Three Days In Death Valley National Park

Several weeks ago I found myself on a solo road trip through central California. I had recently broken up with my boyfriend of three years, packed up and moved out of Seattle, and quit my comfortable (but mind-numbing) corporate job as a digital health coach. What I needed in that moment was an open road and a life-resetting adventure. Death Valley seemed like a good enough place to start.

I’d never done a solo road/camping trip before, which is kind of embarrassing given how much I love travel and the great outdoors. All previous road/camping trips had been with friends, family, or boyfriends, but considering that my life had just completely flipped upside down I felt like some alone time was greatly needed.

My first night was a bit of a disaster and almost sent me home in defeat. I arrived at the campground (Texas Springs) around 3pm and ALL of the good campsites in the lower loop were taken. I had to resort to setting up camp between a ridiculously large RV who’s male inhabitant snored like a fire engine and a BMW suv that was toting two beefy motorcycles (albeit the motorcyclist men were very nice). The ground was not tent friendly – it was gravel – and the only greenery around were the shrubs and bushes lining the paved drive. The icing on the cake, though, was the wind. The WIND! I struggled to get my tent set up because the wind was blowing so hard and I ended up eating a hummus and cucumber sandwich for dinner because my camp stove fire kept getting blown out. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night…

The second night was better. I packed up early and was able to snag a campsite down in the lower (camping only) loop. The ground was dirt instead of gravel and the site had some trees to provide shade and protection from the wind. After marking my territory with a cooler, a stack of firewood, and a jug of water, I set off for the day:

GOLDEN CANYON

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With map in hand and plenty of water, I set off into the narrow, winding ravines of Golden Canyon. I got a pretty early start (around 8am) which I definitely recommend because it gets toasty in there when the sun is high! After checking out the Red Cathedral, I moseyed along to the the Badlands which are essentially layer after later of parched, rippling ridges separated by dry ravines. It was getting pretty hot by then, so instead of hiking out to Zabrieski’s point, which I had planned on, I completed the loop by returning to my car via the Gower Gulch trail. If you go, get an early start, wear sun protection, and take plenty of water.

DANTES VIEW

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I almost didn’t go up to Dantes View because driving up a mountain – to me – is cheating. But two guys (the motorcyclists, actually!) convinced me that views from the top are incredible. I did some quick research and saw that there were a few hiking trails snaking off from the main parking area, so I decided to give it a go. I have to admit, the road up and the views from the top are pretty speculator. I also highly recommend the hikes – both to the left and right of the parking area.  The views just get better and better the farther you go!

BADWATER BASIN

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This was a spur-of-the-moment decision because I was waiting to enter Artist’s drive in the late afternoon so that the light was good for photos. I didn’t really know what the Badwater Basin was until I pulled up and saw the great expanse of salt flats extend in all directions before me. Of course, the Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the United States. I walked out into the salt flats, way passed where most tourists turn around, and pretended that I was the star of a weird sci-fi space movie.

ARTIST’S DRIVE

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The Artist’s Drive was the feature I was looking forward to the most in the Park, but by the time I got there, I was so tired and hot that I didn’t really want to get out of the car and explore the colorful ridges. The drive was still beautiful, but I think next time I’ll dedicate a full day to walking around and photographing this area. Especially spending some time at the Artist’s Palette!

Ok, so that was all on the first full day in the park. Phew! On my second full day, I packed up camp again (after a better night sleep) and headed out of the park to Wildrose Campground, which sits at about 4,000ft. On the way there, I stopped at the:

MESQUITE SAND DUNES

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I was only going to stay for a few minutes because I wanted to make sure I got a good campsite at Wildrose, but a few minutes turned into an hour and a half because the dunes are so cool! Especially early in the morning when the light is great. I recommend hiking out as far as you can and climbing the tallest dunes for the best views and solitude.

After returning to my car and dumping the sand out of my shoes, I continued on my way to Wildrose campground. It takes a bit of time to get there, but the scenery is absolutely stunning – lots of sagebrush, mountains, winding roads, wildflowers in the spring etc… The campground is great, too – a pit toilette, water, fire rings, and picnic tables… that’s all you need! After claiming the best site in camp, I got back in the car and continued along the road to where the pavement ends:

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CHARCOAL KILNS

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Because I had a rental car and rental car insurance doesn’t cover damage done on gravel roads, I parked the car at the end of the pavement and walked the final 3 miles up to the charcoal kilns. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I have to admit, the charcoal kilns are pretty darn cool. Built in the late 1800’s by Chinese laborers, they were used to make fuel for several nearby lead-silver mines (if you can call 25 miles away nearby…). They’re immaculately preserved and quite impressive.

The plan for my final day in Death Valley was to hike up Wildrose Peak (trailhead just before the charcoal kilns), but again, the wind was so bad that night that I didn’t sleep at all. When morning came all I wanted to do was get out of dodge and make my way to Pinnacles National Park, my next stop on my solo road trip through central California. I do regret not hiking Wildrose, but that’ll have to be another trip 🙂

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