Saturday, January 12, 2008

Diamond Valley Lake

We saw our friends Ron and Lisa Draper today. We were able to see their new place, which is very nice with a private and roomy lot. After that, they took us on an enjoyable tour of the valley and showed us the most interesting man-made reservoir. It was dammed on two sides. It provides water to San Diego County and is four miles long by two miles wide and about 100 feet deep. It is also stocked with good eating fish. Ron tells us the fishing is excellent.

When the valley was being excavated to construct the reservoir, an archeological treasure chest was uncovered with giant sloths, sabertooth tigers, mastedons, and wooly mammoths. There is now a museum with some of the fossils and bones that were found and a movie describing their finds and the process of building the reservoir. Very interesting. One of the paleontologists stated that they were finding bones at such a fast pace that it was difficult to keep up with the work. “Overwhelming” was the word he used. The reservoir is quite beautiful with the mountains surrounding it. It was a nice way to spend the day.

Tomorrow Mike’s sister Meredith will drive over from Fullerton to spend the day and have dinner with us. We will hook up with Ron and Lisa again on Monday, possibly to see the new Tom Hanks movie, Charlie Wilson’s War. We haven’t been to the theater in years, but this is a movie we really want to see.

I’m still working on the slide show, but don’t let all this talk fool you into thinking it’s anything special. It’s just a quick way to post the many pictures I have of Death Valley. I can't post such a large file while using Mike's phone for my internet connection; but tomorrow, we'll spring for the $5 for 24 hours (!) while Mike pays some bills and we take care of other business. For now, I’m posting some pictures we took today. Hope you enjoy them.

Mosaic Canyon

Sorry these next blogs are published out of order. As you read these blogs about Death Valley, you are reading them in the reverse order of when they happened. And THEN at the end, I published a blog about Hemet California. That one should have been posted first because we are here now. I haven't been able to publish my blogs for the past four days, and so I apologize for all this reading. Don't read it if you don't want to! But I wanted to explain this out-of-order thing. Soon I'll publish a slide show of the pictures from Death Valley--at least I think I will. We'll see if I am successful at that. For now, this is what happened when we hiked Mosaic Canyon--such a fun day.

We hiked the most spectacular canyon today. By the looks of it, it is something big in a flash flood. (I wouldn’t want to be there when water is flowing.) The hike book says that it was formed by a fault in the Tucki Mountain range where four square miles of water drain and scour the sides of the canyon wall. We saw at least half a dozen different layers of sedimentary stuff, some of it polished marble. It involved some scrambling over rocks, but we hiked way back and up into the canyon for about 2.5 miles. There was evidence of moisture from the last flood that probably washed through there during the big rain storm, but only one spot where we saw actual water. Thank you to my walking buddy and good friend, Sue, for getting me into shape for this hike. Lots of fun. It took some planning and looking, but we climbed over all manner of barriers to going farther. We started early in the day, and so we had plenty of time to keep going before we had to turn around and head back out. I took a lot of pictures, which I am going to try to put together in a slide show. If you see it, you’ll know I was successful. Otherwise, I’ll just post individual pictures as I have been doing.

When we got back, we were hungry and tired, and so ate sandwiches and then napped. Mike had some time to repair the electrical connection in the bed of his truck. This got broken as we were trying to get off our snowy mountain. There was a beautiful sunset as the clouds rolled in. This was the first warm day we’ve experienced—where we could be outside without jackets on. We felt so unencumbered! It’s also the first day that the furnace has not run. Things are looking up on the weather front, and from here on, we are heading south—no more back-tracking north.

We have been here four nights, and we’ll pull out tomorrow heading toward Bakersfield. We can probably be in Hemet in a couple of nights where we’ll visit my email pen pal, Lisa, who is living in a new home that I’m dying to see. We’ll also spend some time with Mike’s sister, Meredith, who lives in Fullerton. Our next stop will be Joshua Tree NP and then parts unknown.

Scottie's Castle/Ubehebe Crater

Today we visited Scottie’s Castle. The tour was quite different from the way either of us remembered it. I visited in 1970; Mike earlier than that. When we went through the first time, the curtains were open, the place was very bright, and we both remember being quite taken with the cooling system that consisted of an indoor waterfall, among other things. We also remember hearing a lot more about all that went into constructing the home, including the many imported items. Keep in mind that the place is built in the middle of nowhere and that it was built in the 1920’s. It was quite an engineering marvel in its day. They even had figured out a way to insulate using a brick that resembled styrofoam. Very impressive. This tour was a lot more about the people who lived in the house—the Johnsons who owned it and “Scottie,” whose real name was Walter Scott. It seems he was quite a con man and many people thought he should be in jail. However, these people, the Johnsons so enjoyed his company that they practically supported the man. When asked, Mr. Johnson said that “Scottie” repaid them with laughter. The indoor waterfall has been turned off because the plumbing fell apart, and the curtains are now drawn. It’s too bad because it is hard to see the beautiful Spanish tile; however, flash photography is allowed and so I was able to get quite a few pictures of the place.

After that we drove to Ubehebe (You-bee-hee-bee) Crater, which is where a volcanic explosion took place. The whole area appears quite volcanic with black sand—kind of a reversal from the way the rest of the desert looks. The crater was impressive for its size and also the many colors of the layers of sediment. We’re also been impressed by the size of the “rivulets,” which in any other part of the world would be called “gullies.” The park is so vast (3,300,000 acres—the biggest in the lower 48 states) that all of the geological features taken by themselves appear small despite the grand scale. (I hope that makes sense.)

We have decided to stay an additional night so that we can do a couple of hikes that we have not yet had time for. Our generator is still working and Mike thinks it is some other thing called an “inverter.” Maybe you high tech types will know what the heck that is. We ran out of water today, but Mike has a 40-gallon bladder he can use to refill the freshwater tank so that we don’t have to move the trailer. Water is really the deciding factor when we are camping without hook-ups. This is only the second time we’ve used the bladder, but it is a very handy tool.

Furnace Creek

We explored the Furnace Creek area of Death Valley today, which encompassed a lot of territory. We did a short hike through the Artist’s Palette area and that was very interesting. So many different colors of dirt/sand/soil—clearly, it was many layers of sedimentary rock. The sun was cooperative or uncooperative, depending on your point of view. It was behind the clouds for most of the day, which meant that I could take pictures without having them be completely blown out; however, even at the end of the day when the sun could be my friend, it stayed behind the clouds and so I wasn’t able to get any really good shots of the colors. You will have to be satisfied with what I have posted.

The most fun part of the day, I think, was visiting Bad Water, which is the lowest point in the Northern hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level. I’ve posted some pictures of the salt flats and the red cliffs reflecting in the “bad” water. “It was always the same . . . Hunger and thirst and an awful silence.” Those words were written by one of the pioneers who traveled the 130-mile long valley on the way to California. It was easy to be sympathetic when seeing this landscape. Beautiful when traveled by car, I can only guess the hardships faced by those who crossed by Conestoga wagon. There are places in the park where the ruts from the wagons can still be seen.

We also visited the Devil’s Golf course, which consisted of the strangest landscape of salt crystals. Death Valley is like a different planet due to the extremes of temperature. It is the hottest and driest place on the North American continent. The record high temperature here is 134 degrees Fahrenheit. It was nowhere near that today, and we kept sweatshirts on for most of the day. We took a short hike up to see a natural bridge, but that was scarcely worth the trouble. The best one we’ve seen was in Canyonlands NP.

We’re enjoying our visit despite the fickle sunshine, and if pressed, I’d say I prefer the sun behind the clouds. If I were a real photographer, I’d be out before dawn and past dusk, but apparently I’m not. I like sleeping in and having dinner on time. As it is, I end up shooting at the worst part of the day, and so the light is better if the sun stays behind the clouds. Fortunately, I don’t have to make my living by taking pictures.

Tomorrow, much to my surprise, Mike wants to see Scotty’s Castle. He saw it only once before when he was too young to remember. I was 16 the one time I saw it, and so I’m up for that too. I believe we’ve seen most of the hot spots (and I don’t mean temperature) of the park by exploring past the Furnace Creek ranger station. There are a few things to see beyond Scottie’s Castle, and then a couple of things we missed today.

The New Hampshire Primary is on TV, and so I hope your favorite candidate is doing well. More tomorrow. Take care.

Death Valley NP

We rolled into Death Valley after dark last night. It was a relatively long day of driving. As I’m writing this, we’re having trouble with our propane generator. We’re not sure if it’s a problem with the generator or the propane. The latest theory is that there is some problem with the pressure regulator on the propane tank. However, I’m now hearing a report that it decided to start working. Mike says that when something fixes itself without intervention, the problem will reappear down the road. Since we’re virtually in the middle of nowhere, it would be better if it did break down the road. Please, not here. Wow! And my screen just got brighter. It looks like things are working now. Hm. We’re taking the head-in-the-sand approach for now. (My personal favorite.)

We are parked in a national park campground, which is very cheap for us--$6 per night. However, there are absolutely no amenities. It is, in essence, a parking lot with numbered spaces. There are no trees, no fire rings, no tables, nothing. There is a public restroom with showers, but that’s it. I read an article in a motor home magazine that urged the national parks to cater more to RVers as a way of making up for funding problems. I must say that I agree. We have ways of getting around the problem of no hook-ups, but it does require a different living strategy. Hook-ups, even just water, would be very nice. And this is the way it has been in all of the national parks where we’ve stayed. We love the parks, but hate the campgrounds. And since most of the parks are in remote areas, staying at a privately-owned park is often not an option. Okay, enough whining.

We drove through some beautiful country yesterday, albeit rugged. There were towns where people lived, but many of the buildings were boarded up. They look like towns on the verge of becoming ghost towns. Indeed, we passed a sign directing us to a ghost town. There were mining operations evident, but we’re not sure what they were mining for. I took a picture of what appears to be salt or borax at one place. I’ve posted a couple of pictures, all taken out of the window of the truck as we drove by, and so they’re not great pictures. (In case you missed Felix’s dad’s comment, if you click on the pictures, you can see them full screen.) The mountains were snow-capped and very beautiful as the sun was setting. The geology of the mountains was very interesting. Some of the ground appeared to have been pushed up, while some of it looked as if it had been formed by blowing dust. There were a couple of dry lake beds, and we saw many alluvial fans from snow melt.

We also drove through an area that had been built up into a wind farm—the biggest I’ve ever seen. We got out of the truck to see if we could hear the windmills running, but all we could hear was traffic and the sound of the wind. It was terrifically windy in this area, and when I opened the truck door, the force of the wind nearly tore the door out of my hand. This wind farm was just outside some medium-sized town, the name of which I cannot remember. But we figured that the windmills we saw could easily generate enough power for the whole town, with power to spare. We were encouraged to see wind power on such a grand scale.
We will spend the day exploring the park. More later. We’re out of cell phone range, and therefore, we have no internet connection. I’ll post these together when we get to the next place.

Hemet, California

We arrived in Hemet last night. Sorry we've been out of touch for four days while we were in Death Valley. We had a wonderful time there. I wrote my blog entry each day, but haven't been able to publish until today. Also, I think I've figured out how to post a slide show of the pictures I took there, but I'll have to publish that later. The wi-fi costs $5 per day here. I can use Mike's phone to publish text, but I'll need to pay for the regular wi-fi to move the data for the slide show. More to come on that within the next couple of days.

We're here visiting a friend of mine from high school. We graduated together, but she is a LOT older than I am despite our former same birth years. (I kept writing "sane" when I meant to write "same." I wonder if that means anything. Hmmm.) We're going to see some archeological stuff today--saber tooth tigers and the like. Sounds like fun.

The drive down yesterday was pretty harrowing. It started with barren roads on Death Valley and ended up in rush-hour traffic in the middle of San Bernardino. The off-ramp we wanted was closed, and so we had to go up and turn around and get going in the other direction to go the way we wanted. It took us 2 hours to move 2 miles. Sheesh. During that time, we saw a rear-end collision, some really gutsy lane changes, and a guy who absolutely cut in front of us by bypassing the 45-minute line we waited in to get on the other freeway we wanted. He cut across the triangular paint that divides the off-ramp from the freeway, and also through some little flexible pole barriers. As he did this, he waved his hand at us as if thanking us for letting him cut in the line. We waved back at him with our middle fingers. (Some people didn't learn much in kindergarten.) But as this was all happening, a cop saw him and stopped beside us, got out of the car, and angrily indicated to the guy that he needed to pull over for a good talking-to. I suppose he was required to sign some kind of document promising never to do it again. And I suppose it will be very expensive for him to learn that lesson. It made all the rest of it worthwhile.

So I need to get going with my other posts and then give my friend a call to figure out today's agenda. Take care all. We are back for the next several days at least.