Death Valley and Red Rock Canyon

This past weekend Dave and I packed up my mom’s Honda Accord and hit the road. We made the five hour trek up to Death Valley to check out a new national park, spend some time together and relax in the great outdoors.  We reserved a spot at Furnace Creek campground for Sunday and Monday night and decided to wait on our Tuesday night destination depending on whether we needed more time to see Death Valley or we were ready to move on.

Our first night in the park we just set up our tent, lit up a fire and spent the evening relaxing under the stars. Monday morning we were up early and ready to hit up the major “must see” destinations of Death Valley. We started by driving down Badwater Road to the lowest point in the US (and one of the lowest on earth at -282 feet below sea level) Badwater Basin. We lucked out and were the only people at the site when we arrived- making for some great shots of the scenery. Visitors are able to walk as far as they’d like across the Basin, but the trail only extends about a 1/2 mile out so the going gets tricky pretty quickly. We hiked out about a mile or so, but opted not to continue the 5 miles across the valley. Making the Basin even more beautiful is the fact that it’s framed by Telescope Peak, which sits at an elevation of more than 11,000 feet!

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From Badwater Basin we made our way back up Badwater Rd. stopping at each of the scenic hikes, outlooks and drives along the way. We did a short hike at the Natural Bridge and marveled at the dry waterfalls. Next we stopped off at the Devils Golf Course to view some of the crazy formations created by the salt and wind in Badwater Basin. Walking across the course is allowed, but extremely difficult due to the shape of the formations. Warning signs caution of broken bones and major injuries to those who attempt the hike. Needless to say, we didn’t go too far.

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Next up on our list of sights was the Artist’s Drive. It’s a three mile drive through beautifully colored rocks and canyons. Colors range from brown and green to red and purple to pinks and blues. And they change depending on the cloud cover and how the sun hits them. The one-way drive was also a lot of fun because of the thin, winding road and the fact that’s it’s off the major road. We parked along the drive at the Artist’s Palette and hiked around the hills for awhile. It was mid-day so I don’t think the colors were as vivid as they’d be at dusk or dawn, but it was still incredibly beautiful.

IMG_1992From the Artist’s Drive we made our way to the last stop of the morning, Golden Canyon. The canyon leads to the “Red Cathedral”, a formidable rock colored red and kind of resembling a cathedral. Pretty self explanatory….Before the hike we scarfed some lunch and then had a nice stroll down the “interactive” trail. At the end of the trail you can continue on to other points or take the extended loop trail back down and around, but we just scrambled along the rocks for a bit before heading back to camp.

IMG_2028 IMG_2040At camp we cracked open some beers and took a much deserved break before jumping back in the car and heading to the Mesquite Sand Dunes for sunset. Death Valley is so beautiful and so diverse. I’ve never been a big fan of the desert (I’m partial to water and trees), but I have such a new appreciation for the beauty of deserts and dry places. It’s amazing what time and nature can create. We spent all morning hiking along dusty rocks worn down by ancient waters and through salt beds that still sustain life (the Death Valley pupfish) and then spent the evening hiking over a completely different kind of desert creation, sand dunes. We sat on the dunes and watched the sun dip behind the distant mountains, keeping our eyes peeled for the first star. We saw one and then minutes later there were hundreds. Death Valley is officially known as an international Dark Sky Park because of how little light pollution affects the area. On a clear night the intensity of the stars is awe inspiring. It was an amazing sight to see.

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IMG_0247We were up early the next morning to catch the sunrise. One of the park rangers told us that the best place to see it was Zabriskie Point so that’s where we headed. It was chilly and early, but the sunrise was definitely worth it!

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From Zabriskie Point we checked out the historic 20 Mule Trail and then headed back to camp for some breakfast and to pack up. The next stop was north, just past the sand dunes at Mosaic Canyon. The hike begins with a narrow trail that opens up to a big canyon. We spent a couple hours hiking around and taking in even more incredible views and rock formations. I even got Dave to pretend our water bottle was Simba on one of them. I have the picture to prove it:)

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IMG_2115After our hike and some lunch we drove west to our last stop in Death Valley, Father Crowley Vista Point. We got a great view of the western side of the park and even got to see two low flying jets fly out on a practice run over the canyon.

IMG_2135As we drove away from Death Valley we were reading over the literature we’d gotten from the park. We knew that Death Valley’s name came from the Manly Party who back in the 1880s were lost in the area and thought they were going to die. When they eventually found their way out legend has it that one of the men turned back and said, “Good Bye Death Valley”. After hiking over the mountains they came upon fresh water at Indian Wells and today a brewery has been erected on the site. Indian Wells Brewing Company still uses the same spring water in their beers and sodas today. We love our beer and it was really refreshing to throw back a few cold ones after all the hiking and driving of the day.

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We decided that our last night camping we’d stop at a different site and had read some great things about Red Rock Canyon State Park about halfway between Death Valley and LA. The park was almost deserted and we had our pick of spots. We set everything up and then drove a little ways down the road for some dinner. That night we had one last campfire and some final stargazing before turning in for the night.

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We spent our last day on the road hiking around the campgrounds and at another canyon just down the road. A lot of old westerns and in addition to some more modern films were shot at Red Rocks including scenes from Jurassic Park. We had the trails all to ourselves and fun checking out a place so close to LA that’d we’d never taken the time to visit.

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IMG_0346We had a great time getting away from everything for a few days and seeing a new place. It sounds corny, but stepping away from technology and taking the time to be quiet with nature is so refreshing. I’m lucky I have a partner who thinks so too.

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