Thursday, January 30, 2014

Desert Loving

We took advantage of the 3 day weekend and headed out to Death Valley. I love the desert so much. I LOVE IT! I want to yell it from the mountain tops! I LOVE THE DESERT! Or better yet, yell it from the basin floor. I LOVE THE DESERT! Death Valley is home to the lowest point in the Continental USA, Badwater Basin -282 feet. The photo above is from the drive out to Eureka Dunes, although it looks more like the drive to Joshua Tree National Park.

The trip didn't involve much planning, but when Saturday came around the crew appeared like magic and before we knew it we were caravaning into no man's land.    

The Eureka Dunes rise a staggering 700 feet out of the valley floor and do something that doesn't seem possible, or even conceivable... they sing. I know, I didn't believe it either, but yes. When the loose sand slides down the face of the dune, the vibrations travel between the dense sand and the less dense sand to make a vibrating humming sound. Check out this YouTube clip. It was filmed at the Eureka Dunes. Here is another video that is explains the phenomenon pretty well.
We spent Saturday playing at the dunes, set up camp and played some bocci ball with Patty. There Phil is below making us some sandwiches, Grandpappy Phil with his glasses hanging off his nose.
This is my kind of camp ground. Look at that view.

Hiking up the dunes were as you may imagine, incredibly exhausting and a little frustrating. Talk about one step forward and two steps back.
I'm happy to be sitting on the top in this photo, although Phil still had quite a bit more work to do.   It's not out of character for Phil to sleep a ton but after that hike Phil crawled into the tent and didn't emerge until the sun was about to set.
In the photo above you can see the 10 mile dirt road that takes you straight to the dunes. And the photo below, Amo is happy to eat some bread.
At first the thought of "I don't really want to get sand all over my body" crossed my mind, but once I got a little sand in my shoes, I thought, "What the hell, might as well go all out." Steve was somersaulting down the hill and I was log rolling down before I knew it. Yes I had sand in my underwear like when I was a kid sitting in the ocean at low tide, but I didn't care.

This photo below was actually taken in the early a.m.  which I just learned stands for ante meridian, meaning "before noon."
We said goodbye to Patty at the Dunes and continued further into the national park, the next destination being the Ubehebe Crater.

Here is a photo of the crater below, it is about 600 feet deep and was created from a volcanic explosion only about 2,000 years ago. If you look closely you can see some people at the bottom. We didn't hike all the way down, maybe next time.

Next we headed to Scotty's Castle, a beautifully elaborate Spanish-style mansion tucked in the middle of a desert. It seems very bizarre driving for hours on what feels and looks like the moon, then rounding a dirt mountain to see a few cottonwood trees, date palms and Abrakadabrah! A 1920's millionaire's vacation retreat. 
I love the story of the castle and how it came to be, so I'll share it with you if you don't already know.

The story starts with someone who become known as Death Valley Scotty. Scotty started working for the Buffalo Bill's Wild West Horse Show after being scouted by Bill himself. He traveled for years with the show until one day he showed up late, probably drunk, as it seemed drinking was one of his favorite past times, and was fired.

He didn't know what to do with himself so he headed to Colorado to tour a gold mine. He received a piece of ore as a souvenir. That little hunk of rock soon became his best friend. He took that piece of ore to investors all over Chicago and New York, telling them about his mine in Death Valley. Yes, he would tell them that all they had to do was invest X amount of dollars and they would be rolling in the returns in no time.

So what did ol' Scotty do with all that money? He began living large. Tipping waitresses fifty dollars, buying rounds for the house and tossing coins into the streets. You can imagine this guy created quite a reputation for himself. Well one of the investors, Albert Johnson finally decided to catch up with ol' Scotty since he hadn't seen any of the returns he had been promised.
Johnson decided he would take a trip out to Death Valley to see the mine for himself. Scotty, being quick on his feet decided that he and his friend would host a heist hoax and scare the city slicker millionaire right back to the East where he belongs. Well.... not so much.

See, Johnson grew up reading penny comics about the wild west and LOVED the idea of cowboys, robbers, saloons, bar fights, all that. So when he and Scotty were intercepted by the "robbers," shots were fired, Scotty told them to shoot high, but the guys decided in their drunken stupor that it would be more believable if the shot low, in the dirt.

As you can imagine, that wasn't such a good idea. Scotty's own brother was shot and Scotty called 'uncle' in the whole debacle. Johnson was loving every moment of the cowboy shoot out but quickly put together that something wasn't right. Outlaws don't just stop shooting when they are asked to. His thoughts, I imagine, were linked together pretty quickly. This is weird. Cowboys aren't like this in the books. Scotty is playing me. There is no gold mine.

A side note, Scotty's brother survived. 
Instead of Johnson loosing his cool, he befriended Scotty. Scotty was Johnson's ticket to The Wild West.

And that was the start of a beautiful friendship. 

Now, the castle comes into existence because Johnson's wife, Betsy, was a city girl. She didn't want to miss out on all the fun but didn't like the idea of camping. And anything worth doing is worth over doing? I guess it you're a millionaire.

This place had hand painted lamb skin curtains, paintings imported from Italy, Spain, a theater style self-playing organ, plans for a swimming pool, hand made/custom EVERYTHING. It was incredible, this place was amazing. They called it Scotty's Castle because the Johnson's were modest people and didn't want the attention.

The three lived a good life in the desert, the ended up turning the castle into a tourist destination, allowing guests to stay and be entertained by Scotty himself. I wish we could have been able to experience the castle then.

Annnnnywayyyyyy. Definitely a trip worth making! I can't wait to go back. Gotta love that desert. 

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