Death Valley Days

Our plan after Thanksgiving was to go to Sequoia, but the thermometer took a deep dive there right after the holiday, so we went to the desert instead.

Sometimes (all the time), you should just do exactly what the ranger tells you when you ask them for a two day itinerary for first-timers.

No, the above is not the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s the Winter/Spring edition of the Death Valley National Park Herald Times Tribune! But with some important notations: first and foremost, scratched out the notice of Artist Drive being closed for repairs. Not yet! 

First, we were to go to Devils Golf Course. Definitely not a golf course of any kind. An expansive salty flat to explore – with care! 

Stop #2? Just a few miles south to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. They have some fun signage to make their point.

This sign – high on a cliff above the valley floor – gives you a good idea of just how low you really are.

This picture really gives you a sense of the VALLEY, doesn’t it? The Pantamint Mountain Range is in the distance.


Stop #3 was supposed to be Artists Drive, but we had just enough time to make it to the 2:30 pm Ranger Talk at the Harmony Borax Works Interpretive Trail. So what do you think we did? 

Above are the wagons of an actual “20 mule train” that was used in the 1880s to tote borax out of the Valley – 165 miles to the Mojave railroad depot. The two wagons carried the borax; the tank on the left carried the 1,000 gallons of water for the thirsty mules!

We headed back to Artists Drive – a sort of semi-circular loop through a lovely portion of the valley, the highlight of which is Artists Pallette, a rock face showing gorgeous colors. Sunset was a nice time to go.

Our ranger had recommended we finish the day with the 5 mile loop hike at Golden Canyon, but we decided to save it till the morning – and we were glad we did. Not only because it was a fairly intense hike – with some fun side trails – but we were able to kick it off with a 9am Ranger Talk. Both talks we went to were lead by Rangers new to the park, but they were both outstanding. Good hires! 

Any more questions about why this is called Golden Canyon?


The Canyon talk/walk went about a mile in, focusing on the geology, of course, and in particular the impact water and floods have had on its formation. After, we peeled off toward Red Cathedral, a stunning sculpted canyon that requires some scrambling to get in. We met some folks there who took our picture – and then we played around pretending we were doing a (dusty) Danner Boot ad.


We continued on through Gower Gulch and the Badlands Loop. I’d show you some pics, but honestly it all started to look the same. Maybe I was a little dehydrated? You know how it is when you are like, “Ugh, where’s the car?” That moment is below.

We stayed in Texas Springs campground – an NPS campground that doesn’t allow generators – right in the middle of all these sights. It had been quite crowded for the Thanksgiving holiday we understand, but was no more than a quarter full when we were there. We met some lovely people from Washington state who shared their home-cured salmon with us! And the nighttime skies around our campfire! Anytime you can see the Milky Way is pretty great.

Crater Lake – All that and more

We turned off the road to head to Crater Lake – the only National Park in Oregon and a site we might have skipped if not for friends’ recommendations – with less than a 1/4 tank of gas and no reservation. We hoped to stay IN the park-its campground is the closest to the lake, making access easy. But I was nervous-what if the campground was full? Our M.O. of making plans one day ahead of time does not square with the park’s online reservation system that you plan at least (a shocking) two days ahead of time. Plus-gas! We’ve been averaging 11.5 miles a gallon. Ugh.

We've been logging our mileage/fuel costs - biggest expense so far especially as we've been making tracks.

We’ve been logging our mileage/fuel costs – biggest expense so far especially as we’ve been making tracks.

We zoomed past the entrance with our national park Golden Eagle pass (a bon voyage gift from Ben and Joan – merci!) straight to the kiosk for walk ins. Score! Campsites available plus… gas pumps, located on site!  We did our circle the campground loops thing, picking out the best site and chose D loop, site 13, overlooking a lovely gorge. Temps were cold – snow / rain was in the forecast.

This is our fourth campground, and though our carefully posed photos of the others might suggest otherwise, this is the first one that really made us go WOW.

Maybe it’s the time of year – not too crowded, summer fading – but the forest is lovely, the chipmunks camera ready, and the sites were (all?) pull through rather than back in which we hadn’t seen yet. And I guess really  – and this is maybe connected to it being a national park – no road noise, far from “civilization”.

Your first view of the lake is breathtaking – clear, blue, vast.


We did a ranger talk, a hike, and the rim drive – about 22 miles.

I heard that the best things to note in a travel journal, or in photos, are the things you want to remember.

Things we want to remember about Crater Lake:
Ben: The park ranger, in his talk had us picture the people living in this area when the volcano blew – imagine your whole life a 12,000 foot mountain is a part of your landscape. Then one day – in less than 12 hours – it was gone, replaced with a 2000 foot crater (or more accurately a caldera.)

Meg: The hike up Watchman – where there is a national landmark fire watching station – still used today. With key supplies like a pencil, pencil sharpener and glass cleaner.

Firewatching station up watchman hill.

Firewatching station up watchman hill.

There were actually fires in the distance too – set by lightening, watched and controlled by firefighters. Naturally occurring fire (lightning), that doesn’t threaten human property or people, is an important part of the natural process and is allowed to burn.

At the top of the Watchman - where firefighters still look out and have been since the 30s.

At the top of the Watchman – where firefighters still look out and have been since the 30s.

We had such a great day – and a night of freezing temps as we were still missing a few parts to get the propane heater warmed up. Our gas stove warmed things up a bit and wool blankets too. Ben’s fingers nearly froze hooking up the trailer to leave in the morning.

Snow on our way out of Crater Lake the next day. ZERO visibility.

Snow on our way out of Crater Lake the next day. ZERO visibility.

Doesn’t hurt to celebrate an anniversary – and I’m currently typing/posting this while doing another FIRST: Laundry! Woot!


One last pic of the lake – they call it the phantom ship. Lovely. Like a little Airstream!IMG_0958