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Old 04-07-2009, 06:40 AM   #31
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Day Nine - Morning

Drive from Mojave National Preserve to near Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park

I wake up in the SMB penthouse to howling wind. Checking the thermometer downstairs, 42 degrees F. Way too cold for a spring desert trip! We decide to pack up and go downhill rather than starting the furnace and having breakfast up here. But first I need to get the top down. The strong gusts keep the canvas top too inflated to collapse cleanly, and parts of the penthouse end up falling outside when I get the lid down.

But it’s even harder to get back up in the wind, since the wind is coming from behind the van and pressing the top down hard. I’m exhausted after three attempts to get it down properly and decide to drive as is with canvas hanging out.

On the way down the hill back to Kelso, we pass the Cima Post Office at the top of Cima grade. I’ve seen remote forlorn post offices in the wilds of Montana and Alaska, but this one seems more forlorn than most. In the background, the grey clouds show the weather front moving into the desert.



Back downhill in the warmth of the desert (mid-70s) at Kelso we pop the top to straighten out the penthouse and have some breakfast.

The expedition photographer grabs a couple cups of coffee to go at the Kelso Depot Beanery, and grabs a pic of the former Kelso post office. This PO is even more forlorn and abandon as the Cima post office.



On the road again driving north to Baker, we meet the edge of the weather front which brings a brief but heavy rainstorm, as we pass the backcountry campsites at the lava beds on the east side of road. It will have to wait for a future trip to visit the lava tubes there.

The rainstorm stops as we reach Baker on I-15. My early memories of Baker on my first trip West in 1969 is of a tacky Interstate hellhole. Forty years later, it’s a larger, tackier Interstate hellhole. We end up at a crowded Arco station again for diesel, as I send the co-pilot inside to pay ahead of time for the fuel to top off the Sporty’s tank. At $2.80 a gallon, it’s the most expensive diesel of the trip, ten cents more than the fuel at the remote Furnace Creek in Death Valley!

The town is a crowded madhouse as rigs with their dirt toys pour south out the Dumont Dunes OHV play area ahead of the building storm. We look for a small grocery store or market to pick up a couple of fresh veggies to no avail, finding only fast food junk up and down the frontage road. At one place I walk back to the van to find a tattooed biker guy staring at the Sporty in awe. “Bitchin van man, a truly bitchin van”, he says, as we escape from Baker.

Heading north toward Shoshone the wind gets worse and a dust storm begins. There’s not much traffic headed north on this Sunday afternoon, but the on-coming traffic is still heavy with toy haulers. The worst are two big class As towing enclosed toy hauler trailers. The first one approaches us and the initial air blast forces the Sporty to my right almost off the pavement. As we reach the trailer, the suction drags the Sporty to the left, almost across the center line. The low air pressure lifts the SMBs windshield wipers off of the glass and smacks them down hard scaring the bejesus out of me. The second class A does the same thing to the SMB, but I’m less startled at that point.

Our plan was to turn to the northwest and explore the Saratoga Springs area along Wade Road in southern Death Valley, but that’s out of the question as the dust storm intensifies. We miss the turn off to the springs in heavy dust and almost zero visibility. There’s horrendous dust at Dumont Dunes, with only a few hardy (or deranged) people still camped there. As we climb out of the dune area, the on-coming traffic and the dust decrease, but the wind keeps up.

With relief, we pull into the small town of Shoshone, which is out of the wind. The small market has no fresh vegetables, but we pick up some canned veggies as a back map meal. Across the street at from the market, the Crowbar Café and Saloon has great burritos, which does a lot to improve my view of this leg of the trip. The expedition photographer, showing some smarts, orders a large chef salad to go, solving our fresh vegetable problem for several nights.
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Old 04-07-2009, 09:38 PM   #32
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Ed,

I agree with everyone else regarding the great pictures. But what really impresses me is your detailed descriptions of your travels, and the insights into the local history, geology, flora and fauna. Truly a great trip report.

Thanks!

Brent
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Old 04-08-2009, 06:26 AM   #33
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Thanks Brent. As a frustrated geographer who is tied to his computer at work too much, I love learning about the places we travel to in the Sporty, and this forum has been invaluable to planning trips to cool places!
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Old 04-08-2009, 06:29 AM   #34
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Day Nine - Afternoon

Leaving the town of Shoshone, we turn northwest and enter Death Valley National Park through the south entrance. As we drop down the 3,000 feet or more to the valley floor, the wind and the dust increase again. I’m on the lookout for wildflowers but the landscape is barren as I have ever seen it in my five trips to this part of the desert.

We reach the valley bottom in a dust storm, and I am amazed not just at the lack of flowers, but at the sparseness of vegetation of any kind. The sky is yellow and dust is blowing past the van at 30mph as we stop to reconnoiter. This area near Jubilee pass and Wade Road had been the heart of the Big Flower Bloom in 2005. The area that had been carpeted with Desert Gold in 2005 is sandy, rocky, barren dirt with an occasional half-dead Mesquite Bush every 20 yards or so. The Park web page has been predicting a “moderate” flower bloom this year, but this area is about as green as a Walmart parking lot.

The expedition photographer refuses to take her camera out in this blowing dust, but here’s a pic of what the area looked like in the Big Bloom of 2005.




Turning north, we leave the worst of the dust storm as we head toward Badwater and Furnace Creek. There’s the occasional break in the blowing dust, and patches of blue sky appear. Low and behold, small clumps of roadside wildflowers show up, and the salt flats near Badwater appear to have had water in some places. Maybe there’s hope yet.

We reach Furnace Creek at 4PM, and our second choice for a campground at Texas Spring is full up. Not wanting to park next to the big class As in the Sunset parking lot, we divert to Hole in Wall Road east of Furnace Creek. With relief, I put the Sporty into four wheel and crawl up the gravel wash for several miles. We find a nice sheltered place off to the side of the wash and set up camp.



It’s a great camp site and we have a surprisingly good dinner of rainbow pasta twirls with zucchini, tomato, garlic and sausage and a good red wine. I sit outside as the dust storm subsides with a glass of wine, and get a thumbs up from a rig headed further up to camp. “That’s the way to do it,” the driver shouts.
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Old 04-08-2009, 01:17 PM   #35
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report


Great report!

Thanks for the photos and detailed write-up.

Cheers,
---TWOLOST---

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Old 04-09-2009, 07:41 AM   #36
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Day Ten

Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells - Hiking Grotto Canyon

In the morning, the air is crystal clear with no sign of yesterday’s dust storm. We can see Telescope Peak and the Panamint Mountains ten miles away from the wash at our campsite, and we could barely see a half mile or so yesterday afternoon.



After a leisurely breakfast we head downhill to Furnace Creek to resupply. Perusing the small market at Furnace Creek, the expedition photographer scores, finding a couple of Cornish game hens in the store’s freezer. It will be nice to grill something and not have to rely on rice and beans for the rest of the trip. We refill the Sporty’s water tank at the park visitor center, and stop by the Chevron station to top off the diesel. Here something remarkable happens: nothing remarkable happens! There’s no long line of cars, no shrieking people and the pump actually takes credit cards. Total time to refuel: ten minutes, just as it should be!

We were thinking of hiking Darwin Falls in the western portion of the park today, but decide to try Grotto Canyon instead. Camping at the big parking lot at Stovepipe Wells (something I usually try to avoid) we can get up before dawn to grab sunrise photos over the dunes. We find a site on the west edge and meet Adriaan who sets up his tent nearby.

Adriaan does panoramic landscape photography with his medium format Lindhof camera, and knows Death Valley and this campground very well. “I always choose this site since it has a level place for my tent” he says. “The tent sites to the north next to dunes attract too many late night partiers, and besides they are downhill from everything else and will flood in a storm,” he goes on. Apparently, Adriaan comes to Death Valley only in stormy weather for more dramatic lighting, and had been hoping the dust storm might produce some good pics. “It was snowing up in Lone Pine yesterday,” he notes. You can see some of Adriaan’s amazing panoramas at his website: http://www.avantriet.com/.

Noticing the Sporty, Adriaan says “Those rigs are pretty pricy”. Having had dozens of Sportsmobile conversations this trip, I’m prepared for this discussion. “Compared to what?” I reply. “Those Winnebago View class C’s over there start at $85,000 and those new class B Roadtreks go for between $60-$100K. That beautiful shiny Airstream class B starts at $120K and then the price rapidly goes up. Our Sportsmobile is nowhere near as luxurious as any of those.” He admits he hasn’t priced RVs lately.

Sportys look cool, but they are reasonably priced in my opinion, compared to other RV alternatives. Heck, I see snowmobile rigs in Montana (big new pickup, enclosed trailer and four or more sleds) that easily run $75k. It depends what you want to waste your recreation money on. The cheap way to camp is to have an old beat up truck or Subaru with four wheel drive and use a tent, something we have done for nearly thirty years. It was way past time to try a little more luxury in a backcountry vehicle when we got our SMB in 2006.

After lunch, we drive up the rough gravel road to the mouth of Grotto Canyon. When the track reaches the wash, I get out to investigate, and decide to leave the Sporty at that point, You can drive a mile farther, but we need the exercise and I don’t want to have to dig the rig out of the fine loose gravel found in some parts of the wash.



Grotto Wash is pretty broad this point, and turning around, you have sweeping views of the Stovepipe Dunes to the north.



As dry and gravelly as it is, there are occasional wildflowers like this type of Phacelia.



We walk another half mile uphill past a few braver four-wheelers and enter the narrows portion of the canyon.



This spectacular portion is fairly short, and we quickly reach the ten foot high dryfall.






You can bypass this dryfall by following a steep route along the east edge of the canyon, but that leads to an impassable dryfall in just another quarter mile. In the heat of the late afternoon, we decide to head back downhill.

The expedition photographer decides to try a few four wheeling pics as we head back down to the paved road.







Back at Stovepipe Wells, the campground is not a quarter full, making for a quiet evening. Adriaan takes off early and returns late, taking his time to capture the sunset lighting. I cook a couple of boiled eggs for tomorrow’s breakfast in the dunes, and turn in for the night.
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Old 04-09-2009, 10:32 AM   #37
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Quote:
Sportys look cool, but they are reasonably priced in my opinion, compared to other RV alternatives. Heck, I see snowmobile rigs in Montana (big new pickup, enclosed trailer and four or more sleds) that easily run $75k. It depends what you want to waste your recreation money on. The cheap way to camp is to have an old beat up truck or Subaru with four wheel drive and use a tent, something we have done for nearly thirty years. It was way past time to try a little more luxury in a backcountry vehicle when we got our SMB in 2006
Not meaning to hijack, but I've also had many strangers comment about how expensive SMBs are and share your view on relative and absolute cost of the SMB. Considering their utility, they are a bargain. We looked at various class C and other class B options and all were in the $75-$125k price range. There are trade-offs in everything and if space/comfort are your key priorities, then a SMB is not your first choice. But I've never felt that the SMB option suffered on the basis of cost alone relative to other RV choices out there.
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Old 04-09-2009, 11:02 AM   #38
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

EMrider, I totally agree with you. SMBs cost more than a cheap travel trailer and an old pickup truck, but they can go places that a travel trailer can't.

There's always a compromise, and we decided that a 4WD camper van that could go many places and could handle snow was more useful to us than a fancier class B or C that must stay on good roads. I just don't think they are exorbitant compared to what other RV options are out there.
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Old 04-09-2009, 12:14 PM   #39
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

I always say I'd rather have what I really want than to compromise to save a relatively small amount of money.

Mike
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Old 04-09-2009, 03:05 PM   #40
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Ed,

Super trip report. Great pictures and wonderful travelogue. While I'm not sure I could take the heat in the summer, the desert southwest is a beautiful area and there are a number of stunning National Parks (in the winter ).

Thanks for taking the effort to put it together.

-Mark
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