The year has begun, and so have our travels. We packed up the Roamer and took off on a long weekend trip to Death Valley National Park with Clark and Jill, our Sprinter owner friends. For those who have driven through Death Valley in the summer, your only thought is to get out as quickly as possible due to the heat. However, the place is gorgeous, and in the wintertime the cooler temperatures allow you to enjoy its natural beauty.
I put together a killer itinerary for the Death Valley trip, but as with most trips, nothing goes as planned – lol. We arrived at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center in a downpour. Our dispersed camping options were shot due to the weather so we asked for a good campsite. The Ranger said Mesquite Springs campground on the north side of the park was her favorite. Liking the sound of the remote camping option, we started our 40+ mile trip there. For those who have never been there or looked at a map of the place, Death Valley is huge, covering over 5,200 square miles.
Thirty miles from the campground we passed a sign that said the campground was closed. We called back to the Visitor Center and they verified that the sign was in error and the campground was open. The last 10 miles we crossed many newly formed rain water washes on the road. A few of the washes carried mud, rocks and debris from the local desert and deposited it over the road about a foot deep.
We finally arrived at the campsite as the sun was setting and the rain continued to come down. The Ranger was correct, the campground was open, and we had the entire place to ourselves.
By morning the rain had stopped, and puffy white clouds floated in the blue skies. This was the road out of the campsite, where a 2-foot deep chunk of the road had been carried away in the night. Luckily, there was enough solid road left for us to make our way out and start exploring the park.
Our first stop after leaving the campground was the volcanic Ubehebe Crater. You can see our little vehicles parked on the left – center of the picture to give some sense of scale. The crater is ½ mile across and 600 feet deep. The Natives called the crater “coyote’s basket”, and it’s estimated that it erupted only about 2000 years ago.
The rock formations near the crater, and in general all around the park, are incredible. Not only due to the character in size and shape, but in the many vivid colors that are present.
Scotty’s Castle was still closed due to rain damage that took out the road leading to it last year. Also, due to the weather we skipped Titus Canyon this trip. While it’s a beautiful drive, we slipped down some of the wet clay roads in 4-wheel low the last time we visited the park. Attempting it in a 2-wheel drive Sprinter didn’t seem like a good idea given the current weather.
Our next stop was the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail. The creek was flowing and we even spotted the elusive 2-inch long pupfish that live in the typically salty water that flows in the creek.
We continued to the southern section of the park to visit the lowest point in the US, Badwater Salt Flats at 282 feet below sea level. The salt flats extend across the entire 20-mile valley from the Amargosa Mountains on the east to the Panamint Mountains seen here to the west. While it was near freezing where we camped in the north, it was a nice 70-degree day on the salt flats at this lower elevation.
Just north of the salt flats is Devil’s Golf Course, an area covered with huge halite salt crystals. While we were stopped there, we chatted with two guys touring the park on their 1940’s Indian motorcycles. I should have gotten a picture of the bikes.
Artist’s Drive is one of the drives in the park that winds through the bare rock formations that are filled with incredible colors.
Our next stop was the Harmony Borax Works near Furnace Creek. Built in the 1880s, the Works harvested and processed 3 tons of sodium borate a day. It was then loaded onto wagons and pulled over the mountains to the west by 20 mule teams – the origin of “20 Mule Team Borax”.
It was nice that some weather was blowing through the area. The clouds help provide scale to the huge mountains that surround the valleys there. We camped the night at the Furnace Creek campground. It was nothing but a parking lot, but due to the soft, wet ground and the howling wind dispersed camping was not a good option.
The next day we headed west, passing by the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Luckily, we were upwind of the 700-foot tall dunes.
We crossed the Panamint Valley and headed towards Panamint Springs.
We hiked to Darwin Falls, just west of Panamint Springs. It’s not a huge waterfall, but pretty amazing to think this lush, green area near the water supply is here year around in the oven of Death Valley.
Due to the constant 20 mph wind, we decided to head east towards home and a little more shelter for camping that night. We stopped at Zabriskie Point on our way out of the Park, another example of beautiful rock formations in amazing colors.
We made our way to Red Rock Canyon BLM Campground, just west of Las Vegas, NV. We arrived after dark, cooked up some great steaks and Clark secured the Roamer Scrabble title. The owner of the Sprinter van in the picture came over in the morning. It turned out to be the husband of our neighbor’s daughter, whom I had just met outside our house 400 miles away before we left for Death Valley – small world.
Next to the campground is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a BLM-run area. It was our first time there and the place is just gorgeous. The Visitor Center had a lot of interesting exhibits and information.
The loop drive passes some beautiful rock formations with hikes back to hidden valleys and Native history.
A snow storms broke out as we drove through the area, creating some beautiful scenery. We didn’t stop to do any of the hikes due to the freezing weather, but its definitely on our list of places to revisit.
On our way home we stopped for lunch just outside of Wikieup, AZ next to some local art.
A great first trip for 2019.