Whirlwind trip to Death Valley

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Here's How It All Happened...

First I talked to Jo Nell and Kathy about a girls' weekend in Vegas. They were both excited, and Jo Nell said, we have this timeshare we never use, let's get that for a week. We figured out a good weekend and she got it, and I put the word out: free elegant lodgings in a really great part of Vegas (the Jockey Club, right by the Bellagio, on the strip) and FREE. And...NOBODY ELSE CAME.

Which surprised me, I mean, free hotel and all..but whatever. We were good with it just being the three of us. The room was booked for Wednesday to Wednesday, but we were just staying a long weekend. So it turned out that Kathy and I were going to drive down and spend the night in Barstow on the way, and Jo Nell would drive in from Riverside the next morning, and we'd meet on Friday in Vegas.

Then I said to Kathy, you know how every time I put together my family trip to Death Valley you say you want to come but you aren't really sure if you can hike or handle the heat, and you don't think your family would like it? What if, after we leave Vegas, we go to Beatty, stay two nights in the Atomic Inn there, and spend the day in between in DV, seeing the famous/touristy stuff but driving in the air-conditioned car and not hiking, just looking? She thought that would be a great introduction to the place (although she had been there when she was a teenager, she hadn't been since) and we set it up.

So here's how it went, and (of course) much fun was had!

A Word About Cameras

I brought my camera, but didn't take many pictures til we got to Death Valley; I had damaged my camera on the March Death Valley trip, had it repaired and was giving it a test run on this trip. So I took some pictures here and there, but I didn't pull my faithful Lumix out reliably until we got to Death Valley. All the other pictures were taken by Kathy, either on her fancy camera, or her iPhone. My pictures are named dv and a number; hers have a k at the end to tell them apart.

Calico Ghost Town
This is the road to Barstow. Flat and empty. We stayed in the Motel 6 there, and in talking to the woman behind the counter, found out that they are in the process of renovating (like many Motel 6's have been.) But, she said, they did some rooms, got flat-screen tvs in them, and on the very day they became available, locals checked in and three of the tvs were stolen the next morning... Barstow. Gotta love it.

We called Jo Nell that night and she swore up and down she'd be out of Riverside at 9 am on the nose. We had about a 2 1/2 hour drive to Vegas, so we said we'd find something to amuse ourselves with and get there around 1 as well. We were going to go to a grocery store and pick up provisions, so we didn't want to be too early.

As we drove out of Barstow at 9:30 am, we saw an offramp that said Calico. That's Calico Ghost Town! I said to Kathy. Let's go there for a bit, it's cheesy fun. We can spend an hour. And we did!

Calico was a real mining town, founded in 1881 during a huge silver strike; silver lost its value in the mid 1890s and most people left. Walter Knott (of Knott's Berry Farm) bought the whole property in the early 1950s and turned it into a touristy recreation of a 'Wild West' town; this place is very much what I remember the old Knott's Berry Farm being like when I was a kid.

We started in the cemetery, which is a real cemetery, not a touristy fake, and was actually pretty cool.

Then we went up the road to Calico itself, about two city blocks of wide dirt road with buildings on each side. Kathy is taking a picture of some of the ruins.
The thick boards are warping from the heat. The adorable train that I took a ride on. An EIGHT MINUTE train ride. But there was some interesting history about the actual mining town. One of the old buildings. I love bottle houses!
This is the oldest building at Calico, it's the mercantile store, from the 1880s.

Red Rock National Conservation Area
Red Rock National Conservation Area is about thirty minutes outside Vegas. It's run by the BLM, and is, as we found out, PACKED with people on weekends. Even cold rainy foggy days, as it turned out to be. Notice the penultimate picture, which Kathy took, of the temperature readout on her dash. That's FORTY SIX DEGREES outside, and it started to rain, and we stopped getting out and just looked at the pretty through the windows...

The Neon Museum
The Neon Museum in Vegas is saving and renovating neon signs from the old days (within my living memory, but I am sooo ooold...) They have the 'Boneyard', where they have the signs stacked pretty well, so that you can see most of them, and they do an hour tour, which I have taken. But they also do a night tour, which I had not taken, and it was great! These are Kathy's pictures of it. They renovate three or four signs a year, whatever they can get the money for. The Yucca Motel sign is next, that'll be very cool. One of the problems is that neon is still hand-blown, so any sign that gets renovated takes not only money but a lot of time. They said the duck (which is their mascot) will be last, because it will be the most expensive thing on the lot to fix.

Out On The Town
And then there was Vegas itself. We were staying at the Jockey Club, right by the Bellagio, so we were right on one of the happenin' parts of the Strip. We did a lot of stuff, but the following pictures are from the last night, when Kathy and I went out to see Caesar's Palace and got up to mischief...
A Tiffany lamp streetlight! Slot machines No, we never made it to the Beer Park, but we wanted to... Me in front of the Bellagio fountains. I was glad the next show WASN'T the damn Theme for the Common Man that always seems to be the one playing whenever I show up here...
OH MY GOD GIANT HEAD CHAIRS. I loved them. And the columns were benches with outlets for charging stuff. Wow!!

The Hat Story

So we went through Caesar's Palace to the Forum shops because I wanted Kathy to see the sky that changes from dawn to dusk every 40 minutes or so. And we shopped and ended up at the far end, where there are cheesy audioanamatronic statues that do a "Fall of Atlantis" show, which we had just missed and which would start again in 45 minutes. And while we were buying postcards and chatting with the cashier, he said that if we got drinks at Fat Tuesday's we could sit at the tables in front of their store and watch the show from there. We thought any plan that included drinks and sitting was a good idea, so I got a table and Kathy went in to get drinks (the front of the store was an open archway, so you could see in and out.) As I waited, a young guy and his female companion came by, carrying balloon hats. His was big and cool. You should be wearing that, I said, it's cool. Nah, he said, I've been wearing it for two hours and it's giving me a headache. And he started STUFFING IT IN THE TRASH CAN.

STOP! I said, can I have it? Sure, he said, and handed it to me. And I wore it the whole evening. Everywhere we went. Down the strip, in the food court at the Flamingo, and gambling at the Cosmopolitan. It was GREAT!!

Meanwhile, Kathy had fallen into conversation with a very drunk (and, as K said later, VERY well endowed) young woman who was there with her brother (she said) and she was drinking jello shots. A lot of them. And she extolled them to K, and on hearing that K had never had one (I hadn't either) she bought K one. The first picture is K trying it, the second is her reaction, which was mine too. It tasted like silly putty smells. Ew. The third picture is Kathy with her jello shot buddy. The fourth is one of the guys who works at the bar who kept photobombing us and we dragged him in for a picture. We had so much fun!
A bit of the Fall of Atlantis show. As we walked around where the show was to go back, Kathy found the other balloon hat on top of a trash can and she wore it. We were stylin'! The spiral elevators. Love these things. Silly hat and best chairs ever.

We left Las Vegas on a Tuesday morning and stopped in Pahrump to have lunch with a friend, then got to Death Valley around 3 pm. Since it was later in the afternoon, I thought we'd just do Dante's View and Zabriskie Point, then go on to our motel in Beatty, leaving a lot of stuff to do the next day. One of our goals was to get a picture of the two of us at every single place we went...let's see how we did!
Dante's View is 5400 feet in elevation, and you can look down to the valley, which is below sea level. So it's a heck of a view! We were in sundresses, and it was cold there, so jackets were a necessity. But it was beautiful!
Yellow Tackstem, Wishbone Bush, Desert Pincushion, Desert Gold Poppy.

We drove down a couple of miles at a time and got out to look for flowers, on the way back to the main road.

The road to Dante's View. Very steep and windy, but cool. Yellow Throats aka Fremont Phacelia Purple Chia Cholla
Kathy in the wide open spaces

Desert Sunflower

So we got out of the car and I walked about 10 feet over to a creosote bush, hoping to find a creosote gall to show Kathy...instead I found the front half of a horny toad (which is, of course, actually a lizard) on a branch where some bird had left him for later. What are the odds that we would park right there? but he was WAY cool.
Kathy taking a picture of creosote Notch-leaf Phacelia Desert pincushion with a beetle Very cool bush
Desert Holly

I think these two pictures are some kind of milkweed, but I can't figure it out...

Then we drove to Zabriskie Point, which was beautiful, even on a cloudy day.
And here is the picture of us at Zabriskie Point. As you can see, it's MUCH warmer here...although nothing like how hot it's going to get...

After this, we drove towards our motel in Beatty NV.

We drove through Hell's Gate toward Daylight Pass...and came to a screeching halt here (well, we pulled over, at least!) The WHOLE VALLEY is full of Prince's Plume! I had hardly even seen it before, maybe one stalk on one plant...and here were huge plants and a whole valley full of it. It was GORGEOUS.
More Prince's Plume Indigo Bush Gravel Ghost Prince's Plume
This is all Desert Trumpet, and I have never seen it blooming. The flowers are tiny but beautiful
One last Prince's Plume, Desert Paintbrush, I think this is Desert Daisy, with a lovely black and red beetle...and we're on our way again.
The road to Beatty is really pretty. We checked into the motel and unpacked and went looking for dinner.
It was my night to choose dinner, so I picked KC's Outpost, of course. AMAZING French bread crust pizza. And the sunset was beautiful.
I learned from Jo Nell last year in Arizona that these are Mexican Bird of Paradise flowers. They were growing near the motel, and they were lovely.
The Atomic Inn is a fun retro-style motel that's been there forever; we discovered it in 2016 when we were looking for a place to stay that wasn't horribly expensive, and a friend recommended this motel. The rooms all have cool art; we had a couple of different pictures of Jane Fonda as Barbarella. The washcloths were folded into scary birds, and there were little glowing globes in the parking lot. Whee!
We were on the way to Death Valley for our whirlwind tour when Kathy said, Burros! and there they were, several ADORABLE wild burros.
First we went up the Grapevine Road to Ubehebe Crater. As you can see, it's clear and sunny...and it's going to get hot!

On the way back down, we stopped to look for flowers; not only is the Crater at a higher elevation than much of the rest of the park, but the soil has all the volcanic nutrients, so it's a good place to look. And we were not disappointed!

Many of the plants that grow here are very small. The first two pictures, the pink ones, are about an inch high, and are Bigelow's Monkeyflower. Desert Sunflower. tiny Desert Star
Purple Mat, and a good view of our gallant car (Kathy's Prius) and the number and size of flowers we were looking at.
And we were about to go when Kathy said, look there, at that insect...and OH MY GOD the CUTEST ONE EVER. This is a Master Blister Beetle, and is about two inches long. I'd seen regular blister beetles a year ago, which are about an inch long and were all over a flowering bush in which they were mating...but I had never seen one of these bad boys before. What a cute little face! However, I'm told their name comes from what happens if you pick one up and they secrete their fluids on you... Still cute. His little face!!! He was having a wonderful time wandering around in the Purple Mat plants and eating a bit here and a bit there.
I climbed up a slope, and there were taller plants in the wash. Desert Sunflowers, Bristly Gilia, Gravel Ghost
Popcorn Flower This was SO HARD to find! It's a Woody Bottle Washer. Hairy Sunflower Desert Star
Caterpillar on a leaf Kathy at the info boards at Grapevine The road to Titus Canyon
Titus Canyon narrows, and three shots of a Desert Rocknettle. There are a LOT of insects in the flower, I assume eating the seeds...pretty interesting!
A bee or wasp in the pretty sunflower Kathy in Titus Canyon Lizard! What a cutie!
Beautiful rocks and canyon, and a notch-leaf phacelia. The canyon is the end of a one-way 26 mile drive; the three miles between the parking lot at the end of the narrows (where we came in) and the main road are two way, so people can drive up and park and hike in. Otherwise, you are committed to the whole thing once you start, ending up here. Either way, it's gorgeous.
We've turned back, but remember to take our selfie (actually, I think someone took it for us.) The canyon is still beautiful.
One last shot of rocks in Titus Canyon. Lunch and a cold drink at Stovepipe Wells! Mosaic Canyon is next... and of course: Josie Looking Sexy On Rocks!
Mosaic Canyon and another insect-filled rocknettle.

Then we went to the Mesquite Sand Dunes. It was about 1 pm at this point, and about 100 degrees. It was HOT. And you know me, I'm mostly impervious to heat...but Kathy isn't.

So I'm running around the sand dunes, taking pictures of trees and rocks and the LOVELY Desert Iguanas that were under the creosote bushes...and I caught up with Kathy, and she did NOT look good. I don't feel so good, she said. Uh oh, I said, and we went back to the car, I gave her a big bottle of water to drink, we turned the A/C on full blast and she had the good sense to soak a towel in ice water and cool off with that...by the time we got to our next stop, she was feeling better. Oblivious Girl felt bad about being oblivious, but Kathy rallied very well!
Here we are at Badwater, the lowest place in the continental US. You can see the SEA LEVEL sign, WAAAAY up on the rocks across the road. And we finally figured out that the sign with the faucets actually means, NO DRONES.
Artists Palette, a beautiful colored rock formation.
Mushroom Rock and the Furnace Creek Visitor's Center. Note the temperature, it's about 4 pm now. Kathy's cold towel has become her BFF.

The 'do not feed the ravens' sign is from the Furnace Creek market.

And we are on our way back to Beatty, but we stop for this beautiful Apricot Mallow.
We stopped in Rhyolite for the Goldwell Open-air Art Museum. Here's a raven, posing on one of the artworks.
Selfie on the tiled couch!

And a view from Towne Pass over Panamint Valley as we left the next morning.

On the way home by Lake Isabella, the Kern River was running high and wild!

It was a fast trip to Death Valley, but a lot of fun with Kathy.