Our first week in Death Valley National Park was based out of the Furnace Creek area. For the second week we moved to the Stovepipe Wells area to visit some of the areas in the northern part of the park. Where Furnace Creek was more resort like with lots of palm trees, a golf course, and multi-story hotel, Stovepipe Wells was more desert like and low key. There is a resort and amenities in Stovepipe Wells, but it is not as high brow. We like the feel of Stovepipe Wells a lot better. We also like the prices of gas and beer were significantly lower.
This trip seemed a bit more off the beaten path. The gravel 4WD road takes you up and up and up keeping most people away. We parked off the highway and hopped on our bikes. We rode this as an out and back and while it wasn’t terribly long, the climb on the way out was 7.4 miles with 2400’ climbing and it was tough. Several times I stopped and just stared out at the surrounding mountain ranges in disbelief at my fortune to be able to see this amazing place. The “city” was established in 1873 and arose out of silver discoveries. Pack mules were used to ship out the ore. I sure wish I’d had a pack mule to carry water for me, or maybe a bag of potato chips since that’s what I was craving. An interesting tidbit…the first road through Death Valley went from Chloride City to San Bernadino, CA.
Keane Mine and Salt Creek
Today we planned to take it easy and do two short hikes. The first stop was to check out the Keane Mine. This mine has only recently been open for visitors to check out. There are a lot of structures left standing and they had to get engineers to ok them all before letting people close. The mine itself was high up in the mountain. But what makes this mine cool is they built a aerial tramway system to haul the gold from the top to the bottom where the buildings were to process it. The tramways are still standing today. The hike to the bottom area is easy, but there is a trail that follows the tramway up to the upper mine. It was only two miles or so, but it involved hiking up 2,000 feet in those two miles. I went about halfway up before calling it good enough. My legs were still tired from all the previous days. Heidi continued on to the top.
The Salt Creek hike was a short one fortunately. Only about a half mile of walking on elevated boardwalks. Even though Death Valley is one of the driest places on earth, Salt Creek still runs through it. Kind of. The creek is super salty, hence the name. There is a special type of fish that lives here and no where else in the world. They are called pupfish and they can survive in the super salty water and in water temperatures that range from freezing to 108 degrees. We looked but didn’t see any fish. It was still strange seeing water in such a dry area.
Ubehebe Crater and the Racetrack Playa
One of the things we definitely wanted to check out in Death Valley was the Racetrack. This is the dried lake bed where the rock “mysteriously” move around and leave tracks. It isn’t so mysterious anymore as they have recorded the rocks moving on thin layers of ice during cold windy nights, only to dry up during the day. It always looked cool in pictures I have seen of it. Unfortunately the racetrack is hard to get to. It is in a secluded area of the park, and you have to drive 28 miles down a rough and rocky dirt road. Because of this it doesn’t usually get to crowded down there. Our plan was to drive halfway in and ride our mountain bikes the rest of the way. I am not sure what was worse, driving the truck on the bouncy road, or riding our bikes on the washboards. It was rough getting out there, but it was pretty scenic once we made it. We walked around the lake bed for a long time, but didn’t see any rocks with tracks. We did see some tracks from some jackass that drove on the playa, but that was it. Even though, it was still really cool. At the Beginning of the road before you head to the racetrack is the Ubehebe Crater. This is a large volcanic crater that is 600 feet deep and half a mile across. Since we were there we stopped to check it out. It was pretty impressive. There was a hike that goes around it, but after a long day we called it good at the view point.