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 »»» Death Valley Trip Report    October 22nd, 2005:
  In what seems like nearly a lifetime ago, I was a huge fan of the Star Wars films. Like most kids of the 1970s, I grew up with the action figures, Luke Skywalker underoos and plastic light sabers. However, my obsession took on a life all its own in 1997 when the original trilogy was re-released in theaters. My obsessive- compulsive tendencies pushed me into a ream of fandom few ever see. I passionately studied the non-fictional aspect of the films: I read as many books I could find that discussed the production of the series. I traveled to Death Valley many times in search of the handful of locations used for small pick-up shots in two of the original Star Wars films. Before each trip, I would ask my Star Wars friends if they would like to go, promoting the trips out to the Mohave with the catchy slogan "Tatooine or Bust!," referencing the desert planet from the film series where young Luke Skywalker grew up. Back in November of 2003, as a birthday gift for a friend, I organized my sixth trip to Death Valley - "Tatooine or Bust VI." Fourteen friends and I set aside 3-days for the trip and good times were had by all.
  Unfortunately, four friends were out of the country at the time of the trip. When they returned, they had to endure the telling of story after story of the exciting adventures, which made appearances in conversations for months. Obviously, they knew they had missed out and wished another trip would be planed soon - one that they could be apart of. So, in October of 2004, we came up with a solution: let those who did not go the first time pick the date for the next outing. Calendars were carefully studied. Appointment books perused. Finally, the right time to go was decided upon: October 7-9th, 2005.
  A year passed and word had been spread among friends that there would be another trip to "Tatooine." Preparations were made: time was requested off from work months in advance, camping supplies were purchased, and transportation was organized. On the eve of the departure, we had close to 30 people ready to egress from all over the Los Angeles area in three separate caravans. What arrived into Death Valley was an eclectic mix of people. Most in the group were Star Wars fans. Among them, four pre-teenagers who were most likely first introduced to characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Artoo Deetoo in the 2001 Star Wars prequel, Episode One - The Phantom Menace. We also had a few older die-hard fans as well, who grew up with the franchise and who stood in line to see A New Hope in 1977. Some of those in their late teens and early twenties brought home-made Star Wars props and costumes for wearing at the sites. But not all in the expedition were fans of the films: some had reluctantly joined the excursion to keep their Star Wars-loving spouses and children company.
  Whatever the level of fandom for Star Wars - if any - all that went had a great time exploring the wonders of Death Valley. Many of those on this trip had never been to Death Valley before. I enjoyed watching and hearing their reactions as we drove down into the valley on Highway 190. It was said best in The Best in Tent Camping - Southern California: "Seeing Death Valley for the first time is like seeing the earth without clothes." The blue sky is in stark contrast to the palette of browns and oranges of the dusty landscape. As a Star Wars fan, I once pictured fictional characters like Jawas and Tusken Raiders hiding in the narrow canyons or behind a mound of colored earth. Since then, my enjoyment of the Star Wars films has all but faded away. Today, I see Death Valley as a natural wonder, not as a large natural movie set. With every trip, I have discovered something new and wondrous in the 3.4 million acres of the national park, the largest in the contiguous United States.
  I had planned visits to seven filming locations, each having a unique look to the Mohave Desert and a great introduction to Death Valley. A favorite location for the group was traversing the frozen rippled waves of sand at the Stovepipe Wells Sand Dunes. My favorite is Twenty-Mule Team Canyon, where we explored the abandoned borax mines dug into the deeply-eroded hills. Fortunately, we had time on Sunday before we left to visit Badwater Basin, the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level. This basin has formed a unique layer of salt and other minerals which were left behind when rain water evaporated countless times for thousands of years. Wearing shorts and sandals, I walked with our group out onto the stark white saltpan; thoughts of falling through ice on a frozen lake came to mind when the salty layer covering the mud started to make crunching sounds with every step.
  The weather was very mild compared to Death Valley norms, hovering just under 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and drastically dipping into the mid-sixties at night, causing a powerful wind to blow through the valley until just after dusk. I stayed up until midnight and gazed up at the brilliant canvas of stars, wondering if this would be my last trip to this beautiful-yet-desolate landscape.
  On the drive home Sunday night, I thought of how much I would miss visiting Death Valley. It has become one of my favorite national parks and I doubted I would see it again after I move to Oregon next year. When I got home, I told my parents about the fantastic geography of Death Valley and shared the photos I took. A few days later, they called me up with great news: we would be spending Christmas this year at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley! It will be nice to spend time in Death Valley without any persuasion from friends to see the area as a fictional world. Then again, it doesn't take much to envision such a place as it is.

Link of the Day: Treasure Island ~ 600 barrels of loot found on Crusoe island: A long quest for booty from the Spanish colonial era appears to be culminating in Chile with the announcement by a group of adventurers that they have found an estimated 600 barrels of gold coins and Incan jewels on the remote Pacific island. "The biggest treasure in history has been located," said Fernando Uribe-Etxeverria, a lawyer for Wagner, the Chilean company leading the search. Mr Uribe-Etxeverria estimated the value of the buried treasure at US$10 billion.