We returned to Death Valley for a final ten-day visit, this time meeting friends David and Janet who rented a small van and spent the week with us.
Janet is a plant ecologist who teaches courses in botany and ecology at the College of New Jersey where she is the chair of the biology department and she was an ideal companion for exploring this year’s super bloom in Death Valley.
In the Badwater Basin area of the park, vast acres of flowers lit up the desert floor, especially these fields of the Desert Gold bloom seen above.
It was not just the sheer number of one flower species that got Janet’s attention, but the multitude of individual plants that sprouted in the canyons and plains where we hiked. (Click here for a full photo gallery of flowering plants we identified in Death Valley.)
We took several daylong hikes and explored some narrow canyons that we reached by walking several miles across the desert and into the folds of an alluvial fan at the base of a mountain chain. The marbled walls were smooth from eons of water filled with stones and rubble that rushed down the mountainsides, carving out the canyons.
We also returned to the Panamint Dunes, where we spent a stormy night camping on Thanksgiving. This time, a most beautiful flower poked up from the middle of the sand.
The massive dunes lay undisturbed beneath the mountain peaks.
As the third week of March came to a close we turned our sights eastward and began our slow journey back to the east coast.
When we hiked through Death Valley National Park in mid-March, we discovered a wide variety of flowering plants at different altitudes, from the low point of Badwater Basin to the top of Falls Canyon. Below are the plants that we were able to identify.
After the wedding in Alaska we returned to Phoenix. The rig was in the shop being serviced, so we spent four days in Arizona, checking out Sedona and the Grand Canyon.
Out of the van, which I have taken to calling “Bessie,” we stayed in a hotel at the foot of one of the many red rock spires that together make Sedona an amazingly beautiful spot.
With just two days and without any real knowledge of the spiritual vortexes in the area that reportedly allow entry to a higher level of consciousness, I decided to do a solo trip one morning to the Montezuma Castle dwellings to see if I could learn an new appreciation for the Sinagua people who lived here 800 years ago.
A few miles away, I visited Montezuma Well, a spring-fed pool in the desert that has been used for irrigation and supported a population for at least 10,000 years. The first sedentary groups have farmed the region for two thousand years. However, the spirit of the early settlers failed to reach me and I drove north back to the red rocks of Sedona
The view of the Red Rocks takes your breath away.
Later that day, Mark and I hiked around some of the most amazing land formations, including the Bell (middle above), that are all carved out from these rocks.
The next morning, I decided to visit one of the vortex sites that I read about online. I walked to the canyon and tried to focus on the energy of the area but I was distracted by groups of visitors laughing and talking while the jumped around on the rocks.
The Grand Canyon
In the afternoon, we drove north for two hours to the Grand Canyon, where we arrived at the South Rim in the late afternoon. We planned to hike down into the canyon for a couple of hours the next day and scope out trails we could explore when we return here next year. Unfortunately before this plan could be fully realized, I slipped and fell, cutting and bruising my leg just below the knee and hobbled back to our hotel.
The next day, I was able to hike down an hour along the South Kaibab trail, then Mark sprinted down into the canyon while I sat and admired the view. It was a peaceful moment, despite the throbbing leg. Here are some photos of what we saw before heading out for Las Vegas where we would pick up "Bessie" and return to Death Valley National Park.
It was a leap to get this far north in late February but family was gathering for a wedding celebration and we would not miss it for the world.
Our beautiful and vivacious niece Rachel was to marry her longtime sweetheart, Mack Pennington, and they had picked a hillside overlooking Denali mountain for the ceremony.
Now, another year could have found us in the midst of blizzard, with blowing snow and freezing temperatures. But this year the temperatures were unusually mild and so little snow had fallen that the Iditarod organizers had to bring tons of it in by train for the big race.
So, the wedding ceremony was held outside and the bride wore a vintage lace dress without the white fur coat she had borrowed in the event of cold. None of the guests appeared to even feel a chill, thanks in part to the boots many at the wedding wore.
After the ceremony, we feasted on Alaskan seafood expertly prepared by Delicious Dan and family and friends toasted the newlyweds. The head table was awash with fresh baked bread from Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, run by Rachel and my sister and brother-in-law (her parents), Janis and Jerome.
But the weekend was mostly about sharing friends and family, new babies, vows of love and the promise of tomorrow.
Late, late that night, after the old folks had retired, the northern lights came out above Denali and the members of the wedding party who were still standing came out to dance in their glow.
We rose with the sun to share breakfast with the wedding party and walk along the Talkeetna River, as it meandered ice-free through the snowy banks.
Listen as Johnny Cash & Lynn Anderson tear it up.
Where we are today.