Spring Break in Death Valley 2017

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It's spring again, and you all know what that means- Spring Break in Death Valley! San Jose State University has been coming to DV on spring break for 70 years, and now that I know about it, I'm a 'repeater' (people who aren't students and who come just for the fun of it). This is my third year of doing this, and I love it. Even when the weather gets wierd, as it did late in the week...

There were a LOT of people this time, 30 students plus instructors plus repeaters, about 55 in all. Everyone was asked to have 4-6 people in their cook group, and since Jim was out of town at the pre-meeting, I went to see who I could find that might be congenial. I fell into conversation with Kelly, a retired nurse, and we hit it off. We also picked up a student to be part of our group, but since he was a student, we didn't hang out with him that much, just at mealtimes.

Kelly, Jim and I met and decided who was going to bring what, and how we would do things, and we left on Saturday morning March 25, all of us in my truck Boudika.

Note on pictures: they're all called dv and a number. If there's a j at the end of the number, Jim took it. If there's a k, Kelly took it. The thumbnails have an a after the picture name to differentiate them.

It was a beautiful day, and Walker Pass was full of Joshua trees!
Two shots of the mountains along the 395 before coming into the park... And here we are! Me, Jim and Kelly.
Our favorite moocher! We've seen a coyote here before (maybe the same one?) on the long straight stretch between Panamint Springs and Towne Pass.
Jim's favorite shot across the valley leading up to Towne Pass... More cool stuff leading up to Towne Pass And HOLY CRAP! Gas costs LESS here in Stovepipe Wells than I paid in San Jose that morning! Now THAT'S certainly never happened before...
Setting up the cook groups (we were right in the middle)

setting up the tents

a beautiful sunset

chillin' for the evening.

About half or two thirds of the group arrived Saturday, the rest arrived Sunday.

We got up early and went into Pahrump for groceries. It was a gorgeous morning.

Stan and Dan putting the new shed together; it took five guys to get two of these sheds put together right...

After lunch I went off by myself for a hike. I decided to go to Willow Canyon again; it had been beautiful two years ago, and the recent rains meant that the seasonal waterfall at the end should be running.
The salt flats south of Badwater Wildflowers! There weren't many at all near our campground; everyone was talking about the superbloom at Anza-Borrego, but DV was not full of them...but here is a lot of Desert Gold. There is a tiny parking lot at the trailheads to Willow Canyon and Sidewinder Canyon; this is the trail to Willow Canyon, two miles up this wash... And as soon as I got out of the truck and started hiking, there were flowers everywhere. Desert Gold and Notch-Leaf Phacelia.
Hairy desert sunflower. Really. Snow-covered Telescope Peak seen through a framing creosote bush... Broad-leaved gilia Popcorn flowers
Popcorn flowers close up. These are tiny flowers, about 1/3 inch across. A section of the wash I was walking through, flowers everywhere! Hairy desert sunflower again. They were really pretty, even without blossoms.
And another hairy desert sunflower. These things were everywhere... Another phacelia Wide-leaf Gilia Lesser mojavea
Rock Daisy More Phacelia. I think this is all notch-leaf phacelia. Gorgeous day. Warm, a little breeze, cloud cover. Not too cold, not too hot. Flowering creosote.
Desert five-spot with little insects all over it. More Phacelia. Gravel ghost
Very cool plant, no idea what it is. Poppies I think these are more popcorn flowers
Phacelia, and a really beautiful dead branch, and I turn the corner and start up the wash proper. And a view of the mountains through a stand of creosote.
Desert five-spot. Even the leaves are amazing. Desert rocknettle, not open because it's not sunny enough. Two views up the wash, getting close to the actual canyon. I must admit here that I was walking, heard a noise, saw a family (two parents, two kids) coming about 30 feet behind me and said, why don't you go ahead? Go ahead, they said, we've been trying to keep up with you!

Not sure if it's true but made me feel good...!

And there's the canyon! The rocks are pretty...and I go around a corner...and what's that? A tiny WATERFALL.

Yes, this canyon has a seasonal fall, that runs in the spring anytime there's enough rain. It runs down the canyon, flirting with the rocks, sometimes aboveground and sometimes below, and ends here in a lovely tiny waterfall, beckoning the hot hiker to come in and enjoy the sight and sound of water.

This is one of my favorite canyons in DV. Walking two miles up a dry dusty shadeless wash, turning up a canyon with no indication that it's anything but a rocky hike...and then this. Lovely.
There are several small pools and streams and falls as you work your way up the canyon...then there's a stretch with nothing but rocks-no water, no sound of water, just a dry canyon...then...
This is at the end...a forty-foot, two-step ribbon fall. Just amazing. There were four or five other people there with me, all of us just loving this tiny treasure. In the third picture you can see me standing beside it for height contrast (and because everyone was taking pictures for each other!
I have a bite of lunch and a chat with some of the people who are woman I spoke to is an admin aide at Furnace Creek. She says the Scotty's Castle road that connects with the Beatty road is actually ready to reopen, but the Parks Service is trying to figure out how to keep people out of Scotty's Castle for two years until the Castle is ready for tourists again...because of course people will try to get in.

I finally left the little canyon and start back to the car, finding a beautiful desert tobacco on the way.

The wash is pretty on the way back, but downhill is always easier. And a tiny rock daisy, struggling to find its place among the rocks...
Mojave Ragwort Desert Five-Spot I think this is another popcorn flower...
Blooming mesquite An anthill with harvester ants Pretty sure this is a Little Gold-Poppy
Two more shots of another harvester ant hill... and I come to the end of the canyon as evening starts coming on. A couple hiking up into the canyon told me that the family that was ahead of me was looking for the iphone one of the kids dropped. I have to admit I snickered after they left, but I did look for it...
More Phacelias, desert gold and a brown-eyed evening primrose, and one last shot up the valley as I am at the last hill before the parking lot.
The road back. Beautiful evening. Dinnertime. You can see how crowded this year's the first time SJSU has made it free for continuing students to take this course, and they filled right up. Bob and Jack calling the students together. Jack and Merav took a bunch of us out looking for scorpions; they fluoresce in black light. This was one of the few times my faithful camera couldn't do it; the only one we saw that night was way back under a bush, and my camera couldn't seem to focus on it...
Everyone out in the wash behind the campground looking for scorpions. The group later in the week saw WAY more of them.

This bird is a Poor Will (NOT, as Bob the Biologist said, a Whip-Poor-Will; the cry is shorter.) It had wedged itself under a tent and was NOT COMING OUT.

Monday! A beautiful morning (as indeed most of them are in Death Valley) and the first day of actual classes. There are so many students that the instructors have decided to have three sections- one of botany and insects, one of biology and insects, and one of geology, all three each day, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday- and the students will go out on a different one each day. Having my own vehicle, I can join whichever group I want. On this day, I went out with Rod the Botanist and his group, to Dante's View and back.
We stopped at Furnace Creek for gas, and Farrabee's excellent 4x4 rentals has moved there. Here is Mr. Farrabee washing the cars and his dog, who loves the water, before they open. Kelly and I had left early to get gas then meet the group at Dante's View.
Here we are at Dante's View, looking down over the valley. We're at 5400 ft, watching a storm roll in and down the valley, and it was gorgeous...but so cold that when the rest of the group arrived, everyone got out, looked around, saw that there were no flowers at this height, Rod talked for about 15 minutes and we ran for the vans and cars and got out. It was somewhere south of 50 degrees, because my fingers and ears hurt from the cold, and the wind was fierce. But the storm was beautiful!
Rod does his biology day as a progression-we start up at Dante's View, then come down the 13 mile road to the main road, stopping every time the elevation drops 1000 feet or so, and we all get out and look for plants and insects, and he talks about the plants and how they change as the elevation, temperature and water changes. And Jack is along, so there are a lot of insects to be found as well!
Checker Fiddleneck, I think. AKA (ominous music) Devil's Lettuce. Maybe a small wire lettuce? If not, no idea; couldn't find anything else even close. Spiny Menadora
Tent caterpillars' tents
Spiny Menadora again, with dead blossoms but they still look really cool...! Desert Paintbrush Kelly and Pan, the student who was in our cookgroup. You can see where the storm is passing, and only a few clouds are left. That was about half an hour, maybe 45 minutes, of actual time between it coming down the valley and this picture.
Closeup of Spiny Menadora. I love that name. I might name a cat that someday...or a hedgehog! This little (about 3/4 inch) flower took me forever to figure out...I kept thinking it was yellow tackstem, but it didn't look quite right. It's a silverpuff. And why is it called that? Because, as you can see in this picture I got from Flickr, the seed pod looks like a puff of silver! Very pretty. Yellow throats
Hopsage Harvestman spider Tackstem An Orb Weaver in the center of a beautiful web
Spiny Menadora A really cool centipede. He's at the top of the left picture, a little right of center, climbing out of the hole. In the right can't miss him! About an inch and a half long. Wooly Daisy
Wooly daisies and one desert gold Yellow throats AKA Fremont phacelia Thistle sage Hopsage
Another phacelia Fruiting creosote Sideblotched lizard Desert Dandelion
Desert Gold poppy.

Then a student picked up a rock and everyone said, Ooooh! A colony of termites, and you can even see the queen, the really big one to the left of the middle. We looked and took pictures for a minute or two, then put their rock back.

Three kinds of lichen Jack getting up close and personal with an insect Desert Dandelion Blazing Star
Desert Gold poppy Blazing Star, maybe a whitestem? If you look up and a bit to the right of the finger (which is there for size contrast) there's a little red insect on the rock that looks kinda like a lobster. That's a pseudoscorpion, and the pic to the right is a close-up (thank you, awesome camera!). This was the biggest one Jack had ever seen, and it was moving slowly and stopping, so we all got to see it...usually they're half that size and go zipping along the rock like they're late for a meeting...
Tackstem A sphinx caterpillar Pretty green glass.
More blazing stars. So pretty! Another orb weaver The line of vehicles, and the day has turned into clear and sunny...but very windy...
Hopsage, and a lovely ladybug.
Desert Dandelion Another (or the same?) sphinx caterpillar Another centipede, not as pretty as the last, nor as big; this one was about an inch long.
This is a picture of Ryan Camp, an old boron mine. The SJSU group stayed there for 50 years, then was moved to Cow Creek several years ago; in 2013, the area became part of DVNP, but it has to be cleaned up before people are allowed to go there. Kelly told me that the white buildings you can see in the distance are where they are going into the underground mineshafts and collapsing them one by one; this has to be finished and the area cleaned up before it's opened to the public.
More blazing stars, more hopsage, and a couple of pictures of the beautiful day and the backside of the Black Mountains, just south of Zabriskie Point.
Pretty typical: most of the group is listening to Rob the Botanist, and Jack is off on his own looking for insects... A flowering mesquite tree Landscape with Mesquite
So we're back at camp. The class has gone on to the salt flats, which are full of deerflies that all think I'm delicious, so Kelly and I gave that part of the day's instruction a pass. We got back to the campground, and Dick was there, and we all decided to go hike Pyramid Canyon aka Liberty Canyon aka Travertine Point. I had been there a couple of times and kind of knew where it was, but didn't have my guidebook with the mileage markers, so we passed it and had to come back to find it...but we did find it!
And here's the beetle Jack was looking at! He caught things in the jar for photos and for us to see, then he let them go. We're back at Cow Creek, and for some reason Dick is doing my dishes. But I do appreciate it!
I've heard a bunch of names for this canyon, and from here on I'll call it Pyramid Canyon, named for Pyramid Peak at the end of it. You can see that the clouds have come back, although it's warm and we mostly had sunshine on us. The hike is just up the wash a couple of miles, then up a rock canyon with a dry waterfall at the end, but it's a beautiful canyon. You can see Kelly and Dick posing for a picture, then leaving without me...
Desert Sunflower There they go! A really cool rock Desert Sunflower
The thing that absolutely identifies this canyon, no matter what you call it, is the old car half buried in the sand about half a mile up the wash. It sinks a little deeper in the gravel every year, but it's still here.
A very cool bee on what I am pretty sure is desert sunflower, a thistle and another view of the beautiful mountains.
Cactus And suddenly the dark clouds are gone, and it's beautiful ahead. Cotton-top cactus Dick spotted this tiny fishhook cactus, which is blooming inside the spines...
Here are two pics of the blooms. A really interesting rock... and one of my favorite flowers, Bigelow's Monkeyflower!
Another couple of pictures, this time of cloud shadows...the clouds are coming back. Another interesting rock... and Dick and I have come to where it's time for us to turn back.
So from here, the canyon goes around a curve and narrows down; it goes about half a mile, getting narrower all the way, and ends in a dry waterfall. We wanted to get back in time for dinner, so we had all agreed when we set out that we'd turn back at 3:30. But, you might wonder, where is Kelly? Well...our version of events is that she was hanging behind. I turned around just before the above picture and saw her, and she waved like crazy. Dick and I kept going but didn't see her when we turned back, so we figured she had turned around before us.

Her version is that she stopped to take a picture of something cool, and when she caught up to where we were (and went a bit farther) we were nowhere to be seen...

These are Kelly's pictures. The first is me and Dick hiking up ahead, and the second and third are what she stopped to take pictures of, which I would have stopped for too, very nice!
So Dick and I hiked back out...we saw apricot mallow, Travertine Point, the old car, and Boudika, waiting for us with lovely cold drinks...but no Kelly! We waited fifteen or twenty minutes, I honked my horn in case she had gone off while waiting for us, and we talked about what to do...finally, I went back up the canyon and climbed most of the way up Travertine Point, and looked up as far as I could see...and about ten minutes later, there came Kelly! We had gone past each other in the wash, there are places where you can't see across. All was well, and we went back and had dinner.
When we got back to camp Monday, we found that there had been a brief windstorm that had broken poles on three of the tents...I got pictures later in the week of the fairly brilliant job that had been done making their tents stay up. This will be important later...

So Tuesday was another day of instruction, of course. Kelly and I decided to go with Robbie the Geologist and her group; there was the van, Paula in her truck, and me and Kelly in Boudika. A not unmanageable number of vehicles, until we got to Jubilee Pass...

Jim brought his harmonica and I brought my concertina; we were planning to practice for Friday night, which is Skit Night. Jim had rewritten Red River Valley to be about the DV trip, and we were going to play and have everyone sing. And Jim had been hanging out with a group of repeaters down the hill all day Tuesday, when Kelly and I were starting to leave, we saw them all gathered together serenading us with the actual song Red River of course I had to join in!
The first stop was Mushroom Rock, an eroded block of basalt. There are tiny chunks of feldspar in it.
The next stop was Artist Drive and Artist's Palette, a beautiful colored rock formation. I'm going to quote Robbie here: "Different oxidation states of iron can create all of the colors you see here. Unoxidized iron is gray, slight oxidation causes green, and blue-green, a mixture of plus 2 and plus 3 iron is purple, plus 3 iron is rust red, add water to get orange, more water to get yellow. Because these are volcanic ash deposits, the blue-green could also be due to oxidized copper, or an iron sulfide."
Thank you, Robbie! And let me say right now how AWESOME it was to spend a whole day on geology. The last two DV trips, Robbie would be in one of the vans and would get to talk a bit about geology in with other stuff, on a whole day of travel. Today, it was her day, she planned the itinerary (and did it three days in a row!) and got to just do what she does so brilliantly. It was a wonderful day.
These four pictures, and the next four, are from 'Mars Hill', a hill right by the exit to Artist Drive. It looks like Mars- sand and volcanic rock, and nothing growing there. Except there was a small patch of hardy plants, which surprised us.
Mars hill is pretty high in a flat plane, so the views are great...I love the road going nowhere. The exit sign pointing over the valley amused me, and the rock Robbie is holding is a dolomite, which are all over this area too.
The two flowers, a phacelia and desert pincushion, were near the truck. The views were on the way to our next stop, Badwater.
Me and Robbie at the famous sign. Jazz hands!
After Badwater, the group of us continued south on the Badwater road, stopping every few miles for geology and also flowers; that low down there were lots of flowers in the washes!
Blooming creosote and desert sunflowers Popcorn flower This might be serpentine, our state rock...if it's not, don't blame Robbie the Geologist, it's my mistake. Looking back at Badwater
Boudika and Telescope Peak Desert Sunflowers and shadows Phacelia Desert Dandelions
The black rocks across the valley show where the fault at the bottom of the Panamints goes; it's a right lateral fault, and the two pieces of rock are moving away from each other...slowly.
In the left pic, the hill straight ahead has horizontal lines on it- these are where the shorelines of Lake Manly (where we are now) used to be (the hill was an island.)

You can see the other two vehicles ahead of us on the road, and the tiny flowers are Desert Sand Verbena; it was everywhere, but it was very windy, so I had to hold it to keep it still enough for a picture.

And what is this? I said, as I picked up this rock with some kind of insect on it...and the students gathered around to see it.
I showed these pictures to Jack that evening when we returned; he said it was some sort of insect nymph, but because it was so unformed there was no way to tell exactly what it was going to grow up into. It looked cool, though!
Another desert dandelion, and what I learned is called popcorn flowers. I love this stuff! The flowers are tiny, about 1/4 inch.

Looks like a purple chia that has seen better days...

Desert Varnish

Desert Five-Spot

This is a Woody Bottle Washer. No kidding.

Tiny flowers and rocks

Desert Star

Desert Sand Verbena

Diving into pollen...!

Desert Five-Spot

Looks like Tackstem

Another dolomite

And another brown-eyed evening primrose, I think. Sigh.

Yet another dolomite

Ditto Desert Five-Spot

Ditto popcorn plant

Broad Leaved Gilia

More Desert Sand Verbena and another Five-Spot (because I love them!) In the last two pictures, you can see what it looked like where I was finding all these flowers; they're tiny, and you have to look, but they're there. The third pic is looking out over the Ashford Mill site, where there are also facilities, which are few and far between on this day. That's why the van is there... Also, see the road in the last picture? Little did I know that I'd be driving up it tomorrow...
This area is so geologically mixed up that it is known as the Amargosa Chaos
There were some nice cacti across the road from where we stopped for the Amargosa Fault; they were up on the side of a wash. One of the students (at my request) took a picture of me sliding down from the ledge where the cacti were, on my butt, saying 'Whee!' but she didn't send it to me. Darn it.

The photographer is Dan, a really nice guy. I think this was his first time with the SJSU group; I don't remember having seen him before.

As we drove east toward Jubilee Pass, we went by lots of these yellow blooming plants. On the right is where we stopped for more geology and lunch. And flowers, of course!
There is a parasitic plant called Dodder, that is a big problem in the can see it on these three plants, the orange stringy stuff. It feels wierd, like cold rubber bands. We saw a whole valley of plants covered with it in one place. But the cool thing about dodder is the folk names for it. Here's the list from Wikipedia: strangle tare, scaldweed, beggarweed, lady's laces, fireweed, wizard's net, devil's guts, devil's hair, devil's ringlet, goldthread, hailweed, hairweed, hellbine, love vine, pull-down, strangleweed, angel hair, and witch's hair.
Tackstem Looks like Purple Chia, with a poppy nodding in. Desert Star Desert Five-Spot
Might be a Nevada Showy Goldeneye Desert Pincushion This plant didn't look like much til I got up close and really looked at the flowers...they look like SILK! It's a white burrobush, and has male and female flowers on the same bush.
Bigelow's Monkeyflower Hopsage Poppy And there were tiny little poppies, about two inches tall. Here's a bunch of them.
Then the students summoned me behind the rocks, where they had found a CHUCKWALLA! It's just to the left of the tree, by the big crack.

The last picture is just great rocks, looking back at the road.

Desert pincushion with a beetle Robbie the geologist Bird, maybe a raven? Lesser mojavea
Then we went through Jubilee Pass. There were three vehicles- Robbie driving the big van full of students, then Paula in her pickup truck, then me and Kelly in Boudika. The top of the pass is steep and windy and the rock walls close in, so you can't see ahead more than a few feet. I saw Paula slam on her brakes, so I did the same. At the VERY TOP OF THE PASS, just a tiny bit over the peak, was a car, stopped, with flashers on. There was absolutely no way to see ahead, and anyone coming too fast from behind would have rear-ended them. Robbie went over the double line and got past them, as did Paula. Kelly was driving my truck, so I said, go very slow past them and I'll put my window down and see if I can help...but after Paula and before we passed them, they just turned off their flashers and went. THEY WERE TAKING A PICTURE. Oh my god. AND they went REALLY REALLY SLOW for the next seven miles or so and we were trapped behind them, getting farther and farther behind the group, flashing my lights at them to pull over. Finally we came to a place where the other two vehicles had pulled over to let me catch up and the idiots in the car went ahead. Gaaaah!!!

So a bit later we came to Shoshone, one of those tiny desert towns (but full of mining and DV history.) Robbie unleashed everyone for an hour to find bathrooms, cold drinks and (best of all for me) the desert tortoises behind the general store.

But first: An ant nest!
These two lived in a huge pen behind the store, and were nomming on cabbage when we showed up. So kyoot!!!
The turtles' lizard cousin was hanging around, and the turtles had an old chimney in their pen. The signs were in back of the store, I don't know if they were an advertisement or a warning...
Aaaand...not much else in Shoshone. Pretty iceplant. Old farm equipment in back. And then I went to the front of the museum...and found this:
This is in front of the little museum in Shoshone. It was put together by a geologist named Bennie Troxel, who was also one of the two who mapped the Amargosa Chaos. Robbie said that after he retired he spent his winters in Shoshone, and this awesome rock display is one of the things he did there. Each piece is about three feet high; these are big rocks.
After we all gathered together again, we went about 8 miles outside Shoshone for our last stop, a road cut. The pic on the left is looking out from where we stopped. On the right you can see Robbie and the students gathered at the site.
There is a beautiful fault line, a thrust fault, running right through this outcrop; you can see it clearly in these three pictures.
The other cool thing here is a vitrophere layer; the black line in this outcrop is obsidian, but (Robbie) "the obsidian was apparently formed by reheating a layer of volcanic tuff. It is not the smooth obsidian flow that could be used to make arrowheads."
And here are three more shots of the rocks in this outcrop, just because they're so cool looking.
Cactus sculpture in Shoshone.

We got back to camp around 4:30, and hijinks ensue! Claire is threatening Dick with a gun-shaped appliance...maybe a fan? And the sunset was gorgeous.

After dinner I was confronted by a problem...what to do on Wednesday? The third van of students was going to Ash Meadows with Bob and Merav, and although that's an awesome day, it's a LOOOONG drive, and a lot of driving. Jim and Kelly were going off to Ibex Springs with Dan and Anne and Amos and Sherry, but I wanted to hike. I talked to Dick, who also loves to hike, and we decided to do something adventurous the next day...Ashford Mine.
So Dick and I piled into my truck, we talked to the rangers about the road up to the trailhead (fine for a high-clearance vehicle as far as they knew) and off we went. We stopped at the Ashford Mill site to look for the road, and finally figured out that it was the OTHER direction across the main road.
So this is the road, and the mountains ahead (the Black Mountains) are where the Ashford Mine was. The road was supposed to go three miles to the canyon, but that was all the guidebook said. We got to a place with a line of rocks blocking the road, and said, this must be where we get out. So I turned the truck around facing downhill (Dick's excellent suggestion) and we got our shoes and sunblock on, got our packs, and here's Dick, putting our location in his GPS so he could see how far we walked. Then...we saw what a bush and the side of the truck had blocked- the road CONTINUED for another 3/4 mile to the actual trailhead. Doh! We decided to just walk it; it was steep, but it was a beautiful day and we're hikers. So we did.
There's Dick, leaving me behind as usual. He's a good steady hiker, and fun to go adventuring with. HERE'S the actual trail. Blooming cactus! I'm happy.
A cool rock Lesser Mojavea Some kind of Lupine The first part of the trail was pretty steep...
Gravel Ghost, going to seed And Dick is still ahead of me, because I take a lot of pictures... Death Valley phacelia Part of an old asphalt road.
Taking a break at the top of the trail, before going into the canyon. The view is amazing. Dick took my picture, not bad even in black and white! And the third pic is the entrance to the canyon.
While we were taking a short break, another group, two couples, passed us and went on up the trail, and I'm glad they did! I saw them stop to look at was this cutie-pie! A collared lizard, about a foot long. He has the sweet face!
The day and the canyon were both beautiful. This hike had a LOT of scrambling up dry waterfalls, which becomes important in just a minute...
Selfie! and cool rocks.
So here's what happened: Just before we got to where I took the first pic of the four above, we passed a family (parents and two kids) coming down. How was it? we asked. There's nothing there but an old tram car, the dad said. I think it's in another canyon That's odd, I said, my guidebook said it was in this canyon...

So they went down, and we went on. At the end of the left picture, we ran into the two couples again, and they said the same thing. We were in a cul-de-sac, and the end was a big jumbled dry waterfall (second picture). Dick and I went up the other outlet, the third pic, but it obviously went nowhere. We came back and told them this and they went back down.

Then I climbed up to the old tram tracks (where one of the guys had already been) and looked ahead...the canyon continued if you could get up the dry fall that had stymied both sets of people, as you can see in the fourth pic, taken from there. I called down to Dick, and he grabbed my backpack and started up over the falls. I got down from where I was and followed, and found him waiting in the shade a couple of turns ahead...and the canyon did indeed continue, and so did we.

Flowers, and our first sign that we were in the right place...there's a wooden tower on top of the hill. For electric lines, I think...
Rocks Dry waterfall. Tree root and rocks And...the end of the canyon.
So the canyon ends. I'm looking at pretty rocks, and a blooming apricot mallow, and we're trying to figure out where to go. Over here, says Dick! There's a trail!
One more flower and I follow him. This is how steep the trail was, about fifteen switchbacks going straight up the hill... and this is looking down the switchbacks at where we were about fifteen minutes before... Teeny tiny phacelia!
An old piece of wood...maybe this is it?

And Dick gets to the top of the switchbacks, and we're here!

Ashford Mine was a gold mine on and off from 1910 to 1941; here's a good article about it. It was WAY fun to crawl all over the old buildings and stuff, as you will see.

The visitor's sign-in sheet was in the fridge, to save it from the critters and elements...!

This was either really cool or really omg, I can't decide which. It's the outhouse for the camp. A seat over a ravine...

Mine shaft.

Another mine shaft.

>Lesser Mojavea

Here we are!

And again.

Yes, I did most of the cooking on this trip...

And back we went, down the switchbacks, sliding down the dry waterfalls on our butts, and back down the road to Boudika.

Desert Five-Spot

Desert Dandelion

A good day and a most satisfying hike!

But what were Jim and Kelly doing while Dick and I discovered the gold mine?

They went down south to Ibex Spring and the mines nearby with Dan, Anne, Amos and Sherrie. The following pictures are theirs...looks like they had fun!

Apostrophe fault, dammit.
Its! Its! Its!!!

Beautiful blooming beavertail cactus
These might be Panamint Daisies, which are fairly rare. Desert Five-Spot Tackstem Desert Five-Spot
More Panamint Daisies Bigelow's Monkeyflower! Blooming cactus, maybe Mojave Prickly-Pear? Turtleback
Black beetle This is a Master Blister Beetle, and is about an inch and a half long!
Desert Iguana A field of Panamint Daisies The view from Ibex Spring Another view from Ibex Spring
Two shots of how the tents were roped to bushes and the poles that broke in the wind on Monday were fixed with duct tape and hiking poles. This will become important tomorrow...

And a fairly bad picture of Jim doing a presentation on the history of Rhyolite...

<foreshadowing>TOO BAD WE NEVER GOT THERE...</foreshadowing>

A bit after Jim's talk a couple of students got Bob the Biologist to come with them over to the elementary school buildings; I tagged along. ADORABLE little toad!
So now it's Thursday. All the students had alternated and done all three days, so Thursday was going to be different; all the students were going to go to the Furnace Creek Visitor's Center around 9, then to the Timbisha Shoshone Headquarters right near Furnace Creek at 10:30 to hear a talk about the tribe and its past and future. Then the three vans had three different but overlapping itineraries: Robbie's van was going to Mosaic Canyon then Salt Creek. Rod's van was going to the Mesquite Sand Dunes then Ubehebe Crater. And Bob's van was going to the Mesquite Sand Dunes then Salt Creek.

Jim and I opted to stay in the campground in the morning. I wanted a shower after everyone had gone (as did several of the repeaters!) and we were going to join Bob's van at Mesquite Dunes and go there and Salt Creek with the groups.

So they all left. The day was beautiful. I talked a bit with the grownups, then had a shower. Jim went somewhere with Dan, maybe Furnace Creek in search of the elusive Wifi signal (few and far between, believe me!). Stan said something about there being a high wind forecast for later that afternoon and that we would all put the tents down flat with rocks on them before leaving the campground.

So between 10 and 11, I was pretty much alone in the campground. Stan and Elizabeth were in the trailer making plans for next year's trip. Jim was coming back at 11 and we would leave, going to Stovepipe Wells before meeting Bob and his group at the sand dunes. I went around the camp and picked up anything loose that might blow away in the wind, tucking things into boxes or tents nearby. I went in and let Stan know that I had done that, but not the tents, and he said thanks, no worries.

So off we went.

Here's Rosalba, before all the repeaters wandered off, telling me, Grant and Windy about the rocks she found.
And here is the lovely campsite, just before I left.

And you can see what a beautiful day it is, just a few clouds in the far north...

So Jim and I left at 11, and drove to Stovepipe Wells. We got ice and gas and got to the Mesquite Sand Dunes about 11:40; Bob had said that his group would be there between 11:30 and 12:30. So we pulled into the parking lot and waited.
And then the sand storm hit...
So we got gas and ice, filled the ice chest, got to the parking lot...and these six pictures happened in no more than 20 minutes. All of a sudden it was the mother of all sand and dust and wind storms.
We waited til 12:15 or so for Bob's van, decided that he wasn't coming in the sandstorm, pulled out of the parking lot, he passed us going in, we turned around in the howling wind and pulled in beside him. I ran over to the van and we yelled through the window. He was staying and taking the students out on the dunes, to see the storm. We decided to go back to the campground, since after the tents had collapsed once already, we were sure there was going to be a lot of work to do there. Kelly came with us instead of staying with Bob's group, and we headed back.

The next eight pics were taken through the truck windows on the way back.

And of course it was total chaos. Kelly got a great shot of the 6 person tent bending like a pretzel in the wind; we spent the next two hours running around, taking off rain flies so the wind could blow through, then when that wasn't enough, taking out tent poles and flattening the tents and putting rocks on them to keep them from blowing away. Three or four tents behind the trailer were okay, and the three that had been tied to the bushes (told you it was important) were fine, but the rest of the tents came down.
For those two hours, there were six of us- me, Jim, Kelly, Dan, Anne, and Amos- running around trying to keep it all together. We'd work like crazy, then the wind would die down for a bit and we'd sit at the picnic table by the trailer, where the wind and dust wasn't quite so bad.

In the first pic, Dan and Amos are taking a well-earned break.

In the second, Dan, Anne and Windy's brother are mugging, but everyone really did wear bandanas, the dust was AWFUL. My eyes were bright red all afternoon and evening.

During one of our breaks, the wind died down and I saw the sun come out and a flash of blue sky; I walked out from under the metal roof to the driveway, and looked up...we were in the middle of a perfect circle of clear blue sky and sunshine, with gray all around us...and ten minutes later, the sandstorm was back, blowing from the other direction. The biggest dust devil ever, right on top of us...
When the vans got back, the people in charge had a discussion, and decided to break camp, sleep where we could that night, and leave a day early, the next morning. So here everyone is breaking down all the tents and putting them away. All the bags and suitcases got stacked in the yard, since they were heavy enough not to blow away. We made dinner in shifts on the stove in the trailer, which took four hours for nine cook groups...and got exciting when the campground lost power and we were using the gas stove by lantern light!

The students slept on the walkways of the elementary school in the hopes that the buildings would give them some kind of windbreak (they didn't.) Nine students got to sleep on the seats of the van. The instructors all slept in the trailer. And me? I was in my lovely camper shell in Boudika's soft embrace. No wind, no sand, no dust. God, it was lovely. I went to bed at 8 pm just to get out of the awful blowing sand.

We heard a lot of things while all this was going on; some people still had data connections, and one of the vans had actually been at Ubehebe Crater when this hit. The wind gauge at Ubehebe Crater measured 83 mph winds (they were 50-60 in our campground). The rangers closed the whole north road for fear of vehicles being blown over or off the road. Although we were supposed to leave the next morning, nobody knew if the roads would be passable, or if the storm would be over. There were a lot of reports about the 395 but nothing about Death Valley, so we all had dinner and went to bed.
This was the evening and sunset that night.
The next morning, everyone was up around 6:30 and we broke camp. It was still very windy and there was a lot of dust and grit in the air. Jim, Kelly and I went to Furnace Creek- the market has free hot water, and some breakfast stuff, plus if you buy anything they let you use their microwave. So we all had breakfast, and at 8 we went to talk to the rangers about getting out of the valley. The way we usually go, over Towne Pass and Father Crowley point to Olancha, is steep and winding, and Jim was worried about other drivers being blown into our lane on blind curves. When we got to the Visitor's Center, as it opened, I went in and talked to one of the rangers. What's the road like? I said. He looked at me and said, our microwave tower is down, we have no internet access, and the phones are down. The wind even broke the flagpole in Furnace Creek Campground in half. So you have absolutely no idea? I said. Nope, he said, not a clue. So we went to Stovepipe Wells and got gas, and we left it up to Jim decide, since he was driving- faster and more direct or safer and slower, through the small desert towns.
Packing to leave, sunrise on the mountains, and two shots of the continuing dust storm in the sand dunes.
Jim decided to go out the direct route; once we got past Towne Pass, there was less dust in the air, and the road past Panamint Springs and the Father Crowley overlook wasn't bad. The only big camper we saw that was coming in passed us on a straightaway, which was nice.
Then we started on the 15 mile straight road west to Olancha, and the wind and dust were everwhere. The first picture Kelly took through the windshield; the second is on the 395 driving south from Olancha, and the mountains you can barely see are the SIERRA NEVADA. They are almost completely hidden by the dust.
We left the dust behind when we turned onto the 178, thank goodness, and we stopped in Walker Pass to take pictures of the beautiful blooming Joshua trees.
Then we came to a section of Joshua Trees that had burned, and they were so cool we had to stop again and take pictures of them...
Cottage Grove Cemetery is in Onyx, CA, on the Lake Isabella road, about halfway along from the 14 to Bakersfield. Every time I pass it, I say, I want to go see that cemetery! because I love old cemeteries...but I never managed to do it; either the weather was bad or (being in the middle of a nine hour drive) nobody wanted to stop. But this time we did! We said we'd take half an hour to look around, and truthfully, it's not that big. But it is interesting! On the left is the entrance; on the right is the destroyed message board, which actually looks very cool and cemetery-ish.

Why are there coins on this grave?

Great marker!

The two left pics are the oldest markers in this cemetery. The right hand stone has my favorite epitaph: The fragrance of her life is with us always. Could be good...or...not.
And we left Cottage Grove...and drove home. It was a wild trip, but I have to say, even with Thursday being so crazy, it was really really fun. Can't wait for next year! Who's coming along?