1/28/2013, Furnace Creek. We have settled into a comfortable routine of choosing the “hike of the day” and carrying out all the necessary driving and preparation that goes along with it. There are enough unexplored canyons remaining in Death Valley to keep us busy for many days.

Yesterday’s most memorable event occurred off-trail on the Badwater Road when two fighter jets strafed us at low altitude. We saw their approach straight ahead at tree-top level. In an instant they passed overhead with the thundering roar that only jet engines can produce. We pulled off the road to watch them. They banked sharply and crossed the valley then banked again and flew just above the ground back to the south.

We thought the show was over so we got back on the road heading south. But once again they roared by at low altitude. Once again we stopped. I got out my camera hoping to capture them in flight. Back and forth they streaked along the valley floor and up the mountainsides. Was it simply follow the leader or mock combat? What a playground Death Valley must be to fighter jets!

Three times they passed near us but they were flying so fast that the only image of them I was able to capture shows them as tiny specks, no more impressive than a couple of crows. We watched their playful maneuvering for a good fifteen minutes, hoping for another chance at a good photo but the last we saw of them was across the valley when they disappeared up a canyon for good.

Today’s most memorable event occurred when we were returning from our hike in Golden Canyon. Mary saw a coyote trotting across a rocky expanse near the highway, totally oblivious to our truck. I stopped and was able to take a decent photo of him.

Golden Canyon was notable for it’s alien sterility. We could have been on the surface of Mars. For miles we saw no sign of life – no blade of grass, no bush, no tree, not a single weed – no nothing but pale yellow clay.

After a day or two of rain we are back to bright blue skies. It is shirt-sleeve weather but a little on the cool side for Death Valley – 60s.

Tomorrow we move to a new base camp, Stovepipe Wells, which is about twenty miles north.


1/29/2013, Stovepipe Wells. The early-evening night sky is jam packed with stars here until the moon comes up. There are no city lights within 100 miles to compete. But the stars did have competition. We were in the trailer when the roar of jet engines disrupted the silence outside. We stepped out to see the flaming afterburners of jets from Nellis AFB performing all sorts of aerobatics against the blackness. The campground host told us that they are engaged in a “Red Flag” exercise, a form of mock combat in which one team plays the “enemy” and one the good guys (Americans, of course.)

Most curious from our perspective was a maneuver in which one plane appeared to stop in mid-air (really!) and then peel off in a different trajectory. It was all very thrilling to a couple of fighter jet fanatics like us. Like another retired-military camper said to someone complaining about the noise: “That’s the sound of freedom, Dude.”