Furnace Creek

In the desert mulepower beat horsepower. More often than not mules beat both horses and oxen in getting the job done. It took 20 mules to pull the train of wagons above and it was the Pacific Coast Borax Company that made the "20 Mule Team Borax" name famous. 

Such was the mystique of Death Valley that the firm even created and sponsored "Death Valley Days", which was dramatization of true stories from around the early West. Heard first on the radio from 1930 to 1945 then seen on TV from 1952 until 1975, the TV program was at one time hosted by Ronald Reagan before he got into politics.

One of the few places for fuel in Death Valley National Park and the only place for diesel. Even if you had a mule, you'd still have to carry a lot of water. That's why, in the preceded photograph, every wagon train out of here trailed a big tanker of water.

Of course, there's always a bike. Some folks we talked to at our campground did bring their own bikes and got a rude shock the day they rode. It was the first day of spiking temps. Bad enough their thermometer read over 100 degrees when they climbed up to their turnaround point, but the wind came up and they had to pedal to go back downhill.

Expect the unexpected in Death Valley.



They're Everywhere

Red, white and blue ones.

Multicolored ones

Pitted ones.

Striped ones

Sandwiched ones.

And rocks within rocks.



And This Is In Winter

Four days before we arrived there was quite the rainstorm. Over a 1/2" fell, which represented about a quarter of what they get all year. Within days, the once flooded washes looked like the above image.

Almost 4:15 in the afternoon and the outside temp was over 96. Note the 9% humidity. Four more degrees and the little guy goes nude. The low humidity made the heat a bit more bearable but it was a surprise to us that it got so warm in mid march. Incredibly enough the record for March is 103ยบ.

It doesn't take long for life to pop back up.

Due to clouds we never got to see the comet but a few of the sunsets were memorable. This image of a portion of the Funeral Mountains was was "painted" to resemble the way many landscape painters see the desert. 



It's All Mine

With less than 3,000 people Tonopah ought not to have such a big town look. You can credit silver mining as the primary cause. A map of all the shafts and tunnels would show you an underground that looks like swiss cheese. Over 1.5 million in silver bullion was produced in the early 1900s. The town went bust during the depression but not before the downtown developed the character it has. As an indicator of its return to better economic health, the Mizpah hotel, at right, has been restored and turned into a very nice boutique hotel.

A new boom is on in mining and construction. This jumble of RVs and manufactured housing is mostly for all the new workers drawn to the area. The housing units come fully furnished. Many of those staying here work on the construction of a new solar array collector about 15 miles north of town. Others work at the Tonopah Test Range where the Navy has developed the F-117. Renewed interest in both gold and silver also continues to draw interest and investors.

Where once there were miners, there were also cattle and dairymen to supply them. Though this barn is nearly 100 years old, the dry air of the desert has helped preserve it.

The provenance of this roadside structure is unknown but with lumber being scarce, masons found good work in Tonopah. The town also benefits today by being the half way point between Reno and Las Vegas. The town has also one of the best mining museums found in the West.



Hawthorne, Nevada

You are looking at dozens of the 2,427 ammunition and bomb bunkers spread out over 226 square miles of Northern Nevada desert at the Hawthorne Army Depot. Proclaimed as the "World's Largest Weapon Stockpile," the Depot also manufactures armaments. Rather scary but one of the missions of the base is to provide ammunition "to be used after the first 30 days of a major conflict."

If you got it, flaunt it. This is the Hawthorne Ordnance Museum located in town.

It doesn't hurt to have a little humor in dealing with such a serious subject. 
Someone has married up a conning tower to what was a torpedo and added a little paint.

This is such a vast place that a wide shot can't even give you a sense of the size of it all. The very first image at top is a small segment of this image and this wide shot is only part of what can be seen. My father spent some time here in training for his role as captain of a munitions company that deployed to in Europe during WW II. This base was the staging area for most all of the bombs, rockets and ammunition for the entire war effort.

Sadly the Depot was in the news recently. 7 Marines were killed during an explosion while in training this week.




It may not take much to realize the great truth in this sign.

But we are not lost, just a little off route and on our way to Death Valley via NE California and W Nevada. This 106 year old building (on the National Register) was once Neil's Mercantile Store. On the ground floor was a general store. Upstairs was where the cattlemen of the region had their meetings and social functions. 

As Neil's Mercantile looked in 1910. Later the peaked roof was added and the false front removed. That is the Reid Hotel at right, long since demolished. Image courtesy the Day's End RV park.

Though folks are living in this old building, its last commercial function was as a roller rink and dance hall. It was just down the street from the mercantile store. I could find out no more history on this well building log structure.

The colorful flare in the center of the sky is called a sun dog or mock sun or phantom sun. They are caused when the sun hits a collection of hexagonal ice crystals, called diamond dust. The resultant flare of light is scattered as when it passes through a prism.




This is one of over 2.5 million plants found at the Chicago Botanical Garden. Imagine the army of gardeners needed. This visit was in April last year.

Not everything was in bloom, it only seemed that way. The park entrance fee is free if you arrive on foot, via rail or bike. Cars are charged $20.
The Garden is just 20 miles north of downtown Chicago.

There are 385 acres of park and 27 dedicated display gardens. We couldn't see it all in the half day we gave ourselves.

Tulips, exotic and otherwise took center stage. One million people visit this park every year. 
The park is usually in the top 10 of any list of public gardens in the US.

A place for everything and everything in its place. The Garden offers classes and certification. 
The even offer a full track of classes to be able to gain a Ph. D. in several classifications.  



Are YOU Ready?

And no, they don't come in pink. Zombies drive those.



High Prairie

From Minneapolis west the skies begin to open as do the landscapes. We lose a sense of geography though when the sun goes down.

The next day is full of sweeping skies and unbroken landscapes. It seems like most of Montana rolls by like this.

There is also lots of rail traffic. We've seen many "pig haulers" which is the nickname for trains that pull freight that is piggybacked or stacked as these containers are.

Where there are towns and tracks, there is a terminal or two for farmers. Wolf Point, MT., is one of many small towns that pop up through the day then slowly shrink back into the horizon. Wolf Point is also the largest town (2,621 population) on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Before rail and the passage of time there were many loose clusters of settlers. Most had their own one room schoolhouse. If you want to get a sense of what things were like back then, go find Ivan Doig's "Whistling Season", which is centered around such a schoolhouse as the one above. There few Western writers better than Doig.

We travel through the last of Montana, all of Idaho and much of Eastern Washington in the dark. Overnight in Spokane our train is broken up. All but three or four cars go on to Seattle. By mid morning our much smaller train is crossing the Columbia and headed for its last stop: Portland, Oregon. Against all expectation, we arrive a half hour earlier. Home again.