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Death Valley Workshop Archived News

Wednesday October 13, 2004: Had a talk today with a representative of the National Park Service out in Death Valley, Dave Rhinehart, with whom I had spoken a few months back about IAAA getting special park use passes and official group status. He informs us that road work is continuing on a few different fronts, but that this is a really big deal and some parts may not be done by February. South of Furnace Creek, there are major problems; north, not so many. To get a daily report on conditions, go to the official NPS site for Death Valley. There's a road report link on the left side of the page, and lots of helpful information on the DV page in general.

I won't say the workshop is washed out, because it sounds as though a number of the places we want to see will be accessible in February, but we should keep an eye on things. The field trips are the big reason we're going.

Member Gus Frederick, recently a Mission Commander at the Mars Society Desert Station in Utah, spoke of some of his computer gear (!) that could very well show up in DV: "Bringing several laptops and possibly my DVD-R Tower. One laptop's screen backlight has died, so it requires an external monitor to use. The other is my "field unit" for making digital time-lapse. All are 802.11G'ed for WiFi, FWIW. I also plan to bring my portable, battery-operated DVD player. Works well plugged into a LCD video/computer projector. RCA out. Also have GPS & National Geographic "Topo" program with the 10 CD-ROM set of California. Basically 7.5 USGS quads as GPS-synchronized dynamic digital maps. And we can print from it..."
From the Los Angeles Times (excerpt):

That's Just Brando Blowing Through

The soft dunes of Death Valley are an ideal final resting spot for the ashes of the actor and Wally Cox, his longtime friend.

After Marlon Brando died at 80 on July 1, his family had him cremated. They left some of his ashes on his island in the South Pacific. The rest, my colleague Robert Welkos reported recently, they scattered at an undisclosed spot in Death Valley, along with ashes of his longtime friend Wally Cox. It develops that Cox, best known for his television roles on "Hollywood Squares," "Mr. Peepers" and "Underdog" (he was the voice), visited the desert often with Brando before dying of a heart attack at 48 in 1973. Brando had held onto his ashes for more than three decades.

Death Valley is one among scores of national parks that allow families to scatter ashes of their loved ones. Policies vary from park to park, but already this year, rangers here say they've issued four ash-scattering permits none of them bearing the names Brando or Cox.

"We had absolutely no idea until we read the paper…. No one at the park had been contacted," says a park spokesman.

Tuesday October 12, 2004: Your coordinator has temporarily taken over the duties of Membership Secretary Walt Barrows, which is why you see my name in the Note below. With the able help of B.E. Johnson (you all know BJ, or should), a newly-revised Excel spreadsheet file will help us keep track of member information and dues while Walt attends to Real Life(TM) in Florida.

Thursday October 7, 2004: Today we've been checking on the meeting room at the Ranch. It will be not be totally lockable, though there is a secure room where members can store things during the day; more soon.

It has also come to our attention that some members flying in from distant cities may still be under the impression that transportation will be provided by the workshop or the Ranch from places such as Sacramento, CA and Las Vegas, NV to Death Valley. For example, a potential pickup from the Ranch to Las Vegas and back would involve a total of six hours driving time. This matter was discussed in the Monday 9/27 news piece. Workshop attendees are responsible for getting to and from Death Valley, and we would urge those members who have not already done so to talk with their airlines or travel agents to see about rental car deals, contact individual members on the good-to-go or maybes attendee lists to arrange for transportation, or put out a general call for assistance on the IAAA email list. It is indeed unfortunate that Death Valley is no longer a destination for public transportation such as the Greyhound bus line, which would have made things a bit easier. Death Valley is isolated, no doubt about it. Your coordinator will continue exploring options.

Our educator/ranger friend Don Scott has been in contact with NASA Mars expert Dr. Chris McKay, and word is that Chris will try to be in DV sometime during the workshop. We will likely be able to meet with him and some of his research team, who maintain remote instruments in the DV area. Don suggests that, in the spirit of works like "Eyewitness to Space," that we might produce sketches of McKay and his team out in the field. Don Scott also sent the following article, a bit disheartening, but we're crossing our fingers that four months will see improved conditions.

Death Valley hit with another setback (excerpt)
Badwater Road reclosed after weekend rains to dismay of businesses dependent on visitor traffic

By Robin Flinchum
Inyo Register Correspondent
Friday, October 1, 2004 9:26 AM PDT

The opening of the Badwater entrance to Death Valley National Park last Saturday evening, after a nearly month-long closure from heavy flood damage, raised high hopes for tourism-dependent business owners in the southern gateway communities.

Ten hours later those hopes were washed away along with some sections of the lower Badwater Road as another storm hit the park and another wave of mud and water rolled down through the Badwater basin.

Last Saturday night, just about the time DVNP Public Information Officer Terry Baldino was deciding he had done all the necessary outreach for the reopening of the Badwater Road and work crews were removing the barricades, Baldino noticed a storm cloud had "parked itself right over Badwater Road."

Most of the damage in the upper section of the road above Mormon Point, Baldino said, appears to be debris in the roadway. A small portion of road was destroyed, but should be easily repaired, Baldino said. The section of road between Furnace Creek Inn and the Badwater boardwalk could be reopened by the middle of next week, once some minor shoulder damage is repaired and debris cleared away.

The bad news for those southern gateway communities, however, is that "there are miles of dirt covering the road" between Badwater and Shoshone, Baldino said, and it could take one to two months to dig out the road and haul away the dirt. "We know a lot of folks in Shoshone were really excited to get this road open," Baldino said, "but it looks like it's going to be a while."

State Route 190, the most popular southern entry point into the park accessed through Death Valley Junction, remains closed indefinitely while Caltrans waits for $15 million in emergency funding to begin repairs on several miles of roadway destroyed by the Aug. 15 flood. That flood killed two people and damaged over 160 miles of roads, leaving the park closed for 10 days - the longest disaster-related closure in its history.

Many side roads in the park remain closed, including the popular Artist's Palette loop drive off the Badwater Road near Furnace Creek Inn. Road crews had just managed to clear out the dirt and debris from the last storm before this one hit, Baldino said, and had discovered that as much as five miles of the road would have to be repaved. Now that road is again buried under tons of mud "and we can't even begin to work on it until that mud dries out - it's just soup right now."

Above Furnace Creek Ranch all park facilities remain open, Baldino said. But at least for the next couple of days the natural wonders, including the lowest point in North America, below Furnace Creek Inn, remain off limits while cleanup and repair efforts continue. ©2004 The Inyo Register

Wednesday October 6, 2004: The paper and email versions of the workshop application have been sent out to everyone on the good-to-go and maybes lists. Information on the workshop is also coming out in the May-Jun 2004 catch-up issue of PULSAR for anyone not following the progress online, in case there are any members who might want to attend but have no net connection. Applications are beginning to trickle in, and some bits of news about computer, telescope, and art gear to be brought to DV will be published here shortly. A list of potential presentations will also be posted.

Tuesday September 28, 2004: In a response to a question about internet access in Death Valley, Phyllis Nefsky at the Ranch tells us that there is dial-up access from the rooms if you have a laptop, but no high-speed connection. She writes: "Sorry, you'll just have to remember what it was like during your first meeting here - and the real goal of being in a National Park." Fair enough; as long as we have the ability to access emails, those of us with the need for being wired should be okay. Your coordinator should point out, though, that you should read up on changing your modem settings and such, and acquire local access numbers for your ISP. I'm sure that with the number of computer-savvy members present, members ought to get enough help to be able to retreive and send messages while in DV. Personally, I'm spoiled by DSL and the Mac's automatic Ethernet connection, and have had nothing but grief changing over to my laptop's 56k modem, but that's just me.

Phyllis also stated that she would inquire with the Inn manager about showing off some original art at the Inn (lobby, perhaps) during the workshop, so I'll post whatever information I get back.

Monday September 27, 2004: Some potential attendees have inquired about ground transportation (aside from rental cars) from cities such as Sacramento, California and Las Vegas, Nevada. Our contact at the Ranch, Phyllis Nefsky, informs us that this is a problem. There are tour operators that go to Death Valley from Las Vegas, and that guests at the Ranch have used On Demand Sedan for transport, but these are expensive. It is recommended that members make contact through the general IAAA message list or direct email to see about making California or Nevada travel connections.

Phyllis at the Ranch also tells us about the dark sky possibilities for telescopic viewing. She's the contact for an October star party.

Phyllis writes: "We set up at the Furnace Creek Airstrip. It works well for a Star Party because its close (but not too close) to the resort and campground, has ample parking and a rest room. However, it has some runway lights so it's not the darkest place, but it actually doesn't effect the sky too much. My husband and I go out to West Side Road. There's a little turn-off where we set-up our scope and it's very dark. Since we're in the middle of the desert, we get that whole beautiful "bowl effect" - nothing in the way. Dante's View is also great but might be a little cool in February at that elevation. The darkest part of the park is in the northern part as you probably know. The Mesquite Campground is used by some Astronomy clubs. Its a bit of a ride from the resort but probably one of the darkest places around with picnic tables and latrines. Perhaps you or some members can come out on October 15-16. We have people from all over the state bring their scopes and it's lots of fun. Discounted rooms for telescope toters! Interested?"

Sunday September 26, 2004: The workshop fee payment instructions are now finalized. European Vice President David A. Hardy informs us that payments from UK members should be sent to him, made out to 'IAAA': 56 pounds sterling. The exchange rate is on Other European members should send payment in USD directly to IAAA Treasurer Beth Avary. This information is also added to the fee section.

The workshop application form will be sent out this week in two versions, paper and email. Use either.

Joe Bergeron informs us that ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS isn't out on DVD yet. Your coordinator hasn't seen it listed yet, either, so perhaps Bob Kline (who alluded to having the DVD) will tell us more later. Some of us have the film on laserdisc, so we might be able to transfer it.