Death Valley

April 12-17, 1997

All of us — except Neil & Rosemary Baldwin, who live in Walnut Creek and met us in Sparks, found our way to our new loading site at ShopKo on Coburg Road for our first Obsidian bus trip of the year, which left at 8:00 a.m.

We drove up Hwy. 58 to Chemult for our first rest stop with coffee, “Bette bars” and cookies. It was cold and windy so we didn’t linger. We continued to Alturas for lunch in the city park close to the Visitor Center. We headed south on Hwy. 395 with an afternoon stop at Honey Lake and arrived in Sparks, Nev. and checked in at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Hotel & Casino. Thereafter we had good weather for the whole trip. Our rooms were in the tower on the 22nd floor and since it was Saturday night it was a busy place. There are five restaurants and a deli but most of us ate in the Oyster House and had John’s oyster stew. We all had $2 in nickels which most of us promptly lost, but one of our couples came away with $400 (not in nickels, however!). We left at 8:00 on Sunday and went to Fallon and connected with Hwy 95 which we followed all the way to Beatty, the entrance to Death Valley. Our morning break was on Walker Lake, a very beautiful spot, and we were now seeing snow covered mountains in the distance. We stopped at Tonopah for lunch at the Mizpah Historical Hotel (c 1901) in the Jack Dempsey room (he worked there as a bouncer and bartender). Arriving in Beatty we took a side trip to Rhyolite, an old mining town where all the buildings are in ruins except the Bottle House which is maintained by the BLM, and the caretaker there in early-days dress gave us a short tour. This town was established as the result of a gold strike made in 1904 and was once a cosmopolitan city. There is a rather large gold mining establishment there now with a large pond filled with a chemical to extract the gold. We were assured that the chemical is recycled and does not harm the landscape.

The drive to Furnace Creek Ranch took us about an hour and most of the way is a Triple A scenic drive along the Amargosa Range and a 4,000-ft. pass. Our rooms were all on the first floor and since it was Sunday night, only the cafe was open for dinner. Furnace Creek Ranch is in a large rustic setting around a golf course, and has 224 rooms in six separate buildings, a general store, a natural spring-fed swimming pool, two tennis courts, horse stables and the Borax Museum as well as three restaurants. Close by is the Visitor Center and another museum.

On Monday morning our guide Davis Woodruff met us and we left for Scotty’s Castle, about 1¼ hours from the Ranch. David gave us a running commentary about the history, animals, shrubs and flowers and about Death Valley Scotty himself. At the Castle we divided up so 15 people took the 10:15 tour and the others the 11:00 tour, while the alternate group took a side trip to Ubehebe Crater which is 2,400 ft. in diameter and was formed about 1,000 years ago when a volcano erupted eight miles away. Our tour guide at Scotty’s Castle was dressed in a ’30s outfit. Scotty was a con man and went East and met the Johnsons and convinced them that he had a gold mine. They were very wealthy, visited Death Valley and built the Castle, even though they never saw a gold mine. The Castle is a mansion with every possible convenience in the ’30s era and many, many beautiful tiles. The furnishings, carpets, Italian pottery dishes, and even Mrs. Johnson’s clothes in the closet are the original items. Separate quarters were built for Scotty, the Johnson’s very good friend, and they even built him another retreat some 8 or 10 miles away. He was allowed to remain at the Castle until his death in the ’50s. In 1970 the U.S. Government purchased the Castle and made it a part of Death Valley National Monument. As everyone leaves the tour, organ music is played from the large pipe organ in the music room and it is lovely but a little sad to know that we are experiencing one of the most historic legends of Death Valley — Death Valley Scotty. He is buried on top of a nearby hillside along with his dog. We returned to Furnace Creek Ranch and had box lunches in the picnic area, and the rest of the day was free so many of us headed for the swimming pool. By this time the temperature was in the 90’s.

At 7:15 in the evening, we left for Death Valley Junction and the Amargosa Opera House performance at 8:00. The show is mime by Marta Becket and a man by the name of Wilget, who does everything from selling tickets to acting. The show was the Goodtime Cabaret, which had premiered several years ago on Marta’s 25th anniversary performance. Wilget played the part of Frau Van Hooplebottom as well as Hector and a Can Can dancer. Marta was Señorita Delores Morales and did a lot of toe dancing. On the way back, our good driver spotted Hale-Bopp Comet and we all got off the bus out there in the middle of the desert where it was very visible and very bright.

The next morning our geologist, Ewart Baldwin, who had given us information all along the way about the landscape, was our guide for Zabriskie Point, Devil’s Golf Course and Badwater as well as the Artist’s Palette. At Badwater (water is not bad but is not poisonous) we were 279.8 ft. below sea level and one can look up on the hill to a sign that indicates sea level. Devil’s Golf Course is made up of alternating layers of salt and rubble representing deposits in and from other lakes that have existed in Death Valley and the salt is 95-percent pure table salt. Our driver was told that buses were not recommended for the Artist’s Palette drive which was just a challenge so we did have some pretty tight curves but made it just fine and the colors are green, purple, pink, red and bronze. We had a delicious lunch at Furnace Creek Inn a few miles away. The Inn is featured in the February issue of Sunset magazine as one of the 30 classic desert oases. There is a natural spring and a garden with pools and many palm trees.

We left Wednesday morning to return to Sparks and went, out the west entrance by Stove Pipe Wells (another smaller resort), through the Panamint Mountains with two mountain passes and stopped at Lone Pine Visitor Center in the shadow of the High Sierra and 14,495-ft. Mt. Whitney. An earthquake the magnitude of the great San Francisco ’quake leveled the town of Lone Pine in 1872. There is a marker indicating a 20-ft. high fault scarp a mile from town and a mass grave beside it. We were again on a Triple A scenic highway and followed the High Sierra Mountains almost all the way back. We lunched in Bishop, definitely a ski area. Back in Sparks, we again stayed at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Hotel but went to the Silver Legacy Victorian Room, for dinner. Betty Staeck, who was an Obsidian hiker but now lives in Sparks, joined us for dinner. They gave us $5 which we promptly lost.

Our trip home on Thursday was again scenic, taking us past the entrance to Lassen National Park with good views of Mt. Lassen. We lunched at the City Park in Mt. Shasta and arrived back in Eugene at 5:45. Many thanks to John Goddard, our driver, who knew all the best rest stops or could spot them. Thanks to Ewart Baldwin not only for all the knowledgeable information but for his helpful ideas and suggestions. The lively, happy and very congenial riders were: Ethel Allen, Ewart & Margaret Baldwin, Neil & Rosemary Baldwin, Mary & Richard Bentsen, John & Marian Borchardt, Mary Lee Cheadle, Clair Cooley, Margaret Fea, Jeanette Forsman, Virginia Kapsa, Helen Knowlton, Dottie & Jim Torpey, Frances Newsom, John & Lenore McManigal, Cleora Mersdorf, Barbara & Walt Miller; Fred & Jean Richardson, Millard Thomas, Dorothy Turner, Vera Woolley and leaders Bette Hack & Liz Reanier.

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