Thursday morning we woke up and drove to Death Valley National Park— there’ s a whole lot of nothing in between, like the town of Pahrump. No offense to the Pahrump chamber of Commerce — but can we at least get a restaurant that’s not attached to a gas station-casino? I’m willing to pay more then $4.99 for all-u-can stand buffet, and I have to assume all of the people driving to the National Parks would as well. Just a suggestion.
We drove straight to the Death Valley ranger station and I bought the obligatory patch. At some point in the last five years or so I started collecting patches from parks and other monuments. I have no idea what the hell I’m going to do with them. Shadow box? Vest? Anyway, I got three more for the pile last week.
I should probably get this out of the way, for those of you who read the National Geographic article on Death Valley from a few months ago. No, I didn’t make it to the Race Track. Those of you that haven’t read it, should. It’s probably 85% of the reason we went to Death Valley.
The wildly mustachioed volunteer at the visitor’s center told us we’d never make it to “The Race Track” a playa in a remote section of the park where large stones seemingly move around of their own accord. The Death Valley staffer told us that it took 4-wheel drive, high clearance, and at least two spare tires. He said the 27 mile dirt road eventually turned into a volcanic rock road that shredded standard highway tires. To get towed out started at around $1,000 and if the tow truck blew its tires pulling you out, that number went to around $3,000. Not worth the risk in our VW Rabbit, and probably not worth it in whatever crappy Durango or other 4WD vehicle that may have given me false confidence to try it. Next time, maybe. I’m scheming for a means to get there.
The first stop on our trip was to see Salt Creek and its desert pupfish, and that was a highlight of the trip for me. Pupfish can live in highly saline water in tiny trickles of a stream. Salt Creek is as salty as the ocean and the Salt Creek pupfish is the only fish in there. They’re about one inch long with bright yellow and blue colors. The creek is tiny and they stand out like fish in an aquarium.
There were lots of other living things around Salt Creek, surprisingly, considering the heat and saltiness of the landscape. Lots of insects (which feed the pupfish and the zebra tail lizards that were all over. Plus salt grass and pickle weed.
The water felt cold, but it was just a few inches deep. The fish actually prefered the shallower water with the sandy bottoms, rather than the deeper runs. Probably because they seemed to be spawing. The males would round up a female, chase each other around, hump like little maniacs.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at Scotty’s Castle, one of the coolest historical tours I’ve ever seen. The NPS bills it as “A historical home showcasing technological innovation and unequaled craftsmanship in a remote desert location.” But the story behind it is even crazier. They’ve got an OK version on Wikipedia. By the way, check out the giant bees that were there at the end of the hike… they were the size of golf balls.
We managed to check out Ubehebe Crater by sunset, did about half the hike. It’s a pretty good sized hole in the ground.
As dusk approached, we found ourselves in the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada. Just outside of town, we stopped at a giant modern art sculpture garden. As I was standing at the foot of a giant, naked Lego Woman, two drone spy aircraft came over the ridge above town and buzzed us. That was definitely the creepiest (and most “Southwest” experience I’ve had).
Day two coming tomorrow (or as soon as I can get these billion photos uploaded)