Sunday, March 23, 2008

birthday in the valley

One of the reasons I went to Death Valley at the beginning of the month was to spend my birthday out there. Amanda was away for work and I wanted do something, rather than sitting around the house! I spent the first few days doing a bit of short hiking and taking a lot of pictures. I wanted to try something a bit more adventurous on my actual birthday. I got up bright and early on the 4th, at 4:30am and headed out to the Badwater salt flats to shoot the pre-dawn and sunrise. A quiet, soft start to the day and almost nobody out there. I walked out further than I've been before, about a mile and a half, to where the salt really gets flat and white. Peaceful, beautiful and not a sound. Amanda recorded herself singing 'Happy Birthday' on my birthday present, a digital audio recorder, so I listened to that a few times out there!

After breakfast and a bit of packing, I drove over to the Panamint Valley. Both times I'd been to the park before I'd looked longingly at the Panamint dunes. They are a bit tough to get to - about 6 miles of dirt roads then another 5 mile cross country hike, over a rocky alluvial fan then up through sand dunes. You can see the road in the distance on the far left of this shot and then the dunes on the hillside to the far right. This time I was going to get there.
The hike was great - I took about a gallon and a half of water, my camera and some food and set off up to the dunes. It was a warm 85F and sunny at the start and got pretty hot as the afternoon wore on. Click here for a flickr slideshow of the hike. The soft dirt and sand made for quite tough going and I averaged a slow 2.5 mph on the way up. Just before the dunes, I found a big creosote bush and slept under it for an hour while the shadows lengthened and the light got better for photos. My Tilley hat made for a great shade, hung up in the branches of the bush. That was the first respite from the sun I'd found all afternoon and it was really welcome. So much cooler out there out of the sun with the really low humidity. Lovely. About 3 pm I left the pack behind and walked up into the dunes with my camera. It was a beautiful experience to have that whole expanse of dunes to myself, no foot prints, no people, no noise. Nobody for miles around. The dunes there are steeper than those near Stove Pipe Wells, the hillside and wind have combined to really pile them high and sharp. A couple of times I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it to the top of the highest dune, I almost rolled off down one slope. Eventually though I clambered to the top - the view was stunning - all the valley opened out below me. The narrow peak of the dune actually split into the 3 spines - a star shaped dune! Shooting right at the top was a bit disorientating, looking through the camera and trying not to step off into space. I sat for a while and drank it all in.
Heading back down was a whole lot easier, once I found my pack. Creosote bushes all look the same from a distance! A GPS waypoint made life easier, though I did worry about my batteries dying. It was all downhill to the car and not so much weight to carry either. I think I need to find some hikes where I start off at the top, hike down drinking the water then have a lighter load to carry up the hill! I got back to the car just as the sun dipped behind the mountains. All in all, a great way to spend my birthday. A really beautiful desert hike.
Lots more pictures in the map below - click on the labels on the right or zoom in and pan around.
I've been trying out various GPS tools and GPS Visualizer has been really useful. Massaging the data into a form to create the map above took a bit of work, some use of GPSBabel and a few custom python scripts that I wrote to convert co-ordinates into the right forms. The profile came straight from the GPS track log.


Anonymous said...

What an adventure! All those photos are fantastic, and weaving them together on a map and with a story just make them even more incredible.

Anita Jesse said...

Bravo. With my physical limitations I could never make that hike, so I really appreciate your virtual tour with beautiful photos. What a lovely gift we got for your birthday.