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Death Valley 2008 Trip

Day 2 of 5

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Saturday, February 23rd
Drive to Furnace Creek, Badwater

At 4:30 in the morning, some clown in the room next to us turned on his TV at full volume. Jean went over and told him to turn it down, and he said "Thank you!" and appeared to turn it down from 10 to 9. Thankfully he turned it off a few minutes later while he took a shower. But then he turned it on again about 30 minutes later. It wasn't until we had the front desk call him that he finally turned it off for good. Sometimes I'm amazed at how inconsiderate some people can be. All I want sometimes is a good night's sleep, and you just can't win sometimes.

Anyway, we went back to sleep and eventually got out of Bakersfield around 10:30am. The sun started to come out as we drove through town to the freeway. One thing we had noticed the night before was all the chain restaurants along the road. Interestingly, the morning paper had an article about how Bakersfield embraced chain restaurants like no other. It described long lines at the opening of the local Red Lobster.

From Bakersfield, we took Highway 58 east to Highway 14. I made a brief 2-3 mile detour, turning right on Highway 14 to Mojave. This is your last good chance to get gas and food. There are other smaller choices along the way, but they're few and far between from here on out.

We continued north on Highway 14, which turns into Highway 395. We then took the right turn onto Highway 190 toward Death Valley. Once we hit 190, we encountered very few cars. I'm sure I could count the number of cars from the 14/190 intersection to our next stop using my fingers. The road climbs through the Inyo Mountains before dropping down into the Panamint Valley. It then climbs up to about 5000 feet in the Panamint Range before starting a steep descent. Eventually the winding road straightens out, as if whoever made it got tired of going back and forth, and you're heading straight down the mountainside. It's interesting to see the entire landscape tilted downward, with no trees in either direction to mar your view of the geography.

We stopped at Stovepipe Wells for a break and snack. There's a small store here where you can pick up some supplies and groceries. The selection isn't quite as good as at Furnace Creek. While here, I noticed there's an outdoor swimming pool at a motel here. It seemed odd to have a swimming pool in Death Valley. I wonder if they keep the pool open during the summer, when the local campground is closed (I don't think there's any shade to speak of).

We paid our vehicle fee at Stovepipe Wells ($20 per vehicle as of 2008), then continued on to our campground at Furnace Creek. The drive took us about 4 hours of driving from Bakersfield. I'd reserved the site at Furnace Creek a couple months in advance, and it had been one of the last few remaining. This might have been due to the fact that it was the tail end of President's week (Monday was a holiday). In any case, the campground was full that night.

Considering the fact that we were camping in a desert (a first for us), we were quite pleased with our campsite. It had ample shade under the tamarisk trees. There was a metal picnic table, a grill, and campfire ring. If you're tent camping (like us), be sure to get one of the tent-only sites. The RV sites have no shade at all.

It was weird not having a bear box at the camp site. In fact, I missed having it as a place to store food. We had to put food in our car while we weren't at the table, since there was a warning that small animals such as coyotes can get to your food if not secured. We were able to leave the cooler out, though, which is something we wouldn't do in bear country.

The temperature, as it would be throughout our stay, was just about perfect. About 75 degrees during the day, 50 at night. Perfect camping weather. A far cry from the 115 degrees of the dead of summer.

While everyone else took a nap, I drove down 190, then right onto Badwater Road to Badwater, about 20 miles away. Of course you probably know that Badwater is the lowest point in North America, 282 feet below sea level. I didn't expect much but I had to at least see it. When I arrived, there was a busload of tourists returning from a walk out to the salt flats. They banged their shoes against the concrete, trying to remove all the salt from the bottoms of their shoes.

282 feet below sea level

Panamint Range looming over Badwater

Up the cliff face to the east is a sign halfway up, reading "Sea Level". To the west, beyond the sign, is the salt flats. Many people make the short walk along the path to see the salt flags stretch up and down the valley. It was getting late and dark (from the setting sun and clouds), so I decided to just walk out a little bit. One thing I noticed is that the sky looked huge. Maybe there's some geometrical explanation for it, but the fact that I could look across a flat valley for miles made the sky look bigger than when I'm standing on a sidewalk at home.

The tiny white speck halfway up is a sign reading "Sea Level"

Salty trail

I turned around and headed back to Furnace Creek. The road ascends back to sea level before descending again down toward the campground. From this vantage point, it's very apparent that Furnace Creek is really an oasis. There are thousands of trees clustered here, drawing on the water from underground springs. In contrast, you can see miles and miles of no trees at all in Death Valley. There were fields of yellow wildflowers north of Furnace Creek, and some very short bushes, but the surrounding mountains are nothing but rock and dirt. So there's a very stark contrast when you descend into Furnace Creek from the south.

I encountered a few sprinkles as I drove back into camp, but no real rain. Jean cooked chicken and pasta for dinner that night. We were camped right next to a meeting of a Honda Element car club. They stayed up a bit later than we would like (past the 10pm quiet time), but packed it in when some raindrops started falling. We could hear the rain drops falling occasionally, but there really wasn't much rain to speak of. I stepped outside the tent around 5am to take some pictures of the moon and didn't see any evidence on the ground of any rain.


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