Twenty Mule Team Canyon and Dante’s View

Furnace Creek, CA

On our final day in Death Valley we decided to take it easy and just visit a couple of places in the Jeep.  We first went south on Rte. 190 to drive a scenic loop road through Twenty Mule Team Canyon.  The loop is just a couple of miles long on a one-way dirt road that is smooth enough for any vehicle.

Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road


The loop road showcased some of the multi-colored rock outcroppings and mountains.

Next we continued south on Rte. 190 to the road to Dante’s View.  The road to Dante’s View is paved and thirteen miles long.  At the parking area there is a great view of Death Valley over 5,600 feet below.

Death Valley from Dante’s View


We intended to hike a short distance to another viewing point and have lunch.  But it was just a bit over 50 degrees and the wind was howling so we just enjoyed our lunch in the Jeep while checking out the view.

We returned to the motorhome in the early afternoon to begin packing for tomorrow’s departure.  The park service operates three campgrounds in the Furnace Creek area but this is the only one with full hook-ups (Furnace Creek Campground).  Their website states that the sites are gravel but, as you can see below, they have all been paved (including the no hook up sites in this park).  We were told that there may not be any cell service in the park but found we had four bars (extended service for Verizon) and decent 3G data.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Death Valley.  The beauty of the park was a surprise to us and the hiking was excellent.  Next up is a visit to Lake Havasu.

More on that later . . .

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Golden Canyon and Zabriskie Point – Death Valley

Furnace Creek, CA

On Wednesday we drove about ten miles to the south for a visit to one of the most popular hikes in Death Valley, Golden Canyon.  The hike is very popular due to its close proximity to lodging and campgrounds in Furnace Creek and the various options available for hiking.  You can take an easy one mile hike up the canyon on an interpretative trail and return.  Or you can extend the hike on a number of trail options.  We did all of the options and ended up with a great hike of over eight miles.

The Golden Canyon Trailhead

Just a short distance into the canyon we spotted a narrow side canyon that looked interesting, so we left the main canyon and headed up.

The side canyon was narrow and quickly began to gain in elevation.  We climbed up for about a quarter mile before turning back.

View of Death Valley from the side canyon

Climbing back down could get interesting!

Steep canyons are nothing for the nimble hiker!

Once back in the main canyon we continued hiking while enjoying a great view of the Red Cathedral in front of us.

The main canyon with Red Cathedral in the distance

A closer view of the Red Cathedral

The Golden Canyon Trail ended after a bit over a mile.  We then turned on to the trail to Zabriskie Point, a two and a half mile trail that begins with a climb up and around Manly Beacon.

Heading up toward Manly Beacon

Looking back at the trail from below Manly Beacon

The trail around Manly Beacon was a bit narrow and steep, but not a problem for the average hikers (like us).

The view of the badlands with Death Valley in the background was spectacular.

The trail through the badlands

After hiking over rolling hills of a badland area, we turned off the main trail and hiked up to the viewing area of Zabriskie Point.  This viewing point is on the main road from Furnace Creek back to Las Vegas and is very popular.  Most people take the sane way and drive there, avoiding a four mile hike through the canyon and badlands (but we had more fun!).

The walkway to Zabriski Point

The badlands looking from the viewpoint at Zabriskie Point

After lunch at Zabriskie Point we took a different trail that went into Gower Gulch, which will then loop back to the Golden Canyon trailhead.  Along the gulch we noticed a significant pile of rocks with a small path along the side of the gulch.

The pile of rocks looked man-made, so we climbed up to investigate.  We were surprised to find the mouth of an old mine going back into the canyon wall.  The National Park Service had the entrance blocked so you can only go in for about ten feet.

After hiking down the wash for about three miles the canyon opened up into Death Valley.  The trail then went north along the base of the hills for about a mile back to the trailhead.

We got back into the Jeep and headed back to the campground.  Driving through Furnace Creek we noticed an animal drinking from the base of a tree that is watered by the park service.

Enjoying a drink near the highway

Sure looks healthy, doesn’t he?

After enjoying a drink, he (she?) walked up the parking area a bit before heading back out into the desert.

The hike through Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch was one of the nicest we have experience here in Death Valley.  With the many options for trails there is something interesting for any level of hiker.  And the views are spectacular!

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Rhyolite Ghost Town and Titus Canyon

Furnace Creek, CA

On Tuesday we drove north for about 40 miles to explore a Jeep road that goes through a scenic canyon.  But first we stopped for a brief visit at a classic mining ghost town.

The town of Rhyolite began in early 1905 as one of several mining camps that sprang up after a prospecting discovery in the surrounding hills.  During an ensuing gold rush, thousands of gold-seekers, developers, miners, and service providers flocked to the area.  A wealthy industrialist bought the nearby mine in 1906 and invested heavily in infrastructure, including piped water, electric lines and railroad transportation, that served the town as well as the mine.  By 1907, Rhyolite had electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, an opera house, and a stock exchange.  It also had 50 saloons, 35 gambling tables, many brothels, 19 lodging houses, 16 restaurants, half a dozen barbers, a public bath house, and a weekly newspaper, the Rhyolite Herald.  Four daily stage coaches connected Rhyolite with Goldfield, 60 miles to the north.  Published estimates of the town’s peak population vary widely, but most sources generally place it in a range between 3,500 and 5,000 in 1907–08.

Rhyolite declined almost as rapidly as it rose.  After the richest ore was exhausted, production fell.  The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 made it more difficult to raise development capital.  In 1908, investors in the mine, concerned that it was overvalued, ordered an independent study.  When the study’s findings proved unfavorable, the company’s stock value crashed, further restricting funding.  By the end of 1910, the mine was operating at a loss, and it closed in 1911.  By this time, many out-of-work miners had moved elsewhere, and Rhyolite’s population dropped well below 1,000.  By 1920, it was close to zero.

The John Cook Bank

The Cook Bank in 1908

The rail station

The best maintained structure in the town today is Mr. Kelly’s Bottle House.  The house was built in 1905 using the many bottles available from the 53 saloons located in Rhyolite.  Mr. Kelly never did live in the house.  He raffled it off with tickets selling for $5.00.  The Bennet family won the drawing and lived in the Bottle House until 1914.

Just outside of Rhyolite is the Goldwell Open Air Museum.  The museum was closed but we enjoyed the sculptures around the small building by Belgian artist Albert Szukalski.  Szukalski wrapped live models in fabric soaked in wet plaster and posed them.  When the plaster set, the model was slipped out leaving the rigid shroud.  The shroud was then coated with fiberglass making it imperious to weather.

Ghost Rider

The Last Supper

After our visit to Rhyolite, we drove back down the highway a few miles and turned on to a narrow, dirt road leading to Titus Canyon.  This 27 mile long road is one way for 24 miles as it winds up through the Grapevine Mountains before ending with a drive through narrow Titus Canyon.

Heading to the mountains in the distance

The road through the mountains

About half way down the road you come to another ghost town, the remains of the town of Leadfield.

Below Leadfield the road goes into the narrow Titus Canyon.  We removed the roof panels of the Jeep to better enjoy the views above us.

There was a small spring along the road where early inhabitants in the area came to hunt the Big Horn Sheep that came to drink.  They left their artwork along some of the large rocks.

The final two miles of the one-way section of the road goes through a beautiful canyon with towering walls above us.  A slot for cars!

The one-way part of the Titus Canyon Road ends in a parking area where there is a trailhead to Fall Canyon.  The remaining three miles is a two way road, allowing vehicles that are not high clearance to get to the trailhead without coming down through Titus Canyon.  A display sign there has a picture of a 1920s-era car with the driver posing for the camera while in the canyon.

At the trailhead we parked the Jeep, grabbed our packs, and headed up the trail to explore Fall Canyon.  This three and a half  mile (one way) hike goes up a canyon ending at a steep, dry waterfall.  It was a challenging hike as the floor of the canyon is all loose rock, making footing unstable while constantly climbing.  But we enjoyed the colors of the rocks along the walls of the canyon soaring above us.

We had to hustle a bit to get out of the canyon before dark.  The sun is setting here at around 4:40 PM and, since there are no buildings within many miles, it gets really dark very quickly.  But we made it out with ease, ending a long but exciting day.

Our time here in Death Valley  is coming down to a final couple of days, but we still have a couple of adventures planned.  More on those later . . .

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Mosaic Canyon – Death Valley

Furnace Creek, CA

We headed out this morning with a number of stops on our itinerary.  The first was a visit to Mosaic Canyon, one of the most popular hikes in Death Valley NP.  Its about a 25 mile drive from Furnace Creek to a small oasis called Stovetop Wells Village, then three miles up a dusty dirt road to the trailhead.

The wide open desert in Death Valley

Entering Mosaic Canyon (right into the sun)

The canyon walls are filled with impressive colors.

While this is a fairly easy hike, there are a few places that require a bit of climbing.

About half way up the canyon we came upon this “little” guy crossing the wash.  It is mating season for the tarantula.  He’s on the prowl!

After a bit the canyon opened up to a wide area in the wash.  We climbed up on a ridge to get better footing than the loose rocks in the wash.

The last quarter mile of the canyon presents some fairly challenging pour-overs that required a bit of scrambling.

The canyon ends at a steep, high wall so we climbed up to a spot along the side wall to enjoy a bite to eat.

Then it was back down through the narrow pour-overs.

Once back down that last quarter mile, the hike is again a nice walk through the canyon filled with beautiful dolomite, a granite like rock.

After hiking Mosaic Canyon, we stopped for a short visit at the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes.  We walked out a short distance on the dunes but found it to be like a walk on the beach without the sound of water hitting the shore, so we returned to the Jeep.

The next stop for the day was to Salt Creek.  It is unusual to see water in Death Valley so this is an interesting spot.  The water rises up from a spring and flows for about a half mile before sinking back into the ground.  The water has a high salt content so not many animals drink from it and few fish can survive there.  It does support a rare fish called a Pupfish, but we walked the boardwalk trail that loops around the creek and didn’t see any life in the water.

Pickleweed growing along Salt Creek

The final stop for the day was at the historic Harmony Borax Works.  During the 1880s borax was gathered from the nearby salt flat and processed here before being transported out of Death Valley in the famous twenty mule team wagons.

Remains of the borax processing plant

Next to the borax plant is a one mile loop road through the yellow badlands of Mustard Canyon.

This was a great day with cool temperatures (70 degrees), beautiful sunshine, and great sights to visit.  But there are many more great spots to see in Death Valley so stay tuned!

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Welcome to Death Valley

Furnace Creek, CA

On Saturday, after spending a great month in Boulder City,  we headed west to visit Death Valley National Park.  The park has numerous campgrounds, but only one has full hook-ups.  We were able to get five nights there beginning on Sunday, so we spent Saturday night in a nearby park with no hook-ups.

On Sunday, after moving into the full service park, we drove south to visit a few nearby sights.  The first stop was at what is known as the Devil’s Golf Course, an immense area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires.  The spires are so serrated that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.”

The Devil’s Golf Course

Eroded rock salt in the Devil’s Golf Course


Our next stop was a short hike to visit the Natural Bridge.  We drove a couple miles back a rough dirt road to get to the trailhead.

The bridge is only about a half mile up a dry wash.

Natural Bridge from the front

The bridge from the other side


The walls of the wash contain many dry waterfalls, where falling water has eroded into the side of the canyon.

Many walls of the canyon have areas covered with mud that dried as it drizzled down the side of the canyon.  It is commonly known as candle drippings.

The drive back out of the Natural Bridge area gave us a great view of Death Valley in the distance.

The next stop on this tour was to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America.

Death Valley is the remains of an ancient lake that was over six hundred feet deep.  There are still a few small areas of water on the lake bed today and Badwater is one.  The legend is that it received its name when a mule refused to drink the salty water and the owner called it bad water.  The water comes from underground springs.

A ramp leads to a large area on the dry lake bed where the salt remaining from evaporation has been trampled down by visitors.

A few weeks ago, during a visit to Great Basin National Park, we parked the Jeep at a trailhead that was at 10,100 feet above sea level.  We’ve know dropped a bit in elevation since then, but it really hit us when we looked at a small sign on the hills overlooking Badwater.

The sign is a bit difficult to see, so we zoomed in on it.

Our final activity for the day was a scenic ride along Artist Drive, a one way paved loop road through an area filled with colorful rock formations.  The colors around us were very impressive as we drove the winding road through the rocks.

We’ll be in Death Valley for the next four days and a stop at the Visitor Center gave us information on some of the many hikes in the area, so the nimble hiker is busy planning new adventures.

More on that later . . .

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Exploring in the Jeep

Boulder City, NV

Friends, Steve and Joan (FOSJ), are spending the winter in the nearby Lake Mead Recreation Area serving as volunteers.  The main part of their assignment is to drive a park vehicle down the many, many back roads in this huge area and check on road conditions (the infrequent rains often wash out parts of the roads), placement of guide signs, and any misuse of the park.  We have shared dinner with them a few times during our stay here and recently they told us about two interesting roads nearby in Arizona that lead down to the Colorado River.  So twice this week we spent some time 4-wheeling in the desert.

The two roads (designated 61 and 62 on park maps) are about two miles apart and are accessed off of US-93, about ten miles south of Hoover Dam.  After turning off the nicely paved four lane Rte. 93 you immediately enter a narrow dirt road that often isn’t even really a road, but a path down a dry wash.  We’ve driven a number of back roads here that require a high clearance vehicle but these are the first where you definitely need four wheel drive, as much of the time you are in very loose soft sand.  If you take a two wheel drive vehicle down here bring plenty to eat and drink while you wait for assistance!

The first day we took the road designated as 61.  This was the easier of the two roads and did not require too much time in four wheel drive.  About two miles into the drive a cloud of dust suddenly appeared about fifty yards in front of us.  A large heard of Big Horn Sheep had suddenly entered the wash, running down the steep wall of the wash.

The dusty entrance


From the look on their faces they seemed as startled to see us as we were to see them. (OK, maybe you can’t read the emotions on the face of a sheep, but they did stare at us!)

We sat still for quite a few minutes while the sheep enjoyed a snack.  When they finally moved off the road, we continued on our way.

Sorry, bugs on the windshield


After four miles, we came to the end of the road (literally).  From there it is a half mile hike down to the Colorado River.

The hike has some interesting views as you make your way down the wash.

At the end of the wash you are rewarded with some beautiful views of the Colorado River.  The water south of the Hoover Dam is technically part of Lake Mohave, a reservoir created by the Davis Dam near Laughlin, NV, but it looks more river than lake to us.  Before the dams tamed the river, this area was filled with fast flowing rapids, so we guess the “lake” designation is appropriate.

After a snack at the river we headed back up the wash to the Jeep.

We were a bit surprised to find our friends still enjoying a snack along the road.  Again, we sat for a while until they decided to move to greener pastures and let us through.

The next day we drove back into Arizona to check out the second of the two roads.  As we said, this one required the use of four wheel drive for over half the time due to the deep sand.

We drive the four miles to the end of the road where we found a sign (thanks Steve and Joan) telling us it was .8 to an old ranger station.  While it is a pretty easy hike, the first part requires a bit of scrambling in two adjacent spots.

Once through those two spots, it is an easy walk to the river (lake?).  At the river there is a trail that runs up the north side of the wash leading to the remains of two buildings on the bluff overlooking the water.

Hiking up to the building remains

A beautiful view looking north

The two foundations are all that remains of a Gauging Station built there around the time of the construction of the Hoover Dam.  The station was built to provide data on the depth and flow of water in the Colorado River.  Pictures on a display board at the site show the two buildings from that time period.

River view of the two buildings

In the picture below, the building on the upper left was the residence for the gauger, while the one on the lower right was a garage.

The buildings have been removed, leaving just the foundations as evidence of their existence.

Residence building foundation

Garage foundation

Looking up river you can see the remains of the actual facilities used by the gauger to measure the river.  In the picture below, red arrows show structures built into the canyon walls on each side of the water.  On the right is the remains of a catwalk along the canyon.  Each day the gauger would hike from the residence to a cable attached to the catwalk.  He would use a little tram on the cable to get from the trail to the catwalk, then use another cable stretched across the river to ferry himself to the structure on the opposing wall of the canyon

The gauging station itself is a small, square metal room hung on the vertical cliff about forty to fifty feet above the river surface.  Beneath it a corrugated pipe about four feet in diameter extends down into the river.  The gauger would use this pipe to measure water depth.

The catwalk

The gauging station

We are a bit confused as to when this station was constructed and put into use.  The information sign at the site states that it was constructed and used in the late 1920′s and early 1930s, before Hoover Dam was constructed.  A National Parks Service document we found that describes the facility states that the station was constructed in 1935 and used to measure water after construction of the dam.

After watching kayaks on the water while enjoying a snack at the remains, we headed back up the wash to the Jeep.

Many thanks to Steve and Joan for telling us about these two adventures.  The Jeep really enjoyed the work-out and we loved the short hikes down to the water.  And the Gauging Station was very interesting and satisfied one member of the group’s need to explore history.

We are now about to end our stay in Boulder City.  When we arrived we intended to stay for two weeks, but found so much to do that we extended our stay twice.  Even with the extensions we have barely scratched the surface in exploring the area.  But it is time to move on and Death Valley has finally cooled down a bit and is calling our names.

More on that later . . .

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Hiking with New Friends from England

Boulder City, NV

One of the neat things about writing a blog is reading comments from people we have never met, especially those from outside the U.S.  We have a few readers from far away places and one couple has commented a number of times.  Lindsay and Neil are from England and have visited the U.S. many times.  When they commented that they would be in the Las Vegas area during our stay here, we arranged to meet and do a little hiking together.

Lindsay has a little painful problem with a foot, so it was clear that a short hike would be best for her.  We headed to Anniversary Narrows as we did this hike about two weeks ago and thought Lindsay and Neil would enjoy it as much as we did.

Heading into the narrows

Group pose with Pam, Lindsay, and Neil.  John is just a shadow of himself!


We finished hiking Anniversary Narrows and Lindsay’s foot was feeling good, so we decided to extend our day by hiking into the nearby Bowl of Fire.  We returned to the Jeep, drove up Callville Wash another couple of miles, and hiked into the Bowl.

As we crossed over a rock outcropping, we spied the little guy pictured below.

Is this a baby Tarantula?

We really enjoyed spending some hiking time with Neil and Lindsay.  They are a very adventurous couple who have done extensive touring in the U.S.  In fact, they have visited more places in this country than probably 90% of Americans!

Hopefully we will cross paths with them again in both our travels.

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