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.

 

 

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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

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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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