Death Valley

When I started researching places for our family to vacation this year Death Valley was initially going to be a stopping point on the way to someplace else.  All that I had ever known or thought about Death Valley was about the salt flats in Badwater Basin.  When I started researching what else that we might be interested in seeing in the park I realized that we could easily spend days there.  It’s the largest National Park in the lower 48 and is filled with all sorts of different terrains.  We wanted a comfortable way to camp and travel around with the babe, but since we were flying in we couldn’t bring much in the way of camping gear.  We’d heard about this company called Jucy and decided to try them out.  It was perfect for what we needed.

Because it’s a converted mini van you can drive it around easily, more so than with an RV.  The pop up tent on top was warm and comfortable.  It came with all the pots, pans, plates, etc so we didn’t need to bring anything like that; and we had them throw in some camp chairs.  They had a car seat so we didn’t have to bring ours.  Bonus, there’s a freaking fridge.  It was perfect for us.  We flew into Vegas, took a cab to pick it up, went to the grocery store, and headed to Death Valley.  Our flight was at 8am, and with the time change we landed at 9.  It’s on a 2 and a half hour drive to Death Valley, so we still had a little exploration time.

We went straight to the Furnace Creek visitor’s center and got a large park map.  I had two books on the park with me because I’m a dork, but they were great.  One was basic information about what the campsites and sights were like which helped us pick pretty places to camp[.  The other was on easy short hikes which was helpful picking good hikes for Jules.  The ranger at the visitor’s center helped point out a couple of places that I wouldn’t have otherwise gone to.

Camping there is super easy.  Pretty much all the sites are first come first serve and nothing typically fills.  We went to the Texas Spring area by Furnace Creek.  It’s a little more tucked back from the other sites there.  You’ve got some beautiful rock formations and it’s nice and quiet.  The other campsites in that area are basically parking lots.  We spent the evening climbing around on those formations.

Thje next morning we got up and headed down to Badwater.  Look, Badwater is cool and it’s totally worth checking out, but it looks exactly like I expected it to.,  It’s highly visited and photographed, so you see what you’d think.  It is pretty neat though to look back at the rocks and see the sea level sign posted 200 feet above you.  It puts where you’re at in perspective.  It’s also worth walking all the way back the mile or so because the salt formations begin to form into these really interesting circular patterns back there.

From there we went and hiked out o see the Natural Bridge.  Jules brought with his firetruck that he pushed through all of the dirt, a theme for the week.

Then we went out to the Devil’s Golf Course.  This was one of my favorite places.  I had seen photos of it, but not with people in them, so I didn’t realize how large the salt formations were.  I just wandered around in awe.  I loved this space.  We drove through Artist’s Drive afterwards and then went back to the Golf Course at sunset.  It was amazing.

The next day we headed further West, stopping to play in the Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells.  Jules loved this spot and ran all over it.  It was warm and we wandered around with our shoes off just playing.  Then we sat in the lot and ate blood oranges.

We drover further West past Panamint Springs to check out the views, and then came back to Panamint to hike out to Darwin Falls.  After so much dessert this was a pretty surreal experience.  As you begin to go back towards the falls, everything gradually becomes greener and greener.  Cattails start showing up.  Little rivers of water start flowing by.  The air smelled different and it was gorgeous and remote.

We then went south to see the Charcoal Kilns.  This was similar to the Devil’s Gold Course.  I had no idea of the scale.  It got colder as we went up in elevation and we began to see snow.  This was something I hadn’t planned for at all.  The road out there was rough and we put on all of our warmest clothes.  The sun set over the kilns as we ran around them. We drove back just a little ways to camp at Wildrose, and on the way had to stop to let a bunch of burros cross the road.  Wildrose was perfect.  It’s quiet, pretty, and remote.

The next morning we headed back East.  We stopped to see the Eureka Mine.  Jules excitedly found rust cans.

We continued to Aguereberry Point.  A ranger had told us that this was his favorite view in the park.  What he didn’t mention was the deathly scary road you went up with no guard rail that certainty wouldn’t allow for cars going opposite directions.  The view though, it was spectacular.  There was a little trail to hike out on that provided a view of the park that was stunning.

We headed to check out the ghost town of Rhyolite.  There’s an odd open air museum on the way that a group of Belgians started.  It’s pretty magical.  There’s just a small collection of fascinating sculptures. Jules loved “The Last Supper.”  He kept playing in what he called “the ghosts.”  He’s been pretending to be a ghost since the trip.   There was a a house made of bottles across the way to see as well.

Rhyolite however was a huge disappointment.  We got a couple of good pictures but for the most part all of the buildings were fenced off.

We then went looking for one more little hike that we could manage with Jules.  We went to the Salt Creek area where you follow a boardwalk over these little streams to see pupfish.  That is the cutest word to hear Jules say by the way.  They’re endemic to the area, meaning they’re only found there.  They were tiny and lived in these incredibly shallow little streams.  At the back of the boardwalk you could head off onto this trail that went back onto the salt flats.  It was beautiful.  We camped at Texas Spring again.

The next morning we had we went to Zabriskie Point on our way back to Vegas.  We checked out the view, and then Jules and I hiked on one of the nearby trails while Nathan got in one last run in the park.  He was able to run everyday we were out there.   The park was incredible.  It was so nice not having cell service and spending so much family time together.  Jules got in 4-5 miles of hiking a day and played with his trucks.  we ate and slept well.  It was perfect.

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