Death Valley Day 2: How to Ignore Election Day

Take it from me: there is nothing like a 47-mile bicycle ride through the desert in 90+ degree heat to make you forget about the 2016 election. My thoughts today were primarily concerned with water and how many miles I had left to go. And pictures, of course!


I started the day early, as I am still on Oklahoma time and thus waking at 4:00 a.m. What do you do when you wake up that early in the desert? Go back to sleep, then get up at 6, go outside, and enjoy the silence as you watch the sunrise.


These two ravens obviously thought I had food with me, and circled around, talking all the while. I told them I had nothing for them, and they flew off in disgust—still talking, of course.


I spent a little time exploring Stovepipe Wells, so named because the well was hard to find, and to remedy that, a miner marked it by sticking a stovepipe in the ground beside it. Here is the general store–note that gas is over $3 a gallon here!


Water is important…and free!


And of course, there is a saloon.


Once the group was together and well breakfasted, we took off in the van to Ubehebe Crater, which is north and east from Stovepipe Wells. Usually the tour visits Scotty’s Castle, but after major rainstorms in 2015 took the road out, there is no access.


Ubehebe more than made up for it though! There is the main crater, and a short half-mile walk up to a smaller crater, Little Hebe. That’s where I went. Here are some shots from my hike around there…caution was used, believe me! The path was loose gravel and, as you will see, erosion is ongoing.


This is looking into the main crater. And here is some of that erosion:


Here is Little Hebe:


To get up to the outer rim of Little Hebe, I went up this trail.


It was very narrow and steep, but the view out beyond was worth it…


Imagine being an explorer, or a pioneer, and facing that broken, arid landscape. Not totally barren though…creosote survives.


After hiking around the crater, we got our bicycles off the van and prepared to ride back to Stovepipe Wells.


It was about 11:30 a.m. by then, and in the upper 80s. At home, I never ride in the heat of the day during the summer. Here, I had no choice. My strategy was to go as fast as I could on the descents and flats, but to stop whenever the van was available for water refills—and whenever I saw something I wanted to take a picture of. Here we go….!



The classic Death Valley road shot…


And for all the physical geography buffs out there, the alluvial fans were amazing on this route!  You could really see where the 2015 floods had carried sediment down the mountains.


And carved out entire washes to move the water down to the valley floor.


Near the end of the ride, I passed these white hills with the Funeral Mountains in the background…


By then, it was all I could do to finish! I think I drank eight bottles of water on this ride. But…I totally forgot all about election day!

Death Valley Day 1: Dead Cities and Aliens

You take a trip to Death Valley, and you expect desert, big skies, sweeping vistas. Like this one, taken near the end of our ride today.


Gorgeous, and awesome in the truest sense of the word. But as it is the desert–the American desert in particular–you also get a lot of really fun weirdness. It started as soon as we got out of Las Vegas, which we left bright and early this morning by van. Our destination was Rhyolite, Nevada—now a ghost town, but once the third-largest city in Nevada. On the way there, we stopped for gas at Nevada’s own Area 51, complete with the Alien Cathouse Brothel and the World’s Largest Firecracker.

I am not making this up.




See? And it only got better when we reached Rhyolite. Which was really cool. Here is a shot of the train station, the only building left that is still more or less intact.


It is fenced in and there are no longer train tracks…but the station remains. Here is the front of a building that still has a name and date on it:


And here is a broader view of what was once a bustling mining town.


But I was telling you about desert weirdness, and Rhyolite has its share. First, there is Tom Kelly’s bottle house, a house made of bottles. Erected in 1906, the bottle house is just that: bottles mortared together to make walls.

Here is the front…


And here is the side…


I kept looking for meaning in the pattern of bottles. The house has three rooms and served as a family residence for years. Most recently, it was a curio shop.

After the bottle house, there is the Goldwell Open Air Museum, an artistic free-for-all that draws you in first with its sign…and a pole covered with shoes. And hubcaps.


Then there is this:

Goldwell Open Air Museum

Icara (1992) by Dre Peters

See how the poles have things stuck all over them? Here is some detail on that:


I love this kind of stuff! There were tin cups, Mardi Gras beads, business cards, and even a pair of needle-nosed pliers stuck to these poles. There has to be a story–or several stories–behind this. But…there’s more!

A shepherd of desert cyclists, maybe?

Goldwell Open Air Museum

Ghost Rider (1984) by Albert Szukalski

And a miner in the desert accompanied by a penguin with no name…

Goldwell Open Air Museum

Tribute to Shorty Harris (1994) by Fred Bervoets

The so-called Pink Lady:

Goldwell Open Air Museum

Lady Desert: the Venus of Nevada (1992) by Dr. Hugh Heyrman

A mosaic sofa-bench I couldn’t resist trying out…

Goldwell Open Air Museum

Sit Here! (2000) by Sophie Siegmann

An artist’s rendering of the last supper, the piece that started it all…

Goldwell Open Air Museum

The Last Supper (1984) by Albert Szukalski

And a stone labyrinth, which every desert needs:


Obviously, this ghost town is not completely abandoned, because artists keep adding to the free museum.

Once I tore myself away from the weirdness, the ride started in earnest, with a climb up to Daylight Pass–followed by a lovely 13-mile descent. We went from over 4,000 feet down to sea level at Stovepipe Wells. Here is the view back over my shoulder while I was climbing.


On the descent, we stopped to admire Corkscrew Peak…


And the Devil’s Cornfield…


Tomorrow we head for Ubehebe Crater and closer views of the Mesquite Dunes. Stay tuned…maybe there will be more weirdness!!

And…She (or He) is Back

Just a week ago I posted about finding a new turtle trying to dig its way under my gate. And I speculated that I might never see that turtle again, as turtles are wanderers, and who knew where this turtle was headed.

Well, I sure called that one wrong! This morning, the same turtle (you can tell by its battered shell) was at my patio door, looking for all the world like it wanted to come inside.


Ummm…hello? Anyone home?

Of course I quickly gathered some treats for it and took them outside, at which point she (or he) turned tail and ran. Nonetheless, I left the food and went back inside. Soon I was rewarded with a cautious return and a dive into the cherry tomatoes and banana slices I’d put out.

Because this turtle is so timid, I let it eat in peace. After it was done, though, I slipped back outside and settled myself in one place with my camera.

At first, she (looks like a she here!) just peered at me from her hiding place. With banana on her nose.



Then she decided that even though I wasn’t moving, I was too close, and took off.


Turtle on the run.

And finally, an escape into the yard.


Up up and away.

So who knows? Maybe I will be seeing more of this turtle! It has been so warm here that they are still active. On a bike ride a couple days ago, we came across four turtles crossing the roads in various places. That’s unheard of for October. In fact, some local meteorologists are saying this could be the year without winter. Which would throw off a lot of things, including hibernation schedules.

Guess I better stock up on turtle food.

At the Sign of the Turtle

The name of my house is going to have to change from the Turtle Café to The Sign of the Turtle, because somehow, another turtle showed up yesterday afternoon. It was trying to dig its way under my gate, which is impossible, as all that’s under the gate is a concrete walk.

But how did that turtle know to come here? The situation struck me as odd. Just two years ago, my gate is where Hissy Pissy turned up–in exactly the same place, doing exactly the same thing (except a cat was also harassing him).

It makes me think that turtles, like hobos during the Depression, have left some kind of sign identifying my backyard as a turtle-friendly zone.

I am partial to the symbol of a cat representing a “kindhearted lady,” but I imagine my backyard is marked with some kind of turtle sign meaning “good for a handout.”

Or something.

Not one to turn away a desperate turtle, I opened the gate and welcomed it into the monkey grass forest. There was no hissing, but much haste to disappear into the grass. I managed to catch a picture:


Battered turtle seeks refuge…

You can see this turtle has had it rough–the edges of its shell have been hacked off in some places, probably by people with weed eaters who never noticed the turtle. Invisibility is, as I have noted before, their superpower, and mow-and-blow lawn crews are not noted for their powers of observation.

I may never see this turtle again–it depends on where it is going. One thing I have learned about turtles is that they have territories. If they are moved, they make their way back to them. So this turtle could be trying to get back to its original territory, or it could be looking for a new home after the destruction of its original habitat.

Impossible to know.

In any case, I am thawing out some blueberries and strawberries for it, in case it sticks around. And of course, I totally recommended my backyard to it for hibernation.

Turtles Go Bye-Bye

It’s the time of year when my turtle friends in the backyard bid a final farewell and vanish. Cold-blooded reptiles that they are, when it gets chilly they bury themselves in the sandy soil or a pile of leaves, and hibernate for the winter. Being a gardener–and one of those people who sneaks around picking up bags of leaves from other peoples’ yards–I do my best to keep my yard hibernation-friendly, with lots of leaves for mulch and turtle cover.

Prince says "bye-bye" for the season.

Prince says “bye-bye” for the season.

Because I slacked off yet again with my blog–but not with my photography–I thought I would do a final turtle cam post with some of this images I’ve collected but not yet shared. Of course, Prince looms large…

Summer bliss. Of course it's Prince.

Summer bliss. Of course it’s Prince.

Kind of the epitome of summer, is he not?

Prince chowing down.

Prince chowing down.

And then I caught this one of Shy Girl, climbing the edging to get at whatever treats were out that day. It almost made me change her name to Determined Girl:

Shy Girl climbing over the edging to get to the turtle snacks.

Shy Girl climbing over the edging to get to the turtle snacks.

The discovery of September was this guy, who I thought was Hissy Pissy, even though he acted even more suspicious than Hissy Pissy usually does:

The Hissy Pissy doppelgänger who needs a name.

The Hissy Pissy doppelgänger who needs a name.

But a few days later, I came across Hissy Pissy hanging out with Shy Girl, and the other guy–Doppelgänger–flipped over onto his back! So I turned him right side up, put him in the shade, and immediately researched the whole flipping thing. Apparently, when male turtles battle for mates or territory, flipping the opponent is part of the strategy. And oftentimes, turtles can right themselves, but box turtles have a harder time with that than water turtles.

In the interests of expanding the available territory, I cut a hole in my back fence, which opens into an electric line easement where there is more space and not a lot of human activity. Hope Doppelgänger finds it so I don’t come across an empty upside-down turtle shell some day!

Finally, I will leave you with this one, again of Prince…

Prince meets Buddha.

Prince meets Buddha.

Happy fall! And I hope you all have a cozy hibernation spot to go to.

Waiting is the Worst Part

“People always said that waiting was the worst part, and Lila agreed. So much so, in fact, that she rarely waited for anything. Waiting left too much room for questions, for doubts. It weakened a person’s resolve–which was probably why, as she stood in the tunnel to the western arena waiting for her match, she started to feel like she’d made a terrible mistake.”

Well, crap. Lila would have hated the ending of her own book, A Gathering of Shadows, because as luck would have it, fans of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy are going to have to wait to find out how all of the complications and problems in that book are resolved. Because instead of an ending, we got a cliffhanger. Everything is left open. Nothing is resolved.

Which isn’t really an ending, is it?


I know better. It’s common now for books in a trilogy to cut off in the middle of things, as if the publisher took a nice meaty novel and chopped it into three pieces for the express purpose of driving readers crazy. Maybe they think they’ll make more money, or attain a Harry Potter-esque buzz when each successive book comes out.

I just get annoyed.

It was for that reason I delayed reading A Gathering of Shadowswhich came out in March, figuring I would ignore it until the final book was done, then read all three (A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, and A Conjuring of Light) consecutively, no  waiting involved.

Then one day I was at the library…and there was the book. Resistance crumbled. But now that I’ve read it, I’m kicking myself. Another freaking cliffhanger, and I have to wait six more months for A Conjuring of Light.


Like Lila, I’m no good at waiting. Time passes, I read other books, and I lose interest in the stories that left me hanging. I hope that doesn’t happen here, because in spite of the non-ending, I love these books. I love the layered worlds, the travel between them, and the different Londons. Lila is a character after my own heart–any heroine introduced with “Delilah Bard had a way of finding trouble” is my kind of heroine.

So I will wait, and hope that I don’t forget the intricacies of A Gathering of Shadows so much that I no longer care about reading the ending.

It’s Death Valley!

Two friends of mine who read this blog (you know who you are!) scolded me Saturday night for not having updated my readers on where I will be going this year. Their timing was impeccable: I had that very day made my decision and reserved space on a tour. But here’s the thing: the trip I chose is not one of the two previously under consideration. Instead of Canada or the Adriatic, I’m staying in the U.S. and heading west…for a ride through Death Valley.

And I can’t wait!!

Death Valley!! Photo courtesy of François Hogue, Flickr Creative Commons.

Death Valley!!
Photo courtesy of François Hogue, Flickr Creative Commons.

Seriously, could it be anymore awesome? The names alone feed the imagination: mountain ranges called Panamint, Owlshead, and Funeral, place names like Badwater Basin (lowest point in the U.S.), Stovepipe Wells, and Furnace Creek. And of course the obligatory Devil’s Hole, Devil’s Golf Course, and Dante’s View. How could I resist? Right. I couldn’t. Didn’t.

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley. Photo courtesy of Loïc LaGarde, Flickr Creative Commons.

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley.
Photo courtesy of Loïc LaGarde, Flickr Creative Commons.

How did this happen?

Well, I was all ready to sign up for the Prince Edward Island tour. I emailed the company with some questions, to which they responded promptly…but they also told me that the trip was full. I got on the waiting list, but no spaces have opened up. Since that trip starts the first week of September, I figure I am out of luck on that option. And I decided the Venice-Dubrovnik trip is just too fast for me. I’d like to do that route at 40-50 miles a day, with time to explore.

So…I started looking at the other trips offered through WomanTours, and came across the Death Valley trip…and was immediately entranced. I love deserts, solitary open spaces, and looking at the stars at night. Death Valley National Park is a dark sky park, kept free of the pollution from artificial lights. It is also the largest national park in the contiguous U.S., and is billed as the “hottest, driest, and lowest” national park.

My kind of place.

Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley. Photo courtesy of Peter Rivera, Flickr Creative Commons.

Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley.
Photo courtesy of Peter Rivera, Flickr Creative Commons.

The trip is set for November, so hopefully it won’t be too hot! Plus!! Plus Election Day 2016 falls during the week of the trip, and I love the thought of being out in the desert–in freaking Death Valley!–while all the pundits are pontificating, the candidates are bloviating, the newscasters are endlessly yammering, and the populace is wondering “WTF?” Yep, I got an absentee ballot, but I other than that…I’ll take the collected poems of Edward Dorn, read, ride, look at the stars, and enjoy radio silence that week.

Except…I will blog!

So stay tuned for a sane alternative to election coverage in November!

Go west, cyclist! Death Valley highway. Photo courtesy of Tabitha Kaylee Hawk, Flickr Creative Commons.

Go west, not-so-young cyclist! Death Valley highway.
Photo courtesy of Tabitha Kaylee Hawk, Flickr Creative Commons.