As I write, I am sitting in my bed/office/living room in the camper, it's about 9pm and feels like it's about 90 degrees, which it might be in the camper, outside its only about 75. There are tiny little bugs that are swarming around the light, they are so tiny that they can sneak into the camper through the screens and as I type, I tap on the screen of my iPad every so often to kill the little critters that are crawling around. I have to get that out before I can go on about Death Valley, because currently they are making me very distracted. (Note: this is being published the next day after a buggy night filled sleep. Bugs kept falling through our vent above our bed, making for a warm, restless night. I loved this area and the warm weather during the day but the bugs and a camper without AC was not ideal in the evening.)
Other than the night time bugs, Death Valley has been a really wonderful National Park. Both Andrew and I had little, to no expectations for this park. We thought it would be cool to drive through, maybe stay one day on our way to Zion. When we checked in on Sunday after leaving Lake Isabella we stopped at the Visitors Center, as we generally do when visiting National Parks, it's the best way to get familiar with the park, collect maps and talk to the park rangers. When we checked in the girls each got Junior Ranger packets and we also got the instructions for the #hikedeathvalley program they were currently running. Junior Ranger programs are fun because it give the girls something to focus on (we also gave them a pass on school work when they fill out the booklet) and we all learn new things about the park. (For example, we learned the highest recorded temperature was 134 degrees Fahrenheit in 1913!) The #hikedeathvalley program was a fun challenge to get people hiking different trails in the park, each hike was worth a certain amount of points. Once you earned 4 points you get a Death Valley decal. Although, the decal isn't super fancy it was fun to plan out our hikes for our visit based on how many points we got for each and we all loved having a goal for the few days we were here.
Camping at Death Valley is not like most other National Parks, there are no trees, very little shade and you are pretty much camping in a parking lot. But for the nights we were here we enjoyed our spots (despite the bugs), the first night was in Furnace Creek, very close to the Visitors Center, where we got to see a ranger talk in the evening. The next two nights we stayed in Stovepipe Wells which is close to a general store and another lodge which has a restaurant and bar and a pool, which for $4 dollars we were able to enjoy, along with a nice shower – after a long day of hiking, this was the best $4 dollars I have spent in awhile. The best thing about camping out here in this vast valley is the magnificent stars that we have been able to experience each night. Without all the lights of a city and so much open space you can see for miles and it is truly amazing.
For our first full day we started off with an easy hike/walk on the Badwater Basin, although this wasn't on our list for points, it is the lowest point in the park at -282 below sea level. There is a boardwalk that takes you out to the basin to the salt flats which looks like it could be a frozen lake or covered in snow, but it is evaporated water and salt crystals and other minerals. It was fun to walk out on the basin and feel like we were in the middle of nowhere or in a scene out of Star Wars (which by the way, many Star Wars movies were filmed in Death Valley).
Girls in the middle of Badwater Basin
After the Badwater Basin, we traveled down the road a bit to another trail called Natural Bridge. This was also a shorter hike, through a canyon and under a Natural Bridge (hence the name) which was created through differential erosion, along the path there are also dry waterfalls and huge boulders to climb over and under. When the path ends, there are more rocks and boulders to climb around on and explore deeper into the canyon. While we were hiking it started to rain, big raindrops. And because I am a bit anxious at times and had read enough about flash floods in this park, I frantically insisted that our hike was over and it was time head down the canyon. Although, I may have been a bit overly cautious, by the time we got to the truck it was pouring and I was happy to be safely driving away to our next stop.
After the Natural Bridge, we took a driving tour through Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette. One crazy thing about this park is the weather patterns, even though it was dumping rain at Natural Bridge, it was warm and sunny just down the road on Artist’s Drive. This drive is a 9- mile, one way road, only open to vehicles under 25 feet (another reason we love our compact camper). The drive was narrow and curvy with big rocks overhanging. Not to mention the amazing colors and features on the mountains along the route. It was a lovely detour and once again I love my husband for his awesome driving skills and abilities of maneuvering our rig through these super, cool tight spots.
After Artists Palette, we needed some more points for our challenge (we didn’t get any points for the drive or Badwater, and only 1 point for the Natural Bridge), so we headed over to the Mesquite Sand Dunes. This crazy hike, with no trail or path, takes you over hot, sandy dunes and our goal was to get to the highest dune, about 1 mile away (as the crow flies). Once again we felt like Star Wars characters in the middle of the desert, it was hot and sandy and our shoes were filled to the brim with sand, but we thoroughly enjoyed hiking the ridges on the various dunes and running down like crazy people once we finally reached the top point.
The second day, we started off our day with a beautiful hike at Mosaic Canyon. This was my favorite hike of the visit, it was a nice climb up through marble canyon walls. And again, like Natural Bridge, once the main trail ends there are cool boulders and marble shoots to climb in and over. This also made the hike way more enjoyable for the girls, they don't love hiking in the burning, hot sun, but once they are climbing and sliding various shoot and canyons they forget about the heat and love the adventure. Bonus, there was no rain at all for this hike!
Hiking Mosaic Canyon (2 pts)
After the hike, we had lunch in the camper by the Salt Creek Interpretive trail and checked out pupfish and then drove to Dante’s View, at 5475ft we got to look down on all the hikes we had traveled over the last couple days, our main view was over the Badwater Salt Flats, which was really cool and we also got to enjoy some more greenery and the blooming wild flowers that were starting to show up.
Hiking in the park was lots of fun and of course, as usual, we didn’t even really scratch the surface for what the park has to offer, there were longer hikes, hikes to waterfalls and tons of areas to explore when we come back in a smaller/lighter 4x4 vehicle. In the end, we reached our goal of 4 points and we each got a fancy decal for our accomplishments!