A Weekend in Death Valley

My first trip to Death Valley was in the spring of 2019.

This park far-exceed my expectations and I honestly believe it to be one of the most underrated parks in America. The diversity alone of this park is incredible, but before going here I knew virtually nothing about it. The neighboring parks of Joshua Tree, Sequoia and Yosemite capture most of the attention in California.

The night before leaving, I drove to a nearby grocery store to get food for an early departure. While searching the granola bars, I heard my name called next to me. A friend and past-co-worker of mine that had moved to the area for work. Right then and there, she decided to go with me to Death Valley. We packed that night, and left the next morning on an 8 hour drive from the Santa Cruz area. I am so glad I got to share this experience with someone else, rather in solitude.

The first trip I took here was mostly for photography purposes. I had an itinerary in my mind I wanted to stick to for sunset and sunrise, we found a campsite at Sunset campground, and we discussed the remainder of the weekend on our way to Badwater Basin to catch sunset before dusk.

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We had woken up early for sunrise at Zabrinske, spending at least an hour watching the pink hues hit the mountains behind the point.  We then drove nearly the whole park to get to Golden Canyon after finding the slot canyons were closed to visitors at the time. It was around noon-ish and, in retrospect, this probably was not the smartest of decisions on both of our parts.  I definitely was not watching my water intake, and by the time we got back to the car I thought I was going to pass out. We drove to the Stovepipe area to stop for coconut water, and sat in the parking lot for probably 2 hours, un-moving, just trying to rest before driving toward the sand dunes for sunset. Most likely a very glamorous look.

We spend hours walking the dunes, taking photos and running down the towering mountains of sand. A few groups nearby hikes out sleds and snowboards as an alternative way to get down, a spectacle to say the least.

Our last morning, we woke up for sunrise again, driving instead towards Badwater to catch a different time of day. The air was still chilled, and the parking lot was dotted with very few cars, also in anticipation for the sun. We stopped in a few more locations, like Artists Pallet, before heading for the long drive back home.

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The next trip I took to Death Valley was this past February, 2020 with a small group of people. We rented a red Jeep, along with my Honda I would take straight back to San Jose, and drove from LA to east into the park.

We arrived near Furnace Creek at 4 pm, shortly before the sun started lowering towards the top of Telescope Peak. We were able to find a site in the Texas Spring campground, and spent a while walking the grounds to find a good-looking site. That night we sat atop the Jeep, watched the remainder of the sunset, played cards, and drank a bottle of wine (maybe two?). Pure paradise. The new moon created stars to peak out as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon. The only noise came from the gentle hum of the campsites nearby and a few coyotes in the distance. 

Before to long, we found ourselves on a short journey to a general store in Furnace Creek to grab firewood for the night. I, remembering my past experience and misplacement of my sunscreen made sure to buy extra. As I made the fire and ate canned soup, we told stories and entertained a nearby outdoors-man who was travelling from campsite to campsite singing songs on his ukulele. We must have been quite the entertainment, considering he circled back to us at least 3 times that night; serenading us with his songs, and telling tales of his time hiking the PCT and CDT. His trail name is Glider, and he found himself in Death Valley for a few weeks before rejoining the trail. If I had to guess…I think hes probably still walking Texas Spring, strumming along.

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The next morning I was able to convince the group to wake up at the crack of dawn, sometime between 4:30-5:00 am, and drive the hour long route to Dante’s Viewpoint. This was one of the places I did not visit on my first adventure to the park in 2018. As we made it to the top, it wasn’t long before the sky started to explode with color. I grabbed my camera, and ran to a viewpoint I was trying to seek out. By the time we left, the parking lot was starting to fill with tourists searching for a good lookout just after sunrise. We began our way back to the campsite, made our breakfast snacks, and head out for the remainder of our day.

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One of my roles was 1/2 group tour guide around the park. We started the remainder of the day driving to Badwater Basin, hitting Artists Palette on the way. After the classic sights, we drove off-road near the Devils Golf Course to the other side of Badwater Basin. Our stereo blaring “Water No Get Enemy” by Fela Kuti as the dust trailed far behind us.

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Our long day ended with packing up our campsite, and departing to the sand dunes before exiting the park. Our inside jokes, photos, and lyrics to Eddie Vedder’s “Society” lingering in our minds on the long drive home.

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