Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

< Previous | List | Next > Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, hikes at Badwater and to Natural Bridge, Artists Drive, Charcoal Kilns, Telescope Peak trail, Harrisburg Flat, Aguereberry Point; and a flat tire

Zabriskie Point and Badwater

Manly Beacon and Zabriskie Point badlands at sunrise I didn't manage to get to Zabriskie Point before sunset - I always seem to under-estimate the distance from Emigrant Canyon campground - but I was still on time to get the nice sunrise colours on Manly Beacon and the surrounding badlands.

After a little over a half hour, I set off again to head to Badwater, and hike onto the salt flats of Death Valley near its lowest point - I'd never done that before. I started off in the shade, and temperatures were pretty nice owing to the season and the time of the day (I probably wouldn't get far if I hiked here in the middle of summer). After a while, I could see a small structure that seemed to be standing in the middle of the valley. At first, it was still too far away to make out what it actually was - for a while, I was thinking that maybe it was someone with a bike-like vehicle, then I thought it was some kind of artsy monument, then finally when I was just a few steps away I realized it must be a weather station or some kind of recorder for scientific experiments.

I decided that this was a good enough point to turn around - I seem to remember this was around the one mile point - and while I backtracked by following the GPS bread-crumbs, I realized that I hadn't walked in a straight line to get there, but done some kind of arc. By going back in a straight line, I would actually go over terrain that was slightly harder to hike on, since the surface was softer.

Natural Bridge Natural Bridge Canyon, Artists Drive and Mushroom Rock

A short drive brought me to the turn-off to Natural Bridge Canyon, where a short dirt road heads up to the mouth of Natural Bridge Canyon. I parked the Jeep at the trailhead, and started the short hike to the namesake of the canyon. It took me all of seven minutes to get to it. I took some pictures, and then followed the canyon for around 10 more minutes before I came to some dry falls. While they only had a 45 degree incline, the rock was polished smooth and as such it would have been difficult to get up and possibly more dangerous to get back down - my rock climbing skills are close to nonexistent. I opted to turn around, and was back at the car less than a quarter of an hour later.

I hadn't driven Artists Drive in over four years, and as such I thought it would be a nice short detour, even though the sun wasn't in the ideal position yet - Artists Palette, the most famous spot on the drive is pretty much aligned along the mountains that go from north to south, and as such the light would be best in the final hours of the day with the sun coming from the west. As is, I quickly drove the one-way road, stopped a few times for pictures, but didn't find anything that really caught my interest.

Mushroom Rock is a small rock along the highway a few miles north of Artists Drive that looks, predictably enough, like some kind of mushroom. The National Park Service seems to have changed their mind on it recently - a few years ago, there was a very visible flat area next to the road where people could park their cars which seems to have mostly disappeared now.

With some of the more touristy spots along the highway covered, I decided to head up into the mountains on the west side of the valley, most notably the Telescope Peak area and Aguereberry Point where I intended to catch the sunset.

Charcoal Kilns and Telescope Peak trail

The Charcoal Kilns I arrived at the Charcoal Kilns, a few miles from the end of the road at Mahogany Flats around lunch time. I poked around the kilns for a while, taking pictures while they were still out in the sun - on several previous occasions, I never managed to get a decent shot there.

A little while later, I set off to drive the remaining two miles or so to Mahogany Flats. The road was steep, as always, but otherwise in a fairly good shape; with just a few larger rocks on the road that were obstructive enough to making high clearance a nicety, but still not a necessity.

I had hiked Telescope Peak three years prior, and it was already too late in the day for me to repeat the experience (nor was I inclined to, owing to the state of my knees). But walking up the trail for a mile or so would be a good way to spend an hour, so that I would arrive at my final destination for the day as the lighting improved. I took a few pictures and briefly chatted with two hikers who were on their way down the trail and had spent a (chilly) night near the top of the peak.

Then, I thought it was time for me to head towards Harrisburg flats and Aguereberry Point if I still wanted to catch a decent sunset and view of the valley below without too many shadows already creeping over the ridges of the side-canyons.

Pete Aguereberry's cabin at Harrisburg Flats Harrisburg Flats

When I arrived at Harrisburg Flats, the site of Eureka Mine and Pete Aguereberry's cabin, a number of lifted Wrangler 4x4s were already parked close to the mine. I walked around for a while, taking pictures of the old rusted car sitting on the flats, and then of Aguereberry camp just before the shadows of the nearby "Providence Ridge" engulfed it. I managed to take a few good pictures, and vowed to see if I could find more information on Pete Aguereberry when I got home. [I found a book with his biography.]

I briefly talked to one or two people in the group before I headed up towards Aguereberry Point and they left in the other directions.

Aguereberry Point

The road up to Aguereberry Point is unpaved, but well-graded. It's wide enough for two cars, save for the last few hundred metres. I spend a sizeable amount of time both at the ridge below Aguereberry Point, and at the main overlook; taking both individual shots and several panoramas in the fading afternoon sun.

The views were spectacular, and I was enjoying perfect solitude - the only other visitor would in fact drive up as I drive down... my plan was to still check out a few other mining structures on Emigrant Canyon Road before night fall.

Flat tire

I drove down the dirt road from Aguereberry Point, taking it nice and slow (not exceeding 25mph). Just as I entered Harrisburg Flats, a dashboard light came on in the Jeep. Not knowing at first what it was supposed to mean, I stopped the car, and dug out the manual - surprisingly enough, it was right in the glove box and not hidden under the rear seats or entirely absent. A quick browse revealed that the light that had come on was from the tire pressure indicator, which hinted at, you guessed it, a flat tire. I got out of the car and sure enough, the left rear tire was losing air. I probably let loose a string of profanities, but I wasn't too worried - I was just a few miles away from pavement, had a spare tire and still some sunlight to spare.

With the help of the manual, I was able to quickly locate everything I needed to change to the spare tire. The spare is hanging under the trunk, held up by a metal cable, so to be able to access it one needs to gradually lower it onto the ground and then remove the cable. This took a while. I had already placed a stone in front of the right front tire in preparation of jacking up the car when the last visitor on Aguereberry Point arrived on the road. He stopped to ask if I needed help, and I quickly explained my predicament. He offered to stay until I had the spare tire on.

Only after I mounted the spare tire, I discovered that the metal part of a screwdriver was sticking in the tread. I crawled under the Jeep to put the jack under the rear axle, and jacked up the car. The wheel came off, the spare came on, and then I lowered the jeep again and removed the jack. And then I saw it: a metal point sticking out of the spare I had just changed to. A closer inspection revealed that there was the metal part of a screwdriver (minus the plastic handle) sticking through the tread of the tire.

More profanities were uttered. Thankfully, the tire still seemed to hold air, and when I started the engine the tire pressure light didn't come back on. Which was a good sign, but would I be able to drive on a tire that had a screwdriver sticking out of it?

The Irish guy (unfortunately, I cannot remember his name now) drove behind me in his car as I shifted into gear and carefully started to drive down the road. The tire seemed to hold up. After a few hundred feet, he drove up next to me, and asked if everything was alright. I gave the thumbs-up, and he headed off - he still needed to drive to Las Vegas that night.

While I was now slightly more confident that I'd make it back to civilization, it would certainly take a while - I didn't dare drive more than 20mph on the dirt road, and not more than 25mph on the narrow Wildrose road later on... after all, for all I knew the damaged tire might blow at any moment, and if that happened I wanted to be going slow enough that it wouldn't send me into the ditch and/or make me roll.

After about an hour, I finally arrived at Emigrant Springs campground, and thus, at a main highway (and phone). Just before I crossed the highway, a couple in a pickup had passed me; and as I parked near the buildings and phone on the other side of the road they pulled up and asked if I could help - obviously going 25mph with all four indicators on wasn't normal on a road where you can go much faster. I explained the situation, and the guy pointed out two police officers who had just stopped down the road for what I presume was a chat. While I wasn't convinced that they would be willing or able to help, I couldn't really ignore them either; and as such I ran down to explain my situation to them and to ask for guidance - after all, they should at least know where the closest tire repair service was.

One of the officers didn't seem concerned and was soon off, and after looking at the tire the other gave me a bit of an attitude - along the way of "what are you still doing here, you should be on the way to get it fixed already". He suggested I drive down to Furnace Creek, where the gas station and repair shop would presumably still be open. Which didn't really alleviate my concern that maybe I shouldn't be driving on what essentially was a broken tire, or that driving slow on a major (65mph speed limit) highway would possibly create a dangerous situation.

Soon, I was off to Furnace Creek - still around 35 miles away. I had asked the police officer what speed he deemed safe with a tire like that... he shrugged it off at first and didn't commit to any number until I pointed out that he must surely have more experience with this kind of thing than I did, at which point he said that 45mph "should" be ok. This seemed like an acceptable compromise to me as well - somewhere inbetween being too fast to stick on the road should the tire blow and being so slow as to be a dangerous obstruction to the other traffic... so off I was, hoping to still make it to the gas station until the presumed closing time.

When I arrived at the gas station though, everything was dark already; and it was getting clear that I wouldn't get any help. A guy in a Vanagon who was just fuelling up asked what was wrong - he had overtaken me on the road and noted that I had been the first car in several months that had been going slower than him. I briefly told my story, and then drove a mile or so back to the campground, where I would be forced to spend the night. At least they still had vacant spots, even though those were tent-only and I couldn't sleep in the car like I had become accustomed to.

I set up the tent, still read for a while, and then drifted off to sleep... the tire problems could wait until the next day, now.

Miles driven: HASH(0x2104c80)mi (55719661km)

Campground Accommodation: 225 (Death Valley National Park): $0

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