Last year on our journey home from Baja, during this same week of March, our daughter Adrienne flew into Las Vegas where we picked her up and traveled to Joshua Tree and Death Valley, California for her spring break. We only allocated 1 ½ days to Death Valley and decided there was too much we were unable to see, so wanted to return to round out our explorations.
We left Palm Springs under sunny skies and drove 6 hours north, ending with an unsettling descent into Death Valley which included a 17-mile stretch in which the road rapidly loses 5,000 feet of elevation. We recalled our own 2007 experience losing brakes coming down a volcano in Costa Rica, in which we finally crashed the car to prevent going over a cliff instead (with 6 of us inside), as well as our son Ryan’s story about his second set of parents who lost their brakes while driving a motorhome down this same hill into Death Valley some years ago. They eventually stopped when the descent ended after 7 terrifying miles, if we recall the details correctly. So . . . halfway down the slope, Bob pulled to the side and stopped our vehicle for 10 minutes to allow the brakes to cool off before proceeding. We can only imagine how hard the truck’s engine will have to work to pull our Arctic Fox back up that same hill in another day or two! In general, our Chevy 1500 truck and 7000 lb (fully loaded) fifth wheel trailer are pretty well matched, but when it comes to extended uphill grades, that truck works pretty hard!
After settling into our campsite at Furnace Creek, we went to the nearby Visitor’s Center for a map of Death Valley National Park and some recommendations about what to see. As it was already late in the day, we went on a drive of the aptly named Artist’s Palette loop, about 9 miles through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary rock hills. Because of this year’s wet winter in southern California, there’s actually surface water in the usually dry lake-bed. We’re sad to report that for the second year in a row we’ve missed the spring wildflowers. Maybe next time!
After dinner back in our campsite, we returned to the Visitor’s Center to listen to a hugely enthusiastic Camp Ranger Geologist give a talk on the history and geology of Death Valley that included lots of verbal “exclamation points”. It was a story which makes this place all the more astonishing to contemplate.
Tomorrow we’ll do some hiking. Meanwhile, we’re glad we returned.