Thursday, January 28, 2010

winding road, Valley of Fire, part three

The road to the old film set is a dead end so we retraced our steps. By now the other apes were up and about and we wouldn't be so likely to have the place to ourselves. A site we had passed on our way in was Mouse's Tank. We had invested the dawn light and cool temperatures in our poking around other locations. The short hike to Mouse's Tank passes more petroglyphs on the canyon walls and seeing no one in the small parking area yet we decided to make the walk. The goal of the hike is a small natural water catchment in the rocks that had been named for a man named Mouse. He used the water collected there to survive in this desert in the 1890s.The sandy path had seen quite a bit of traffic from the previous evening's twilight until our arrival. The crossing tracks of chuckwallas, lizards, beetles, kangaroo rats, and snakes were not yet buried under sneaker prints. A few less timid lizards stayed near the path challenging each other with vigorous pushups. We were treated to a cloud show overhead and it was a nice hike, but the goal at the end was nothing to get excited about. Unless you are dying of dehydration, then Mouse's Tank would be heaven. There had been little fresh water running into the tank for some time. There were thunder showers the day before but none of that water made it to the ground or into Mouse's prize. The water was muddled with brownish algae, and every bee and wasp in a forty mile radius knew about this one bit of moisture. They lined the sandy edges and slurped up what they could to carry off to their brood. We heard their buzz before we saw the tank. The heat of the day was really on us by then and we needed a bathroom break. Fortunately the visitor center was near the junction of the film set road and the main park road. After taking advantage of the restrooms we lingered in the cool air of the natural history displays. There were some fine didactic illustrations of the geologic origin of the valley's colorful rocks and some taxidermy critters in diorama displays. All fairly typical and mildly interesting but we began to notice a few things were askew. Above a terrarium case containing some live examples of the local desert fauna we spied a decorated ceramic plate hanging on the wall. It had a color image of a calico cat in the glaze and was inscribed, "Mouse, the cat." More local fauna? Squinting at the label on the wall clarified that Mouse had been the visitor center cat for several years but the previously mentioned "tank" was not his. Looking further we found that the visitor center had an extensive gallery of artworks with the valley as their subject. All seemed to have been sent by previous visitors to the park. Then I spotted one of my favorite things, a miniature diorama depicting what was intended to be a typical day in the lives of the precolonization natives. It was sooooo cool. Tiny figures engaged in a mad flurry of activity all at once. Someone had imagined exciting things for all the tiny figures to do: two children caught in the act of shoving a third into a creosote bush, an elderly man squatting to poke a cooking fire, a hunter chasing a jack rabbit, and a woman waving her finger giving her partner a scolding... all at once! Gee, these people led very active lives.

The cool air in the visitor center was hard to part with but we had not found a place to nap off our early morning adventure. Remembering the wind worn crevices and holes we had seen the day before in the rocks near camp, we set out to find shade. A short search turned up a fine hole in the wall facing south. The rock was cool and smooth enough for us to have lunch and nap while hiding from the heat of the afternoon.

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