Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

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Early morning moon over the Cottonwood Mountains in Death Valley National Park For the first time this trip, I was awoken by my 6:05am alarm. This was probably due to the fact that I had not gotten a whole lot of uninterrupted sleep during the night - there had been a fierce wind pretty much throughout the entire night, and the full moon made the night much lighter than the dark room at home that I'm used to. Still, when I got up it looked like the day wouldn't be too bad - the sky was only partially covered in clouds. I therefore decided to head to xxx Mine, because one hike I'd wanted to do for quite a while was the climb up to Chloride Cliff.

I briefly stopped at the Stovepipe Wells Sand Dunes to catch the 6:30am (or thereabouts) sunrise - not very elaborately, I just mounted the camera on the tripod just outside of my car door and waited; and then headed East a few minutes later. It hadn't been a spectacular sunrise. By the time I arrived at xxx Mine, a huge dark cloud hung over the Funeral Mountains. I got out of the car to check wind direction and patterns of cloud movement; but it seemed that the clouds neither moved toward nor away from my planned hiking spot for the day; but rather that all the clouds seemed to converge above it, building up a cloud monument that grew more and more menacing.

After waiting for maybe fifteen minutes to see if my first analysis had maybe been wrong, I realized that it had, in fact, been quite correct. But since I didn't like the idea of having driven out here without at least seeing something new, I decided to at least hike out 1.2 miles (one-way) to yyy Mine, which was just a level walk along the same elevation and thus not threatened by bad weather as much as a 3900 foot climb would have. The hike out to the Mill passes zzz Spring, but at least in the dark-grey coloured sky it wasn't very exciting. The springs on the way rather reminded me of Yellowstone, actually, and there was definitely a foul smell in the air that made me wonder if the water from that particular spring was indeed drinkable. (I didn't try.)

Waterfall at Panamint Springs I was back at the car before too long, and the weather above the Funeral Mountains looked even more threatening. Probably the best idea was to get away from those clouds, because I neither wanted to be caught on a trail, nor on an unpaved road, when they delivered all the rain they held; and even less so one day before returning the car and flying back home. An alternative to the hike would have been to drive to Chloride Cliff via the four wheel drive, high clearance dirt road off Daylight Pass, but that road would possibly also have been affected by the bad weather. It was then that I remembered that I could do the short hike to Darwin Falls; and that this way I could also exit on the West side of the park and get closer to Los Angeles for my flight home the next day.

The drive to Panamint Springs didn't take all that long, and the drive over the short graded stretch of road to the Darwin Falls trailhead was also eventless. I parked the car and walked the remaining mile into the canyon. The closer I got to the first of the falls, the muddier the trail got; and the more I had to balance over small stones and tree branches or small trunks that provided barely adequate bridges over the creek. It was really just a creek, but it still would have gotten my feet soaking wet in just a second had I stepped in it, not to mention if I had slipped on one of the treacherous spots and fallen.

Once at the bottom of the falls, and thus the start of the narrow part of the canyon, I checked out the route I'd need to take to get to the top of the first waterfall - it would involve scrambling up a rocky slope, along a fairly narrow stretch with a big drop-off to the right, and then a descent back into the canyon which I didn't even see yet. Since the rock was pretty slippy, this was a risk I was not willing to take, especially not while hiking alone. So I turned around, and since it was barely 11am by the time I arrived at the car, I decided that the next destinaton for the day would be Darwin ghost town, and that after that I'd return to Panamint Springs for lunch.

I could have spared myself the drive out to Darwin - it was the same depressing place as in 2003. With an alleged population of 50, the thing about Darwin is that half of the buildings are still occupied, but everything is in such a pathetic state, with abandoned cars everywhere, that it's hard to distinguish between property that is still occupied and one that has been left behind. There's "No Trespassing" signs everywhere, presumably because the inhabitants don't want tourists checking out their belongings; but I couldn't help but think if they cleaned up their yards and maybe erected a fence they wouldn't have to be so explicit to say, "yes, this place looks like a ghost town but really I'm still living here, so fuck off" in not so many words. All things considered, I get the impression that the inhabitants of Darwin would rather be kept off the official park maps; and that visitors are not welcome.

Lunch at Panamint Springs was infinitely better than Darwin, and after my double Cheeseburger and fries I hit the road again, heading out of the park through Panamint Valley. My next destination would be Trona Pinnacles. To get there, I drove through Trona, a town that has certainly seen better times but seemed to be in a better state than when I last stopped there a few years ago. After leaving Trona and turning around the next bend, the Pinnacles were clearly visible in the distance, even though they were under a cloudy sky and as such didn't look very inviting. While I was pondering whether photographing them in dull overcast skies was worth it, I missed the turn-off and had to turn around on the highway and drive back half a mile; and then saw that the sign announced that the Pinnacles were still 7 miles away. Funny, I didn't remember it to be that far. The dirt road was in a decent state though, so I was able to maintain a steady speed and reached the first of the Pinnacles before too long, less than five miles after leaving the asphalt.

Dramatic storm clouds over Trona Pinnacles The sky was still overcast, but I could see quite a lot of blue in the opposite direction the clouds were moving. And they were moving fast, with a lot of wind on the ground too. While waiting for the blue sky, I cleaned up the Jeep and started packing away my camping supplies - since I would spend the last night in a motel, I wouldn't need them anymore. After a while, the sky was blue and the Pinnacles were getting full sunshine. The sun was still a bit high in the sky for my taste, but the storm clouds racing away provided an interesting backdrop. I took some pictures, scrambled around a pinnacle or two, drove a loop around the closer pinnacles, returning to the car a few times when another cloud obscured the sun.

After a while, I decided not to wait until sunset - while I'm sure the colours could have been better, there was also a big chance of more clouds, and I didn't really want to wait two hours and then not get any better shots when I still wanted to cover some more miles towards Los Angeles. So I drove back to the highway, then on to Ridgecrest. Here, I decided that Mojave would be my destination for the night, less than one hour down the road. While heading towards Mojave, I encountered once more the big clouds I'd seen racing away at the Pinnacles, and which had probably also kept me awake during the previous night. I was glad when at some point, I only had to drive parallel to them, because they looked fierce. The cross-winds were strong, and they seemed to bring a huge hail and snow storm at higher elevations.

Before too long I reached Mojave, and before the first intersection I already saw a Motel6 sign. Not wanting to spend any more time looking for a place to stay, I decided that this would be it. It was cheap too, although I later understood why: it was close to a railway crossing, with the requisite horns blaring through the night as the freight trains crossed it. I still drove down the main street later on to get a burger dinner, but other than that spend a quiet evening packing my bags and lying on the bed in front of junk TV.

Miles driven: HASmi (0km)

Accommodation: Motel6 (Mojave, CA): $33.99 plus tax

First part written Saturday, February 23rd 2008 at gate 27 of the international terminal at LAX.. Completed Thursday, February 28th 2008 in the bus to work.