Panamint Valley Days

My friend, Anton, and I left Santa Clara on Sunday, Movember 2nd, 2008, and headed over the Sierras via Hwy 80.  We were enroute circuitously for the Panamint Valley Days off road wheeling event.  Snow at 7000 feet over Donner pass, but none on the road.  We overnighted in Minden, Nevada, where we visited Anton's brotrher, Richard, and marveled at his "gasoline alley" garage in his home.  Black and white floor tiles, custom muscle cars, and decor that made us feel like we were at Hot August Nights in Reno.  Richard is an old car lover who bought an old 1963 Jeep with a V-8 283 engine just for this run to the PVD with us.  He fixed it up nicely, and it looked great.
Towing my Rubicon on my trailer, we drove south.  We noted, but did not buy, diesel for $4.19 per gallon in Walker, on Hwy 395 (we did buy diesel for $3.09 in Nevada).  After a pit stop at the Chris Flats campground beside the trout-filled, beautiful Walker River (the shortest river in America according to a TV nature show I once watched), we pressed onwards.  Peewee snowflakes at the Conway summit (8318) above Mono Lake greeted us, yet none was on the road.  Atop the overlook above Mono Lake, we saw a bumper sticker on the guardrail saying,"Vegetarian: old Indian for poor hunter".  Poignant sticker in that no less than four deer stood in the slow lane of the descent to Mono Lake, and we had to both slow and steer to avoid meat on the hood for dinner.
We overnighted in Mammoth Lakes for the scenery and because I wanted to see the Devil's Postpile in person.  No luck as the road to the postpile was closed November 1st.  Instead, we drove the scenic Mammoth Loop road, and took a snow and ice-filled road off that to the Inyo Crater (which we never did find).  It snowed and froze in Mammoth Lakes in the night, leaving the road, Hwy 203, all covered in ice and snow in the morning.  We hooked back up to the trailer, and hit the trail in the morning.  All of Hwy 395 was free of snow (Whooopie!!), and we sailed southwards on election day, Anton's birthday.
November 4th!  A day of contrasts on our trip!  From 29 degrees in Mammoth Lakes to 80 degrees in Death Valley.  From our 60 mph to an F-16's 500 mph.  From Bush to Obama.  From 8,300 feet to -270 feet elevation.  We experienced it all!!
We were crossing the Panamint Valley from west to east, enroute beyond it, over the mountains to Death Valley for a few days prior to the PVD wheeler run.  I had stopped in the middle of the Panamint Valley to photograph the road sign indicating south at the juncture for folks to go to Trona and Ridgecrest.  An enormous blast of sound and energy suddenly hit us like an explosion of adrenalin, rocking not only our vehicles, but our very nerve centers.  Neither of us had a clue that it was coming!  Scared the peewattle out of me!!!  Totally unexpectedly, an F-16 fighter jet had just buzzed us (directly above our truck) from no more than 100 feet above our heads.  Anton yelled,"What was that?', and I knew immediately what it had bee.  Looking north, we watched it fly up to the end of the valley, U-turn, and head again right for us!!  The pilot scraped the desert floor until he shot over our truck again.  Anton was standing on top of my Jeep's front bumper pumping his fist in exhilaration while I tried to photograph the jet.  The jet flew south, did a u-turn, and came at us AGAIN!!!  We're now both pumping our fists for him or her, and again he flew over our truck and rig.  Just as he passed us this time, he upturned ninety degrees, and shot straight up into the atmosphere.  He looped over, doing a back roll/loop before continuing northto the upper end of the valley.  Not yet done with our personal air show, (HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANTON!!!), he again came at us hugging the ground.  It looked as if he was goint to put the tip of his jet through my driver's open window!  On this, his last pass, he zoomed right over us before doing a full 360 roll to his right before continuing south towards Nellis Air Base, and was gone.  WHEW!!!!  Better than the best Blue Angels show I have ever seen, and personalized just for us!  I sure wish I could have seen the you know what kind of grin that pilot had on his face as he did his maneuvers!  On thinking back, we were the ONLY vehicle on the whole expanse of highway 190 crossing the Panamint Valley as he flew northwards, and he thought we had seen his approach and stopped jut to watch him.  So---he decided to give us a show.  By the time he had finished, other vehicles had neared, and were stopping at the side of the road to see what crazy Anton and I were pumping our fists at.  YAHOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
We resumed our trip----at last.  Over the mountains and down the slope to Stovepipe Wells.  We saw several old vintage cars there (30s and 40s) that had been in a New York to San Francisco race many decades ago that were retracing their route with a detour to Death Valley.  We spent two days in Death Valley, seeing Titus Canyon and Scotty's Castle plus an art show in the Furnace Creek oasis.  We lodged in the Furnace Creek Inn where things were luxurious.  As we traveled the Death Valley area, animal life was evident.  A covey of quail crossed in front of us as we headed towards Beatty, Nevada, and an enterprising coyote (right near a don't feed the coyotes sign) walked from the side of the road out in front of us and blocked the road a few miles before we got to Scotty's Castle. He then proceded to walk all around our vehicle begging for handouts; he got nothing from us.  Big black shiny intelligent ravens were ever present and always opportunistic in the valley.
On tuesday, Anton's brother met us at the Panamint Valley Springs Shell gas station.  We then traveled together to the PVD campsite on its large alluvial fan site where we pitched camp before dark.  We were joined by Loro Patterson with her dogs, Sierra and Alpine.  Later, Carlos Fuchen and his family joined us and camped close by.  Having three Esprit de Four members present means that we can claim this as an official club run. 
With thursday night safety checks out of the way, we enjoyed a shripm and fixings dinner courtesy of Anton's brother, Richard.  Good vittles!!  Friday morning, we set off for Jail Canyon along with about 40 other rigs.  This was an easy run up a canyon to an old mine.  Alas, the old '63 gave up the ghost near the top of the hill as it overheated.  I towed it up the road until we found a spot where we could get it off the trail to let all other rigs proceed ahead of us.  We left the old Jeep to cool, and bringing our lunches, went to the top.  Loro made room to let Richard Morec ride with her, for which we thank her hugely. 
Old vehicles (an old Studebaker truck and an old International pickup), old cabins, old mining equipment, stone-built level areas where miners had erected buildings, and an old outhouse with a saguaro emblem instead of a half moon awaited our viewing pleasure.  The arroyo leading up to the mine tunnels had plenty of water and a jungle of stickery green growth that tried to capture and eat me as I worked my way upstream.  Cottonwood trees abounded, and the hike up to the mine workings was really fun.  God bless my new walking stick' it sure came in handy!  I photographed old rusty engines and mining structures as well as tracks for the old tram cars that moved the ore from tunnel to loading chute.  The old '63 was cooled and ready upon our return.  It drove just fine DOWNhill after a drink of radiator water, and made it back to camp with no other problems.
On saturday, we opted for the Backroad to Darwin run (lady's choice today).  The old Jeep was left in camp out of caution (Booooo!!!)  We enjoyed the old mine and the goldfish in the year round pool in the juncture of the three canyons on our way to Darwin.  We hiked, rested, and dallied at the pool with the goldfish, enjoying the great outdoors.  A myriad of animal trails were evident on the cliffs and hills adjacent to the year round pond, all leading down to the water.  What a place to photograph wildlife if one only had the time to set up at dawn or dusk and watch for the sheep, burros, coyotes, and whatever other life forms live in the desert.  All need water!
Darwin!  What a town!  A settlement out of the past.  On isn't a Darwin resident unless one chooses to be away---far away from everything.  It is dry and hot, with weathered homes and trailers.  Some homes are burrowed into the sides of gullies.  The town's most famous citizen is the madame burried in the local old cemetary.  Eccentric sculptors and builders abound in Darwin.  We partook of the offered bake sale goods at the old Darwin Dance Hall, and rested as Gram and Gramps sang and played for us on the washtub, jug, kazoo, and washboard.  The town had some real characters!  They came out to see us, and we in turn looked them over.  We mailed postcards from the Darwin, California post office.
Saturday night we ate at Andy's Ruff Rock Cafe, then watched as fifty really good raffle prizes went to other folks.  Antgon's brother, Richard, won a combo prize worth $150 which was neat.  The children's raffle preceeded the adult raffle, and there was something for all.  Strawberry shortcake for dessert topped the evening off. 
High winds arose as night fell.  Sleeping in a tent that's laying over on itself is tough.  We took shelter in Richard's RV, and endured the night.  Mean looking black clouds presaged the coming heavy storm as they rolled over the Panamint mountains towards us.  We struck camp in the morning as the rain bagan to fall, and hit the trail as fast as we could.  We elected to follow Loro south towards the Tehachapi pass after calling and learning that chains were required north of Mammoth Lakes on Hwy 395.  We drove to Hwy 99 and Hwy 5 on our way home, enduring heavy rain, but no snow. 
It was a totaslly enjoyable trip!  We loved the fellowship of like-minded wheeling enthusiasts, and saw that from 8 to 80, all had lots of fun.  Next Year!!!!
Rich Beard
p.s.  Three attached photos with my earlier-typed report caused the system to reject it as too dense.  So, no pics with this.  Sorry.  I'll bring my pics to the December Ed4 club meeting for your perusal.