Thursday, March 10, 2016

Petals & Glyphs

* * *

It's been two or three years since I drove so many miles in so little time, but it was worth a little seasonal insanity to finally see this iconic petroglyph site, complete with the snowy peaks of the Eastern Sierra in the distance. 

I drove out of San Francisco at 3:30 in the morning and was in Death Valley in time for lunch.

It was a pleasant 75 degrees, so I found a likely spot to pull over and mosey around. There was quite a bit of Mojave desert star and desert fivespot to be found, but all the fivespot blossoms had resident mites (Balaustium sp.) (Bug Guide link).

Some blossoms had hordes of them, and they were often speedily scuttling around. Were they chasing each other or just feeling a bit of a nectar rush?

The desert star and fivespot were just tiny plants that you had to walk around to notice, but a lot of people were drawn to Death Valley this year because of a large bloom of desert gold. With so many showy yellow flowers all over the place, it was nice to find this purple phacelia (Phacelia crenulata).

The desert gold was nice too. The "super bloom" was farther south and is probably over by now. I started to drive down there, but the pickings were getting very slim even south of Badwater. Right now it's best between Artists Pallette and the Beatty Cutoff. I'd heard that it was quite crowded but I was surprised just how crowded it was, even on a Tuesday.

Unfortunately I no longer have the Jeep Cherokee, and my Mazda 3 was not going to get me very far off the beaten tracks. I parked on the shoulder north of Daylight Pass and walked east to escape the rush for a while.

One of the more memorable and enjoyable things I did was to spend a half-hour or so just lying on my back in a sandy wash. Ah, peace at last -- and no bugs!

I'd planned to stay overnight in Death Valley, but I was quickly worn out by the unexpected crowds. The sun went down as I drove west across the Panamint Valley.

I spent the night at a motel in Bishop and got an early start the next morning to look for my petroglyph site. Bishop has the most stunning view in the morning. As I was getting coffee in the motel office I mentioned to the lady behind the desk that I often look at the Bishop web cam from my desk in San Francisco, and it was great to be seeing it in person.

The last time I went looking for these petroglyphs I walked up the wrong trail, so I didn't get my hopes up too much when I started up this other trail. Up at the top of the bluffs I picked up some recent sign of a hiker with his dog and followed the tracks to the base of a jumble of boulders. I climbed up toward the top of the jumble and was soon looking back down on a massive, flat boulder face covered with prehistoric rock art.

Once I climbed up to the "canvas" I took some time to just take in all the art before digging into my camera pack. I made a few images and thought about what I was seeing. Had there been a practical purpose to these marks painstakingly pecked into the rock? Did it have spiritual significance in the way the images related to the landscape? What was the cultural significance of this place? Was the art here serious or whimsical, or maybe a mix of both? The images are deceptively simple. However, there were a few places nearby where modern people had made marks on the rocks, and seeing their pathetic, juvenile works raised my esteem for the enigmatic work of these ancient artists.

I'd driven down through the San Joaquin Valley, crossing the southern Sierra at Walker Pass, and now I headed north on I-395, planning to re-cross the Sierra at Lake Tahoe. I made a couple of short side-trips up to McGee Canyon and Convict Lake. Although I had a pocket camera on me, I had to run back to the car to get my D800 when I saw these cool little ice floes. The wind had just come up and broken them loose, and in another 15 minutes that whole ice sheet in the distance had blown to shore.

The Mono Craters had a nice dusting of snow. In fact, many of the mountains in the farther distance east were covered with snow, and someday, not too many years from now, I hope to do a lot more exploring out there. 

* * *


  1. What a phenomenal share of your long drive and scuttle to avoid the crowds. The views you found and chose to share are stunning and your capture of them is much appreciated.

  2. A great post. I had hoped to be in the Mojave National Preserve at this time but some vehicle repairs have set me back from my departure date. Nice you can still make those banzai runs. I think those days are behind me now. Slow and easy does it for me these days.

    1. The little Mazda is good for banzai runs, not so good for camping. One of these years I hope I will still be around to go slow and easy too. I look forward to seeing your Mojave posts.