Distance: 0.7 miles
After the disaster that met Pappa Quail's camera at the Mormon Rocks we needed to get a new one. We were very fortunate to find a store that was still open in Phelan so late in the day. They only had a lens replacement, however, so I suggested to get a cheap and simple 'Point n' Shoot' pocket camera for the broad angle shots. In the end we bought the replacement zoom lens and Pappa Quail attached it to my camera, and I used the simple pocket camera for the remaining days of our road trip.
It turned out a very useful arrangement: the pocket camera yielded quite decent quality photos. Not up to notch like the one I lended Pappa Quail, but on the other hand it was much lighter and quicker, and I was not as stressed about it banging against rocks.
We managed to get to Ridgecrest that evening and had passed the night in a hotel there, and first thing in the morning we were headed toward Death Valley National Park. Sacrificing that day's hiking time, we made it right away to Mesquite Springs campground to find a spot. Mesquite Springs is a lovely, and quite desolate campground. It is the first campground we've ever camped at in Death Valley NP, when still a young couple sans chikas. It is a non-reservable campground, and it being Thanksgiving time, I was worried about not finding a place and having to camp in the wilderness. (Not that I mind wilderness camping, but on this occasion we preferred having the usual comforts of an established campground).
We were right to hurry to the campground. There were only 4 sites available when we arrived and by the time our tent was pitched the campground was full. When we were done setting camp and eating lunch, however, is was already afternoon and the day was growing short.
Pappa Quail gulped when I told him I wanted to go see the Eureka Dunes. Apparently, the dunes nearly two hours drive away from our campground. We went anyway, willing to drive back in darkness.
The Eureka Dunes are located in the south corner of Eureka Valley in the northwest part of Death Valley NP. To get there from the main park area where we needed to drive north on Death Valley Road, a long dirt road that leads to the north tip of the park and passes the Last Chance mountain range westward, leading out of the park toward the town of Big Pine.
The road splits at the Crankshaft Intersection and we stopped there momentarily before taking the Death Valley Road northwest toward Big Pine. I had to take in the scenery there. The vastness of the desert, the raw power of the sharp-angled mountains, near naked of vegetation.
I also had to photograph the interesting display at the intersection. All made of ... crankshafts.
We continued across the Last Chance mountain range and past a small gold mine, abandoned of course. We descended into Eureka Valley and the road was straight and level once more. Just before exiting the park we took a left (southward) turn to the dunes.
The Eureka Dunes, the tallest sand dunes in California, were quite visible from the Death Valley Rd, about 10 miles away.
I caught up with Pappa Quail and asked him to take a zoomed-in photo of the rock layers.
And with each step night was gaining.
There was still enough light to make it back to the car. And also to photograph some more. It turned out that my simple pocket camera had good light sensitivity.
I balanced on the ridge of the dune and progressed forward in large hops. Occasionally I looked down - it was a steep slope, and being made of sand - a very inviting slope. It was not in my desired direction, though.
But the slow, hard-working descent had its bonuses, because I had the time to stop and look at the pale plants that grew at the lower part of the slope. One of them was this interesting shrub:
The further down I went, the further the rest of my family got. I stopped to look at this strange-looking grass that turned out to be quite rare and endemic to the Eureka Dunes area and when I raised my eyes from the plant I saw that Pappa Quail and the chika were already near the car.
The wind was blowing hard now, and when I made it back to the Eureka Dunes Campground the chikas and their father were already tucked inside the car, safe from the grind of the airborne sand. I took one last snapshot of the Last Chance Range in the last of that day's light and got in the car.
I remained outside to clean up and enjoy the desert silence. I also had a little surprise to prepare. Just before going on this road trip I invested in my very first dutch oven and I wished to surprise my family with a campfire peach cobbler in the morning.
I mixed the ingredients and tried my best to maneuver the heavy iron pot on the glowing coals. Then I sat back and looked at the heavens.
It was a no moon night and as I had hoped for - clear skies with a spread of stars that can no longer be seen anywhere near the Bay Area. It was absolutely spectacular.
I felt the urge to document the starry night, but sadly, I have not the proper equipment for night photography. I switched the lenses on my old camera to the wide angle, and went for a walk around the campground. But even the more sophisticated camera didn't work. After much manipulations and frustration I managed to snap a single shot, then gave up and resumed my quiet enjoyment to the scenery without worrying about documenting it.
Eventually I got too cold and tiered. I walked back to the campsite and put the camera away. Then I checked the cobbler: it was almost completely burnt. With a sigh I removed the dutch oven from the campfire leftovers and set it under the table, hoping that no local animal would prove strong enough to lift the pot's heavy iron lid. Finally, I quenched the fire and went in the tent.
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!