Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Death Valley in a '51 Powerglide - part 3 'Burned Wagons Point'

Burned Wagons Point


We were back in the Bel Air and headed north on the Trona - Wildrose Road about 65 miles to reach the Death Valley Road cutoff, with its sweeping turns and panoramic desert vistas in every direction and a growing realization that the hum of the Chevy six and the banter of the people within it were the only signs of life on this day as far as the eye could see.


"On curves ahead
Remember, sonny
That rabbit's foot
Didn't save
The bunny


"The place to pass
On curves
You know
Is only at
A beauty show


That was all the roadside poetry I could recall to recite at the time, the tank was dry. Mom however picked up the slack and  was quite chatty after two Cokes and some Chesterfields and going on and on in her terminology about 'this, that, and the other thing', to which my dad in his quest to always minimize vocabulary would say 'hmmm' if he didn't know the answer, or what she was talking about, or 'uh-huh' when he did. This went on for 45 miles or so as we came down to and crossed the desert floor and then the road went away.


Apparently a rainstorm had washed away our little byway at the low point for five miles or so and repair wasn't much of local priority. It would have been nice if someone had mentioned this back in Trona. The dirt washboard surface was passable but slow and bouncy when 'short cut' dad decides the smooth dirt to the side was the way to go, and of course we got stuck in the sand.


Not to worry, because as mentioned in earlier dispatches, we were short cut trained and had boards and shovel in the trunk. With several years experience installing snow chains on trips to the mountains of Idyllwild, California and with a flip of the hidden lever underneath, I had the fender skirt off in a flash, boards under the wheel,  and the slushy Powerglide automatic had the car out of sand in no time and we were on our way again. This time staying to the center.


We finally met the road to Death Valley and went up, down, and around, though mostly up, till at the high point just before descending to the valley floor, the Cokes caught up with me, I couldn't take it any longer and had to pee. Afterwards, dad went to start the car but nothing happened, so since it was downhill all the way to Stovepipe Wells from this point, dad figured we'd simply roll there in neutral. It was a bit like Woody Guthrie's 'Talkin' Dust Bowl Blues':


'Way up yonder on a mountain curve

This was way up yonder in the piney woods

I gave the rollin' Ford a shove

I's a gonna coast, fer as I could

Commenced to coastin'

Pickin' up speed

There's a hairpin turn

I..............didn't make it.'


Well actually we did make it and rolled right to the service station at the Stovepipe Wells General Store where the mechanic looked under the hood, and then took the Coke from my hand and poured the contents over the corroded battery terminals and the Bel Air's battery was good as new as she started right up. This was the day mom stopped drinking Coke and switched to Dr. Pepper.


Right across the street was Burned Wagons Point and the next landmark on dad's list. Another monument dealing with the lost '49's, this time being the spot where they burned their wagons and continued on foot, taking the same path we had just rolled in on and the famous slogan 'Goodbye Death Valley' was spoken, quite possibly at the very hilltop spot I'd just made water.     



No 441 Burned Wagons Point

Plaque inscription:

Near this monument, the Jayhawker group of Death Valley Forty-Niners, gold seekers from Middle West, who entered Death Valley in 1849 seeking short route to the mines of central California, burned their wagons, dried the meat of some oxen and, with surviving animals, struggled westward on foot.


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