Day 509: Death Valley or Bust!

We woke up this morning to a chilly 19 degrees outside.  We’re at 2,800 feet along the access road to Desert National Wildlife Range.  We left the catalytic heater on low overnight, so it stayed a toasty 40 degrees in the RV:

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Continuing west, we filled up at Lathrop Wells, passing Area 51 along the way.  Trish and the kids peeked into the alien-themed gas station store:

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Driving south from Lathrop Wells, we topped off our propane at a lonely C-store and then turned off onto a gravel road that brought us to the visitor center for Ash Meadows Wildlife Reserve.  The reserve contains 26 endemic species, the largest concentration of endemic species in the US.  Among them is the Devil’s Hole Pupfish, the world’s rarest fish, with only 50 individuals in existence as of 2013.

The reserve was created after area farming drove two species of Pupfish to extinction due to irrigation pumps lowering the water table:

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Unlike Desert NWR’s visitor center, this facility is actually open during its posted hours of operation.  The visitor center is brand new:

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So new, in fact, that it is about a month away from officially opening.  They’re getting there:

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Unfortunately, they don’t yet have a Junior Ranger program here.

We headed out on the boardwalk that leads to Crystal Spring, which irrigates this area:

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We could see pupfish and dace (a kind of minnow) in the creek coming from the spring:

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Screwbean Mesquite seed pod:

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The spring is 15 feet deep and releases over 2,000 gallons of water per minute.  The water is blue due to high levels of calcium carbonate in the water.  There were two American Coots swimming in the spring:

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A bit of wildlife refuge roughhousing:

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We also stopped at Point of Rocks and walked the boardwalk to King Spring:

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We looked for the Bighorn Sheep that sometimes visit this area, but did not see any:

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Driving west from Ash Meadows NWR, we passed through Death Valley Junction and continued west towards Death Valley.  We stopped about 20 miles out of Death Valley to visit “The Pads”, a popular dispersed camping location at this former mining town site on BLM land.  The temporary housing is gone now, but the concrete pads they sat upon remain:

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I suspect a water tank or propane tank used to live here:

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The Pads are at 3,000 feet, and with overnight lows forecast to be around 20 up here, we drove down to Sunset Campground in Death Valley at 186 feet below sea level.  It shouldn’t get below 50 here tonight.  See the trip map for driving details and our current location.

Day 508: Farewell, Jean Lake!
Day 510: Death Valley Visit 2, Day 1

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