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Death Valley National Park

If I’ve learned nothing else from this past year, it reminded me how important it is to do the things you want while you can. As such, my travel list has grown substantially. It’s possible all this time at home has provided extra time for wanderlust and list creating.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park was on my list because it’s a national park but it was never a priority. The hottest place on earth? Meh. I mean, what’s really great about that? Boy was I wrong! Death Valley is so cool! We were there for three days and only scratched the surface. Little Miss was supposed to join us but ended up having a conflict so we brought a couple friends. Traveling with friends is so much fun! We arrived in the afternoon and tried to squeeze in a few sites before dark.

Badwater Basin

At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. The area is covered in salt flats that you can walk out on. We walked out a ways but the scenery wasn’t changing so we turned around. Apparently we stopped too soon and if you walk out farther the salt flats start to get really cool. Next time.

Right next to Badwater Basin is the Devil’s Golf Course. We almost didn’t stop here and I’m so glad we did! Pictures do not do the area justice. Those are not rocks but rather rock salt that has been eroded by wind and rain to create the jagged spires you see. They are fascinating to see in person!

As we worked our way back to camp we drove Artists Drive Scenic Loop. It’s an 8.5 mile one way drive that winds through hills splashed with different colors.

Artist Palette

We had a little bit of daylight left after we finished the scenic drive so we stopped at Golden Canyon. We didn’t get very far in but what we saw was so cool. Apparently Star Wars was filmed in the some of the canyons back in the day and Golden happened to be one of the locations.

DAY 2

Our goal for the morning of Day 2 was the Ubahebe Crater and we stopped at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes on the way. If you haven’t been to sand dunes before, they’re similar to Las Vegas. Everything looks close but you soon find out your destination is miles away.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

We planned to hike to the highest dune at only a mile away. Easy peasy, right? Not! We got 1/2 or 2/3 of the way there and decided we were good. The constant up and down sand hills is tiring. The dune we were going for is the tallest one you see in the right side of the picture below.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

We read that it’s best to visit Ubahebe Crater earlier in the day as the wind picks up in the afternoon. That’s not a joke. We left camp later in the morning that planned so by the time we made it to the crater is was close to lunchtime. The wind is legit and was making it so hard to walk. You can walk around the entire crater but we opted for only a short section. Pictures do not do the crater justice. It’s huge and so cool in person.

Ubahebe Crater

The picture below is an accurate depiction of how windy it was. We planned to have a nice picnic lunch on the edge of the crater but instead huddled behind the truck in the parking lot.

If you are planning to visit the crater, the turn off of 190 is not well marked. We were traveling north on 190 and completely missed the turn off. Next thing we know we were at the sand dunes, which at this point we didn’t realize are after the turn off. Once we left the sand dunes we kept on driving and eventually realized we were driving west, towards the other exit of the park. Nothing like adding a bunch of unnecessary miles to the day!

After lunch we worked our way back to camp and stopped at the Keane Wonder Mill & Mine. It was a gold mine in the early 1900’s and we spent some time exploring the area. I love seeing bits of history and imaging what it would be like to be alive during that time. I cannot, however, imagine mining in Death Valley pretty much anytime of year.

Keane Wonder Mill & Mine

After our mine exploration we headed back to camp. The boys had to do a little camper maintenance (change a broken leaf spring on a trailer) and they needed enough daylight to get the task done. Once the sun set, we watched a movie outside. Is there anything cooler than watching a movie outside while camping? I think not.

DAY 3

On our third day and final day in the park, we got up early to watch the sunrise at Zabriskie Point. It’s a short walk from the car but a very popular destination. Get there early to ensure a parking spot. This view of Death Valley is stunning. Even if you don’t get here for sunrise, be sure to stop by.

Full Moon Setting from Zabriskie Point

Our next destination was Dantes View, a viewpoint 5,500 feet above the valley floor. On the way, we drove through the 20 Mule Canyon which was a fun little side trip. Dantes View is 25 miles from Furnace Creek and not really worth the drive in my opinion. The view was nice but the drive was long and it was really windy up there. Personally, I’d rather have spent that time exploring the other areas of the park.

Dantes View

Next up, the boys wanted to ride Artist Drive so we picked up their bikes and dropped them off. Man, that road is steep! The picture below is one of my favorite from the trip. I was driving up the road and looked in my rear view to see this image. So I stopped and took a picture.

Riding Bikes on Artist Drive

And they rode their mountain bikes which makes it extra hard. But now they can say they rode in Death Valley!

Artist Palette

We visited in February 2021 and unfortunately, the Visitor Center was closed due to the pandemic. But we did get to see the iconic sign! The temps were perfect when we were there.

Our last stop was Harmony Borax Works. I had no idea borax is mined in California nor what it’s used for other than my favorite ant bait, but now I do! Borax was found in Death Valley in 1881 and a plant built shortly thereafter. The borax had to be hauled from Death Valley to the nearest railroad. They filled wagons, like the ones in the picture below, full of borax and then had 20-mule teams haul it 165 miles to the railroad. You know how on your box of borax is says 20 mule team and has a picture of mules and wagons? Now you know where that came from. Just another one of the many reasons I love national parks.

Harmony Borax Works

Unfortunately, our time in Death Valley had to come to an end but we will be back. There is still so much to explore. We stayed at the Sunset campground which is literally a parking lot. Most of the campgrounds in Death Valley do not take reservations but after speaking with a ranger, I learned they rarely fill up. We visited the end of February and the campground was hardly full. If you aren’t able to make a reservation I wouldn’t worry too much.

Full Moon Rising at the Sunset Campground in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is barren and there is not much shade. I would not recommend visiting in the summer. The gas was stupid expensive so make sure you fill up before entering the park. I can’t think of any other tips other than to add Death Valley to your bucket list.

One our way home from Death Valley we stopped at Lake Mead for one night. We stayed at the Lake Mead RV Village at Boulder Beach. The sites are a little close together but you’re camping close to the lake so that’s expected. We weren’t right on the lake but it isn’t a far walk. Boulder Beach Campground is right next door and would be a great place to stay also.

In order to build the Hoover Dam, a railroad was built to carry the supplies to the dam. A section of the Hoover Dam Railroad system still remains and has been converted to a hiking/biking path. I LOVE the Rails-To-Trails system! This trail has five tunnels, gorgeous lake views, ends at the Hoover Dam parking garage, and there are signs all along explaining how the railroad and dam were built. Once again, the boys rode their bikes and the girls walked. If you’re in the area, I’d suggest checking it out.

That’s a wrap on the Death Valley National Park recap! If you’ve been to DV, what did you think? Hopefully you loved it it as much as we did!

Highway 395 in California

We recently returned from our annual summer road trip and California was the destination this year. Little Mister (he’s not so little anymore so I probably need to come up with a new name) has been wanting to visit Alcatraz for years so we centered our trip around Alcatraz. Per usual, I then added on as much as possible within driving distance from said destination. I am fairly certain the family has a love/hate with this tactic but I don’t care. 🙂

Our first destination was Lake Tahoe and we took Highway 395 to get there. If you’ve not taken a trip down 395, add it to your list. Not only is the scenery gorgeous, there is so much to do! We only stopped a handful of times but we will definitely be back to explore the area further.

Our first stop was the town of Randsburg for a soda from their soda fountain. Randsburg is about a mile off the highway so it didn’t add too much time to the day. It’s an old mining town and has some cool looking buildings and a jail you can explore. The Randsburg General Store serves food, sells groceries, and has a soda fountain that has been in operation since 1904. I tried the lime phosphate soda while The Husband tried the root beer. Both were good and it was neat to experience a bit of history.

Old fashioned sodas from the Randsburg General Store

At this point we had been driving all day so we spent the night in Lone Pine at the Boulder Creek RV Resort. I was rather impressed with the campground. The sites are nicely spaced and clean and they have a well stocked store. They also have quite a few fun things to do on the grounds. There is a pool, playground, birds, desert tortoises, and a handful of swings to relax in. We didn’t spend much time at camp but it made for a nice place to stay on the way up the 395. The only downside is you have to actually call to make reservations. I run into this every so often and it boggles my mind.

Our next stop was the Hot Creek Geological Site. A chamber of magma lies below the surface causing boiling hot water, colored pools, fumaroles, and occasionally geysers. It’s a couple miles off the highway and easy to get to. The first two miles are paved and the final mile is dirt but well maintained. There is a short, steep paved path down to the river.

Hot Creek Geological Site

You cannot go in the river or walk over to the pools but you can get close enough to see the steam coming off the pools. That blue color is really incredible.

The Earthquake Fault in Mammoth Lakes was a little farther of a stop than I expected but the area is beautiful and the fault was cool to see. Technically it’s a fissure but it was caused by an earthquake and you can see how the two sides of rock go together. Aside from the neat history lesson and geology, the forest is gorgeous and the trees are huge. I’d love to come back to this area to camp and ride bikes.

Earthquake Fault – Mammoth Lakes

Our final stop on the 395 was Bodie Historical State Park, a gold-mining ghost town. Bodie is a little farther of a journey off the highway, about 20-30 minutes each way, but definitely worth a stop. Because Bodie is a state park there is a small entrance fee. Additionally, for $2 cash, they sell a brochure that tells the history of each building. I would recommend getting the brochure. It made walking through the town more exciting because we knew what we were looking at.

My favorite stop in the town was the bank, or what’s left of the bank. I spent many years working for a bank and have a soft spot for all things banking.

The only downside of driving the 395 was the gas prices. We paid $4 – $5 a gallon in all of California, but the highest prices were definitely along the 395. It’s a collection of small towns so high prices are expected but it definitely hurts the wallet.

If you are planning a trip to this area check out California Thru My Lens. Josh has tons of information on all the stops along the 395.

To read about the rest of this trip visit:

Lake Tahoe

San Francisco

Yosemite National Park

*For the beginning of this road trip check out Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

After Sequoia we headed to Yosemite.  Yosemite spans nearly 1,200 square miles but the majority of the visitors stay within the seven square mile area know as Yosemite Valley.  Many of Yosemite’s well know features can be accessed or seen from the valley.   Read more

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

After our Yellowstone trip we fell in love with the National Parks.  We immediately started planning our next National Park trip and picked Yosemite as the destination.   Read more

Yellowstone National Park

*For the beginning of this road trip see the Grand Teton National Park post.

I don’t even know where to begin with Yellowstone.  This is definitely someplace to add to your bucket list.   Read more

Grand Teton National Park

This is the first of several posts about our trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.  This is the trip that started our love affair with the National Parks.  Read more