A day exploring Death Valley wasn't even close to what either of us had in mind. The canyons are rich with color. The mountains in the background are stunning. The heat wasn't really that bad. Our first stop of the day was a few scenic overlooks on our way to the visitor center.
The visitor center is small but has some good info. It's located in Furnace Creek which just so happens to be a legit town. The native american tribe has lived here for 1,000 years and they continue to survive. The sheer thought of that is nuts. It's Death Valley. Things die here. That's the predispostion we had driving towards the town, but what we didn't expect was a green oasis of trees.
Just off to the East side of town were the remains of an old Borax mine camp. For those of you not familiar with Borax I'll give you a quick turorial. It's used in a bunch of stuff; cosmetics, laundry soap, ph buffer solutions, household cleaners, fire retardant, forging steel and in some countries as a food additive (not here).
These guys back in the day did some crazy stuff. Lacking full face respirators they dumped mined borax into a boiling water tank. Then the water was cooled and the pure borax stuck to metal rods, kind of like a popsicle on a stick. Some unlucky bastard would then scrape the borax concentrate off the sticks and into burlap sacks for transport. All the while it's 120 degrees outside with no shade. No thank you. Time to move on to something a bit happier.
Bad water basin. Located 282 feet below sea level is the lowest point in the lower 48. The bottom of an old lake bed spreads out for miles.
After a quick jaunt it was back into Shirley and up the road to do some more hiking. A 1/2 mile climb up to the natural bridge showed us the power of the weather. Here water has hollowed out this hole and made some cool looking waterfall rocks in the canyon. Whoa... wait a minute. Water? Here? Yeah. Every spring this place receives a torrential flood from snow melt and goes through it's super-bloom. There are signs everywhere in the park that advise visitors to be on the lookout for flash flooding. Some back roads are shut down and one of the tourist spots is closed for the next two years. I know, that's nuts.
The hike was hot and exhausting. We decide the rest of the afternoon would be spent driving and sightseeing. A quick turn onto the "Artists Palette" road showed us some more cool looking shit.
With the day of sightseeing behind us it was time to head back to base camp. I had promised Katie we would get out and meet our closest neighbor before our time at the pads was up. Boy am I glad we did.
This is Bill. Bill came out of his RV waving his arm so hard I though he was going to break it. He was thrilled to talk to us and immediately asked us where we were from, and where we were going. Less than a minute into the conversation he crouched down into the dirt and started to draw us a map of the area. Not knowing what to do, I crouched down next to him and let him talk. Katie and Eli look bewildered. They both finally sat down in the dirt. One big happy RV living dirt sitting family. Nice. We spent the next half hour with Bill crouched to the earth talking about what we could see and where we should go.
You see, Bill is from Seattle. He hated the rain so much that he tucked away $3,000 bucks in VA checks and bought that sweet ride behind him. That was a couple of years ago. Now he spends every winter down here in Death Valley waiting out the cold. Bill was a good guy. He pointed out to us where he collected all the trash from in the area and burned it in one huge black smoke fire. Then he took a sledgehammer and beat down all the rebar that was sticking out of the concrete so RV's could park without flat tires. The ones that he couldn't he had put pop cans on top of so they were visible. Think of him as the unofficial curator of the pads. Hope he's still there when we return years from now.