Friday, March 26, 2010

Final Death Valley Post

We visited Salt Creek on the way back to Furnace Creek Ranch....

Salt Creek

Salt Creek runs in the valley and is home to the threatened and endangered pupfish. The fish must hurry to mate and raise their young before the creek drys up.

The boardwalk protects the habitat and is great for those with wheelchairs.

The male pup fish is beautifully colored with yellow and blue while in Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge, the males were all blue. The male is aggressively defending his nesting territory against other males while he waits for a female.

The pupfish are only about 1-1/2 inch long. My husband bought me a t-shirt with all the species on it and where they were located because I liked them so much.

Furnace Creek Inn

On our last day, I treated my husband to breakfast at Furnace Creek Inn--the upscale resort.

The view from the lobby is quite nice.

Golden Canyon

On our way out of the park, we hiked Golden Canyon.

I recommend hiking this canyon late on a sunny day at sunset when the rocks would actually appear more golden than in the morning. We climbed up a rock face where I took this panoramic photo so we didn't have to hike the whole way.

Natural Bridge

As we hiked the short way to Natural Bridge, I turned around and took this photo of the wet valley floor and the western mountains.

You can tell how large the bridge is by the hikers in the background.

Ashford Mill Ruins

We drove south on Highway 190...

The Ashford Mill Ruins looked great against the blue sky ...

. . . and the distant mountains covered with snow.

Once, out of the park we headed east on 178 and south towards the remote China Ranch.

China Ranch

The China Ranch is a working farm which produces dates. Signs tell you where the date palms come from (California, Iraq, etc.). I have to admit I didn't care for the dates (for some reason my stomach doesn't tolerate them) but the gift shop was great with crafts from all over the world and at good prices.

Death Valley Notes

In July 1994, we had driven though Death Valley when the temperature reached 106 degrees, forcing us to turn off the air conditioning in the car---not pleasant. I never thought it would be a good park to visit until I saw Dawn's photos on her blog from December. So, our canceled and rescheduled winter trip was changed to Death Valley. Thanks Dawn! With our snowy winter, it was a great place to vacation and we saw other Virginians there with the same idea.

Hope you enjoyed my photos. Now, it's back to spring here in Virginia where the wildflower toothwort is budding.

Note: I posted 4 times about Death Valley. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Death Valley Sand Dunes and more...

On our second day in Death Valley, we got up early enough to visit the sand dunes which enabled me to photograph with a low morning sun angle.

Those shrubs were blooming, amazing in such a forlorn place.

The flowers attracted wild bees. When you think of Death Valley, you don't think of much living there.

As always, my husband is way ahead of me on this walk. At first, I thought I didn't want to mess up the dunes with my footsteps but only a few hours later, the prints will be gone, covered up by the wind-blown sand.

We saw the telltale tracks of a small lizard dragging his tail on the ground earlier in the morning.

We did not walk as far as the guy in the center of this photo who cast a long shadow on the dunes because our next hike was waiting...

Mosaic Canyon

Mosaic Canyon is like walking through a geology museum but better.

Here we are in a rare photo of us taken by a stranger. That's a layer of marble (metamorphic) in the bottom of the canyon. In the back, you can see the conglomerate (sedimentary) rock layer which was on top of the marble. Not shown but a layer of sandstone (sedimenary) rock was on top of that layer.

Aguereberry Point

After that short walk up the canyon, we drove towards Panamints Springs on the western border of the park and drove south on Panamints Valley Road--where there was very little traffic. We then drove back into the Park on a rough road with almost no traffic. We then turned up a very rock road up to Aguereberry Point where the temperature had dropped from the 60 to 37 degrees because of the higher elevation (6433 ft.).

This view is from the opposite side of Death Valley as Dante's View but we were there by ourselves to enjoy it because of the rough road to get up there.

Click here for my last post on Salt Creek and our final day at Death Valley.

Monday, March 22, 2010

More of Death Valley

More on our trip to Death Valley first week in March....

Bad Water Basin

Bad Water Basin

Bad Water Basin is 282 feet below sea level and is typically the hottest place in the United States.

It's a short walk out there where the people look like they're walking on icy slush--actually it's a salty wet area.

Textures caused by the salt crystals vary at every location--so different from anything I have ever seen before.

Artists' Loop

Artists Palette is a great place for colors.... these greens (probably caused by copper in the soil) against ochre and rusts of the rocky canyon.

A begging Raven who had this stop all to himself.

It looked like it was raining in the mountains while the valley floor was wet. That was our last stop before we checked in at Furnace Creek Ranch where the warm springs pool (85 degrees) awaited me. I am glad now we only stayed there 2 nights since the room was expensive. So the cheap stays in Pahrump and Las Vegas helped to even things out.

Click here for the next post.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge, First Views of Death Valley

We arrived in Las Vegas March 6 about 10:30 and immediately set out for Pahrump, Nevada to stay outside Death Valley. On the way, we drove through Red Rock Canyon but didn't get out to hike because it was so crowded and couldn't find a parking space (it was Saturday with a bike/run there).

Pahrump was filled with casinos, huge billboards, RV resorts, restaurants and hotels. Its main attractions were that it was close to Death Valley and cheap to stay in a Best Western (athough my husband made jokes about the "gentlemen's clubs" there).

Here's a distant view of Pahrump as we headed out of town on March 7.

On the way to Death Valley, we saw this rainbow, a treat for us since we don't see them too often in the Appalachian Mountains (they're there just can't see them). I thought it meant we would have a good trip here.

Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge, Nevada

Just north of Pahrump is Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge created to save the warm springs and wetlands which were being drained for irrigation. Also, it is home to the threatened pup fish (saw lots more of these in Death Valley). We were the only visitors that day so if you like solitude, this is the place. I loved the colors of the grasses along the steaming warm creek.

Where the spring flows out of the ground, the water was a beautiful blue color, reminding me of the geysers in Yellowstone.

Death Valley National Monument

Our first view of Death Valley from the entrance on Highway 190 did not disappoint. It seemed the sun shone as soon as we hit the border of the park.

We drove up to Dante's View where we could see a good portion of Death Valley. Note that the sun is shining on the valley but the surrounding mountains were cloudy (and snowing up there).

Our first little drive was up 20 Mule Team Canyon. Our rented Santa Fe car did well on the dirt roads in the park.

On the same road, I took several photos, all very different, like this one of the stark white hills against the blue sky.

We drove and then walked up to Zabriskie Point for another great view. This was about 3:00--the photo might have even been better closer to sunset when the shadows were stronger.

I haven't even gotten through the first day! Click here for the next post.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Nature's Fury: Floods, Winter Critters, and Dead Bees

My husband and I went to Death Valley last week to escape the fierce winter in southwest Virginia (more on this trip in the next post). While we were gone, the weather warmed up and all the winter snow melted. Then, 3 inches of rain fell Friday night, flooding many parts of our county.


Flooded Walker Creek March 13, 2010

By 1:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, this creek was backed up from Walker Creek which was higher than I ever remember it. From here it is almost 100 feet to Walker Creek, well over the road.

I zoomed in to see the raging Walker Creek.

My neighbor's house flooded--something that hasn't happened since the mid-80s. Creeks all over the county were over their banks while a mudslide closed highway 460--a major thoroughfare.

Winter Critters

Snow covered the ground since late December. Even with the freezing weather, the creek in the valley ran, attracting wildlife during the day.

Wild Turkeys February 19, 2010

Several days, I saw a flock of wild turkeys drinking water out of the same creek that raged last Saturday. I also saw deer foraging during the day in the valley--a little unusual but the only pasture that was green was along this small creek.

Once I got out of the car to take more photos, the turkeys fled into the cedars. When we returned from our trip, I noticed the turkeys were roosting in the trees around our house, something they started no doubt while we were away.

Fox Squirrel March 1, 2010

A regular visitor to our feeder this winter was the Fox Squirrel. We usually only get gray squirrels so this large squirrel was welcome. You can tell the snow had melted by the first of March behind the squirrel---that was only on the south-facing slopes. The north sides of the mountains were deep with snow.

Here you can see the size difference between the fox and gray squirrels although I have seen gray squirrels larger than this one.

American Possum February 20, 2010

Possums came during the day and foraged what they could on the ground and in my compost pile. At night time, the raccoon would come if I didn't put the bird feeders in the shed.

A small possum came near my beehive one morning so I went and chased it with a stick. He was so frightened, he climbed high up in a small tree. That night he expired and his dead body is still in the tree, only attracting a tufted titmouse bird which plucked some fur for his nest. I am still waiting for the vultures or a red-tailed hawk to come get it. I felt bad about scaring the poor possum to death.

Dead Bees

Last Friday, I inspected my beehive and as I suspected, the bees had died. I last saw them on February 21 when a few were out on a somewhat warm, 50 degree day. Since then, the weather turned cold until March 5 when we left on a trip for the week. I called my mentor who told me he had lost almost half of his 12 hives also. What he thought happened was that there was not enough warm days for the bees to break their winter cluster and eat their stored honey so they starved. He said one dead cluster had honey within 2 inches of it. He told me it wasn't my fault.

I do think my bees starved also. He instructed me to remove the dead bees and close up the hives so flies couldn't get into it. When I did, I noticed that the bees in the top of the hive were filled with a yellow liquid--so they hadn't starved but the ones in the cluster were completely dry so they probably starved. But, I might have caused it by putting a feeder (2:1 syrup) on the top. The top medium hive had plenty of honey which I wasn't able to check because of the freezing temperatures (opening to check weight would have killed the bees). I noticed the honey bees had filled the central space of that box with the syrup. The winter cluster had moved down to between the 1st and 2nd box (3 boxes total). There, they were far from the honey stores. With the constant freezing temperatures for so long, they had no chance. I believe if they had stayed up in the top box, they would have been better insulated and close to the honey stores. My mentor says they probably would have starved anyway.

I also wonder about the 8-frame medium box--does it need to be better insulated on the outside for our winters? The weather was indeed very cold but we did not experience any bitterly cold temperatures.

I did learn a lot from keeping bees this year and had ordered another package of bees to start a second hive. So, I will use it to fill this hive. Next year, I hope there will be intermittent warm days in the winter so I can check the hive. I will resist the urge to put liquid feeder on top of the hive. I feel sad about losing my bees but don't want to give up on this hobby.

Nature can be cruel sometimes.