After a BIG breakfast at the Owl Club (the only thing open in Eureka) we hit the highway bound for Death Valley National Park, California! We’ve now made it all the way across the USA!
We had filled half of the jeep with camping stuff just for this portion of the trip, as Death Valley is the only place on the route warm enough to comfortably camp in December. Although, if I had known ahead of time about the Clown Hotel, we would have punted the whole camping thing and settled for a couple of nightmare-fueled nights staring at the ceiling, waiting for our inevitable death. I like to call this picture All the Nopes.
Death Valley is the lowest, driest and hottest place in North America. The hottest atmospheric temperature ever recorded on earth, clocking in at a sweltering 134F, was at Furnace Creek, located inside the park. The forecast during our visit: a lovely 73F and sunny. Here’s a tip for you guys: go in the winter.
After a brief visit to the mercantile in Beatty, NV, to stock up on hot dogs, buns and camping chairs (how in the hell did we forget those?) we crossed into California around 4:15pm. Although we were a bit behind schedule, there is something magical about arriving in the desert just as the sun is setting. Our first big view of Death Valley was of the hills, stacked in varying shades of blues and pink, a lovely sight which occurred each morning and nightWe were camping in a settlement called Stove Pipe Wells, one of the two main ‘villages’ in Death Valley, the other being Furnace Creek. Stove Pipe Wells has a hotel, a campsite, a general store and a bar. Surprisingly, the two we frequented were the campsite and the store, probably because the store featured a delicious Sierra Nevada Heff that kept our insides toasty warm while the $22 worth of firewood took care of our outsides. Who needs a bar when you have a campfire and a cooler full of beer?
There was a brief, but inevitable tussle with the tent, as we were now setting up in very low light. We had borrowed two camping cots from our friend Mike, but hadn’t practiced putting them up or even seeing if they would fit into our tent. Wrangling a couple of extra large cots that want to snatch your fingers off while clamping a mag light between your ear and your shoulder is not an easy 1 person task…and was performed with much cursing and muttering from yours truly. We finally got settled around 5:30pm, and as the surrounding desert was pitch black, we started the fire and planted our asses in our newly purchased camp chairs. We built your standard clip-art fire (three logs in a triangle) and it was soon burning away merrily. There we sat, underneath an overcast sky with the scrubby desert laid out before us, until all our beer was consumed. The cots fit in the tent (barely) and we made their acquaintance fairly early in the evening.
The next morning, I was awakened around 6:30am by a clangly sound. It was as if someone, or something, was dragging our trash bag full of empties off into the desert. I peeked my head out of the tent and saw three ravens in our camp, attempting to eat everything we had left outside, be that item edible or not. One of the ravens was indeed dragging our trash bag around, sending the sound of our beer bottles clinking together across the the Valley. These guys were brazen little buggers; they were not at all worried about their proximity to shooing humans, as they dug through our fire pit unabashed, giving me quite a bit of stink-eye for good measure.After some shooing attempts, I decided to go back to bed…fortunately the cots did fit into the tent…although only just. It was a tight enough squeeze for the walls of the tent to have soaked my blankets and sleeping bag during the night, so going back to sleep was out. We crawled out of the tent and headed off for a pee. On the way back, the sun decided it was time to get a move on as well, and rose over the mountain range.
The schedule for the day was to hit the highlights of Death Valley, although in my opinion, the whole damn place is one big highlight. It’s beautiful here, although I am sure it’s a very different experience in the summer. On a 73F day, without a cloud in the sky, it’s damn near perfect. Our first stop was a quick visit to Furnace Creek village for some wifi access and some orange juice. Furnace Creek is the big ‘resort’ bit of Death Valley and everything is priced with an extravagant movie theater mark-up. We briefly considered purchasing smores fixin’s, but the $35 price tag squashed that plan. Gas here was $4.09 a gallon…which was 50 cents more that the gas at Stove Pipe Wells. In fact, everything was 20% less in our little enclave of the park and I am glad we didn’t head for Furnace Creek instead.
After our wifi fix had been satisfied, we visited Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the park, and indeed in North America. Badwater sits at 282 feet below sea level. Interestingly enough, the highest point in the contiguous United States is only 85 miles up the road at Mount Whitney. Supposedly, the area was named Badwater because a prospector’s mule refused to drink from the small, spring-fed pool; the accumulated salts of the basin made it undrinkable, thus: Badwater.Although you can’t drink it, the pool does host some wildlife, including the Badwater Snail, possibly the greatest potential band name ever*, a close second being Pickleweed, a plant that also grows there. We wandered out onto the flats until the crust became too unstable to hold us, then headed back to car to eat some lunch, stopping to take the customary tourist snapshots.This sign is actually a complete lie, as the actual lowest point lies several miles to the west, varying is position depending on rainfall. Taken from the parking lot, looking up the surrounding cliffs.
Even though it was only 73F, there’s nothing around to break up the heat, and no breeze in the air, so it was actually a little stifling. We ended up eating our sandwiches in the only shady spot, which happened to be located next to the toilets. Not the most romantic spot on the planet, but we work with what we’ve got. It was hot enough to put the top down on the jeep and so we cruised around for the rest of the day bathed in sunlight and cooled by the breeze. California…you’ve got a good thing going on. Did I mention that this place is also gorgeous?
We took a detour on the way back to town to take in the wonderful Artist’s Drive, a one way section of road that curves up and around a colorful section of the Black Mountains (wha?!?). The cliffs are red, pink, yellow, purple and green…all caused either by oxidation of various metals or decomposing mica. We videoed the entire drive, which will be added to the blog when our wifi signal is strong enough. The drive is incredible, John has proclaimed it to be his favorite scenic drive ever…so…there you go, people: Jeep Safe, John Levy Approved.Named based on the assumption that only the Devil would choose to play golf at such a hideously hot temperature. Personally, I would think that the Devil would like to vacation somewhere a little bit chillier for a change.
Seeing as it was now the weekend, the population of our campsite had tripled, including a lovely addition of two small, chatty children. That’s a bit of an understatement, actually…they were a bit more than chatty…more like never f*cking shut uppy. The record for the same question asked multiple times was an astounding 6. For you parents out there, this may seem like nothing…but for the childless-by-choice folks, this is a staggering number. After witnessing this sort of excessive, aimless questioning during a previous occasion, I once remarked to John that, if I ever had a child, I would designate Question Time at the end of the day. This means that my child would have to record all of their purposeless or curiosity-based questions that spring into their heads throughout the day and wait patiently until Question Time. When that time occurred, if they were still actually interested in the answer, or they hadn’t figured out the answer already, I would patiently answer all of their queries.
This is why I’m not having kids, and also, coincidentally, why they are usually afraid of me.
We watched the sun set from our fire ring.
About an hour later, the full moon rose above the campgrounds, casting a bright light over our little home.No stargazing for us, as the moonlight obscured all by the brightest stars. The light did help me spot a Kit Fox, which scurried around our camp site for a little while. Like the ravens, this little guy did not seem at all scared of us, as he came within two feet of me. He was adorable…huge ears, scampery feet and a bushy, black-tipped tail. After snorfing up all food molecules, he scampered off into the desert.
Two bushels of firewood later, we were ready for bed. Knowing that the sun would wake us up before 7am, we felt no remorse going to bed at 9:30pm. Seeing as we only had about 3.5 hours of driving before reaching Las Vegas, we took our time breaking down camp the next day…although we still got up at an ungodly hour. They should make tents with blackout curtains.
Our route to Sin City took us through a previously unexplored (at least by us) section of Death Valley, which was both staggering in size and beauty.
We also timed our exit though Death Valley Junction just right, as we barely missed the crowds lined up to get in the Opera House.
Death Valley, although inhospitable during the warm months, is an absolute hit in winter. The crowds are non-existent, the camping is fine and the Kit Foxes are adorable. Go visit!
*For the record, the actual greatest band name ever is Cancer Bats.
Categories: USA Roadtrip