The 61st annual Death Valley 49ers Encampment was held this week at the national park. This organization holds the annual event to celebrate the spirit of the 1849 gold rush wagon trains that crossed Death Valley. The five day event includes western-style music, an Invitational Western Art Show, craft shows, cowboy poetry, golf and horseshoe tournaments, a pioneer costume contest, 4X4 tours, wagon train and horse parades, community breakfasts and more.
Yesterday was the wagon train parade so we planned our second day at the park to coincide with the parade. It was an interesting site to see. I started thinking about what it must have been like for the actual pioneers traveling through this desert. I’m definitely happy to be a 21st century “pioneer” with my modern “covered wagon”.
Death Valley is the hottest, driest and lowest area in the United States. Yet, surprisingly there is a creek that flows through part of it. It’s called Salt Creek and begins at a brackish spring and marsh. During the heat of the summer, it is mostly dried up except for a small pool at the spring. Even with the heat, the salt and the evaporation, there is a species of pupfish (The Salt Creek Pupfish) that live only here. Nature keeps amazing me.
There are a few other spots in Death Valley that have springs creating an oasis. The main such area is called Furnace Creek with an inn, a few campgrounds, a visitor center and even a golf course. The springs gush a million gallons of water per day. That’s enough to provide water for the resort and to allow irrigation of the lowest golf course on earth! Greens fees for 18 holes with a cart are $67.50.
There are a lot of palm trees around the resort. As we were walking beneath them, we discovered they were date trees. The ground was covered with dates. I never really thought about where dates come from. Now I know.
In 2008 Xanterra, the private company that owns Furnace Creek Resort, installed a solar powered energy system. The one megawatt system covers an area larger than five football fields. It was installed in the middle of an existing developed area and is screened by vegetation. The solar plant is expected to generate more than one-third of the total annual electricity needs of Furnace Creek Resort by producing more than two million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. That's enough to power more than 400 average-sized American homes. The picture is from the back of the panels. They pivot during the day to follow the sun. I would love to see other companies follow suit and use more solar and wind power!
When I pictured a desert, I always thought it looked like the Sahara Desert with miles and miles of sand dunes. That’s not the case at all in Death Valley. I certainly never expected to see mountains, but the valley is surrounded by them. Most of the landscape looks like dirt and gravel with a few sand dunes scattered throughout the valley.
There are a few areas referred to as Badlands formed by erosion with many layers of colors. We’ve been to the Badlands in North and South Dakota. I wasn’t expecting to see more in Death Valley.
Our final stop of the day was at the site of the former Harmony Borax Works. Prospector’s came to Death Valley looking for gold and silver of which they found very little. They did, however, strike it rich with borax. The borax was processed on site in Death Valley and then transported through the desert by 20 mule team wagon trains to the railroad over 100 miles away.
This is part of the processing site.
Here is an original wagon train. Each wagon train carried a water tank for the long trek through the desert.
We plan to go back to Death Valley for one more day. There is so much to see!
Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!