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Mountains of Blue and Lakes of Green | Missing Death Valley #1

Driving Forever

I don't know how we ever did it. Or why. Time after time, for five full years, we would spend nearly 24 hours in the Tacoma, making our way south - in a single shot - to the desert. At the behest of @mrs.turbodb, and following in the footsteps of Ken @DVExile - my Death Valley archetype - I wised up at the beginning of 2023 and haven't looked back.

Still, every now and then the Tacoma has to come home for one reason or another. This time, it was to do some work on my rear leaf springs and rear axle housing with Zane @Speedytech7. That work complete, I needed to get the Tacoma back down to Las Vegas. So, setting my alarm for midnight, I headed to bed early - even for me - before setting off for one of my favorite places on earth.

Passing through Austin, Nevada, the combination of snow, storm, and sun conspired to illuminate the mountains of the Toiyabe Range.

I arrived just east of Furnace Creek a little after 9:00pm, ready to never make the long drive again; knowing - as I climbed into the tent - that it was only a matter of time.

Is there a Lake in Death Valley or is it Fake News?

The rains of the last couple of winters have wreaked havoc on the man-made features of Death Valley National Park. Roads washed out, rebuilt, and washed out again. Buildings flooded. Water everywhere. As always, the National Park Service (NPS) and other associated governmental agencies have worked their patukis' off getting as much opened - and as quickly - as possible, but even today, many of my favorite places are still officially closed.

But the water hasn't been all bad. One fantastical side effect was the reemergence of Lake Manley, a shallow body of water that covers the floor of Death Valley on only the rarest of occasions. In fact, the last time Lake Manley made an appearance was in 2005, so it was no wonder that - as the lake depth reached a full 10 inches - millions of people would want to see it for themselves. Or perhaps, discover that it was just another example of Fake News.

Hoping to catch the valley in that brief window before sunrise when the colors are soft and shadows do not stretch across the land, I'd set my alarm for 4:30am, giving me plenty of time to pack up the tent and wind my way up - more than a mile above the valley floor - to Dante's View.

I wasn't the only one with a dumb idea. This guy probably hadn't driven for 22 hours straight though.

Telescope Peak was looking chilly in a blanket of snow in the soft morning light.

From here, it looks like there's water in Lake Manley. But, what if it's an elaborate illusion from those climate change conspiracy folks trying to convince us that we need to care for the planet we call home.

Looking south along the Black Mountains, the Owlshead and Panamint Mountains rising to the west.

And north, streaks of color spreading across the sky. Surely, the remnants of contrails that are brainwashing us for the next conspiracy.

Through the Badlands to Mountains of Blue and Borax BM

Reasonably sure that there was water in Lake Manley, my next order of business was to find a rumored "Blue Mountain" buried somewhere in the depths of the Black Mountains - the range that runs along the east side of Death Valley, essentially from Furnace Creek and CA-190 to Jubilee Pass and CA-178.  To get there, I'd need to wind my way through a series of sinuous badlands to a barren ridge and ultimately to the summit of Borax BM.

Easier said than done.

As is the case with every hike, this one started with gathering my things and then abandoning my American Hiking Machine along the side of the road.

The hike started easily enough. A broad wash extended up the alluvial fan, the glow of yellow wildflowers beckoning me into an out-of-this-world terrain.

Nothing tricky about this...

The first Desert Gold...

...of many I'd see on this trip. (Geraea canescens)

A stroll through lunar badlands.

Even down here, they were colorful.

Working my way into the lower badlands, I was immediately confronted with a combination of crumbling walls that towered high above and soft-soiled canyons quickly climbed hundreds of feet, high into the sky. The scale of this place - as with the park in which it sits - was deceptive. And amazing.

Man vs. Wall.

The tricky part of this hike was the terrain. The soft soils that make up these badlands - much like those found at Zabriskie Point - are easily eroded and form a series of serpentine canyons. Too high to see over, but too low to be indicated on topo maps, picking a route through - that ultimately leads to the exact spot you want to end up, more than a mile away - is a challenge. Similar, I'd say, to plugging in a USB connector: you look at both sides, make an educated guess, have a 50-50 chance, and get it wrong 75% of the time.

This was not the way.

This route looks promising.

To aid in my success rate, I'd attempted to map out the "perfect route" using satellite imagery, but even as I dutifully followed the line on my pocket computer, I still found myself off track from time-to-time, forcing me to turn back and admire the way from which I'd come.

Turning back had its upsides, the Funeral Mountains contrasting nicely against the golden yellows of my immediate environment.

Along the way, I stopped to inspect interesting artifacts uncovered by erosion.

Narrows sunstar. (left) | Loose dry fall (right).

Texture and light.

Ultimately, I think I ventured up four channels that petered out or boxed me in - a reasonably high success rate, given the dozens of decisions I made - before climbing out of the badlands an onto the barren ridge that would lead me to the summit I was after.

At an important saddle, I took a few minutes to admire the way I'd come.

Gaining the ridge, I caught my first glimpse of what lay beyond. (Telescope Peak)

While I'd admired the ridge from afar - dust puffing up around each foot fall as I plodded through the badlands - the dark brown surface was covered in a rocky loose material that made picking my path more important than I'd envisioned.

Don't get too distracted by the views. One wrong step here, and things could end poorly.

Hey man, get off my "lawn." (Zebra tailed lizard?)

Admiring Mr. Lizard's garden. (desert chicory - Rafinesquia neomexicana)

As I climbed, the northern end of Lake Manley crept into view.

It was seconds after 11:00am when I reached the summit. The two-mile trek had taken more than two hours, a combination of route finding, photography, and frequent stops in the warm morning sun conspiring against me.

As I glanced out to the west, there was no question it was worth it.

Yes, it really is that blue. Or is that green?

Anyone familiar with the park will likely recognize colorful pallete of this alluvial fan, though not many see it from this angle. Here, iron salts produce the reds, pinks and yellows, decomposing mica causes the green, and manganese supplies the purple.

I found a tiny bit of what was apparently mica and manganese on my predominantly red summit.

A sleeper mountain - larger, but still mostly covered from the valley-facing side, will be dramatic once the darker western face erodes onto the fan.

Buried under a small pile of stones, I spotted the peak log. Not the peak log exactly, but a Tostitos jar that I could only assume wasn't left for the less-than-tasty contents it once contained. Setting the rocks aside, I eagerly pulled out the small pad, wondering if I'd recognize any of the names it contained.

Look who I found! (left) | I never really know how to add myself to the list. (right)

I spent a good half hour - on my backside - enjoying myself at the top. There's no reason to rush a view like this, especially when fewer than 20 people have visited in the preceding three years. Eventually though, I tore myself away and set off down the ridge. The way back would be easier - both because there were now footprints to follow and because if worse came to worse, I could simply fall downhill.

This small shrub was so green. I still have no idea what it is, and to my knowledge, haven't seen anything like it on my previous visits.

Somewhere, my path would work it' way through this wonderland.

I was back at the Tacoma a little just before 1:00pm. Facing a 50-mile drive through Badwater Basin, I had just enough time to get up close and personal with that fake news lake I'd viewed at sunrise and - hopefully - work my way up one more canyon before the sun set for day.

I had no idea at the time, but I'd nearly bite off more than I could chew, leaving myself in one of the more precarious situations I've encountered in my adventures.




The Whole Story




    JOHN D MORAN April 11, 2024

    Some nice photos as usual and that always reminds me of how much I want to get back out to Death Valley.

    • turbodb
      turbodb April 11, 2024

      Thanks John, always nice to hear when you enjoy the stories. Was really nice to get back into the park, even if I was in the "busy" part for this trip. A good reminder of how fantastic a place it really is, when I can find gems like this in the places I would normally avoid!

  2. Brian
    Brian April 11, 2024

    Amazing colors and even more dramatic views! I enjoy your travelogues so much! Thanks again for sharing. I will get down there someday!

    • turbodb
      turbodb April 12, 2024

      Thanks Brian, glad you are enjoying them!

  3. Kenny
    Kenny April 12, 2024

    Another great trip to the desert, spectacular views and colors. How is the new suspension working out? Can you tell any difference?

    I was looking at the extended weather and it is looking like mid-May before I will be down to Grasmere. The folks in the Murphy area are saying to stay out of the Owyhees, the trails are very muddy and don't need to be down there tearing up the trails.

    Happy Trails Dan!

    • turbodb
      turbodb April 12, 2024

      Hey Kenny, the suspension is working great! Though this trip to DV is the one I'm currently posting, I just returned from a week in Arizona running the Backcountry Discovery Route, and the new leaf springs and rear axle housing worked great the entire time. I think I'll want to remove one leaf from the spring pack to level the truck a bit, but the ride is already a ton better (not so rough) than with the previous pack.

      Bummer - but not unexpected, I suppose - to hear about the roads/mud situation there in Owyhee. I totally agree with you that it's better to stay off of them while they are soft, rather than chew them up (and get that concrete-like mud all over the truck to boot)!

      Hopefully you can use the time between now and getting out there to anticipate the beauty and peacefulness you're sure to find when you arrive!

  4. betawing
    betawing April 15, 2024

    awesome pics! love this landscape stuff

    • turbodb
      turbodb April 15, 2024

      Thanks so much, always puts a smile on my face to hear when they are enjoyed! 😁

  5. Jim
    Jim April 16, 2024

    That shrub looks like Pygmy Cedar to me. Peucephyllum schottii, UJ . Looked like another great trip.

    • turbodb
      turbodb April 17, 2024

      Pygmy Cedar, huh, never heard of it, but it does look similar for sure - thanks! The needles/leaves on it were so fine, and so green. It was a treat to see!

  6. Alex Bubis
    Alex Bubis April 18, 2024

    I love your blogs, your photography, and your writing style. I have recently been getting really into overlanding, have been building out my truck for the adventures, and have been binge-reading your threads. The jabs that you take at rightfully skeptical people about government psyops is unnecessary, especially after such brilliant acts of atrocities such as:

    - MK Ultra
    - Operation Northwoods
    - Operation Paperclip
    - Operation Fast & Furious
    - Operation Mockingbird
    - Tuskegee Experiments
    - Waco
    - Ruby Ridge
    - JFK (The CIA literally admitted to being involved in his murder this year and no one bat an eye)
    - NSA Spying
    - Building 7
    - Gulf on Tonkin
    - Chicago Black Sites
    - Flint Water Crisis
    - Iran Contra
    - Gary Webb
    - NDAA
    - Patriot Act
    - Bilderberg Group
    - Bohemian Grove
    - Abu Grahib
    - Guantanamo Bay

    Injecting your opinions into a blog about activities that people engage in to get away from a crumbling society (especially California) is jarring.

    • turbodb
      turbodb April 19, 2024

      Hey Alex, thanks for reaching out, and I'm glad you've been enjoying the stories! I find myself reading the trip reports of others and enjoying those as well, so it's nice to be able to "give back" a bit.

      I'm curious which stories you've found my "jabs" in, or at least, the ones you find jarring? I'm happy to take a look at those and either provide a bit more context or otherwise share more of my reasoning. 👍

      Since you commented on this particular story, I took a look through to see what might have prompted it, and the only thing I can find is my reference to "Fake News" regarding Lake Manley.

      I've used the term here in jest, as on the surface, it seems preposterous that a lake - especially one as large as Lake Manley - would exist in the hottest place on earth. Certainly, anyone who knows of Death Valley - and the extreme weather it has experienced in the last couple of years, not to mention the destruction that weather has incurred - would know that the lake is real, and I would hope, see the humor in my references.

      To the larger concept of "Fake News," here's my take on that, though as I mentioned, I'd be happy to comment on any other instances you've come across as well...

      Back when cable news was "invented," people wondered how there could possibly be enough news to endlessly fill a 24-hour day, every day of the year, every year from now until forever. Somehow, they did. Stories that weren't news, suddenly became news; whatever was necessary to fill the time between ad slots.

      More recently, with internet streaming, social media, the rise of "influencers," and now Artificial Intelligence (AI), even more "news" content is created. In the last 8-10 years - for better or worse, coinciding with the rise first of Social Media, and then of Donald Trump in American media - "Fake News" has gone viral. There are many studies that have been undertaken and papers written; even wikipedia has an extremely long article on the topic.

      Personally, I find the whole proliferation of "Fake News" to be a sad one, for several reasons:

      1. People purporting Fake News are lying. And, not only are they lying, but they are doing it to take advantage of people who are - for one reason or another - predisposed to believe them, and then further those lies, be it knowingly or unknowingly.
      2. Fake news is is often fear mongering in order to forward an agenda. I would prefer agendas be furthered for positive reasons, rather than negative.
      3. Fake news is largely undertaken to increase power for an individual or group, at the expense of other human beings.
      4. Many of the institutions we have in place - be they "historical news" or "internet-era social media" organizations - have failed to help the general world population easily differentiate between reality and Fake News, since the virality of Fake News makes it extremely profitable, and they are always optimizing for "shareholder" (often extremely consolidated, influential individuals) value.
      5. Our politicians have begun to play the "Fake News" game in order to stir up support/unrest/anger, rather than attempting to work together to find compromise and lift the whole of society up together.
      6. Fake News has driven a wedge between people who once got along. I see it in society, and even in my own family.

      While to an extent, "Fake News" has always existed. It - and the reasons I've mentioned above that I dislike it - has never been healthy for humans. We need to get back to the days when we were willing to talk to - rather than at - each other. To really listen to what others have to say. To be willing to agree with someone about a given topic, even if we don't agree with the totality of that persons beliefs. To disagree, but lovingly and respectfully rather than with anger and rage. To want our neighborhoods, cities, states, and country to be united; to be better together. To get to a place where it's not about 'I hate the other side more than I like my side' or 'I'm voting against candidate A rather than for candidate B.'"

      I'm a strong proponent of hard work and capitalism. I am a benefactor of it. At the same time, I think that as a benefactor, I have a responsibility to make life (on Earth) better for everyone, not just for myself. We - all of us on the planet, and certainly anyone reading this comment - are but a blip in history, and like a camp site we find on an adventure, we should leave this place better than we found it.

      Again, please do let me know which stories you've found my "jabs" in, or at least, the ones you find jarring? I'm happy to take a look at those and either provide a bit more context or otherwise share more of my reasoning. 👍

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