Sunrise at Death Valley

November 8, 2016

dsc_0728If you wake up sometime a little before dawn, you can hear the coyotes howl. I unzip our window just a little bit a go back to sleep. When we step out of our tent the next morning, there is one constellation looming large over us, piercing bright stars on an electric blue sky – the Big Dipper*. In Hindu mythology, these stars represent seven (7) great sages. There is however, an eight star in this constellation. Hindu mythology calls her Arundhati, she is the wife of the star-sage Vashista. Together these two stars form their own twin star-system. This binary star has long been considered by Hindus, as the symbol of a perfect marriage. Unlike other twin star systems where one star revolves around the other, both these stars move around each other in synchrony. They stand for complete devotion, steadfast loyalty, and a union where two entities shine together as one for all eternity.  As part of the wedding, Hindu couples gaze upon this binary star (interestingly called Arundhati-Vashista and not Vashista-Arundhathi) and pray for a similar union.  The husband and I got married in broad daylight, so our priest asked us to spot it ourselves at night. All these years later, we finally got to it. We do not have the time to gaze and contemplate. We have a sunrise to catch. We hurry on to Zabriskie Point.

dsc_0780I opt to set up on the mound suggested by pamphotography below the view point, much to the annoyance of a few spectators up there. Hey, it’s not a perfect world and nobody stopped them from coming down. Just prior to sunrise, we see a pink glow above the tips of the Panamits. As the sun starts to rise behind us we see the mountains slowly wake up. As the golden light spreads across the valley floor, more rocks shake off the shadows. The red cathedral seems to glow, as though from within. This play of light and shadow is what all the early risers are here for. Once again, we breakfast on bread and cheese in the parking lot and this time head back to the campsite to pack up.

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* This is also the only constellation I can identify without help.

When the Stars Line Up

November 6, 2016

We drive through the barren landscape of Death Valley, past towering cliffs, stunted plants, and nothingness. Shortly after turning into Artist’s Drive, we see a car parked and a small group of people waiting atop a little hillock. Not wanting to share their space, we drive on, in search of our own till spot. Crazily enough, instead of going higher up, we found we were descending lower and lower. Panic starts to set in. We are going to miss the sunset.  The roads a narrow, windy and go up and down and the husband is determined to make an amusement park ride out of it. We hurtle past the painted cliffs, pausing momentarily at the Artist’s palette to sigh dreamily at its myriad hues. Once we are back on the main road to Badwater Basin, we race towards its. We get there just in time to catch the last rosy streaks across the sky.

dsc_0297-001Badwater Basin is 282 ft (86 m) below below sea level and is the lowest point in North America. It holds a small spring-fed pool of “bad water”. The accumulated salts of the surrounding basin make the water undrinkable, and give it a “bad” name.  Adjacent to the pool, where water is not always present at the surface, repeated freeze–thaw and evaporation cycles gradually push the thin salt crust into hexagonal honeycomb shapes. The salt flats extend as far as the eye can see. You would think that miles and miles of unbroken white expanse would create a sense of liberation, but what you get is a mild feeling of claustrophobic. I thought it was just me*, but the husband acknowledged it too. Badwater basin lies at the foot of the Black Mountains (a southern range of the Amargosa Range System) and when you turn to look at the imposing cliffs they seem to bear down on you. I have been in deeper gorges and looked up at bigger mountains, but never have I felt their weight like this.

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long long ago.. in a galaxy far far away

As we drove back, velvety black blanket covered our tiny planet. Another planet shone brightly in the distance. Venus, perhaps? Slowly the sky filled up. At first there were a few, and then there were a million gazillion stars overhead. I saw my first ever shooting star.  I would have made a wish, but I was so awestruck that I forgot. As I ponder on what I could have or should have wished for, I realize beyond health and happiness for all I love, I couldn’t think of much. Camping in Death Valley has been a big thing on my bucket list, and I guess checking that off had momentarily overwhelmed me. The husband breaks my thoughts, “Do you want to go straight to the Mesquite Dunes for star gazing? It is too early for dinner, anyway.”

On we drive, till we reach the parking lot for the Mesquite Dunes. The road is fairly simple, but try doing it in pitch darkness. The signs are few and far in between and it is hard to tell if you missed them. There are not too many cars/people in the parking lot. We pick a spot and start setting up our cameras. For some reason, it never occurs to us to step out into the wilderness beyond. It doesn’t matter. We saw the most gorgeous sight ever, right there – a glimpse of the Milky Way. We may have seen more, but we have no idea.  Now the core, the brightest part of our galaxy is visible in the northern hemisphere only between June and September, so that was not visible but this was our first tryst with this wonder and we were not going to let anything spoil it.

 

*there are enough people who will vouch for my need to open windows in rooms because I feel boxed in.

Grand Canyon and Death Valley Road Trip Plan

*Alert* – This grand plan was stolen off the internet with a few minor additions. If it belongs to you, please let me know, I would like to give credit and thank you.

Day 1: Leave San Diego on I-8, moderately scenic until you hit Imperial Valley. When you cross the state line into Arizona at exit 2 take US95 towards Quartzsite. I-10 and US60 will bring you to the old ‘dude’ town of Wickenburg, and overnight here. Make sure you eat at the Horse Shoe Cafe. Has to be one of the best diners in the Southwest. Try www.arizonaguide.com for help with lodgings.

Day 2: North on US93, then take AZ89 towards Prescott. Beyond Prescott turn off onto scenic AZ89A and have break at Jerome , and lunch at the oldest restaurant in Arizona, the English Kitchen. Continue on scenic AZ89A through the stunning Red Rocks of Sedona and along beautiful Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff. Head north on US89 to Cameron and overnight at the lodge at the trading post . Good shopping, excellent restaurant. If you have time you can do a scenic loop, off US89, to Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki Nat Mon’s.

Day 3: Take scenic AZ64 to enter Grand Canyon Nat Park, stopping at the Watchtower at Desert View for your initial “WOW”. Continue towards Grand Canyon Village, enjoying the many overlooks, then take AZ64 and I-40 to Kingman and overnight here.

Day 4:  Check out the sunrise over the Canyons. Continue on I-40, then at exit 44 turn off onto Historic Route 66, over scenic Sitgreaves Pass to the ‘ghost town’ of Oatman. CoRd153, AZ95, NV163 and US95 will then bring you to Las Vegas. Plenty of places to stay here. Enjoy an evening on the Strip. Go for Phantom of the Opera if playing and if possible. If not, go for a stand-up comedy.

Day 5: Head south from Las Vegas on I-15, then take NV160 to Pahrump. NV372, which becomes CA178 will bring you to insane Death Valley Nat Park. Drive through the park, then CA180 and CA178 will bring you to Ridgecrest and overnight here. If possible camp in the desert. Stargaze.

Day 6: Wake up to a spectacular sunrise. Head back to San Diego/Vegas