BootsnAll Travel Network

Death Valley

My mother dropped me off at the airport to catch my flight to Las Vegas. I checked in and made my way through security. I was in line behind an 80 something year old nun who somehow made the metal detector go off.  She was then pulled assigned and gave a thorough scan with the hand wand. My first flight was to Dallas. The flight was delayed but otherwise uneventful. The flight from Dallas to Las Vegas was another matter.  The flight continually hit turbulence and kept dropping. These drops appeared to coincide with my bathroom trips. Cutting cartwheels through the sky, the plane approached Las Vegas flying over Lake Mead. I was surprised to see how close the airport was to the main strip with all of the casinos. The city appeared to have grown up around the airport.

Once at the airport, I had to negotiate around a sea of slot machines which filled the airport to get to the baggage claim area. I then caught the airport shuttle which was full of Chippendale and Australian male stripper ads (or Thunder from Down Under. So poetic.)  So far the advertising I had seen appeared to be directed toward women. All the women kept stopping in front of the ads, making what I assume were their naughty faces, and getting their pictures taken.

 I got my bags and then went and picked up my rental car. I had rented an SUV for the four days I would be in Death Valley as I wanted to do some off road driving and needed a high clearance vehicle. Upon leaving the airport, I turned on to Las Vegas Boulevard (or the Strip). Here I finally saw my first advertisements directed toward men. Who knew so many strip clubs could be in one place. The traffic on the strip was horrible. It was a great place to people watch though. At one red light, a group of four girls in a convertible next to me were doing some serious hair flipping, making pouty lips at all the men on the strip, and taking pictures of themselves doing it. When I looked over and caught their eye, they turned the act to me causing me to blush slightly (and this is a hard thing to do with my skin tone.) They then zoomed off as their lane of traffic was moving much faster than mine. As I was staying in a hostel outside of the main area, I soon left the big casinos behind and made my way into what appeared to be the drive through chapel district. Except for one little mishap where I almost ran over a group of Klingons and Vulcans at a Star Trek wedding, I made it through that area unscathed. (Actually the previous sentence is entirely fictitious, it just seemed appropriate.)

After a few U-turns, I arrived at the hostel. I checked in and then went to a nearby pizza place to get a calzone which I took back to the hostel. While I was eating, I was joined by a lady from Luxembourg who was working in Colorado. We talked for a while and she even thought she might would like to join me on my trip to Death Valley. She wasn’t decided for sure. I told her what time I was leaving the next morning and if she was interested just let me know. I then went to bed.

The next morning the lady never showed up so I assumed she changed her mind. I packed my bags and headed out for Death Valley. I first stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up the food and remaining camping supplies I would need in Death Valley. I then headed away from the city center and out to the suburbs. Evidence of the housing boom Las Vegas experienced over the past few years were everywhere. New housing developments dotted the dry dusty landscape. These finally fell away opening up into a dry arid landscape dotted with low shrubs. I was surprised to see that some of the mountains surrounding the Las Vegas Valley still had snow on them. This looked very out of place in the dry desert. (Although the temperatures have been on the cool side here.)

 The drive to Death Valley took me through several small towns and over several arid mountain passes. Most of the time I had the road to myself. It was very easy to get up to 80-90 mph on these long highways and not even notice. You can see so far in the distance that even these speeds feel slow. I crossed my final mountain pass and Death Valley stretched out before me. It is a very harsh landscape. Much of the valley is made up of salt flats. The mountains rise up very sharply on the valley’s edge. They have little to no vegetation on them. The valley is full of abandoned mining sights (Borax and other minerals have been mined in the valley historically) and derelict buildings. I stopped at a few. You could really get a since of the isolation by listening to the wind whistle through the buildings. Usually I was totally alone at the sites. I didn’t really run into any people until I stopped at Badwater which is the lowest point in the United States. There is a small salty water pond there that despite the harsh environment still contains life. Leaving here, I then took a side road to see the artist’s palette which is a rock formation full of multicolored rocks ranging from green to purple. As it was getting late by this point, I went to the ranger station at Furnace Creek (which sits in the middle of the valley) to check in, buy my park pass, and find a place to camp for the night.

Furnace Creek has cabins, restaurants, an inn, and surprisingly enough an 18 hole golf course with a lush green lawn and tall date palm trees. The whole area forms a small green oasis amid the brown and white of the valley.   After checking into the ranger station and picking up some brochures, I went to the Furnace Creek Campground and found a spot to set up my tent. The campsite I picked was under some trees which provided shade and near the bathrooms and water source. It was also right by all the RVs. I set up my tent and then left to go explore Furnace Creek.  After visiting the borax museum and eating ice cream at the general store, I returned to my campsite and cooked my supper which consisted of red beans and rice and some dried fruit. After visiting with the people in the campsite next to mine I tried to go to sleep. I ended up sleeping in the SUV that night due to the noise in the campground.

The next morning I got up, ate some Clif Bars for breakfast and then headed out to do some sight seeing. My main goal of the day was to drive a 27 mile off road route through Titus Canyon. I first went to the town of Beatty to fill up as gas at Furnace Creek was over $1 per gallon more expensive than the surrounding communities. After filling up, I drove back toward Death Valley first stopping at the ghost town of Rhyolite before reaching the turn off for Titus Canyon. The gravel road took off through desert scrub heading for the mountains. The road was full of washboards limiting my speed to about 10 mph. Once at the mountains the road climbed steeply. At several points, I had to make my way over some fairly large rocks. The road was uneven tilting the vehicle (which was really fun when the road was basically clinging to the side of a cliff. I had read about people doing the route in cars but they must have bottomed out several times while doing it. I got some great views once I was up in the mountains. The road then began its descent. There were several places to stop off to view some old abandoned lead mines. Despite signs advising you not to, you could go in them at you own risk but I decided not to. I figured I was being a big enough rebel taking my rental vehicle off of a paved road despite the rental paper telling me not to (gasp I know. When some people go to Vegas they get drunk and get married. I violate rental car company agreements. We all have different ways of expressing our wild side.) The final part of the drive took me through Titus Canyon. The canyon walls came up right to the edge of the road.

My next stop for the day was to look at some ancient volcanic craters. They were very deep and impressive. I decided that would be a good spot for me to eat my lunch. While eating my lunch, I started talking to three French people. (one guy and two girls. If you ever want to meet French people, go to Death Valley. They are everywhere. I had more opportunities to practice my French in the past few days than I have since I got back from my trip) They had also decided that the craters would be a good place to eat lunch. They were a little more prepared than me and had brought a picnic blanket. I felt downright boorish eating out the back of my SUV. The problem was soon solved though as they invited me to join them. It turned out that they were also staying at Furnace Creek campground. I was supposed to meet them at their campsite later on that evening. It was one the girl’s birthday. They had wine (surprise) and were going to celebrate. 

My last stop of the day was Scotty’s Castle. This house was built as a retreat by a wealth Chicago financier who was not named Scotty. Scotty was a prospector who conned people into believing he had found a gold mine. Through a long convoluted story which you can look up if you are interested, the wealthy guy built the house and Scotty ended up living with him and his wife. The most impressive part of the house was the music room. It contained a massive commercial 1920’s theatre pipe organ which played preprogrammed songs. The pipes sat behind a wood screen. Gigantic baffles opened and closed modulating the sound from the organ.       

I then returned to the campground to find it mostly empty. I thought I might actually have a quiet night but I was wrong. All the RV’s were gone but some very loud people in off-road vehicles showed up. They carried on until late in the night. I was never able to locate the French people so I ended up talking with two Dutch girls who were in the campsite on the other side of me.  I spent another night sleeping in the SUV.

When I woke up, the next morning I decided to try another campground and packed up my tent and all my gear. Before leaving the campground, I ran into the French group and ended up drinking a cup of tea with them before I left for the day’s sightseeing. My goal was to head up into the mountains on the other side of the valley from which I entered and see what lay beyond them. My initial plan was to do a small loop and then just set up camp early. As I climbed into the mountains, I saw a bigger chain of snow capped mountains beyond them (Sierra Nevadas). After looking at my map, I decided to do a bigger 200 mile loop which took up to the base of those mountains. Once I crossed the mountains out of Death Valley, the area grew very slightly less arid and Joshua trees grew in abundance. I had plans to go to visit the town of Long Pine where many of the early westerns were shot. A large duststorm in distance change my plans and I diverted south to avoid it. (You can really see great distances here). I drove along the base of the Sierra Nevadas through towns that looked like a 1950’s cliché with old ranch houses and worn Route 66 looking motels. On one side of the road was an aqueduct which took water all the way to Los Angeles 180 miles away.

I headed back into Death Valley and began the drive up to the campsite I thought I might stay out for the night. Furnace Creek is at -190 ft. This campground (Wildrose) was at about 3500 ft. The campground was empty when I passed so I saw there was no rust to grab a spot. I kept ascending up into the mountains. The road turned to gravel. I stopped at some very large and well preserved kilns (about 5000 feet) which used to make charcoal for the mines. The road beyond this point was recommended for a 4X4 but I decided to drive a little ways further. The road wound its way through a forest of pinion pine. By the time I got to 7500 ft (the road ended at a campground named Mahogany Flats at 8100 ft), the road was really rocky and steep. I was nervous about getting stuck or getting a flat so I turned around. I went back down to the Wildrose campground and set up my tent. By nighttime only two other people were at the campsite so I finally got to sleep in my tent beneath a beautiful starry sky.

This morning it was really cold when I woke up. I had plans to pack up everything neatly as I had to go back to Las Vegas to swap cars. I finally gave up as my hands were freezing, threw everything in the SUV, and started making my way down to a lower elevation. On the way down the mountain, I took a detour to a look out point at 6300 ft in elevation. The gravel road ended at a drop off that gave amazing panoramic view out over Death Valley. This view point was a fitting way for me to end my time in Death Valley.

Upon returning to Las Vegas, I stopped at the airport and swapped the SUV for a skateboard on wheels. The woman at the rental counter told me that only hatchbacks were available. I really wanted something with a trunk as I needed a place to store my gear when I hiked down into the Grand Canyon. When I went out to get the car, the attendant let me have a Ford Focus which solved my trunk issues. After leaving the airport, I went to the Luxor (the big black pyramid casino) and checked in. The receptionist upgraded my room to one with a tub and shower. When I learned that my room had a tub I had the same thought that most of you would have in that situation. Yayyy! I can do my laundry. She then gave me directions to my room and I quote “Take a left at the Starbucks and then keep walking until you get to the next Starbucks and take a right.” Apparently the Luxor has three Starbucks. People like their coffee. I checked into my room, took a shower, and yes did my laundry in the nice big tub.

After taking nap, I decided to go have a look around. I entered the casino and stopped at a penny machine that was linked to other machines. You could win a $3,000,000 jackpot. Ten minutes and $70 later I walked away without the $3,000,000. I consoled myself with a big Black Angus hamburger.

Tomorrow I am heading off for the Grand Canyon to see if I can get a permit to hike down. I am camping again and it is supposed to be 24F tomorrow night at the campground. I may once again be sleeping in the car.

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3 Responses to “Death Valley”

  1. Dad and Mom Says:

    Oh! That’s where you are! We’ve been looking for you. Just kidding. Enjoyed reading the details of your trip.

  2. Posted from United States United States
  3. Jen-E Says:

    Hey Barr! Your fictitious sentence would have ended better with you made it through that area and realized that was your wedding party and didnt tell anyone it was fictitious until you got home…LOL! Glad to hear you are having fun…Be safe!

  4. Posted from United States United States
  5. Josh W. Says:

    Barry, Sounds like fun! Good Luck in your adventure! Oh, and Tom says back to work, you are not at your desk!

  6. Posted from United States United States

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