Monday, February 21, 2005

Today is our last day in Death Valley. We are at the Furnace Creek Campground (map). which is behind the visitor center.

Friday night we hosted a cookout for our friends, all motorcyclists from the bay area. We had ten people in all, and, while most of the eating and celebrating and some of the cooking happened outside around the campfire, this still counts as Odyssey's first "dinner party" if you will, and it was a success, or at least it seemed so to us.

I add that last qualification because, while I consider myself to be a fairly decent cook, I am not a vegetarian and have no particular skills in preparing vegetarian dishes. Nonetheless, two of our gang are vegetarians and I found myself having to modify a few recipes as a result, including making my own vegetarian Worcesteshire substitute. In any case, everybody ate the food and nobody (yet) has complained or fallen ill.

Saturday and Sunday we rode through the park on our motorcycles. A good deal of the park road system is closed due to the massive flooding that occurred in August. This flood event was rather spectacular, adding significant amounts of material to the myriad alluvial fans that comprise the basin. The fresh alluvial material is starkly beautiful, and a jarring reminder that the park is ever-changing and that man's flimsy structures are fleeting and insignificant in the face of the forces of nature. In the visitor center, we looked at photos of concrete restrooms uprooted and moved several hundred feet downhill, and cars flattened like pancakes and rafted miles away from where they had been parked. Most of highway 190 was completely undercut, and multi-ton sections of pavement were pushed downhill like a log raft on a rapid.

The other consequence of this particularly wet winter (Death Valley normally sees only two inches of rain in an entire year) is that the wildflowers are spectacular. Down by Ashford Mill they cover the valley like a carpet and are in full bloom. I've been coming here for over ten years and have never seen vegetation like this in the valley.

I have also never seen this much water in the valley. What is normally a vast expanse of dry salt pan (except for a small spring at Bad Water) is now a lake covering hundreds of acres -- the reincarnation of prehistoric Lake Manly. From certain vantage points, the lake reflects the snow-capped peaks of tha Panamint Mountains in the background -- picture-postcard beauty which gives the illusion of an alpine setting and belies the deadly, searing, arid 120-degreee heat of the summer in this place of extremes.

All in all, we have never seen the valley so beautiful as it is right now. Ironically, people are staying away in droves, presumably because access is somewhat more difficult due to road closures and, mostly, because several "attractions" are closed or inacessible (Artists Drive, Zabriskie Point, Dante's View, parts of Race Track, and several trails). The drippy weather probably also has something to do with it (it's been raining on us off and on all weekend), but boy are these people missing some fantastic scenery.

Today we will pack up the bikes and head towards the bay area. Our friends usually stop for the night in Bakersfield, and we might join them again tonight if we can find a place to park. Besides which, Bakersfield might be a good place to look for the tires and wheels we sorely need.

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