Saturday, March 29, 2008

Death Valley Flora

Where in the World are Keith and Kathy?

When most people hear the name “ Death Valley”, it conjures up visions of a dry, barren area of desolation. In the spring, Death Valley is anything but barren. The three days we spent in Death Valley were full of beautiful scenery as Keith expounded upon in the previous email. While Kathy also was entranced with the marbleized and colorful mountains, there were other sights that she liked just as well.

The desert blooms for a very short time each spring, and we were fortunate enough to be in Death Valley during this time. Colorful flowers painted the desert and gave it a very different look than Kathy remembered from our winter visit 7 years ago. A plethora of flora snaps are included at the end of this post. Kathy bought two books and put many hours hard work into identifying these flowers, and learning the software to polish the photos, so please be impressed.

In Death Valley there are several campgrounds. We stayed at the Sunset Campground. It was a bit rustic ( no water or electric ) but the scenery more than compensated for the boondocking. A photo of our campsite was included in the last post.

If you are not a camper there are two other types of accommodations available in the Valley. One is the Furnace Creek Inn and the other the Furnace Creek Ranch which are both located midway into the Valley. The Inn is high end rustic (complete with $50 lunch), while the ranch is more mid-range rustic.

High Rent District

Intermediate Cost Accomodations

Later this morning we leave for Lone Pine, up the long grade over the Panamints where Keith overheated in 1965. Wish us Luck.

Displayed below are pictures of various flowers, photographed, selected, enhanced, identified, and labeled by Kathleen:

Friday, March 28, 2008

Death Valley Geology

Where in the World are Keith and Kathy?

We apologize in advance for the length of this post. It was so difficult to select less than two dozen pix which would fairly represent the diversity of breathtaking scenes, without overkill. We hope our selections please.

In a previous post, we touched briefly on the subject of basin and range geology. This post is about Death Valley, which is the quintessential example of basin and range. Death valley is a large basin, about 150 miles long and ranging from 10 to 60 miles wide. It is bordered on the east by the Grapevine, Funeral, and Amargosa mountain ranges, and on the west by the Panamint Mountains.
Descending into the valley from Pahrump, the road passes Zabriskie point, which offers an overview of the valley.

Death Valley and the Panamint Range, Viewed from Zabriskie Point

Eroded Rock Formations

Adventurous Hiker With Chinese Walking Stick

Roadside Unconformity

Into the Valley

And now for a bit of geology. Imagine stretching pizza dough, which has been stretched, hardened, and craze cracked. As the hardened dough stretches, the fragments move apart and tilt, leaving valleys of dough with ridges of tilted blocks. Through most of Nevada, this “dough” mix is uplifted, so that the valleys are several thousand feet above sea level. In eastern California, the stretching has reached it’s extreme, and the valleys are much lower. In fact, the lowest point in the western hemisphere, almost 300 ft. below sea level, is at a site named Badwater, at the western edge of the Amargosa range in Death Valley. Telescope peak, 11, 049 ft., is about 20 miles west of this salt-saturated low point. The juxtaposition of these two geographic extremes provides an impressive vista.

The Road to Badwater

Badwater Basin - 282 Feet Below Sea Level

Telescope Peak Looms Over Badwater

Pointing Up To Sea Level

Signpost Seen in Above Photo

But Death Valley is not just about geographic extremes. Another Death Valley extreme is very low rainfall. With such little water, vegetation is sparse, and all the geologic features stand starkly in the brilliant southwestern sunshine. The severely eroded, marbled mountainsides exhibit a splendid palate of browns and blacks, blended in places with greens and yellows to form a true artist’s palate, as viewed along Artist’s Drive.

Artist's Palate

The sere desert in Death Valley is punctuated with the occasional oasis, such as at Furnace Creek and Scotty’s Castle. The castle was built by a 19th century prospector and entrepreneur named Scotty.

Scotty's Castle

Furnace Creek is the focus of early 20th century borax mining activity. It also is the site of the Furnace Creek Inn, where we enjoyed lunch. Good food (3-1/2 COWS), but pricey. Lunch for two $50, with wine. Sunset Campground is also located at Furnace Creek.

Twenty Mule Team Wagon Display

Sunset Campground

Sunset at Sunset Campground

Near Scotty’s Castle is perhaps the most impressive feature of the area, Ubehebe Crater. Ubehebe is a volcanic crater formed about 2000 years ago by the explosion of water superheated to steam by underground magma. The colorful steep sided crater is about 500 ft. deep, and is surrounded by miles of cinder piles.

Uhehebe Crater Rim

Uhehebe Crater

Volcanic Ash Spewed From Uhehebe Crater

Parental Supervision Required

Another characteristic of Death Valley is the extreme heat, reaching highs in the range of 110 to 120 degrees or more in the summer. Keith thought the temperatures would be more moderate in March, but the thermometer hit 98 degrees the afternoon we arrived. We started the generator and cooled off in the air conditioned comfort of our motor coach, but with gas at $4.45/gallon at the nearby Furnace Creek filling station, Keith couldn’t help thinking about the cost of the gasoline to run the generator.

Sticker Shock

Keith can still recall crossing Death Valley in July, 1965, in his father’s borrowed 1959 Chevy with 4-60 air conditioning (that’s 4 windows down rolling at 60 mph.). As he climbed out of the valley westbound over the Panamints, the motor started to overheat. To keep it from boiling over, Keith turned on the heater full blast to reject more heat from the cooling system. He made it over the pass, but the right seat passenger boiled over at the summit.
For our next trick, we will haul our 9+ tons of motor coach and car up this same grade. With temperatures only in the low nineties, we hope we make it without boiling over, and without the need to turn on the heater!
Wish us luck…

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Boulder City and Pahrump, NV

Where in the World are Keith and Kathy?

We arrived in Boulder City, Nevada on Thursday, March 13th . We camped at the local Elks Club, where they have a full service campground (electric, water, and sewer hookups) for a nominal fee of $15/night. Our first 5 days were spent recuperating from a nasty grippe that debilitated first Keith, and then Kathy.

Boulder City Elks Club

Boulder City is a very picturesque town of about 15,000 people. It was created as a Government town in the early thirties, to house construction workers from the nearby Boulder (Hoover) Dam. All sin was strictly prohibited, so on Friday nights the men drove the 30-odd miles to Las Vegas for their entertainment. As a consequence the Boulder Highway became know as the “widowmaker”.

While Boulder City was released from Federal control in the sixties, it remains an oasis from the sin that surrounds it. Casinos and bars are outlawed, although beer and wine may be purchased with a meal. Shopping and eating opportunities abound.

After recovering from the grippe, the majority of our time in Boulder City was spent taking care of tax preparation and other household business, and in exploring the gastronomic opportunities.

Kathy particularly enjoyed (while Keith tolerated) the somewhat pricey Boulder Bistro (food 3 COWS, Chardonnay 4). The Bistro is an upscale outdoor patio restaurant on Main Street in Boulder City. The menu is light and very different. Kathy had Cowboy salad while Keith had the Black and Blue sandwich. Another restaurant we particularly enjoyed was the Southwestern Diner. The tortilla soup there rated 4COWS.

We left Boulder and headed for Pahrump, Nevada on Monday, March 24. Pahrump is located about 60 miles west of Las Vegas.

Budding Joshua Tree Seen on the Road To Pahrump

Verizon Tree Seen on the Road to Pahrump

This is the Place

The last time we were in Pahrump was 8 years ago. At that time there was very little there except for 1 casino, a massage parlor and a huge billboard advertising a “Brothel Museum”. Well things have changed. There are now 4 casinos, numerous restaurants and many stores including a Super Walmart. They are even building a Home Depot!

Disclaimer: All and sundry please be advised that the all of the titillating photos in this post were taken and by Kathy, and represent her interests, not Keith’s.

Pahrump Gentlemans Club

In Pahrump we stayed at the “Pair-A-Dice” SKP Campground. It is one of the nicest campgrounds in the Escapee system of Co-Op Parks. The sites were large and well-kept, the people friendly and Keith and I decided it was a place we might like to winter in the future. There are now 159 people waiting to purchase a membership in this park. We put our name on the list and paid our deposit. We are now #160 on the list. The projected wait time is 6 years, which still gives us plenty of time to explore other winter destinations. In the meantime, Keith knows that his $1000 deposit will be well looked after. In the meantime, we are working hard to accomodate the extremely high gas prices ($3.89/gal). We shudder to think what it will be like in California, land of the designer gasoline.

Keith is Smiling In Spite of the Extreme Price of Gasoline

Billboard Seen in Background of Above Photo

Our next destination after Pahrump is eastern California, including Death Valley and the Owens Valley. We expect to arrive in Reno before 12 April, when Kathy flies east for a visit with her grandchildren. Stay tuned…

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Las Vegas Space Aliens Tour

Where in the World are Keith and Kathy?

As those of you who know us will recall, Kathy is fascinated with weird stuff like prophecy and space aliens, all as promoted on the Art Bell nighttime radio program. Please don’t write back to tell us that Art is no longer on the air, and that the show is now hosted by George Noory. We know this, but will forever think of this genre as Art Bell.

Those of you who follow our blog saw a bit of this fascination when we visited the Space Aliens Museum in Roswell, New Mexico. “Area 51”is another venue of interest to those who follow news from the remoter regions of the galaxy. Supposedly located in the vicinity of Groom Lake, within the vast boundaries of the Nellis Air Force Range Nevada Test Site, Area 51 is the supposed crash site of a supposed alien space ship. Overuse of the word “supposed” in the previous sentence emphasizes the very highly speculative nature of this fantasy world. One still hears TV “documentaries” which claim that we are in the process of reverse engineering the propulsion system from these alien spaceships.

Groom Lake and the Nevada Test Range are by no means a fantasy. It is speculated that the Air Force uses this very remote ground to test fly super secret developmental aircraft. What aircraft, you may ask? If I told you, I would have to shoot you. Seriously, this is thought to be the location where then-secret planes such as the SR 71 hypersonic spy plane, and the more recent stealth fighters and bombers, were test flown befor their coming out.

Needless to say, the Air Force takes a very, very dim view of sightseers. Used to be, fanatics (and Solviet spies, probably) would observe operations at Groom Lake from the mountain ridges 30 or 40 miles away. One day the Air Force woke up to this practice, and extended their security perimeter beyond the ridges. Trespassing is strongly discouraged, and the use of deadly force is authorized.

To appeal to the continuing alien fascination, an enterprising couple has named their roadside café in Rachel, NV, on the north side of the ridges, “LITTLE A’LE’INN”. This stretch of Nevada Rt. 375 is designated the “Extraterrestrial Highway”.

Nevada Route 375

On Wed., March 19th we drove the Subaru 180 miles north from Boulder City, where we are camped at the Elks Club, to visit this café. The ride north through the basins and across the ranges was very scenic and enjoyable. Some scnes from this drive are included below.

Great Basin Highway (AKA US 93)

Beautiful Rock Strata

Bear Grass

Valley Oasis

Open Range

Roadkill Cafe

Roadside Sculpture

To those of you from the east, 180 miles may seem like a long way to drive for a day tip, but with the cruise control set at the 75 mph speed limit, it is only about three hours, including gas stops. In this country, one does not neglect the gas gauge. At the junction of Rt. 93 and 375 is a sign which reads “no gas for next 160 miles”. The destination was actually less tacky than Keith expected, and the proprietress seemed very nice. We dropped $35 on souvenirs and one Bloody Mary.

This is Where it Happens

Home is Where You Park It

Space Alien Tourist

The ride back was less enjoyable for several reasons, including more traffic, driving into the sun, and encroachment on Keith’s nap time. Nonetheless, we arrived safely back in Boulder in time for a late lunch at the local Italian joint. Decent spaghetti and lasagna (3 COW’s).

Boulder City Elks Club