April 3, Death Valley, Arizona & New Mexico

It had been our plan to meet friends Dick and Earin in Death Valley in late February, but Margie became concerned about her mother's health and so decided to fly back to Houston to help with the care. After I put Margie on a plane in Las Vegas, I continued on to meet Dick and Earin. Below is the e-mail report I sent Margie after that visit.

We've had a good time in Death Valley, although we didn't do as much motorcycling as we had hoped to do--just one afternoon's worth on the dual sports. (Since you were not here, I never had to drop my BMW--Earin rode behind Dick on his 650 and I rode her 230.)

Our rigs at Panamint Springs

Dual sports at Surprise Canyon

Our riding day was Sunday, when we went south from Panamint Springs down to Ballarat, a ghost town just outside the west side of the Park. En route to Ballarat we took a side road to Surprise Canyon and had about a mile's hike up to some falls. (Well, they called them falls, but they were really cascades.) The canyon was impressive, very narrow with lots of overhanging colorful rocks--made us very happy there wasn't an earthquake to send any of the those boulders tumbling our way.

The "falls" in Surprise Canyon

Colorful stream in Surprise Canyon

On Monday we took the RVs to the north end to tour Scotty's Castle (fascinating) and Ubehebe Crater again, spending the night at nearby Mesquite Spring campground. That evening the wind picked up, with rain during the night. The next day the rain was over, but the wind was fierce and we just didn't want to get out in it on the cycles, so we took both RVs down to Furnace Creek, got two sites and left the Winnebago there while the three of us used the Chateau to go on down to Badwater. We walked out on the salt flat, but the sign that Dick and I remembered from when you, he and I were there last time, marking the lowest spot in the U.S., was gone. We also stopped at the Devil's Golf Course and found an incredible spring about 100 yards out in the salt formations. It was more or less circular, about 8 feet across, with deep blue-green water which was cool and extremely saline. They didn't sign it or mention it in any of the brochures, but the guide at Scotty's Castle (a real character) had told us about it and how to locate it. Next time we are here I want to show it to you, but for now pictures will just have to do. On the way back from Badwater we also drove the Artists Loop road, which was as colorful and awesome as ever.

Salt formations in Devil's Golf Course

Spring in Devil's Golf Course

Badwater salt flats

Colorful ore deposits in Artists Palette

Today we left Death Valley to the east via Highway 190, getting to see Zabriskie Point, Twenty Mule Team Canyon and Dantes View. I'm in a BLM campground about 20 minutes west of Las Vegas tonight, having parted company with Dick and Earin after making the Dantes View (13 miles out-and-back) run. You may recall that spectacular view, which looks west over the whole valley (from 5475 feet) toward Telescope Peak (11,049 feet). All in all, as you can see, I followed your advice and have had a grand time in Death Valley.

Zabriskie Point sandstone formations

Riley, Earin and Dick at Dantes View

After getting some much needed work done on the Chateau in Las Vegas, I began a leisurely run back to Houston to join Margie. I've long been a fan of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but as I suspected the road to it was not yet open for the season, so I spent a night "boondocking" in the National Forest. The next night I discovered that the Navajo National Monument (also in northeastern Arizona) offers free camping and doesn't even charge an entry fee. From there I headed on to the Rio Puerco campground in the National Forest northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico. This is a delightful primitive campground that my brother Randy told me about back in the mid 80s when he spent several summers doing research at nearby Los Alamos. There are only six sites along the creek, but it is a lovely spot and I had the campground all to myself for two days. There was a little residual snow left from the winter in the campground, and when I woke on my last morning there I found a dusting of fresh snow.

Sandstone cliffs in Navajo Country

Colorado River canyon from Navajo Bridge

Campground at Rio Puerco

The "mighty" Rio Puerco

From New Mexico I drove into the Texas Panhandle for a couple of nights at Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyons State Parks, a night at Lake Brownwood State Park, and then on into Houston to rejoin Margie. Happily, her mother, Emalene, was improving rapidly and so just a week after I got back to Houston, Margie and I set out again for a slow return to Seattle. We've seen plenty of the Southwest lately, so we've opted to head northwest through the Rockies, but figure that right now there's too much snow to get to places like Silverton and Rocky Mountain National Park, so we are going to spend some time birding in Oklahoma first.

Riley (& Margie)

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