(Jan) We have wanted to go to Death Valley for years and finally we are in the right area with time to explore. Death Valley is the USA’s largest park in the lower 48 states. (USA’s five largest are all in Alaska) It is vast. Open. Amazing. There are so many places to go and see, so many places to hike and explore. Although our weather has been rainy and cool the last several days, our enthusiasm for this park has not diminished. We stayed at Stove Pipe Wells for the first couple of nights and then moved over to Furnace Creek ranch. We now have cell phone and internet coverage. Here are some of the places we have been in Death Valley.
Mosaic Canyon was just a short drive up a gravel road from the Stove Pipe Wells CG. It was a fascinating canyon hike with walls of marble and mosaics of fragmented rocks. The rock patterns in the canyon walls were amazing. The first half mile was a slot canyon with some slick rock scrambling but after that the valley broadened out.
The Salt Creek Interpretive Trail is a boardwalk along a small stream. It is home to the inch long pupfish that are found only in Death Valley in hot, forbidding, saline water. We did spy several of the little fish but they are extremely fast so our photo is of Blue Heron tracks in the shallow water. Watch out Pupfish!
We were also camped next to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes which were lovely as the sun cast light and shadow across their surfaces. The Dunes are 100 feet high.
On the day we went to Scotty’s castle, we also drove over to the Ubehebe (U bee hee bee) Crater where we hiked the edge of the crater. ”Just a few hundred years ago a massive volcanic explosion caused by magma mixing with an underground spring, shatter the silence of northern Death Valley. When the dust settled, this 600 foot deep crater remained.”
The salt flats of Badwater Basin are the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. After the winter rains there is a shallow lake here but in the dry heat of summer the lake dries up to a vast salt flat. The day we were at the salt flats it was a 58 degree, rainy day; a real contrast to summer’s blistering heat!
(Chuck) Death Valley is famous for Borax and the Twenty Mule Team. Borax deposits led to mining activity in the 1880’s. These large teams hauled two wagons carrying twenty ton loads of borax and a third wagon of water. They traversed a 160 mile stretch of desert to deliver their loads. It was an incredible accomplishment. These large teams were used only from 1883 to 1889. New mining deposits and other methods of transportation were more efficient and led to the decline of the twenty mule teams.
The mules were hitched in pairs and the total hitch pulled on a 120 foot length of chain. To guide the team that stretched so far in front of the driver a jerk line was used. This line was fastened to the lead mule. This mule was trained to follow the commands of the line. If the driver wanted to turn left, he gave a steady pull on the line. If a right turn was wanted the driver would give the line several jerks.
Because the team was over 120 feet in length, special tactics were used when the wagon needed to make a sharp turn on the road. The lead pairs followed the road. As the pairs closer to the wagon approached the curve they would jump the chain and pull to the outside of the curve. This would keep the wagon from going off the road. This was called the dance of the mules, as captured in the painting above.
The lead mules wore a rack of bells on the harness to warn approaching wagons. Only teams hauling freight wore bells, empty wagons did not. Empty wagons were obliged to pull over and give passage to loaded wagons. If a driver experienced a break down and needed assistance from another driver he was obliged to give the bells to the driver who gave him assistance. This led to the saying “I’ll be there with bells on” which meant that he did it on his own without help from anyone.