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NEXT:   Page 6   Death Valley National Park 2of2
2016 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

Death Valley National Park 3/18
Death Valley National Park 3/19
Death Valley National Park 3/20

2016 Trip Chronicles:  Page 5

Death Valley National Park 3/18 1of2

Timing for a return trip to Death Valley National Park was a difficult call. My expectation had been that would be about a month from the earlier February 12 to 16 visit. By early March wildflower reports from the park and desertusa indicated higher elevations were now seeing flowers while lower elevations I had visited weeks before were fading, drying, and going to seed. Areas I would be visiting would be higher in elevation than during my earlier trip where with cooler temperatures wildflower species start their bloom later. California received storms just after my earlier visit ended then stayed dry for 2 weeks through March 4 when a strong series of El Nino storms occurred and then again a week later followed on March 13 by dry fair weather with periods of record heat. As the early March 4 storms occurred, I rejected returning during the second week of the month because 10-14 day long range weather forecasts showed it would be hot fair weather and instead favored week 3 that was forecast to provide a change to wetter weather. Indeed record heat plagued California during the second week and there were some quite windy days meaning dust clouds in desert areas, with a hazy atmosphere. Then during that second hot week, forecasts of a change to a wetter cooler pattern firmed up. I didn't want a multi day stormy or windy period, just a day or so to clear the atmosphere. So at short notice to my employer during that week, I committed to Friday March 18 through Sunday March 27, a 10 day period.

As noted at the end of chronicle page 4, the trip began on Thursday March 17 with some photo work en route at Pacheco Pass State Park. At sunset I began the long road trip southeastward down I5. Instead of battling freeway traffic going through Bakersfield, I took SR223 east through Arvin over to SR58. Then SR58 southeast over Tehachipi Pass, then northward on SR14 where a bit before midnight I stopped along the deserted Red Rock-Inyokern dirt road to quietly overnight in my Forester. The next morning, Friday March 18, I was off at dawn soon into the modern military community of Ridgecrest, where I topped off on gas and picked up final perishable drinks and supplies at a supermarket. By 8:30am I was over Towne Pass at 4956 feet in the Panamint Range and into Death Valley proper. Herbs were still mostly just green at the top of the pass but more flowers increasingly showed as I drove down in elevation. I stopped at a bit below 3700 feet where there were modest numbers of wildflowers in prime condition. Since it would be past prime time for morning landscape work by time I might reach areas east, I decided to spend a couple hours working these slopes for wildflower close-ups. Skies were mostly sunny and an intermittent light breeze would allow shooting during lulls as I rambled off in full battle gear and A6000 atop my Benbo Trekker.


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This first image above is a close-up of beautiful showy gilia, gilia cana triceps, that I would see much more of later in the road trip. Many flower species have 5 petals. Here the purple color becomes darker where it curves down into the flower tube and then has a short white band before turning yellow at the bottom. Rising out of the tube are 5 male anthers with sticky pollen bees pick up. At center the female stigma that picks up pollen off of bees, is trifid dividing into 3 curving feathery lobes. Below the lobes is a narrow tube that funnels pollen down to the dark ovary at bottom. On this and other images, select the enlarged vertical slice view to view greater image detail. Some of these gilia I came across later in the trip were 15 inches tall with 2 dozen flowers.

Before the digital era photographers looked for such subjects where elements were reasonably equidistant from potential lens positions in order to capture adequate depth of field. In this new digital era with focus stack blending, that same situation will tend to eliminate possible parallax issues that may otherwise cause soft out of focus halos beyond in focus edges. Another issue that this subject fulfilled was having background elements far enough behind subject elements that they could be well blurred with out of focus bokeh. With my Sigma 60mm F2.8 DN lens, I can focus as close as about 15 inches but to really fill frames with smaller subjects, put on a lens extension tube to get my lens much closer. But getting this close means I did not have the option to add a shot focused far back on the background. To do so would only cause significant parallax edge halos thus the choice for a blurred background.


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My next subject above was an intensely red hued desert paintbrush, castelleja chromosa. During my week, I saw few paintbrush though expected they are more common later in spring at higher elevations. And like the previous image, my lens was close so chose to frame the flower so the background was well blurred.


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I traversed about a half mile south of the highway across several shallow washes draining side canyons. Here and there were cottontop cactus, echinocactus polycelphalus. I noticed spines on top of some changed from a light green to pink so kept my eye out for a subject where I might get low to the ground in order to put spines up against the blue sky. Clumps of white cottony hairs grow at the knob base of spine clusters.


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The most common showy species in these east facing wash slopes was white tackstem, calycoseris wrightii, and they were generally abundant in many wash areas I visited later in the trip. The plants often grow up beneath perennial bushes where they use the wind protection and mechanical support of bush branches to rise up above the level of branches. As a breeze was increasing, I looked for a subject that was well supported in branches that had nice petal symmetry. Notice how the white hued male anthers are two-lobed. There are many sunflower species with large relatively flat corollas that make ideal close-up subjects for maximum depth of field.

Returning to my car there were now numbers of vehicles whizzing east down highway SR190 coming into the park early for this weekend that would certainly be one of the park's most visited of the last few years. With the well-advertised media dubbed Superbloom peaking at mid elevations and Easter the following weekend that would keep many people home, this was obviously the big weekend of 2016. Driving east, I turned south onto Emigrant Canyon Road exploring a few miles to see what flowers looked like in that zone. I walked about in a couple locations taking one set of shots with dense golden evening-primrose though light was now getting harsh at midday. Back on SR190, drove on east past Stovepipe Wells and onto Furnace Creek that with arrival was active with cars and people all about. Stopped in at the gas station to fill my 5 gallon water container, the resort store for a lunch sandwich and drinks, then the visitor center carports to park in shade as the temperature was now over 90F where I made plans passing away some time while sunlight was harsh. Furnace Creek is one of just a few locations on our continent that are below sea level and the resulting higher air pressure from greater atmospheric depth is a key physical factor of it also being one of the hottest locations on the planet.

The weather forecast before leaving my workplace showed the end of a week of hot stale weather would transition late Saturday as a weak trough from the Gulf of Alaska moved down along the coast into Oregon and Northern California. That was to be followed by a much stronger trough Monday or Tuesday moving further south into California before ejecting east over the Sierra Nevada and into the Great Basin with both troughs missing Southern California. There was NWS forecast uncertainty how far south precipitation in the second front would track however the expectation was Mojave Desert areas would only receive strong winds with either passage. I was uncertain whether Saturday would be windy but did notice Friday it seemed to be getting windier as the day proceeded so maybe the transition was occurring?

close-up work about the Death Valley Wash basin

About 2pm, I drove east on SR190 beside Death Valley Wash to the rocky, bumpy, Echo Canyon dirt road and explored up about 2 miles at the foot of the Funeral Mountains a sub-range of the Amargosa Range. Legal dispersed camping begins a mile up from the paved SR190 highway and there were several possible areas where vehicles had made turn outs for doing such. However the road was atop a gently sloping bajada plain with very shallow washes so was quite exposed. I was surprised at the numbers of wildflowers blooming in the zone that was at about 900 feet in elevation. There were lots of spectacular blooming beavertail pricklypear, opuntia basilaris, with their large intense magenta flowers. It was however rather breezy but I was determined to make an image waiting out the wind for lulls. There really wasn't a choice to come back during early morning when breezes might be at minimums because the flowers close at night then don't open till late morning. But unlike with most plants, with the rigid cactus, only flower petals are likely to move.


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Their large flowers meant I didn't need to get too close and looked for a subject where the background wash rocks were close enough to the corollas that I might try to get all elements in focus without parallax issues. The subject above also had a pad with a good orientation to capture some of that nice green color too. With difficulty I was able to cover the subject with my diffuser shadow while using my reflection disk to block some of the breeze, all the while working my camera. For those that don't know, the lack of long obvious spines on pricklypear is not an invitation to touch the pads haha as there are tiny barbed hair spines that once in your skin, are difficult see much less pull out.


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Another subject above afforded capturing the full cactus plant with 9 blooms in sunlight. Back at home the image required quite a lot of Zerene Stacker processing because the wind made petal positions change a bit between shots. But again just like out in the field, I didn't have to worry about the rest of the otherwise imobile cactus showing double edges. I drove back to the highway, went a bit east, then explored out on the Hole-in-the-Wall dirt road where there were many nice areas to disperse camp beyond the legal 1.0 miles from the road within a deep wash that provided some wind protection. There were also nice numbers of scattered wildflowers. Back on SR190 I continued east then went south on the paved Dantes View Road that follows Furnace Creek wash through a narrow canyon in which I expected to find less wind. At the 2800 foot elevation was an abundance of wildflowers especially yellow hued golden evening-primrose, white tackstem, purple mat, woolly sunflower, and desert dandelion.


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Near sunset, I shot a set of oblique views of this group of purple mat, nama dimissum, in wash gravel that was rather abundant along roadsides in the park. Where I later found it most abundant was in the volcanic black sands of Ubehebe Crater.


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With the sun setting early in the north to south oriented canyon, interesting low sun angle light illuminated the tops of these yellow hued woolly sunflower, eriophyllum ambiguum, and purple mat belly flowers while their stony bases were mostly in the shade. With a bit of imagination the sunflowers could be a forest of 10 foot tall plants on an alien planet and the small stones large boulders. I drove back at dusk to a spot in the Hole-in-the-Wall wash surveyed earlier, set up to sleep inside my Forester, made dinner with my Whisperlite stove, and retired. A good day of close-up work with landscapes to follow.


morning at the Death Valley Wash canyon

Morning Saturday March 19 was up at dawn and soon out of Hole-in-the-Wall and driving east on SR190. The breezy evening had subsided to a minor variable breeze that was weak enough I thought I might get some more close-up work done back up at the Furnace Creek Wash canyon area I had worked late the previous afternoon. I had 4 long day hikes planned for the trip with the most challenging on a route in the nearby east side of the Black Mountains I'd mapped out on the topo and looked at with Google Earth. Although I might have started that hike early this morning, the unknowns in the weather, a bit of fear taking on the challenge, and the certainty of working some of the areas in the location I'd just viewed hours before, ended in my decision to work the canyon instead and maybe do the route as a day hike starting later in the morning if the weather seemed ok. My expectation was the Black Mountain hike would not be about wildflowers but rather colorful landscapes thus not subject to windy issues. All four destinations were to areas of hydrothermally altered volcanic ash sediments that produce colorful clays. Places other photographers have not sought out except at Artist Drive because a paved road brings people to the famous icon without having to understand the underlying geology.


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My first subject above is another belly flower Fremont's phacelia, phacelia fremontii, with distinctive purple hued petals with yellow throats. It wasn't that there were not taller plants I might have worked but rather the breeze was strong enough they were already bobbing around while closer to the ground plants are less likely to do so and were more easily blocked with my 32 inch round collapsible reflector disk. At least to this person even more interesting than the flowers were the wrinkled spent flower petals.


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I worked several more subjects before breezes increased while walking a good quarter mile up the wash. On the return found a cute subject above I didn't have to worry about moving around. The same cottontop cactus, echinocactus polycelphalus, species I had shot the day before up against the sky, but here showing the whole plant in one nice little ball, or rather mini cage. Note the interesting small red spines amidst white cottony hairs that I suspect will become pink spines and the short growth of green leaves at frame bottom that could be the way new barrels begin?

Black Mountains badlands adventure

I drove back northwest on SR190 while noting skies were still mostly sunny though with lots of high thin clouds and temperatures quite warm. Likely another day into the 90s down at Furnace Creek. So the first weaker front was probably blocked by the high pressure ridge more than forecast so was apparently not going to make an appearance? I drove to my parking spot on SR190, quickly got gear into my big orange and black Black Diamond day pack, locked up the Forester, then started a GPS track on Trimble Navigator on my moto G cellphone. My pack was rather full with much more food than I could eat plus two full quart Nalgene water bottles. So at 10:38am PDT set out cross country in the Black Mountains which is a sub-range of the Amargosa Range, that began as a gentle walk up a stony wash between tan hued lake sediment deposits that make Zabriske Point famous. The first mile plus would be irregular, traversing across washes at openings in the low tan hills but without significant vertical rise so I made good time. I found the tricky entrance to my canyon among several others and confidently was soon moving forward.


Although my current work is repairing and testing telephony VOIP media gateway switches, I had never actually bought and used a cellphone daily until buying the moto G smartphone in the fall on 2015. Why? Because as a decades old hi tech computer person in Silicon Valley I don't make or receive many phone calls outside work and if I want to access the Internet, prefer a larger screen with a real keyboard. Oh I had bought a 7 inch Android tablet in 2013 that was quite useful on road trips for looking at maps and documents saved into SDcard memory but didn't need a phone. And GPS? Well my decades honed topographic map skills are exceptional so serve me well. But it was obvious there were advantages to using a GPS device in some circumstances and it was on this hike I expected to see those advantages with more clarity.

I had downloaded the pricy Trimble Navigator app then used it a few times during winter making tracks on day hikes. I bought the full $100 California topographic map set 32gb SDcard that conveniently has several spare gigabytes for other cellphone stuff. The map set very importantly includes a map view that shows land ownership. As a landscape photographer of obscure places, that is of huge value when driving in rural areas and wondering if what is across barbed wire fences is either private as in NO TRESPASSING lands or public lands since many of the latter are not signed so. And the first instance of the advantage of this app was upon entering the canyon mouth, challenge #1. I was certain it was the correct one because a blue dot on the TN window on my cellphone topo map display showed my current GPS tracking location was at the map location I'd been looking at so much for weeks back home on my desktop pc. By map alone that would not have been certain until moving up the narrowing canyon then verifying the many wash turns matched the map. The bizarre badlands topography of the northern Black Mountains shown in the image above has considerable steep slopes and narrow washes with less than 40 foot granularity of USGS 7.5 minute topographic maps. Accordingly features are difficult to assess.


Coming to the location at the above image, a more significant challenge #2 was just ahead. As I walked up the wash, sandy spots had shown no other visitor footprints. I had to find a way up over the saddle at frame right and the topo showed minimal clues. These clay hills are more treacherous than one might expect. I'd had experience in this type of geology down in Anza Borrego State Park, about the Carrizo Plain National Monument Temblor Hills, in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, and especially in the San Rafael Desert badlands east of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. In some places the surfaces are soft with traction easy while more often a surface is firm or rock hard with considerable surface particles either easily broken off or as loose debris all of which act like ball bearings under one's boots. Surprisingly low gradient slopes can be difficult to walk on without sliding ala being on a banana peel as occasional heavy monsoon weather thunderstorms smooths surfaces without slight terracing steps one might step on. Sans hiking poles, my extended Induro tripod with A6000 on top was very useful steadying movement from step to step on such slopes. And then there is the snaking wash mazes that down inside at bottoms are often narrow with steep sides difficult to see what is to the side or ahead. Such maze washes often split where one must choose to go one way or another. In the San Rafael badlands where summer storms are far more common, the sides of washes are softer thus also subject to collapse so a solo hiker risks being buried if disturbed. When such geology moves over harder rock bands the result can be dry fall cliffs that may be impossible to pass without serious climbing gear if at all. Common are dead vertical drops where flash floods have undercut soft rock behind the fall brink of a harder rock. Making footing difficult, the bottom of some steep narrowing washes contain less than boot width narrow deep erosion trenches that one has to step to the side of.

Recalling the better route I'd sized up on Google Earth I proceeded up a narrowing wash to a wash split, chose the one on the right toward the saddle and continued climbing up its narrowing route. After climbing up about 100 feet it was looking like the wrong choice. At the steep top headwall I edged up to take a look over the top and was looking about 30 feet down a steep slope into the sinuous wash I should have been in. I was not about to take a chance of slipping during a descent so chose to go back down to the split. By time I began moving up the right wash, I needed to take my first good drink of water during my hike. The air temperature was already into the mid 80s and rising so I was now sweating. I would increasingly understand my two quart water bottles were about half what I really needed on this warm day as I recalled the ridiculous day a decade before when two of us backpacked into Elephant Canyon in Canyonlands National Park in 90+ degree weather. And as such, henceforth drank sparingly. Well up and up I went and took a right branch at the next two wash splits. Finally could see ahead enough to see the route would go over the saddle. By time I'd reached the top I was wearier than I'd expected and second guessing my decision to attempt the hike from late morning instead of during the cool of sunrise. The next section of my route was downhill in a wider lower gradient wash maze in which I had to discover a route to my left north, challenge #3, to escape above to a plain before the wash increasingly dropped over steeps that were certain to contain dry falls.

Well I went down and down below where I expected to find a route. I also began to feel queasy from the heat and exertion so wondered if these were signs of heat stroke? It was now noon so decided to take my first break at a shady spot and eat lunch that included a Del Monte cherry fruit cup and a tuna fish sandwich. Reviewing my GPS route on TN, I reflected on how finding my way back the same way on the return hike would be far less puzzling by staying on the recorded GPS track that left a wiggly blue line on the map display. I began hiking back up the wash while checking every wash split to my right. Came to a deep split with a very narrow entrance I recalled passing earlier. A few feet into the wash was a duck cairn of a couple of small rocks! I'd seen some old footprint depressions in the clay surface back at my saddle that may have been made a few years before by a peakbagger for a nearby summit. Otherwise very few people in recent years had ever wandered up where I now stood. Why would anyone have reason to? No doubt not a few people down at Zabriske Point or to the west on Artist Drive started to only to be stopped by dry fall cliffs and the futility of trying to climb up such a crumbling steep geology. The cairn indicated what was up the wash was much more likely to go. I continued up as the very windy deep wash turned several times and had to use hands climbing up a couple minor dry falls. The top was only about 100 feet above the start so was soon topping out where I was greeted to a long sloping plain near the top of the Black Mountain range. Of concern it was 2pm so I was now 2 1/2 hours into the route, stopping frequently to not overheat, making much slower progress than expected.


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From there I could see the next puzzle to the north, challenge #4, was similar to challenge #2. I rambled down a wide plain narrowing into a broad wash where I passed a wide split on the left then went a bit further until seeing the wash narrowing and dropping off ahead. There turned around and went back to the split. I moved up that wash and passed a large split right but chose left up the main wash. But that route kept climbing and turning more to the left up into steeper slopes of the ridge top mountain. I became aware I had climbed up quite a bit more than the map showed the saddle was at but was so committed by effort and it appeared the escape at the top was near, that I persevered though ended up climbing an extra 100 feet up that left me more weary and thirsty. Well at the top I could now see my colorful clay destination ridge that was just a matter of descending a few hundred yards in a wash. Thus a bit before 3pm reached my destination at 4 1/2 hours, sat down resting, took a nice drink, had a second Del Monte fruit cup, and surveyed the landscape.

Rested, I went to work capturing the image above. I did not expect to see so many of the fragrant desertgold sunflowers, gerae canescens, near the ridge top of the Black Mountains, the main component of the Death Valley Superloom that I'd captured a month earlier at peak glory. What a terrific aesthetic bonus! Before the trip had checked USGS geological maps for areas in the park with tertiary period volcanic surface exposures because areas with hydrothermal altered ash have the colorful hues as one sees along Artist Drive. And in fact all 4 of my noted planned hikes were into such areas. There are more such areas in the park than along the drive though they are not promoted as interesting features. The green formation is a Miocene Era (5-23 million years ago) hydrothermal altered volcanic tuff deposit. Areas with pinks, purples, and reds indicate the presence of iron rich hematite, while yellows and ochres may be other iron oxides. Although for decades there have been many desert hiking fans all over the park's interesting canyons, these clay formations seem to have not held much interest because such explorers were not serious photographers that seek colorful scenery. Thus the prominent praise for such places as Titus or Mozaic canyons with much greater 3-dimensional interest. Accordingly my destination was not on the radar of hard core park enthusiasts. Outside the park there are some mining operations of bentonite clay deposits because they do have industrial uses.

My next image, PF04692-04721-3x1v is at page top another view of the same green clay formation. Besides desertgold are purple hued notch-leaf phacelia aka crenulate phacelia, phacelia crenulata, and purple mat, nama demissum, visible in the center slice of the enlarged vertical slice view. Also in that center slice, the desertgold plant in the foreground displays a common structural tendency. The larger taller plants often grow stems perpendicular to each other at their bases that expand out horizontally a few inches right along the ground so winds don't easily push them over. Note also how the clay areas are barren, free of plants. The nature of those steep clay surfaces does not easily allow seed penetration and rains tend to wash any loose rock or sand debris including annual seeds down into flats below where plants do thrive.


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The next image above is an intimate landscape of close-up detail of an old woody creosote bush root on the steep side slope the wash has uncovered within the green clay strata that is being eroded away at every flash flood event.


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Further along the ridge the image above shows the different clay hues and erosional forms. Above the clays is a dark hard cap layer of ancient precambrian era rock, older than 540 million years. The center slice of the enlarged vertical slice view shows tall white hued gravelghost, atrichoseris platyphylla. Notice how cresotebush, larrea tridentata, line the base of the clay ridge where draining waters create a deeper wash. Behind that wash on the wildflower bench soils are more evolved. Consider how during droughty periods lasting years perrenials positioned along that wash are probably the only plants that receive enough water to endure and live on while new bushes attempting to establish back on the wildflower bench maybe live on a few decades only to succumb to a really dry period that prunes them away.


At 4:20pm with 2.6 hours left before sunset, I had a chance for an image looking over the Black Mountains ridge top eastward over badlands. But that point was a climb a half mile distant so by time I reached the location, took some photos, and came back, it would be 5:30pm with only 90 minutes before sunset to hike back a few miles so would certainly end up back at my vehicle in the dark. In my pack was a powerful Fenix HP11 headlamp with 277 lumens and an EagleTac MX25L3C Nichia 219 flashlight at a super powerful 2550 lumens. The route back might be hard to follow but at least I could light things up haha. And note I have done quite a lot of night hiking and backpacking. However I did not want to repeat my challenge #4 route that climbed up an extra 100 feet above a saddle so the route I would take back through that section was an unknown. I could get lost there and have to climb back out and at worst repeat my GPS route in. With the GPS, even if it was too dark to see where I was going, the track would show me if I was on or off the route in. Down in those deep washes one feels like a rat in a maze. Well I went for it, found my way to the ridge top in order to look out east. And yes I could see my Subaru Forester along SR190. The sky had become disappointingly muted by a solid layer of dim high clouds. Quickly shot a 2 frame stitch landscape with my 30mm including the skies. In the future with more time and sunny weather using my 60mm lens, it could be a huge 6 column 3 row image. The above is a downsized crop of a rugged otherworldy badlands clay section below the ridge top, that shows why climbers are blocked.


That completed at 5:05pm, I started my way back. I did stop along the route back to take a set of mediocre shots I should have ignored. And with the sun dropping in late afternoon, the temperature was now down in the low 80s. Reached the top of unknown challenge #4 in image above at 6:15pm. Where I needed to go was the sloping plain frame upper right. The wash became tricky below after it turned to the left. There was a 6 foot high dry fall I had to free climb then grab and lower my camera/tripod then pack down. Also a section where I could barely fit past where the wash bottom slanted sideways through a hard sedimentary layer. I came to a split with the right going upward and the left down that I hoped would end up in the wash that drained the sloping plain. After dropping another 50 feet I could see that was not where I wanted to go and instead led down a separate steeping wash from the one the sloping plain drained and there were sure to be impossible huge dry falls just ahead. I climbed back up to the split and considered how without the GPS tracking a person could easily become lost in the labyrinth and end up having to spend the night where cold exposure would be issues. Well above the split the wash snaked around a few times then joined the sloping plain wash at an easily negotiated terraced dry fall of about 15 feet height. I felt lucky as that outcome could have been very unpleasant.


Glad to have survived that challenge, I moved quickly towards the top of challenge #3 and reached there at 6:37pm or a half hour before sunset. It was soon to get dim so was time to take my camera off the Induro tripod and move it inside my daypack and strap the tripod to the back of my pack. Yes I'd hand carried it all day that is a decades old dangerous habit of mine. Much worse when I used to be carrying my Wisner 4x5 atop a Gitzo G1318 haha. In the above image, the top of challenge #2 is at frame upper right and quite a ways further than it looks.

Free to use both hands down climbing the two dry falls, I was soon down at the bottom of this windy side split wash where I passed the cairn and then began my way up the wide wash to the top of challenge #2. That actually took some time that I reached at 7pm. Along the way I was very close to pulling out my cell phone to make sure where I was going matched the GPS track. My water bottle was just 1/4 full as I took a big drink. But was and had been most of the afternoon quite thirsty wishing to drink a lot more. A rather sobering lesson for this person in water conservation while desert hiking. The route down went through some unpleasant footing with areas of boot width trench at wash bottoms. By time I reached the bottom light was well into the darkening end of dusk. At least the light tan geology had some visibility and the rest of the route I really did not have to worry about even if I got off track. All the bad stuff was behind me. About 20 minutes later I popped out of the entrance to the wash and still had an awkward tricky half mile to go that I should have pulled my cellphone out to follow the GPS track but was tired and impatient. Drank the last of my water and pulled the headlamp and flashlight out. And indeed I missed the turn into the last wash so popped out a little further down the highway than intended. It was just before 8pm as I stopped the cellphone TN GPS track. Mileage read 11.01 miles. Given such a wiggly course, a lot more than I'd expected to do when I'd started.

My body was quite beat and needed serious help as I guzzled down a half quart of milk that was buried down inside my goose down sleeping bag to keep cool inside the car that had been basking in the sun all day. Drove to Furnace Creek Ranch Resort and purchased a $5 pool and shower pass. So took a nicely warm soapy shower then put on my swim trunks and soaked in the heated pool for about a half hour. Earlier temps had reached the upper 90s so numbers of people, especially kids were still playing in the pool. At 9:30pm was back at my car then stopped in at the resort store that would close at 10pm for final refreshments and drove to the visitor center to look at the latest weather forecast. The coming stronger storm had obviously stalled and the daily report seemed to point to late Monday? After the trip I found it rained in Northern California Sunday afternoon March 20 but was blocked moving east across the Sierra and instead went up and around to the north. I was feeling much better though still rather beat up. Drove to the Sunset Campground, paid the $6 senior fee at the machine then drove out to the north overflow lot for people with tents and yes there were a lot of cars there. There was an open gate to a even further out lot with no one in it. I usually dislike public campgrounds because of people talking and making noise socializing during evenings beyond so-called "quiet hours" so ended up parking at its most remote extent maybe 150 yards from the nearest vehicles in the main overflow lot. As it was a warm night after a warm day, all my windows were down as I laid atop my rubber mat with minimal covers.

At 10:30pm was asleep solidly till 12:30pm when an SUV moved into the edge of the main overflow lot with a lot of talking. Put ear plugs into my ears as they kept at it. Occupants of the many vehicles and tents right in that area must have been annoyed. But in my experience the majority of people in this era will just try and ignore noisy groups in public campgrounds and try to sleep as best they may. The voices identified them as a group of immigrants. About 1am am awoken again and now several of them are about 100 feet from my lonely vehicle probably walking away from other people just to take a leak in the dark. Listened to 10 minutes of yakking constantly especially one guy that sounded like a person that had been drinking. Though a small guy haha, am not the shy type around strangers and I can have a loud voice so yelled out, PLEASE SHUT UP, PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO SLEEP! Everyone for a long ways had to have heard that and the purpetrators began whispering as they walked away wondering. But back where they came it was soon more of the same happiness and giggly blabbering. Then I wake up again and my watch shows 3am. Yes they were back my way again laughing and giggling. This time with little red horns starting to grow out of my forehead, I yelled out SHUT THE... F!@# UP! that everyone for a quarter mile must have heard. They went back quietly and immediatly could hear them rummaging into their vehicle gear and were thence forth quiet apparently deciding maybe they were a nuisance and it was time to go to sleep.


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an easy recovery day

Morning Sunday March 20 was up at sunrise. After the previous day's strenuous adventure, I was not in a mood for anything but a day of mellow easiness. So worked on gear a bit in the parking lot then drove off to the Hole-in-the-Wall dirt road I camped at Friday night in order to work wildflower close-ups at the 1800 foot elevation. Ok weather report said I had at least one day maybe two before the stalled stronger trough would visit and it still read like a wind event. Unfortunately there is no cell service in Death Valley, no Wi-Fi, thus no Internet, no FM radio, no AM radio reception except at night, so the meager information I managed was on the Death Valley Daily Report sheet. Drove all the way out past the unique wall hole in the ridge then circled back where I noticed some nice areas of flowers. First subject was the above Mojave aster, xylorhiza tortifolia, a tall sunflower species that has large showy flowers on long stems that tend to bob about in even slightest breezes thus are a difficult quarry.


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Next came across an area of the wash sides where a light cyan hued clay geology had broken off the sides probably during the last flash flood and fallen into piles. There were somewhat crosshatched rusty line patterns across sedimentary layers such that some slabs had broken into little rectangular blocks at the rusty line joints a few inches on a side...amusing. Notice areas between the cracks where one can see smaller rubble below what is a narrow slab?


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Another image above of the same light cyan hued clay of a slab that had not fractured.


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Out in the center of the wide wash worked a convenient end of a branch of an indigo bush, psorothamnus fremontii, with its intense dark blue flowers that I could put up against the sky.


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A photographer could spend years photographing close-ups of interesting rocks about Death Valley. Here in image above I came across a flat slab of some sand cemented together into hard rock where a layer of light hued rusty liquid deposits above it broke along that plain.


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A most interesting plant is the turtleback, psathyrotes ramosissima, with this well watered plant in the wash about 15 inches long of the named shape with cyan hued leaves. One will see far more smaller versions just a few inches long and those smaller plants that are just belly flowers, tend to have irregular shapes. In the enlarged slice view one can see several red mites dining on the yellow flowers. After my morning about the Hole-in-the-Wall wash, in late morning heat hiked up into Travertine Springs at 600 foot elevation where I explored the source of that all year stream and the vegetation about it that includes many mesquite trees. An obviously severely overused zone by early Death Valley inhabitants. I did see my first mammal in the park, a jackrabbit. There were nice areas of Bigelow's monkeyflower above the springs. Then went back to shade at the Visitor Center carports at mid day before visiting areas along the 20 Mule Team dirt road in the afternoon. By late afternoon had retired to a dispersed camp spot on the Hole-in-the-Wall wash road to end the lazy day. But I had made plans to finally go north Monday at sunrise where the real meat of my trip plans were. The daily report was showing the front coming in on Monday evening now so that meant I could get in one of 3 long hikes I'd planned during the day.

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   David Senesac

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