I started out on Wednesday for a Death Valley trip where I would meet up with Stephanie, Pete, Krista and Thibault for several days of hiking and sight seeing. They couldn't get off work until Thursday night but due to some cancellations and my spring break schedule, I decided to head out early. It began a bit rocky, and my facebook post looked something like this:
Okie dokie. Finally made it to USPS. Closed for lunch. Went to refill water jugs. Filler out of service. Stopped for important purchase at least favorite store ever. They didn't have what I needed in stock. Bought a yummy icy drink. Spilled it on my lap. Stopped at bathroom. Saw dried chocolate from icy drink all over my chin. Went to fill gas tank. Pump out of service.
And so it began … I decided to take the scenic route down and drove out hwy 50 with a short link via hwy 89 to get to 395 just south of Lake Tahoe. My plan had been to beeline it to the Mobil gas station, camp nearby at Mono Lake and have an amazing breakfast. I arrived at 8:00 to find that it was closed for the season. Of course it was...
So I drove down a little further and head in toward June Lake. Although the Oh! Ridge campground was closed, I decided to park in the day-use picnic area and camp out in my car. I awoke to a gorgeous scene of the lake and the full moon setting behind the mountains. Gorgeous. I started driving and saw the icon for the flat tire lit up. Are you f***in' kidding me?! Fortunately I remembered that had happened before when I drove up to elevation in the cold. Whew. A pounds of pressure down pumped back up and I was good to go.
Next stop, Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley.
Hot. Hot hot hot. I arrived around 11:30 to the campground which was, literally, a parking lot. Roasting at sea level. The last row abutted the sand dunes, and I scored the last site there for the night which meant that rather then having to set up my tent next to my car in the middle of the lot, I could head back into the dunes, out of sight from the cars, and set up my tent with more privacy. After securing the site I decided to go find a decent hike at elevation to stay cool. The ranger recommended Wildrose peak, so I backtracked to the Wildrose turn off and drove down to the kilns for a lovely hike with an overlook over the whole valley. I hiked 2 miles in to where the view opened up, and then wandered back down. I got down in time to catch the sunset over the dunes.
Staying at Stovepipe wasn't the worst place I have ever stayed but it was noisy. Sounds carry in the desert and people were up and about until 11pm. The next day, I realized that this might not be the best place for our crew to sleep the night. I messaged them to let them know we may want to rethink our plan … which was pretty loose to begin with anyway.
Krista, Stephanie, Pete and Thibault all arrived by 11:30 and we made our new plan. We would check out Mosaic Canyon (just up the road from Stovepipe Wells) and then get the h*ll out'a dodge and head north toward Ubehebe Crater. After exploring the canyon we drove up to the crater but realized the sun was beginning to get low in the sky and it would be a good idea to secure our camping area and come back first thing in the morning. Dispersed camping is allowed in Death Valley, meaning that on all but some restricted roads, you can drive a mile up any dirt road and camp. We found an perfect spot at the one mile mark and after dinner and star gazing, we head to bed.
The moon was incredible. My first night, I had awoken in my tent thinking that someone had turned on their headlights and were being obnoxious. But when I stuck my head out my tent, I had to laugh. Nope, just the moon, Adina. Just the moon spotlighting the world around me. The second and third nights were similar, and any late-night trips out of the tent had no need of headlamps.
Dawn was gorgeous, and we got up and out early. We had Ubehebe Crater to ourselves for at least an hour before any others began arriving. The flowers were a delicate contrast to the hard harsh black rock all around. It was exhilarating. After we wandered the trails that circled the craters, Pete, Stephanie, Krista and Thibault all hiked down into the center while I stayed above and took pictures and found my walkie talkies so we could communicate with each other while on the road. It actually worked out pretty well and we were able to check in when we wanted to stop and take pictures or turn off for site seeing.
From Ubehebe (probably one of my favorite sites) we drove down to Titus Canyon but realized we didn't want to take the time to hike there. So we drove to Furnace Creek and had lunch and picked up some supplies. Continuing south we drove to Golden Canyon which offered a loop or a cross hike to Zabriskie Peak. We chose to do a large loop going all the way to Zabriskie. Starting a hike at sea level in Death Valley at 3:30 in the afternoon was not our wisest move. My face was already burning up from wind burn, sun and internal heat, and was painful to the touch. The hike was, for the first couple hours, in the blazing sun with the most intense portion a hike over Manly Beacon with no relief. Zabriskie Peak was cool, but I was starting to get a little nervous about the time. I was worried that we may not make it back before dark, and then would have to find a spot and set up camp in an unknown area also in the dark. Pete calmed my nervousness and our hike back was much easier – we were walking straight down a wash and with the sun dipping it was also much cooler outside by that point. Back at the cars we drove up to Hole-in-the-Wall road, drove up the required mile (well, .8 this time), and quickly set up camp. Tonight was much windier, and I didn't sleep well. The random whipping of my tent material woke me constantly. Even so, the following morning I was ready to go at sunrise. Out here, you don't want to waste any daylight hours that are even moderately cool.
Morning at camp, and Ubehebe Crater:
Golden Canyon and Zabriskie Peak
As I said above, we were all ready to go early to maximize the amount of cool daylight for hiking. The plan was to drive down to Sidewinder Canyon for a 4+ mile loop that would also include exploring slot canyons. On the way we passed Badwater and stopped at the salt flats. Better to be at 282 ft. below sea level in the morning before the heat kicked in. I was thrilled to see an Outward Bound group there doing service work and adventuring.
It was only a short distance more to our trailhead, but along the way we found our "fields of gold" superbloom. It was wonderful. We had been seeing plenty of flowers, but this was the superbloom we had heard so much about. We were already thrilled with what we had seen so far, but this was yet even more wonder to fill our eyes and souls.
The canyon hike was fantastic. Hiking up the wash was challenging, but inside each of the slot canyons we found a variety of treasures. By far my favorite was when we needed our headlamps to get through the canyon. We did several short climbs in addition to one fairly nerve wracking climb in the pitch dark. It was a relatively low wall, maybe 10 ft, and there were plenty of spotters, but it still got my hands shaking a little. The slot canyons rose and eventually opened to the top, but still required a bit more effort to get the unobstructed views. Mostly I picked the opportunity to rest rather than work for the view.
Heading back north we did some photo-op stops, and considered Natural Bridge but decided that eating and heading to Artists Drive took priority. Artists drive was gorgeous. It was like driving through a larger-than-life size artists palette with colors blending and rising up all around us.
Next, to find our camping spot on Greenwater Road. It. Was. Perfect. If I thought the first night was wonderful, this was spectacular. We were camping smack in the middle of the superbloom. There was no way not to trample the flowers :( but I managed to find a place to put up my tent that had only a few flowers around. My heart was swelling! Sweet sleep. (It helped that I put an ear plug in one ear so the whipping wind wouldn't keep me up all night).
Fields of Gold, Devil's Golf Course and Artists Drive
Sunset at our final campsite on Greenwater Road.
The plan was to be ready to drive away and up to Dante's View by 6:15 to be there for dawn. I opened my eyes at 6:15. Crap! I looked out my tent flap – whew. Stephanie had just gotten up and everyone was still just starting to move about. We quickly packed up and drove up the peak. As it happened, we wouldn't have seen "dawn" because it was a bit overcast. It was also incredibly windy and cold but the views were amazing and worth it. After a couple hours there, it was time to move on. Pete, Stephanie and Thibault wanted to make a quick stop at the dunes, Krista and I decided to head out. We said our goodbyes and were on our way.
What a wonderful trip. I couldn't have asked for a better group. We moved and turned with the changing moods and needs, the more lazy (me) were pushed and the more challenge oriented were sometimes reined in (stop climbing on loose rock!) All together I hiked around 24+ miles. It was a wonderful balance and a fabulous trip.