Ramble On

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Death Valley: This is a Dangerous Place

“1904: Gold—found just east of what is now the park—sparks the last great American gold rush. The gold rush draws 10,000 people, three railroads, and a masonry, three-story bank to the district of Rhyolite.”

– From the NPS Death Valley Brochure

The photo here is of the Ashford Mill ruin, which is in the south part of the road-accessible portion of the park. Rhyolite is just out of the park to the northeast, it's a little town surrounded by several ghost towns. The sign accompanying this ruin explained that it was built as a mill, where ore containing gold was taken to be processed during these gold rushes (there were a couple, and Death Valley even has a connection to the 1849 California gold rush).

Seeing it standing there in this condition was a final reminder of how harsh this environment is. I stood there for a moment contemplating how 10,000 people could live in this heat, without ready access to potable water or food. Yet before them, essentially since the Ice Age, there has been a population of Native Americans living in this area…granted, it hasn’t always been this way – more on that when I post about Badwater.

When I bought the little Best Easy Day Hikes book at the start of my visit, I took a few minutes to leaf through as I chose my itinerary. There are three pages full of warnings in a section entitled “Play it Safe.”

Seriously, among the dangers in this park are:

• Dehydration
• Weather
• Hypothermia/Hyperthermia
• Vegetation
• Flash Floods
• Rattlesnakes, Scorpion and Tarantulas
• Mine Hazards
• Unstable Rocky Slopes

I thumbed through this section in the parking lot at Zebriskie Point. Even though I’d stopped at Target back in Las Vegas to prepare and had two liters of water handy, these warnings were enough to convince me to go to the camp store at the visitor center and pick up another gallon of water (which I gave, unopened, to the attendant when I returned the car – two liters was enough).

As far as animals and wildlife go, I did see a gecko. And there was the periodic buzzing of some insect circling me as a blood meal prospect.

But once I got back in the car after visiting the Ashford Mill ruin, I reflected on a pretty fulfilling experience. One that I survived.

Tomorrow I’ll start the posts about the day hikes.

Easy Day Hikes book link (Amazon): 

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