We're just back from a few days exploring Death Valley.
Day One: It's a long way down. We left home at 8 a.m. and drove straight through, with only one stop for lunch at a minimalist rest stop of on I-5 to eat our homemade sandwiches. By the time we arrived at Stovepipe Wells it was 4:30 and our butts were sore. But there were plenty of campsites available, and we got on on the outside edge, facing West, for only $7, Senior rate. Such a deal. The sunset that evening was lovely, but it came at 5 o'clock, and we were in bed by 7:30...
Day Two: We were up early, in time to enjoy the amazing sunrise. Then it was time to fill up the gas tank and drive down to Texas Springs Campground near Furnace Creek to see if we could get a campsite. We did, thanks to a lovely lady who saw us driving around and told us that her group was leaving that day. So we were able to pay ($8 this time!) set up camp, and then drive South to Mormon Point Canyon. We'd read about this on Steve Hall's Death Valley Adventures website. What a resource that is! And this was a really wonderful hike. We didn't see another soul, and wandered all the way up to the top of the canyon, and out on a ridge for a huge view of Death Valley. About eight miles total. Thank you Steve Hall.
That evening we chatted with the campground host. Since we were in a van, we wanted to make sure we were legal in the tent area of the campground. What she told us was that as long as our van had no hook ups, sink, or toilet, we were good to go in a tent site--the same as if we were sleeping in our car. Nice to get that clarified.
Again, nightfall caught us by surprise, and we were eating dinner in the dark at 5:45...and sleeping by 8:30.
Day Three: It was quite windy in the night, but we woke up to temperatures in the low sixties--about ten degrees warmer than the previous morning. This day was supposed to be an easier hike, to take some of the pressure off M's sore feet, and so we drove further south down by Jubilee Pass to hike into Kaleidoscope Canyon. Now we love Steve Hall's site, but it always uses digital GPS coordinates for all the trails. And since I learned navigation as a sailor--using degrees, minutes, and seconds--Steve's GPS digital data strikes me as odd. So when we started this hike, I was pretty sure we were in the right place....and we loved what we found. Well, what we found were lots of wild rocks and colors.
We also found three (THREE!) mylar balloons in the this canyon. Can someone please put these people out of business? We made it out of the canyon in time for lunch at Ashford Mills ruins, and then drove back to camp for a nap. After that, we took Steve's advice to check out the Gnome's Workshop--but it was very hard to hike in there without crushing the formations, and so we turned around. Steve mentions this, and says to look for the overlook trail---but we couldn't find it. Later, we stopped at the Visitor's Center, where a ranger told us she had had the same problem...but that there is supposed to be a road nearby that avoids this problem...so we'll have to check that out another day.
On our way back from the hike to Kaleidoscope Canyon we noted two huge washes that come out to the road north of Mormon Point--Coffin and Copper Canyons. But Steve Hall doesn't mention them...and neither does our other guide book. Hmmm. Have to check those out.
Day Four: We were up even earlier today, this time to hike up into Room Canyon...another Steve Hall suggestion. It was easy to find the canyon, and an easy hike up the fan. Twenty minutes up towards the canyon, our hike was interrupted by two fighter jets from Edwards AFB staging a dog fight over Death Valley. Spectacularly loud, with the jets going full out and turning on a dime in mid-air. So much for a wilderness hike to enjoy the sounds of nature. And at the end, they left a couple of corkscrew contrails in the sky. Amazing.
That's when I realized that I had left my camera in the car. sigh.
So there are no photos of this hike--which probably makes Steve Hall happy. He refused to put any photos of the "room" in Room Canyon, for fear that he would create some kind of selfie mob scene. We're happy to say that we are keeping his secret safe...
But we have to confess there's another reason his secret is safe. Steve mentions a couple of small dry falls and a rock fall in the canyon, but says they are not much of an obstacle. Which is true for him, but wasn't true for us. I got up the first dry fall, but M stopped there.
And I didn't try the second one or the rock fall--leaving that to people who are younger, more agile, and better climbers than we are. But the narrows of this canyon were still a treat, and we saw a ton of sheep and coyote tracks there.
With the hike cut short, we drove down to the China Ranch Date Farm to eat lunch and buy dates. And during that drive, I may have seen the entrance to the REAL Kaleidoscope Canyon...we'll have to go back to make sure.
China Ranch was crawling with ATVers, but we found a picnic table, ate our lunch, and stocked up on the best of their dates. What fun.
After lunch, we drove back via Death Valley Junction and were back in camp in time for it to get dark and for us to eat dinner. Since a brisk wind was predicted for the next day, we planned on making our departure.
Day Five: Yep, it started to blow. By the time we got to Stovepipe Wells, it was howling, teh dust was flying, and there was a state-wide weather alert. No worries. We were up over Tehachapi, and heading for home, with tired legs, dry skin, and a whole bunch of new memories.
The photos are here: photos.app.goo.gl/kQJiB5sY7NdSVCWa6
Death Valley revisited
I like DV a lot. The greatest attraction is all of that space. I don't hike in famous places or camp in campgrounds. That changes everything. It is the largest wilderness in the Lower 48 and easy to get away from other people.
We did not see another person on any of the hikes we took there this trip.
Those mylar balloons...
I see several of these on every trip I make to the So Cal desert wilderness. Joshua Tree NP has a surprisingly large number of these things. I pick them up, but find more in the same area, time and time again. I imagine the ones I don't get somehow "disapper"; otherwise the desert would look like the day after a big party. Oddly I don't see them in the Sierra, I guess the altitude is somehow out of range for them.
I've collected them in the Sierra as well, but never three in one day.
I have worked on contracts to estimate the amount of debris in the Mojave Desert that comes from sorties by military planes under MTRs, military training routes. Worked for the USAF and the US Navy. We found chaff, flare debris, fire scars, shredded aluminum from wrecked planes, smoky sams and dead and live ordinance. Along with looking for debris, comes desert tortoises, wild horses and reptiles.
In winter the desert is a great place to be.
Most air traffic is diverted around DVNP, but the Panamint Valley is a great place to see jets.
ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 1
3-Season Down Sleeping Bags
Sierra Designs Cloud 800/20 Degree
Osprey Stratos 34
DIY: 6'x9’ Footprint Tarp Bivy
Ontario Knife Company SP-1 Combat Knife
3-4 Season Convertible Tents
The North Face Starburst
Hennessy Hammock HH2O AutoMagic Water Collector & Rainfly Tensioner System
Wild Ideas Bearikade Expedition
Mystery Ranch Forager Hip Pack
Trail Running Shoes
Salomon Supercross GTX