of Chloride, Secret Pass hike or four wheel drive trail, Fort Beale (free permit required), drive to Lake Mohave on the Colorado River.

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Unfortunately I came to really dislike the area and its barren and dead-looking landscape. Some parts of the desert, like southern Utah, are beautiful…this area of northern Arizona is not. I was not doing the things I wanted to be able to do in a warmer winter, like backpacking trips, due to the lack of time, money and places where I could go to do such things. With much contemplation and discussion with family I made the decision to leave Arizona early and head up to the Pacific North-West where trees and water were abundant (the things I missed the most).

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Hiking ‘The Subway’ at Zion National Park

With a few unproductive days behind me, a city that felt overwhelming and no job prospects on the horizon, as well as some research into winter weather for the area, I decided to make the Subway hike my last day in St George.

The Subway is another hike that requires a permit that you can either apply for online via lottery or hope you’re lucky and try to get a permit the day before from one of the ranger stations/visitor centers.

I was up fairly early and took the dogs out, packed a sandwich and filled my Nalgene bottles. The trail head was fairly close to camp so it only took 20 minutes to drive to. I let the dogs out briefly before the trail head as they would be chilling in the bed of my truck while I hiked (with shade and water of course) and I wanted to make sure they weren’t crossing their legs for long towards the latter part of the morning. The brochure suggests allowing 5-9 hours for the hike…I was hoping I could get 6.5 miles done in the lesser amount of time.

I filled the dogs’ water bowl, donned my pack, used the facilities and headed down the trail at 8:45 am. A nice flat first 1/2 mile was misleading as the trail quickly descended 600ft, steeply, into the Left Fork Canyon. I was wondering if I would be regretting not bringing hiking poles on my way out (I don’t usually use them when day hiking).

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The trail reached the creek fairly quickly and I took note of the surrounding area and the sign where I would need to make sure to head up later in the day (apparently people have missed it before, enough to make it a note in one of the guides I read).

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Initially the trail was moderate, sandy (ugh) and slightly rocky and I covered some good ground. There were a lot of “social trails” that were often misleading and I’m sure I ended up on some of them because I couldn’t find the official trail. Thankfully, being beside a creek, most of the trail was easy to figure out. There were many, many creek crossings, constantly back and forth from bank to bank, around rocky outcroppings or steep cliffs. The guide says you WILL get wet but I suspect this is mostly in reference to spring run-off as I found it easy to boulder hop and cross with dry feet at every time.

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I passed a few small groups of people, mostly in pairs, as I hiked. With such a small window of time I knew I had to cover ground fast if I wanted to make it to the end and see the Subway and waterfalls.

Sometimes the trail followed sand, sometimes it was rocky and other times it involved some serious bouldering and clambering. It often involved some intuitive trail finding and keeping a sharp eye out for cairns. Remembering what the place you crossed looked like would also prove to be helpful on the return trip.

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I kept an eye on my watch, definitely aware of how much time I was leaving the dogs and put a cut-off time limit to turn around at 11am. By 10:30 I was flagging in energy and really hadn’t seen much sign of waterfalls or subways…I was pretty concerned that I wouldn’t make it. I paused for a sandwich to boost my energy and re-read the guide I had downloaded to my phone. The instructions made it sound like I didn’t have too much further to hike so I determined that I might be okay.

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The trail got rockier and more climbing was involved but I finally reached the first of two 15ft waterfalls the guide mentioned. Finally I was getting close. Not far around the bend I found the second waterfall below a sheer, under-cut cliff that echoed loudly. The easiest way to get above the waterfalls is by climbing them around the sides. There were definitely some slippery spots but you can avoid them easily.

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Walls of sandstone towered overhead and I finally got my first view of the Subway, a semi-subterranean water channel that has under-cut the sandstone cliffs above it…and this is the only area my feet got a little wet (could have been avoided). Inviting-looking pools dotted the floor of the tunnel although the water was cold and not actually that appealing. It was a stunning piece of natural architecture and I can see why it is so popular…I have never seen anything like it.

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As always I took some pictures, appreciated the beauty for a while, and then headed back out. Sadly, being on a time constraint, I had less time than I would have liked to appreciate the canyon. But there was little more that I could do anyway other than stand and stare at the walls and the pools and the thin strip of blue sky above. If I had been brave, or had a wetsuit, I might have headed in further to see the waterfall but it required a lot more wading than I was prepared to do.

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I enjoyed my 15 minutes in the Subway but with my dogs’ needs in the back of my mind I started my hike back, avoided getting wet on the way out, and headed down the trail. I ran into the people I had passed, almost all of whom asked me how much further it was…10 minutes turned into an hour by the time it was 12:15, but of course I had hiked fast (somewhat to my detriment when I fell and got some cactus spines in my hand and cut my arm on a sharp branch).

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At one point I got slightly disoriented when I didn’t recognize part of the trail. I was watching for the black outcropping that marked the point where the trail climbed back up. I ended up passing a black cliff, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to go beneath it so I back-tracked a ways before being sure I hadn’t missed the upward trail. I continued on and was soon seeing familiar things again, confirming that the black outcropping was not actually the one I was looking for. This is where looking back and recognizing creek crossings was a huge help.

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Finally I found the well-signed turn-off to the upward climb…I wouldn’t have missed it even with one eye closed. The climb back up was a little brutal and I was chugging water. What started off as a cool hike in the shade of the canyon cliffs in the morning turned into a harsh climb in the midday sun going back up…I can’t imagine doing this in the heat of summer.

Back at the top, finally, I ran into a park ranger checking vehicles and permits. I handed him mine and he asked how long it had taken me to do the hike and if I made it to the end. I told him how long it had taken me…4 hrs and 45 minutes; 8:45-1:30 (including a stop for lunch and 15 minutes at the Subway). He was impressed and surprised by how fast I had done the hike as it is pretty unusual to do it so quickly. I pointed to the dogs and explained how small of a window I had to do the hike in but that it had been worth it.

Tired, hot and slightly dehydrated I grabbed a cold soda and headed down the road, back to camp. I was grateful to be able to relax for a while with a cold beer and let the dogs play outside before getting things packed away for the morning departure.

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If you are interested in hiking The Subway here is much of the information you need:

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/the-subway-trail

While I managed the hike in such a short period of time I wouldn’t recommend it. Allow 6-7 hours to do the trail at a more relaxed pace and enjoy it. Not a trail recommended for anyone not able-bodied and fit as there is a LOT of rock-clambering and trail negotiation, not to mention all the creek crossings that require some pretty good balance and some jumping. However, it is definitely worth doing if you can.

Death Valley Junction to Beatty, NV

For whatever reason when I need to get up early (like when I have to work) I struggle to get up when the alarm goes off. But when I want to sleep in (the rest of the time) I am awake at 4:30am.

Just like my first morning outside of Death Valley National Park I was awake at 4:45am although not because I mis-read the clock this time. I managed to convince my body to stay in bed for another hour before I finally crawled out of the warmth and into the frigid 54* morning temperature of the camper which wasn’t much better than the 51* outside temperature.

I slowly packed things away and got them ready for travel before loading the dogs in the truck just as the sun was peaking over the horizon. I headed east, back down the pass towards Death Valley Junction before turning north to Amargosa Valley and Beatty NV.

Freecampsites.net had two locations near Beatty, NV listed for boondocking and I had my directions. I pulled into the first one, Bumbo’s Pond but wasn’t convinced about the location just off the highway and I almost got stuck in the soft dirt.

A few miles up the road, and just west of Beatty, was another recommended dispersed camping area on BLM land. I got out of the truck and walked the area, finding a decent camp site a 1/4 mile from the main road that headed into the national park. Sadly I didn’t manage to get the camper quite level and I was sleeping on a side-to-side incline for a couple of nights despite a couple of levelers under each tire.

With the RV set up I let the dogs play for a while and was really glad to make use of the 4G cell service as I had been without for a few days. I caught up with friends and returned emails and PMs from family.

With such an early arrival to a campsite I used the rest of the day to explore Rhyolite (see below), an historic mining town, and have lunch and get fuel in Beatty. I spent the rest of the day at the camper catching up with my blog, enjoying a beer or two in the sunshine and watching the wild burros across the wash while trying to get my truck stuck in order to get closer to them and get some pictures.


Rhyolite

(Information courtesy of Wikipedia)

Located in the Bullfrog Hills, about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, near the eastern edge of Death Valley. The town began in early 1905 as one of several mining camps that sprang up after a prospecting discovery in the surrounding hills. During an ensuing gold rush, thousands of gold-seekers, developers, miners and service providers flocked to the Bullfrog Mining District. Many settled in Rhyolite, which lay in a sheltered desert basin near the region’s biggest producer, the Montgomery Shoshone Mine.

After 1920, Rhyolite and its ruins became a tourist attraction and a setting for motion pictures. Most of its buildings crumbled, were salvaged for building materials, or were moved to nearby Beatty or other towns, although the railway depot and a house made chiefly of empty bottles were repaired and preserved.

Also on site is the outdoor museum with some unusual pieces including a nod to the ancient Greek statues with a touch of the very modern.


Next to the old townsite of Rhyolite is the Goldwell Open Air Museum, a free museum run by the Nevada Nonprofit Organization. There are multiple intriguing and interesting pieces of artwork including some well-known Belgian artist Albert Szukalkski. The first and most prominent sculpture is “The Last Supper” a fiber-glass coated plaster life-size interpretation of the Christ and his disciples reminiscent of Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of the same name.

Other additions included other plater-cast figures, the Lady Desert: The Venus of Nevada which refers back to classical Greek sculpture while maintaining a pixelated presence in the high-tech world of the 21st century. Various other sculptures and pieces of ironwork provide some interesting insight into how the artists viewed the landscape or felt about the area and its history. You can find more information about Goldwell Open Air Museum at www.goldwellmuseum.org

St George, UT and Red Cliffs Canyon

It is rarely good to try and find a free boondocking site on a Friday, or a weekend generally.

Of course that didn’t stop me and the first place I looked, listed on freecampsites.net, was completely full…and not a particularly fun road to drive with all the washboards. Camp sites were right on the road and not that appealing so I moved on.

BLM land was listed on the eastern side of La Verkin and Hurricane, south of the road as you head into Zion. It looked promising. I took the first road and quickly found a nice large, flat spot to park and unhook. For some reason there was also a tiny house parked just before me which seemed to be a rental as the cars parked outside were never the same. I can’t find any information on this though to confirm.

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With camp set up I headed into town to locate the Ford dealership. While they were booked out two weeks ahead for newer vehicles, having a 7.3l diesel has its benefits and a simple repair was all that was needed…and they could get me in Monday.

With the truck issue taken care of I went to explore Camping World (an RV “super-store” much like Walmart) as I had heard many things about it but never been in one. It was interesting to wander round and I saw a couple of things of interest, but nothing I needed (still looking for a retractable clothes line). I also visited the mall…just because…but it was nothing special and my favorite stores weren’t even open yet.

I took a back road around St George and discovered the cheapest place to buy diesel in the area. I kept it in mind for Monday. With little to occupy me in the city I headed back to camp, stopped briefly at Walmart and a gas station for some cold brews and sodas.

The weekend was fairly relaxed and we didn’t do much except a couple of short drives around the area and fill out some job applications.

Monday I headed back into St George where my truck was finally fixed (not inexpensively either), and I felt even more broke. These fixes have seriously been eating into my savings and I was starting to get a little concerned about my financial situation. While taking my truck to Ford wasn’t the cheapest alternative it was also a positive as they also replaced a sensor that had been on recall, and thus was done free of charge. With my two other sensors replaced (coolant temperature sensor and exhaust back-pressure sensor for the turbo) I headed back to camp…I immediately noticed an improvement in the power of the truck due to the replaced exhaust sensor which was great.

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A friend posted some southern Utah hiking recommendations and I read through them…three were in my area…and Tuesday morning I headed out to do the Red Cliffs hike with the dogs…a short mile-long hike to a red cliffs canyon (no surprise there!).

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It was perfect weather and it was nice to hike with the dogs again and while I kept Kye on leash for a change I let Cody have some freedom. We had to turn around at a narrow gap as the dogs couldn’t climb the rock and it was too far to carry them, not to mention dangerous. It was an area there would have been a waterfall if there had been any water flowing. I climbed up where the dogs couldn’t go…where ropes had been anchored to the wall for safety…and took a few pictures. It would have been amazing to go further but with my best friends with me I could go no further…they were already looking a little forlorn that they couldn’t follow me up the water-fall cliff.

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Someone had left a plastic water bottle full of water to the side of the canyon which I went to pick up. Upon closer inspection I noticed it had two tadpoles in it…someone had scooped them up in the bottle, sealed it and left them to die there. I dumped the bottle in the pools where there were other tadpoles and stuffed the bottle in my pack…some people are disgusting human beings.

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Back at the truck I dumped the trash in the trash can and headed back to camp for the afternoon. I highly recommend this hike; it is not particularly challenging but I assume it could be tougher once you get further into the canyon.

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During the evening, waiting until it was late in the day, I headed up to Zion’s Kolob Canyons Visitor Center to see if I could get a permit for the Subway hike. I didn’t think it was likely but it never hurts to ask. I arrived 5 minutes before they closed and they were able to issue me a permit…another moment to be thankful for being a solo hiker/traveler. I took a quick drive through the park, past the canyons and the massive walls burning red in the dying sunlight. It was pretty impressive.

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Gear Review: Enlightened Equipment Convert

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Specs: 10F Reg width/Reg length 850FP down quilt wiwith the optional DownTek water-repellent down at no extra cost

Enlightened Equipment is a small cottage manufacturer located in Winona, Minnesota that specializes in quilts, underquilts and other down accessories for sleeping.

After researching for weeks for a new sleeping bag that was lighter than my 7lb Cabela’s mummy bag from years ago I tried a synthetic bag from Thermarest. It was a nice bag, warm and comfortable but still too heavy at over 3lbs, and I wanted something lighter. I would have to invest in a down bag that I hoped would last me a long time.

The more I read the more I narrowed down choices. Western Mountaineering bags were at the top of my list, but were just too expensive at the time for what I wanted, and the Kelty Cosmic 20 down bag at the lower end of the spectrum just didn’t have constant good reviews. That’s when I started reading more and more about people using quilts. I was intrigued.

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Reading forums, hiker blogs and reviews from all over the internet three or four companies kept cropping up with high recommendations: ZPacks, Katabatic, Jacks ‘R’ Better and Englightened Equipment.

Knowing that I wanted a lower-rated sleeping bag/quilt due to the fact that I am a cold sleeper at the beginning of the night, and the areas I generally camp and backpack in, I wanted a quilt that could be used as a sleeping bag in colder temperatures (quilts don’t do great below freezing, according to reports I have read). Both ZPacks and EE offered a zip-up quilt option; ZPacks as an addition to any of their quilts, and Enlightened Equipment as a separate model called the Convert.

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Several things swayed my choice when it came to choosing between the two companies. What it finally came down to was options: Enlightened Equipment gave me the options to fully customize my quilt the way I wanted it, from down fill-power (800 to 950), inside and outside colors, length and width (which ZPacks also does) and the type of down used. I loved that I could choose the colors of my quilt, and there are over a dozen colors (for the exterior) to choose from. I also preferred EE’s baffle construction and orientation since horizontal baffles across the sleeper could allow the down to slide to the sides during the night, especially if you move around a lot.

After ordering, and knowing that all quilts are made to order, I waited. Within a day or two I felt like I’d made a mistake in the sizing and emailed Enlightened Equipment. They adjusted my order and sent me a new receipt with the updated information. A few weeks later I was looking at the website I noticed they had updated their color choices…they had PURPLE. I immediately emailed the company and asked if they could possibly change my order. And they did.

Less than two weeks later my quilt arrived in a cotton storage bag and large box, nicely packaged. I couldn’t believe how light it felt, although at 27oz not quite the lightest on the market but the 850FP down stands up to humidity better than 950FP and I don’t always plan on camping in the dry air of the western US. And I absolutely LOVED the colors…they were true to the colors on the website and I liked that my sleeping bag was unique to me and my personality.

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The material is thin and definitely translucent enough to see the down inside, but it felt like good quality and the construction and stitching were faultless. The zipper works smoothly although I have found that it does catch the light shell material very easily if you are not careful; I always run my fingers along the inside of the zipper as I am closing it up which seems to avoid the issue…keeping the zipper and material taught helps too.

My first outing with the Convert was on my Tongue River Canyon hike. It was only an overnight, and quite warm during the day. During the first use I kept it zipped up in the hoodless sleeping bag mode. I stayed plenty warm and toasty during the night, with heavy winds and some rain.

The second trip was to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Again I kept it in sleeping bag mode and was plenty warm the first night. The second night, having camped right next to a creek, everything got damp, including the Convert. Having my face next to cold, wet fabric chilled me to the point of having to put my down coat on underneath the quilt. I don’t believe this to be a fault with the bag that I got cold, but one of my own making.

The third and fourth trips (Little Horn Canyon and Walker Prairie) I finally used the Convert in quilt mode due to the warm temperatures. I found this set-up to be very versatile and I slept well in both places, staying plenty warm without the need to zip up the bag or even pull it around me. Of course a 10F bag is overkill when the overnight lows are in the 50s.

Taking the Convert on the Solitude Trail for a week was the longest test and it performed superbly. I mostly used it as a quilt with the top snap closed and adjusted as necessary as I slept. I was cold only one night, when it dropped below freezing, and I realized that I probably should have stuck with the original width I had ordered (slim vs regular)…there was just too much space in the bag for me to warm successfully in sub-freezing temperatures. Part of me being cold was that it was also a damp night. Even with too much space, an added layer made all the difference. Most of the reason I was getting cold was the ingress of too much air at the shoulder area and only a thin layer of fleece shirt to block it.

I like the vertical baffles on EE’s bags; they keep the down where you want it and I don’t find that it moves much after I’ve given the bag a good shake after it comes out of its stuff sack and allow it to loft.

The elastic draw string at the neck of the bag is sufficient for what it does but it is probably my least-liked element of the bag. It is very narrow, non-stretchy cord and I don’t like the tightening location. I’d like to see the cord replaced with a flat, elastic version that doesn’t feel quite so much like a garroting wire when tightened. It is especially difficult if you want to reach a hand out of the sleeping bag to scratch your ear, put on chapstick, grab your flashlight…or pick your nose!!! An elastic cord would alleviate some of this and make the bag more versatile, and placing the tightening location by the zipper with two toggles instead of one would also be an improvement. Of course, these are just my opinions on one aspect of the Convert that didn’t work for me. A neck baffle (as found as an option on Loco Libre Gear’s quilts would really be a plus).

Overall, the Convert (and other EE quilts) are great quality and provide a warm, light sleeping bag/quilt at an affordable price. Their customer service was impeccable and I really appreciated their efforts to make sure I got the bag I wanted, despite all the changes. I don’t think you can go wrong with Enlightened Equipment.