mahogany flat campground - matt maier

spring road trip 2010 – day 2

Posted on 18 Jun ’10

Karen wakes me up with coffee, juice, muffins, and hard boiled eggs. The hotel we stayed at offers a free breakfast! It’s relatively early but nowhere near our normal rising time had we left home today. It was nice to sleep in a bed but, I can’t help thinking, only because we know there will not be a bed again for a week. We perform the usual morning routines and hit the road pretty quickly. The GPS is having us take a more south to north route towards Death Valley, bringing us in through Trona.

If you’ve been through it you know, if you haven’t, well, it really needs to be experienced. In the middle of nowhere, on the outskirts of Death Valley which gives you some idea of the climate; one main company for which everyone seems to work;  seemingly half abandoned; and it has an eerie feel as you’re standing there at one of the two gas stations (the first didn’t have gas) filling up your tank. Thinking, lucky this station has gas; wouldn’t want to run out of gas here; I wonder if triple-A would come all the way out here to bring me a can of gas… Not long after passing through Trona we come upon the intersection of Panamint Valley Road and Trona-Wildrose Road.

Naturally, the GPS says take Panamint Valley, which is strange considering usually a GPS has no problem telling one to turn onto an unnamed road or a road that doesn’t actually lead to the mutually agreed upon destination. Obviously, I have an inherent distrust for the GPS; we stop and pull out the map. I remember seeing a sign for Trona when we were at Wildrose Campground back in December. Sure enough, Panamint Valley Road goes out to 190 then back up the main, paved, Wildrose Road by Emigrant Campground. A significant amount of miles and time out of our way, given Mahogany Flat is our destination. The GPS gets the finger, off we go up the Trona-Wildrose Road; while unpaved for most of the way it’s an easy, short, and enjoyable route with great views.

spring road trip 2010 - day 1

view of valley from campsite

Arriving fairly early, we were able to find a great spot at Mahogany Flat Campground, nestled way in the back, overlooking Badwater and the entire Furnace Creek area of Death Valley. We take our time getting camp set up. We’re in no rush and we have donned the slow pace of vacation like a favorite old shirt. The weather had been calling for a slight chance of rain tomorrow. This had increased to a chance of thunderstorm by Friday when we departed and stayed as such this morning when I last checked. I have a radio capable of receiving weather alerts which I periodically check while we’re setting up camp.

mahogany flat campsite - matt maier

mahogany flat campsite

I have to stand in one place, hold the radio up, facing east, just to get a signal. The station is broadcasting weather for the Las Vegas area so, we’re about a day ahead of when the weather will hit there. The forecast remains the same, chance of a thunderstorm in the morning on Sunday. Nice, shouldn’t affect our plans but, we’ll have to keep a watchful eye out for threatening weather patterns. Camp is all set up now so we decide to take a look around the campground and check out the Telescope Peak trailhead.

mahogany flat campground - matt maier

pit toilet roof, mahogany flat campground

Inspecting the “facilities” is always a priority at a developed campground so, naturally our first stop. We each do the needful and Karen approves which, is really all that matters. It is a clear, beautiful afternoon. The sky is a brilliant blue and the sun is shining brightly overhead. I take this photograph as I’m coming out of the bathroom. I happened to look up and the sun was just right by the corner of the roof. I like the color, simplicity, sharp lines, severe angle, and that brilliant bit of light.

mahogany flat campground - matt maier

mahogany flat campground

We continue walking to find the Telescope Peak trailhead so, we’ll know where it is tomorrow morning. We read the register and take heart in post notes indicating most people made it up without incident. There is still a decent amount of snow in places, even though it was over 100 in the valley the previous day, so it is good to see that most are successful. We walk up the trail a bit to take in the view facing back towards the valley; I think the view from our site is actually better since we have fewer obstructions. We turn around and start heading back down to our site; we have some business to which we need to attend. Of course, we have to stop and make a documentary photograph!

Back at our campsite, business concluded, Karen decides it is a perfect opportunity for a nap. The afternoon is warm, the tent provides shelter from the breeze, raising the temperature inside to that point where it lulls one to sleep. I opt for some exploring on the slopes around our site. I grab my camera and wander off; I leave a radio for Karen and take one myself in case she wakes and wants to join me or get me heading back. It is so peaceful and quiet, I only detect the sound of the wind through branches, needles and leaves. I love being out,  air more clear, odors soft and pleasant – this is where I belong. The constant drone of humanity far away, its absence so pronounced, all of the natural sounds seem amplified and slower. I wander around, exploring, seeing, my thoughts unfocused, my imagination wakes up and begins to dominate.

dragon - matt maier


diver - matt maier


It is exhilarating, I feel re-energized, my mental, creative, life batteries re-charging. The minutiae of urban existence diminish to become but a faint murmur, almost memories, utterly irrelevant in this context. I’m here, I’m now. I take many photographs, it doesn’t matter what they are, whether the settings are right, it’s just fun…

old tree and moon - matt maier

old tree and moon

I notice the moon in the sky while I’m studying a small group of old, dead trees. Their scrawny, lifeless limbs, empty of foliage, reaching, straining, plaintively towards the distant orb. Perhaps hoping that if they can just touch, catch, hold it, it might infuse them with life once again…

old tree and moon - matt maier

old tree and moon

I slowly make my way back to camp; I need more water and I’m getting tired from the exertion at this elevation having been at sea level less than twenty-four hours ago.  I sit by the unlit campfire sipping water and resting. I’m immersed in my own thoughts, cherishing the regression to childlike curiosity of everything and succumbing to the power of a colorful, active imagination.

Karen emerges from the tent, gives me a kiss, and heads to the restroom. She starts making friends on the way up and more on the way back. A gentleman returning from his hike tells her there’s a snow field near the summit at which point he turned back. But, he is to be joined by friends that evening who also plan to hike Telescope tomorrow. A family, parents and two children, share their success at crossing the snow field and reaching the summit. An older couple arrived while I was gone, Karen stops by to chat. They are headed up to Wildrose Peak tomorrow. Karen calls me over, we talk about Tioga Pass remaining closed; other backpacking trips they’ve done and suggest for our fall outing. The only change we hear regrading the weather is that snow levels, elsewhere, have dropped a bit.

Thinking the weather is still calling for only a chance of rain or thunderstorm; we decide we’ll just call it in the morning and agree to a hard turnaround rule should threatening weather begin to head towards Telescope. Which, given its elevation relative to the surroundings, is a magnet for any weather entering the valley. With the sun setting, the wind picks up and the chill starts to settle in for the night. I start the fire and we begin to prepare dinner. Karen has put together a very complete menu for the week, with lots of fresh foods at the beginning. Tonight we will make split-pea soup. We decide the hamburgers will be better if we just saute them and add to the soup. By the time dinner is ready, it’s more windy and turning cold. We have hot cocoa by the fire in which Karen roasts a few marshmallows. The cold intensifies forcing Karen to the tent and the sanctuary of her sleeping bag. I remain by the fire, reflecting, enjoying where I am despite the increasing winds and steadily dropping temperature. When the fire dies down, I head to sleep as well – we have a big day tomorrow!

Click here to continue to day 3.