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Daytripping Through Death Valley with the Oakland Museum (First Person)

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Wednesday March 02, 2011 - 03:40:00 PM

Leave it to the wonderful Oakland Museum, particularly the History Guild Department, to offer informative and exciting trips, many of them planned by Helen Tryon, a long-time tour leader. Last week's trip had an added feature, as we travelled on a luxurious "Daytripping" bus with the very knowledgeable and well known Tour Guide, Gary L. Holloway, a member of the California Historical Society. What Gary doesn't know about the Valley isn't worth knowing!  

On Sunday, February 20th, forty passengers boarded the luxury coach, eagerly awaiting the Death Valley Tour and the adventures to follow. For many it was their first trip to the Valley, which comprises more than 3.3 million acres of spectacular desert scenery and rare wild life. Our first stop was the legendary Scotty's Castle, where a guide unveiled the story of Walter Scott and Albert and Bessie Johnson and their $2 million vacation home. We next wandered through the rusting remains of the Harmony Borax Works, where miners used those famed 20-mule teams to haul borax 165 miles to the railroad town of Mojave. That same evening we had a delightful Hayride for a barbecue dinner under the stars in a date grove.  

The next day we toured the Southern Region of the Valley, hiking up a trail to Zabriskie Point for panoramic views of golden brown mudstone hills. We then paid a quick visit to Rhyolite, the largest ghost town in the Valley, and Devil's Golf Course. By this time, weary but happy, we were ready for a restful evening in our attractive rooms at Furnace Creek Ranch and a delicious dinner in its lovely dining room.  

One of our more memorable tours was that to Manzanar, a relocation Center where Japanese American citizens were confined during World War II. We watched a moving documentary film, "Remembering Manzanar", and then visited two of the stark military-type shacks where detainees were confined. Surely not a proud moment in U.S. history! 

Few people realize that an American Indian tribe (the Timbisha) currently lives and thrives in the heart of the Valley. Since 1936 the tribe has governed their affairs in 40 acres of land near Furnace Creek. While tour members were sitting back comfortably, enjoying the beauty of the Valley, our handsome driver, John Petterson, was busy checking road conditions and alternative routes back to Oakland. He wisely decided to make a 100 mile detour to avoid roads that were closed due to icy conditions.  

But, alas, when we got to Carson City, Nevada, we were met with a blizzard and icy winds. Most of us were delighted to see the tree covered snow, but we hadn't anticipated going through South Lake Tahoe and Sacramento to reach our destination. However, Gary kept us amused and free of boredom with his stories of the regions we had passed. We had dinner on the bus, a tasty dish prepared by Jackie Kenilvort, cook extraordinaire and den mother for her charges. I've no doubt that I've have overlooked many of the wonderful sights and excursions of our trip to Death Valley, but the memories will long linger in my memory. I can't wait to take another Oakland Museum History Guild trip!