Day 144 – Pacific Coast Highway Part 3

Day 144 – Pacific Coast Highway, April 20, 2011

Petey and I survived the evening on the street and followed the Russian River back to Highway 1 where we stopped at an overlook near Jenner.  Here, I met John who recently returned to the mainland after spending the last seven years in the U.S. Virgin Islands working on cabinetry for yachts.  He had a large telescope on a tripod and a clipboard on the hood of his car.  I asked what he was recording and he replied the type and numbers of seals in the channel below.  The volunteer organization was studying the effects on the seals from dredging the channel for the salmon.  After chatting for a while, he had to get back to counting and I had to move on.

We meandered along the highway until we arrived at Fort Ross, a Russian-American Company settlement between 1812-1841.  Native Alaskans helped the Russians settle the agricultural colony to support the company’s settlements in Alaska.  In addition, the colony was the base from which the company hunted California Sea Mammals.  Fort Ross was also home to California’s first windmill.  The gates to the park and fort were closed due to budget cuts, but visitors could still park on the side of the road and walk throughout the park, so just a few of us enjoyed acres of space until the drizzle came.

VANilla took us a little further up the road to Salt Point State Park…the coast is lined with state parks.  At Salt Point, we visited Stump Beach Cove where I met Roger.  He was in a wetsuit and holding his mask, fins, and snorkel with neoprene cover intertube floating in the fresh water stream that was flowing into the ocean.  He asked, “Do you happen to have a knife on you?”

I asked, “What kind of knife?”

“One that cuts,” he said.

“Back in the van,” I responded.

“I have to tag the abalone I caught.  This is my first time out this season.  The tags used to tear off.  I didn’t know I have to cut them now.”

I asked, “What are abalone?”

He promptly asked, “Where are you from?”

Clearly, feeling like a fish out of water, I remarked, “Texas”.

“Oh, that’s why.  Here, let me show them to you.”

Having seen them, I’m still not sure the exact way to describe an abalone.  They seemed like a cross between a conch and a snail.  They looked like a snail, but they were big and had a very beautiful shell.  I asked if he hunted them for the shell or to eat.  He said to eat them.  They are a delicacy.  The season is from the beginning of April to the end of June and from August to October or November.  Only three can be taken at a time and only 24 can be taken a year.

“So how do you hunt for them I asked? Do you snorkel across the surface and dive down when you see one?”

“Oh no,” he said.  “You can’t see them from the surface.  You can’t even see the tops of the rocks.  Visibility is generally low, but today was such a nice day, I couldn’t pass it up.  You just dive down near the rocks, look underneath them, and then cut them off the rocks.”

Wondering how a foggy, rainy day could be nice, I confirmed that he could see them once he was twenty feet underwater and he said yes and that low tide made it easier.  Then I noticed he was free diving…no air tank, so I asked, “How long did it take you to get them?”

He said, “Twenty minutes.  It took me longer to swim out there.  Those other guys out there are trophy hunting.”

As we walked up the cliff to the roadside where his truck and VANilla were parked, I learned how to remove the abalone from the shell and how to prepare them for dinner.  Perhaps one day I’ll have to try them, though it sounds like wild is the best way to go as they are much larger than the farm raised abalone restaurants are forced to offer on the menu.

Roger loaded up his truck in the rain, and fearing I’d melt, I jumped in VANilla and continued up the road to Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve.  Located on the eastern side of Highway 1, the park’s trails crisscrossed along the forested hills.  Petey joined me on a short hike along a path that weaved through patches of rhododendrons (a few were blooming), beneath the towering trees, and across a footbridge nestled above a small creek.  I’m not sure if Petey would have preferred staying in VANilla or walking in the rain, as I coaxed him along our twenty minute jaunt.

According to my Reader’s Digest Book, Salt Point State Park was supposed to be home to one of California’s natural, underwater preserves.  I couldn’t find a park map until we stopped at Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve, where I noticed an area map that showed the preserve at Gerstle Cove.  I decided to backtrack a few miles to check it out.  A steep path led down to a rocky harbor.  Given the rain and no wetsuit, I opted for the distant view atop the cliff.  I expect I’ll have another opportunity to explore some tide pools on a clearer day.

After our visit to Gerstle Cove, VANilla carted us farther north to Point Arena where I took advantage of the bad weather and cell service to complete some blogging before returning a few miles south to Anchor Bay to spend the night in Chris and Tish’s driveway.  For those who may have missed my post from a few days ago, I met them at Samuel P Taylor Campground near Point Reyes National Seashore.  They invited me into their 1940’s cottage perched on the cliff with what I suspect is a lovely ocean view, but it was too foggy to see tonight.  Hopefully tomorrow will be a sunny day!  ETB

 

Day 143 – Pacific Coast Highway Part 2

Day 143 – Pacific Coast Highway Part 2, April 19, 2011

I started out the day visiting Point Reyes National Seashore, located on the edge of the San Andreas Fault.  This enormous area was originally inhabited by the Miwoks.  Francis Drake arrived in the area around 1579, Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeno’s ship wrecked here in 1595, and finally Don Sabastian Vizcaino gave Point Reyes its name in 1603.

I only explored a beach where dogs were allowed.  As I began the 16 mile drive to Point Reyes Beach South, the sky was somewhat clear.  By the time I passed acres of pastureland home to cows, sheep, and goats, I arrived at fog encompassed, sandy beach.  Being surrounded in fog, green grass, and ocean, I felt like I was in Ireland.  Petey and I trudged through the sand composed of a variety of different rocks, but it was so thick, even down by the water where it appeared to be packed, we sunk about an inch.  I’m not in shape for that!  The park offered a variety of other options to visit as well; the lighthouse where seals and sea lions bask in the sun below and trails through pasture lands, ridges and valleys, and forests and meadowlands.  I could have easily spent the whole day there.

After enjoying the crashing surf, we returned toward the visitor center, but not before stopping at Drake Oyster Farm.  Chris and Tish, the folks I met at the campground last night, suggested I go.  This is a place I would have otherwise passed by.  A small brown sign points toward the oyster farm.  I turned VANilla onto the one lane rocky road, and we bounced down to this shack that sold oysters, whole or on the half shell.  The oysters were harvested right out of the Estero behind the shack.  The oysters grow on wire strings hanging from wooden platforms where they receive nutrients from the tide and where they are safe from starfish, crabs and stingrays which lurk on the bottom of the ocean.    Since I didn’t have an oyster knife (which they were sold out of) and frankly I’ve never shucked an oyster, I ordered a half dozen on the half-shell.  They definitely were different from the Gulf oysters I’m used to, but delicious none the less.

After lunch we continued North on Highway 1 to Bodega Bay where Alfred Hitchcock filmed “The Birds”.  Petey and I took a leisurely stroll around Spuds Point Marina, before hopping back in VANilla and following Route 116 east along the Russian River to Guerneville, CA.  We had to make a detour to pick up an anti-biotic at the pharmacy for Petey.  It turns out he has a urinary tract infection.  The Reader’s Digest book suggested visiting the Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve nearby and also noted a convenient campground, so we thought we would spend the night there.  Due to budget cuts, the campground was currently closed, and it was clear the Safeway that posted signs in its parking lot, “Free 1 hour parking for Safeway shoppers” didn’t want campers for the evening.  So Petey, VANilla, and I found a residential neighborhood and parked on the street for the night…a new experience for me!  ETB

Day 142 – Pacific Coast Highway

Day 142 – Pacific Coast Highway, April 18, 2011

We got a late start to the morning, leaving Nicole’s around 9.  Now that I understand how remote Highway 1 can be, I loaded up at Safeway and the Shell Station before driving across the city to the Golden Gate Bridge in a light drizzle.  The bridge was visible once I got on it!

The Reader’s Digest book called for visiting the Marin Headlands on the north side of the bridge and Muir Woods National Monument.  I had previously visited both places on a sunny day during a time when it wasn’t National Parks Week which provides free entrance to the masses.  I found two full parking lots and cars parked on the side of the road as far as I could see, so I opted to continue north to visit some less popular areas, especially since the tops of the trees were blanketed in fog.

We weaved around the hills, passed forests of redwoods, dodged countless potholes and even a few sink holes where the road was reduced to one lane, and stopped at a few ocean overlooks, and finally settled on Samuel P Taylor State Park to spend the afternoon and evening.

Samuel Taylor once owned a paper mill at this site.  To get supplies to the mill and finished product to the schooners, he built and ox trail which wound through the canyon over Bolinas Ridge to Bolinas Lagoon.  Petey wasn’t allowed on the ox trail, but he was allowed to walk down the main road past a variety of sites which also included the paper mill dam and fish ladder as well as the paper mill.

The dam was built in 1855 to help supply water to the mill.  In 1886, Marin County required that a fish ladder be built to help the salmon get over the dam to their spawning grounds.  The fish ladder may have been the first on the Pacific Coast.  I didn’t see the remnants of the dam or fish ladder, but the view was nice.

The mill, which operated from 1856 to 1893, supplied every San Francisco newspaper with newsprint.  “If the Bolinas schooner was late, so were the papers.” – Jack Mason.  A 1915 fire destroyed the building, leaving few remains.

After our stroll, we met some fellow Eurovan owners, Chris and Tish.  They had two dogs with them, Simon and Chili.  Chris is a retired carpenter and Tish is a caregiver.  They were down for the day from the Mendocino area where I plan to visit in two days.  Tish, the cook in the family, prepared homemade curry soup, broccoli and rice, and chicken.  We had a nice meal together while listening to the Giants game.  The Giants were about eight runs ahead, but given they beat my Rangers in the World Series, I didn’t listen too closely.  Chris and Tish offered me their driveway in a few days.  I’ll have to take them up on it!  ETB

 

Day 141 – A Day in San Francisco

Day 141 – A Day in San Francisco, April 17, 2011

I spent the day in San Francisco with Nicole and catching up with old college friends.  We met my friend Beth from college to walk the Lands End Trail which offered a beautiful ocean view.  Had it been a clear day, the view would have also included the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands.  None the less, it was still magnificent.  It was hard to believe such remote beauty stood just on the edge of an enormous city.

Dogs were allowed in the park, so Petey was able to join us, but he just seemed off.  It’s been my experience that dogs on steroids generally want their breakfast.  Petey usually devours his, and he passed his up this morning, which can be a sign of an acute episode of Addison’s Disease.  Given his symptoms, I decided to give him his shot a few days early in hopes to perk him up.  I had a slight panic attack after I administered his shot into his muscle and saw blood.  Nicole can attest to my exact words, but I thought, “Oh no, I hope I didn’t hit a vein.”  According to google, hitting a vein requires immediate medical attention…there was an emergency vet three blocks from Nicole’s loft.

In triage, it became clear that I only nicked a capillary in the skin after administering his meds, so no harm done, but he still wouldn’t eat, so we got to spend most of the afternoon waiting on tests which disrupted meeting my old college roommate a little.  She had to come hang out at the vet!  Catie lives in Half Moon Bay with her husband and three kids.  She sings in a band and owns a Eurovan, so Big Red and VANilla got to meet.  I wish I could say we met in a more interesting place, but not so.  At least we got to catch up…so fun!

We left the vet with an unclear diagnosis while waiting on more labs to return tomorrow…we’ll see.   Nicole, Kyle and I had planned on one more night out, this time to celebrate Nicole’s birthday six weeks early, but Kyle was sick, Nicole was getting sick, and Petey was feeling puny too, so we ordered two salads and a pizza and watched a movie.  It was a nice, low key evening.

Tomorrow I plan on traveling north up the coast. ETB

 

Day 140 – Travel Day to San Francisco

Day 140 – April 16, 2011

With Highway 1 being closed down fifteen miles below Carmel, we had to turn south and leave Big Sur via Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.  The road is actually a stop in the Reader’s Digest book and is described as, “this paved 25-mile byway – a white knuckle side trip with hairpin curves and panormic views – traverses the Santa Lucia Range and ends at an army base.”  It was very clear that landslides had recently been cleared from the area and the road, like Highway 1 has a few chunks missing from it.

I’m happy to say we survived the two hour detour, steep hills and sharp turns to make it to Fort Hunter Liggett where rusted out cars, tanks, and ropes courses stood roadside.  I presume testing and practice missions may be suspended in this area while tourists cross through the base…or at least I hope so, or a moving vehicle might be the recipient of bullets intended for the nearby targets.

Dinner for the evening consisted of sushi at Blowfish, walking distance from Nicole’s place in the Mission in San Francisco….ETB

PS…No Bark, Thought or Song of the Day on Travel Days.

 

Day 139 – Big Sur Part 3

Day 139 – Big Sur, April 15, 2011

We began the day with a coffee and pastry at the Big Sur Bakery, the only place open in the area for breakfast.  After our morning Java, we took one of the only dog friendly walks in the area on Pfeiffer Beach.  Patches of sandy beach are wedged among rocks that are pitted with caves and blowholes from the ocean’s strong surge.  Surfers rode the waves as kids, dogs, locals and tourists admired the views including the purple sand created from manganese garnet washing down the hillside.  We passed along the beach until it came to an end where we veered up by a creek that emptied into the ocean and climbed to the ridge overhead.  The narrow path weaved between bushes and bunches of poison oak.

On the way back to the campground, instead of throwing caution to the wind, we stopped at the convenience store next to Big Sur Bakery, picked up some Technu, and rinsed our exposed skin to keep from being covered in a poison oak rash.

For the afternoon, at the recommendation of the Inn and Campground owner who kept his three dogs with him in the small office, we walked along a dirt road that followed along a ridge above Highway 1 that passed through pasture land and provided distant views of the lighthouse at Point Sur State Historic Park.  Prior to the completion of Highway 1 in the late 1930’s, the light keepers, isolated on the promontory, were resupplied by boat every three or four months.  Now with automation, light keepers aren’t even necessary.

After our leisurely four mile stroll, we returned to camp, cleaned up and headed to Sierra Mar for a second birthday celebration compliments of my mom.  On the way, up to the restaurant perched on the cliff over the ocean, we saw some turkey and some deer!  The male turkey, courting the female, fanned his tail feathers as his bright red wattle hung from his vibrant blue head.

Architecturally pleasing, each of the restaurant’s dining areas seemed to sink into the cliff side creating different ground levels.  Glass windows from floor to ceiling composed the restaurant’s west side offering a grand view of the ocean cliffs below as well as the setting sun.

My dinner…simply superb:  seared ahi tuna appetizer, mixed greens salad, lamb cooked to perfection, and a flourless chocolate cake.  None of us strayed from the flourless chocolate cake, but we changed up our appetizers and entrees.  Kyle started with an oyster tasting prepared in three styles while Nicole tried Fois Gras prepared three different ways.  Nicole’s second course was a strawberry and pistachio salad while Kyle sampled the cream of asparagus soup.  Both of them chose the short rib entrée.  The whole dinner was a savory treat!

We decided to live it up a little after dinner and stopped at a local pub, The Maiden Publick House, just north of our campground.  Joel ,the owner and bartender originally from the east coast, invited us behind the bar and treated me to a beer on the house to help me along with my 40th celebration.  We met a few more folks while we were there, Eugene and Nadira.  Nadira was from a country near Afghanistan that I didn’t catch the name of, while Eugene was from the east coast.  They both lived in the Los Angeles area.  We capped the night off with our version of Snuffer’s cheddar fries…ETB

 

Day 138 – Big Sur Part 2

Day 138 – Big Sur, April 14, 2011

I started the day out taking a quarter mile walk to a beautiful overlook in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.  Not only was there a fantastic view of the California Coast and Ocean, but a waterfall shot out of the rocks onto the beach below.  It was a lovely spot.

Afterward, I continued north, pulling off at a few vista points along the way until I finally got to the Big Sur Bakery where I got an Internet connection, so I sat on the side of the road a few hours to blog and, of course, respond to all my wonderful birthday wishes.  I also coordinated with Nicole and Kyle to meet up later in the day.

Just up the road, I arrived at Riverside Inn where Nicole reserved a cabin that sleeps four….perhaps a family of four.  The cabin was one room with a queen size bed and bunk beds with the top bed hanging perpendicular to the bottom bed.  Three people and three big dogs were going to be a bit of a squeeze, so I opted for VANilla later in the evening.

In the meantime, we took a hike on Buzzards Roost Trail in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.  The 1.5 mile loop took us through the forest to a vista on the hilltop where we could see the ocean below.  We enjoyed a variety of wildflowers and the redwoods that lined the trail.

Freshly picked for me

My birthday dinner, compliments of Nicole and Kyle was at Ventana, a terrific restaurant with a wonderful view.  We all three ordered different appetizers, entrees, and dessert so that we could share!  My scallop appetizer was amazing.  Nicole’s rockfish entrée was mouth-watering.  And surprisingly, the coconut, cranberry bread pudding was superb!  The staff was excellent and the restaurant was somewhat empty due to the landslides.  The slide to the north of Big Sur blocked all the traffic from Carmel and above, and the slide that occurred this afternoon blocked the traffic to the south.  Only one, round about way in and out of the area, kept the masses away.  I feel blessed… I made it to Big Sur before the southern slide and get to enjoy the beauty without the crowds!  Magnificent…ETB.

 

Day 137 – Big Sur Coast

Day 137 – Big Sur Coast, April 13, 2011

We began our day in Morro Bay State Park.  The park includes a golf course, hiking trails, countless geocaches, a marina and café, a natural history museum, and a nesting area for egrets and cormorants.  In addition, dogs are allowed on most trails, so Petey and I spent the morning walking along dirt trails, past the marina and golf course and up a few hills in search of geocaches.  I wasn’t too successful.  I found 3.5 out of 6.  The 0.5 comes from finding the first part of a multi-cache.  I figured out the coordinates for the second location, but could not find the micro.  Oh well, we learned quite a bit about birds’ wing spans and nesting areas while we searched.

We basically spent the whole morning there which I didn’t expect, but it was nice just to walk around and enjoy the ocean breeze and the view.  Morrow Rock stands at the entrance of the harbor.  Twenty million years ago, the rock was buried under sedimentary material.  Over time, the material eroded, exposing the monolith seen today.  Twenty thousand years ago, the rock stood inland, but as the glaciers melted, water rose to surround the rock.  The rock blocked the currents of the sea causing more sand to be deposited than carried away thus shaping the sandy spit that protrudes into the harbor.  Today the rock serves as a nesting place for peregrine falcons.

After lunch we headed north to Hearst San Simeon State Historic Monument to tour Hearst Castle.  The park offers four different day-time tours and an evening tour, but the number of guides has dropped from 130 to 50, so some of the tours are being discontinued.  I took tour 2 which led the group past the outdoor pool (the most photographed in the world), through the upstairs rooms including William Hearst’s bedroom, through the kitchen and past the indoor pool.

The guide was a wealth of knowledge; however, the state is no longer printing pamphlets about the tours (I’m presuming because the State is broke), so I won’t be able to come close to regurgitating all the interesting facts.  What I recollect is as follows:  William Hearst was the son of a wealthy miner who earned $1,000 a day many years ago.  As a child he vacationed in the area and always loved it.  Hearst, a successful publisher that owned 94 different companies, built the castle, which he called a ranch in the 1920’s.  If guests were invited to his castle, that would have been to Wales.  In fact, William Hearst owned 35 homes, and the Hearst Castle was his favorite.  He showcased all his favorite art work in this castle which came from Italy, France, China, Egypt…basically all over.  His other homes were decorated with themes, but this home was much more eclectic.

The castle is built of cement and getting to each room was mazelike.  It is said that each ceiling is different so that if his guests were lost, they could call the staff and describe the ceiling in order to get their bearings.  The ceilings are basically carved and painted woodwork that is hung by cable from the cement ceiling higher above.  All the woodwork in the home was extremely intricate.

The castle, with 38 guest rooms and 42 bathrooms, shares 250,000 acres with three other guest houses, gardens, and a variety of animals, including zebra.  At one time, Hearst operated a zoo here.  One of the two story, ten room guest houses could fit inside the living room of the castle.  In fact, the castle is the largest home in California and the second largest home in the United States behind the Biltmore in North Carolina.

Hearst’s bedroom is the simplest of all the rooms in the house…even less extravagant than his guest rooms.  His office, on the other hand, was giant.  It includes walls of books surrounding a conference table.  The ceiling in his office is painted cement.

The castle’s kitchen was amazing.  It included an extremely long island, several sinks, a towel dryer, warming drawers, several refrigerators, industrial sized ovens, rotisseries, and a blender that stood probably four feet tall from the ground.  It was enormous.  A two-keg, beer stand stood right in the middle of the room!

The battery to my camera died just in time to miss a shot of the indoor swimming pool.  The pool was built below the tennis courts that included clear blocks that functioned as skylights beneath the nets so that light filtered into the pool area.  Some of the tile used in the pool is inlayed with 22 karat gold!

All the water used at the castle comes from three springs on Pine Mountain and the water system is gravity fed.  There are no pumps!  I believe there are three water storage containers at the castle.  One of them was on a hill that Hearst could see out of his bedroom window, so he had his gardener camouflage the tank with 6,000 trees.  In fact, the gardener planted over 70,000 trees while he worked at the castle.

Having only gone on one of the five tours offered, I’m certain I am leaving out all sorts of information, but it was time for Petey and me to continue north.  We pulled off in a few turnouts to enjoy some fantastic views.  We even found some seals sunning on the beach below before we continued north.

We arrived at Plaskett Creek Campground in Los Padres National Forest around 5 pm.  What a lovely campground…tree covered, asphalt sites with tall green grass growing around them.  We took a walk around the campground, crossed Highway 1, and spent some time enjoying Sand Dollar Beach.  We descended the wooden stairs built above the creek while snapping photos of the wildflower covered hills and the pebble beach below.  While we didn’t find any sand dollars on the beach, we found remarkable amounts of jade.  We piddle around waiting for the sun to set, but it seems on the coast its sets much later than it did in the mountains, so we strolled back to visit VANilla.

Tomorrow I’m headed up to Big Sur and meeting my friend Nicole, her boyfriend Kyle, and their two dogs for a few nice days in the park before heading to San Francisco. ETB

 

Day 136 – Travel Day

Today served as a travel day, so thoughts, songs, barks, and blogs will come again tomorrow.

I basically drove across the center of California through lush green hills peppered with trees and yellow wild flowers.  It was a perfect golf course setting except too many hills.  One section of Hwy 58, I seemed to have to myself for miles.  It was very tranquil.  I probably would have appreciated the drive more, but my brakes have been a bit sqeaky, and I have been on lots of hilly, winding roads the last few days, so I was ready to get to the beach!  I still stopped to snap just two photos, though the scenery warranted more.

I just got kicked out of the Wal-Mart parking lot by the property security guard.  He told me I could camp at K-Mart just down the way.  ETB

 

Day 135 – Death Valley Sojourn Part 3

Day 135 – Death Valley Sojourn, April 11, 2011

Today I started out at the Borax Museum.  It is located next to the Furnace Creek Ranch which includes a motel, restaurant, bar, gift shop with a grocery, tennis courts, a golf course, and a short trail through palm trees to a solar power viewing station.  The museum displays original mining machinery and also has a sign indicating the location is 178 feet below sea level.  This happens to be a virtual cache too.  In fact, several of the stops I mentioned yesterday were either virtual caches or earth caches though some I may not have collected all the information in order to claim…BUMMER.

After a quick stroll through the outdoor museum, I took Petey for a walk through the palm trees.  I couldn’t figure out the exact purpose for all the palm trees.  I would have said shade, but they were specifically planted in one area like they were meant to block the unsightly square of solar panels behind them, yet a sign and a path made the solar panels another “attraction”.  Perhaps the resort was simply harvesting their dates.  Regardless, Petey and I enjoyed the path through the palms more than the perimeter of the campground.

Another day in the park marked another day of a lot of driving.  Death Valley is enormous.  Today we visited Scotty’s Castle, Ubehebe Crater, Old Stovepipe Wells, Mosaic Canyon, and Darwin Falls before camping on the Western edge of the Park in the Panamint Springs and Dunes area.

We passed by desert to the west and mountains to the east as we drove nearly forty miles to Scotty’s Castle.  The Spanish mansion was built in 1922 by Chicago businessman Albert Johnson whose doctors advised him to spend time a warm, dry climate.  It takes its name from Johnson’s friend, Walter Scott, also known as Death Valley’s Scotty.  Scotty helped Johnson conceive the project and lived there after his death.  I believe the park service offers three different guided tours of the castle.  I wasn’t sold on spending the morning inside or underground while the weather was so pleasant, so I simply enjoyed the outside view.  I think I will have to come back as the tour of the house with a giant pipe organ and an indoor waterfall as well as the tour of the underground tunnels both sounded interesting.

Six miles to the west of Scott’s Castle stood the sunken Ubehebe Crater.  As opposed to most craters which date millions of years old, this one dates approximately 2,000 years old.  The explosion that formed the crater shattered rock over a six-square mile area.  The crater is half a mile across and 500 feet deep.

Upon our return toward the center of the park, we stopped at the Old Stove Pipe Well.  The well was situated at the junction of two old Indian trails and was the only known water source in the dune area.  When sand obscured the spot, an old stovepipe was inserted as a marker, thus the name.

After visiting the well, we turned west to find Mosaic Canyon.  While Petey waited for me in VANilla, I took a 45 minute walk up the canyon.  Parts of the canyon were so narrow it required climbing over the slick marble walls.  In contrast to the marble, other portions of the canyon walls consisted of rock fragments cemented together resembling mosaics.  While wandering beneath the overcast sky, I just couldn’t help but think how many unique areas are located in this one park.  Who would expect to see so many different geological forms in a sixty mile radius?

VANilla continued west, though it might be more appropriate to call her latte or cocoa now.  She is a light brownish tinge thanks to all the desert dust we’ve been traveling through for the last week.  She took her last bumpy ride of the day down a rocky 2.4 mile road to the start of a hike to Darwin Falls.  Yes, a waterfall in the desert.  While this was my last adventure in Death Valley, it was the first for two Englishmen and for a couple that lived in Los Angeles.  “Just wait”, I said, “the rest of the landscape is so different from this”.  The hike required some creek crossings over logs and some billy goat balancing on a few rocks to reach the small yet picturesque waterfall.  It was getting late in the day and the clouds were dispersing, so I didn’t stay long by the tree covered creek, but headed back to give Petey a little attention. In fact, he got to join me for dinner on the patio at the restaurant across from the campgrounds.  I had a pepperoni and olive pizza that while ridiculously overpriced, hit the spot.

Back at the campgrounds, I met a few of my neighbors.  Randy and Terry were taking advantage of the dirt roads with their dirt bikes.  They travel around to different places to take their bikes for a spin.  I also met Flo who was from France, although she has been living in Montreal for the past few years.  She recently quit her unemployment counseling job, went to Alberta to improve her English, and is now spending a month and a half riding her bicycle through California to raise money for cancer.  Kudos go out to her as her ride through Death Valley will require her to climb from below sea level to 5,000 feet on more than one occasion!  In addition, miles of the roads are a 9% grade.  I had trouble driving VANilla around them…I can’t imagine cycling them!  Flo goes home to France in a month while she waits on permanent residency in Montreal.

Tomorrow is a travel day to the coast, so there won’t be a post.  ETB