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Death Valley Camping

Duration: 4 days
Campsite: Stovepipe Wells (Tent only) 
Places Visited/Hiked: Darwin Falls, Mosaic canyon, Red Canyon, Gold Canyon, Natural Bridge, Ubehebe Crater, Artist way 
Sightseeing: Bad water, Golf Course, 20 mule road, Scotty’s Castle, sand-dunes. 

  

Picasaweb link: here 

I am not sure as to whether this qualifies as a trek log in the first place but the canyons were pretty interesting and I did have a lot of fun hiking and climbing them. So here it goes.

I was completely unprepared for this camping trip. I did not pack food neither did I pack all the essential clothing and gear. After a very busy week at work, I along with Mether, Sree, Nikhil and Vinay began our long journey from the bay area to Death Valley National Park at 3pm on Wednesday.
The adventure for our carpool had already begun. Our rental showed a “Change Oil” light and we drove back to the San Jose airport to exchange the car. A Chevrolet finally became our transporter for the rest of the trip. Having started later than we would have liked, we were stuck in the holiday traffic on 101S and 152 that connects 101 to I5. Weaving around traffic and stopping at a Subway for dinner, we reached the campsite at 2:05am. By the time we pitched our tents and settled down to sleep it was 3:20am. The to-start time for Thursday was 8:00am. So it was pretty much a very short nap.

[Day 1]

At 7:00am, I woke up to the pleasant morning glow; the warm golden rays reached my eyes piercing the tent gently nagging me to wake up. I stepped out of my tent at 7:10am and I could see the sun shining from behind the mountain range in the east. The light filled the valley and Stovepipe Wells for the first time was visible to me. At first, I thought it was a huge town but it wasn’t. It was a modest town with a restaurant/motel, a sheriff station, gas station and the campground. After a quick breakfast at camp, all of us (Suresh, Jihyun, Josh, Cathy, Lohit, Willy, Angela, Ang, Roxana, Vinay, Shrikant, Nikhil, Sree, Sridhar, Sheena, Yishuan and I) headed out to Mosaic Canyon. There was a little off-roading involved to get to the trail head/canyon start but it was fun. The canyon was big. My first reaction was “Grand Canyon”. It looked magnificent and massive. We started hiking along the main canyon.

I fell back for most of the hike. The boulders and canyon walls were so inviting to climb that I started playing around on the way. I had good company with Nikhil. We slowly wandered around climbing stuff and hiking deeper into the canyon. There were sections of the canyon that were very narrow. They were even more fun to traverse. The narrows led to gigantic openings and huge areas of the canyon. It was truly awesome to be standing there. After two narrows, we hit a dry waterfall, which wasn’t climbable safely without equipment. We then took a trail to the top of the canyon where we stopped and turned back to the trailhead. The trail to the top of the canyon was pretty steep and the loose gravel made it tougher to climb.

After this, we tried to head over to hike Rose peak but the road was closed due to snow. So instead of that, we went to Darwin falls. Darwin falls was very beautiful. It’s so intriguing to see so much water in the middle of a desert surrounding. The lower falls is quite easy to get to and it would be a perfect place to take a dip. I was really tempted but it was getting dark and cold so I chose not to jump into the ice-cold water. We clicked a lot of pictures and then called it a day. We also came across a family whose car had two flats. We were glad we could drive them back to their campsite. The falls trailhead was about 4 miles in from the main road on a dirt road (Off-roading). We were back at the campsite at 7:45pm. Card games and the word game followed dinner. Lohit is an amazing person with a lot of games. We had a lot of fun playing the word game. I went to bed at 11:00pm and some of them went out from camp for night photography.
  
[Day 2]

This was a long sightseeing day. We woke up and left the campsite by 8:30am. Sunrise was not spectacular as it was not cloudy that day. The first stop was at the Badwater. Being at the lowest point in continental US at 285 feet below sea level and at the highest point in continental US (Mt. Whitney at 14505 feet) in the same year is a great feeling. The badwater land is salt deposit spanning across acres and acres all the way to the mountain range that hosts the Telescope Peak at a staggering 11k feet. It is so vast that wandering further away from the road makes you feel smaller and inconspicuous. We even tasted the salt in its raw form. It tasted absolutely as salt is supposed to taste – how about that. :-D

Next stop was the Natural Bridge. The natural bridge is a rock structure. The bridge like formation is similar to an arch with the exception that the two ends of the bridge connect the two sides of the canyon. Climbing up this massive bridge from the canyon side was truly fun. We were able to climb all the way up the bridge. Crossing the bridge seemed a little risky due to the fact that it was a steep fall and the footing wasn’t sturdy. Getting down was even more fun and we also got to christen a new jumping scale -1S, 2S and so on.

Golf course was the next POI. When off-roading to it, I thought it wouldn’t be much of a deal but it was completely different from bad-water. This was salt deposit too but it was completely different in composition and form. The salt deposits were super hard and sharp. There is no way anybody would we able to walk bare foot over this area. It was a lot of fun hopping from one solidified formation to another. We even had some great snaps here with Kung-Fu panda poses. :-D

Next, we went high atop a mountain. It was an awesome place for sunset. The colors in the sky there were marvelous. I kept staring at the horizon mesmerized by the beauty. After this, was the 20-mule road, which I did not find exciting. Oh yeah before the view point from the mountain was the artist drive. This was a picturesque landscape of various colored mounds that made up a range of mountains. We hiked into this and I felt being part of the picture.

Last but not the least was Zabriskie point for sunset. The sun had already set so we just stopped by there and drove to Furnace Creek Ranch. Spent a while there and then headed back to the camp. Friday was indeed a very fruitful day - a lot of sightseeing and climbing. The day came to an end with an astronomy 101 session from the park ranger service people.

[Day 3]

Saturday was meant for Racetrack but getting to the race rack involves off-roading of about 27 miles in one direction. Our car not being an all wheel drive vehicle, we were not very sure if it would be able to hold it together without problems for the entirety of the race track drive so we decided to hike the Ubehebe crater and visit Scott’s castle instead. I had breakfast at the restaurant that is situated across the campground that day. It was a standard breakfast with cereal and milk. We headed out to Scotty’s castle at 10am in a very relaxed way. Suresh’s car went ahead to conquer the race track and Willy’s car had to return due to the unfortunate problem of his car.

We did not get tour tickets for an immediate tour so we got tickets for the last show and headed to the Ubehebe crater. This is my first ever visit to a volcanic crater. The crater itself was massive with distance of about 0.5miles across. We hiked down to the center of the crater and then spent some time exploring the numerous chimneys that seemed to lead up to the crater circumference at the top. We also hiked along the crater boundary to 3 different craters nearby and then came back down to the car. It wasn’t quite time for Scotty’s castle tour so we were wondering what we could do till then. We thought of roaming around the Castle ground and so went there. Luckily we were able to pre-pone our tour tickets to an earlier time.

The Scotty’s Castle itself is an amazing sight to see and having someone to walk you through the exhibit makes it even more fun. The 1900’s era could be clearly seen in the architecture and the décor inside the house. Stories of the great Scotty is humorous and interesting. After the tour of Scotty’s castle, we went to the sand dunes next to our campsite at Stovepipe wells.

We made it in time to the dunes for sunset. It wasn’t just sunset that I was excited about. It’s
 
sand, which means fun time rolling down the dunes. The four of us – Nikhil, Vinay, Shrikant and I had ample fun jumping down the sandy slopes rolling down to the base. We even had two kids join us in this fun exercise or rather I should say we joined the kids. J

The dunes was the last for that day. We got back to the campground, had a very nice and a much-needed shower and went to the restaurant for a filling dinner.

[Day 4]

We went to the sand-dunes for sunrise and then started our journey back to the bay area at 9:30am. We took the 395N (Lone Pine) to get a glimpse of Mt. Whitney and 108 (Sonora) through the border of Yosemite to avoid traffic and also enjoy the scenic drive. We did stop for lunch at Lee Vining. Reached home at 7:15pm.

A wonderful thanksgiving weekend very well spent. I really would like to go to Death Valley National Park sometime again! Thanks Suresh for organizing such an awesome trip!!