eregyrn: (-wolf curled)
[personal profile] eregyrn
So, in early June, I went on a big trip to the Southwest with a bunch of fangirls, and it was awesome. And hot. IT WAS SO HOT. (Though not as hot as it would be a few weeks later in that area, after we'd returned home.)

It was particularly hot, since three of us decided to start in Death Valley.

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I should fess up and say that I was the one who wanted to go to Death Valley in the first place. We were flying into Las Vegas, and I saw that it was only a 2 and a half hour drive to Death Valley, and I thought it would be convenient to go a day early, stay in Death Valley, and get to see it. This seemed more likely to happen, than a trip that was specifically meant to go there. Then I convinced a couple of others to go with me.

(Click any of the images to go to my Flickr page, and see larger versions.)

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Did I mention it was June?

I don't know; it's sort of like, why go to Death Valley if you're NOT going to really experience temperatures that make you say, "My god, this is the hottest place in North America"? But obviously, we didn't have that problem. Death Valley obliged us.

I'll say this: the hotel was nice (we stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch, for which read, motel). It has been updated recently. It has a/c and ceiling fans. The only problem, as we discovered, is that if you think you are going to go around sightseeing in Death Valley and then come back and take a lovely cool shower, you can forget it, because there isn't any cold water, or even cool water, from the taps. There is warm, and hot, and hotter. The place also has a pool, but we quickly discarded that idea.

The low was like 90. The next morning when we got up it was 94, and we walked outside, and it FELT LOVELY.

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I had a short list of things I wanted to see. The first thing we did was drive up to the Mesquite sand dunes, near Stovepipe Wells, because I wanted to see a real sand dune field. And there it is.

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Here it is with people for scale. (Note: it is not recommended, in 120 degree heat, to go hiking outside without a shirt on.)

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We had geared up with our boots and socks, and our water. Earlier we had gone to the Visitor Center (and saw the museum and a nice film, in the a/c), and then we took advantage of some of the free water that all of the National Parks in the southwest are eager to offer you ("Do you have enough water? No, you don't. Take some more.") The tap was located outside and the temperate was approximately that of hot tea. But still, we took it.

We made it to the ridge of dunes not far past the guy in the black shirt above. About 25 yards from our car, I'm guessing. There we stood, not quite believing the heat, and took pictures. I drank the entire liter of hot water that I had.

And then we got THE HELL BACK IN THE CAR, I tell you what. And we drove to the nearby store in Stovepipe Wells, and I bought cold water.

Originally I'd had some idea of our driving up and around to the Racetrack, but after the drive to the dunes, having a better idea of both the distances and the heat, we said no to that idea. (It would have taken hours, much of it over unpaved road.) Instead we turned back south and went to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America.

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(Some people doing what they tell you not to do, which is walk out onto the salt flats in the summer.)


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The problem with "but it's a dry heat" is that what it really means is it sucks the moisture right out of you in no time flat. And above 110 degrees, the breeze feels like a convection oven.

And yet there is water! Apparently there's a spring.

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The mountains of Death Valley are the most singularly uninviting mountains I've ever seen.

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After a while, we noticed a helpful marker on the side of the mountain above the road and car park. Here, let me help:

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I kind of would have liked to know what the temperature was at ground level. But maybe we're better off not knowing.

We did a loop called Artist's Drive, which took us past many rocks colored in greens and reds and purples from mineral deposits, where we did not so much get out the car as roll down the windows at strategic points to take pictures. Also, I had marked out a half-mile hike that we could have done to a natural bridge (on the theory that then we would have been able to say we'd done a short hike), but given that the car thermometer read 118 at that point, we abandoned that idea in a hurry.

On our way out, we turned up a side road that led to an overlook called Dante's View (at which elevation it was a mere 100 degrees, and it felt GREAT). Here is Badwater Basin stretched out beneath us, and in the distance, the highest peak in the park, Telescope Peak, @ 11,000 feet straight up from the valley floor.

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In the upper middle, just to the right of center, you can kind of see here a blotch of green, which is the sort-of oasis of Furnace Creek:

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Then we bade farewell to Death Valley, and drove back to Las Vegas to meet the rest of the folks flying in that day.

About Vegas, I'll just say that the Luxor, where we stayed, was practically tasteful in comparison with some of the other places we saw. I got to play the slot machines for the first time ever, and didn't lose money, so yay! I can also say that I really enjoyed the Bellagio fountains (credit for the photo below goes to V). But I did not warm to Vegas.

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The next day, in two cars, we drove up through Nevada (which features a whole lot of geology, I'll give it that), and on to Zion National Park. We had a fabulous hotel in Springdale, which is surrounded on both sides by arms of the park. (Credit for photo to D.)

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Zion was really lovely! It was hot, but it only got up to 100 degrees. So for those of us who had done Death Valley already, it was like, pfft! 100 degrees!

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Above, the Virgin River, which is what created the canyon of Zion. It was nice to start things off with an experience at the bottom of a canyon, getting to see it loom above us. We decided on a hike up to a series of pools called the Emerald Pools, which took us up to a maximum of 500 feet above the canyon floor.

There was also wildlife! Many, many lizards, of a few varieties. This is a desert spiny lizard:

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And hairy woodpeckers:

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The Lower Emerald Pool had a huge undercut cliff ringing it, with water falling off from the Middle Emerald Pool above:

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The Middle Emerald Pool was rather flat and tranquil:

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The Upper Emerald Pool was a long hike UP through baking sun, but at least it was cool and shady at the end. It had a ton of vivid orange dragonflies, which are apparently called flame skimmers:

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View from near the top, with the Virgin River in the valley below:

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Then we ate lunch, sitting on the lawn in front of the Zion Lodge. Then we decided on what was promised to be a 1-mile, easy, paved, shady hike along the river, up to the point where you would have needed to rent waterproof boots to keep going (you can totally continuing hiking IN the river).

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Note: the "shady" part was LIES, ALL LIES. Mostly lies. The sun was trying to kill us.

Some of the walls along the river had spring seeps in them, from which plant life and flowers were growing. A western columbine:

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D. was in the proper position on the bus to get a pic of the Great White Throne (a lot of the rock formations around Zion have rather Biblical-ish names).

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This was the view from our room. We totally used that pool once we got back from all the hot hiking. It was lovely.

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Then as we were sitting around on the terrace after dinner, some mule deer came out to graze on the hotel's lawn. Here, one peeks out at the main street:

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Next! The North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Antelope Canyon.
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