It is a fascinating, wet and cold place. At times.
I can pinpoint the start of my love affair with Death Valley to a USA trip I took with my then-boyfriend Ulli in May 1997, when I was still living in Germany. We just had enough time to drive through, but I wanted more of this. Germans are fascinated with this place, mostly I believe because there is nothing like it in Germany: the scale, the stark nature, the heat. I should mention it rained; a thunderstorm was letting loose just above the sand dunes.
The week before Christmas 2008, I came back, solo, parked myself on Texas Spring Campground, and explored/hiked the more popular areas around Furnace Creek. My original plan to to a few 2-3 backpack excursions was thwarted by a cold spell and three rainy days with snow down to 2000 feet (Scotty’s Castle had snow). You call that place a desert?! The week ended with the ghost of Scotty thwarting my hike to his mine, and 2 1/2 weeks spend on crutches.
An aborted attempt to Telescope Peak followed Thanksgiving 2009.
Now I am ready for it again. I packed my rain gear, ice axe and crampons (just in case I’ll attempt Telescope again). The truck is getting loaded with snow chains, shovel, tire repair kit, plenty of water, and food. I spent all day yesterday reading through the second volume of Michel Digonnet’s “Hiking Death Valley” books. I highly recommend them, even if you never plan to hike there, just for the sheer pleasure of reading good guidebook literature.
Here is the plan: my friend and I will drive to Mammoth Lakes and then to Big Pine in Owens Valley to come into Death Valley from the North. The first stop will be in Eureka Valley, elevation around 3000 feet, at the bottom of the Eureka Dunes. These dunes, in addition to being about 650 feet (200 m) high, have another unusual characteristic: they make a booming sound when sand avalanches are triggered.
The second day, we will make an excursion south toward Saline Valley to climb Dry Mountain (Class 2). The next day should see us back north again, crossing the Last Chance Range. We plan to visit the mining site and ghost town of Crater. Mercury was mined there, but it was also one of the biggest sulphur mines in the United States. The area is not officially part of the National Park, because it was decided the unusual amount of high-quality sulphur should be kept available for future mining operations. I also hope to climb Last Chance mountain.
Two days are going to be spend in Death Valley proper, at the Mesquite campground. Time to fuel up, tour Scotty’s Castle, hike into Ubehebe Crater, and explore Bighorn Gorge. Tin Mountain, highest point of the Cottonwood Range, is another peak-bagging destination. This should see us on the Racetrack Road.
Teakettle Junction and the Racetrack! I don’t expect to solve the mystery of the moving rocks, but I think it is just fabulous there are still seemingly trivial mysteries of nature which nobody has been able to solve. And the rocks keep sliding about when nobody is looking.
From here things become fuzzy. Maybe we still have time, maybe not. Maybe we will explore the petroglyphs in Marble Canyon. Dolomite Canyon, Lemoigne Canyon, and Panamint Bute are also options. Or maybe we never made it there, but I finally got to climb up to that hanging Valley in the Armagosa Range just south of Scotty’s Castle which has long attracted my curiosity?