Saturday, April 7, 2018

So Much More Than a Valley

March 29 - April 2, 2018
Amargosa Valley, Nevada

I have already confessed that although I lived in California my whole life I hadn't been to Yosemite until last year - now you know I've also never been to Death Valley! Bill hasn't either so we're both excited about exploring a new area of our home state.

We take Highway 95 through Las Vegas and across wide open desert. At the Area 51 Alien Center we make a left on Highway 373 to the Longstreet Casino and RV Park. I chose this location based on average temps in Death Valley this time of year - it's supposed to be up to 20 degrees cooler. I didn't realize that the casino is nearly the only thing in the valley. The views from our level dirt site are beautiful and unobstructed. 50 amp FHUs and the park WiFi work well. 

Our first night we're treated to a sunset with colors that surround us. The small duck/Koi pond in front of us add to the beauty. We really like it here!

The RV-Dreamers are having a Reunion Rally in nearby Pahrump (45 miles, the closest grocery store). Friday morning we drive over to meet up with Steven and Linda (The Chouters) who are attending the rally. In hindsight I should have signed us up as well, there are several people we know who are attending. We have a nice lunch and another good visit with this fun couple. We're already looking forward to seeing them in Idaho this Fall!! 

Saturday we get a late start under partly cloudy skies. It's 50 miles to the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada. Established in 1905 after two miners strike gold the year before. Remarkably, the town grows quickly to nearly 8,000 residents, with hotels, stores, a school of 250 children, a stock exchange, two electric plants, and a miners' union hospital. It is a short lived boom as events in other places have a negative impact on investments in Nevada mining. Many leave in 1908 and the post office closes in 1910. By 1914 the population is 14.

Today the remaining buildings include the three story Cook Bank Building, the train depot, and the large 2-story school. The Tom Kelley bottle house on the "edge of town" is the best maintained.

We follow the dirt road behind the town.

Feels like we're being watched......

A peek of snow on a distant peak.

A single rail car fades behind the depot.

The train depot was built in 1909. Three railroads served Rhyolite at the time.

The School.
Beautiful detail remains on the bottle house.

Built with hundreds of bottles, the house was given away in a raffle. The winning family lived in the three room home for many years.

Now there are only furnishings for a single ghost.

Bottles were even used as walkways.
Along the short road to Rhyolite is the very interesting Goldwell Open Air Museum. The art pieces are as unique as the location - and all are very different from each other. 

The original Last Supper sculpture by Belgian artist Albert Szulkaski marked the opening of the site in 1984. Since then other artists have provided pieces for Goldwell, which is recognized nationally as part of the "Save Outdoor Sculptures" project.

"Is that a penguin?"  I learn from the curator that artist Fred Bervoerts always included himself in his pieces. For this sculpture he said he always felt out of place in the desert. I like this guy!
The original piece - Last Supper

The most recent offering, no name - designed to deteriorate in the elements. Visitors are encouraged to take their photo with the characters and email it to a website. When the sculpture is moved to a new site, it will include all the photos as a record of how it changed over time. I love interactive art!

Lady Desert: the Venus of Nevada (she has a block bottom too)

Ghost Rider
Icara - hand carved on-site as a counterpoint to the Greek myth of Icarus. She's very powerful.
From here we continue into Death Valley where we visit a few sites before returning home. It is a very surprising environment, and we plan to visit more while we're here.

Our first view of The Valley.

Keane Wonder Mine. Operations closed in 1912 after pulling over a million dollars of gold up a tram of pulleys and cables from a thousand foot deep tunnel.

Although this is a gold mine, it looks like raw silver everywhere 

So shiny!

Cork Screw Mountain becomes our favorite landmark in the park.

A mountain of chocolate grabs my attention.
Wow! Only 80 miles from Mount Whitney!

What we imagined was how most of the valley looks is only a very small part of this amazing place.
Mustard Canyon - a short one-way drive. 

A combination of salt and other minerals created these weird mustard-mud dunes.
Stunning hills on the drive home.
Sunday we stay home, get caught up on laundry and recorded television shows. The wind blows, we nap.

You can't drive in any direction in Amargosa Valley without passing a sign for the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. From the highway it's hard to believe there's anything to "refuge" at all! Let's go see what's there!

I know I say this all the time, and it continues to be true. The unexpected roads we travel give us the most interesting experiences. Ash Meadows is no exception. We spend most of the day discovering a beautiful oasis with endangered fish, and as many as 30 other species of wildlife found nowhere else on the planet! The trails and visitor's center are designed by people who really care about this area and it's place in a healthy desert.

Surrounding mountains contribute to the diverse environment.

Alkaline beds.

Dry grasslands with small dunes behind.
Thick brush and Mesquite forests.

6 foot tall grass lines the road.
The Point of Rocks Boardwalk meanders along a rapidly running stream fed by one of seven springs that feeds the area with over 11,000 gallons of water a minute! We hear birds in the Mesquite and Ash trees, but don't see any. Endangered Pup Fish swim in the crystal Kings Pool, the interpretive signs are colorful and informative. At the view point above the boardwalk we enjoy the absolute quiet and nice views of the refuge. Our timing is perfect as we have the place to ourselves until we get back to the parking lot and multiple cars are unloading. Whew!

We have no idea what to expect, but I agree with the message.

Lovely carvings and colorful paintings enhance the experience.
Sign posts along the trail.

The area's namesake Ash Trees are making a comeback.

Each stream crossing has a metal bridge with different representations on the floor of each one.

This little guy watches us from the side of the stream.

A peaceful view point.
For viewing gorgeous mountains.

The music of water plays throughout.

We watch the bright blue Pup Fish in Kings Pool. 

More special touches - medallions of different wildlife on the deck.

I highly recommend taking a walk through this beautiful place.
We stop at the Crystal Reservoir and then watch the movie at the Visitor's Center (we don't always see the movie after the visit - but sometimes!). A late lunch at the Area 51 Alien Center wraps up another great day.

Crystal Reservoir. Oddly we see no birds here.

Looking very beachy, but Tessa isn't fooled. No zoomies.

Like everything here, the Visitor's Center and the movie are well done.

Once stripped of indigenous Ash and Mesquite, and the natural springs nearly drained dry by farmers and miners, a development company proposed a city be built with high rise hotels and an airport. Thankfully, the Nature Conservancy purchased the land and sold it to the federal government for protection. In just over two decades the land and water have made incredible comebacks. The 30+ endemic species have been saved from extinction. Researchers continue to make new discoveries. Ash Meadows is a success story that gives me hope.

Meanwhile, back in civilization......


  1. I think I can’t keep up. I had another of your posts up yesterday to comment on and it disappeared and now this one is here so I’ll have to go back and see what I missed. What a wonderful life you are living. Those are some amazing views and skies from your Casino site. You do find the most interesting things. I hope you took your picture with that group around the bench . I would love to see this open air art museum with the haunting Last Supper and the Icara. Thanks for showing it to me. I so want to go to Death Valley. Love that you found an unexpected National Wildlife Refuge. They are seriously under appreciated. I wish I could visit every one. The metal bridges are wonderful. I once was a volunteer for the Speaker’s Bureau of The Nature Conservancy and so admire their work. A worthy worthy organization. Glad to hear they have had such a great impact there. The variety of landscape in your photographs really surprises me. Obviously I have the wrong impression of Death Valley. LOL at your last shot.

    1. I'm trying to stay caught up or I'll forget good stuff! My mother contributed to the conservancy for decades. I often received birthday and Christmas gifts from their offerings as well. They really are effective in their work! Death Valley is so much more than I ever thought, even after seeing other's blog posts. It must be the name :-)

  2. Enjoying your blog, love the photo's & looks like I'm only 80 miles from you, but a world away. I put this area on my bucket list, maybe next year!

    1. Thanks Bob - glad to have you come along! We've been on both "sides" of the area, but so glad we finally added it to our route. I'd do it in March next time though, already pretty hot.

  3. It's no surprise the Eastern Sierra touches so many people. The highest and lowest places in the continental US are less than 100 miles apart. We've traveled the area many times but have not been to the conservancy, it's now on my list. Thanks for pointing out what we've missed.

    1. It is an incredibly diverse area with so much beauty! You'll love Ash Meadows.

  4. Rhyolite is such a unique place. Of course, visiting a ghost town is always fun, but the Open Air Museum is very cool!! Love the bottle house!! It would be interesting to watch the new piece of art deteriorate over time. Interesting idea! Was the mosaic sofa still there? I'm jealous you actual saw the pupfish!! Lucky you!

    1. Yes, the couch is there too. It's the brightest piece in the collection! The fish were actually easy to see at the pond - I didn't know they were such bright blue.

  5. Love the native elder's quote, Jodee. So true. What are those white cloaks made out of on those sculptures?

    1. They're cloth soaked in plaster then covered in a protective coating after they hardened. They're very white!

  6. Your photos and your description of your experience here are wonderful, Jodee. It has been many years since we've been to Death Valley, and we're planning a return trip sometime soon. We'll add Ash Meadows to our list, for sure!
    It's amazing to see how well the Last Supper and Ghost Rider have held up — I think we first saw those sculptures a decade ago. Someone must be keeping them up. Venus of the Desert always makes me laugh — I think she belongs next to the sign in your last photo....

    1. They sculptures all look like they're at least cleaned regularly (except the one designed to deteriorate). Venus is an "interesting" interpretation :-)))

  7. So glad you're getting to visit these new-to-you areas in California. I was intrigued by Rhyolite and loved Ash Meadows.

  8. It's so great playing tourist in your own backyard ! Such wonderful pictures and lots of info Jodee...for folks like us who have never been to Death Valley. I love the sculpture with no name designed to deteriorate in the elements...

    1. I'm glad we figured out how to add it to our Spring this year - and can't believe it took all this time to visit!

  9. Wow! Love some of those "characters" . We've been to Death Valley but just for one fleeting day. Sounds like we need to add that to another trip.

    1. We know we'll have to go back again to catch a few places we missed this time. It's a beautiful park!