Death Valley National Park: Canyon Exploration
Story by Alicia Scotter. Photos by Hank Moon.
Death Valley - Weird or Wonderful? - Feb.16 ~Feb. 19 2007
Alicia Scotter, Hank Moon, Randi Poer, Dave Pitney
Well, what was the weekend to be? Celebrating Mardi Gras with Mo in JH? Or a run to Death Valley with the Merry Hankster? Of course, Death Valley wins out (see title) and Hank and I agree to be on the road by 2:30 PM. At 5 I'm mixing second rounds of gin and tonics and haven't even packed my technical gear. But, even belatedly, the road is good. It takes the entire trip to Vegas to catch up the complex mix my life is right now and Hank is in a zone of his own, his stories become long pauses of revelations, which I am hoping will finally reveal his original loss of innocence. Anything to keep these green mileage signs counting down.
Road monotony is temporarily diverted with one of Hank's (regular) cigarettes accidentally blowing under the seat; an opportunity I used to hysterically call various people for their Trader Joe orders.
I just love blowing through Vegas. Who needs this place? We only stop for the requisite In and Out burger and a fast grocery stomp. We refuse to pay the 45 cent credit fee at the Arco in favor of driving out into the desert with uncertain possibilities for gas and the negated service fee paid multiple times by the increased cost per gallon of gas at Indian Springs' but the principle of things is SO important!
It is 3:30 AM when we land at the overflow DV camp and throw ourselves into our sleeping bags under the open sky. I woke up in a blur with the first real sunshine and heat that I have felt in 4 months. A few feet away is an old couple sitting in lawn chairs staring intently at well, nothing, It was the dune buggy camp across from us that had unhappily awoken us. It seemed like mid morning, long past rendezvous hour with Randi and The Pit, but amazingly a watch check revealed it was only 7:57! Three minutes was all we needed to break camp and drive around the corner to the VC!
I had barely scoped out the boxes of National Park Animal Cookies for Hank when Randi and The Pitney arrived. One look at us and we all understood it was going to be a Tourist Day. I felt like I was 10 years old again, driving with my family in the Impala. Hank and I were in the back seat, zoning out between Novelty Stops. The Moving Rocks, the Meteor Crater, Scotty's Castle, The Evil Ranger, Joshua Trees, great commentary from Randi - but it was essentially all about the sleep.
Last Billboard before Death…
Alicia, pining after margaritas.
Rock so pretty…
By evening Hank and I were fully revitalized. We needed action. So Randi and Pitney took off to arrange the Big Canyon Day coming up and Hank and I drove to Golden Canyon. Half way up there was this so inviting little side slot, and what could we do?
We abandoned the trail and started up, learning quickly why Death Valley is NOT exactly a reknowned climber's mecca. The whole place, appropriately, is composed of Death Rock, the stuff that makes 3 points of contact seem suicidal. Even boulders the size of your body just crumbled away. It was an as yet unrealized omen of the Day to Come. However, the view from the top was amazing. The sun setting over the salt flat playa, starlight is sweet, indeed.
So, then we needed to find camp at "Slabby Acres" - a now-abandoned trailer home park, where all that remains are the gravel roads and cement pads, which I must say, make wonderful gear organization stations. Randi treated us to a killer dinner which fortunately I took full advantage of cause I was gonna need all the calories I could get the following day.
So, we really are up at the ungodly hour of 5:30, after how many margaritas? I cannot eat a thing. Not good for a Canyon Day that is supposed to be 13 hours and 25 rappels long. We drive to Dante's Peak and set out. Our group's collective lack of navigating skills becomes immediately apparent. We loose at least an hour wandering aimlessly around until we stumble into a canyon that may or may not be The One. But whatever, it's a canyon and we're gonna do it. Randi is a tough girl is strong, brave, and a lot of fun, but she is suffering from Canyon Confusion. The "What Canyon Are We In?" game continues rappel after rappel. Memories of the Girl Horror Film "The Descent" begin to surface. Hank becomes ever more my hero as he manages one blind drop in the encroaching darkness after another.
Randy ‘Navigates’; Alicia tries to be supportive.
Hank: hey Randi – ya gotta remember this!
Randi: Nah, everything looks the same around here…
Hank: Y’mean every canyon starts with gargantuan pink and red fins of unparalleled beauty?
Randi: I’m afraaaiid so.
“let’s see where it goes…”
Very, very tiny hikers, dwarfed by the gargantuan topography.
The Pitney, en rappel.
Early rappel. Randi has her headlamp on already – not a good sign.
Another Big Rap past chossy rock.
Alicia trying to out-sultry Sultry Deluxe.
Randi on rappel – blue setting.
Balloons!!! They have balloons!!!! Balloon escapes SAR effort.
Randi comfortizin’ an anchor.
Anfetaminas y barrancos no mezclan
Pitney’s so good, he can rappel in this sleep. As shown.
Alicia: “happy fun-slide”.
Alicia: “slightly vexed!”
Le Pitney trying to go back up canyon. “No more raps, please!!!”
Intricate veinwork makes nice! (on the rock)
Had to be there
For me, this all became so ridiculous that my Ralley Instincts kick in. Another stuck rope? What fun! Past 10 PM there are no possibilities for showers, or dinner, so it might as well be all about the canyon! We have crossed over into "The Punchy Zone" where I am coming up with new verses of "Grope Me Tender" for the next skit night.
One final moment, at the last rappel before we FINALLY touched sweet ground (which my eardrums remind me is 280 feel below sea level) Hank tells me to rappel left to avoid the scorpion. And there it is! Just a beauty, perfectly positioned on the wall, standing guard over the mouth of the canyon. Randi and crew have First Descent naming rights, but for Hankster and me it will be forever known as "Scorpion Canyon" sting and all.
Back at camp I break down and give Hank his future birthday present from the gift shop at Scotty's Castle. A Scorpion Seachlight! Hank is immediately wandering "The Hood" scoping for scorpions, but gets distracted with EVERYTHING that glows.
Man, I just love my Western Mountainering sleeping bag. My own sweet cloud on our Very Own RV Slab. I am in a delicious deep sleep when Hank smacks me awake yelling that it's raining and it's "Gotta Go Girl" time! So much for the camp breakfast burrito plan. We arrive in Vegas looking very much like the street people sitting under their personal palm tree properties, grocery carts parked beside them. But the difference is that WE have credit cards, so we're allowed into Trader Joes to tour the delights of Car Munchie Heaven.
Was it fun? You betcha! Despite the sketchy rock moments, the Merry Hankster is just always the best. Randi is just an amazing gal. And The Pitney is, well, Pitney, and his amazing stories kick in my Forgiveness Instincts, especially the saga of the unfortunate incident he had just had on the Nuclear Testing Site, a whole other TR in itself.
I wore earplugs all the way home to finish my homework and tune out Hank's evil F Bomb music selections. Music aside, we were totally unified in our quest for the highest possible grease content foods we could find, certainly not a difficulty on the I 15. We just couldn't get enough of those deep fried cheesy curds!
And next time you see the Hankster, have him show you his Magic Hopping Popcorn Kernal.
Watercourses out on the floor of the Valley of Death
Still a long way to the floor…
Uh-oh! Getting dark!
Some loon with a headlamp rapping in the dark.
This very large (~6″) scorpion on canyon wall near end prompted Alicia to re-name the canyon “Scorpion Canyon”. She *was* a bit tired…
Le Pitney’s strange new driver… (Just another night in Death Valley).