I love good place names, and Furnace Creek, California is well named; it was almost 100 degrees when we arrived, we were feeling baked; it could have been named Oven Creek.
According to the map, we had a 60 mile day with a moderate climb to 2,000 feet elevation. In truth, the road rose to over 3,000 feet. Even though we were on the road early, we started the day with a headwind. It only turned to a tailwind after we had reached the steepest part of the climb and the hottest part of the day; the sweat poured. At the summit, we coasted down into Death Valley until well past the sea level sign. It was so hot that I was sure I could smell the rocks breaking down; vague metallic scents mixing with the few creosote bushes and dust.
We couldn’t manage to eat solid food, so we decided on a half-gallon of black walnut ice cream. Excellent choice. Digests nicely and calcium leads to sound sleep. As we sat cross legged in front of the store, the carton between us, people did double-takes and we heard several comments about our impressive ice cream eating skills. We practice.
March 21st. Spring. Daylight managed to get us up by around 5:30 and we were on the road by 6:15, this time lightly loaded for a day ride to a place called Artist’s Palette in Death Valley. A ranger told us the grade was 17 percent, and he was right. Good thing we weren’t loaded, it was a granny-grunt all the way.
The views from the top were worth the effort and we ate our snack looking across the lowest point of elevation in the U.S., almost 300 feet below sea level, and at Telescope Peak, an 11,000 foot peak not many miles to the west with lots of snow on the top. Strange place, beautiful place.
The rocks and soil display quite an array of mineral colors sculpted by four inches of rain a year; from the looks of the erosion patterns, it all comes in one hour. I don’t mean to give the impression that everything is dry and barren of vegetation; much of the valley floor is green with salt cedar trees and (introduced) date palms. The effect is quite verdant, the green all the more attractive when dwarfed by the pink, buff and dark brown of the mountains and alluvial fans.
The salt cedar, or tamarisk, has become one of my favorite trees. It’s fragrant and pliable needles are a soft seafoam green; the multiple trunks radiate from a common root system and shade a broad area of desert, coating the sand with needles making an ideal environment for a low tent; we pitched ours under one in Death Valley, and though temperatures neared 100 both days, our things stayed cool. But, I shouldn’t like the tamarisk, since it is introduced and is out competing many native species. Does have nice shade though.
Claire really wanted to come here, but the aforementioned days of headwinds, hills and heat, had dimmed my enthusiasm. But I have been won over, it has been well worth it, despite the news that high winds are forecast for tomorrow as we climb out of this big hole in the earth.