For Easter breakfast – tea outnumbering coffee for the first time I can remember (three to two) – we had pumpernickel bread, avocado, and chocolate Easter eggs. After some discussion, we decided to drive to Scottie’s Castle for water and then noodle around in the badlands above Ubehebe Crater. Michele and I had gone there on a trip with Laura Atkins in 2004 and wanted to explore the area a little more.
The whole Death Valley area is dryer this year than I have ever seen it. There are just no flowers, not even going over the high passes. In the valleys it looks like nothing even woke up. All the way down from Tahoe – until we ran out of light – the Sierras had almost no snow.
In 2004, there was still snow on Tin Mountain at the end of March and the rim of Ubehebe Crater was covered in poppies. It was not considered a particularly wet year.
Ubehebe Crater is at the north end of the Cottonwood Mountains and sort of separates north Death Valley Wash from Death Valley proper. The crater is about a half a mile across and – depending who you listen to – is 800 to 8,000 old. (For details, go here.)
Ubehebe was both crowded and very windy.
I was promoting getting back in the car and driving to The Racetrack – the Ranger at Scottie’s had assured me that the road had been recently regraded and should be passable in our vehicles – and come back in the afternoon when the wind might have calmed down. Michele opined It is always windy at the crater’s edge. and Courtney said I love the wind, it makes everything feel alive. We decided to wander uphill to some other, smaller, craters and badlands to get away from the crowds and see if we could find an area with a little less wind.
From the edge of one of the small craters, we could see down and across into the badlands and what looked like a route through them and off we went through newly cut gullies in the badlands.
In, rough hewn land, an excellent book about the geological formation of the Western United States – and a book I highly recommend, it is very, very, readable – Keith Meldahl talks about fossilized rivers in the Sierras. It seems that Nevada was once much higher – like the Tibetan Plateau now – and it was drained by huge Yukon like rivers that cut through the, then, lower Sierras. Nevada sank but the riverbeds, chocked full of rounded debris, remained. A good example is a roadcut for Interstate 80 – Michele and my favorite roadcut, by the way – near Gold Run. I think that the same thing happened in the badlands we were now exploring. We kept running into old riverbeds full of rounded rocks that were crisscrossing the beds of volcanic ash.
Climbing up the last little pitch to get out of the gully, I slipped, cutting my hand and skinning my knee. A typical minor accident that all of us have probably had as kids and many of us as adults wandering around in the wild. I am still full of high-powered blood thinners because of my Atrial Fibrillation Ablation procedure in January. Consequently, I bleed like a stuck pig.
JR had the First Aid kit and was already at the top, admiring the view, when Michele came over to tell him I had slipped. On the theory that the best thing anybody can do, when somebody is injured, is spread Calm, Michele calmly said something like Steve slipped and cut himself but he is OK. It looks much worse than it is because he is on massive blood thinners. JR walked over and then saw me bleeding. Now he heard, Steve is on massive blood thinners and is going to bleed out. or something close to that.
He went into hyper triage mode, but Michele got him calmed down and JR did a superb job of doctoring my wounds. They didn’t hurt very much and we were soon on our way. Out of the gully, now, and walking along the ridge. The view up into Upper Death Valley Wash was great but, also a little worrying for me. It was raining over the mountains to the north of us and still pretty windy.
The women continued up the ridge to the top of a large hill while JR and I stayed at the midpoint (I suspect JR stayed with me in case I passed out from blood loss or something, but is too much of a gentleman to admit it).
Part One: Here
Part Two: Here
Part Three: Here
Next: Above Ubehebe 2 here