Learning something new everyday is the foundation of being a journalist. That said, it's generally no surprise when it happens. Recently I learned where the phrase "I'll be there with bells on" comes from; that there generally aren't 20 mules in a 20-mule team; how it is that a rainbow appears in the clouds on an otherwise clear day and where to find the largest difference in altitude in the continental U.S.
All this was learned while touring Death Valley National Park a few weekends ago with my husband on the Harley while really trying not to learn much at all.
My goals for the weekend were to warm up and see some wildflowers. But, of course, you can't get warm without wondering what the temperature is. When you find that out, you want to know just how hot it gets and on and on. The record high for Death Valley is 134 degrees set July 10, 1913. The record low was 15 degrees set Jan. 8, 1913. The highest ground temperature was 201 degrees set July 15, 1972, temps were recorded in the area of Furnace Creek.
From Dante's View, I learned the farthest distance from valley floor to peak in the continental U.S. is 11,331 - from Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level, to Telescope Peak, 11,049 feet above sea level - twice the depth of the Grand Canyon
At the Borax Museum, I found out that there are only 18 mules in a 20-mule team. A pair of horses were hitched to the wagon's tongue because they won't follow mules. In order to bring the top-heavy wagons around the curves without tipping them over, the mules do some fancy side steppin', which balances the load as the horses keep the wagon steady. Here I also learned one origin of the bells saying. It comes from the wagon-and-team days. If you arrived with your bells on, you had made it without incident. If there was an incident, you gave your bells away to the fellow who helped you out of your predicament.
Lastly, we saw an amazing rainbow in the clouds. It was perched high up surrounded by blue sky. The National Geographic Web site had a photo that was sort of what I think I saw, really I'm not a weatherwoman, they called it a circumhorizontal arc, and said it's a rare sight.
According to the Web site, "the sight occurs only when the sun is very high in the sky (more than 58 degrees above the horizon). What's more, the hexagonal ice crystals that make up cirrus clouds must be shaped like thick plates with their faces parallel to the ground.
"When light enters through a vertical side face of such an ice crystal and leaves from the bottom face, it refracts, or bends, in the same way that light passes through a prism. If a cirrus's crystals are aligned just right, the whole cloud lights up in a spectrum of colors."
No idea if I'm right, about the rainbow in the clouds, but I learned something just the same.
• Kelli Du Fresne is city editor for the Nevada Appeal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 881-1261.
If you go
WHAT: Death Valley National Park, Nevada and California
WHERE: About 400 miles south of Carson City via Highway 395 and Highway 136 to California Highway 190.
INFORMATION: (760) 786-3200 or www.nps.gov/deve
FEES: Vehicle $20; motorcycle/bicycle $10