Death Valley, Nov. 2005


Neither Barb nor I have ever really explored Death Valley, CA so our original plan was to spend at least 4 days there and move on to Arizona and Utah.  As it turned out, Death Valley was so fascinating, we spent two weeks and still didn't see everything we wanted to!  This trip started on November 17th, 2005.  We drove a ford ranger 4X4 and brought lots of camping gear.  We established our base camp at Stovepipe Wells campground, pitched our tent there ($10 per day) and took hot showers at the hotel across the street for $3 each.  The best camping sites (tents) are T-1 and T-20.  The campground was quite empty except for the Thanksgiving weekend (Wed-Mon.) when it was packed.  We logged 917 miles in the park and drove home on the 30th.  Weather was in the 70's and 80's during the day and one night, we recorded a low of 28 degrees!  Bring warm clothes. Strong wind storms can come up and not only blow your tent down but cover everything with fine sand.  That happened to us one night and we were forced to sleep in the truck.

If you go and plan on hiking, get this guidebook - Hiking Death Valley by Michel Digonnet  It is excellent.

See an outline of what we did here.

Stovepipe Wells campground is basically hard desert dirt with no shade.  If you are tent camping, you should get one of the "T" spots furthest in.  These sites are usually next to another party and include a picnic table, fire pit and an area to pitch a tent.  If you arrive in a camper or motor home, you will have to park in the center - no picnic table or fire ring.  There is fresh water available and flush toilets. Trash cans and a dump station are also on site.  Stays are limited to 2 weeks but it didn't seem that was strictly enforced.  Park use fees are an additional $10 per week.  You can check in at the Park office right next to the campground to purchase your pass.
Looking toward the hotel and restrooms.  RVs park at the sites in the middle.  The hotel is reasonably priced and has a nice restaurant and bar.  There is also a decent store nearby.  Get gasoline here as it seems to be more expensive at Furnace Creek and Panamint Springs.  Don't run your fuel tank low.
On the first day, we chose a canyon hike called Red Wall.  The approach starts at the 19 mile marker on the road to Scotty's Castle and is a 2 mile hike over mostly small rocks to get to the canyon mouth.  You will need to be a climber as there is a 15 foot chock stone quite near the mouth.  We rate it at about 5.6 and used a rope and small rack.  Once past the obstacle, it is an excellent canyon!  This is a shot looking toward the canyon.  See more about the Red Wall hike here.
On day 2, we visited Furnace Creek, Harmony Mine (shown in picture), Zabriski Point and Golden Canyon.  These places were all easy to get to and required very little hiking.  From Zabriski Point you can embark on some very interesting hikes but we saved that for day 11.  
Day 3 we took the truck up to the town of Beatty and on the way back, did the one way drive through Titus Canyon (picture at left).  This is a great trip for those wanting to see a narrow canyon from the comfort of their car.  After Titus Canyon, we drove over to Furnace Creek and hiked over the Badwater Salt flats.  
We explored Fall Canyon on day 4.  This was a 3 hour hike.  To stat this hike, you park at the exit to Titus canyon and follow a well marked trail just behind the restroom.  You reach the canyon mouth in about 1 mile of easy hiking.  We carried our climbing gear but found it not necessary as there was a work around for the big obstacle.  Shown at the left is a view of the canyon from the top of the 18 foot dry fall (obstacle).  You would not want to fall in that hole on the lower right!  
Day 5 we drove to Beatty for food, propane and fuel for the truck (quite a bit cheaper).  Then visited Devils Golf Course, drove the Artist's Palette Loop, did a short canyon hike and stopped at Furnace Creek where we did our laundry.  
On Day 6 we drove over to Scotty's Castle and went on the tour.  This is a very interesting tour and Scotty was quite a character.  We continued up the road to Ubehebe Crater and hiked down inside.  It was fun going down but hard work getting back up.  
Day 7 was Thanksgiving day.  We heard that there was a guided Ranger hike in Mosaic Canyon so we drove up and went on the hike.  Mosaic Canyon is just across the highway and up the hill from the Stovepipe Wells campground.  It was an easy hike and well worth it.  In fact, if you do only one canyon hike in Death Valley I would recommend Mosaic Canyon.  After this hike, we drove to Panamint Springs for Thanksgiving dinner and visited Darwin Falls while we were there.  

Day 8:  Feeling bloated from all the turkey and mashed potatoes from the day before, we decided to work it off by climbing Telescope Peak (11,049'). 

Telescope Peak is 14 miles round trip with a 3,000 foot elevation gain.  We hit the trail head at 0810 and returned to our truck at 3:20pm.  The view from the summit was awesome!

Day 9:  There are some very cool sand dunes just down the road from the campground.  Best to visit them early in the day when the sun is low.  We spent about an hour on the dunes then drove down the road to Devil's Cornfield.  After that we went on a 4X4 adventure up Trail Canyon.  Our objective was to find some fossils.  We spent the whole day looking but didn't find any.  The drive through the canyon was relatively easy with 4 wheel drive but turning around was a challenge - there are only a few spots to turn.   Shown at the left is the approach into the canyon.  
On Day 10, We explored Grotto Canyon - This was a very cool canyon hike but required climbing gear to get past some major obstacles.  We were in the canyon from 11 am to 3:30 pm.  If you are not a climber, you will enjoy the first short section of this canyon by hiking less than a tenth of a mile in.  
Day 11 took us up to Keane Wonder Mine.  Lots of uphill on this hike but very interesting old mining buildings and open mines (that you are not supposed to explore).  After the mine hike, we drove down to Golden Canyon and hiked up the canyon and around and out via Gower Gulch (loop trail)  
On Day 12, we went back to Mosaic Canyon, this time with our climbing gear.  We went much deeper into the canyon that Ranger Bob took us on Thanksgiving day and got into some pretty dicey situations.  After Mosaic Canyon, we drove to Salt Creek and hiked the boardwalk route (picture at left).  It is an easy hike and a very interesting ecosystem.  
  Time to leave.  A day driving in and a day to get home put us right at 2 weeks.  


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