Another day of waking up with the sun (yay for no alarm clocks!). This time I slept through the beautiful pink pre-dawn sky, but caught it just as it started to peek over our mountain range.
The morning started with the usual routine, the most important goal being the perfect cup of coffee. Sipping on that, we talked about our day. Today was going to be a “rest” day. Mike had some things to tighten up on his bike and I wanted to do some hikes, pool time and I love me some ranger talks (I’m a nature nerd, what can I say?).
After a breakfast of french toast, eggs and bacon (and more coffee) we headed out to Golden Canyon for a ranger-led hike. Our ranger was awesome, as most are–filling us full of fun facts about Golden Canyon and how it came to be in Death Valley.
This canyon was formed about 5 million years ago. It has gaping canyons, huge boulders, waves of rock and even a range of red rock called the Red Cathedral at the end. It is also the site where different parts of the original Star Wars movies from George Lucas were filmed. Recognize it?
My favorite story the ranger told is when the original Star Wars was being filmed here, they bussed in and paid school children $25 each to dress as the Jawa characters hiding in the hills. Seeing them now knowing that sheds a whole new light. Not so scary.
Continuing on, I was surprised to know the actual canyon path we were walking on is a fault line. The ranger said they get frequent earthquakes.
Tilted layers of rock are everywhere. She explained the many directions the plates under the earth were being pushed and pulled. Think of it as books on a bookshelf. Take away the book ends and they slump like dominos. This is what happened here but there was so much tectonic activity that it also caused huge formations to be pushed up from the earth.
Check out the rock below, you are looking at “the beach”. If you look closely you can see the ripple marks in the rock. These formed at the lakeshore about five million years ago. Preservation of this pattern required rapid burial beneath another layer of sediment.
At the very end there is a noticeable change from the gentle yellow slopes in the foreground to the steeper red cliffs beyond. More resistant to erosion, the rocks of Red Cathedral form steep cliffs. Oxidation of iron creates the red color, like the process that forms rust.
The Timbisha Shoshone Native Americans have lived in Death Valley, their ancestral homeland, for centuries. They believe the Red Cathedral was symbolic of their future, since it was red like the sun that rose in the East.
After our hike here, we wandered off to the next point of interest, Pup Fish! These little guys are pretty damn amazing. They are the last survivors of Lake Manly, which dried up at the end of the last ice age in Death Valley. How did they survive? What is left is Salt Creek, a spring that pushes water up from the earth and provides a shallow, home for these guys.
It may look somewhat inviting, but its heavily laden with minerals, especially salt. Since this is a desert, and temperatures can reach 130 degrees, this creek eventually just evaporates. These guys have to make a 2 mile swim all the way back to the water source of the spring before summer hits.
The Pup fish is adapted to shallow, hot, saline water with year-round above-ground flows, but tolerant of a very wide range of temperatures (32–104 °F). Pretty cool!
Next stop, just up the road is Harmony Borax works. This is pretty much what put Death Valley on the map, and made Furnace Creek popular. I’m hoping most of you remember the Borax laundry soap?
Borax was found here in about 1881. After that, William T. Coleman built a plant here and began to process it in about 1883.
When in full operation, the Harmony Borax Works employed 40 men who produced three tons of borax daily. The Harmony operation became famous through the use of large mule teams and double wagons which hauled borax the long overland route to Mojave.
The Harmony plant went out of operation in 1888, after only five years of production, when Coleman’s financial empire collapsed. In a short period of time though, it created this famous impression in our minds, and washing machines.
After this stop, we went back to camp, had a hot dinner and hung out until the full moon came out. We decided to go on a hike to Nature Bridge, so Brian could capture some star photos. My camera was not sophisticated enough to take night shots, but I did capture the moon rise.
Nature bridge is beautiful by day, but it’s hauntingly gorgeous at night. Here is a shot from Brian’s long exposure shot (about 10 minutes). I think the light at the bottom of the photo is someone’s flash.
The guys also came up here the night before for more shots, and found this little guy crawling around in the dark. Watch your step….
We pulled back into camp around 10 or so and needless to say I was ready to crawl in my tent for a peaceful nights sleep. The wind was light and warm and my eyes were heavy. Before I crawled in my tent though, I took one last photo. Goodnight Moon.