Because we knew it was going to be hot, our strategy for the trip was to take hikes in the morning and evening and hangout or travel during the heat of the day. So, after a long lunch, our plan was to take a hike around the badlands above Ubehebe Crater in the afternoon.
But, when we got there, it was still hot and very windy. We pushed on to the valley above an area known as The Racetrack hoping the wind would calm down or we could find a spider hole where we could honker down. The road took us over a low pass and as we drove up and over the pass, we started running into my favorite cactus in Death Valley, Echinocereus triglochidiatus var mojavensis. with its bright magenta flowers and green stigma. Usually, I am not a big fan of magenta flowers, it is the default color on a huge number of cacti and seems slightly too easy. But E. mojavensis is different; they just seem to be the perfect color combination.
When we got close to where we were going to camp, we came upon a herd – flock? – of big horn sheep. Ovis canadensis. It was my thrill of the day. I have been coming to the Death Valley area on an average of about once a year since about 1975 and have only seen one other big horn sheep and that one was so far away I was not sure – even with binoculars – that it was not a burro with horns pasted on. The burros were left by the prospectors about a hundred years ago and they are – were? – very cute and adapted to their new home with ease. I have seen burros almost every time I have gone into the desert mountains and never see sheep. Maybe about thirty years ago, the Park service started a campaign to rid the Park of burros on the theory that they were taking habitat away from the sheep by fouling their mutual water supply. This trip, for the first time, we saw sheep and not burros. I was not convinced the Park Service was right then, but I am now.
There are not the most handsome animals, at least the group that we saw, and certainly not as cute as burros, but it was amazing to watch them just walk up the side of a pretty steep rock face. About this time, Basha told us that she attracts animals. I am ready to believe that, too.
But one can only watch sheep eat for so long – even mountain sheep – so we moved on to find a place to camp. It took much inspection and discussion.
We had been driving up a main road – to use the term loosely – that had just recently been graded and we wanted to camp off that road to get away from traffic, although we only saw one car on that road in the two days we were in the area. We were planning to camp on a cross road near the Lost Burro Mine but, when we turned left and went away from the mine, it got windier. It was a great view, but pretty exposed. When we turned on the road towards the mine, it got calmer. It is not as easy to find a place to throw the bags down as it appears in these pictures. In the pictures, everything looks pretty much the same, but it isn’t. First, there are not as many flat spots as it looks and, second, the pictures don’t show the wind.
Usually the best bet is a slight draw. As it started to get late in the day, we found a great place and set up camp. Basha set up her tent and the rest of us found little flat spots where we could throw down our bags and it had a great place to set up the table and barbecue.
To be continued.