Death Valley, Day 2: busy day.
Getting up was tough. I did sleep somewhat better than the previous night, but was still tired in the morning and really didn't feel like getting out of bed. The breakfast situation didn't seem too promising and I didn't have time nor energy to look hard for anything else so I again ended up in Subway. By the amount of activity there I'm guessing it's possible it was the only place in town open for breakfast ;)
After breakfast I hopped into the car and headed towards the ghost town of Rhyolite, which I decided to see before doing any running of the day. The town came to live around 1905 and within 15 years went from zero population to somewhere around 5,000 and back to zero again, owing mostly to the gold rush. Now it's just a ghost city and something of a tourist attraction.
While seeing the town I was also looking at the park map and planning ahead and I realized that if I stuck to my plan of running there was no way I could see all that Death Valley had to offer -- the distances were simply too huge and it required far too much driving. Moreover, it didn't seem like this was a place offering unique running opportunities but it certainly was a place with a lot of cool stuff to see, so since I came all the way here... So I made a tough choice. I decided to do some regular sight-seeing with only some running here and there if possible, but without fanatical counting of covered miles. Not easy at all. Although I wish I could say that I made this decision based solely on the fact that I really wanted to see Death Valley and that my being somewhat tired had nothing to do with that :). In any case, at that point I turned into a regular tourist ticking off items from a to-see list.
Twenty-mule team canyon
My next stop was the Twenty-mule team canyon. It wasn't a stop really as it was a few miles long unpaved road that I drove. It wound its way through the canyon, offering some nice views; a sample below.
From there I drove to the Dante's View. It was a fairly long drive, but, as it turned out, totally worth it. Located at 1,669 meters this place gives an unique panoramic view of the whole Valley. Seemingly at hand's reach you can see both the lowest and highest points in the contiguous United State -- Badwater and Mount Whitney, respectively.
As it later turned out, if I was to choose the best place I saw in Death Valley that would probably be Dante's View. I'm not sure whether I managed to capture it in the photos but the views were truly spectacular. It kinda made obvious to me how the word breathtaking came to be :).
Devil's Golf Course
Next stop: Devil's Golf Course. I almost dismissed this place as I wasn't interested in playing golf -- clear sign that the sun was really strong out there ;). The place is full of rough, large crystal salt formations and its name comes from someone's observation that "Only the devil could play golf" there. See for yourself in the photo below.
Mosaic Canyon (Workout details)
From there I drove to the Mosaic Canyon, where I also did my first run of the day. A narrow trail was leading through the canyon floor, with high polished marble walls enclosing it. At some point I veered off the trail and climbed to the top of the canyon walls, which offered some nice views to its floor. On the way back the sun was starting to set resulting in some nice play of colors, but I didn't manage to capture any photo of that.
By the way, talking about sunset, after my trip I heard that one of Death Valley's bests is seeing sunset from Dante's View. Seeing the place during the day I can easily imagine that this must be an unforgettable experience. So my advice would be: if there's only one thing you can do in Death Valley, make sure it's seeing sunset from Dante's View. I wish I had done that.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Next stop: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The dunes offer a Sahara-like landscape right in the middle of Death Valley. They featured in a number of movies, including Star Wars. I was there at the time of the sunset, which also happen to be a recommended time of the day to see them, but somehow I wasn't all that impressed. Perhaps because I was in a hurry, couldn't fully appreciate them and only resorted to a short walk around. Also I didn't manage to snap a single good photo there so below one from a little distance away.
Corkscrew peak... or not? (Workout details)
And the reason why I was in a hurry is that I still wanted to do one longer run of the day and it was getting late for that. Very late.
Earlier during the day I again headed to the Visitor's Center. This time I talked with a somewhat elderly guy who, just before serving me, gave a nice demo of yodeling :). When I asked him for an advice of a nice, long hike he didn't seem to have to think much. He said he climbed 'em all and there is no peak like Corkscrew peak! Personally I was thinking more about the Wildrose peak, or even better the Telescope peak, but I knew the latter would be covered in snow so decided to pass on it. In the end I decided to check out the Ranger's advice.
Problem was, it was far too late. By the time I reached the Hells' Gate, the gateway to the Corkscrew peak, it was almost 6pm and getting dark quickly. But I had my headtorch and decided to turn it into a night adventure; turning around if the getting got too tough.
The problem I did not foresee was that I did not even see the trail head and I had no map to go by ;). But it was late and I had no time to waste so I just headed in the general direction of the highest nearby peak I saw, Corkscrew or not.
I reached the base of the mountain and after some climbing found a trail. I had to quickly forget about running. The trail was rough with a lot of climbs over rocks so my progress was very slow. After a while it got completely dark and all I had was the meek light of my head torch (the moon wasn't giving much light). It was an eerie feeling to climb the mountain in total darkness with occasional sights of cars driving by at the valley floor.
A number of times I thought I was reaching the top, but as soon as I reached a top another peak would reveal itself. Few times I was tempted to call it a day and turn around. But I didn't.
After 1 hour of this climbing, although it felt like much longer, I reached the proper top. There was an usual metal case there with a notebook inside, which revealed that indeed it wasn't the Corkscrew peak, but rather the Butte peak. By that time I couldn't care less, although it did bring a smile to my face. So did the last entry in the notebook, by Bob and Lisa, on 14th of February which read, "It's Valentine's so we made love". Lucky you, Bob :).
Mine activities on the top were much less exciting, I just took a 15 minute break and once that was over started heading back. The descent took me as much as the ascent, as it wasn't easy at all and I had to watch my step few times traversing on an edge of a cliff, which, with total darkness around, was... exciting :). Eventually I reached the car and drove back to the hotel. That's it for today! More coming... here!