Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Shutdown Vacation in Death Valley: Trona Pinnacles

If you are a Star Trek fan, you've seen the Trona Pinnacles a few times.  They were used as a backdrop in Start Trek V.  They are the result of calcite towers on an ancient sea bed.  While not technically in Death Valley, they are pretty close to the south end.  We had to take the long way around (past Manzanar) as the more direct highways had been washed out by a flash flood a few months before.  The good news is my friend Mark, a jet pilot stationed at China Lake, says he's seen a lot of road work and has had lots of fun doing low passes over the guys in bulldozers.  So it will be open again soon, but it's something to keep tabs on if you head into the area.

Trona is controlled (loosely) by the Bureau of Land Management (meaning it was open during the shutdown), and the area is marked and open with only basic restroom facilities.  The road in is not paved, so take a tough vehicle and have a contingency plan.  The hiking trail is maybe an hour or so long if you do all of it, but you can see all of it from your car, if you don't feel like getting out.  I also use the word "trail" in a loose sense - you can pretty much wander at will.

A close up of the ground.  And a lizard.

Ridgecrest, CA is the nearest city, 20 minutes to the north and west.  Ridgecrest is the city associated with the Naval Aviation Base at China Lake, so it is pretty large and has hotels and lots of variety in restaurants.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Shutdown Vacation in Death Valley: Manzanar War Relocation Center

Technically it wasn't in Death Valley, but if you're going to be there for any length of time, you should swing to the northwest side of the park and head towards Mount Whitney.  At the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, you can find Manzanar, where over 10,000 American citizens were interned by Executive Order (President Franklin Roosevelt) for the crime of being of Japanese origin. In all, more than 110,000 were "relocated" to similar camps; Manzanar was the first.  Places like this are important because they remind us that great as America is, it is far from perfect.  They keep us from forgetting what we need to prevent in the future.

Manzanar is free and open from 9am - 4:30 pm every day but Christmas and government shutdowns.  It was a little out of our way and also closed the day we passed by, but we all felt it was important to see.

Because of the shutdown, all the pictures were taken from the roadside.  The area is beautiful but so lonely and desolate.  I have no doubt it was horribly cold in the winter.

Some people still try to say it wasn't really a prison.  So then why the barbed wire and the guard towers?

When they left, all the buildings were torn apart to make trunks and wagons to carry belongings.  This one had to be rebuilt for visitors.

Nice Museum.  Or so I've been told.

Looking north into nothing.

Looking east into another set of mountains.  Death Valley lies just on the other side.

Looking south into nothing.

Looking west at the Sierra Nevadas.  The orchards they planted are still there.

After they were released, many could not return home as their property had been confiscated and sadly many had their homes looted by their own neighbors.  There were some lucky ones whose communities had salvaged the belongings they left behind and returned them, but almost every business and sizable property was gone - often confiscated by the government itself, leading to many accusations that the program was primarily a greed move.  In many cases, the Japanese-Americans were told they could only be released if they would live over a thousand miles east of their original homes.  Entire families were shipped to cities like Chicago and essentially left to fend for themselves.

Lone Pine is about 10 miles to the south and Independence is to the north.  Lone Pine has some fast food and several local restaurants.  It's also a place for lots of sports and camping equipment.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Photo Friday: Death Valley - Say Hello to My Little Friend

I wouldn't say these were "everywhere," but they were around.  In my sister's apartment she has screen on all the air vents and plus all her drains.  At least they ate the roaches.  This guy was dead when we found him, probably from eating insects already poisoned by pest control.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wayside Wednesday: The Famous Hash House a Go-Go, Las Vegas

If you're in Vegas and want the full experience, have your breakfast at one of several Hash House a Go-Gos.  It's advertised as "Twisted Farm Food," and I guess we Hoosiers and our rural nature are considered "quaint" out there.  The meal will be a little on the expensive side, but I promise you won't be disappointed with it or the portions.  I wanted to try their famous Sage Chicken and Waffles, but there was no way I could eat it all myself and no one else wanted to split one.  Next time!

They've had lots of famous visitors, and they sign their menus with their recommendations.  Neil Patrick Harris gave the Snickers Pancake his seal of approval.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Shutdown Vacation in Death Valley: Rhyolite Ghost Town

The mining town of Rhyolite lies in the northeast quadrant of Death Valley National Park.  They primarily dug for gold in the surrounding hills, but only for about 15 years before it went bust, partly in conjunction with the market crash of 1907.

Visiting Rhyolite is free, and it is under the Bureau of Land Management, which is pretty hands off in comparison to other federal departments.  It would be far more work for them to close off their sites, and as a result, Rhyolite is unstaffed and open.

Not sure what was up with the house made of bottles, but they also attempted to make a model of the town, which was pretty laughable.

Not to scare you, but stay on the path and watch for rattlesnakes. 

Only thing really left of the bank is the vault.  Go figure. 

In the hills you could see mine entrances - there are actually many hills like this in the whole park.  While they are not usually closed off, it's not recommended you go exploring.  Chances are nobody would be able to find you if you got hurt and/or stuck, which is a huge risk.

They BLM recently realized the ghost town actually gets a lot of traffic, mostly because it's the only thing around for many miles and is just off the highway.  So they are actually going to try to find funds to restore the above train station.  I wish them luck, seeing as it's undoubtedly full of disease-ridden rat droppings.  Another reason not to stray from the paths or climb fences.

One of the best preserved building is the jail.

Off to the side is a public art park, with local work.  Most of it is pretty weird and/or lame, but this was kind of cool.  It's modeled after the Last Supper.  If you bring enough people, you can pose under the resin sheets doing the big arms thing.  Meanwhile it looks like a squadron of ghost Spirefires.

Rhyolite is just off the highway near Beatty, Nevada.  Beatty is a small town, but you can get gas, food, ice cream, and bulk candy at pretty cheap prices.  Try the chili at the Happy Burro.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shutdown Vacation in Death Valley: Harmony Borax Works

So one of the big things that brought people into Death Valley (on purpose) before air conditioning was mining.  Turns out borax was all over the place- at first they were just scraping it off the ground, but soon they turned to mining it.  For the first 6 years they used 20 mule teams pulling two large wagons to transport it out of the valley - hence the "20 Mule Team Strength" Borax you can buy today - and to maximize the profit on that they would process and purify the borax on the spot.  This meant they couldn't operate in the hottest summer months until they started shipping by train and the could afford to send the unpurified ore in the summer if not year-round.  After a couple decades, other easier sources of borax and other minerals and metals were found and the activity in Death Valley tapered off.

Meanwhile, the Harmony site was one of the oldest of it's kind, and also very well preserved.  There's no ranger or interpreter on site, so for the federal shutdown they originally closed off the parking lot, but people were just parking on the side of the highway and walking 200 yards to explore it.  Common sense then prevailed and the park decided it would better to just open the parking lot rather than have people crossing a 55 mph highway.  Seeing as it takes at least 3 hours of driving to get there from anywhere substantial, Death Valley has the advantage of not really being overly-supervised and the employees have more sympathy for visitors.  (This doesn't mean they are totally ignoring the shutdown rules, just that they have a little more leeway.)

The site is built into the side of a hill because it's next to a mine and they wanted to do a little work as possible in terms of moving things around.  One day in Death Valley and you'll feel the same.

The walking trail around Harmony is only about 1/4 mile.  Easy walking, though if you are in a wheelchair it might be tough to navigate.

One of the "20 Mule Team" wagons.  The big tank was for water.  Only purified Borax made the trip in these, anything else was a huge waste.

To the left you can the remains of the foundations of other buildings.  Most of the workers were Chinese and they lived in tents.  In the distance are the ruins of a few other structures, but those are on a dirt road and those were blocked off for the shutdown.  Like I said, they are using some common sense in opening sites, but they don't want to have to rescue anybody, either.

Here's where they purified the borax.  It went thought two heating processes and in the 2nd cooling the pure borax would crystallize on metal poles and leather strips (like rock candy) and they they would knock it off into the wagons.

The boiler.

Bring water everywhere.  I don't care what time of year it is.  Harmony is pretty close to the Visitor's Center (closed for the shutdown) which has maps, water, bathrooms, and a cool gift shop.  Furnace Creek also has a privately run hotel- resort (the park campsites are shut down).  That also has a couple restaurants, a gift shop, a tiny borax museum, public bathrooms, a post office, and a golf course.  Oh, and cell phone reception.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Photo Friday: Death Valley

So my sister works (and lives) in Death Valley National Park, and of course I'm going to go visit her.  Just wish I hadn't picked September 30th, 2013 as the day to arrive....

The next couple weeks will be about that trip, as much as I can make it with the government shutdown.  I'll start with just some general pictures, though there's no way to capture the huge scope of the place.  It was amazing and beautiful and desolate all at the same time.

Welcome to Death Valley!  Fortunately the highways through the park are owned by the state of California and they aren't bankrupt (yet) so they are still open.  Except the ones closed for flash flood damage.  And the one down to Badwater, 'cause even with ranger patrol that place is dangerous.

The northerly sand dunes.  Still open because how are you going to stop people, really?  Best place for star gazing, but the night we planned to go it was really windy.

Northern Salt Flats/ Dry Lakebed (not Badwater).  Again, very hard to close off since you can park on the side of the state road and walk out to it.

A little creek ran into the lakebed, which means you have to watch out for slushy, salty quicksand.

Yeah, doesn't quite capture it.

Nor does this.

Just before I left, without really thinking about it, my mother-in-law asked me if I had checked the weather forecast for the week.  Um, sunny and hot.  Pretty much every day.  It gave us a chuckle.

More to come!