Friday, February 19, 2010

Across - and in Some Cases, into - the Salt Flats at Badwater (Thursday Feb 18 cont'd)

After lunch, we walked over to the Visitor Center to wrestle again with the “free wi-fi”. This time we had some success, as the blog testifies (see below for multiple entries posted all at once). The bandwidth was insufficient to allow Hubby to post the hundreds of photos that he wanted, so that has to wait for a better service. Watch this space.

I also asked in the Visitor Center for some advice on walks we could do. Our options are a bit limited by the fact that our vehicle is a 25 foot long RV. It turns out that Death Valley is really a driving park. We now have a better appreciation of why so many people are towing cars behind their motor homes. There are very few trails and those which exist tend to be of the out-and-back type (rather than a loop), which are reached by driving down dirt tracks. Many of these tracks are labeled for four wheel drive, high clearance vehicles only. They are too rough for bicycles. We’ve noticed numerous motorbikes on the roads; and these do seem the ideal way to get about the park.

Our options have also been limited by the closure of several minor roads due to mud. This might seem strange in a desert, but there has been some rain over the past few weeks resulting in muddy conditions which will, I guess, dry to difficult ruts if cars are allowed on the roads. So the affected roads remain closed. Alas, this puts the kybosh on the walk I had planned for Friday morning, along Titus Canyon. The ranger in the Visitor Center agreed that we hadn’t many choices. We’ve decided that we’ll opt for the easy trails at the Salt Creek Interpretive Center and perhaps the Harmony Borax Works tomorrow. As for today, we decided to spend the cool part of the afternoon at the salt flats in Badwater.

Badwater is a natural spring that oozes out dense salty water. It is the home of a rare tiny snail that lives nowhere else on earth. (We didn't see it.) The information signs explain that the water accumulated underground in the last ice age and that the salt leaches out of the rocks around it. The spring area is protected by a short boardwalk. Visitors are then permitted to walk out onto the salt flats (which cover a five mile area). We walked out as far as we could, which was to the edge of the area that was fairly dry, about half a mile. Little Starlet decided to be naughty and bumptious, and walked out further, sinking into the glutinous salty mud up to her ankles. (That’s one pair of socks destroyed and a pair of sneakers caked in stinky poop-colored mud.)

The salt flats are, well, very flat and dominate the floor of Death Valley. In the sunshine they shimmer with the promise of water – which of course turns out to be completely undrinkable. It must have been a great disappointment to those poor 49ers and pioneers, for whom we are developing a strong sense of sympathy. The salt crystals form a crust on top of the sandy mud, creating little mountainous peaks that echo the mountains ringing the valley. It’s a thing of great beauty on a small scale. The kids took a lot of photos…. We were also able to watch the sun set over Telegraph Peak, which has an elevation of 11,048 feet (in contrast to Badwater’s elevation of 282 feet below sea level, which makes it the lowest point in the USA). Nice.

We finished the day back at Furnace Creek with a slightly strange pasta sauce concoction for dinner - the joys of camping - and a round of our new board game, Snorta. Deep Thought set the fire up for mom and dad’s evening entertainment.

We can’t get over how quiet this campground is. Each evening, our campfire has been one of a small handful. Last night it seemed to be the only one. Deep Thought reckons that this might be because there aren’t many kids around, so the adults are able to go into their motor homes whenever they want. She also thinks that the high percentage of seniors in the campground might be a contributing factor, older people wanting to keep warmer and all that. It is true that we are seeing a lot of elderly campers, and we’ve met some of them doing their email in the shadow of the Visitor Center. Many seem to have fled the cold weather in Oregon and Washington state. We’ve even met a couple from Calgary in Canada. It also seems pretty common for these older folks to be spending months on the road, hopping from campground to campground in the warmer south. Given the size of many of the RVs – Enormous! Huge! Giant! Ridiculous! – it’s easy to believe that life could be sustained in them quite adequately for five or six months. Maybe that’ll be me ‘n’ Hubby one day.

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