Originally this trip started out as a quick one-week family camping vacation to Algonquin Park. We had booked the site well in advance, arrived according to plan, got the tent out and set-up, got what we wanted in the tent in the tent (which included an army cot; I’ve had enough of sleeping on the ground). Then it started to drizzle. I set up a tarp over the tent entrance and eating area.
Then it started to rain. And then it didn’t stop raining. Two days later and with the forecast calling for at least another five days of rain, we packed up (soaking wet) and headed home. I got on the net, found a very quick and easy way to fly to Vegas, booked the flights and the hotels for the next day.
Once we arrived in Las Vegas and got settled in the hotel, we went out urban exploring. It promptly started to rain.
This led to a new plan – we’d take off to Death Valley for a day, then explore Vegas once it had stopped raining. This time (as opposed to my first trip to Death Valley) I even stocked up on water supplies.
I chose the more ‘scenic’ route through the Mojave Desert and headed towards Baker, California (to see the world’s largest thermometer):
We then drove up US127, or Death Valley Road. Every now and then we’d stop to take in the sand and the view. I also discovered that scorpions can move really fast. Also that I don’t like wandering around outside in 120°F+ weather for all too long. And that sand heats up really good and flows into shoes where it burns your feet, especially if you go wandering in sand dunes.
It’s also very flat. Which may seem like you can’t get lost, but since everything is at the same height, you can quite easily. Once you drive off-road for a bit and lose track of the paved road, everything and every direction looks the same. Smart-ass me had a compass, though.
After the flat desert, we drove up to the mountains to get a good look at the salt flats:
Then drove down to the salt flats to walk to the edge of the salty area. It’s actually really moist, so you can’t get too far without sinking in. I should add that on the way up we did stop to pay the Death Valley National Park admittance fee at the roadside kiosk and use (the surprisingly not too smelly despite the heat) toilet.
It actually gets hot enough to cook on some of the (black) rocks, and you can burn yourself touching them (d’uh). It is fun to pick them up, say “ow” and toss or drop them quickly.
I can only recommend getting a four-wheel drive SUV with good clearance and doing some off-roading – it’s a blast flying down some old creek bed. I didn’t have a chance this time, but I’d still recommend it…
Time for food, drink and souvenirs – we headed to Furnace Creek in the middle of the DVNP, and also the site of a campground in case basking in the heat during the day isn’t enough. You can also freeze at night! To be fair, there’s also a resort with all the plush, climate-controlled, greenery-all-around, luxury you can handle.
On arrival and some complaints about wanting to stay in the air conditioned car (I got over it ;-)), we took a look at today’s temperature:
Not record-breaking, but not bad at all.
We still spent quite a while in Death Valley, checking out the Devil’s cornfield, the Sand Dunes, Stovepipe Wells, a couple of ghost towns, extreme rock formations, cacti (small ones), etc. We also managed to miss quite a few places to see, simply because we ran out of time. But it gives me a reason to go back and check out (following pictures not mine):
Death Valley’s Sailing Stones
or the Park’s only year-round waterfall (hiking, no driving) at Darwin Falls
It does get dark quickly – and the roads through the mountains are really windy, so the drive slows down quite a bit.
If you time it right though, drive the northerly route and head towards Beatty and the I95. Head south for about 21 miles to the Veterans Memorial Highway and find the signage towards ‘Big Dune’. If you get to Amargosa Valley, you’ve gone too far.
Big Dune offers more sand dune adventures, just with everything much bigger than in the Park. You’ll spot it from the highway, just follow the yellow dirt road…