Friday, February 17, 2017

Rosemary on the Rotisserie

We drive on to see the Grandstand where we enjoy bacon and eggs semi al fresco.

Alex captures the Grandstand formation from a variety of perspectives, and sees some potential moving rocks.

The famous moving rocks share this dry lake bed with the Grandstand.

Tonight we camp in Mesquite Creek Campground where there are actual flushing toilets.  What a luxury.  This is one of the nearly free campgrounds inside Death Valley.  The spaces are generous and there are few people here.  Too far from the golf course?

Dinner is our now thawed game hen which Alex cooks on the grill, turning it so that it is almost as if it is on a rotisserie.  He stuffs the body cavity with fresh rosemary and adds sprigs under each wing and leg, too.

While the little bird cooks, we enjoy all of our remaining fresh vegetables as a salad.  Carving the bird is simply splitting it down the middle.  It tenderly releases its bones and is still juicy.  This isn't only amazing camp fare.  This could be served up in your favorite posh restaurant, along with our baby arugula and spinach salad.  You could opt out of topping it with all the remaining fresh things in the camper refrigerator if you wish to keep the restaurant star rating high.

This here's a teakettle

We stock up from the meager offerings at the Furnace Creek general store.  Our purchases include meat: thick bacon and one very small frozen Cornish game hen.

The stay at the Inn prepares us to appreciate the comfort and familiarity of Q.  We drive north from Furnace Creek to visit a part of Death Valley we haven't yet seen.  Ubehebe Crater.  This is a fairly young volcanic crater - a steam crater.  The age speculations range for 3,000 to mere hundreds of years.
Ubehebe - it is just fun to say that name

Since tomorrow will be an exploration of the Racetrack, we will drive around Ubehebe and head south on yet another washboard road - one that doesn't rattle our brain cages so much because Alex reduces the tire pressure to soften the bumps.  The drive is made even more lovely by the presence of big clouds hanging over the mountaintops providing a fresh dusting of snow.

In the night we awaken to howling wind.  The wind is musical enough to lull us back into deep sleep - and also sweeps all the clouds away.  The waning moon is still very bright - as Alex describes to his mate who tends to miss such things as moon phases and shooting stars because she is such a fine sound sleeper.

The very tolerable washboard rocky road takes us to Teakettle Junction where we assist with a bit of photography.  These three friends from Colorado, Wisconsin, and Chicago flew here and rented a jeep.  They have been exploring Death Valley's backcountry and camping.  They shared their big windy night stories with us.  The Chicago Cubs T-shirt wearing guy says he slept through it all because he was wearing his noise-canceling headphones.

They offer, we accept - to take our photo too.

One of the donated tea kettles is a sauce pan that says, "Whar we come from, this here is a teakettle."

Backroads Concussion

As we travel west through the park on 190 there are views back into Panamint Valley. After the turn north onto Saline Valley Rd, we see many more views of our campsite in Panamint from progressively higher elevations.  The arrow points to our campsite near Lake Hill.

Saline Valley is one of those places that Edward Abbey might describe as showing the good that bad roads can do for a place.

The 50 miles of bad roads to the hot springs in Saline Valley make it unlikely that the campgrounds will be crowded.  We consult our DeLorme to confirm location and direction on the sandy unmarked route to the springs, but even as we are entering longitude and latitude, this rainbow welcomes us.

"May your trails be winding, crooked, lonesome, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds...." - Edward Abbey.

< First indicator that we are likely to enjoy meeting the people who may come here to camp.

Just as Ranger Bob described, Warm Spring is an oasis: green grass, palm trees...and wild burros.

At the next campground (3/4 mile up the canyon) there are two hot springs: Wizard and Volcano.  Return visitors compensate for the lack of park management by taking excellent care of the site.  All the cleaning of restrooms and pools - and the restocking of supplies is accomplished by the SPA.  This has been a favorite campground of SPA since the early 1960s.

We learn that there are two, possibly three times to avoid coming to the hot springs: Presidents Day weekend, Thanksgiving, and New Years.  Hundreds of people arrive and it gets rowdy.

What we experience here is great peacefulness in the warm sun, hot water, and an amazing 360degree view of mountains.  The Inyo Mtns to the west are topped with snow - and every afternoon they are also topped with clouds.


One of our new best friends is Chief.  He helps with the dishes and serves as a bouncer when the wild burros try to enter the camp.

The camping here is free.  The desert warmth is delicious.  We find it difficult to imagine leaving...until the night of the huge windstorm. Our closest neighbor's tent is blown down - and they move into their jeep for the night.  A Toyota FJ Cruiser with a tent on top leaves to travel the 50 miles of bad road at 3:00 am.  Everyone is cleaning grit and sand from everything by morning light.  Okay, we can now be traveling those bumpy roads back towards Furnace Creek...and a stay in the Furnace Creek Inn to mark 2 months of camping out in Quiggy.

Ghosts of the Past

We climb back into Quiggy and head west towards the wild road that may take us to the hot springs.  One of Ranger Bob's questions will remain with us.  "Are you the kind of people who know when it is time to turn around?  If yes, then i do think that you should try."

Nearing Panamint Springs and the turn north, we see a coyote couple working the intersection.  All of the park's rule statements make it clear that it isn't a good idea to feed the wildlife.  The friendly behavior of the two coyotes make it clear that their cuteness has paid off in the past.

The Panamint Valley is just too lovely to just drive through without stopping to explore.  This is where we will camp tonight.  There is a washboardy, rocky road going north past Lake Hill and up into the rocky alluvial fan at the base of Panamint Butte.  Just before Lake Hill we discovered the wrecks of two cars.  Photo op!

On to the end of the road.... We drive past the dunes hike and up one of those roads that Q loves - rocky steps.

Here we sleep.  Some data points: 72 degrees at Furnace Creek, probably more like 60 here on the alluvial fan.  The wind is mostly a sweet breeze but occasionally gusty enough to make me annoyed with hair that slaps my eyeballs.  This is why braiding was invented.  And hats.
Panamint Valley Sand Dunes - from our campsite

Amazing sunrise in Panamint Valley

Juicy Oranges

It is very nice to resemble a desert tortoise.  Self-contained in a relatively small shell of Q.  We'll travel 25-30 miles to the next camping spot that invites us to stop.  The roads are alternating rocky and bumpy with sandy - sometimes deep sand.  One night the camp is in a lava bed and we sleep well.  The next night is in an incredible Joshua Tree forest accessorized with granite boulders - and we sleep well.  Tonight we'll likely sleep very well in the high desert mountains that the Mojave includes.

Have fun stormin' the castle!

Our camp near Keystone Canyon induces terrific sleep though the moon's waxing does light up the night sky.  The extent of our physical work is a hike to explore a hill that has a couple of cuts, one horizontal as if it has been a road - and another vertical cut that just seems mysterious,

Can't explain the mystery, but the hike is fun.  The views from on top of the hill stretch across distant mountain ranges.  From the top we plot our route of return to Q.  It is a desert wash that is sure to be full of animal tracks.  We can see that it eventually crosses the road to Keystone Canyon.

From Keystone Canyon we plot our route into Death Valley.  Getting there includes a couple of stops to resupply food, water, and fuel.  
Quiggy re-supplied
Years ago we entered Death Valley through Titus Canyon and it remains our first choice.  Alas, we discover at the turn off near Beatty, NV, that the dirt road to Titus Canyon is closed.  It is a one-way road, so if we don't enter this way, we may miss the opportunity to drive the most beautiful backroad route into the park.

We camp on BLM land just off the closed road and enjoy the (coolish) desert air.  Alex does a mean bok choy and broccoli stir fry.  

By sunrise we decide against being scofflaws and enter the park by the east main road.  Our prize = seeing wild burros.
 And the entrance to the park, though not as stunningly beautiful as Titus Canyon, is still really awesome.

It is a little frustrating to find that the only place for info is the visitors' center at Furnace Creek - about an hour's drive round trip out of our way. But, the prize is meeting some very cool people in the process.  At the gas station, we meet Russell who has been coming to Death Valley for about 50 years.  He admires Quiggy and wishes that he could tag onto our plans for soaking in a hot spring that is accessible only by way of a rough mountainous rocky dirt road that may be under snow.  He is driving a Nissan Extera with a bumper chop on the front - and a bicycle on top.
The first person we meet at the Visitors' Center is National Park Ranger, Amy.  She gives us a number of recommendations for things to see in the park and places to camp - after she catches a glimpse of Q through the window.  No need to stick to the options of a paved road and official campground.  When we ask about the closed roads, such as our favorite Titus Canyon drive, she explains that the rain and snow fall have been heavier than usual - and mud is the reason for most of the closures.  The road to Scotty's Castle is out for a couple of years.  

Our inquiry about the drive to the hot springs brings a hand gesture.  It is directed towards National Park Ranger, Bob, who appears to be about twice Amy's age.

Ranger Bob's words very nearly echo Russell's.  "I wish i could meet you there!"  He doesn't care to drive the treacherous road, but he does sometimes get to fly in.  He says that the road isn't officially closed though it may be under 3-8 feet of snow.  He also admires Q, and asks Alex if we could have lifted Quiggy any higher.  It is clear that he means it as a joke, and laughs when Alex explains that if it was any higher, he would have to get on all fours so that I could climb up on his back to get into Q.

Ranger Bob kindly offers to take our avocado, apples, and bananas which are going to get bounced around and bruised on the road over South Pass.  The oranges will just get juicier.

Story Corps on NPR - must be Friday

To more fully experience history we leave the paved road for the historic Mojave Road.  We recall seeing a cartoon in the museum showing distressed American motorists peering out at the desert road from cars parked on paved road and eyeing Los Angeles across the deep sand.

Driving on the old Mojave Road we find the sand is perilously soft, but Q's 4WD manages well.  Many  jackrabbit sightings.  They are lean and fast.  Traveling 10 miles on the Old Mojave Road feels more like 200 miles.  We locate the old coral that indicates our turn towards the cinder cones.  Suddenly the road is firm - still a dirt road, but solid.  It is an old mining road.  How did people ever manage to cross the desert (especially in the typical vacation months of summer) in a Model A Ford or Willys Overland?

The cinder cone terrain is only just amazing and weird.  We briefly explore the lava tubes, but opt to establish our camp and return in the morning with headlamps, hiking boots, gloves.

From our high desert camp spot in Mojave we tune in NPR to check in with what might be happening in the world.  It is mostly very nice to be out of touch.  Possibly irresponsible, but nice.  Story Corps comes on and we exclaim "it must be Friday!"  Hello from the land of what-day-is-it-anyway?

No camping, okay?

Mountain top camping in ABDNP is amazing!
Alex captures agave curls

In the morning we catch a glimpse of an eagle or large hawk on the boulder by our camp - it lands on the same rock where Alex stood last evening to make the most of the view. You can see his shadow in the photo.

Would you be able to resist this road?  Our choices: return to S-22 on the same dirt road; follow the loop that will return us to S-22; or go along this mystery road that we're guessing will end up taking us through Grapevine Canyon to Yaqui Flats.

The drive through Grapevine Canyon is gorgeous.  We see mountain lion tracks in the middle of the road.  There are places where Q must step down boulders.  (We will later discover a dented rocker panel.) There is no way to turn around to make another choice...and it would be much more difficult climbing back up Grapevine Canyon.  Big sigh of relief when we spot utility poles and then a park sign!

We head through the park and then north past Salton Sea, and then towards Joshua Tree NP  through Box Canyon.  We ogle the beauty of Joshua Tree and continue into Mojave National Preserve.

We head through the park and then north past Salton Sea, and then towards Joshua Tree NP  through Box Canyon.  We ogle the beauty of Joshua Tree and continue into Mojave National Preserve.  

Our first night's camp is at the base of Granite Mt. Our camp is just off the road - about 4 miles of dirt road off the paved road.  We see many rabbits - or have many sightings of the same rabbit?

In the morning we drive to the park visitors' center to gather info.  The train still runs past the depot that serves as the park visitors' center.  The center is also a museum.  The iron ore that was mined here near Kelso was discovered to have other elements - in essence contaminants that weakened it - and that proved disastrous for the Liberty ships.  During mining days the depot and round house were needed for steam engines that assisted Diesel engines up and over the Cima grade.  Trains still use the tracks - we see several pass by while we are enjoying our fresh pineapple at one of the picnic tables outside the depot.

According to one of the displays in the museum, the cost of developing the railroad in the US was off-set by establishing national parks and then advertising them as destinations for rail travel. 

We learn that the only grocery store anywhere nearby is at the northwest exit in a tiny town, Baker.  Our plan: restock a few things and return to the park to see the cinder cones and get inside the lava tube.  Ranger Matt tells us the the philosophy of the current park supervisor is that the land should be restored to the most primitive state possible - while remaining somewhat accessible to visitors.

Translation: most of the roads are dirt and alternatively rutted or sandy.  Backcountry campsites cannot be created, but only revisited when there is evidence that it has been used previously.  And no camping near roads.  And no camping off roads.  Okay?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Library is must be Monday

It isn't a long drive from the desert view tower to the Ocotillo Wells entrance to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  We will again camp here before heading north to explore the Mojave desert.  We drive north on S-2 to Agua Caliente, a place that a number of people have recommended as a relaxing hot springs.  Springs, plural because there are pools that are 82, 98, and 102 degrees warm.  Although we aren't here long, the time in the hot mineral springs (98 and 102) is luxurious.

We travel from Agua Caliente to Montezuma Junction to catch 22 (S-22) east to see a new part of the park.  Just off mile marker 7 is a dirt road that promises great views of the desert and mountains.

It is surprising that 2-3 cars pass our camp as the sun is setting.  The road seems like one to discourage the family car.  The last truck to come up to the mountaintop is looking a little worn and tired.  It stops just behind Quiggy and the somewhat scraggly driver comes out to talk.  He is wearing a big smile. He stops, he tells us, just to let us know that the forecast is for near freezing.  

He tells us that we have selected one of his favorite places to camp, except that he is from Redondo Beach and the cold just doesn't suit him.  He more often camps here when he comes to visit friends in Borrego Springs during the summer months.
Our Agua Caliente wet swim suits dry in (chilly) desert air

We stop in Borrego Springs to make use of the library there.  Alas, the library is closed on Monday.  However, their wifi is alive and fast.  While doing a little research using the iPad for connection, we observe about 15 library patrons who arrive at the locked library door to exclaim "oh - it must be Monday!"  It is pretty cool to be around a population of people who don't need to be much aware of the day of the week or time of day.  

Prince & Bobo - Desert View Tower

In our desert driving experience over the past month we realize a missing piece of equipment.  Sand ladders can aid the capable 4WD of Q should the sand be very deep.  The realization comes not from actual duress, but from knowing that the sand could be deeper and the stickiness stickier.  In researching purchase of sand ladders, Alex finds that there are some available for about $15 each.  That seems very reasonable for this piece of safety equipment, and gives us an idea of what the cost will be.  When we drive to the Off-Road Warehouse to inquire, we discover that the cost is $150 each.  How can there be such a huge difference?  This is a riddle that should be left for you to answer, but since the answer came so easily to me (from Alex), I'll tell you.

The $15 sand ladders are 1/10th scale for the drivers of remote control (toy) cars.

BTW, my friend Hasan suggests that Q's second name might be Sakeena, a lovely name which also means peace.

After a few days visit with the Gigi we head back out to find some desert warmth.  At last the forecast is for sunshine and 70 degrees (more or less).  We pass over Cajon Pass where there are still patches of snow.  It is a small breath (a gasp) between mechanical control and the edge of the wind.  
(- Alex on how it feels to drive Q across the high bridges in gusts that must have been close to 80 mph). We survive.

On a whim, we stop by the Desert View Tower.  This is a place that is very familiar to my sibs and me.  On our long, hot summer drives east in the 1950s, we'd sometimes stop here to climb the tower and enjoy the view - and complain about the heat.  

We meet Ben Schultz who purchased the tower in 2002 - and saved it from decay with help from neighbor Dennis, rock mason - among other talents.  When i mention to Ben that our family visited way back when, he tells us that he had his 7th birthday party here.  To my sibs, i must relay the good news that the tower and caves are in fine condition.  

While her spouse worked to repair the stone work, Linda painted the mural over the entrance.  It is because Dennis expresses interest in Quiggy that we get the pleasure of meeting Linda and Dennis.  We might have just admired the good maintenance and the beauty of the mural without meeting the artists.  Thanks Q.

Prince and Bobo are part of the mural - and display their mural pose after giving us a huge welcome of tail wagging and toe licking.  I mean to say that their enthusiastic welcome includes licking our toes, after which they take a nap.

Ben's brother, Sam, returned from Bali to work in retirement here at the tower, too.  Sam tells us that he was a surfer who found his way to Bali as a young man - and just never left until moving in with Ben.  In Bali, Sam migrated from surfing to working for an NGO to relieve the suffering of poverty.  Ben and Sam are Quakers. They don't shy away from conversation with visitors.
 Sam arranges a new exhibit
A big smile on the climb to the top of Desert View Tower

Diamond Jack's again

By the time we escape El Centro, the sun is nearly set.  We'll spend the night in Anza-Borrego Desert SP.  We're guessing that Blair Valley will be our overnight, but Alex spots a road off S-2 that looks intriguing.  Q goes along with each "I wonder what is over this rise, past this curve." We reach the ultimate big overlook perched on a peninsula of sand and rock with drops of about 300 feet in all directions except the road, of course.  What we overlook to the west-northwest is the Overland Stagecoach Route.  We see snow on mountaintops to the west.  To the east we see the lights of El Centro and the big wind farms capturing energy.

The dinner steaks are so delicious!  We compensate for meat intake with huge salads of baby kale.  And an amazing night's sleep follows in spite of the sound of helicopters overhead for much of the night.  The star show is again amazing.

Barrel Cactus in sunrise - photo by Alex

And the morning sunrise fills Q with pink-orange light.  Alex reminds me that it is because we forgot to open the roof vent and the windows are fogged, but really it is just so beautiful.

We set out early through Cajon Pass and note snow at 4,000 feet.  The sun is bright and the views are marvelous.  I call to check on the option of camping in town.  It is the same campground where we celebrated the Gigi's 100th birthday.  Yes, they have one spot left, but only if we have a vehicle that can back in.  Oh, yes, Q can back up very well.  Q is just a little van.  Is this a manufactured camper van or a custom do-it-yourself van conversion, because if it is one of those do-it-yourself conversions, we can't have you here.

We will return to Diamond Jack's where all kinds of weirdos are welcome.