Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Death Valley National Park

It's easy to get thirsty in Death Valley. The picture on the left was taken on my first visit to Death Valley. We were pretending to be parched. In reality it was spring and the temperature was in the low 80s.

This was part of a Roadtrip in an ancient Fort Pinto, camping at San Clemente State Park, going to Disneyland and Universal Studios. Then on to Las Vegas, before heading through Death Valley on the way back north.

The next time in Death Valley it was quite a bit warmer. It was in late June. This was towards the end of a Roadtrip that had climbed through the caves of Lava Beds National Monument on the way to Reno, before crossing Nevada on the Loneliest Road in America, then continuing on to Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks before a couple days in Las Vegas followed by a very very HOT Death Valley.

On the Reno Death Valley Roadtrip we wanted to get the full experience of the heat. We brought plenty of liquid and drank constantly. The air-conditioner was left off, both because we wanted the full HEAT experience, and the car over-heated, in the high heat, with the A/C on. At Badwater, that being the lowest point in North America, at 286 feet below sea level, was the first we got out of the car in Death Valley. Badwater is a big salt flat, you can walk out on it. And get very hot. Water is retained in the salty ground making it strangely squishy.

That is Badwater in the picture. If you look at the rock in the background you can see a white dot. That white dot marks sea level.

Death Valley gets very little rain. If a lot of rain does fall it collects at the low point, like it did in 2005, turning into Badwater Lake. The lake did not last long. I would have really liked to have seen Badwater Lake and all the wildflowers that that rain spawned.

On that second Roadtrip through Death Valley we hiked up a narrow side canyon til we could not take the HEAT anymore. A lot of the canyon was shaded, but even so, it just radiated extreme heat, as if you were walking in an oven. I loved it. Something about drinking so much water and then sweating, with the perspiration wicking off so fast you don't notice it, well, it's like an extreme natural sauna. I remember as we descended into Death Valley that day, I had a bit of a Las Vegas headache that seemed to melt away as I slipped below sea level.

The next time through Death Valley was the only time I stayed overnight. This was part of the most complicated Roadtrip I've been on. Houseboating at Lake Powell, overnight at the San Juan Inn in Mexican Hat, driving through Monument Valley, across Navajo Bridge to stay overnight in log cabins at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, where the next day we escaped a blizzard to make it to the Zion National Park Lodge and then 4 days in Las Vegas before heading to Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley and then a night at Mammoth followed by a sidetrip to Yosemite.

Getting to Stovepipe Wells was a bit of an adventure. Sometime after Badwater my van picked up a rather pointed piece of rock in its right rear tire, causing an almost instant flat. We were about 5 miles from Stovepipe Wells. I didn't think it was any big deal, but a pair of my fellow travelers went into what can only be described as panic mode. I usually find that breakdowns somehow manage to add to the fun, causing you to take a detour you weren't expecting.

A spare tire quickly replaced the flat, which was fixed the next day in Bishop, California, and we were back on the road to Stovepipe Wells Village. Our rooms were spread all over the village. I was closest to the pool. I believe it was a mineral springs pool. Very nice. We were in the pool soon after arrival and then again well after darkness fell.

Stovepipe Wells has a general store/gas station. There are souvenirs for sale in the gift shop. I got a Death Valley t-shirt and my fellow travellers bought me a Death Valley Sheriff's Badge for ramrodding this expedition.

We had dinner and breakfast in the Stovepipe Wells Toll Road Restaurant & Badwater Saloon. This is a wonderfully rustic eating experience in a building built from timbers from an old Death Valley mining operation.

After Stovepipe Wells this Roadtrip continued on to overnight in Mammoth Lake in California, then on through Yosemite on the way home.

The last time I was in Death Valley was prior to it becoming a National Park. My two oldest nephews flew me to Las Vegas the August before I moved to Texas. Our first morning in Vegas I read in the Review-Journal that conditions were such that Death Valley might break its temperature record that day.

The nephews were in for the hunt for a record breaking temperature.

So we headed towards Parhump, that being the closest way to Badwater, where the record breaking might take place. Unfortunately, it only got to 124. Not a record. We walked on the Badwater salt flats and checked out Zabriske Point before heading back to Vegas, making a big loop of that Day Roadtrip.

Death Valley used to be free to visit. Now that it is a national park you pay $20 per vehicle. In addition to Stovepipe Wells you can stay at the historic Furnace Creek Inn. It's a bit more expensive than Stovepipe Wells. Furnace Creek Ranch provides motel type rooms near Furnace Creek. At Panamint Springs resort you'll also find a more expensive place to stay than Stovepipe Wells. Panamint Springs also has camping sites. Stovepipe Wells has a few RV campsites with hookups.

Death Valley is open year round. I've had my most fun there when it is real hot in summer. The Stovepipe Wells visit occurred during October. It was quite warm, but not hot. In all my visits to Death Valley I've never gone inside Scotty's Castle, also known as Death Valley Ranch, it's a sprawling 2 story Spanish style villa with a complicated, convoluted history, that is a classic American story of the West.

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