What’s your specialty Tecopa ?

Standard

The best thing about full time RVing is that you often have the freedom to change your plans on a whim. So we often ask locals, what’s a “don’t miss” around here?

Two people, including a park ranger, recommended the China Ranch Date Farm near Tecopa, so as we left Death Valley, we decided to detour south to visit it.

Whew. Neither person mentioned the hairpin turns, single-lane roads or steep hills.  It would have been scary enough in a car, but we were trying to maneuver it in a lumbering 27-foot long RV.

Terrifying.

Several times, Mark had to get out, jog ahead to the next blind curve, see if a car was coming, then wave me to inch forward. At times the rock formations on either side of the road were so close it was like threading a needle. We would have given up and turned around but there was no place to turn around.

Terrifying.

Was it worth it? You bet. IMG_4025

First, the back story. During the mining rush (gold, silver, borax, talc) at the turn of the century in Death Valley, a Chinese man named Ah Foo (I could NOT make this stuff up) left the Borax mines and started a ranch in an oasis, growing food for the miners.  His “Chinaman’s Ranch”  was very successful until he mysteriously (foul play?) disappeared.

Today the China Ranch is a date farmIMG_4027.

At the shop, you can sample a dozen different types of dates, from black to tan, or taste the date cookies and date bread.  But they are best known for their date shakes.

IMG_4028

I piled my purchases on the counter and asked the clerk for a date shake. She grinned, did a little shimmy, and said, “There’s your shake!”  Then, singing the whole time, she scooped vanilla custard ice cream and purreed dates into a metal cup, blended it, and served it to us with spoons, because a straw would have been ridiculous.

IMG_4031

 

 

 

 

IMG_4030

Twenty Mule Team Borax

Standard

By Mark Bergmann
I remember those TV commercials for 20 Mule Team Borax detergent in the 1960s but never really gave any thought as to why anyone would need twenty mules to pull two wagons and a water tank. Turns out, when those wagons were full of borax, they weighed 36 tons. Plus, they had to carry 1,200 gallons of water if they wanted the mules (and humans) to be alive at the end of the 165 miles from Death Valley to the railroad in Mojave.IMG_3988

IMG_3990William T. Coleman of San Francisco consolidated borax mining operations in Death Valley during the 1880s. We visited the Harmony Borax works where borax was refined and then shipped by the mule teams. Borax “mining” did not mean digging underground, just scraping the borax salt off the ancient lake bed.
Talk about minimum wage….Chinese workers scraped borax off the salt flats for $1.30 PER DAY minus lodging and food.IMG_3969

From a mule’s perspective!IMG_4000

Mark meets kindred spirit in Death Valley

Standard
Did you know there really is such a thing as a pack rat? And I’m not talking about the human version, like my hubby.
While on a ranger-guided hike in Death Valley, we spotted a small tunnel-like cave. Inside, on a ledge at about eye level was a large nest. In the nest was, you guessed it, a pack rat.
Ranger Ruth explained that pack rats don’t make a new nest when needed, instead building their nests on top of an old nest. She said some nests are a hundred years old, and scientists have been know to delve through the nest layers like an archeological dig. IMG_3854

Death Valley without the heat.

Standard

by Mark Bergmann


You’d think Death Valley would be a boring expanse of nothing, but there is actually so much to see here that it requires at least a three day stay. To do that in the summer would be difficult because of temperatures regularly in triple digits. The highest temp ever recorded in the world was 134 degrees at Furnace Creek.
High season for Death Valley is December through March. During our “winter” visit, temperatures were comfortable around 75 degrees.
Driving into Death Valley from Shoshone, I was not sure when we might run across the next gas station so I decided to top off the motor home. BIG mistake! The gas price photo says it all. (Most of the country was under $2.00 a gallon. In the park, we paid $4.05 and $3.50 but that seemed like a bargain.)IMG_3734
As the sun dropped below the mountains we found a campsite for $12.00. Sounds like a good deal until you realize in the morning that you are basically in a parking lot with no water or electricity. I guess the view was worth a couple of bucks.IMG_3765

Sticker shock in Death Valley

Standard

Think of the cartoon of a guy dragging himself on his belly across the desert, thirsty, hungry, clothing tattered…then he spots an oasis.

That’s us. Well, except we are driving in an RV instead of crawling on our bellies. And our clothing is relatively tatter-free. But we are really really hungry.  So when we spotted the Furnace Creek oasis after a hard day of hiking, we parked at the campground and rushed to the adjacent restaurant.

Only to spot this menu in the window. Holy crap. $60 plus for a steak? It’s a CAMPGROUND!image

Lights! Camera! Action!

Standard

What do Star Wars (1977), Spartacus (1960) and The Twilight Zone (1959) have in common?

Parts of all three were filmed in Death Valley.

It’s easy to understand why a filmmaker would be drawn to this 5,000 square mile national park on the eastern edge of California.

We were completely taken by surprise at the variety of sights here.  From huge sand dunes

IMG_3925 to salt flats to whimsical rock formations,

IMG_3841 it was almost too much to absorb. Our original plan was to stay overnight and head out. We stayed three nights and wished we could have stayed a couple more.

Perhaps most memorable was the sunrise our second morning.  It filled the entire dome of the sky, with hues Crayola would envy. Sleepy and bedazzled, neither of us thought to grab a camera.  We did catch the sunset that night.

IMG_3753