spring road trip 2010 – day 3, afternoon
Posted on 25 Jun ’10
Arriving at Furnace Creek, it’s almost time to celebrate, the temperature has increased substantially and Karen has almost completely thawed. It is, however, quite windy here in the parking lot of the Furnace Creek ranger station. I have to build a wind block to keep the stove from being blown out as I cook breakfast while Karen heads inside to obtain the highly prized cancellations for the new passport book. The sun is peaking out from the clouds occasionally contributing a bit more warmth each time. We have hot oatmeal, hot coffee, and hot cocoa for breakfast – theme for breakfast, hot. By the way, Karen’s homemade oatmeal mix is most excellent, hit her up for the recipe if you’re interested! We take advantage of hot running water in the restrooms to freshen up a bit and get back on the road towards the racetrack. I guess I should have stopped at Stovepipe Wells for gas on the way down, when we arrive there are about a gazillion motorcycles clogging the parking lot lined up to get gas. Ah well, that’s the way it goes when there are so few places to obtain gogo juice in a park such as Death Valley. We pull off by the hotel and wait it out, no biggy, the weather is clearing, it is continuing to warm up, life is good. When the beast is satiated on its favorite elixir, we head out. The drive from Stovepipe Wells to Ubebe Crater is uneventful, actually it was just boring but, uneventful sounds better. I mean, we did pass two cars and didn’t hit either, nor did either of them hit us – a true win-win encounter – thus constituting uneventful in my book…
The park service was kind enough to place a nice restroom facility at the start of racetrack road, the unpaved portion of the drive. Well, not so much a nice facility as a jiffy john on a trailer…which is obviously in place due to some regulation requiring poop receptacles be located conveniently for the good folks working on the road construction. Nonetheless we take advantage of the situation and leave contributions of our own. The beast is happy to be off tar, we roll onward and enjoy the bright sunshine which is now quite abundant. We are able to shed some layers and drive with the windows down finally! The road is a bit washboard but not bad; we take a leisurely pace to temper the riding on a jackhammer feel. The cacti, joshua trees and vistas deserve to be taken in at a slow pace – we’re in no rush.
Some of the vistas along the road really are quite amazing. Especially when nature provides some clouds as decoration.
It’s comforting looking back at that snowy part we just came from; comforting while standing in the sunny part where we now find ourselves.
Teakettle Junction, we’re getting closer now! That reminds me, I’d made a note to do some research on Hunter Mountain; to see if it would be an interesting destination for another trip to Death Valley.
We push through to the racetrack from here; we’ve only passed one car and consider it to be a good sign there will not be many people. We are not disappointed, there is one car at the racetrack. May be normal, we have no idea with it being the first time here for both of us. We decide to continue to Homestead, find a site, set up camp and we’ll return to the racetrack later when the light is less harsh. As a little aside, I had no intention of writing about this journey while we were on it; as such, now that I am, I find there is a glaring lack of photographs to support certain parts of my scribbling. For instance, I think a photograph as we went by the racetrack would have been nice. Or, entering Homestead, I mean really, it would have so much more impact to have a photograph of the campground versus me writing there was nobody there… Oh, by the way, there was not another soul to be found at Homestead. The campground was empty, standing vacant just waiting for the unsuspecting to wander through; yes, as in a cheesy horror film plot.
We had our pick of the camp sites, not having a coin with as many sides as there were sites we agonized over which site to occupy. We toured the grounds carefully inspecting each site to weigh its merits. Given the list of desirable attributes one must evaluate when selecting a site for desert camping is relatively short: flat or flat, rocks or rocks, dirt or dirt – we made rather quick work about it and the last remaining item was the deciding factor – proximity to the porta-potty. We are quite flexible so, we selected the site which was third closest. Why that particular site you may wonder, well…due to the second to last item on the list of “what makes an ideal desert camp site” of course – not having to move rocks to build a decent fire ring. Back to the aside, now you probably appreciate that this would be a perfect spot for a photograph of the site we selected…sigh. Well, I do have one but, I can’t use it here because it comes later, putting here as well would just be silly. But, there is one, it comes later, you’ll see.
We settled in and got our camp site all set up. Tent, chairs, kitchen area with blocking for the wind so the stove wouldn’t be blown out while we were preparing dinner. There was a fairly constant wind and it was likely to pick up towards sunset. We milled around a bit, inspected the spa, er, porta-potty to ensure it was in good working order (it was). The afternoon had progressed enough that we decided to head back to the racetrack. We readied our gear and drove back to the first parking area, the last as we’d passed it on our way to Homestead. The lone car we had seen earlier had migrated down to this parking area as well. We could not see the occupant inside the vehicle nor on the racetrack. Only once we reached a point about half way across did we spot him on the far side in a cluster of rocks with his tripod set up. The playa is as we had expected it to be – dry, cracked, and colored just like dirt. The first surprise, we noticed immediately after taking a few steps, is that the playa feels somewhat spongy. It has a bounce to it, not at all resembling the hard cement like texture anticipated from its appearance.
We wandered around the racetrack for a while, stopping here and there to take photographs. Seeing this for the first time, one really cannot help taking the same type of photographs that countless others have taken. After all, it is seeing many of those photographs which served to peak my curiosity and encouraged us to make the racetrack a destination on this trip. Not with the intention of making the same photographs but, to have the opportunity to experience and appreciate the same beauty that we’d seen in the photographs. What a unique and interesting place that must be, I recall thinking after seeing John Paul Caponigro’s Path I and many others I’ve seen over the years. So, unable to resist the compulsion drawing me to the typical compositions, I take the photographs of rocks and rock trails. It is one of the things we are here to see after all!
The rock trails really are remarkable, leaving me with one thought to ponder, how? Exactly how, do these rocks move across this playa? Naturally, this becomes the predominant topic of discussion as we wander around the playa. Some look as though they’ve been placed on trails which already existed. Others look like they just appeared right where they are sitting. No trail leads in any direction from where they currently rest.
Do they really move? Is it the wind? And the wind alone? What role does moisture play in the equation? How much moisture must be present for the rocks to begin their pilgrimage? Why would a rock want to cross the playa? Is it important for the rock to get to the other side? Maybe it is separation anxiety? Maybe it is peer pressure? Peer pressure can be a strong motivation given the right set of circumstances. Maybe the rocks are not mature enough to stand up for themselves.
Do rocks really think and have feelings? Maybe it is the playa itself, not the rocks at all. Maybe the playa just moves the rocks without any regard for their wants and desires. Wouldn’t that be heartless of the playa to do to the rocks? The playa is bigger, maybe it’s more powerful and the rocks are scared? So, they just do what the playa tells them to do and don’t resist. Or, maybe it’s the wind? The wind is arguably bigger, definitely more persistent.
Wind really is the epitome of a nag, it just doesn’t give up. At least not here, on the playa, it is a constant, unrelenting presence. And with its fellow element water, well, maybe the two of them together are just bullies. It really is a mystery. Wait, I guess it could also be magic… Yep, that’s probably it, the rocks move across the playa by magical means. The rocks do not think or feel, the playa is not capable of moving the rocks, the wind and water are neither conspiring together nor as individuals and most certainly are not bullies. Though, I’ll stick by the wind being a nag statement. So, that leaves magic. Since it isn’t any of the others acting as individuals it must be magic. From what I hear there really isn’t a definitive answer to how they move – I haven’t researched it, I’m ok with not knowing. It was fun to talk about during our walk, very entertaining to come up with wild conjectures with not even the slightest basis in reality. All I really know is that I like that they move, I find the tracks, trails and patterns they leave in their wake interesting and photogenic. I very much enjoyed taking photographs of the rocks and their tracks. Sometimes mysteries are good things, they leave us able to imagine and imagination is a wonderful thing which likes to exercise whenever possible. Though, not everything on the playa is a rock which is also a very nice thing.
We head back to camp, the wind has taken its toll, we are both getting chilly. Once back at camp, I make a cup of coffee which works to warm me up. Karen heads to the tent to get out of the wind and read for a while instead of taking a hike up the hill beyond Homestead. I take off from camp with my camera and a fresh cup of coffee; plus a warmer jacket and a hat. I walk up the road towards a big yellow trailer. A water trailer as it turns out, abandoned here unknown years ago by unknown peoples. It rests on a slope at the foot of the Lippincott Mill Site. Of course, when I think mill I think wood, this was probably a stamp mill though for grinding rocks as there is not a tree to be seen in this place. I poke around, clambering up and down the slopes. I notice what looks like a mine shaft entrance on the slope above the old lippincott place (always wanted to use that phrase) which the boy in me is drawn to as if by a powerful magnet. I feel the fear and hesitation, from the perspective that I’m out alone and well, mine shafts are dangerous, duh… I’ll just go up and take a peek, that can’t hurt. I get up there and start laughing. At one point in time maybe someone wanted to dig a mine but ran out of impetus a couple feet into the endeavor. My low point of view and the angle of the light had made the shadow darker within the shallow opening. It only seemed like an opening, really just a shallow nook. I sat for a bit grinning at the situation, gotta love it. I started walking back down when the light began to fade. I realized I’d been gone for over an hour. On the way back down I stopped to take this photograph, the view was just amazing. The light and dark by the curve towards the lower left are the tent and truck at our camp site.
I came back in to camp thinking Karen might have begun to worry, as I drew closer to the tent I was greeted with the sounds of Karen, uhm, worrying. As promised earlier, I now present a photograph of our lovely camp site at Homestead. The sun is just starting to go behind the sierras which is really creating some very nice light on the surrounding desert landscape.
I’m going to wrap this up with a series of photographs I took while the sun was going down. The hills across from Homestead were really lit up nicely, especially with the remaining storm clouds, dense with moisture, acting as diffusers and gobos. All elements working together to provide dramatic light giving life to a very dynamic landscape to produce a beautiful scene.
Thus ends day three of our adventure, the most eventful day so far. Quite a change from frigid temperatures and a snow storm this morning to a beautiful sunset after a sun filled, much warmer, afternoon. Evening is here, night is coming, the wind has picked up, the temperature drops – as it does in the desert; no sun, no heat. Karen has already called it a night and is fast asleep. I think I’ll light a little campfire, cook a meal for one, and just marinate in all that happened today.