Butte Valley

Butte Valley

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Death Valley, December 2016 Part IV

The day started out fine with clear skies and no wind.  It's a treat to be out in the desert climate during our typical wet northern Sierra winters.  We like the change of climate.


We got a fresh start in the crisp morning.  We had scouted the Bonanza Mine the evening before and had picked up the beginning of a faint trail climbing up and left above the copper mine.  We were fresh and fired right up the steep, rough terrain.



The route ascended a series of ridge lines providing opportunities for spectacular views.


We had a deep, twisted canyon on our left.  I had a copy of the Diggonett guide which identifed a 35' fall in the canyon.  It would be fun to hike the upper canyon and rappel down the pour over.

There had been rain a week earlier and I stumbled onto an odd mushroom, with a dusty orange cap.  Using online forums, we think it was aa battarrea phalloides.  Pretty rare to see mushrooms in the desert, but we see them once in a while.


The trail consisted of 100 year old tread, probably both men and mules.  But there were missing sections, and we reached a dead end overlooking the steep canyon.  But the mantra was to "follow the ridge" so we booted up, hiking with one trekking pole each.  The poles add significant traction and balance on difficult terrain, and I can still manage my Fuji camera slung over my shoulder.

We were able to overlook Lippincott road and see a group hanging out on a switchback.
This road was built move lead and silver ore from the Lippincott Lead Mine to Keeler, which previously had a much rougher road to Goldfield.   It's an amazing road.



The trail is very lightly traveled and there was brittle vegetation growing right in the middle of the trail.  We found spoor and scat from desert big horn sheep and kept a sharp eye out.  A beautiful raptor chased the morning thermals while SR watched with her binocs.  About this time my mirrorless camera battery gave out and my spares were not to found.  
I took phone photos for the rest of the hike.

We reached a quartz outcrop with many half-formed crystals.  As I poked around I found a brass shell casing.  The size was much larger than anything a hunter would want to use.  What could be the purpose of this armament?  


A quick google search on a U-34 indicates a long barrel gun, which we assume were used when the Ubehebe area was used for target practice during WWII


China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) uses Saline Valley and large portions of Death Valley to practice training flights.  The sound of the those jets must strike fear in the hearts of our enemies.  We looked up and found a pair flying tandem, chased by a third plane.  They would play a game with the leader spiraling pure vertical until very high, then peeling off into an inverted maneuver.  It was jaw-dropping and we stood there and watched the show.  It felt like they knew we were there and they did do a couple of close runs while we waived. 

After a chilly lunch we began our descent towards Lippincott Road just north of Home Stake Mine.  We could see the Race Track in the distance as we traversed the final slopes.  
The trail disappears at the end.  


We stopped to admire the sign.


We had climbed 1,600' and hiked about 2.5 miles, but a bit off trail.  Now our knees would pay as we walked down the road to complete our loop.  

Once in camp we took advantage of the warm afternoon and fired up our shower system.
Propane heat with a home-made heat shield made from spare aluminum camper siding, heats our two gallon Zodi water tank.  We've got a nice doormat to stand on and use a little table for soap and shampoo.  Nothing like a good hot shower in the great outdoors!



We descended back to the Saline Valley which had been our home for a week and ascended the South Pass.  There was some ice and snow, but the upper stretches of mud were the biggest challenge.  
We caught the summit, exiting Grapevine Canyon just at sunset.  Telescope Peak was gleaming in the alpenglow while Panamint Valley and dunes were deep below.  We always stop and admire this view.


We rejoined pavement after a week of dirt roads and went to Lone Pine.  It's always so jarring to rejoin commercial America after spending some time in the backcountry.  We went to a gas station where several groups of young adults in jacked up trucks and SUV's were yelling and carrying on.  They had street worthy sound systems that they pumped up, affecting everyone within earshot. 

I looked at all the fake, packaged food and couldn't find anything but beer to purchase.  A six pack of Negra Modello was calling my name, even though it was glass bottles.  They had no sparkling water, such as Callistoga or Arrowhead.   Somehow mineral water is not standard fare at convenience stores.

We went up Whitney Portal Road, to the Alabama Hills.  We weren't alone, as we spotted numerous camps with their fires along both sides of the road.   I had photographed Mobius Arch here a year ago, but the sky was disappointing.  Staying here our last night would give me a second chance.

I arose half an hour before dawn and assembled my tripod and camera as another car came zipping into the parking lot.  Then it left,  and returned; odd behavior.  City folks always drive so fast on dirt roads.  Another vehicle came in and a group of people jumped out as large van pulled up with an older couple.   I said good morning, then hoofed it down the trail leaving everyone at the parking lot.  I knew where I was going.

I got set up and waited for the sun to rise.  The clouds turned pink and red over Owens Lake, just south.  The morning light was beautiful.  I talked with some of the young folks wandering around with selfie-sticks and share my space so they could take photos too.















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