Tuesday, May 1, 2012

And then the sand flew...

I have a vivid memory of being stuck at school after hours because of a freak sand storm in elementary school.  For some reason it was deemed unsafe for the school bus to take us home, but o.k. for our parents to come and get us.  Since my parents worked, they couldn't come get me until they were done (note: my mom is a nurse, so her shift ended soon after school ended and I wasn't waiting long, but I was waiting longer than most of my classmates).  By the time my mom got to school, I remember the storm being pretty much over, but I do recall covering my eyes as we walked outside to get into the car and swallowing some of the debris.  And I remember the view from the classroom window of sand (this was rural Illinois so technically it was top soil) blowing in the wind. 

While we were in Death Valley, I got to experience my second sand storm.  Luckily, we got through our adventure on the dunes before it started.  The wind seemed to pick up as we drove to Furnace Creek to make breakfast.  [By the way, we probably broke a few park rules trying to heat water for coffee, but we had little choice in the matter because the wind kept blowing our camp stove out.] The storm didn't really pick up, however, until we were hiking in the Golden Canyon.

The hike started on the Golden Canyon Interpretive Trail, which is flat and easy and at that point the wind was more of an annoyance than a danger.  But then we started the path towards Zabriskie Point, which takes you out of the Canyon and up a ridge.  Basically at the top the wind decided to really pick up and well, if I were taking this personally, tried to blow us off the side of the mountain.  We quickly sat down and turned our backs to the wind to protect our eyes (and my camera!).  After my intrepid friend looked around the bend and saw there was more of the same ahead, we decided to walk down and get off the ridge to save our lives.  I'm honestly not exaggerating here -- there were other people up there and we all felt like our lives were in danger and we got down as quickly as possible.

The wind kept up for the rest of the day and through the night.  After a quick visit to Zabriskie Point in the car, we decided to head to the saloon and just veg inside for a few hours.  I slept in the car that night and the wind shook the car so much it woke me up several times and I occasionally worried it was going to flip the car.  As it was we lost two sleeping pads to the wind -- we followed instructions given by the park ranger and put them out with many rocks on top to hold our campsite, but the two lower pads (we had them all piled on top of each other) flew away never to be seen again.  I think the wind just picked up the top sleep pad with the rocks on top and blew it aside in order to steal our other pads.  We looked around for a while that night before going to bed and asked all of our camping neighbors (whose numbers had dwindled since the morning, I wonder why).  If you are ever in Death Valley and happen upon a random sleeping pad or two, I know who they belong to.

By morning everything was calm once again.  But our Death Valley adventure was over and we were on the road headed to Vegas.

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View of Red Cathedral, which we visited after we got blown off the cliff.
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Some storm photos:
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