Saturday, February 6, 2010

badwater and amargosa, Death Valley, part three

We headed back to the park road with renewed vigor after our lunch and nap. A short dirt road took us to the Devil's Golf Course where the dry lake salt crust is thick and jumbled. The day was not hot enough to hear the crust pop and crinkle. Under the right conditions if you listen you may sometimes hear the salt grind as it puckers and changes shape and new crystals shove others aside. The hard, brittle, and sharp salt hummocks made me think I was walking on jumbles of shattered and fused glass. Back on the main road mrs. a-go-go noticed a wide gravel alluvial fan with a good background. This is where we stopped to take the bunny mask photos, one of which graces the header of this blog. Yep, that really is an actual undoctored photo (except for the text).
Next, it was on to Badwater, the lowest spot (and sinking) in North America. The parking area and boardwalk here had been enlarged since my last visit. The salty mud and small ponds are sensitive to foot traffic and the boardwalk is an attempt to protect the few things that survive in the small patches of water. The true lowest spot is apparently some distance out into the slat flat and there is a sign placed in the rocks above the road showing sea level more than 200 feet above the parking lot. A short stroll takes one into the blinding white field where there are few other people wandering. The vast virtually flat space felt like standing on the concrete floor of the earth's basement. Perhaps it was just being below the ocean surface but something.... some THING.... lifted us into the air.It was time to head out the East side of the valley toward Death Valley Junction. We had some back tracking to do and we were running out of day, but on our way out we made time for a stop at Dante's View.
The narrow road to the vista takes you a long way off the road to Death Valley Junction but it is worth the detour. The panorama of the valley and high peaks on the far side is hard to beat and not to be missed.

Not long before sun down we arrived at the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House. We had reservations for an overnight stay and tickets for the one woman show by the inimitable Marta Becket. For more than thirty-five years Marta performed her unique ballet, pantomime, and story telling for whoever made their way to the tiny town for the weekend shows. The short recording of her show at the link above is from our visit. Her health was clearly faltering that evening and she sat and told stories with props at a small table on the stage. She needed some assistance just to take the stage and get to her chair so we knew she would not be attempting to entertain us with dance. The theater was close to full and I think the audience was particularly patient as they all knew she might not be doing her show too much longer. Her voice creaked and she had to think to remember some bits but her dry sense of humor came through. I recently checked in to see if she was still performing and sadly it seems she is not. At the opera house link above you will find the schedule for this season's shows but no notice of Marta's health. I was glad to find that someone, Sandy Scheller, is carrying on the tradition and appears to be performing Marta's material. I can't vouch for the performance but the hotel and opera house should still be worth a quirky visit. I only hope Marta is doing well in her old age and has retired from the stage gracefully.

The ceilings, walls, and doors of the theater have been painted by Marta over the years lived and performed there. As part of her story telling, Marta related that the decorations began when she decided she needed a permanent audience for the evenings when very few people came to the show. Many of the rooms at the Amargosa Hotel are decorated with Marta's paintings as well. Our room was circus themed. When we called for the reservation and mrs. a-go-go informed me of her room choice I dreaded that we'd be sleeping under the beady eyes and creepy smiles of clowns. Fortunately, circus theme in this case meant acrobats. Thank you Marta. It's a peculiar place and I recommend it to anyone who is really into something strange and quirky. Beware if you require nice carpet and up-to-date plumbing. Things are a little ragged around the place but it is unusual enough to be completely worth it.

In the morning we explored the worn old buildings of the small town and the stark cemetery before starting on our way home. Our return drive took us south on 127 to Shoshone and Baker. We saw many incomprehensibly wide, far away, and impossible to photograph things on that drive before turning on to grim interstate 15, but listen to this for a sense of what is really there.

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