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Chapter #357: Yosemite High Country Devastation - July 23, 2017


In Late June 2017, The venerable Tuolumne Meadows Lodge lay in devastation and disrepair - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Yosemite National Park 2017 Devastation at Tuolumne Meadows

My family history in the Eastern Sierra and Yosemite dates back almost eighty years. In 1938, while on a hiatus from living in prewar Los Angeles, my fraternal grandmother, Dorothy met her second husband John A. McCollum there. At that time, he was helping construct U.S. Highway 395 near Bridgeport, California. They fell in love, were married and for the next fifty years returned to fish for trout in Gardisky Lake and Saddlebag Lake near the Tioga Road. In 1944, my mother, Phyllis married my father, Loron N. McGillis. For their honeymoon, in December of that year, they chose Yosemite Valley.

Loron N. (Duke) McGillis and Phyllis McGillis in Yosemite Valley, December 1944 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In 1959, I got my first taste of Yosemite National Park and nearby Mono County. For several nights, our family of five camped in Yosemite Valley. When we naively set out one morning to climb the Yosemite Falls Trail, we took no water or food. By the time we reached the base of the main falls, we were hot, tired and dehydrated. When my father wisely made the decision to turn back, at infamous Columbia Rock, I refused to move. The lure of the giant waterfall was too strong for me to admit defeat and return to our campsite.

At night, bears would roam the campgrounds, silently looking for food. On our final morning in Yosemite Valley, a neighboring camper showed me where a bear had licked the side window of his old truck. There had been a melon sitting on the front seat, but bears and people were more naïve in those days. Instead of smashing the window and taking the melon, the California Black Bear walked around our sleeping bags and headed back to his or her domain.

The author, James McGillis at Yosemite Falls in June, 1959 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)When we left Yosemite Valley, we drove up Highway 120, heading for Tioga Pass and the town of Lee Vining, California on the far side. Although it was late June, there was still snow in the high country. Two years later, in 1961, construction crews completed the modern version of the Tioga Road, all the way to the eastern entrance of Yosemite Park, at the top of Tioga Pass.

Because the construction season was so short and there was no alternate route, traffic stopped for up to one hour at a time. Traffic would alternate at the construction sites and then everything would close down for an hour or more blasting and grading around Tanaya Lake. As a ten year old, the experience seemed to last forever. Even after the arduous trip over the Tioga Road of old, we motored on. In late afternoon, we arrived in the City of Bishop, California. There, we spent the night at a motel with a swimming pool. To me, it seemed the height of luxury.

John A. (Red) McCollum, Dorothy McCollum, Loron N. (Duke) McGillis and Phyllis McGillis in Los Angeles, ca. 1955 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)From Bishop to our home in Burbank, California was about a three hundred mile trip, featuring desert heat and Sierra Nevada views much of the way. In the late 1950s, most of U.S. Highway 395 was a two-lane road, with only occasional passing lanes or other safe places to pass slower vehicles. To this day, one treacherous stretch of road between Olancha and Cartago remains as it was back in the day. With completion of a four-lane bypass scheduled for 2022, I guarantee every day, some fool will pull out to pass, even though there are twenty vehicles ahead of him.

Since my first visit to Yosemite National Park, it has held a place in my heart, as it did for my parents and grandparents before me. Over the decades, I would often visit Yosemite, driving north on U.S. Highway 99 to Fresno and then northeast on Highway 41. Once inside the national park, the highway becomes the Wawona Road. From Los Angeles to Yosemite Valley was a three hundred mile trip, with lots of San Joaquin Valley heat to endure. From Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows was only sixty miles, but that took another two hours via the Tioga Road. In recent years, I realized it was eight Ted L. McGillis and the author, James McGillis digging out the 1962 Ford near Crowley Lake California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)miles shorter to drive from Los Angeles to Tuolumne Meadows via Highway 395 and then over Tioga Pass. In addition, once you leave Bishop, heading north, you ascend almost immediately into the high country, with its cooler temperatures and scenic views.

After a decade of drought in California, the winter of 2016-2017 brought record-setting snowfall in the Sierra Nevada. With a cool springtime and a late start to summer heat, many Sierra trails and secondary roads remained blocked well into July. After seeing a complete lack of snow atop Mammoth Mountain in August 2016, I wanted to see the Sierra snowpack that remained this summer. In order to avoid July 4th weekend crowds, I planned my trip to end on July 1, 2017.

Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy at Mammoth Mountain in July 2015 - Click for 2017 image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)When I left Los Angeles on June 28, my initial destination was the Mammoth Mountain RV Park. I planned to road test my New Titan XD truck, towing our travel trailer to that location. From there I could venture to Lee Vining and then over the Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows. Over the winter, the meadows had received up to thirty feet of snowpack. In Mammoth Lakes, at an elevation of 7,500 feet, there was no trace of snow. At an elevation of 8966 feet, nearby Lake Mary was still frozen. As is often the case in July, the days were warm and the nights were cool.

After arriving at Mammoth Lakes, I remembered that it takes almost a week to acclimate to the altitude. On Thursday morning, I slept late and did not venture away from my campsite until late afternoon. Wanting to test my four-
New Nissan Titan XD turbo-diesel at Obsidian Dome, near June Lakes, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)wheel drive system, I drove my new truck to Obsidian Dome, just fifteen miles away. One of five volcanic craters in the Mono-Inyo Craters group, I knew that the Obsidian Dome forest trail was challenging but not too daunting for such a big truck.

Looking more like a huge pile of volcanic rocks than a crater, I decided not to hike to the top of the dome. Instead, I drove to a turnout in the woods and enjoyed the solitude of the place. Soon, two other vehicles pulled up to my secluded spot and idled for several minutes before moving on. One might think my spot was the only place to stop in the Eastern Sierra. After the interlopers departed, I noticed that there was still snow a few hundred feet above my location.

The author, Jim McGillis at Mono Lake in late June 2017 - Click for lower lake level in July 2016 (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Upon returning to the RV Park, I confirmed that the Tioga Road had indeed opened to traffic on that very day. The next morning, I started out for the historic town of Lee Vining and then up the Tioga Road to Yosemite National Park. While talking on my mobile telephone, I became distracted and missed the Tioga Road turnoff. That was a lucky break, because a trip through Lee Vining on Highway 395 is always a treat. Just north of the town, there are spectacular views of ancient Mono Lake, so I stopped to take pictures.

In all my years of visiting Mono County, I had not seen the lake level so high. This summer, there was more water available to the City of Los Angeles than it could divert. As a result, Lee Vining Creek and other streams in the Mono Lake watershed appeared to disgorge directly into the lake.

Mt. Dana in late June 2017, with snow-pack still clinging - Click for July 2016 image of the same peak, with no snow-pack (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After researching historic water levels at Mono Lake, I determined that the July 7, 2017 elevation of 6380.4 ft. was up 2.1 ft. from the same date the previous year. Even at that, the lake level was forty-seven feet lower than it was in 1919. Today, the City of Los Angeles and the Mono Lake Committee have an agreement regarding diversion and partial refilling of Mono Lake. With its gently sloping shores and shallow depth, even a small rise in water level covers a vast expanse of the original lakebed.

After gazing at Mono Lake, I realized that I had driven right past the Tioga Road Junction. Soon, I turned around and headed back toward Highway 120, also known as the Tioga Road. When I stopped at the service station just off Highway 395, I could see that it was busy. Inside the store and deli, several hundred people milled around and blocked every aisle. Luckily, I had brought my own snacks and did not need to wait in line for food.

A bicyclist stops at Tioga Lake on June 30, 2017 to photograph his bike with the partially frozen Tioga Lake in the background - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Back on the Tioga Road, I used the torque of the Titan XD’s turbo-diesel engine to glide up the steep grade. I was passing slower vehicles and appeared hell-bent to get to the high country. Then, I saw the first of two large lakes visible from the highway. It was full to the brim and the spillway was open. I stopped to see a cascade of water plunging down the rocky slope into Lee Vining Creek. At each subsequent stop, I positioned the truck off-road, so I could and take pictures through the open side window. On the return trip, I would photograph points of interest on the other side of the road. One place I stopped, the Tioga Pass Resort, founded in 1914 was flooded and partially destroyed. That was my first taste of infrastructure destruction in the area. Later, I learned that the resort would not open for the season in 2017.

The Tuolumne Meadows Store, broken and beaten by winter weather, shown on June 30, 2017 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)By the time I reached Tuolumne Meadows, I realized that I had missed the sign for the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, which is located in the woods, to the east of the actual meadows. Strange… I thought. Did they cover or remove the signage? Before long, I arrived at the Tuolumne Meadows Store. I should say… what was left of the store. In the late fall, the store is stripped of its canvas roof. As winter snows fall, they drift and accumulate inside the skeleton of the wooden structure.

This year, over thirty feet of snow accumulated on the concrete floor of the store. We perceive that snow melts vertically, disappearing into the earth without a trace. The reality is that deep, wet Sierra Nevada snow-pack behaves like a slow-motion glacier. As the snow-pack accumulated in the store, it could not melt through the concrete floor, so it pushed sideways, contorted by both the lower reaches of Tuolumne Meadows became a seasonal lake in late June 2017 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)wind and gravity. The result was about ten-years of weathering in only one season. The ends of rafters snapped under the load. Anything left standing looked decrepit and derelict.

Compared to the summer drought of 2016, this year Tuolumne Meadows looked green and lush. There was no remaining snow in the upper meadow, but high water flowed down the Tuolumne River. When I headed west another mile along the Tioga Road, I came to the lower meadow that gives the place its plural name. There, the river had backed up at the entrance of a small canyon, creating a seasonal lake. A later check of Google Maps showed no lake in that location, only a wide spot in the river.

Tuolumne Meadow in summer 2016, devastated by ten years of drought - Click for a greener image in late June 2017 (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Traveling back to the east, toward Tioga Pass, I turned right on to the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Road. At a fork in that road, temporary barriers blocked blocked vehicle access. Parking in the adjacent parking lot, I began a short hike up the closed road. My goal was the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, with its famed tent-cabins, dining hall and general store. With no one else in sight, my hike alternated between hot sun and gentle shade from the pine and fir trees. When I arrived at the lodge parking lot, I saw the first signs of destruction.

During the spring melt, the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River had breached its natural banks and an errant stream had cut through grounds of the lodge. Below, mud, rocks and gravel lay fanned out across the parking lot. Closer to the wood-framed lodge, the new stream had cut a v-shaped channel in the
Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge in summer 2016. Click for a similar view in late June 2017 (http://jamesmcgillis.com)pathway. Although a dozen of the tent cabins had their canvas tops and sides installed, there was no sign of any additional work or work parties.

On August 25, 2016, I had visited the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge. By chance, it was the centennial of the U.S. National Parks Service. On that date, the lodge was bustling with activity. Some people sat in the shade, reading, while others had lunch in the dining hall. Hikers and visitors crowded the little store, buying backcountry supplies. Unless one had a prior reservation, no lodging was available. After ten years of drought and insignificant snowfall, the lodge had opened early in 2016.

On the Friday before the July 4th weekend of 2017, the scene was quite different. No other humans were in sight. Almost nothing of the old wooden lodge had received attention. The white-painted structure looked like the
In summer 2016, the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River was merely a trickle at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge - Click for an image from late June 2017 - (http://jamesmcgillis.com)bleached bones of a beached whale. The shed roof in front was broken and falling down. Many of the hand-made trusses that supported the dining hall roof were broken. One dangled over the concrete floor, hanging by a length of old electrical conduit. No one had yet taken a broom to the floor, let alone repaired any of the extensive damage. It appeared that the many layers of flaking white paint were all that held the structure together.

Out back, I had the cascading falls of the Tuolumne River’s Dana Fork all to myself. I could see where the river had jumped its banks and toppled an enormous old tree. Steel lunch tables, where campers had sat reading the previous year lay crumpled and broken by the weight of the winter snow-pack.

The Tioga Pass Resort, founded in 1914, lies broken and destroyed in late June 2017 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)With no one working and the road so recently opened, repair of both the Tuolumne Meadows Store and Lodge appeared to be an overwhelming task. With California experiencing the lowest unemployment figures in a decade, I wondered who would endure the hardship of living in a tent cabin in order to rebuild derelict buildings that might not be repairable. With meager federal government funding for the National Park Service, where would the money come from to repair structures that my parents had first visited seventy-five years ago?

At the old Tuolumne Meadows Service Station, I noted that there were no gas pumps. Where once had been a concrete pad and a service island was a large patch of gravel. Nearby, I photographed an old roadside sign. For motorists heading west to Yosemite Valley, it read, “No Services Next 39 Miles”. The The author, Jim McGillis and his father, Duke McGillis in a tent cabin at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge in summer 2004 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)irony was that there were no motorist services for the seventy-five mile stretch between Lee Vining and Yosemite Valley. As I departed Yosemite National Park, I realized that high country visitors would find no food, fuel, campsites, wilderness permits or lodging any time soon. As with everything else in Yosemite and Mono County this year, unprepared travelers could be in for a rude shock and a very long wait.

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By James McGillis at 05:32 PM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link


Chapter #356: Furnace Creek - Death Valley, Calif. - May 22, 2017


Sundown over the Panamint Range from Furnace Creek Campground, Death Valley National Park - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

You Won't Need a Furnace at Furnace Creek in Death Valley

In November 2016, on my first trip to Death Valley National Park, I started with a sundown visit to Zabriskie Point. As darkness gathered on the floor of Death Valley, I located my campsite at the Furnace Creek Campground. The temperature felt warm, but after sunset, it no longer felt amazingly hot. With the doors and windows open on my coach, I was able to move indoors as the evening progressed.

Near Furnace Creek Campground, Death Valley National Park, a rare rain shower falls on the Amargosa Range - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The campground itself will look familiar to anyone who has camped in a National Park. You will recognize the layout as a series of loop-roads. Each loop has fifteen or twenty campsites. At Furnace Creek Campground, a recent change in management resulted in the repaving of all its roads and refurbishment of water and restroom facilities. The setting is ancient, yet the campground feels new again. Unobstructed views of both the Amargosa Range and the Panamint Range add drama to the scene.

Since the few full-hookup RV-sites were long since reserved, I settled for two nights of dry camping in a dry desert. Luckily, the water supply at Furnace Creek is sufficient for cooking and bathing. The first Anglos to visit Furnace Creek in 1849 barely found sufficient water to survive until their
Prior to motor transit, the "Big Wheel" was used to drag large logs from distant mountains to Furnace Creek construction projects - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)rescue in 1850. By the early twentieth century, residents and tourists at the village of Furnace Creek could enjoy potable water piped to the town from artesian springs in the nearby Amargosa Range. Today, groundwater withdrawal and storage tanks support what looks like a thriving oasis, but is actually doomed to return to its dry state at a time uncertain. With such paltry rainfall in Death Valley, groundwater pumping is ultimately unsustainable. Except for rare seasonal flow, what once was a true oasis along Furnace Creek is now mostly a dry wash.

Although there is a wide range of tourist services at Furnace Creek, the 2010 U.S. Census pegged the fulltime population as only twenty-four hardy souls. Admittedly, most of the public and private facilities in Furnace Creek are air-conditioned, making life easier for heat-weary visitors and workers. One exception to that is the Native Americans known as the Timbisha Shoshone TribeAccording to Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy, the Death Valley Railroad never made it to Furnace Creek, although Locomotive DVRR2 still stands there at the Borax Museum - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com). As a federally recognized tribe, their small, private enclave adjacent to Furnace Creek appeared to be hot, dusty and dry. What few trees and shrubs that survive the harsh climate provide scant shade or relief from the sweeping winds. Recent data suggest that the Timbisha tribal population in Death Valley is around forty individuals.

During my November 2016 visit, there was not a trace of water on the vast salt pan, including the Upper Basin, Middle Basin and Badwater, which lays almost 280-feet below sea level. Furnace Creek, on the other hand, is only 190-feet below sea level. This difference in elevation means that in wet years, water will overflow the Upper Basin, pass through the Middle Basin and form a large, shallow lake at Badwater Basin. Salt, borax and alkali, which dries in Looking from Furnace Creek toward Stovepipe Wells in November 2016, the roadside was ravaged by flooding, but the Death Valley salt flats were dry - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)the connecting channels suggests a short-lived, landlocked stream that may flow through Death Valley in the springtime. Upon my return in February 2017, all three basins contained surface water. By April 2017, almost all of the surface water had evaporated or settled into the graben, leaving the salt flats dry and susceptible to wind erosion and vandalism.

While visiting Furnace Creek in February 2017, water seemed to be everywhere. The dry lakes were wet. Furnace Creek flowed down its traditional course and water fell from the sky, in the form of rain. Upon arrival, the evidence of flood damage to roads and trails was evident. Orange traffic cones stood guard at many small washouts along Highway 190, leading to Furnace Creek. Nearby Artists Drive, a one-way formerly paved road through spectacular canyon scenery remained washed
In February 2017, after an exceptionally rainy winter in Death Valley, crews were busy rebuilding parts of Artists Drive in Death Valley National Park - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)out. After historic winter rains had swept that road away in many places, workers used heavy machinery to make repairs. During our February visit, only gentle showers passed through Furnace Creek. The showers cleared the air, leaving the scent of moist creosote in an otherwise desolate place.

Why was the winter of 2017 so wet in Death Valley? My personal observations may or may not be scientifically correct, but here is my theory. North of Furnace Creek the Panamint Range to the west and the Amargosa Range to the east form a sort of wind tunnel. Between Tin Mountain (8,953 ft. elev.) and Grapevine Peak (8,743 ft. elev.), a cyclonic effect can arise. If little moisture is available, a whirlwind or “dust devil” will rise and sweep toward Furnace Creek and Badwater to the south. If the counter-clockwise wind is strong enough, it can A dry "Dust Devil" rotates counter-clockwise near the Devil's Cornfield in Death Valley National Park - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)pull moisture from the Eastern Sierra Nevada Range and feed it toward the salt flats of Death Valley.

Another contributing factor in rainfall is dust particles. In February, I watched a tall, thin strand of wind shear traveling along the course I already described. As it reached the Middle Basin, it had enough strength to kick up untold amounts of dust from the periphery of the standing water. Soon, we could see a large cloud of dust and rain forming against the eastern slopes of the Panamint Range. Upon our return to the campground, another shower swept from North to South. With the minimal moisture we experienced, only the rock strewn landscape hinted at floodwaters issuing forth from every canyon and wash in Death Valley. The recent winter rains must have been a dangerous, yet remarkable sight.

Looking from the Furnace Creek Inn toward Telescope Peak in February 2017, dust from a wind vortex lifted to create rainfall in Death Valley - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)By April 12, 2017, when I again visited Furnace Creek, it was hot and dusty. Again, I dry camped, but this time it was warmer, approaching 100 °F (37.8 °C). With the wind and sand looking to sandblast my truck, I decided to hunker down inside the trailer until the wind abated. Using my cordless vacuum to keep up with the dust in my coach was almost a full time job. If I had opened the door, it might have blown off its hinges, but would surely fill my coach with even more dust. With my afternoon spent inside a hot coach, I began to understand how the original pioneers of 1849 must have felt. Trying to allay both wind and dust, they had nothing more than brush lean-tos to protect them against the onslaught.

For me, temperatures above 100 °F (37.8 °C) are uncomfortable. In the heat of summer, many Norwegians visit Death Valley. Considering the cool air in In February 2017, a rare rainstorm clears at sunset, Furnace Creek, Death Valley California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)their home country, Norwegians come to Death Valley in the summer just to feel outdoor heat for the first time in their lives. Whether my Norwegian story is true or not, German, Dutch other Northern Europeans find Death Valley to their liking. No matter what time of year, it is common to hear people speaking various European languages in and around Death Valley National Park. Since older members of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe still speak their native language, you might have the rare opportunity to hear that language spoken at Furnace Creek, as well.

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By James McGillis at 01:20 PM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link


Chapter #355: Zabriskie Point - Death Valley, Calif. - May 17, 2017


Near sundown at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley - It's not a gap...it's an abyss!

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park - “How you get there depends on where you're at.”

For most of my life, I avoided Death Valley like the plague. The stories about an ill-fated attempt to reach California by wagon train in 1849 - 1850 created a daunting image. The graben of Death Valley holds the record as the hottest place on Earth, with five consecutive days in 1913 registering 129 °F (54 °C), or above. Annual precipitation at Death Valley averages less than 2.5-inches. Further, its existence as the lowest point of elevation in the United States added to the negative connotations in my mind.

After moon-rise, the Zabriskie Point sign is easier to locate - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Then, in November 2016, I traveled from Las Vegas, through Pahrump, Nevada and on to Death Valley National Park, California. Other than photos and video I had viewed of the area, I had no idea what to expect. What I found upon arrival was reminiscent of a Martian landscape, rather than Earth. Volcanism, erosion and rocky or sandy soil abounded. As distinguished from the face of Mars, there were a few hardy plants and animals, but otherwise, normal life-support seemed unlikely.

Before arriving at my campsite in Furnace Creek, I visited Zabriskie Point. Relatively unknown until the latter 20th century, Zabriskie Point became the prime location and namesake of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 counterculture flick. Filmed in 1969, with music by Pink Floyd and Jerry Garcia, the movie features an incoherent plot, as if the cast and crew were not only blazing in the sun, but also blazing on lysergic acid (LSD). In fact, the often-panned, but
now cinematically celebrated film "set the scene" for many other desert trips In the 1970 film, Zabriskie Point, an explosion wipes out a scenic house in the desert - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)of fame or infamy.

On Oct. 12, 1969, at Barker Ranch, in Death Valley, just north of the San Bernardino County town of Trona, the murder spree of the Charles Manson “family” ended with his arrest. In September 1973, members of the rock band, The Eagles accompanied singer and songwriter Gram Parsons to the place and time of his death in Joshua Tree, California. According to public records, between October 2003 and November 2013, twenty people of lesser fame died in or around Death Valley. On July 6, 2014, hikers in the badlands near Zabriskie Point discovered the body of British actor Dave Legeno, known for his role as werewolf Fenrir Greyback in three of the ‘Harry Potter’ films. Temperatures at the time of Legeno’s death were as much as 123 °F (50.5 °C).

Near sundown, the light at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley reveals the features of the land - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In the film Zabriskie Point, I remember a scene with the male and female stars standing on a tiny pinnacle of land. Filmed at sunset, one can see the Panamint Range looming and glooming in the west. As the stars embrace, the camera revolves around them. Amid clouds of dust, we see lots of skin and writhing bodies. Amidst the whipping wind and the grand vistas at sundown, we see dozens of couples apparently copulating on the hillocks below. After almost fifty years, both film acolytes and the curious continue to trek up the hill to see that famous spot. That tiny pinnacle of film-fame has eroded into dust. Oh, that the faithful shall not trample His grave, too.

In 2004, a flash flood swept across the highway, uprooting and destroying the substantial concrete pit-toilets previously installed in the parking area. After extensive repairs, both then and in 2014, there is now a paved pathway, leading up to a viewing plaza. With its low stone wall, the plaza is about the size of a baseball diamond. Although the once remote place called Zabriskie Point is no longer so remote, the views at sundown are every bit as exciting or sublime, depending on one’s energies at the time.

After visiting Death Valley for the first time, I registered the internet name DVJim.com - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
On November 10, 2016, my first visit to Zabriskie point occured less than two days after the U.S. election of “He Who Cannot Be Named” (HWCBN). After sunset, I lingered to talk with people from across the United States, and beyond. “Do you think he will open up the national parks and monuments for oil and gas exploration?” one man asked. “No”, I replied. “The U.S. Antiquities Act of 1906, signed by then president Theodore Roosevelt will protect our esteemed parks and monuments from HWCBN and his penchant for Old Energy exploitation”.

On April 27, 2017, HWCBN signed an executive order reviewing and attempting to rollback or eliminate every U.S. national monument created since the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, during the Clinton administration. The final list includes the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona, Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and Craters of the Moon in Idaho. Thank you, Mr. HWCBN for protecting our national
Your tax dollars at work... Since the flood of 2004, all Zabriskie Point facilities have been restored - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)heritage.

On an April 2017 visit to Zabriskie Point, I noticed a curious recurring phenomenon. Once again, the sun set through the abysmal gap, framed by the Panamint Range, which is visible west of Zabriskie Point. At sunset, the place darkened like a theater when the lights go down. After staring toward the sun for the final fifteen minutes of daylight, my eyes could not readily adjust to the twilight and approaching darkness. Although the sun still shone for a time on the Amargosa Range to the east, the Zabriskie Point plaza looked like there had been a solar eclipse.

After gazing around the plaza, I snapped a few photos of the sunlight as it receded from the Amargosa Range. As darkness rapidly approached, all visible landforms were in shadow. Since there was nothing more to see, I sauntered down the sinuous pathway that led to the parking lot below. Here is
On a recent visit to Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California, Plush Kokopelli vowed to resist the destruction and decay of all U.S. National Parks and Monuments - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)the curious part. At the end of each visit, I spotted several photographers carrying long-lens cameras. Each was hoofing it up the pathway to the viewing area. I wanted to say, “It is all over. Don’t even bother going up there. There is nothing more to see”.

If you plan to visit Zabriskie Point and view that famous sunset, do not refer to the official sunset times listed in your almanac or on a weather website. They will list the time of day when the sun slips below the Earth’s horizon, not when it disappears behind the Panamint Range, which may be ten or fifteen minutes earlier.

Each time that I observed a Zabriskie Point sunset, several photographers ran toward the ancient plaza. With the sun already set, one can only hope that they arrived in time to take pictures of the
abyss.
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By James McGillis at 04:48 PM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link


Chapter #352: Winter Camping in the Mojave Desert - February 7, 2017


Plush Kokopelli joined me for two nights of winter camping in the Mojave National Preserve - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

No Media For Me On Inauguration Weekend - 2017

During the recent presidential inauguration, I planned to get as far away as possible from all broadcast and online media sources. After reviewing my old blog articles, I decided that the Hole in Wall Campground in the Mojave National Preserve was the place to go. In the lower elevations of the campground, my mobile telephone might access a cell tower somewhere near Needles, California. At the upper reaches, terrestrial signals are weak, with only AM radio and an occasional text message transiting through the ether.

Black Canyon Road completes the last ten miles to Hole In The Wall Campground, Mojave National Preserve, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As it happened, my winter camping trip to the desert was epic. In my coach, I had vintage wines, great food and forced-air, propane heating at my fingertips. My electrical power emanated from two 6-volt “golf cart batteries”. Combined, they offered 12-volts of power to my lights and appliances. The system allowed for “deep cycle” usage and quick recovery during recharge. In the campground, as the temperature dipped below 40-degrees, I set the thermostat as high as 71-degrees. As it converts from a liquid to a gaseous state, propane expands by a factor of 270. Even with extensive burning, my ten gallons of propane would suffice for several nights of warmth. As the night progressed, I could have worn shorts and t-shirt inside.

Overnight, I set the temperature at a comfortable 60-degrees. As I slept in luxury, the furnace cycled five or six more times. When I awoke the next morning, it was raining. I pushed a button on the control panel and the electric-powered awning extended fully over the outside Arrival at Hole In The Wall Campground, Mojave National Preserve - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)door of my coach. After sprinting through a light shower, I retrieved my old Honda EX1000 generator from the bed of my pickup truck. After pouring what we euphemistically call “gasoline” into its integral tank, I prepared to pull the recoil starter.

Over the past decade, the ethanol, or corn alcohol in our domestic fuel supply had twice clogged up the carburetor. Contemporary generators and automobiles have a pressurized fuel system that seals itself from leaks when not in use. My old Honda generator relied on gravity to feed the carburetor, thus there was no automatic shutoff of the fuel supply. As long as there was fuel in the tank, any change in barometric pressure would expand or contract the air in the fuel tank, thus sending a few drops of fuel into the carburetor.

The medical community entreats us not to eat or drink foods that contain corn syrup. Science After a cold night in the Mojave Desert, my Honda EX1000 generator failed to start - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)proved long ago that corn syrup would clog our arteries and lead to diabetes and incipient heart failure. As with corn syrup in the human body, so it is with “corn fuel” in an engine designed for real gasoline. By leaving a small amount of gas in the tank during storage, I had twice gummed-up the carburetor. Each time, the engine failed to start, requiring a costly rebuild. In my case, it took two such episodes to determine that the gas tank on my EX1000 must be empty when placed into storage. By now, it had been more than two years since I had run the generator.

Since my EX1000 uses a conventional carburetor, it needs to be “choked” in order to fire-up and start running. For those who have lived only in the “fuel injection era”, choking means physically limiting the air supply to the engine in order to increase the fuel-to-air ratio. Upon startup, it gives you more “bang for the buck”, as they used to say. After achieving “lift off”, so to speak, one can open the choke incrementally. Once the oil in the crankcase warms up, fully opening the choke allows the engine to run efficiently.

My Springdale travel trailer at Hole In The Wall Campground, Mojave National Preserve - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I looked down at the choke-slider from above and behind the unit. From that odd angle, the hieroglyphics indicating that the choke was “open” or “closed” made no sense. After erroneously sliding it to the full-open position, I proceeded to pull on the recoil starter twenty or thirty times, with no success. By then, water was puddling four-inches deep beneath the aft-end of the coach and rain was whipping in my face. Enough was enough. I shoved the EX1000 under the coach and went inside to dry off.

The LED indicators in my coach showed that my “house batteries” were down to one-third of their normal power. Despite having to brave intermittent rain showers, I would dash out every couple of hours and run the engine on my Titan truck. Through an attached cable, the alternator on the Titan’s V-8 engine recharged my coach batteries. By nightfall, it was pouring rain, but the batteries recovered to two-thirds power. Feeling better about my power supply, I went inside, "The Other" prepared for a long, cold night in the Mojave Desert - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)planning to stay there until sunup.

When I sat down at the dinette, the seat of my pants felt wet and cold. In my haste to run the truck engine, I had left my shirttail hanging out of my two-piece rain suit. The shirttail was soaked and so was I. In order to warm up, I had to remove all of my wet clothes and replace them with dry apparel. In the desert cold, one can rapidly succumb to hypothermia. Since I was still on limited battery power, I did not raise the thermostat for warmth. Instead, I relied on my own metabolism to warm my clothes and me. When I sat back down, even the cushions of the dinette were damp. Would my bouts with the cold and the wet ever end?

After the storm cleared, temperatures in the Mojave Desert dropped to well below freezing - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After dark, it became colder still, so I wore three layers on my torso and pajamas beneath my jeans. On my feet were two pairs of socks and warm slippers. In order to save battery power, I used portable lights and even kept the radio off. Television was not an option. Normally I stay up until at least midnight, but it was so cold and dismal that I went to bed around 10 PM. Soon after getting in bed, I spilled a small portion of white wine on the bed sheets. In order to stay dry, I had to leave my previously warm spot and resettle on the opposite side of the bed.

As I lay listening to the rain and wind, the only other sound was the blower on the furnace, which was cycling on and off. Each time the furnace relighted, I would turn it down a degree or two, hoping to conserve battery power. By midnight, I had turned it down to about 52-degrees. Two days later, I discovered an air-gap where the slide-out meets the chassis of the coach. That small air gap had the same effect as leaving a door ajar. With the high winds that night, it felt like a fan was blowing cold air into the coach.

During the peak of the drought in 2013, The Great Reflector at Hole In The Wall Campground was dry enough to burn - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As I slept fitfully, the wind and the rain battered the outside of my coach. After the weather front passed through at 1 AM, the wind began gusting to over forty miles per hour. During previous camping trips, I had always put a “four-by-four” piece of wood under each of the leveling glides on the coach. Since the motorized leveling system on my current coach is so easy to use, I had become complacent. Instead of placing a solid piece of wood beneath each glide, I had lowered them directly on to the wet desert sand.

The “full-room slide out” was fully extended, thus cantilevering a lot of weight over the open desert. As the winds picked up, the coach would heal like a sailboat under sail. In reality, the coach did not move much, but it felt unstable and ready to blow over. My lucky stroke was that the pickup truck was upwind, helping break some of the wind forces. Also, the aerodynamic On a cold winter morning, The Great Reflector at the Hole In The Wall Campground, Mojave National Preserve - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)front end of the coach faced into the wind.

Whether it is our voting choices or our camping practices, sometimes we humans act against our self-interest. If I had not been obsessed with saving battery power, I would have used the motorized system to retract the slide-out into the coach. Rocking in my unstable cradle that night, I recalled that if the house batteries dipped below 11.5-volts, the hardwired carbon monoxide alarm would start wailing. Worse yet, the alarm would not stop until the batteries were sufficiently recharged. By the time I remembered that, it was freezing outside, so I did not venture out and run the truck engine.

The potential for a wailing alarm was more powerful than my fear that the coach would overturn, so I left the slide-out extended. With four-inches of water pooled beneath the rear leveling glides, that was not a wise idea. In the end, everything stayed upright. Still, for the better part of three hours, it felt like I was inside the tornado from The Wizard of Oz. After 3 It took layers of clothing to resist the cold air at my winter camp in the Mojave National Preserve - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)AM, the furnace stopped cycling and the wind gusts seemed to abate, or maybe I passed out, with a pillow over my head.

When I awoke, the sun shown above the low horizon to the east. As its rays struck the back window of the coach, the air inside slowly rose toward 55-degrees. Although the warming trend was encouraging, in order to feel comfortable, I needed more heat. Then, I remembered that a group of campers had spent the night in tents, down at the windiest, coldest part of the campground. How were they feeling that frigid morning, I wondered? After dressing as warmly as I could, I stepped out and walked toward my truck.

On a whim, I dragged the old Honda EX1000 generator out from beneath the coach, “choked it” and then pulled the rope. It fired-up on the first pull. The EX1000 employs some old technology, including what amounts to a small motorcycle engine mated to a 1000-watt After a stormy night, the sun shown on the snow at Hole In The Wall Campground, Mojave National Preserve - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)generator. Even when warm, it emits pollutants far above a current-generation “CARB Compliant” generator. With gloved hands, I plugged the power cord from the coach into the 120-volt electrical receptacle on the generator. Within 40-minutes, the coach was warm and toasty and the batteries registered two-thirds full. The price I paid for old technology that morning was to inhale exhaust gasses at my otherwise pristine desert campsite.

In order to avoid the exhaust, I explored the bounds of my rustic campsite, including the bed of my pickup truck. There, in a crate that carried my unused four-by-fours was half an inch of solid ice. Since my indoor/outdoor thermometer went missing, I can only assume that it got down to about 25-degrees overnight. Still, as the sun rose and the wind abated, the air warmed to about 45-degrees. Upon further inspection, my trailer tires were showing unusual wear, so I needed to buy new ones before returning home.

On a cold Mojave Desert morning, a roadrunner visited my campsite - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After two eventful nights at my desert camp, I headed for Needles, about fifty miles away. On my first trip to the Hole in the Wall Campground, eleven years ago, I had experienced a slow leak in one of my tires. After pumping it up above normal pressure, I hoped to get fifty-miles of travel before it deflated. Then, I had the choice of traveling cross-country on dirt roads to the town of Baker or heading to Needles and purchase new tires there. Good sense prevailed, so I had navigated paved roads and Interstate I-40 to Desert View Mobil, located on the old Needles Highway. Back then, I assumed that buying trailer tires in the desert would be akin to throwing money down a rat hole. Were they not just waiting for a desperate soul like me to fall into their money trap?

As it occurred, that first visit and twice since, the people at Desert View Mobil have treated me to free refreshments while I waited for a refit with new tires on each successive rig. Having bought three sets of tires at Desert View Mobil, I knew they could do the job. As I rolled to a Interstate I-40, westbound, approaching the Essex Road off-ramp - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)halt, the manager approached me saying, "You know your tires are shredding?" I said, "That's why I'm here". Before he mounted the new tires, I asked him to check my suspension links, which felt loose and wobbly on the road. No, the tires and suspension components I purchased that day were not free, but my new tires were higher quality than I could buy at any local tire store.

Soon, I had all new bolts, links and bushings on the suspension, plus four new eight-ply tires. Each new “wet-bolt” features a grease fitting and unlike the original nylon bushings, the new ones were solid bronze. In the future, I can lubricate the whole suspension system, mitigating excess tire wear and the loose handling I had previously experienced. Longtime Desert View Mobil mechanic, Ricky Wallace and his compatriot had me back on the road in less than three hours. Before I departed, they provided a free grease-job on my wheel bearings. As I headed for I-40, it felt like I was driving a brand new rig.

High Desert Mobil in Needles, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)While writing this article, I researched “Desert View Mobil” on the internet. One image led me to Yelp, which features mostly negative reviews of millions of businesses. The reviews for Desert View Mobil were true to form. Most Yelp reviewers seem to hate all small businesses. Eighty-percent of the Yelp reviews I read were extremely negative. How could my experience with this particular business be so good while many customers felt swindled, overcharged or defrauded?

As I said, Yelp is a “complainer’s paradise”, so do not expect to see any good news there. Also, remember that you are in the town of Needles, in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Nothing is cheaper in the desert. Next door, at the Dairy Queen, I bought the most expensive milkshake of my life. Desert travel is hard on vehicles, whether they are trailers, motor homes or automobiles. Why else would Desert View Mobil stock tires of almost every size? If you limp in on three wheels, as one vintage Savoy trailer did, do not expect a bargain, but do expect to I had new suspension links, wet bolts and bushings, plus four new eight-ply tires installed at Desert View Mobil in Needles, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)be back safely on the road in short order. As they say, time is money.

Interstate I-40 has more elevation changes than a roller-coaster. If a tire is going to fail, you can expect it to break apart somewhere near Needles. If you travel at high speed and have neglected routine maintenance, you will require help somewhere near High Desert Mobil. When the staff there points out that your tires are bare and your suspension is shot, do not blame them. Blame yourself for not fixing the problem before leaving home. Besides, they offer a two-year written warranty on parts and labor. Just keep the receipt in your glove box and stop in for a safety check each time you pass by.

When I was rolling again, it was too late to drive the 300-miles home. Instead, I headed down the long grade to Park Moabi, along the Colorado River. Although the County of San The price of gasoline at High Desert Mobil in Needles, California from 2008 until 2017 (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Bernardino owns Moabi Regional Park, its concessionaire has renamed it “Pirate’s Cove”. Adjacent to old Route-66 and the Colorado River, the park began life in the 1930s as an itinerant travel camp for Dust Bowl escapees. In prime season, the restaurant now serves around 3000 meals each day. Boats from up and down the river flock to its lagoon. After anchoring, boaters can take a water taxi to the restaurant. If you have the time and money, you can take a float-plane ride, a speedboat ride or connect your RV to a full hookup next to the river.

Not wanting to spend the extra ten dollars for a full hookup, I elected to go with “water and power only”. That meant I would have to access the RV dump in the morning. Still, with the outrageous price of $55 for a full hookup near the Colorado River, saving money seemed appropriate. My decision turned out to be a mistake. Instead of spending the night in quiet seclusion by the river, I ended up camping amidst the biggest, loudest party ever. I camped in an area occupied by hard-drinking party-people, all of whom drove high-powered “quad” off-road vehicles. Once I hooked up the water and power, I retreated to my coach. The “Quiet Hour” of 10 PM came and went. Without fail, every ten minutes, someone would fire up his ORV, just to In quieter days, five-years ago, this classic Twin Beech float-plane visited Moabi Regional Park, near Needles, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)hear the engine rev.

Are you a hard-drinking, “hoot & holler” pirate-type, enamored of high-powered off-road vehicles? If so, Pirate's Cove is the place for you. They tout 3200-miles of off-road trails to drive. With high-revving engines all around and a complete lack of respect for "quiet hours", you will experience a freewheeling atmosphere of loud music, engine fumes and smoky campfires. If you enjoy peace, quiet and have respect for your neighbors, stay as far away from Pirate’s Cove as you can. When you check in, they copy your driver’s license, your vehicle insurance certificate and take your credit card for payment. I do not know who can access all that information, but the potential for identity theft is ever-present. For the reasons stated above, I give Pirate’s Cove management a "no stars" review.

Overnight, some prankster opened both the black-water and gray-water valves on my coach. Only the outside cap retained the effluent. The next morning, when I opened the cap at the RV The "London Jet" passenger boat approaches Moabi Regional Park near Needles, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)dump, one-hundred gallons of effluent poured out on the desert soil and on me. Someone had already dumped a bucket-load of horse droppings by the Pirate's Cove RV dump, so I did not feel bad about leaving the area as soon as possible. By the time I cleaned up and departed the scene, it was raining.

For the next 300-miles, the rain did not let up. Near sundown, I caught a glimpse of Simi Valley from the pass at Rocky Peak. Upon arrival at my destination, the rain had stopped and my winter camping experience in the desert was complete.

That was how I spent Inauguration Weekend 2017. Do we have a new president? Was there a protest march the next day? Is there an unconstitutional immigrant ban in effect? Is my Medicare heading for a voucher system? Will Congress slash my Social Security benefits? Apparently, a lot can change when one spends a few nights at a "Hole In The Wall" in the Mojave National Preserve.

Email James McGillis
Email James McGillis

By James McGillis at 02:56 PM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link

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German Hydrogen Bomb Ready
Passing The $100,000 Bill
Google Wins - Microsoft Withdraws
A.Word.A.Day, You Ought to Know
San Fernando Valley Winemaking
WindSong - The Book - Updated
Divine Inspiration, Or Nearly So
Going Down to the Depot
Japanese Win The "Space Race"
2007 eCommerce - Made Easy
Discovering The Great Reflector
Navajo National Monument, Arizona
Moab, Utah Memories - 2007
Fall Color, Silverton, Colorado
Autumn Equinox in the Rockies
Hasta la Vista, Taos, New Mexico
Megatrends 2010 - The Book
The Quantum Leap, New Mexico
Chaco Canyon Memories 2007
Flame-Out in Phoenix, Arizona
Annals of Homeland Security '07
Quartzsite, AZ - RV Camping
WindSong eBook - Now Ready
The Quantum Leap Celebration
Welcome to my new weblog 2007!

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