Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT


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Continued from the previous page.


After dropping back down to Death Valley at the north end of one-way Artist's Loop we continued north on Badwater Road to Furnace Creek, passing more colorful foothills that looked different going this direction:


Above and below:  There were some cool cloud formations during the mid-day, too.

At Furnace Creek we turned right and drove south on CA 190 to the scenic little road that goes to Dante's Overlook right above the Badwater Basin.

Here's that park map section again. I marked the overlook with a red dot in the lower R. corner; the basin is #3:

It was windy and downright chilly even in jeans and long-sleeved shirts at 5,475 feet elevation but that was rather refreshing after the heat down in the valley.

We walked around the overlook for several minutes to take in the views, which were awesome up and down Death Valley and toward the mountain ranges in every direction:

Badwater Basin includes this large white salt flat.

Above and below:  Death Valley to the north


Greenwater Range to the east

Above and below:  Death Valley to the south

There were a lot of pretty wildflowers along the road to Dante's Overlook and on top of the mountain:

Mostly Desert Dandelions in this carpet of flowers

Desert Dandelions (yellow flowers) and a White Daisy Tidy Tip

Desert Poppy

Mojave Aster

I noticed some new wildflowers on my various hikes today, as well as many others we've seen in southern California the last couple of weeks.

This is a good week to see wildflowers at Death Valley National Park this year but the timing is dependent on a whole lot of variables each spring. Since different species bloom at different times at different latitudes and elevations, any spring trip will probably be colorful if enough rain has fallen in the previous weeks and months.


We drove back down to CA 190 and turned west toward Furnace Creek again.

We began to see the light tan-colored sand dunes, which are marked #5 on the map section above, near Stovepipe Wells before we got to two overlooks where we parked so we could get out to see and photograph them better.


The sand dunes cover 14 square miles in the widest part of Death Valley. There are other dunes in the park but these are the easiest to see from the road and to access on foot.

Although there are no trails since the dunes keep shifting in the wind, visitors are allowed to climb the dunes and walk through them as far as they want. Hikers are advised to carry plenty of water and go out in the coolest part of the day. For lots of good reasons, pets are not allowed in the dunes.



One of the interpretive panels describes Mesquite Flat as a "sand trap" because of the way the wind and mountainous terrain act to keep the shifting sand dunes in the same general area.

Because of the increasing heat in the early afternoon we just observed the sand dunes from the overlooks and didn't go out to play in them. (Been there, done that previously at other more user-friendly places like White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.)


Continuing west on CA 190 through the park and just past Stovepipe Wells Village, we drove up 2.4 miles on a rather bumpy dirt road to the Mosaic Canyon trailhead, which is marked #10 on the map section above.

The entrance to the canyon quickly narrows to a very interesting slot canyon in the first one-third mile, with a mix of smooth, striped "marble" walls and textured mosaic conglomerate -- different colors of rocks embedded in cement-like rock -- in the surrounding canyon walls:


Above (looking back toward entrance) and below:  conglomerate rock




Like a narrow marble hallway




Above and below:  pretty blue conglomerate rocks

There was enough scrambling ahead of me that I turned around after half a mile. If I'd been with Jim and had more time, I would have gone farther into the canyon: 


Where I turned around

Back near the entrance to the canyon

It's the most unique slot canyon I've seen so far. It reminds me of photos of some slots in southern Utah that I'd like to see later this spring.


When we got back to the intersection with CA 178 we decided to go a different way home so we could see more of the Badwater ultramarathon course and another part of the park.

We continued west on CA 190 through Panamint Springs to Olantha, then south on US 395 around the west side of China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station (gray sections on the map below). That was was about 25 miles longer than the way we went to the park this morning:


View from Towne Pass

Panamint Dunes, another "trapped" dune area in the park

CA 190 west of Panamint Springs is scenic but very narrow and slow up another pass to the Father Crowley Vista Point before exiting the park.

We got back to our camper at China Lake about 7 PM, just before dark. It was a long but memorable day.


The United States enjoys 59 national parks, which are part of the 417 "units" under the auspices of the National Park Services. "Units" include national monuments, memorials, recreation areas, seashores, battlefields, rivers, scenic trails, parkways, historical sites, and more.

We've been to a bunch of them over our lifetimes, but I doubt we'll ever see all of them.

There are some national parks where we could spend weeks or even months exploring and not run out of things we enjoy doing -- Denali, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Bryce Canyon are examples that are so captivating to me that I simply don't want to leave.

In addition to the month we spent near Bryce Canyon NP last fall,
we returned for two more months this spring and fall.

Most national parks we've visited have kept us happily occupied for a few days or a week and then we're ready to move on because they are either too crowded or we run out of hikes, bike rides, scenic drives, and other things we want to do. Examples are Acadia, Zion, Joshua Tree, Arches, and the Great Smokies. Some of those we have returned to at least once more.

Then there are the parks I call "One & Done" where -- for one reason or another -- one day or one visit is enough and we have no desire to return. Death Valley is one of those.

We were curious for various reasons to visit Death Valley. We are glad we did but we've seen enough of it in one pretty spring day to satisfy that curiosity.

Next entryphotos from the first of two hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail from Walker Pass west of Ridgecrest, CA

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil