Monday, January 08, 2007

Road Trip to Death Valley

Date: 22nd-25th Dec 2006
To : Death Valley National Park, California
With : Vikram and Pradeep
Photos are here.

How could be a desert beautiful? I always associated beauty with greenery. That was my thought before going on this trip. But my opinions completely changed after going there. I realized how narrow my definition of beauty was.

We went in Vikram’s BMW X5. They were both driving, taking turns, and I was relaxing in the rear seat. Pradeep had already been to this place many times and he played the role of an informed Guide all through the journey.We started at around 2.30 pm from office in Palo Alto. Our destination was 450 miles from our place and it was expected to be completed in around 8 hrs. Enroute I saw lot of oil wells. California has good farmlands. I was amazed to see such huge farms. Agriculture is completely mechanized over here, otherwise there was no way they could cultivate such huge farms. Halfway through the journey, we stopped at Bakersfield to fill our bellies for the night. US has allround development, wherever you go you’ll find good roads and the same stores/restaurants/banks etc. On the way we stopped at a lonely/dark place to gaze at the beautiful star-studded night sky. In the dark, we descended into the valley. Before we started descending, I got the first glance of snow after coming to bay area. I was eager to touch it and I did that. But soon I would see lot more of snow. It was around 11 pm by the time we reached Furnace Creek Ranch, the hotel where we would stay for the next 3 nights. This place is rightly named as Furnace Creek as it’s right inside the Death Valley and the temperatures in the summer over here go upto 115 degree F. Furnace Creek was standing as an Oasis in the desert with the only place I could see greenery. Once in the room, we retired to bed so as to get up early so that we could make the best of the available time.

First Day (23rd Dec 2006)

Our Guide decided that Race Track would be the first place to visit. It was around 70 miles from our hotel. I had no idea what we were heading for. The last leg of the journey to Race Track was to be covered on a kuchcha road. It completely reduced our speed, but it was worth it. On the route I could see snow in the light of the day. Later while returning I stopped by the road-side to hold the snow in my hands and play with it. The picture of the Race Track from the car itself was great. It’s a incredibly vast flat lake-bed surrounded on all sides by the Mountains.

As soon as I came out of the car and stepped onto the race track, I couldn’t stop myself from running from this end to the other end and then come back. I dont know what made me do that, it was more than a mile one-way and it was cold too. Standing in the center of the Race Track and looking at the panorama around you covering mountains was an experience to my eyes. I felt like playing football and cricket there. The Race Track is also known for the moving rocks. It’s seems nobody has ever seen those rocks moving, except for the tracks which show their path. It seems that these rocks move, when the Race Track becomes wet.

From here we went to the Ubehebe Crater. I had only seen pictures of volcanic craters till now. And now I was seeing a Crater with my naked eyes. It was 600ft deep and I went till the lowest point. Pradeep and Vikram came half-way down. I yelled in my full pitch to hear my yell travelling through the walls of the crater and reverberating. I collecteda few volcanic stones as souvenir. Only when we were climbing up, did we realize how difficult was. The ascent completely sapped our energy. Once we were out of the crater we relaxed for a while and then headed towards the Titus Canyon. It’s a long canyon, but it didn’t look that appealing and further we were tried, so we decided not to go along the Canyon. We had our lunch there and got some energy to go for the next target.

We then drove to the point where the Sand Dunes were there. I had seen them from the car, when we drove to Race Track in the morning. I cant understand, how these dunes formed, because at no other place in the Valley could I see such kind of fine-grained sand. It’s only at this place and I heard it’s spread on an area of 15 sq. miles. We had little time as the Sun was about to set. I took off my shoes, and ran on the Sand to feel it by my feet. There were a couple of big Dunes, but I couldn’t afford to go that far. I liked it and now I feel like visiting Rajasthan. From there we went to the Mosaic Canyon, which was a short but good one. It had nice marble stones along it. By the time we came out of the Canyon it was dark enough and we decided to be done with the day and returned to Furnace Creek Ranch. Had Dinner at the 49ers Cafe and strolled in the souvenir shop for a while and then went to our room. It was a tiring but wonderful day. We watched the famous Sholay movie that night (courtesy Pradeep and his IPod).

Second Day (24th December 2006)

The first spot on the itinerary for the day was the Bad Water Basin. We drove for less than an hour along the descending road to reach the lowest point in North America: The Bad Water Basin. It’s 282 ft below the sea level. It’s a very very big salt-basin. It’s like the Race Track, filled with layer(s) of salt. I dont know how thick the layer of salt is. It was formed over the years, because of the water from the surrounding mountains accumulating over here and as there is no outlet for this water, the only way it could disappear was the intense heat in the summer, leaving behind the salt. We played football with a tennis ball over there for a while. Beauty is of different kinds.

We then headed to the Devil’s Golf Course: A funny name. It was named so, because the land there was like tilled land (with salty masses), and it’s so rough that only Devil’s can play golf there. From a distance it looks like there only a layer of salt on land, but from close inspection you’ll realize that it’s all salt mixed with soil. Again, dont know how thick it is. Then we drove along to the Artist’s Palette. The naming comes from the various colors of soil/rocks on the small hills, which get their color from the minerals present in it. We could see tints of Green, Red, Yellow, Brown and Blue. It was nice.

Our next spot was the Golden Canyon. There’s a trekking path through the hills which starts from the entrance of the Golden Canyon and ends at Zarbiske’s point. This trek was one of the best parts of the trip for me, although we decided not to go till the Zabriske’s point as it would eat up some of our valuable time. I found stones of various colors, of which I collected as many as my hands could hold as souvenirs. In the trek, there was a path which was along the body of one of the highest peaks. (I am limited by my vocab to describe it, but this is what I intend to describe this path http://www.flickr.com/photos/dhiraj/346362707/). It was particularly interesting. The area was containing of lots of short hills, which we could have had explored completely, had we got the time for it. There was another spot called the Red Cathedral, yet another mid-sized hill named like that because of it’s color and shape.

After having lunch at one of the camping locations, we headed towards one of the high-altitude peaks. This is called the Dante’s Peak. As we were driving towards it we could notice the drop in the temperature and also patches of snow. I wasn’t aware of how big a surprise was awaiting me. We reached the peak, and it was very very chilling there. For the first time I had to wrap myself in two layers of sweaters. I was enthralled by what my eyes were showing me. From this point, we had an amazing view of the Bad Water Basin and all the salt where-in we were playing that morning was looking like water. The best vantage point to see the Death Valley. The Sun was around an hour away from setting, and we were yet to see Zabriske’s point. So we moved on, although unwillingly. The Zabriske’s point was very close to the road and very much accessible. From here we could see all the small hills around Grand Canyon, where we were trekking in the noon. It was getting dark. I wanted to stay there and watch the start-studded night-sky lying on my back, but the other two were of a different opinion and so headed to our hotel. Had dinner at the same place and retired to our beds.

3rd day (25th December 2006)

It was Christmas day and also the last day of our trip. I got up early and took some of the pictures around Furnace Creek Ranch, at the time of sun-rise. There’s a golf course in the Ranch and it was looking beautiful with the mountains in the background. We packed up all our stuff, checked out of the hotel and drove out of Furnace Creek. Wildrose Charcoal Kilns was the only item that we thought of covering. Along the route to the Kilns, for the first time I could see some greenery and trees. We thought of going to the Aguereberry Point, but the road was very bad and so we had to back-off. After driving for some time we reached the place where Charcoal Kilns were there. There was a lot of snow at this place on these mountains and I was excited. There were a total of 10 kilns which were built in the later half of 19th century to make charcoal required during mining. They were still intact. The road near that point was slippery because of ice and the car even slipped. From here, had we got the necessary equipment and time, we could have hiked along the snowy route to reach the Telescope peak, which is the highest-peak in the Death Valley, stading 11049 ft above sea-level. It’s a pretty tough trek, but would have been great had we done it. Maybe the next time, if at all there is one. That was the last item from Death Valley and the we started on our journey back home.

It was my first road-trip and it turned out to be a wonderful one, beating my expectations and changing my definition of beauty. There were a couple of places that we missed due to lack of time, like the Scotty’s Castle and Panamint Springs. There were lot of nice places to hike and also camp, which can never be covered, no matter how much time you have at your disposal. Death Valley is such a vast and beautiful place.

Here’s my rating of all the places that I saw:-

1. Dante’s Peak
2. Golden Canyon
3. Race Track
4. Ubehebe Crater
5. Mesquite Sand Dune’s
6. Bad Water Basin
7. Wildrose Charcoal Kilns
8. Mosaic Canyon
9. Zabriske’s Point

1 comment:

Annis said...

Good for people to know.