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Into the Valley of Death.

Posted 04-27-2010 at 03:57 PM by BillB44
Updated 04-27-2010 at 04:01 PM by BillB44 (Add more pics)

It’s 6:30PM, Saturday, April 23. We find ourselves at 190 feet below sea level in a nice little campground called Furnace Creek, not far from Stovepipe Wells and Dante’s Ridge. Figure out where we are yet? That’s right, Death Valley National Park. We decided to avoid I-5 and take a longer but far more interesting route back to North Idaho.

It took us three days to clean pack, stow, clean, prep, pack and shut down the house and do the same with the SilverSpud. Then 335 miles and we arrived here, descending down a long, graceful road from 3,500 feet passing bizarrely beautiful formations and folded hills of mottled colors. All made more dramatic by the setting sun and darkening clouds. Then, as we pulled into this 165-space campground ringed with cottonwood trees, it started to rain. In Death Valley, where they get only 2” a year. As I stood there, filling Spud’s water tank, I think I got about a fourth of the annual allotment.

We found a decent spot, wide and pull thru-able but no hook-ups, and un-hitched. Dinner of broccoli/pasta and wine and early to bed.

This morning we woke up at 6:30, had a nummy breakfast of Coleman-cooked hash browns, bacon and eggs, then set off to explore this most unique of places. Not technically a valley, this largest of all National Parks in the lower 48 is actually a "graben"--- a depression in the earth’s crust that is continuing to sink, but slowly enough that we didn’t need to hurry through it. Good thing; there’s a LOT to see.

First we stopped at Furnace Creek Visitor center for map, requisite patch, and info-- then the Furnace Creek Ranch and General Store for water and snacks, then gas (a paltry $4.05 for reg.) How could the emigrants survive these prices!?

Thus equipped, our first destination was the 20 Mule Team Canyon Drive, a quirky little gravel loop that took us through undulating limestone hills of white and orange, all dotted with apparently late-blooming yellow wild flowers. Very odd, very cool.

Then, a 25-mile climb (in the truck) up to Dante’s Peak which yielded a vista appropriately called Dante’s View. No tiny overlook this, the entire Valley—er, graben—was laid out before us, 6,000 feet below. Here, from one very cold & windy perch, we could see 100 miles and 360 degrees, encompassing the lowest point in the US (Badwater Salt Flats @ -282’), and the highest point, Mt. Whitney @ 14,600’. Pretty damn amazing.

We got back in the truck and drove the twisty, steep road back down to Zabriskie Point, a short walk up to an overlook of yet more convoluted formations of wild scale and hue.

Then, a 17-mile trek to the above mentioned Badwater Salt Flats, now seen and explored up close: The lowest point in North America.

En route to Badwater we also stopped at Devil’s Golf Course, a field of immense size pocked with jagged uprisings created by evaporating salt. It’s stuff that erodes down into this once-massive lake from the mountains that surround us.

Kneel down, look close; they’re really quite beautiful, all these sodium serrations. But be wary, one slip or misstep could lead to a very unpleasant trip. We survived it.

Next up, the most stunning sight of the day—Artist’s Drive. This 9-mile, one-way loop serpentines up, over, around and through an assortment of formations and convolutions that would be mind boggling if they were dirt gray. But they bloom with mineral colors.

Pink, orange, turquoise, mauve and more. One stop dubbed Artist’s Palette, cul de sacs at a series of ripe colorful hills.

It’s now 3:30 so we headed back, stopping at the famous Furnace Creek Inn just to stroll thru it’s classic 1930’s lobby and ogle the architecture. Then, to the more pedestrian but comfortable Furnace Creek Ranch with its Sidewinder tavern that served up cold ales and an equally cold cheese & fruit plate. Poifect.

When we got back to the spud it was 4:15 and 88 degrees. We opened it up, flopped down in the camp chairs and read. BB even took a 40-minute nap inside.

And worked on what you’re reading as the sun called it a day behind the purple Panamint Mountains.

Kathy summed it up nicely: “Too bad they called it Death Valley.” She had no interest in ever coming here because that moniker admittedly promises nothing but desiccation. Surprise, surprise. They should have called it Breath Valley, because that’s what gets taken away several times a day. Of course, we enjoyed it in air conditioned comfort by pressing down on a little pedal with my right foot, not trudging through it on foot in search of gold in 1849 only to find it a bleak dead end. We might’ve called it something harsh too.
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  1. Old Comment
    Jezzbell76's Avatar
    im in alabama,and not traveled much in life,,,,reading this and hearing of the graben,and the artists pallete,
    makes me very happy i just got this airstream
    Posted 04-29-2010 at 01:40 PM by Jezzbell76 Jezzbell76 is offline

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