We have probably camped just off the Hole in the Wall road almost a dozen times. We can pretty much find all the good camping spots in the dark which is how we got there last night. It is near downtown Death Valley and because it is about 3.5 miles up a unpaved road and behind a rock formation – we are not supposed to camp within 3 miles of a paved road – very quiet with no light pollution. We camped is a nice intimate area that opens into a larger valley.
Because we were so close to our old haunts, we decided to visit a couple of them, starting with Dante’s View just a couple of miles up the paved road. Dante’s View is on the crest of the Black Mountains at about 5,500 feet, overlooking Badwater, the lowest point in North America at about 280 feet below sealevel.
Death Valley is not actually a valley but a graben or basin. A valley is caused by a river eroding the land and a graben is caused by a block of the earth dropping, usually with parallel mountains on each side. In this case, the water that runs into death Valley does not flow out, it evaporates, leaving salts and minerals behind. In February of 2005, after a very unusual, rainy, winter, the valley – OK, graben – actually became a very shallow lake.
Looking down at the salt patterns, sometimes they almost look like clouds.
No trip to our old haunts would be complete without visiting Furnace Creek Inn, where we got married 18 years ago.
We decided to camp off a favorite, easily accessible, road in the north of the Panamint Valley – really another basin or graben to the east – which would put us about an hour closer to home and give us some time to photograph the fall color on Highway 395. But it was starting to cloud up and I was getting concerned that the weather – which had been warm and windless so far – would turn nasty. When we got to the Panamint, everything was clouded over but it was warm and still.
It is always good to remember that the reason this is a desert is because it does not rain here very often. Even though it was overcast, the chances of rain – at least any meaningful rain – were pretty slim. The big problem would be the wind.
As an aside, just off the Big 4 Mine Road, is a old abandoned car. One abandoned car! A Buick. I have probably passed it ten times. Now there are two and I can’t figure out which is more improbable; somebody dragged another car up the road and dropped it or there were always two cars and I mis-remember. Intellectually, I know that the later must be true, BUT I so distinctly misremember that there was only one car. End aside.
As I wandered around the – now – two cars, Ed came over, took one look, and said Look, there is a baby rattlesnake. And there – between the two cars, in a place I had just walked by – it was. The first rattlesnake I have ever seen in Death Valley in over 30 years of looking. Crotalus stephensi – Panamint Rattlesnake – Crotalus is from the Greek for rattle and it was named after somebody named Stephen. This little guy did not rattle or even move and there is only so long you can watch anything that lays there like a rock, so we moved on, looking for a place to throw down our bags.
Or, more accurately, a place to set up some chairs and sit around, gabbing.
Looking around, it was pretty easy to believe we were the only people in the valley, certainly the only people within sight. As the sun went down, the clouds started to clear and the sky put on a show that seemed to be just for us.
The next morning, we were up nice and early, said Goodbye to the Panamint and headed for home.