A Road Trip – Death Valley, Part 1

We shoveled the snow and endured the cold rain and decided it was time to take a road trip Down South (which is how Alaskans refer to anywhere in the Lower 48). We visited Death Valley a few years ago and loved it, so we decided to go back and enjoy it some more…

Located in the southeastern part of California and along the Nevada border, Death Valley advertises itself as the hottest, driest and lowest national park in the U.S. Despite the forbidding name, it’s a sensational place full of mind-blowing shapes and formations, soft pastel colors, craters, sand dunes, curious canyons, a small rare fish that lives in hot salty water, and other forms of life below sea level in the middle of the desert. Death Valley is also a Dark Sky park – known for having almost no light pollution to disturb star gazing.

The nights were pleasant for star gazing, and we lucked out and had no moonlight for a few days so we could see the milky way. The days were in the mid 70s, though we had three afternoons that hit 90 – a little toasty, but we shouldn’t complain after the cold winter we’ve had. The trick is to find narrow canyons to hike when it’s hot in the afternoons, so there’s plenty of shade.

It’s quite a “chariot ride” to drive to Death Valley, climbing up steep grades up to 5000′ or more, then down the steeps into a vast flat valley – Panamint Valley… then up the mountains on the other side, and down again to make an almost straight drop into Death Valley. Whew!

We started with an exploration of a more remote part of the park’s western side – Emigrant Canyon. It’s an area where individuals used to mine for gold, lead and silver, and there were once two small towns in the region. It’s a very different from the rest of the park and not very well visited except by wild burros.

The tiny homestead in the photo below was occupied and mined by a man for about 40 years – can you imagine living and working (mostly) alone in this place for that long?

What amazes me is that explorers and entrepreneurs knew how to find these minerals, and were willing to scour the harsh landscape to look for them.

Miles past this area we found a set of 10 charcoal kilns in Wildrose Canyon. Each of these 25′ high kilns were built in the 1870s to produce charcoal from local trees (which were plentiful in that particular area) for smelting lead and silver. Sadly, they were only used for just a few years. It’s a long way to drive to find them, but it was worth it!

We finished up our first day by hiking up Mosaic Canyon, with its smooth walls of dolomite to scramble up and slide down.

I just fell in love with the pastel colors in the rocks, particularly the soft greens. The landscape is so otherworldly – appropriate since some scenes in the original Star Wars movies were filmed here. It’s easy to let your imagination see all kinds of exotic science fiction settings among the formations.

We tried a new hike – up Titus Canyon. Tall vertical walls and a narrow pathway made us feel so small… and then we bent our minds trying to imagine the forces that created the canyon and the conglomerate rocks in it.

Oh, there’s lots more to show you in Death Valley – stay tuned.

One thought on “A Road Trip – Death Valley, Part 1

  1. What a wondrous place! Thank you for including your photos and stories on your cruising/boating/life in Alaska blog!

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