Today I was 100 Feet below sea level...


…and yet, I'm bone dry (well, maybe a bit of perspiration).

Never, in a million years would I have imagined that I would have so enjoy Death Valley - especially in the SUMMER!

Today started very well after a good nights sleep, a very good, hot breakfast at the Best Western, a fuel fill up, and I was off to cross into California about 8 miles from Pahrump, NV. At Shoshone, I was to take CA-178 west, then hit Badwater Road and go 46 miles to intersect with CA-190. That route was to take me up through a long valley in Death Valley. I would hit CA-190 at Furnace Creek, which has a very nice resort, picturesque and right in the middle of this desert.


Well, plans changed - unexpectedly.

The road I intended to take was closed, due to flooding. Flooding? Are you asking yourself, Flooding? Really?! Oh yes, indeed. I should have guessed this could happen. You see when I drove into Pahrump Monday night, it appeared that they just might have had some torrential rains, because some of the sidewalks and streets had been plowed - plowed of dirt and mud. Though I didn't ask anyone, it was pretty obvious the area had heavy rainfall enough so to even have had the highway scraped clean in places where the water had flowed across. From my vantage point at the closed road signs, no flooding was visible, but there is a lot of road out there and plenty of it goes through some low places. Perhaps, what the highway department still had to do was scrape away heavy accumulations of debris before allowing traffic to use those roads. 


Well, no big deal, I continued north from that intended turn off and intersected with CA-190 about 30 miles dead ahead. 

And then the entry into the foreboding, desolate, dry, dry desert of Death Valley. Was I prepared for this drive through Hell? Would it be I to break down if my Santa Fe broke down, turning me into a raving, dehydrated lunatic, crawling across the desert, buzzards circling overhead, seeing illusionary mirages and hoarsely calling out "water, water…"?                                                       Oh please, such melodrama!                      I must have watched way too many Westerns in my day .


Quite the contrary, to my surprise, there was a steady stream of traffic traveling through Death Valley on this hot August day. To my surprise, also, it was not nearly as hot as I thought it might have been. I am sure it did get into the 100's, but, hey, I live in Phoenix, so 100+ days are a piece of cake for me. Also to my delight, I found all kinds of places to visit at roadside stops, including a long ago abandoned Borax processing site, 20 mule team wagons, a nearly deserted town, and views that were so varied, broad and magnificent that it was hard to take it all in. My eyes felt like they were bulging to take in the immensity of the views before me, while my brain, like a sponge, was fully absorbing all the natural beauty that lay itself before me. Some may think this kind of terrain is so lifeless and barren as to not possess any worthwhile beauty. To me, beauty surrounds us all, whether it is a cornfield in Ohio, Autumn leaves, wave patterns in sand dunes, snow laden pine trees, pebbles on a beach,  gently rolling hillsides, a tree tenaciously rooted in the rocks along a mountain trail, ominous storm clouds gathering in the sky or the first rays of sunlight bursting over the horizon above the Grand Canyon, These things and more make me feel so connected to Mother Earth, that I can feel and appreciate my place in this incredible planet. 

But the day had hardly begun and I had already stopped at several sites, shot many photos, and totally enjoyed my drive and the views. Most other drivers on the road today, were seemingly in much more of a hurry than I, and I did not let their haste deter me from my steady 50-55 mph along long, long lengths of that black ribbon cutting across Death Valley.


By noon I had reached Stovepipe Wells, a more up to date, and newer looking, little stop along the highway. And for those who would need it, a gas station, 5.98 per gallon! Thankfully I had filled up in Pahrump! Since I was well ahead of myself, despite my taking a leisurely drive all morning, I had a nice lunch there, lingered awhile and then was on my way. I was due to arrive in Panamint Springs, my overnight stop, but not as early as 1:30 in the afternoon. I almost decided to continue further west and skip my motel reservation at Panamint Springs Resort, but I then checked my reservation information and found that I would forfeit the cost of the room without 48 hours advance notice, so that made my mind up for me. Upon checking in at 2:00, I was informed the room would not be ready until after  4 p.m., so I had time to kill. By asking the desk clerk, she told me of close-by attractions that would interest me, most notably a spring and waterfall, the road to which was only ¾ mile ahead. This surprised me, and she noticed that. Yes, the place is Darwin Falls, she told me, and the source of this little stage-stops' water supply. I would, however have to drive on a rocky road, which she told me she and her husband had done in a subcompact, so just to drive slowly. Then it was a mile hike back into Darwin Falls. Who would have thought a desert oasis existed in such an arid and remote place like this? 


Following her directions, I cut off the highway, and started the 2 ½ mile bumpy drive. Part way in I passed a Dodge Caravan and since they must have gone all the way, it looked like I would not have any difficulty with my Santa Fe. Some of the road had been affected by the rains, but was not worse than many other unpaved paths I have traveled in the same vehicle. Once parked at the trailhead, there was a noticeable little rivulet, or tiny trickle of a stream which was easy to follow back into what seemed nothing but hard, barren mountains. Then an increase in vegetation, then even more, and the walk began to narrow into a side canyon. Now I was amidst small willows, a gently flowing little stream and such a contrast from less than a mile from where I started. Soon thereafter I heard water and found two small waterfalls. But this certainly could not be all there was, so I continued on into the ever narrowing canyon, scrambling over rocks and boulders at times, stepping through the shallow stream, and the sound of rushing waters grew louder as I delved further back. And then, oh wow!, a slender flow of water dropped down from about 20 feet into a small pool.                  What a thrill to find this place and enjoy the serenity it offered. Totally amazed to find this water source from a spring, in a setting so unlike all that I had seen all day, I felt thankful that I was led to discover it for myself. 

Still having one other overlook that I wanted to integrate into this afternoon, I was back at my car after an hour and a half. Then I continued to Father Crowley Vista. But to get there, I had to climb from near sea level elevation to 4000 feet above. Now, I should tell you, that after lunch at Stovepipe Wells, I also had to cross some mountains, the beginning of that ascent addressed by a sign reading, "Turn off A/C to avoid overheating". What? Just how much of a climb lies ahead? As I found out, a lot of elevation change. From about sea level to 4000 feet. It was a nearly constant climb and my car continually kept shifting to keep up my speed of about 30-35. And some were going faster than me! 

Descending from 4000 feet was rapid down into a wide valley with mountains also on the other side. The brakes on my car got a workout on that run. Now safely down to level terrain, I heard, then saw a military jet zip high above me following the roadway, then split off turning, rolling and then, just as quickly vanished to the South. I had heard jets at the 4000 foot overlook, but could not see them. A naval air base is nearby, I believe, which would account for them flying in this part of the valley. 


Getting back to Father Crowley Vista, again with a rapid change in elevation from near sea level to 4000 feet on the next mountain range, it was further than I thought it might be. Once there, I took another unpaved, rocky road that led to a much better overlook. From there, the views into the valley below, the mountains to the East, and the winding road lay below me, snaking its way up to this elevation. Now seeing the vehicles on the roadway, maneuvering around hairpin curves, racing up the straight-aways, gave me a whole new perspective of where I had just come, and to where I would soon be headed - back down to the valley and Panamint Springs. 

Death Valley was supposed to just be a drive through today as I had not thought it would present any places of interest to me, especially in the heat of summer. I can say, however, this is a place I'd like to come explore even more - but probably in cooler weather.


 Driving down, was not nearly as frightening as I thought it might me and actually had me back to the motel in about 20 minutes. Now checked in and having written a new story, I'm ready to go to the restaurant for dinner and then get organized for the next leg of my journey. Tomorrow will see a vast change in scenery, as I leave this low, desolate desert and climb upward to Toulemme Meadows in the High Sierra Mountains. Internet service from now until later in Yosemite will probably prohibit my writing and sending new updates. I'm sure I'll have many stories to tell.


Mesquite Sand Dunes site.


Waves in the Desert…


Crows, begging for water? (or a handout?)


Darwin Falls


View from Father Crowley vista looking East with highway  below.



What would a trip with me be like if I didn't take some unpaved roads? © Donald E. Kline 2012                                         Disqus Comments