Friday, December 12, 2014

Death Valley National Park, CA - Part 1, Mesquite Springs area in the north

Ubehebe Crater

If you follow this blog, you might remember that we were here last year, but it was late in the day and we had no time to explore. So we vowed to return and here we are. Ubehebe (YOU-bee-hee-bee) Crater was formed only 2,000 years ago by boiling steam heated by magma inside the earth that caused such pressure that the ground exploded and created this crater. Let's take a walk around the rim, counter-clockwise. This view is from the parking lot looking southeast.

Here we are climbing up the west side of the rim which is the higher side. From this view, we are looking northeast.

Half way around now and looking at the parking lot (it's half a mile away, so don't be surprised if you can't see the vehicles). The lines leading from the parking lot into the bottom of the crater are trails. Yes, some people actually descend the 500 feet, but they have to climb up to get out. This view is looking northwest.

At the lower rim, we are now looking southwest, into the mid-day sun.

Brad on one of the paths that leads to the bottom. He didn't go far, just enough for me to get a photo. Such a cheater!

The explosion that created Ubehebe Crater created many other craters in this area. These are two others to which we hike on the way up to the high rim peak on the southwest side. Actually, we sit at the top overlooking these craters to have lunch.
Scotty's Castle

Yep, we stopped at Scotty's Castle last year too, but didn't see much as it was about a half hour from closing time. This time the Visitor Center is open and in it is Al Johnson's old 1914 Packard. He was the wealthy owner who built this castle and named it after his friend, Walter Scott, aka Death Valley Scotty. You can read about Al and Scotty's lively history. It's hard to believe, but Al toured his wife and friends around Death Valley in the 1920s and 1930s in this vehicle. Back then, the roads were worse than the park's rough 4x4 roads of today, so I don't know how they did it. What's impressive about this car is its size - it seats seven!

Scotty's grave high on a hill above the castle. He sure has a great view. The text says "I got four things to live by: Don't say nothing that will hurt anybody. Don't give advice--nobody will take it anyway. Don't complain. Don't explain." Words to live by.

Death Valley Ranch, aka Scotty's Castle, as seen from Scotty's grave.

The clock tower beside the main house. The clocks on each side all read a slightly different time, and the Westminster Chimes rang the quarter hour at 3:10. Well, it is about 100 years old!
The Racetrack

The Racetrack is our main reason for returning to Death Valley this year. The unpaved, 4x4 road heads out into the desert from Ubehebe Crater and it's a rattler - rattles your teeth, truck and everything else for 27 miles each way. The drive takes us about 1.5 hours - each way, but we are determined to knock it off our bucket list. Six miles from our destination is Teakettle Junction. One of these kettles is from as far away as Russia (people write messages on them).

Just before we get to the Racetrack is the Grandstand, an outcropping of bedrock on the flat playa. The views of it as we approach show the size of the dry lake bed.

A couple of motorcyclists cross the playa to the Grandstand.

It is difficult to choose which photos of the moving rocks to show. The effect is incredible. Once a complete mystery, scientists now believe they understand why these rocks slide across this playa, although studies continue.

The theory is that heavy winter rains occasionally flood the playa and then the water freezes on the clay surface. As the ice melts into chunks, high winds, which often funnel down this valley, blow the ice floes into the rocks, moving them.

Some of the rocks, a few of which are up to 500 pounds, move great distances. Some move in straight lines while others perform 90 degree turns, and others wiggle around. Many tracks end with no rock, implicating thieves.

It is easy to see that the rocks begin from a hillside (at the top of this photo) of very blueish stone at the south end of the playa. What an amazing place to visit.

Death Valley is a huge park. Although we fuel our truck before entering the park, simply driving to our campsite and then up to the Racetrack leaves us with not enough fuel to return to our campsite. But, we carry an extra 10 gallons in containers wherever we go for times like this. Fuel is available in the park, but is a one-hour drive from our campground and it's expensive. I think I should have taken the picture and Brad should have filled the tank.

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