Altitude: 3627 ft. Stoke level: 10 Temperature: 86-74 degrees Conditions: sunny, light clouds, light wind
Last night it got pretty crowded up here on the mountain. Folks kept coming in until dark. I had a happy family set up about two hundred yards away from me, it sounded like they were having a real good time. I didn’t stress about it like I usually would, as I was in a pretty good mood and had good sleep at the Sidewinder Camp. I got packed up and left around 9 o’clock.
The first order of the day was to go to the Visitor Center in Furnace Creek to get a park pass. When I rolled into town, I could see that there was a lot going on. Not only were there throngs of tourists everywhere, but there were a few booths set up selling goods. I’ve been here in the hottest days of summer and it was a ghost town then, so to see it so busy was quite a trip! I got out and checked out what was going on. It seemed that the whole month of November they have what is called “49er Days”, which I guess celebrates the legacy of the pioneers that gave the valley its name. There were some really nice blankets and jewellery on hand. There’s nothing that I need here, so I got back in The Beast and headed over to the visitor center.
Of course the visitor center was mobbed like I expected it to be. The only other time I’ve seen it like this is when I came up for the first time back in ’15 to see the desert superbloom. I got my pass and bought a postcard for Bethan. I was told that to mail it I’d have to go a quarter mile down the road and post it at this place called ‘The Ranch’. I rolled down the road and the place was easy to find. It’s basically the downtown area of Furnace Creek. I’d been here before to go to the restaurant and bar, and there has been a huge facelift on the place in the meantime. I almost didn’t recognize it! It’s set up to be an adobe desert village, I really like their choice in architecture.
I found the little post office there and sent off my postcard. So the plan for the day was to hit a couple of places that I missed on my previous trip, then cut over back to the east side of the park. I was then going to head down to the trail I wanted to go on in the southern part of Death Valley. There’s a lot of cool spots to go to around Furnace Creek like Artist’s Palette, Zabriskie Point and Badwater, but I’ve been to those places before. I was interested in checking out the 20 Mule Canyon and Dante’s Point, as I’d missed these places on my first trip here.
Dante’s Point is the highest point in the park and is where they filmed a scene in the original Star Wars. It is the scene where Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobe are looking down at Mos Eisley and Obi-Wan says his famous “scum and villany” line. Yes, Death Valley is Tatooine! A lot of scenes from that movie were filmed here. I was stoked to see such an iconic view, so I headed off down the highway.
Along the way I arrived at 20 Mule Canyon. It’s a little detour off the main road that runs through a little side canyon. It took maybe 20 minutes to drive through. There were some pretty sharp corners to make in restricted driving space, but I managed all right. There was a lot of cool geology to see (like pretty much everywhere else) and it was worth making the little detour.
After I had made the loop, I set my sights on Dante’s Peak. It was about 8 miles off the main road. I had heard that it was a really steep ascent, especially in the last quarter mile. It’s paved all the way, not any kind of crazy off-road, so I figured it would be fine. I headed out that way, and the road wasn’t a problem. It did get very steep at the end, that part was true. I shifted down to first gear and The Beast didn’t have any issues with it. I arrived at the top, and the view was just unbelievable! I got a little bit of vertigo looking at it.
From Dante’s Peak, you can see the whole of Death Valley laid out before you. The sign said that on a clear day, you can see a mountain that is 100 miles away. I can see George Lucas going up here and saying, “Yup, I need a shot of this in my movie!” Wise decision indeed. It was easy to find the exact view when I got up there. Luke and Obi-Wan saw what my featured image was for this blog post. After an Internet query, I saw that Furnace Creek stood in for Mos Eisley. What a thrill it was to be standing at the place of such a key scene in one of my all time favorite movies!
I was completely blown away by the view. I can’t believe I didn’t hit it up the first time I was here! It was around 5000 ft., so it was a bit chilly. It’s probably the first time I’ve been cold in the daytime here. I lingered up there for a while, soaking up the view. When I had my fill, I made my way back down to the bottom of the mountain.
I wanted to head in the direction of Shoshone to get some fuel, then head down to the Exit Road. I saw on my map that there was a couple of ways to get there. One was the way I came in on, and the other was a dirt road that went almost directly there. It was a 26 mile stretch of trail that went down through Greenwater Valley. It looked like way more of an adventure than the sterile highway, so I decided to take the route. It started right at the base of the mountain I was on, so it was really convenient for me. I found the trail and it was in real good shape. I locked the hubs, deflated the tires and set upon it.
I really enjoyed my journey through Greenwater Valley. The road was great, the views were spectacular, and there was 0 traffic. Everywhere I had been to the park by this point had been chock-a-block with tourists, now there were no people whatsoever. The vast majority of tourists stick to the paved roads, it seems. As soon as you hit the gravel, everyone vanishes. It was pretty cool.
As I got to around 13-14 miles in (roughly the halfway point) I started looking for a place to spend the night. Around this point, the valley opened up and it was just beautiful. I had to stop somewhere around here! I spied a flat rocky spot right off the road, and I stopped to check it out. It seemed as good of a place as any, so I decided to park and set up camp.
Right away, I felt I had made a very wise choice in camping spots. It had the most solitude of any place I had camped so far in this expedition. There was no noise at all. No cars, no voices, no birds or bugs, and planes flew far away so you couldn’t hear them. It was like I was in a vaccum! I was 14 miles from a road and I saw only one car pass the whole afternoon/evening. At first, it kind of tripped me out. I love solitude, but not having people constantly interrupting that state is a strange feeling. As much as I loved it, I found it a bit odd.
Not having to mentally compensate for people entering my space was weird in a way I can’t describe. The last time I had been in a place so remote is when I camped in the middle of Mojave National Preserve 3 years ago. The people flying in the planes I could see off in the distance were probably closer to me than the next human being. It just blew my mind! As I got settled in however, I started feeling liberated from civilization. The feeling of freedom was intoxicating!
I had finally located the place I was looking for on this journey. I’ve camped in so many different places on this trip. Some were better than others, but I never was really alone in any of those places. This spot was remote, and off the beaten path. It was a Friday in peak seaon, and no one seemed to travel this route. I don’t know why, it is beautiful and the road is easily navigable. It was a great spot to stumble into.
I had a stash of wine left and that tri-tip still to cook, so I poured some vino and started a fire in my grill. It’s not allowed to start fires where I was, but I really wanted to cook my tri-tip over open flame. I had a couple bundles of firewood (plus three nice chunks of hardwood I found alongside the road outside of Baker) that I was tired of packing in and out of the camper as well. After thinking about it, I decided to start up the fire. I had set up in an area with nothing flammable in a 15 foot radius, and there was no wind. I had my extinguisher at hand as well. I felt that I had all the necessary precautions to do it safely so I went ahead. At the first bit of wind, I had no problems with putting it out. I don’t want to set the desert on fire!
After I made a bunch of coals, I set up the rack and threw on my tri-tip. As I waited for it to cook, I did some stargazing. I started seeing some nice meteors zip through the atmosphere. Some burned for several seconds! I consulted my meteor shower app and found that I was smack dab in the Leonid shower! It’s one of the better meteor showers, according to the app. I believed it! I saw one about every five minutes or so. The shooting stars were amazing, but the whole night sky was beautiful as well. Death Valley is isolated enough so the light pollution is at a minimum. The stars were bright and filling up the sky. I have night mode on my phone and tried to take a few pictures. The results weren’t bad for a camera phone. I saw more stars in the picture than I could see with the naked eye.
It took a while, but my tri-tip finally got cooked and I tore it up! It was oh-so-good. I hated to break the rules and build a fire, but it was worth it to get that flame-broiled taste. If I’d had to cook it in a skillet, it wouldn’t have been anywhere as good. I was responsible with the fire and kept it in a container so it wouldn’t scorch the ground. I felt I did my best to keep it low impact.
All in all, it was a hum-dinger of a day. It was good to finally arrive at the ultimate spot for desert solitude. The whole trip led up to this day. I’m glad I decided to take the long way and experience this grand place. I might even stay an extra night, it’s pretty comfortable here! I’ll see how I feel tomorrow, I might just hang around.
Altitude: 3627 ft. Stoke level: 4 Temperature: 78-54 degrees Conditions: sunny, clear, light wind
Wine causes the worst hangovers, and I had a doozy. I woke up around 8 when the sun got hot and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I couldn’t really do anything else, so I popped on some The Man in the High Castle and just chilled out. It was around 9:30 when I heard the sound of an approaching vehicle. There hadn’t been anyone by since sunset the previous evening, and that was the only person that had rolled through. Curious, I peek out the window and see it is a ranger truck. He passed by, but I see him come to a stop a few feet down the trail. “Uh-oh,” I think. “This is not good.” He backed up and parked across from me on the road. He got out and started to walk around my camp. I figured it’d be best to go out and meet him before he started banging on my camper, so I stepped out to see what he wanted.
He was a younger guy, maybe late 20’s to early 30’s. The dude seemed friendly enough, like most rangers I’ve met. He says, “Ok, there are two things here I’d like to discuss. One, you camped in a virgin spot, your tire tracks are the only ones I see here. Camping is technically allowed here but we only want you to camp in spots that have been used before. Secondly, fires aren’t allowed here. I see that you built a fire. I do give you credit in that you did build it in a metal container so it wouldn’t scorch the ground though.”
I just pled ignorance and he seemed to be cool about it. I understood that what I did was wrong, and he was right. I shouldn’t have built the fire. The parking situation was something that I had no idea about however. Well, now I know! I think that because I had my park permit and I kept the fire off the ground, he just gave me a warning. After running my ID and seeing that I was a law-abiding citizen he let me go. I had told him that the reason I was camped out here in the middle of nowhere was that I was on an expedition to experience desert solitude. When he left he said, “Enjoy your solitude out here!” What a cool ranger, he didn’t even make me move or give me a ticket.
I was glad that went well. The rest of the day was spent watching shows on my phone. I was in no shape to go anywhere. It was good to have one last blowout night out here on the trail, despite the hangover. From here on out, I would be trying to maximize miles instead of lounging around in places I found desirable. It was a good place to spend my last down day of the expedition. Tomorrow I want to head over to Pahrump, NV and get cheap gas & some other items. Also, it was the closest place I’d have 5G so I could upload my blog. After that, I was going to finally start on this Exit Road. It was going to be a full day.
Altitude: -97 ft. Stoke level: 8 Temperature: 86-55 degrees Conditions: sunny, clear, calm
I got an early start and left Solitude Camp around 9. The remainder of the 13 miles out of Greenwater Valley went smoothly. I swiched back to 2 wheel drive and re-inflated the tires when I got back to the highway. First, I wanted to head to Shoshone and put a little gas in the tank. I was at a quarter full and I wanted to have a bit more before I headed over to Nevada. When I got to Shoshone, I saw that the gas there was almost 6 dollars a gallon! I had to have it, so I put in 40 bucks and it gave me a quarter tank.
While I was pumping gas & throwing away garbage, the lady on the other side of the pump backed up with the hose still in the gas tank and it popped off at the breakaway! I’ve never seen that happen in real life before. Fortunately, no gas sprayed anywhere. The woman was super embarassed and had to go take it inside to the attendant. At least she owned up to it though!
The road to Pahrump was just outside Shoshone. The sign said that it was 30 miles distant, so that wasn’t too bad. The road was pretty much straight as an arrow, and around 45 minutes later I arrived in Pahrump. I’ve been there before, it wasn’t my first time. I think the town’s main claim to fame is that this is where Art Bell lived and broadcasted Coast to Coast AM back in the day.
As I started getting into the outskirts of Pahrump, I spied a gas station. Gas was 3.29 here! It was 5.69 only 30 miles away, gotta love Nevada! After I filled up, I realized I was famished, so I looked to see what what they had to eat in town. I was craving pizza, so I went over to Pizza Hut. There’s a lot of pizza options out there, but there’s something about that pan crust they have at Pizza Hut that I’ve always loved. When I get there, I see that it is closed for some reason. Trying to think of an alternative to pizza, I recalled hearing the McRib was back at McDonald’s. I went over to the local Golden Arches to see if they had it. Lo and behold, they did! I got a combo meal and took it back to my truck to eat it. I haven’t had one in like 3 years, and it was good as I remember. McDonald’s is crap, but that McRib is just divine!
As I was eating the McRib, I got a call from Captain Pack Rat. I had told him I’d swing by and see him and Party Wolf on my way back. He wanted to see if I still was going to roll by. I told him I had a couple days left in Death Valley and I wouldn’t be able to make it this trip. I’d come up and visit after I got back from Louisiana. We chatted for a bit, it was good to catch up with my ol’ lodge buddy.
I hit up Big 5 sporting goods and Home Depot for some supplies, then hit the road back over the state line to Death Valley. With a tank full of cheap gas and a McRib in my belly I was ready to tackle some trail! I got back to Shoshone and drove about another 45 minutes south. I finally reached the Exit Route trailhead, and switched the truck to off-road mode. I plotted my waypoints on my OnX app, and set off down the trail.
There was a little side-trail leading to what was called ‘Saratoga Springs’ on the map, so I wanted to check that out. It was hard to imagine a spring out here in the desert, that’s something I had to see. So the Exit Trail was a really great piece of road, you can tell it is constantly graded to keep it clear. Unfortunately, as a result of the grading, sand is heaped along the sides of the road 3-4 feet high. There’s no way that you can turn off and park. As I rode along to Saratoga Springs, I began to feel uneasy. There were a lot of ‘No Camping’ signs everywhere. I had counted on finding a camping spot along the route. As it was getting along in the afternoon, I started to worry about finding a landing spot for the night.
I put that out of my mind for the moment. I had this spring to check out first! I found the turnoff and headed towards the spring. As I got towards the end of the road, I started noticing all the tall grass growing profusely all over. There was definitely a little oasis here! I saw that there was a trail going in the direction of the spring, so I went to see if it got closer to the water. I ran into a couple of groups of hikers who told me the trail got close enough to check things out.
I walked down the trail that seemed to go towards the back of the spring. Along the way, I read a plaque that talked about how this was an important water source for all the overland traffic back in the old days. There was what was left of a old stone house on the way down, I wonder if someone lived in that or what? I could hear frogs croaking and see ducks swimming around, it’s amazing to see this out in the desert! It’s pretty neat how springs will flow in the middle of such inhospitable terrain.
I would have liked to hike around the springs more, but I was wanting to get back on the road and make tracks. It was getting close to 3 o’clock and I hadn’t seen any spot to pull off and camp whatsoever on the road so far. I got back on the Exit Road and continued on my way. As the miles ticked by and the sun got lower, I really started to think that it was going to be impossible to find a spot for the night. There were little small pullouts, but they were deep in sand and I wasn’t about to turn my truck into that. Finally at around a half hour before sunset, I found a little turnout that looked promising. The ground there was very rough but stable. There was just enough room to back my truck in off the road, which I did. Thankfully I had found a spot before dark. It wasn’t the best spot, but not a single person passed by the whole time I was there! I set up camp and ate leftover red beans and rice, which were better the second time as they always are.
It wasn’t a bad camp for something I found at the last minute. It was just as isolated and peaceful as the last camp I had. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be there or not, but I planned to be out as soon as I could in the morning before the rangers rolled up. I did some writing and retired early, as I wanted to get an early start in the morning.
Altitude: -226 ft. Stoke level: 8.5 Temperature: 87-57 degrees Conditions: partly cloudy, moderate-strong wind early, calm late
I got a good start this morning and rolled out around 9. The day before I had almost finished the Exit Route, so I finished up the last two miles and hit the highway. That had been a nice journey and the road had been in great shape, but the lack of good camping spots was a little disappointing. I liked the direction I was heading, and according to my maps I could continue my journey on the ‘West Side Road’. This road is the back road going up the west side of Death Valley. There were many off-roads heading into the Panamint Mountains that branched off this trail, so it looked like a great way to spend my last day of explorations in the valley.
The West Side Road was in even better shape than the Exit Route. I decided I was going to take one of the side routes going up Butte Valley. There was an old abandoned talc mine up there, plus some old mine buildings to check out. The road was rated easy until about halfway, so it seemed to be a good destination to check out.
I saw the turnoff for Butte Valley, and I took a left turn headed for the Panamint Mountains. I immediately started gaining altitude, and soon started seeing some great views from this end of the valley. It’s such a better way to see it than from the paved road on the east side. That road is the main tourist route that goes to Badwater Basin, which of course is the lowest point in the US at 282 ft. below sea level. I camped for the first time below sea level last night as you can see.
The road to Butte Valley was a perfect 3/10. It was a lot more rough and rocky than the West Side Road, but it was well within what The Beast can handle. As the road was so rough, I couldn’t go more than 10 miles an hour. That was fine by me, I didn’t mind taking my time and enjoying the view. Every once in a while I’d stop, jump out and take pictures.
After about an hour of steady climbing, I arrived at the mouth of the canyon. Since it was a canyon, I knew that there would probably be some challenges driving it. The canyon was wide, and the road was still in a good drivable state. I couldn’t miss the talc deposits starting to appear on my left-hand side. I started to look around for old mining equipment and sure enough, old rusted contraptions started to appear everywhere.
The road wound along the bottom of the canyon until I came to a fork in the road. It wasn’t on the OnX map, so I chose the right hand side and hoped that I was following the trail. Immediately the way got really narrow and rocky. I reached a point where it was really only wide enough for a Jeep to pass through unscathed. There were a couple of sharp ridges sticking up that would be unavoidable to run over in The Beast. If I would have had a spotter then maybe I would have attempted it. I got out and saw it didn’t get any better a few yards up the trail, so I decided to stop at this point and try the other path at the fork. Maybe the other way bypassed this rough part of the trail.
I backed up a couple hundred yards to the fork in the road, and I took the left path. I didn’t go up but maybe a hundred yards before I found myself in the middle of an old mining encampment. I found a sign that said this was the site of Warm Spring mining camp. The spring that the camp was named for still gushed forth and ran down the road that I came in on. I felt the water and while it wasn’t cold, it definitely wasn’t warm. Perhaps they should have named it Tepid Spring Camp?
Looking over at the canyon wall, I saw the enterance to a mine. I walked over to inspect it. Unfortunately, it was gated off so you couldn’t go in. Probably for the best, as these old mines are super dangerous. Still, it would have been cool to go in just a little ways.
I ate some lunch and had a beer. It was so quiet and peaceful at this old camp. There was an eerie desolate vibe about the place as well. I really liked it! I thought about camping in the place for my last night, but I really didn’t want to make the hour and a half drive out of there in the morning. So I decided to poke around a bit longer to see what I could see before I made my way back down the mountain.
There were a couple of old houses that were used to bunk all the workers off to the side. I wanted to check out the interiors, but there were hantavirus notices posted warning not to go in there. Last thing I want to get is plague, so I just took pictures from the outside. In addition to the cabins, there was an old swimming pool there also. That was a good idea, you’ve got a spring running constantly so it was a perfect spot for a pool. I bet it gets hot as the devil here in the summer, so I bet it was nice to take a dip back when the pool was operational.
I had my fill exploring the camp finally, and with a heavy heart I turned around and headed back the way I came. I really liked this place, next time I come to Death Valley I’ll have to stay here at least a couple of nights. I headed back down the road, with my objective being a campsite I had spied on the way up. It was only a few minutes away from the West Side Road and still really private. When I got to the spot, I realized I had another hour before I needed to start looking for my camp. I decided to head back down to the road and head north. There were a few trails leading up into the mountains along the route, and I figured that I could find a better spot a little farther down the way.
The views kept getting better and better as I headed north. After a bit of traveling, Badwater Basin appeared on my right. It was cool seeing it from this side. I decided to head up this trail named Hanaupah Canyon Road directly across the valley from Badwater. The road was really rough, really only passable by Jeep. I made my way about a half mile up when I saw a turnout. I had to get out and move some rocks around, but it was a perfect space to park The Beast. I had a perfect view of Badwater Basin and it was gloriously private. Every once in a while a car would pass by on the road, but they were few and far between. No one was going to come up here and bother me.
It was a damn good campsite for my last night in Death Valley. For dinner I made carne asada tacos for my end-of-expedition meal. I was tempted to drink all the rest of my beers to celebrate, but I was pretty beered out. I knew the next day’s drive would be brutal even without a hangover, so I passed on doing that. I worked on my blog some and went to bed early so I’d be in the best shape for my return voyage.
Altitude: 407 ft. Stoke meter: 6 Temperature: 82-64 degrees Conditions: calm, overcast early, clear after mid-day
I woke up around 7 and it was pretty chilly and windy. I had hoped to see a nice sunrise on my final morning. Due to overcast skies however, I was disappointed. By the time I was ready to break camp however, the it cleared up and it looked like it was going to be a nice clear day.
I made coffee and had leftover tacos for breakfast. When I was done, I packed up and headed out one final time. The plan was to finish out the West Side Road which ended on the highway a little outside of Furnace Creek. From there I’d head out of the park via Highway 190 through Olancha. When I got close to the highway I stopped to inflate my tires to highway pressure. There were some interesting formations on the ground all over the place. I looked it up on the map and it was named ‘The Devil’s Golf Course’. It was pretty aptly named, no one but the Devil would want to play golf there!
I made my way up to the highway and headed out of the park. I had forgotton how long it takes just to leave Death Vally, I didn’t get out until around noon. From there it was a seven hour run back to Santa Cruz. Thankfully I didn’t run into any crazy traffic or anything, it was a little stressful driving through Bakersfield though. I got back to Santa Cruz around 8, and pretty much passed out from exhaustion as soon as I took a shower and ate something.
At last, I have reached the end of my expedition. I spent 4 weeks on the road to the day, so this trip marks my longest expediton to date. I could have kept on going, I really would have liked to have spent another week in Death Valley, but it’s all good. I really enjoyed myself on this trip, it was also my most successful trip ever. Other than getting stuck that one time and the usual struggles with bugs and wind, I camped in comfort. Thanks to my 12 volt cooler, I was able to save so much money not having to buy ice. It was also useful for saving money on food.
Well, that about wraps it up! Thanks for all you for coming along with me on the journey! Now I’ve got to switch gears and get on a plane as soon as I have returned from the desert. I’m New Orleans bound! I’ve got to move my stuff out of storage in South Louisiana and move it up north. After that I’ll be spending some time up at the family farm for Thanksgiving. I haven’t been home since before the pandemic, so it’s time to go see the folks. All right, I’ll holler at ya’ll later!