Unexpected Adventures (Apri 17 2014)

I finally closed the doors in the middle of the night and was able to finally sleep, unbugged. I was tired enough and sleepy enough but the open doors made me too wary to fall into deep sleep. We got better padding, sheets and so on after the Winter Roadtrip so now the beds are pretty comfy.

Early morning, Sprockets is surrounded by chirping birds. Hundreds of them. Time for coffee! Although we see disposable paper products as a hideous sin to nature, we have decided to go with paper coffee filters on these roadtrips. Washing out the mesh filter was too difficult with limited water.

MequiteDunesDV3.JPGFirst stop of the day is Mesquite Flat Dunes. These are genuine Lawrence of Arabia-type dunes – gently rolling hills of creamy sand. Smooth sand. Soft sand. Hard sand. Rippled sand. Sand marked with animal tracks. The herringbone track is a snake. The ones with little dots on their side are lizards tracks. Or are they scorpion tracks? We try to figure out the mammalian tracks. “That’s a kangaroo rat.” “That’s probably coyote.”

MequiteDunesDV12.JPGMequiteDunesDV7.JPGDown here in the basin, there is very little vegetation. Scrawny shrubs dot the land, the sand. Organ Pipe from our Winter Roadtrip feels like a fucking OASIS. And yet, there is water here, unbelievably. Why doesn’t it evaporate? It must be incredibly saturated with minerals. We take a walk through the Salt Creek Trail over boardwalks created to preserve the fragile ecosystem here. The little bit of water is home to pupfish – tiny guppy-sized fish who must be the toughest of the toughest fish around. Who else can survive temps exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit? And such salinity! In a cartoon, they would be in champion belts, ready to knock out the great whites, the hammerheads, all the bigger and supposedly badder fish.

SaltCreekDV.JPGWagonDV.JPGDevil’s Golf Course is a diabolical field of rocky crystal formations. The mud and minerals paint the field brown and white. If only there were a boardwalk here, too. I feel terrible crunching over the crystal formations and try to walk as gingerly as possible but there are much weightier people stomping all over the place. The crystal formations are tiny works of art! How can they stomp over it all! It is too disturbing.

DevilsGolf9.JPGDevilsGolf11.JPGDevilsGolf13.JPGOnce again, I am overwhelmed with the artistry of nature. I could spend days here, closely examining the crystal formations with a magnifying glass, grooving on the Big Picture, imagining how the earliest visitors must have felt – from the very first humans to the earliest Europeans. And then, Big Dog says, “We should have brought our golf clubs.”

DevilsGolf17.JPGOn our way out, we stop to take a shot of the “Devil’s Golf Course” sign and a driver who has just arrived yells, “What d’ya shoot?” Big Dog answers, “2 over par!” As we roll away, we joke about having a golf club along on all of our travels, just like Big Dog had “Flat Stanley” that one winter. That Flat Stanley saw HALF THE WORLD! From LA to Florida to Puerto Rico to Alaska to Japan to Micronesia to Sydney and Tasmania!

Of course, you could never go through security at places like the Louvre with a GOLF CLUB! But you COULD take a shot with another Parisien holding a golf club in front of the Eiffel Tower, for example. Sort of like those traveling garden gnomes.

Wacky thoughts cloud one’s mind because it’s HOT. Really, really hot.

Badwater1.JPGBadwater is a puddle of “bad” water and a glistening stretch of salt. What used to be cool formations have been trampelled into tarmac, but here and there are places someone dug down and there’s water, not too far below the surface.

Badwater5.JPGIt is mind-blowing how many Chinese are traveling. Only a couple of decades ago, they were trapped on their own continent, not even allowed to go much beyond their communes. Now, they’re all over the world. And Europeans – many in campers. We hear French, Italian, German, Dutch, as well as languages we can only identify as “Eastern European.”

BridgeDV6.JPGThe walk to Natural Bridges is a bit of a climb and I am tiring from heat or dehydration. Maybe both. But we get to the tunnel of the “natural bridge” and keep going to the end of the canyon. There are many places where ancient waterfalls carved out tubular formations. At the back of the canyon, the rocks become big smooth steps – this could have been cascades when water was here.


ArtistsPalette3.JPGNext stop, Artist’s Palette Drive. It’s a one-way paved road that goes through dramatic dips and tight curves. At the back is a canyon with rocks of different hues: purple, red, orange, yellow, blue… It DOES look like an artist’s palette! Walking into the canyon for a closer look, I can’t help but fill my pockets with the different colored sand.

ArtistsPalette4.JPGArtistsPalette10.JPGArtistsPalette14.JPGArtistsPalette16.JPGThe last stop of the day is Golden Canyon, with a 1.25 mile walk to Red Cathedral, a giant cliff of eroded red rock. But it’s too hot and I’ve stupidly started the walk without water. It makes me dizzy, like I have a sudden case of low blood sugar, and so I plop down on a rock in a shallow canyon that provides the slimmest of shades while Big Dog goes on to check out Red Cathedral.

GoldenCanyon2.JPGGoldenCanyon3.JPGGoldenCanyon7.JPGGoldenCanyon8.JPGBack in Sprockets, I guzzle water from the 2 gallon reserve tank of water and then drive back to the Visitor’s Center. It’s like driving through Dante’s Inferno with the dry hills and forbidding landscape.

FurnaceCreek1.JPGWe get more water at the Visitor’s Center and a shot in front of the building where there’s a digital temperature display. It’s only 103 or 104 degrees right now. Eh. That’s nothing. Except it’s 5:30pm! We joke with a Swiss family with 2 young girls about how it’s ONLY 103 degrees. The mom could have been that pretty little Swiss girl I met on my China trip back in 1980. She was about 10 then, so would be close to 40 now…

The campsite tonight is at Furnace Creek, 196 feet below sea level. We’d picked out a spot with a few trees earlier on. (Once again, $6 with Pass.) It’s just behind the Visitor’s Center but we have to enter from the main road. Big Dog thinks he knows another (better) way to get in from the back. It leads nowhere and Big Dog turns around – or tries to, when the back wheel goes beyond the asphalt as he’s backing up, falling into cushiony soft sand. The back left tire sinks down.

StuckDV1.JPG“We need something to give it traction!” says Big Dog and I gather rocks, a piece of board (which I use to try to dig the tire out when it fails to act as traction.) But every time he steps on the gas, the tire just spins, digging down further.

“Stop!” I scream. “If the wheel sinks any more, the generator’ll hit the asphalt!”

He stops.

“I’m going to walk to the Visitor’s Center and call AAA,” he says. There is no cell service out here. I opt to stay with Sprockets who is almost completely blocking the road (which, as it turns out, leads to a small airfield.) Luckily, only a few cars are coming through.

StuckDV2.JPG“Well, we might as well get our chairs out. It’s gonna be several hours before they get here,” Big Dog says when he gets back. We set up the folding chairs, pop open some beers, and chill out, reading until it starts getting dark.

StuckDV3.JPGA lone coyote walks by, only mildly interested or concerned with these 2 lost humans. If push came to shove, it could rip your heart out in an instant.

Hmm. Maybe we should go wash up before it gets any darker.

It’s really a short walk into the campground over the soft sand and we take turns using the campground facilities.

SunriseDV1.JPGBy 8pm, it is really really dark but I keep straining to see lights in the distance. Every twinkle is Hope!

Big Dog’s had most of the 3 remaining bottles of beer by now, so I get out the beef jerky. Then kale chips. Then peanut butter and crackers. (“Hey, we’re eating like astronauts!”) Then finish with berry tart. I didn’t want to start cooking anything in case the tow truck suddenly appeared.

“It’s 9 now. How much longer do you think it’ll be?” I wonder out loud.

There are strange lights way off in the distance, towards the north. We can’t figure out what they are, but they move in a strange erratic way. Sometimes two lights appear to be synced, moving in tandem. Other times, there are no lights. Or there are several moving in different directions.

Still no tow truck. Big Dog decides to pack up the chairs and try to sleep.

“We’ll wake up when the tow comes,” he says.

It must be 10pm by now. How long is this tow truck going to take to get here? I don’t want to sleep in the back – especially if Big Dog’s going to be there. All that weight could push the tire down further and damage the generator underneath. I try to sleep in the front seat, soon moving to the bench seat just behind it. It opens up to make a mini-bed. Not very comfy but I’m tired enough to catch a few winks off and on. Meanwhile, Big Dog is sprawled in the bed in back, snoring! The very place I gave up for Uncomfyville so the weight wouldn’t screw up the undercarriage!


Author: ontheroadwithsprockets

I've been traveling since I was born -- the first big trip was before I was two, across the Pacific, from my native Japan to Los Angeles on a cargo ship. There have been many journeys since then, through many continents and cultures.

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