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Inyo NF and Death Valley NP trip report, May 20 to 23, 2016

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Offline Jonathan Sadow

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After my survey of Yosemite National Park and unsuccessful attempt to attend the Tour of California, I made my way toward Death Valley National Park.  I'd been there in February of 2015, but I wanted to see the park in springtime, when warmer temperatures would make the higher elevations accessible without worrying about snow and ice.  On Friday, May 20, after checking out Mono Lake on the way from South Lake Tahoe, I got to Big Pine and began the trip into the park.  My goal was the backcountry campsite at Saline Valley Springs, some 60 miles away, and about two-thirds of those miles are over an unpaved county road.  Upon leaving the pavement and entering the park, I soon saw remnants of Death Valley's mining heritage:

16520007 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I had gotten almost halfway to the campsite when I began hearing an odd sound, like my vehicle was dragging something along.  I'd heard that sound before and stopped the vehicle to get out and confirm my suspicions - a tire had blown out:

16520008 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

It was rather anticlimactic - the road was actually fairly smooth for being unpaved (it's an Inyo County road that's regularly graded), no rougher than the Old Maverick Road or Big Bend Ranch State Park main road, maybe even smoother.  It was probably a case of the tires having almost 45,000 miles of punishment on them and just wearing out.  This basically ended my adventure, because I wasn't keen on going the additional 75 to 80 miles on unpaved roads needed to get to the campsite and back with my old tires and no longer having a good spare.  So I resolved to change the tire and return the way I came, except when I went to get the tire jack, I discovered it wasn't where it should have been.  Apparently, one of the previous owners of my vehicle had decided to keep the jack.  Now I had a problem, as I was stuck over 30 miles from Big Pine and 17 miles down the unpaved road, amidst this desolation:

16520009 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Fortunately, I had my satellite phone which my sister-in-law had insisted I get just for a situation like this.  A call to 911 produced, after almost two hours, a friendly California Highway Patrol officer with a tire jack, and with his help I soon changed the tire and drove to Bishop, with the officer following behind to make sure no other calamities occurred before I hit the pavement.  Thus, my camping adventure in Death Valley National Park ended before it could start.  The next day, I bought a tire jack.

While the tire jack problem now was solved, I still had the issue of having no good spare tire and over 1,300 miles to get back home.  With the tires having so much mileage on them, I decided it was time to get a new set (I'd been planning to do this in a few months, anyway).  This was easier said then done;  the tire shops in the little towns along the Sierra Nevada in California don't typically stock the Goodyear Wranglers with Kevlar belts that I use, and I soon determined that  the best I could do was to get them in Las Vegas no earlier than Tuesday the 24th, on my way back home.  In the meantime, I had reservations at Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley National Park for the night, so I drove there by way of Schulman Grove in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest area in Inyo National Forest, home to some of the oldest living organisms in the world.  Indeed, the Methuselah Trail there passes the oldest known living thing, a bristlecone pine over 5,000 years old (although the Forest Service doesn't tell you which one it is out of concerns about vandalism).  I didn't go on that trail, though, as it was still partially covered by snow (spring comes late at 10,000 feet of elevation, and the road to the grove had been open only a week).  Instead, I trekked the Discovery Trail, which presents one with vistas such as this, with ancient pines in the foreground and the Sierra Nevada in the background.  Some of the trees in this image may be older than the combined ages of every individual that looks at this post:

16521006 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

On Sunday the 22nd, with the two extra days my trip now would last due to the necessity of getting tires, I hiked up Wildrose Peak.  On the drive to the trailhead (which includes a few miles of unpaved road that I gingerly crossed), I encountered one of the few large mammals that makes Death Valley its home:

16522002 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The burros in the park are descendents of those escaped from or let go by early settlers.  The NPS has been trying to relocate them, since they're not native to the area, but as can be seen not all of them have been caught (and it's a change from previous NPS policy, which was to shoot them).  Going up the trail to Wildrose Peak, one sees sights that one normally doesn't associate with Death Valley:

16522006 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

While Death Valley National Park is known for being in the Mojave Desert, the park also includes the Panamint Mountains, which top out at Telescope Peak at just over 11,000 feet in elevation.  As a consequence, the park has the greatest relief of any unit in the NPS outside of Denali National Park in Alaska.  Along the way, I encountered a pair of Common Chuckwallas, the California state reptile, on a gneiss boulder:

16522008 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The other one I noticed out of frame just after I took this image.  The first and third miles of the approximately four-mile trail are fairly level;  the second is fairly steep.  By the time you're a mile from the summit, you can see how really steep that last mile is:

16522009 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

It's farther than it looks;  the actual summit is along a ridge extending to the right of the image.  After a big effort, I made it to the summit three minutes before my designated turnaround time.  The view is, of course, magnificent:

16522015 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

This is a view into the Furnace Creek area, where the main visitor center and park headquarters are along with Furnace Creek Ranch and Furnace Creek Inn.  It's remarkable to think that you're looking at over 9,000 feet of relief.  On the way down, I spotted what I think is a Whitetail Jackrabbit, a new mammal for me:

16522020 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

On Monday the 23rd, I started my trip home via Las Vegas.  On my way out, I couldn't help but take an image of what is probably the most-photographed feature in the entire park:

16523001 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I actually was there during a bit of a cool spell;  a week later the temperatures were about ten degrees higher.  Along the way out was Zabriskie Point, a remarkable overlook of Death Valley which had been closed during my previous visit due to reconstruction of the parking lot.  Now open, I had to stop and take a look:

16523002 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

There is a hiking trail called the Badlands Loop which descends from the point following an old roadbed into the badlands beneath.  From there, it's amusing to look back up to the point with lots of people staring down from it; it's on the right of this image:

16523005 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

You can see Manly Beacon, a prominent spire named after the leader of an early expedition to the area and which served as a prominent navigational landmark:

16523010 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I encountered a Zebra-tailed Lizard on the trail, a new reptile for me:

16523012 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The trail turns back toward the point following Gower Gulch, a riverbed which fills with water only during the most sustained rainstorms:

16523015 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

After getting back to the trailhead, I was able to make it to Las Vegas, get the new tires, and successfully make it home.  At least now I have new tires for further adventures....


Offline mule ears

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Re: Inyo NF and Death Valley NP trip report, May 20 to 23, 2016
« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2016, 04:47:59 PM »
Great stuff Jonathan, lucky on the satellite phone, paid for itself that time.  DV is a BIG place for sure.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water


Offline Jalco

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Re: Inyo NF and Death Valley NP trip report, May 20 to 23, 2016
« Reply #2 on: June 13, 2016, 08:10:43 PM »
Great report!  I had no idea about the mountains.  And I loved the bunny!


Offline mbender

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Re: Inyo NF and Death Valley NP trip report, May 20 to 23, 2016
« Reply #3 on: June 22, 2016, 06:10:16 PM »
Yep, I'd call that a blown tire!  :icon_eek:
Thanks for the report, such a fantastic place. Can't wait to get back there.



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