Thursday, May 17, 2018

On the Edge of Basin and Range

[Mid-March 2018]
On the western edge of Grand Canyon National Park - just outside of the park border - is the Pearce Ferry campground.  In ~1876 the Pearce family operated a ferry crossing here.  The shore  must have been very different before the Hoover Dam.  

The awesome cliffs on the north side may look much the same as before the dam, but the water is now a lake rather than a free running Colorado River.  Above our campsite is Grand Canyon and about 280 miles of cliffs like these on both sides of the river. We contemplate launching our canoe and paddling up river, but a sign tells us that it is illegal to launch here. Raft tours of the canyon end here, but otherwise there isn’t an explanation.

The campground is totally empty and beautiful. 

Storm clouds change the light on the cliffs moment by moment. Previous campers have left the campground clean - except for abundant fire wood.  We’ll drive out the chill with campfire and ukulele strumming as the sun sets.

In the morning we find a cave carved into the cliff, part of what remains of CCC construction anticipating a resort here on the edge of the water.  A companion kiosk explains that this is storage for dynamite.  It puts us in mind of Johnny Cash singing “Nobody”.

From the edge of Grand Canyon Q takes us to Death Valley and Saline Valley’s Palm Springs.  This is one of those places that bad roads protect.  However, lowering the tire pressure saves us the trauma of 50 miles of washboard roads to arrive in a fine mood at the free campgrounds surrounding hot springs.  

Saline Valley was once BLM land where young hippies came to camp by the hot springs.  They aren't as young now, but they continue to return and do volunteer maintenance work.  

There is an unwritten understanding that visitors will contribute to scrubbing the tiled hot tubs, cleaning the bathrooms, and dismantling fire rings that aren't up to standard.  This is a repeat visit for us, but this time we add a hike to  the upper spring which is still mostly natural.  

Tiled and palm tree shaded lower spring fed hot tub.

Wild upper hot spring

Here is a habit hard to break - putting some curl and body into naturally mostly straight hair that is weirdly curly in some random places on my head.  Q is capable of running a curling iron with stored solar power, but it almost seems like some rebellion against traditional grooming is appropriate for a van dweller.  

I recall a cute photo of the Gigi as a little girl with very curly hair, and her account of having it braided wet to produce the curls.  It works!  After a good soak in the hot springs (which also adds a mild sulfur fragrance), I attempt to duplicate my grandmother’s curling method.  

The next morning another camper follows me from the bathroom to ask if she can borrow a stove and pot in order to prepare breakfast; and she admits that she followed me because my hair is so beautiful.  I suspect that she had another word in mind, but made a word choice that might facilitate solving a cooking problem. Braided curls may be as close as I’ll ever get to dreadlocks.

Now you need to know that this fellow camper of ours in Saline Valley was wearing LL Bean and REI, so there has to be more back story.  They drove a larger RV into Death Valley and parked it.  Their truck has a small camper on the back, and they can also backpack into the most remote areas.  He brought the wrong kind of fuel for their backpacking stove.  At least partly because my hair is so beautiful, i decide against a discussion about HFE and the design of gas tank regulators that aren't interoperable - and have no fuel level gauge.

When we left Saline Valley last year, the exit to the north was impassable because of packed snow and ice.  Being here a bit later on in the spring brings that new option. It is a shorter drive on still rough roads, but new views too.  

When we come up out of the valley it is a visual surprise treat to see the snowy Sierra Mountains with a bend in the road to the west.

Q’s hungry gas tank means a brief visit to the Owens River Valley, the site of the California Water War. It is sad to think of this beautiful valley drained to allow LA to grow massively.  We find adequate fuel and  groceries and head east again up into the Dolomite White Mountains and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaevaForest.

This campsite wins the most beautiful site so far for mountain views and a picnic table.  There are no other campers in this incredibly beautiful campground. We wonder if it has anything to do with below freezing temperatures.  

Secrets of Old Age

Perhaps what works for the Bristlecone Pines will work for us?

"The slope is steep, exposed, and the soil is dry.  Yet this is where we find the old majestic weathered trees."
Bristlecone Pine - Pinus longaeva

The visitor's center is closed for the season - no competition for the views.

Looking west across the Owens Valley towards the Sierra Madre range.


  1. Your images are vibrant. You miss home base or are you a hobo?

    1. Thank you!
      After 3 months as van dwellers we were absolutely homesick (Michigan).