Thursday, August 11, 2011

From the highest to the lowest ... and more blogger sightings

One day Brendan and I were attempting to summit Mt. Whitney: the highest elevation elevation in the lower 48 states, 14,505' (ok, so we didn't actually reach the summit - hush!!) and the next day we ventured to the lowest point in North America, -282' below sea level.  My kid and I - we know how to live I tell ya!

Death Valley National Park.  The valley of death.

The sounds of it is pretty ominous, yet Death Valley has nonetheless beckoned me for many years, despite conjuring images of desiccated steer skulls and shimmering heat waves that would make possibly even a Dubai summer seem comfortable by comparison. Perhaps the geologist in me played a role in this desire, but there was also quite simply the curiosity of wanting to see a place famous for having both the highest recorded temperature in the United States as well as the lowest point in North America; extremes that are not coincidentally linked.

I also have a sick insatiable curiosity to visually witness famously insane endurance races  - for which I will never partake - such as the notoriously renal killing Badwater Ultramarathon.  It's ok, call me a wimp but for some reason, I'm thinking it's a good thing to have kidneys. I am a "fan" on their Facebook page though, doesn't that automatically make me an official finisher?   So here I am running a few miles of the race course:

Ok, ok, got me again - it's not actually ME running (and I'm at peace with that) but we did see this guy clipping about a 7 min/mile pace about 20 miles from the start line of Badwater.  It was 116 degrees.  He was the only idiot soul I saw running during our few hours there.  Brendan thought I was joking when I told him we had to turn around to take his would think after living with me for the past 16 years, he'd know me by now.

Driving along, we noticed the price of desolate lands is steep, good thing I had the foresight to fuel up before entering the park:

And still further along...the thought of encountering a snake kept me from hiking to the top of these dunes...

Or perhaps it was the sign.....

Either way, I walked about 30 steps and called it quits.  The dunes were cool, as was the surrounding topography...really, this place is a geologist's jungle gym; endless roads can land you in some of the most amazingly beautiful places ...

And had the temperatures not agreed with Death Valley's nickname, the hottest place on earth, I may have gotten out of the car more to explore some of these areas, but where I was really aching to reach was the Badwater Basin, which was a good hour's drive from the park's entrance. 

Finally, we arrived at Badwater Basin, at minus 282-feet, completely overrun with tourists.  You'd think July's oppressive temps would discourage the weak, but not so much.  I mean, we were there :).  Really, there were a lot of people but most didn't venture past the lowest point sign.

Is there a photo out there that screams more tourist than this?
Not us, we I had to venture way out onto the basin, bribing the son who was starting to whine about how hot it was - One Hundred Sixteen degrees, paaa-leeze, we were going on a hike.  In flip flops.  With no water.  No hat.  Who cares that it felt like we were blasted with an open oven door when we got out of the car.

The geology geek goddess me has to say this: Badwater is one of the coolest places on the planet I have ever been.  Really!  Badwater got it's name from a little spring feed pool of stream water which is laden with sulfur, borax and salt.  Therefore it's "bad water".  

That's actually water around that salt, and my beautiful shadow
The basin of Badwater is about 200 sq miles of salt flats.  Because this area gets so little rainfall (less than two inches annually) and no water can flow out of the basin, the water gets trapped and evaporates, leaving behind mineral deposits that cover the basin like a salty dusting of snow.  The nice people of the Park Service will let you walk on this basin of salt.

Repeated freeze–thaw and evaporation cycles gradually push the thin salt crust into hexagonal honeycomb shapes.
I was absolutely fascinated with these hexagon shapes of salt

A wooden “Sea Level” plaque 282 feet over Badwater Basin lets us visitors know just how low you are.

Brendan and I must have spent about 45 minutes out on the salt flats - some of it was hard and crunchy and some of it soft and squishy and we just walked around mesmerized (well, one person was....another person not so much.  He did write how much he missed his girlfriend in the salt so I'm not sure what all whining was about).  At one point I dug a little hole with my toe and suddenly this blazing hot water was oozing out of the salt.  It was just a spectacular place - the whole area had me absolutely engrossed and I must have told Brendan 30 times how I'd love to come back to this area ... in perhaps January, and spend days here.  Yeah, I could tell Brendan's head was already forming excuses for his absence for that vacation.

After my body decided to sweat out about 3 gallons water, I knew it was time to leave and we packed back into the comforts of the AC and drove out of the basin.

In a matter of minutes of leaving Badwater, I was overcome with fatigue and I needed some water - fast.  There was this little oasis, for lack of a better word, out in the middle of nowhere - a little general store and a hotel.  Perfect!  I pulled in and got out of the car, mind in a complete water-deprived fog and in such a rush to replenish my brain cells.  Apparently in my mad rush, I forgot to put the car in PARK.  It started rolling, fast, and before I could figure out what was really happening - BAM - the car hits a post.  Opps.  Landed a pretty big dent on the ole rental car and sported a little green paint from the post as a bonus.  This is what this valley of death will do to you!  Brendan said the entire dent incident was the highlight of his entire trip.  Brat!  We did have a great laugh out of it....I mean, what else do you do in the middle of absolutely nowhere in 116 degree heat but laugh!  I did eventually get my water....and I said a little thanks to the post for being there, I'm certain my car would have been a side fixture to the general store otherwise.
So no desiccated steer skulls to be found and I'm not even sure I witnessed any shimmering heat waves, yet in a matter of less than 30-hours, Brendan and I covered over 13,282' of elevation and a whopping 98 degrees of Fahrenheit temperature changes.  I think that's pretty dang cool!! Yet, we really only scratched the surface of what Death Valley has to offer the outdoor enthusiasts that we are.  To quote a resident of the state that is home to Death Valley:  I'll be back!

We left Death Valley in the late afternoon, and I apparently never regained all my sanity (quiet now!) after dehydration left my brain fuzzy for I let Brendan drive the dented rental down a "scenic route"...

I may, or may not have, screamed a few times.  It was steep, it was rocky, it was narrow...but the kid had a absolute blast.  And I figured if something happened out there, no one would find us anyway so who really cared...and besides, the car already was sporting one dent, what's another!  After a night in the awesome (hahah..ha...hahahahahah) town of Ridgecrest, we drove on to fellow blogger Meg's house in Northern San Diego to spend our final night in California.

Most of you know that Meg and I were Boston roomies in 2010 for the marathon.  We never met prior to Boston, but just hit it off before and decided to share the cost of the outrageously priced hotels there.  Meg is a true sweetheart and has the most beautiful soul.  She opened up her gorgeous home to Brendan and I and we had a great time catching up on life, playing at the beach, talking blogs and eating tons of awesome food.  Her husband, BS, is as nice and genuine as Meg and a master griller (just teasing you about that T'giving prime rib, BS!).

Pizza on the grill....yum!
Meg threw a little Southern Cali blog-fest and it was so much fun reacquainting with Chris K from The Manly Runner while meeting many bloggers I have followed for a very long time....Irene from Magazine Smiles, Anne from Run DMZ, Glenn from Running Fat Guy (who, btw, my whole trip up Mt. Whitney was suppose to be with.  Next year for sure, Glenn.  Maybe we'll even drag Chris K up with us....if he's manly enough!) and Aka: Alice. from Hefferblog (ok guys, I took the time to link all those really cool blogs for a reason!!).

The Motley Crue: Yours truly (getting hugs from Meg :)), Meg, her hubby Boy Scout,
Chris K and his very sweet gf, Alycia, Irene and her husband, Anne, Glenn, Aka: Alice and her husband.
What a fun evening!  Everyone was really nice and so funny (aka: Alice, I love your KC fat story...still laugh when I think about it)!  I was so tired from the whole week - up and down Whitney, Death Valley and pretty much driving most of Southern California so I hope I wasn't too blah.  Can't wait until we get together next time...a celebration after the Carlsbad Marathon, perhaps?  Thanks, Meg, you and BS are the best and I am blessed for your special friendship!

I am now home, back in Colorado, and busy, busy, busy (aka: tired, tired, tired).  I am working.  I am running (32.2 miles last week.  I KNOW, I can hardly believe it myself!).   I am climbing 14,270' peaks here in my own state.   I'm prepping for a little mountain race next weekend (yikes).  And am getting ready to do the 200-mile Wild West Relay tomorrow and Saturday.  This will be my first attempt at any type of race in about a year (with the exception of that Duathlon series I did on a very bum foot) so I'm a little nervous.  I can already tell I'm going to be the FUN one of the group....I got an email yesterday from the team captain stating the 11 of us on the team were going to have to run an extra 4th leg to make up the legs for the 12th person who we could not recruit for the team.  I opened the attachment of leg assignments and could only find my name on 3 legs and I wondered for about 30 minutes how 11 of us were going to run 3 legs before I decided to email the team captain back and asked her to explain my confusion.  She wrote me back: I was just joking about the fourth leg. You are only running 3 legs: 8, 20 and 32. The ones you requested... Just a little captain’s humor.
Um yeah...I'm pretty sure I'm not invited back next year, and I haven't even run my sucky 10:30 min/mile pace yet!  At least it's not 11 min/miles anymore...and that's all I got to say about that!

Up next week: a year in review about my heel...and what I've done to overcome my nightmare.  Can't wait to share with you all I have learned, and a guest spot from the guy who's been helping me.

Run Strong, Friends!


Anonymous said...

"Badwater is one of the [coolest] places on the planet I have ever been."

Despite the 116 degree temperatures I am sure.

Teamarcia said...

What a fascinating place! I must get there...not to run...or to not park...but just to see it! WOW!
Awesome blogger get together!
All the best with your relay and you 'little' mountain adventure. Miss you!

Marlene said...

That Badwater place looks and sounds SO NEAT! Hubs and I would be all over that. Note to self: pack water.

Jealous that you and Meg (and all those other awesome bloggers) got to hang out! I hope I get to meet both of you!!!

Good luck at the relay! Just have fun!

RunToTheFinish said...

i loooooved doing wild west, crazy jealous you are doing it cause I want to again.

You make me very excited to figure out a vacation to get out in nature!

Patrick Mahoney said...

It's what I love about California. I could take a swim 2 miles from my house in the morning and need a wetsuit in August because of the air temp and marine layer and 3 hours later (without traffic) be standing in Badwater.

Julie said...

LOL! You left out that story of the car last night! You always have a story, that's one of the many things I love about you! :)

I love the photo of the endless road with the dunes in the back! Beautiful! What a great trip!

Enjoy the Relay!

Emz said...

"heat kills". Freaking love that.
I'm pretty sure that sign should be in the AZ airport.

Seriously he's running 7 min miles?! Holy. Crap.

Let's do it. ;]

Aimee said...

What an amazing place! Those hexagon salt shapes are such awesome! I think I would have been mesmerized by them too.
Oh man..That is too funny about the car hitting the pole. Hopefully you didn't have to pay an arm and a leg for that though with the rental company!
That bloggy meet-up looked fun!

Shellyrm ~ just a country runner said...

You always do so much I don't know where to start commenting.

The photos are amazing. I've watched shows on the Death Valley and of course, what ultra runner doesn't imagine being (crazy) strong enough to do Bad Water?!!

Your love of the geology really comes through your writing. I would have been right out there with you in the heat thinking 'man is this cool!'

Bummer about the rental car. Glad you didn't jump in front of it.

Nice meet up.

Okay 200 miles what??? that's a lot time to bond. I'll be eager to read about it!

Enjoy the weekend. Mine starts in an hour and 20 minutes. wooohoooo

Paul said...

Awesome trip and photos! I really want to go back there! The Dunes are amazing.

Someday I'd like to climb Whitney and also see this weird site next time (at a place called Racetrack Playa up in the hills):

I'm also just old enough to remember black and white TV ads for this:

also from death valley! A lot going on there..not to mention the BadWater ultra which would also be neat to see!

Liz said...

Those pictures are fantastic! We don't get scenery like that anywhere in Europe, so it's fascinating to see your photos. Badwater sounds like one tough race.

Liz said...

...oh, and I'm looking forward to reading about your heel! Seems to be doing well!

Mike said...

Great pictures!! I've been to Badwater basin other place like it!!

Raina said...

Jill! Death Valley is one of the coolest places ever. I am so glad you got to see all those places - even in July. I have been to most of them, but never did walk on the salt. That would be pretty amazing! Were you in Furnace Creek when you bumped the car? The gas prices were outrageous! No too far from there you could just drill down and get gas, I bet ;)

Another fantastic post- and I Never get tired of your Iowa comparison, just makes me want to see it in real life.

Good news about the heel! And the relay- sick humor though- haha.

Mark said...

Wonderful pictures!! Brings back fond memories as a 17 year old hippy when our VW van caught fire and exploded in Furnace Creek!!
So good to hear you are running that kind of mileage!!!

ShutUpandRun said...

Sounds like a great trip!! Lots of fun bloggers for sure.

Oh and don't get lost looking for that fourth leg. Good luck!!

32 miles yippee!

Running Librarian said...

looks like you had fun! I too am obsessed with the Badwater run..but will never ever run that one! I would love to watch the race, but it is way to hot to do that too :)

Unknown said...

Hey, Jillie, that was a wonderful picture session of Badwater. So salty, I never knew that!
I'm HAPPY*HAPPY*HAPPY that you're back to running some fine mileage! That means a possible YES for Carlsbad, right? I'm signing up this weekend, it may fill up quickly!!

ajh said...

I agree those hexagonal salt whatevers are very cool. You must have loved it there with all your knowledge. What a great experience with your kid! I have to say when I think of places I want to visit Badwater or Death Valley doesn't come up. My husband just told me he regrets not hiking up Mt. Whitney when he had the chance.

Kandi said...

What a cool trip! Badwater looks pretty badass.
The blogger meet-up looks fun too. Good luck on your relay! I wouldn't have gotten the 4th leg joke either.

Char said...

The names "Death Valley" and "Badwater" don't exactly have a welcoming, come-visit-me ring to them. Glad you made it out almost safe and sound (we won't mention the dinged up rental).

Anne said...

You-blah? Never?! I liked hearing your rendition of Death Valley and your outlook on the rental car "accident" - most would freak out about the dent and missing paint, but you saw the bright side that it could have kept on rolling far, far away.

Average Woman Runner said...

Ridgecrest! I used to stay there while I was doing work in Red Mt./Randsburg/Johannesburg. Do you remember passing through those litle mining towns >30 miles South of Ridgecrest on your way out? I was doing work for the BLM there a few years back. Anyway, one day we didn't have to start work until 1pm (it was Saturday) so we got up at like 5 a.m. and drove to Death Valley for a quick tour then back to town in time for work. It was so incredible being at Badwater Basin! So amazingly low and salty.
Nice photos, they brought back memories.

Amanda@runninghood said...

Been totally loving your posts. Glad I checked in here for a few posts...we are on vacation so I'm trying to stay off the blogs but yours was worth it. Don't quiz me next week though. :) gEe wiz, I couldn't stand 116 degree heat!! You guys are awesome! What a trip. You don't slow down do you? Looks like you've been making plenty of lemonade Jill. You're like letting that heel slow you down too much at all. Funny about the car...or not funny. But good for you guys for laughing. Ha! Did it cost you when you returned the car??

XLMIC said...

I so badly want to go to Death Valley. That was on the itinerary for that ill-fated road trip of insanity. I love the pictures and the descriptions... now I HAVE to go.

So exciting about your relay :) Hope it all goes well!

C2Iowa said...

Great post!

Johann said...

Awesome! I've been following everything possible of the Badwater Ultra since 2003. I have downloaded more than 1000 photos of the race and Death Valley. bet I am! I'm with EMZ, let's do it! Really wonderful post Jill. I will see this one day and you might be joining me when I do...

Lindsay said...

i don't know. i don't think i could handle that heat. why not pump some water in there and have a nice cool lake.

Jenn said...

OK-so somehow I missed your last post in my blog hiatus and now I have a mountain to comment on!!! First of all, you are supermom. If you can get a teenage boy to spend time with you and go on all these adventures, you are my idol. I desperately hope my son wants to do stuff with me. Bahaha on the car and the post!!!

Awesome on the bloggy meetups! Looks like you had just a wonderful time!!

These salt flats are FASCINATING!! Awesome pictures! I would love to crew for someone doing badwater. Run, nope not so much....

So, I suppose you are doing this 200 mile Wild west Relay right now!! I hope it's going well for you! You surely seem to be bouncing back well here Jill. You sound happy and full of life and FUNNY and just a joy to be around. I am jealous Amanda gets to come and see you next week. I told her to give you a hug from me!!!

OK-have a great weekend girl! Great to catch up with you:)

Happy Feet 26.2 said...

super vaca review. I must add Badwater to my list. I haven't been there yet. thanks! nice pics!

the mileage and plans are VERY exciting! so happy for you. run Jill run!

Terzah said...

Jill--Great trip reacap--I am feeling woozy just thinking about that elevation change. No ultras for me either, but maybe I'll crew for somebody someday. Your son's comments make me laugh too. I can't wait to read about the relay coming up.

Big Daddy Diesel said...

I recently just learned about Badwater, I think its cool you got to go there.

Suzy said...

Awesome adventure!! My uncle was a park ranger in Death Valley so I grew up listening to random stories about the park and what happens there.

Cory Reese said...

That sounds fun and miserable at the same time. I loved the movie Running On The Sun about the Badwater race.

Bubble Boy said...

And I thought 110 was hot in Tulsa last weekend! Yowzer, 116, I would have hit a post too! I probably would have hit one earlier when I saw $5+ gas!! You sure never let moss grow under your feet, you are an adventure girl!

Glenn Jones said...

I have spent a *ton* of time in Death Valley. It really is one of the coolest places on Earth!

Irene said...

I've been to Death Valley a bazillion years ago, probably during a trip with my parents. I suppose it's one of those places I should revisit, just because. :)

I still think it's pretty cool that you took a trip with your son.

Molly said...

I would be mesmerized by the salt flats too, what an adventure. I was just going to ask you if you keep a travel journal, but duh, you have a blog : )

The Boring Runner said...

I'm so jealous that you were able to go check all of that out. Certainly a bucket list race.

THey actually put on a marathon down there in the winter - it is MUCH much cooler. :)

Chris K said...

Hey look, I'm back to Blogging. I had to read a few of my fav's, like you Jill. Thanks for the nice comment about Alycia. Brendan was a very impressive kid. Great pics. Hope all is well and you are getting prepared for school. Buh-bi.

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