Friday, January 6, 2012


Kelso Dunes
The next day we entered the eerily empty Mohave National Preserve and climbed up the “singing sand dunes.”  The Kelso Dunes are made up of ultrafine sand that produces a low humming noise when they move.  We were pretty sure we heard them sing once.  The dunes are so steep and the sand so loose in places that it is almost impossible to climb straight up them.

A small hole in the wall
The central part of the Preserve is mountainous and we drove a very rough road around to the Hole in the Wall campground.  We explored the narrow canyon and deemed it free of bandits (they live in Wyoming with the Sundance Kid) and enjoyed a little botanizing as the desert vegetation was starting to become familiar.

In the afternoon we drove east out of California and along parts of the historic Route 66.  When we crossed into Arizona we started climbing steadily out of the desert and into high pine country.  We were trying to get to the Grand Canyon in time to see the sunset but only arrived on the snowy South Rim for the final cool hues of twilight.

Camping that night in the Kaibab National Forest was the coldest of the trip.  Even though we set up the tent to provide a little extra insulation, I had to get up and light a fire in the pre-dawn hours to warm up.  At least firewood was easier to come by than in the desert.

Colorado Pinyon silhouette
Gambel Oak leaf (Quercus gambelii)
We went back to the South Rim to watch the sunrise and then hiked along the rim and watched the Mt. Chickadees, Nuthatches, and Western Scrub Jays flit about the Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis), Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) and occasional Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii).  I saw some acorn caps, but all the acorns must have already been stowed away by the animals.  We went to a talk about the Tusayan Ruin in the park, and after some correspondence about Pueblo acorn use learned from Park Archeologist Ian Hough that “the Gamble oaks found in the park do not produce the type and quantity of acorns found in California or east of the Mississippi, where mortar and pestle technology was much more developed. But acorns and many other wild plant foods were processed and eaten here at Grand Canyon and accounts for various other forms of grinding tools that we find.”  The Pueblo that inhabited the ruin site 800 years ago relied more heavily on maize, beans, and squash.
Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis) needles in bunches of two

We found the ruins fascinating and learned that the nearby Wupatki National Monument managed several more ruins, so we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring them.  Nobody knows for certain why the settlements were abandoned, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they ran out of firewood.

Our next stop was Death Valley which was several hundred miles away, so we tried to get some of the driving out of the way that night and camped in the desert near Chloride AZ.  The next day we took much needed baths in Lake Mead, and pressed on to Death Valley for some more salt reconnaissance. Pin It submit to reddit