Archive for February, 2008

Day 5: Lunar eclipse

February 20th, 2008 | Category: Death Valley

We left Furnace creek and drove to Panamint Springs. The overcast weather looked set to ruin our view of the lunar eclipse, but minutes before it began, the clouds drew back like a curtain. I spent a couple of miserable hours outside in the cold taking pictures every 5 minutes or so. The atmosphere was pretty turbulent.


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Day 5: Badwater, Artist’s Palette and Natural Bridge Canyon

February 20th, 2008 | Category: Death Valley

Despite fits of plague-carrier wet coughing, I staggered out of bed determined to have a vacation, goddammit! I didn’t have illusions of taking long hikes, but I was pretty well drugged up with antihistamines, tylenol and a number of other meds, so I felt strong enough to do a little.

A number of major attractions are within easy reach of Furnace Creek, many of which can be enjoyed with little effort. Everybody stops at these places. Badwater in particular is a target for buses that disgorge hordes of obese tourists.

We had timed our visit to coincide with the first bloom of flowers in the desert, and we were not disappointed. An overcast sky at sunset provided wonderful and strange lighting conditions.

flowers with strange light

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Day 4: Pahrump Medical Clinic

February 19th, 2008 | Category: Death Valley

That trifling sore thoat matured into a real illness and I became sick enough to need a doctor. We found one in Pahrump, 80 miles away. Pahrump is a place of broken dreams – a dusty, sparse city ringed by brothels. I can’t tell which way Pahrump is going, but I’ll guess up; Vegas is only an hour away and this would make a cheap alternative bedroom community for working people. There’s really no reason to be there unless you’re on your way to somewhere else, despite the protestations of the local chamber of commerce. I saw this sign, which reminded me of this Dave Chappelle routine.


We spent the entire day in the local ER getting some penicillin thrown at me. Turns out I had the flu, so pills did no good. This slowed me down somewhat, but not totally. On the way back from Pahrump, determined to make the best use of every minute, we visited the Devil’s golf course as the sun set. I was too sick to care about taking pictures.  Here is a cartoon of Holly’s, made while waiting with me in the clinic waiting room.

Holly's cartoon

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Day 3 – Ash Meadows

February 18th, 2008 | Category: Death Valley

After getting a very late start (after all, this was a vacation) we headed off in the direction of Death Valley. On the way, we’d pass Ash Meadows, and planned to spend most of the day there. There are a couple of things about Ash Meadows that make it unusual: one, it has a lot of water. Two, it’s slightly out of the way, and I suspected that it wouldn’t be overrun by people. I was right, or at least lucky – which is the same thing if you don’t look too closely.

When I look at a map of this area I delight in the macabre flavor of its place names. Death Valley encompasses the funeral mountains, funeral peak, coffin peak, Furnace creek, Badwater, Deadman pass, Hell’s gate, and Dante’s view. The Devil, by the way, owns a lot of amenable real estate in the valley: there is a Devil’s hole, gate, cornfield, playground, golf course, kitchen and even a speedway. Even the more prosaic names are amusingly forbidding:dry flat (works as a proper name and descriptive phrase!), jackass flats (overlooked by Busted Butte), several lakes parenthetically described as dry, and the saline valley. I’ll admit that there are places like Pleasant Valley and Manly Peak (the name of a person, not an anthropomorphism), but they don’t have as much panache.

Which brings us to Ash Meadows. Having absorbed the spirit of the region via its place names, I figured that the meadows’ name was a wry reference to the hellish heat of the summer desert. As it turns out, it’s named after the Ash trees that grow (or used to grow) in this region before America’s wave of European colonizers wiped them from the land. But the name turns out to be strangely appropriate. The soil in many areas of Ash Meadows really does resemble fine white fire ash. In fact, it’s salt and minerals left here from the evaporation of ancient seas and lakes. It looks like snow, but everything you see in these pictures is salt and other minerals.

ash meadows

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Day 2 – Hoover Dam

February 17th, 2008 | Category: Death Valley

OK – you’ve seen the history channel special, and you know all about it. Maybe you’ve been there, seen that, or live near the dam (sic) thing. But for me, it’s something I’ve seen in previously only in books and on TV. So I’ll sing in the superlative voice, because it’s everything it’s cracked up to be.

hoover dam

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Death Valley Day One – Mr. Gupta

February 16th, 2008 | Category: Death Valley

This post is as long as our flight to Las Vegas, en route to Death Valley.

At a stop in Columbus, an extremely drunk guy staggered on to the plane. As the wasted often do, he sized us up as pushovers. Despite the unfilled plane he fell heavily into the seat next to us and, like an abandoned puppet, flopped forward and passed out. “Thank god,” I thought, “If we have to be next to this guy, at least he’s asleep”. He was in the aisle seat, myself at the window and Holly in the middle.

Time until landing: 4.5 hours.

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