Death Valley Dunes

It is touted as “the hottest place on earth” and “the driest place on the North American Continent” but when we arrived on the last day of January, Death Valley was cold and it would soon become quite wet.  Having visited on several other occasions, we were looking to re-create some of our previous, sun-soaked adventures.  We selected Stovepipe Wells Campground as our home base and on our first full day in the park we hiked up to nearby Mosaic Canyon.  The rain started about two miles into our hike and soon soaked through our supposedly “waterproof – breathable” rain jackets. Don’t believe Eddie Bauer or Marmot Inc. when they claim waterproof-ness for their jackets.  We got soaked all right but it wasn’t with sun.  (In Death Valley’s defense I must say that the sun did come out the following day and we were treated to the brilliant blue skies I remember from past visits.)

We’re about a week into what has now become an annual winter migration to the Southwest.  The drive down Interstate 5 was rainy but at least it wasn’t snowy.  We were curious to see the water level at Shasta Lake in Northern California – what with all the talk of drought.  The last few years the level has been shockingly low with the boat marinas resting on dirt hundreds of feet below the high-water mark.  This year the docks were actually floating on water but the lake is still far from full.

At times on our drive the rain was so heavy that the front wheels of the semi trucks were pushing substantial bow waves into the passing lane.  On the bright side, lush green grass covered the hills as we turned east toward the Tehachapi Pass, like a scene set in Ireland.

A minor drama occurred when I passed up the opportunity to refuel north of Sacramento because of what I called highway robbery – i.e., diesel at $2.89/gal.  As the miles added up and the fuel gauge moved toward empty with no gas stations forthcoming, Mary’s accusations of stupidity on my part verged on rabid.  In a desperate effort to get the maximum miles out of our dwindling fuel, I began drafting behind semis – a precarious place to be in any vehicle, let alone a trailer-hauling pickup.  With the low-fuel alarm dinging and mere fumes in the tank, we at last rolled into a station south of Stockton where we paid a more acceptable price of $2.29/gal.  Feeling somewhat vindicated, I pointed out to Mary that we had saved all of $15 by passing up the higher priced fuel.  Only silence came from the passenger seat.

While the weather in Death Valley may have been disappointing, we were able to entertain ourselves by spying on our less fortunate neighbors in the campground. From the interior of our spacious and warm fifth wheel trailer we watched as frigid wind and pelting rain made life miserable for the tent campers.  They huddled in their hooded coats as gusts blew their plates off the picnic tables.  If they walked to the bathrooms, waiting ravens swooped in and pecked into their belongings. I am a little guilty to admit that watching their misfortune only added to our sense of comfy coziness.


Ravens take over a campsite

The weather is forecasted to get into the 80s by this weekend and I look forward to riding my mountain bike into the hills.  I’m curious to see how my lungs fare.  When I went for a ride in Death Valley they seemed fine, which was good, because being 150 feet below sea level pretty much eliminated the high-altitude excuse I used last summer while riding in the Colorado Rockies.