Steven and Sean on the Polar Bear Cam
Steven and Sean on the Polar Bear Cam

Monday, May 30, 2005

Living Strong in Death Valley: Day 3

Sunset at Father Crowley Point

For Memorial Day, we decided to drive through Titus Canyon, probably our favorite drive in the park. Titus Canyon is accessed by a one-way dirt road that begins in Beatty, a little town in Nevada just outside the park.

The beginning of the descent into Titus Canyon

The road into Titus Canyon is narrow and winding, with sheer dropoffs and breathtaking views.

The ghost town at Leadfield

Leadfield was founded in 1905 and was the product of a scam artist, who salted the ore with lead and enticed hundreds to come to Titus Canyon in search of riches.

Teakettle Junction

After winding through the canyon to the valley floor, we turned off the main highway again to drive 35 miles down a dirt road to Racetrack Valley. Six miles before we reached the valley, we passed through Teakettle Junction, the sign laden with teakettles. Most of the teakettles were signed and dated, and some contained messages. All of the teakettle dates were in 2005, leading us to believe that the Park Service probably cuts all of them down every year.

The Devil's Racetrack

As we neared Racetrack Valley, we were treated to views of The Racetrack, a huge dry lake bed appearing white in the distance with an unusual outcropping of rocks in the center called The Grandstand.

Steven walking on the Racetrack Playa, the Grandstand in the background

We walked across the Racetrack playa, out to see the Grandstand. Its an impressive place, like an alien landscape full of beauty, the essence of which is not reflected in the photos.

Our lizard friend we met at the Racetrack

When we got there, we were greated by a huge black lizard with a white tail. We're not sure what he is, but we think its a male chuckawalla. He let us approach him up to a point, hissing and flaring out the skin on his neck to let us know how close was too close.

Tracks made by moving rocks on the Racetrack Playa

We drove to the southern end of the playa and walked out to see the tracks left by the moving rocks. The only rocks we found were small, but from time to time scientists have found large rocks too big for someone to push that have moved.

Cows in the road on Hunter Mountain

We turned the car around to head out. At Teakettle Junction, we decided to take the Hunter Mountain road. It was about 50 miles of road before we'd hit pavement and the road went up to over 5000 feet to cross a mountain pass.

It was a beautiful drive, with steep switchbacks and sheer dropoffs deeper than those in Tutus Canyon. Near the top of Hunter Mountain, there was running water in the road, then we came on mud and 18-inch deep ruts, left over from the deluge of rain that California got this year.

We pushed through, and shortly after we made it to the top of the mountain and began our descent (still in a deeply rutted road), we came across an obstacle we've never encountered before in our off-road adventures-- cows. Over 100 of them. Dead smack in the center of the road.

We approached them with the vehicle, but they would just turn and look at us, they weren't moving, no way. Part of the problem for us was that the cows were covering up the ruts in the road and we couldn't see what was what.

We started honking the horn, although some of them would move, mostly this would just cause them to moo louder. The kids were laughing so hard they couldn't sit up straight.

It took us probably 40 minutes to pass the herd of cows, a few at a time. It got to a point where there was a steep slope on one side and a dropoff on the other, and there was barely room for the cows to pass beside our vehicle, so we'd have to sneak up and pass them one at a time. Every time we'd get to a place where the road conditions were such that we could speed up, the cows on the side of our vehicle would speed up right along with us.

We ended up with at one point with only six calves in front of us (the fastest runners), and their mothers were running along behind the truck, mooing and trying to pick up enough speed to pass us again.

After we finally passed the cows, the rest of our trip was uneventful, just more breathtaking vistas of the Panamint Mountains, Panamint Valley, and finally a return to our camping spot at Furnace Creek, 200 feet below sea level and still 94 degrees at 9:30 pm.

But no more of those blasting winds and it was another beautiful night and a peaceful sleep under that blanket of stars.

- Kathleen


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