Route: CA-190 West
Weather: 50F in the morning, warming to 86F with increasing clouds in the afternoon
Trip Average Gas Mileage: 26.7mpg with the mostly flat, slow roads in Death Valley
- trudging through the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes for a view from the tallest dune
- hiking and rock scrambling up Mosaic Canyon to the solid wall at the end
- seeing pupfish living in water flowing from Salt Creek
- getting some downtime to rinse clothes and read for a few hours
Hubby woke me up a 6:15, after he had already been up restocking the breakfast condiments from the backup supply into the day box. The early start was worth the effort. Even with the 25-mile drive we were starting the Mesquite Flats Sand Dune hike by 8:15. Cold sand, like wet sand, is easier to walk on and at 63F the hike was pleasantly challenging. There were plenty of animal tracks on the sand: snake, kangaroo rat, lizard, sidewinder rattlesnakes and bighorn sheep were the distinctive ones we recognized. Unlike other places, there were no (in fact, could not be any) marked trails here in the dunes. We picked what we thought was the most even path to the tallest dune but when walking through a dune field there is always a downhill and another uphill to get from one line of dunes to the next. It was a good cardio workout. For more dramatic dune colour and creature viewing visit the dunes at sunset.
After removing the sand from our boots we drove the 2.5-mile washboarded gravel road to the Mosaic Canyon trailhead and filled up our water bottles again before starting the 4-mile out-and-back canyon trail at 10:00. The NPS calls this a "Geologic Outdoor Museum" because of the formations exposed by water erosion. For the first section of the hike the canyon was narrow with beautifully water-sculpted rock walls. At this time of the morning it was shady and cool, lifting our expectations that this would be a cool hike. Then the canyon widened and we were hiking in a rocky wash until the first rock tumble. Was this the end of the hike already? Hikers emerged from behind the boulders, showing us a small squeeze where we could climb up and around the rock tumble. To continue all the way to the rock wall at the end of the trail we had several more of these rocky obstacles to circumvent, sometimes by squeezing through and sometimes by taking a side trail along a ledge in the canyon wall. Every time we thought we were at the head of the canyon another hiker would emerge from further up and show us a little trail pushing deeper into the canyon. It was uphill all the way to the final wall, which looked like it had been climbed more than once by rock-climbers with ropes. This was our turnaround point. My uphill muscles were happy! The downhill hike was easier and there was a cool breeze to make up for the rising temperature.
We were back at the car by noon, eager to drive back to Stovepipe Wells Village to top up the fuel tank and find a shady spot for lunch. The Village General Store made it a convenient one-stop for everything. They had bathrooms, shaded picnic tables and cheaper fuel than at the Furnace Creek store. Across the street at the hotel reception office we found a US Post Box to mail our postcards. If we hadn't brought delicious cheese, mustard and cucumber sandwiches there was also a saloon to buy lunch.
Fortified, rested and cool we headed back east on US-190 and turned down the gravel road to Salt Creek. This short interpretive hike was along a flat boardwalk which winds through the Salt Creek marsh. The water in the creek has such a high salinity level that it is toxic to most creatures. The hardy pupfish have evolved to survive the harsh wet/dry and hot/cold conditions of Death Valley better than any other creature. Furthermore, the Salt Creek Pupfish have evolved with different characteristics than the pupfish in other saline habitats in the park. Iodine Bush perennials (or were they pickleweed annuals?), plentiful here, have also adapted to the salty water. The plants separate the salt from the water and store the toxic salt in their nodule-like "leaves". Once a "leaf" has reached its storage capacity it turns red and falls off.
It was 14:00 and 86F. Our feet were tired and we were sticky and dusty and looking forward to the cold bottle of water we had stashed in the cooler for this afternoon. Our campsite was still in full sun and the blacktop was too hot. Even though it was not quite as hot as yesterday the gathering cloud cover today made the air feel more humid. Our feet appreciated a change into crocs. We carried our camp chairs across the road to sit in the shade of the trees, enjoy our cool lemon water and read for a little while. Finally I felt hydrated enough to gather a few sweaty hiking clothes into a bucket to rinse out at the outdoor sink. These modern new materials clean so easily with a quick rinse and here in the desert they dry very quickly. I would have fresh clothes for tomorrow's hikes. Hubby played his guitar until my laundry was almost dry, then did the same thing. His were dry before dinner was cooked.
It was still very hot when we started cooking the quinoa with rosemary. When it was almost cooked we added a can of fire-roasted tomatoes and let it finish cooking before adding a can of kidney beans, a can of green beans and a can of tuna fish. The resulting dinner was so filling we opted for just a banana and some raisins for dessert. A small bat performed aerial acrobatics for us for a few minutes until he left in search of more bugs. The usual dishwashing, toothbrushing and sink bath continued until 20:00. Because of the clouds there were no stars to see before getting into the tent to read.
Because we have been driving for at least an hour every day, Hubby has been able to keep the travel computer charged so I can type in my daily log entries. We have also been able to keep the phones charged during the drive. The Solar charger topped up the rechargeable flashlight batteries very quickly in the intense sun this afternoon. We have not noticed any place to get wi-fi. Although my AT&T phone gets 4G service here at Furnace Creek, it suddenly thought it was on Eastern Standard Time (EST) again and refused to correct itself automatically. I finally just set it to the correct time zone (PDT/UTC -7) manually. Perhaps the phone overheated in the car today?? We didn't have any other explanation.