desert landscape in snow - matt maier

spring road trip 2010 – day 3, morning

Posted on 19 Jun ’10

snow on table - matt maier

snow on table, good morning!

What…the…F@#$…?! Mother nature duped us! Changes her mind overnight, decides how much more fun snow would be as opposed to a boring, old chance of thunderstorm. By the time we get up there is fresh snow starting to blanket everything. The snow is gently falling, seems to be tapering off. Strangely, both of us had awakened around three due to the pressing call of nature; it was actually warmer than when headed to sleep last night. The wind had died, I’m sure the blanket of clouds rolling in unseen contributed to the nicer feel in the middle of the night. So, back to sleep we both went, none the wiser as to what was approaching. The obvious decision at this point is that we are not going to hike up Telescope, not today, at any rate.

snow on chairs - matt maier

snow on chairs, our world askew

We discuss whether to stay and see if the weather clears; push the hike off a day or two. We could find other, shorter hikes to do, at a lower elevation, while we waited. Apparently, we had not received the message clearly. The snow picks up considerably, starts coming down in a way where you just know it is not going to be stopping any time soon. That’s the deciding factor, we alter our plans opting to break camp and head for the Racetrack. Our plans awry, we’re both freezing, we resignedly go about tasks in preparation to leave. I make a cup of coffee while packing up the gear and supplies which are satisfactorily frozen together and to the table as well. Karen makes short work of pads, bags, and tent in the mean time.

snowy campsite - matt maier

snowfall increasing

The rate at which the snow is falling continues to increase; leaving little room for second guessing and offering strong encouragement for us to pick up the pace of our departure. We hustled to get the remaining gear into the truck and began to head out. The campground was all but deserted, the exception being one of the groups to which Karen had been talking the previous evening, everyone else already departed. We cannot make out any of the features of the peaks near us which were clearly visible in the beautiful light of the previous evening. The dirt road beneath our wheels covered by a fluffy white carpet of fresh snow; we cannot even see the tracks of vehicles which had gone before us. We make our way down the mountain the diminished visibility demands we use caution, the going is rather slow as we trudge by an abandoned Thorndike campground towards the kilns.

kilns - matt maier


We stop at the kilns to use the restroom, we’d neglected to at Mahogany in our haste to leave. It is very serene here with snow falling silently, past the steepest part of the road we relax a bit. It’s time to take some photographs, the kilns look very stoic set against a pine covered slope, of which, both are being enveloped by the snow. We ran in to a couple of guys that had come up from the valley, we all had to laugh at the irony of the situation. “Aren’t we supposed to be in a desert?” “Yep, be sure to drink lots of water, stay hydrated!” They were definitely not dressed for the occasion and departed quickly; we were once again immersed in the silence of the falling snow.

inside kiln - matt maier

inside kiln

It’s quite eerie inside the kilns during snowfall. Almost as dark as night with only a small doorway and vent hole permitting what feeble light there is filtering through the clouds to enter. It’s a tranquil, almost comforting, feeling I have while standing in the middle of one of these massive kilns observing the falling snow through the doorway. But, even in the shelter of one of these kilns it doesn’t take long before we both start to get cold again. Karen heads back to the truck to warm up, I take a few more photographs and follow her. We’re glad to be back in the warmth of the truck; hopefully heading towards warmer weather down in the valley. We both agree that it must be warmer eight thousand feet lower, we cross our fingers hoping it isn’t windy and raining. We bid farewell to the kilns, promising ourselves to come back again later in the year to tackle Telescope Peak.  We plod onward, downward, warmward…

kilns - matt maier


We take our time on Wildrose road heading towards 190. I almost don’t want to leave the snow. We…I…stop frequently to photograph the fresh snow covering the desert landscape. It was like being in an alien place, an even more peculiar world than is already the desert. Absolutely spectacular, something I had never seen before. When we were here last December it was cold but there was no fresh snow; only a little on the road where it is closed in the winter just past the kilns. Falling snow in a desert landscape seems oxymoronic, I find myself amazed by how surreal it is to me, I smile.

desert landscape in snow - matt maier

desert landscape in snow

I can’t help but feel for what little flora there is to be found in this terrain. Hoodwinked by uncommon weather; thinking warmer times are upon them only to be dosed in a fresh snow when the climate should be arid and warm. Significantly warmer than the 28 degrees it currently is outside.

weeds with snow hats - matt maier

weeds with snow hats

Optimistic spring flowers maintain a cheery disposition in spite of the frigid, wet conditions. The colors, I think, are much more pleasing and vibrant against the snow. Yesterday, while we did see the flowers, they seemed more drab and subdued.

spring flower in snow - matt maier

spring flower in snow

Many of the desert wild flowers seem so small and delicate. They are as good as buried under even the small amount of snow which has already fallen. At the rate the snow is coming down now, it won’t be long before they are a memory in the otherwise featureless swathe of white this area will become.

spring flowers in snow - matt maier

spring flowers in snow

It seems endless, we drive, the snow continues, we begin to wonder if it will indeed not be snowing in the valley… At least now the road is clear, the snow not able to stick to it – yet. The clouds do appear to be thinning, or is that just wishful thinking.

wildrose road - matt maier

wildrose road

Through the last pass we see hope…yay! We descend into a stark lack of snow! As though there is a line drawn, across which the snow is forbidden. We stop, to appreciate the change, looking back we are grateful to have the snow behind us. Things begin to look up, aware that we have not even had breakfast yet, we decide it’s time to head to Furnace Creek.

wildrose road - matt maier

wildrose road

We will get a new cancellation for Karen’s passport and have our breakfast. It should be warmer there, it was the warmest place we visited in the park last December. With sighs of relief but, not quite ready to celebrate, we pick up the pace heading towards 190. We’ll get gas after Furnace Creek so we start towards the Racetrack with a full tank. We pass by Stovepipe Wells, the dunes, Devil’s cornfield, et al. without a glance – we’re focused on warmth and food at this point. Our new plan, incubated and hatched, we head towards it with determination.