If Your Donkey is Too Old

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I spent the day out in the sun in the great Death Valley. Today, being early in the spring, the temperature only hit 85 - nowhere near the record high of 134.

Since it was only a day trip, we didn't get to see all of the various tourist sites, but we did get to see the lowest golf course in the world - at -214 feet below sea level. I just had a feeling I should have taken my clubs, but I didn't.

One of the cautions for today based on temperature and humidity was if you were going to walk any of the many off-road trails, you should plan on drinking 2 liters of water for every hour on an easy trial. If you were hiking on a moderate or difficult trail, plan on drinking 3-4 liters per hour. It sounded like there was a SparkPeople rep doing their daily writing.

Do to various health reasons, all I could do today was hike the easy trails. Did I drink my 2 liters per hour? You betcha! What follows may be TMI, so this is a warning - skip to the next paragraph. I actually drank more than my 2 liters per hour. Not only did I not feel myself sweating, but I didn't have to use the restroom all day. Death Valley dries you out so quickly you could be in serious danger before you were aware of it - and that's at just 85 degrees.

We walked the path to the original Borax refinery, the one of 20 Mule Team Borax fame. I learned two things today I didn't know. One was that Borax was not 'mined' as we know mining. The Borax leaches out of the ground during the wet season (wettest year on record, 1913. 3.11 inches of rain FOR THE YEAR!).

The refining company had recruited Chinese workers from San Francisco. The were paid a wage of $1.30 per day, minus the cost of accommodations and minus the cost of food bought at the company store - and there was no competition. The Chinese were housed in adobe buildings about 200 yards from the refinery, the whites went back up the road about four miles and lived by some natural springs that even had trees to use for shade.

The 'mining' was simple. The Chinese simply skimmed the first two inches off the top of the borax flats and threw it in a large wagon. When the wagon was full, it was winched up to the refinery where everything was dumped in a water bath to remove any soil and rocks. The borax water was then run through a series of holding tanks with iron rods hanging down. The borax precipitated out on these rods, much like making candles in the "old" days. The rods with the borax were picked out and packed on a large ore wagon pulled by, right, those mule teams.

But borax won't precipitate out at temperatures hotter than 120 degrees, so the mines and refinery only ran from late October to the first of May.

Quick question. Back when there was no color in television, a famous actor hosted a television show called 'Death Valley Days'. The only sponsor of the show was "20 Mule Team Borax" Who was that famous actor (children younger thatn 25-30 may have to look this up in a history book or Encyclopedia)?

We also went through the Artist's Palette, A ride where the mountains were all sorts of colors and were combined, beautifully. There were layers of red sandstone, and in the middle would be an oblong white sandstone. Next to it would be a streak of black volcanic rock and a layer of copper containing rock that showed it's natural green state.

There was one path leading into a box canyon that had an entire mountain of pure marble that had been highly polished by the years of wind and sand.

The final place we visited was Badwater. The lowest elevation on the North American Continent at -296 feet below sea level. There was a 'Sea Level' sign placed up in the bluff next to Badwater - it felt more than a little bit strange looking UP to see where sea level was.

Badwater isn't poisonous per se. It's just pure, clear salt water. Home of a species found in no other part of the world called the Badwater snail (an underwater snail).

Maybe all that heat today made me a little more aware of things, or aware of how strange some things sounded.

We got back to the house and turned on the NCAA Womens Basketball Championships to see how the Big 12 ladies were doing. Almost immediately after turning the television on, a commercial started. Two men were seated before a desk and the one on the left said, "Our good word for the day is, 'If your donkey is too old, get another donkey'."

I thought that was some pretty good advice.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I've never been to that part of the country, so thanks for sharing. I feel like I was there - minus the heat, of course.

    3950 days ago
    I remembered the host was Ronald Reagan. I loved the show, maybe because I lived in Texas at the time. Loved your account of the day it was very informational. However, I think we just need to get rid of the old donkey and get an elephant.
    3951 days ago
    Loved your travelogue, Bob! Thanks for that and for the history lesson. The host was Ronald Reagan!! (Okay, I had to look it up. emoticon ) I am 60 but I don't think my family watched the program.

    Aren't we all MISSING Reagan these days? (sigh)

    I'll ask my old donkey if he thinks I should trade him in! emoticon

    3952 days ago
    Very, very interesting!! Thanks for sharing!!! emoticon

    BTW, I'm under 50, haven't a clue, don't remember the show at all... emoticon
    3952 days ago
  • _MAOMAO_
    Okay, okay - I am NOT under 30. I'm 50. But didn't remember who hosted Death Valley Days.


    Neat blog. Thanks for the history!
    3952 days ago

    Comment edited on: 3/23/2010 4:12:37 AM
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