Wedding Week: Desert Highlights Reel

The Official Wedding Ceremony included a bonus video from Jen, John, Ellery and Cindy. Here’s the director’s cut:

Pick a canyon, any canyon: Heading into an especially stripey region of the Last Chance Range.

Now it was time to do some exploring. We went up three canyons and only scratched the surface of what is possible to do here in terms of walking around. The length of the valley is driveable, but requires 4WD and high clearance.

We did a canyon walk near the dunes after the ceremony, but didn’t get very far before encountering dry falls too big and steep for everyone to ascend safely, since we didn’t have a rope. Still, it was fun exploring, stopping for snacks in the sun, and admiring the brightly colored cliffs and cactus that dot the slopes.

Eureka Dunes from the mouth of the unnamed canyon.
Mike checks out what turned out to be our high point — a steep fall with an even larger one above that. And probably more above that …

up and down mine

We also visited the remains of the Up and Down Mine, one of a great many old mining sites in Death Valley National Park. The Up and Down was a mercury mine that never actually yielded all that much, although the ore was estimated to be pretty rich.

The remote location probably put the kibosh on any large scale commercial production, especially in Eureka Valley. I suspect many of these mines were started because some guys just wanted to live independently out in the country, and maybe strike it rich. Or not.

Mining relic near the Up and Down Mine. What the hell is this? And why is it way down here on the fan?
Lunch at the Retort Café, Up and Down Mine. Welded together from scrap metal, the retort was used to heat ore to vaporize the mercury, and then cool and condense the vapor and get pure mercury. I’m sure it was all perfectly safe.
Not a bad place to work, really, if you think about it. Eureka Valley and a foreground of deep black shale canyons from the Up and Down.

soldier pass

Pottery sherds at Soldier Pass. We re-scattered them after the photo.

Our last walk with Chris and Todd and Bean was up an old route to Deep Springs Valley. Soldier Pass was probably used by many groups to get to points north. Chris found some very old pottery sherds as well as an old-looking bullet casing.

One of the best parts of the desert is hanging out under the big sky watching the sun go down, with maybe a campfire if it’s cooling down. We had an almost-full moon all week, which made things even prettier. Nothing like a warm desert evening under the stars!

We wanted for nothing, especially the small but mighty Bean. [Todd Vogel]
Sunset, moonrise. [Todd Vogel]

further adventures

Much of the canyon was this narrow, and it was fun to discover what was around the next bend.

Upon leaving Eureka Valley, we decided we weren’t quite ready to go home yet, so we pointed the Sprinter south and, after dropping off the wedding paperwork in Independence, headed for Death Valley itself.

We did a great afternoon walk up Stretched-Pebble Canyon near Stovepipe Wells. The canyon was very narrow, with dry falls ranging from five to 20 feet high. They were all climbable without a rope, although the short rope we were lucky enough to find proved useful for descending some of the higher falls.

And just like that, a rope appeared — at the top of a fall we’d circumvented on ledges. It was in good enough shape to use for belaying.

This steep, narrow limestone canyon was studded with crushed pebbles, rocks and boulders that may have been pushed around by glaciers and then subjected to enormous forces during Jurassic times, resulting in a mosaic of tortured rock amid sinuous, water-polished dolomite limestone walls.

Stretched pebbles embedded in limestone.
One of many “stretched pebbles” that gives this canyon its name.

We ran out of time before we got to the top of the canyon, but it continued up at least a few more falls. Have to go back!

the funerals

Petroglyph in limestone near Monarch Canyon.

We also checked out a side canyon of Monarch Canyon, on the east side of the Valley in the Funeral Mountains. We found a limestone slab with faint petroglyphs near the mouth of the canyon.

We often find evidence of past human activity from various eras when traveling around here, and it’s especially interesting to come upon designs chipped into stone. Who left their marks here, and why?

Petroglyph in context. We only discovered it because we saw the unusual limestone slabs and wandered over to check them out.

View from a ridge above Monarch Canyon.

This walk and hundreds more are detailed in Michel Digonnet’s two books on the area. These books are prime sources for planning walking and driving adventures in the Death Valley region and include information on history, geology, driving and walking directions, and more — highly recommended for you desert rats out there!

The Grand Old Hotel of Tonopah.

the mizpah!

We dropped in on this place on the way back to Reno. If you ever find yourself in Tonopah, which is about halfway between Death Valley and Reno, be sure to check out the Mizpah Hotel. Meticulously restored — for the fourth time since it was first built in 1907 — it retains the grand character of a hundred years ago but features all the modern conveniences one wants in a hotel. The architecture and décor are amazing. Read more about the history of the Mizpah.

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