Death Valley Is Aptly Named

Just completed 1.5 days in D.V., which was actually enough time for us--I'm not a desert rat by any stretch. I don't believe in astrology, either, but I kept thinking, as I had the heebie jeebies, that maybe there IS something to the fact that I was born a "Water Bearer." Of COURSE, an Aquarian's skin would crawl in a place so devoid of water and what we normally think of as "life"--no birds, never saw a lizard or any mammal, and only a few bugs.

This is an example of a scenic picnic spot.

While the wildflowers were in full bloom, they were just brave little soldiers standing tall along the roadside, mostly. No fields of flowers as we had at Red Rock Canyon a few days ago. A highlight: got to use a pay phone again--nice bit of nostalgia--as there was zip, zilch, nada reception (even with sat card for computer!)

The park grew on us eventually, but its vastness and barrenness were a surprise we had to work at overcoming. We entered the park from the west--very steep grades (up to 8%) for long pulls at a time. Our rig did really well, although I was happy that no one was behind us. We drove straight up to Scotty's Castle--definitely a must see. We like history (house built 1926-1931) and architecture (he spent $2 million back then!), so this was really neat. Favorite architectural features:
--venting from cool cavern underground provided natural A/C in the 1920s in the hottest place on Earth. Cool.
--opposite the grand fireplace (not Rosebud/Hearst Castle scale, but close) was a waterfall feature to provide soothing water sound and humidity in this arid place. From a suggestion by Frank Lloyd Wright (who didn't get the job). Also, the details in the dozens of kinds of Spanish tile, the cast light fixtures (dragons!), the wood-carved beds and day beds with built-in lighting--all made specifically by hand as one of a kinds for this house. Cool.

Spent the rest of day seeing the other must-sees, including the big Kahuna, Badwater, the lowest point in North America. Look closely at the cliff above the parking lot—that is the "sea level" sign. Creepy!

We also took a winding, dipping, one-way road with a length restriction of 25’ (and yes, our 24.5' vehicle fit fine--sort of like riding a roller coaster with all the dips). Here's the start of Artist Drive: Beautiful. Through the windshield it’s even pretty….

We also stopped to see the pupfish--one of the strangest and rarest fish in the world, which are out right now for a few weeks. They survive in water that is 3-4 times more saline than the ocean and at temps over 110 degrees F. They’re called pupfish because of the way that they seem to play and wiggle in the sand. (They’re just busy mating, which you would be too if your window of survival is only a few weeks.)

We overnighted at the primitive Sunset Campground (all other campgrounds were full—we suspect spring break and wildflower season). No trees, no water, no electricity. Just an enormous sky full of stars, which I got to fully appreciate at 4:30AM when Nick decided it was time to go outside. The Milky Way felt like it was only a moon’s distance away. Met and had cocktails sitting outside with our neighbors—Sandy and Sandy from Seattle. Here’s sunset in the parking lot. (Yes, parking lot, rather than “campground” in my book, but it worked just fine. We had intended to stay 2 days, but one was enough, thank you.)

The next day we took a first-thing-in-the-morning (beating all the tour buses) hike up Golden Canyon. They say it's an easy hike, but I'd say it was a tad more than that. Good exercise. And since it was intended as exercise, I didn’t bring the camera.

Rounded out the morning at Zabriskie Point (which you're supposed to go to at sunrise or sunset, but we didn't make it). Here’s a picture from Zabriskie Point of the wall of Golden Canyon; we were inside it on the far side. (The yellow rocks in the photo are not surprisingly Golden Canyon and the red rocks are called—again, these folks aren’t terribly imaginative—Red Cathedral.

And there’s a peak of the Sierra (highest point in contiguous U.S.) looming over the lowest point.

Headed south out of the park through Death Valley Junction. VERRRY windy (45 mph). Our first white-knuckle experience driving over the mountains to Nevada—big wind “punches” from the side, a fierce headwind as we pulled up hill, and dust storms. But we made it just fine, even if the driver had lost feeling in her fingers. It’s the adventure that counts.

Stopped for the day at NOON, for heaven’s sake. The wind won’t stop. We’re in a lovely, actually, oasis in Pahrump, NV—Terrible’s Lakeside Casino. Palm trees, grass (Grass! cried Nick), water, full hookups, and we can walk to dinner. The cook needs a reprieve. We’ve eaten healthily in our RV for 11 of last 12 meals; time for a break.

More about the casino RV park adventure. Will we cave and head into the casino?


  1. I just happened on your blog, great writing! I used to feel the same way about the desert, but having spent time in New Mexico, my views have changed and now I love the desert. That said, Death Valley has its' spots, but I surely wouldn't want to live there!


  2. i landed a piper warrior twice at the death valley airport, flying from las vegas. it's pretty amazing view, plus airport is 211 feet below sea level, lowest in the world i believe (though there might be one lower, i'm not sure)