Monday, October 24, 2011

My Kingdom For A Tire

Death Valley/Mt Whitney Trip – 9/11/11 – Badwater Basin & Mormon Point Canyon – 10 miles

This morning the sun rose and so did we, ready for another try at Badwater Basin.  While we were packing up for our epic day, Jeff noticed nails lying around in the parking area by our site.  (Foreshadowing:  a literary device where the author suggests certain plot developments that come later in the story.

Winding our way down the road from our campground, we left gravel and hit pavement, increasing speed from 10 to 25 miles per hour.  The rental car began flashing a low tire pressure warning.  We pulled over, rolled down the window, and heard the hissing of the front left tire.  Hhmmm…nails. We were a long way from anywhere.  Great.

All gear came out of the back so the spare tire and kit could be located.  (This is the third time I’ve been around tire changing in five months and I really need to learn to do this myself).  After a lot of work on Jeff’s part, the pathetically tiny spare tire was in place, not a permanent solution.  We didn’t feel safe driving on it back up to camp.  Nothing else to do but go into town and look for a way to make repairs. 

Stovepipe Wells is another oasis a little closer to our campground, but even smaller than Furnace Creek.  It also has a motel, a restaurant, a general store and a gas station…but no way to repair tires.  At Furnace Creek, still no luck.  Did I mention this was Sunday?  The tire guy comes in between 12:00 and 5:00.  Well, what do you think we should do?  Go hiking.

The hiking guides imply that the boardwalk at Badwater Basin equates to the lowest point of Death Valley, but Jeff’s GPS does not agree.  We parked on the side of the road, put on hats and long-sleeved shirts, took a deep breath.  Looking straight across the valley, it seems that you can walk to the Panamint Mountain range in about five minutes, but it is six miles across and we were going halfway (and back again).  The lowest point of Death Valley is at -282 feet and the only way to tell is by Jeff’s GPS.  I couldn’t detect any elevation loss at all, just a flat walk.  For all I know we started out at -281 feet. 

The ground started out as a crusty moon walk, then the salt crystals began to appear.

Carolyn holding some salt – tastes good on French fries

The honeycomb pattern in the salt is formed as a result of repeated freeze-thaw and evaporation cycles.  Walking on it sounded and felt like crunchy snow.  In some patches it was smushy and wet underneath. 

Here we are at the bottom of North America!  BTW, it’s about noon.  And the park rangers were worried! (Jeff's photo)

Looking up at Dante’s Peak where we were yesterday (Jeff's photo)

Turn around the other way, looking up at Telescope Peak (covered in clouds), where we will be two days from now (Jeff's photo)

After a few photos, we didn’t stick around because it was blistering hot and getting hotter.  Once I spied the car I just walked a straight line back to it.  No obstacles, no climbing, no creek crossings, but this was one of the most extreme hikes I’ve ever done.

We stopped at the boardwalk to use the bathrooms, eat some lunch and watch the tourists. 

And since we were in the neighbor- hood, we checked out another point of interest that Jeff found online (again, no map, just GPS coordinates) called Mormon Point Canyon.  We walked up a huge wash as the heat continued to increase.  After a while I just pretended to be in a sauna.  Dolores and I lagged behind as Jeff and Carolyn moved ahead.  We did reach the point where the walls closed in to form a narrow slot canyon, very surreal (and shadows, a little relief from the heat).  I could see where flash floods would be sudden and deadly. 

Making our way back to the car (Jeff's photo)

Can’t get enough of the expansive landscape

So, about that tire…back in Furnace Creek the tire guy pronounced ours irreparable and he didn’t have one the size we needed.  The rental company in Las Vegas was happy to bring a new car out to us IF we paid to have the “damaged” one towed for a ridiculous amount of money.  No, they would NOT bring us a new tire, only a new car.  Finally we concluded that we had to drive back to the rental company and swap cars.  To make a long story even longer:  at 5:00 p.m. we pointed toward Las Vegas, grabbed fast food, got to the rental place, moved all our gear over to a new car, and then at the checkout point the attendant said we had the wrong car.  (Well, Carolyn said the third time is the charm.)  We moved all our gear over again and drove back through Death Valley and up to our little kingdom at Thorndike Campground.  Arrived at camp at 12:30 a.m. 

We were crazy tired and very dirty (no water, remember?) but we only wanted to sleep.  Because tomorrow we have three hikes to do! 

P.S.  We were all aware that today was the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  Although we didn’t have access to media and we didn’t talk about it much, I think we all felt the solemnity of the day. I felt gratitude at being in an American national park today.

If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.  ~Lawrence J. Peter

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