Death Valley Day 2: I snapped awake the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel at 1am, itching to get out. Too nasty to shower. This little hotel on the eastern edge of Death Valley is a historic place that’s fallen into serious disrepair — I guess it was a building engineering marvel in its day. Now the experience is something akin to sleeping on a box spring in a public bathroom. All I can say is something is horribly wrong with the sewer system.
I managed to stick it out till 6am, and we left for Dante’s View and made it to the overlook by 7-ish. A winding, narrow road took us to the classic Death Valley overlook — white salt flats (282 feet below sea level) on the floor of the valley with Telescope peak and the Panamint Range towering 11,000 feet above sea level. You don’t get that kind of relief anywhere in N. America, aside from Alaska and Ranier. We did a mile hike out along the spine of the overlook and took a billion shots, soaked in the enormity for a while, and then ran to breakfast.
Post-breakfast we checked out the some geological oddities, including the natural bridge, a nice piece of geology a short jaunt off the road, and the Devil’s Golf Course.
Badwater is the basement of Death Valley. An aquifer actually fills a little basin near the road with water — it supports a handful of endemic snails that only live in those handful of briny pools, the most endangered species in Death Valley. Katie is reading a plaque about how important it is not to touch the water as I’m digging my lens cap out of the pool — ever the conservationist.
After Badwater we drove to check in at China Ranch, picked up an awesome Date Milkshake down at the date farm. They’ve got a really cool cactus nursery (pictured). We also checked into the nearby Ranch House B&B, which was the exact opposite of the Amargosa. Brand new, well designed — these people built a B&B out of a trailer and made it awesome.
After that we hiked a cliffside overlooking the Date Farm and a desert river in a slot canyon. The trailmarkers were non-existent — if we’d have followed the letter of the law on the fifty cent trail guide, we would have been fine, but instead we spent most of 30 minutes scaling clay hills, trying to find what seemed to be the most likely trail. It would’ve been ugly to get lost in the Mojave hills, but we found our way back to the trail and the payoff was good, views of the date palm orchards and a safe passage back to our car.
After that hike, we managed to knock one more pupfish species off the list (Ash Meadows Pupfish) we found it in Crystal Creek. It was an an unbelievable hike at dusk on the Ash Meadows wildlife refuge, just east of the park. The ground was covering in salty crystals, but the creek was deeper, faster, and had a lot more water than Salt Creek. The fish were different too, and had to fight against invasive species like mosquito fish (pictured below).
These pupfish were bright blue with vertical stripes and they fed on algae instead of insects. They chased algae balls as they floated down the river in the current, worked the aglae on the sides of the river. First we spotted the mosquito fish though, fat and sassy, sitting in slack water. The Ash Meadow pupfish were sustained by an amazing, deep spring that through out beautiful blue water in a deep hole at the end of the trail. Just the clearest, bluest water, with electric blue fish like an aquarium.
Post-pupfish, we had dinner at the Tecopa Bistro. Best food I’ve had since coming here — two chefs for different days of the week, have their own menus. Homemade Caesar dressing and bib lettuce, black beans and rice, and veggie lasagna. We wrapped up the day at Tecopa Hot springs for a soak; $20 an hour seemed exorbitant, but turned out to be worth it.