P-- is my friend from work (who was laid off on Friday). She loves visiting Death Valley and has been there over many years. She prefers staying in Furnace Creek, but the March pricing was a bit steep. We were staying in Stovepipe Wells. My sense is that it was just a fine basic sort of place to be, although the walls were a bit thin. The Stove Pipe Wells restaurant was fine, but P-- was just beginning the vegetarian journey, so the meat-meat-meat menu plus the overly busy service the night before had put her off.
We left Stovepipe Wells and drove the soon to be familiar stretch of 190: morning light on the dune field, through some rounded outcrops that made the very northern toes of the Panamint range, through the devil's corn field (a "scenic" stop for which we made fun of stopping), then climbing in to the areas where the vast fields of yellow desert gold flowers bloomed. Did we stop that morning? We drove past the turn offs for Scotty's Castle and points in Nevada, left the lines of shoulder parked cars and giddy photographers in the flowers, drove down through sulfur yellow sculpted stone and reached Furnace Creek. We wanted to check in at the Ranger's Station as P-- wanted to use her America the Beautiful Senior Pass, but i think it was closed at this point.
I think we went to Zabriskie Point first. To reach this badlands view point, one leaves the valley and begins a climb into the badlands for about three and a half miles. The roadside views were of washes with plenty of wildflowers. Purples of phacelia come to my memory. The climb didn't seem that great to me, a passenger, but it looks like it's about 600' above sea level -- and the section of the valley one can see from there is below sea level by over 200'. The parking area for the view point is pretty level, and there's an inclined ... what are these chunks of badland elevation called? It's far too small to be a mesa, and "hill" brings to mind a rolling shape that is completely unwarranted. It seemed almost manmade. As i watched the procession of sight seers up the sandy gold slope i was struck by the thought of epic B movie presentations to ancient gods, with priests and pilgrims climbing up to the place of offering. This particular chunk of sandstone was higher than some of the nearby rounded forms, set between two much higher ranges. From the top one could see the snowy tops of the Panamints on the opposite side of Death Valley, at elevations above ten thousand feet, sections of Death Valley, and the badlands in between. One particularly striking point to the west of the viewpoint is the brown and pale striped point known as the Manly Beacon. The browns kept reminding me of cocoa, chocolate. We were fortunate to have changing light from the east, cloud cover with distant illumination of the Panamints, and then light while the distance was dark.
The location apparently is crawling with photographers at dawn, but the changeable light patterns of that El Niño Saturday provided delightful photographic opportunities.
Our next stop was Furnace Creek for breakfast. The park was very busy, and my memory of every meal in Furnace Creek was of parking tangles and overwhelmed wait staff. The Saturday morning breakfast wait was better than on Sunday, though. I knew P-- wasn't really planning lunch, so i took my toast and jam for a later snack.
...to be continued...