This makes the fifth spring break we’ve spent in Death Valley National Park, one of our favorite places. On the way down, we stop at Spencer Hot Springs in northern Nevada. The pool is clean, and water enters the pool at about 130 degrees, so getting the pool hot enough is not a problem. Cool it down by sliding the pipe to the side and let it sit awhile. Enjoy a view of the Toiyabe Range while you soak.
Once in Death Valley, we head for the canyons on the east side of the Panamint Mountains above Badwater Basin. Our ongoing quest: finding enough drinkable springs to make a backpack trip of it someday. Our first day out (looking for water) turns up these weird rocks. They pave the bottom of a dry creek bed, most of them too big and too thick to budge. We don’t know what kind of rock this is, so we dub them Cinnamon Roll Rocks. Geologist pals out there–any ideas on how these are formed?
While we are out (looking for water) we find a chuckwalla. This one is about 10 inches long and not afraid of us. Chuckwallas have two defenses. If threatened, they wedge themselves into a crack in the rocks and gulp air to inflate their bodies, making it about impossible to pull them out. In addition, they can drop their tails, so a predator (or Larry) who grabs a tail will be left with only that . . . while the chuckwalla goes free. We think this guy recently lost his tail and is growing a new one as the chuckwalla’s tail is usually long and tapering, not blunt like this one. The Indians in Death Valley ate chuckwallas and extracted their inflated bodies from rock cracks by deflating the chuckwalla first with a sharp stick. Larry wants to eat this one, but I tell him to forget it.
While we are out (looking for water) we follow our map to this spring. Green means water, but we’re disappointed to see that these bright green spots are mesquite trees which have long tap roots and draw water from depths of 100 feet or more. Mesquite trees usually don’t mean surface water that you can drink.
We make our way down to the trees, and Larry finds a pool of standing water. Closer inspection reveals that, in addition to water, the pool holds scores of insect larva, one bloated caterpillar body, and one decaying chuckwalla tail. How can you tell if it’s good to drink? Larry thinks the best way is to give it a try. The result? Salty with bitter, non-sodium salts, says Larry.
Larry surveys his oasis of salt.
We didn’t find good water today, but there’s always tomorrow and an infinite number of canyons and draws to explore. There’s water out there. Somewhere.