Mother Nature 1, Suzanne 0 (Death Valley, Part IV)

I set my alarm for 4:30am.  I must get up and get out before first light, before I reach that danger zone again.   At 5:00am, it is still 85 degrees out.   I hitch up in the dark, and take off toward Stovepipe Wells.   I don’t want to go, but I don’t want to put any of the  “TTTH Team” through another 110 degree day, either.IMG_0174 IMG_0172

Driving through the park at dawn is just magical, and I have so many mixed emotions in leaving!  It’s like being in the Devil’s Candy Shoppe and having to leave, just two bites into your favorite chocolate bar!  I am bugging out early from what is one of the most stunning, awe inspiring places I have ever been, yet also the most inhospitable.   Not since Antarctica have I felt so vastly overwhelmed and overpowered by the magnitude of Mother Nature.   I could not sustain life in either place, yet I feel such a magnetic pull to both places.  It is as if these are Mother Nature’s own private havens of solitude in which she draws us in….but only for a little while until she spits us back out again.IMG_0177photo 2 IMG_0147

Thirty minutes down the road, I reach the Mesquite Sand Dunes area, just as the sun is coming up.   I know I should be on my way, but I simply cannot resist stopping.   I hike through the dunes for about 30 minutes until the sun is up.   Then I brace myself for the white knuckle ride exiting the park.

Follow the footsteps back to the tiny white dot on the right that is the Winnie.

Follow the footsteps back to the tiny white dot on the right that is the Winnie.

IMG_0161 IMG_0143IMG_0173Leaving is just as draining physically as it is emotionally.   I have to get over Towne Pass and back down six miles of steady 9% grade before the temperature starts to escalate, lest my engine overheat on the uphill stretch, and my brakes burn out going down.  Rangers tell of RV brakes becoming so hot that they have been known to catch on fire and burn up the rig, adding to my paranoia.  I alternate between downshifting and tapping the brakes all the way down, with the windows open so I can smell the brakes if they get too hot.

The Winnie and Tracker duo do okay except for the last mile of the steep 9% grade.  Toward the end I can smell the brakes getting hot, but there is NO place to pull over.    I have the engine downshifted to 3rd gear, but the RPMS are approaching the red zone.   About the time I think “I am SCREWED!”  the steep downhill road ahead straightens out, so I just let it run…until finally I dip down and start back uphill which slows me down.

As I climb Towne Pass, it begins to look like an alpine meadow

As I climb Towne Pass, it begins to look like an alpine meadow

End3I breathe a sigh of relief at the sign of the park exit, but also know the worst of the narrow, steep road through Panamint Valley is still ahead.  The narrow two lane road wraps around the mountains with drop offs severe enough that I catch myself moaning aloud.   The Devil’s wind has followed me.  The gusty winds and winding roads steeply banked inward toward the mountain make me fear with each gust that the overhanging rocks are going to open the side of the Winnie like a can opener.End2 End

Finally, I reach level ground.  My hands and elbows are stiff from gripping the wheel for the entire two hours it has taken me to climb from 200 feet below sea level over two passes and down again, in between bracing against the gusts and watching the escalating temperature gauge.

As I crest the hill and catch my first glimpse of the snow-capped Eastern Sierra mountains, I feel overwhelmed with emotion as big tears well up in my eyes.

Death Valley?  I’ll beee baaaaahhck!!

15 thoughts on “Mother Nature 1, Suzanne 0 (Death Valley, Part IV)

  1. Some amazing posts that makes me want it go there soon! Will be white water rafting outside of Yosemite and hiking in the park in June with family but I’ve now added this to my list of parks. I always want a challenge.
    Glad you are safe so we can continue to live vicariously through you 🙂

    • Carolyn, my family will get a big kick out of your comment. I couldn’t turn a cartwheel when I was twelve, let alone 59!! It is a small German tourist girl, who is counting off “eins, zwei, trei” aloud, over and over again as her mother tries to catch her with her camera, mid-turn.

  2. Safe and sound. I’m always amazed that worrying about mechanical things can actually caused you pain. Its like a sibling link where one twin feels the pain of the other. Having been in the heat, if it were me, I’d head for a complete contrast.

  3. Your pictures are stunning and I can SO relate to having a landscape take you in and overwhelm you with its beauty and spirituality. Hadn’t made up my mind for sure about Death Valley but your posts have convinced me I definitely want to be in this place but at a safe time of year. So when are you going back? 😉

  4. What pictures! Are you sure they aren’t paintings? What an exciting trip!!! I am glad you are following your dream! Love you

  5. This is a truly amazing area. When we lived in Central California, we spent our long weekends and vacation times mostly in “The 395” area, as we called it. This encompassed many bits of Central California to NorCal.

    Just now I was reading your posts about Death Valley, and now 395, to DH who got all teared up. We are hoping to get him stabilized enough to go over there once again. The Eastern Sierra is indeed a magical venue!

    When you were describing the way you just drove and drove, he said that he knew exactly the way you felt, and I could see in his red-rimmed eyes that he was reliving the many photographic trips he has made to the areas around there.

    One night in the 80’s, we were going by Mono Lake and a buck came bounding down off the side of the mountain into our path. We were in a 1978 Volkswagen camper – you know, windshield right in your lap – the antlers were right in my face for a split second before the thud. We never found him, so presume it might have been a small enough impact to allow him continued life. Certainly hope so.

    The fender and light were smashed in, though probably more easily repaired than his body.

    Thank you for bringing back all these memories. ;->

    Virtual hugs,


    • Judie — You can’t imagine how this comment touches me. I love to write better than anything, and also love photography, though I am an amateur at both. To know that my words touched your DH really means the world to me. I try to hard to convey the feeling of a place, and my emotions were all over the board that day. I think I teared up at least three times myself. It is easy to get emotional when moved by such beautiful places.

      That “bounding buck” story really is scary! We will hope he kept running! Sorry to hear about the fender, but glad that is all you felt! I saw some signs near Lassen NP that said “Heavy Deer Activity next 4 miles.” YIKES! I blew my horn doing down the road a few times just in case. haha!

      Thanks for you sweet comment, and I hope DH gets to visit again soon. It is such a magical area!

  6. Your writing and photographs are absolutely stellar in my book. Your photos are as good as any I’ve seen – in books, around our house (ahem!), or on walls. I very much enjoy your writing. Blogging has opened up a door for me, too. I don’t put many words with my posts because mostly (hopefully soon there will be travel) there are just pictures of what we are eating and whatever animals wander by our yard.

    We both so do enjoy a good turn of phrase and very much enjoyed your words. You write so very well, that it seems effortless to read. That is not always the case with blogs. As you say, this is a magical place. Waking up in the Panamint Valley and watching the mountains come red and then so quickly fade into their regular beautiful colors is a sight I will never forget. WHOA – just as I was typing the above, three deer wandered by, so a short break with camera to the backyard was in order.

    Off to download the card! ;->

  7. Suzanne, I went back to your blog on Death Valley so I could see what you covered. Oh, my!! I can’t believe you were here when it was so hot. I honestly don’t understand how they can keep the park open when it is over 100 degrees. They must just perform rescue after rescue. So glad you did get to see a few parts of the park. We mainly did your trip this afternoon since we just settled into a FHU site in the NP. We will do the Golden Canyon another day because we want to do the whole 7.5 mile loop.

    This sure is a beautiful place and we’ve just begun:) Thanks goodness for the Polar Vortex because it has dropped the temps here into the high 70’s for our visit. It was in the 90’s last week!! The ranger today said that it has been staying much warmer into the fall and warming much sooner in the spring. Their summer is getting very long and way too hot.

    • Hi Pam,

      I do think the weather that weekend was a bit of a fluke, as it had only been in the 90’s as a high, leading up to my day of arrival. I really loved Death Valley, and wish I could have done more hiking there. I will definitely be back one day, meanwhile, I can’t wait to read about your explorations there!

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