Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP

The Voices In the Hills- Skidoo Ghost Town, Death Valley National Park, California

Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP

Have you ever seen the movie, the Hills Have Eyes?

Even if you haven’t, i’m sure you’ve heard of it….or you at least have an idea of what i’m getting at.

It would be pretty fair to say this was the part of the park that we spent the most time at, though Rhyolite would probably be a close second (though technically not actually within the boundaries of the park…but more on that later). I definetly enjoyed my time here- it was worth the bumpy and at times slightly perilous drive to get out there and the complete solitude was just perfection, but….

So. I have a pretty active imagination- some might say over active- and while at first the complete solitude in this area was amazing, after the first hour it went from amazing to somewhat more, how shall we say, eerie? Its the remneants of a ghost town complete with the decaying structure of an abandoned stamp mill, so of course we expected a certain amount of eerie solitude. But the whole time we were there in that part of the park, about 2 almost 3 hours, we didn’t see one single person (or animal) around. Not even birds in the sky. And after we’d gotten out fill of exploring the stamp mill, we headed back to the towns original location and thats when we started noticing the doors.

The town of Skidoo was a gold mining town- hence the stamp mill- which results in oddities like doors carved into hills. Some are high up and far away from the road, just dark blots on the landscape of rolling hills but others…. well, others seem to appear out of almost nowhere, you just look out your car window and happen to spot a door ajar, tucked in the mouth of a hill just by the side of the road. And your mind can’t help but wonder if anything lives beyond those doors, down in the darkness deep in those hills.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t make the journey out to Skidoo, I had a blast exploring out there and honestly just reveling in the uniqueness of the experience but yeah, just be aware it’s not really an adventure you’d want to do by yourself for a multitude of reasons (one of them being no cell service unless you get up high on the hills).

Explore responsibly, don’t leave any trace of yourself behind and maybe don’t go peeking behind half opened doors that lead into abandoned mine shafts,
~m

P.S if you’d like to read more on the Skidoo’s town history, this is a really informative site.

Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley national park

A Chill in The Wind- Skidoo Abandoned Stamp Mill, Death Valley NP

Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley national park
Mine entrance, Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley national park




Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley national park
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley national park
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley national park
Skidoo Stamp Mill, Death Valley national park

I go to weird places.
Thats pretty self evident if you’ve been following this blog for a bit, from wandering around space ship shaped houses , taking a sunset stroll alonside abandoned factories and exploring old gold mining towns . I come from and love cities but there’s something about reaching out towards the left behind that I genuinely can’t get enough of.

Which is why when I started making plans for Death Valley I was incredibly excited about the prospect of not only seeing a park i’ve been dreaming of seeing since I was a child (yup, I was an odd kid) there was also the thrill of getting a chance to explore some abandoned towns and structures here in this most desolate of places.  Since we only had one full day here in the park, there’s a couple of places I decided to leave for another visit to give us the time to make it out to the two places I most wanted to see, Rhyolite and Skidoo.

So lemme start with the fact that technically, if you’re headed out here just for the idea of exploring the ghost town of Skiddo, it doesn’t exist. There are no standing buildings or structures that belonged to the town, and the area where the town used to be only has a placard in place of anything else to see. I figure it would be good to say that, and most guidebooks will tell you the same because getting out here is a real….adventure. Definitely do not attempt if you’ve only got a sedan type vehicle and weak knees. Best case scenario would be attempting this if you’ve got a 4WD high clearance vehicle and guts of steel for when the dirt path called a road starts to climb up into the mountains and your eyes inadvertently gaze down into the valley below.  We were somewhere in the middle of those scenarios, my stomach knotted up but fingers tightly gripping my camera as we rounded those curves in our much abused Jeep.

We reached the mill around 1130am, the sun climbing hotter and hotter up into the blazing sapphire tinted sky and even with all the directions i’d amassed from various guidebooks and websites ( here’s one ) we still only managed to make it to the mill by accident, and then we decided to backtrack down to attempt making it up a steeper hill opposite the mill to get a better view of it. A bumpy 10 minute drive later we’d crested over the hills, so far up that far off to our left we could see the shimmer of salty basins below. The whole ride up and around and over, we were completely alone. No signs of life whatsoever, from humans or animals alike, and sitting up there eating our lunch while gazing out at the abandoned stamp mill below and the gentle peaks surrounding us, it was the one moment of complete solitude that I experienced on the whole trip and it was magnificent.

~m

(This is going to be a two-parter because there’s still something to be said for the town and the surrounding area thats a chilling kind of haunting, the doors to mine shafts popping up all over the landscape like little portals to darkness, and then there’s the closer look at the stamp mill I managed to get as well. )

 

 

 

Devils Corn, Golfcourse and An Artists Drive- Death Valley National Park, California







Full disclosure- this was meant to be two/three separate posts on the various wonders and reasons to stop at each of these spots but time has been nipping at my heels rather viciously this past week and so it’s all been condensed into this one probably very lacking post. 

Artists Drive, Devils GolfCourse and Devils Cornfield

I have to admit that the last two are my most favorite named spots in the park, though Artist Drive does win the spot of most worth going out of your way to visit. We left Badwater Basin and went to gaze out across the crumpled earth that is Devils Golfcourse, after which we took the bumpy dirt road that is Artists Drive. The colors that live in the hills there are definitely worth the lungfuls of dusty air you’ll inhale while getting to them.

Devils Cornfield is right before you pass by (or stop at) the Sand Dunes and it’s worth pulling over to both appreciate the name and the way dunes start to slope up behind them, the landscape changing from one to the other without any real demarcation. And in between driving from the colorful hills to the cornfield most beloved by the devil himself, there’s a vastness of a diverse and quickly changing landscape to keep your eyes and mind engaged – as well as keep you from wondering what in the world you’re doing out here.

~m

Badwater Basin- Death Valley National Park, California

After leaving Dante’s View and venturing down to Badwater Basin, I was inclined to think my whole trip to this park could be easily summed up as “unexpectedly weird”.  I’ve already mentioned how Death Valley was oddly whimsical in nature, given the names of some of the locations, but I probably should also have remembered this is still So-Cal, and So-Cal folks are nothing if not a weirdly awesome bunch.

We spotted at least two photographers shooting with their models using the basin as their backdrop, both models wearing flowing colorful scarfs that fluttered gently in the hot breeze. Also spotted were about a dozen interestingly dressed couples or dapperly attired dudes sporting selfie sticks to full take advantage of the epic location.

And what an epic location it was- not only did the temperature get slightly scorching and reflect heat back up off the white landscape but the sapphire colored sky above made everything feel more than a little surreal, in a really fantastic way. I would definitely recommend visiting earlier in the day, by the time we got here around 10am the temps were about 85F/29C and climbing, so definitely bring water and sunscreen, especially if you plan to walk out onto the basin. Sunglasses and hats are also highly recommended. It’s a very super popular location and tour buses arrive almost even 20 minuets so keep that in mind as well if you’ve a mind to visit, especially if you expect a bit more desolation and a bit less Coachella.

Basically, just stay chill in all ways possible and enjoy the experience of being at the lowest point in North America.

~m

Dante's View, Death Valley National Park

Dante’s View (not as hellish as you’d think)- Death Valley National Park, California

Dante's View, Death Valley National Park Dante's View, Death Valley NP

In my last post, as is now customary (because I give procrastination a new name) i’ll go over the drive from Canyonlands to the little town we stayed at about an hour outside of Las Vegas and the almost 2 hour long detour we took to grab pizza at this amazing little pizza joint just outside Zion National Park but, for now, lets talk about the frankly unexpected and almost whimsical nature of this park named Death Valley.

From Dante’s View to Artists Drive, Desolation Canyon to Bad Water Basin and my two favorites Devils Golf course and Devils Cornfield, there’s just an over abundance of imagination and even humour that I wouldn’t have expected here. And part of me wonders if this is one of those cases where you laugh because if you didn’t, you would cry.

There is definitely….I don’t want to say a reason to be depressed when you’re here, but it’s very easy to imagine the kind of despair and utter desperation you might feel if you were stuck out here with no real sense of which way was out.  And Dante’s View is a perfect example of that. Not only is it a bit of a desolate drive to get up here, it’s not an easy one. And the view when you do make it up there is something entirely unexpected.

This was our first stop in the park, as we entered from the East by Death Valley Junction (passing the rather deserted and slightly creepy Amargosa Opera House) and looking back on it now, it was the perfect way to be introduced to the park. Once we’d made it  up the insanely steep final mile, we gazed out at what looked exactly like a valley devoid of all life, the full embodiment of the parks name laid out bare before us. And it was breathtaking but it was also both over- and underwhelming. Overwhelming in the sense that you get a better idea of exactly how immense the area this park covers is, and underwhelming because you look out over the landscape and see what could be described as a desolate wasteland.

But then you go closer to the edge, get your eyes used to the view and the muted tones and you start seeing all the variations and subtle colors in the landscape, the cars whizzing by below like tiny toy cars on a black ribbon, the way the land rises and falls like a tired dry ocean. It becomes breathtaking in an almost literal way the further from the parking lot you get, the harsh wind coming up off the valley buffeting you from all sides and stealing the air from your lungs to take elsewhere.

It’s a fantastic view, basically. And I recommend stopping here either on your way into the park or out, as a magnificent hello or a beautiful goodbye.

~m