By Dave Boyer

Img0474AFall 2006

Click on Smaller images to enlarge

Death Valley is the lowest point below sea level in North America and has been one of California’s national parks that I’ve been interested in seeing for most of my life. In December of 2006 I decided it was time to pay a visit and do some desert exploration. Don, a friend and four wheel drive enthusiast out of Merced wanted to check out the area to see if he could talk his wife into a vacation trip there. Well, it sounded good anyway and he figured it was a good excuse to get away.

Although I prefer pine trees over cactus, my new 4×4 van is well suited for the desert terrain and I’m always willing to explore something new and unique in our great wilderness areas. This was a great trip, especially because it was new to me and neither of us didn’t know what to expect. I had seen some TV documentaries on Death Valley such as Huell Howser’s California’s Gold, but both of us figured actually being there would probably be quite different. Correctamundo! Within a week, we were to find out that Death Valley is truly part of California’s gold.

The trip would be a good eight hour drive from our home area of northern California. The route we took was highway 99 south to Bakersfield, then over highway 58 through Tehachapi Pass.

The railroad that winds through the Pass has always fascinated me. The route itself is fairly scenic especially if you travel the old highway.

 

After fueling up in Tehachapi, we headed to 395 where we stopped by Red Rock State Park for a look. There are typical RV camping spots along the cliffs where many Hollywood western movies have been made.

Once you have been there, any movie with this background will stand out immediately. Also, some great looking four wheel drive routes close to this area  can be read about in  the Southern version of the Backcountry Adventures Book .

There are a number of camps that are scattered along these cliffs.

This is a great small park to visit itself and quite scenic, but we were fixed on Death Valley and headed on. As the sun was setting, high winds were raising havoc with us when we turned off 395 onto 190. The van was all over the road as the desert plants whipped around and dust flew across the roadway. Driving over the pass toward Death Valley I noticed it was cool outside but not cold. If not for the wind chill, it would have been mild outside. We stopped at Panamint Springs where there is 24hour Diesel and fueled up. The small store was closed but the pumps, like most in Death Valley took my debit card. After entering the Park, I was surprised that there wasn’t any kiosk or pay station….at least I never saw one. Soon we turned off the highway and headed up Emigrant Canyon Road to a small campground called Wildrose. It was a fairly long drive, about 40 miles, and took longer than I thought when looking at the map. I got my first sense of how big this place is. We finally made it to the camp and set out on foot to find the best spot to setup. I thought the wind was bad at Panamint Springs, but at this place it was howling and the skies were pitch black. It’s always strange going into a place at dark and then waking in the morning to see where you ended up. This little camp appeared desolate when we walked through with our flashlights that night but we found about 7 vehicles occupying  sites. The campground had 1 vaulted head, tables, a few BBQs, and some fire rings. The wind was outrageous, so strong that I had to drop the PH at bedtime as the wind continued to increase. This made it difficult for me because of all the equipment I had in the back. Sleeping crammed up against a telescope was not what I expected, and Don, who had bought a new “cheap” tent for the trip had to endure a night of high wind gusts that flattened his little nylon cabin. I could see the outline of his face and body when the tent pressed down on him. All of a sudden I could see his hand pushing it back up. I couldn’t help but laugh!  At least he couldn’t hear me over the noise of the wind but I really felt bad for him when the rains started. If you plan to take a tent, buy a good one that will withstand all the elements and have the necessary stakes to anchor it down in all soils, especially sand. This would cause problems throughout the entire trip. The rangers told us of times where tents end up rolling miles into the desert like big tumble weeds from where they had been staked out.

In the morning I was surprised to see a rather bland area. I figured we would see some colorful mountains. Red rock was much more scenic than this camp.

We decided to do a little site seeing and headed up the road to see the Charcoal Kilns. The mountains in the background are the highest in the area.

 

Although it had rained on us during the night in camp, the kilns were situated high enough that there was a little snow on the ground when we arrived. 

Seeing the kilns is definitely worth the trip. This area has Pinyon Pine and Juniper trees which adds a bit of greenery.

This was some of the snow that fell, but most had melted.

The Kilns were impressive and much larger than I thought they would be.

The plant life is more abundant at the higher altitudes.

I think that I would have thought these were some kind of Indian huts if I hadn’t read about them.

 

I was surprised how good of condition they were in considering they were built in the 1870s. Later I read that they had been rebuilt during the early 20th century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is Dunbar inside a kiln.

Just up the road were Thorndike and Mahogany Flat, two camps that are closed during winter due to their high altitude setting of 8133 ft. We wanted to boon dock somewhere but didn’t really know where to begin. Not knowing what any of the camps in Death Valley were like, we decided to check out Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek. Heading down the hill back to highway 190, I was amazed of that there was snow below were we had camped, possibly more than 1000 feet below the Wildrose campground. The rain in camp that night didn’t even feel cold. Apparently high winds can put snow in some strange places here. The mountains are somewhat rugged and almost lifeless looking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We passed two roads I want to look at sometime, “Aguereberry Point” and “Skidoo” but we needed to see the basic areas of the park for the first trip. Also on the way down there were several unique and colorful rock formations that popped into view.

Finally some color showed up.

There were a few rock formations that were worth looking over but overall most of the area was very bland.

This was our first sighting of the Death Valley floor. Look carefully in the lower right hand corner of this picture and you can see the 20 foot drop into the wash. Death Valley in my mind had always conjured up the idea of cactus everywhere. Well… they are around, just not as numerous as I thought. In fact, cactus seemed hard to find during the first part of the trip.

Wow, we finally found one.

Driving into Stovepipe Wells was kind of cool, looking more like a traditional desert as did the temperature. It was 70 degrees but high winds made it feel cooler.

Still there was a major temperature change from where we had been. There is a small store here as well as a gift shop and restaurant. I couldn’t find any diesel at the pumps but I had plenty to make it to Furnace Creek. Someone said there was a hotel at Stovepipe Wells, but we never noticed it.

What we did see were big recreational type  vehicles stacked in line next to each other that looked more like a RV dealership than a campground.

Traveling on toward Furnace Creek there are some sand dunes that looked like something from the Middle East. Further down the road is an area called the Devils Cornfield. These scattered mounds with a green bush on top were different looking.

I guess they represent the old style of harvesting corn that was done in the past. The Devil part is obvious; it’s Death Valley’s heat. Coming into Furnace Creek we found that the area had green trees, and many palms.

Picture 236

This is a picture of the Furnace Creek stores during 2007. None of my pictures came out of the 2006 trip. My bad.

As far as I was concerned, the campground was poorly designed. This seems to be routine with how the National Park Service sets up camps.

The campground would be nice if they added some space between the camps, definitely more than how the sites were arranged. I don’t mind campgrounds that have limited privacy, but these sites were right on top of one another. We soon found that most every campground we would visit was a sardine can. Many had big RV’s running generators. Sure seems idiotic to have such crammed campground sites in a National Park with so much free space. Because I was pulling a SMB trailer, I wanted to leave it in a campground while exploring the park, rather than leaving it out on a trail all by itself. We wanted some info about the campgrounds, so we headed to the visitor center. Here I found “Ranger Bob”. This guy was a wealth of knowledge. He pointed us in the right direction in so many ways. I told him I wasn’t real happy with local campgrounds, Furnace Creek and Texas Springs. These were campgrounds that offer tent camping as well as spots for RV’s but really wasn’t what I wanted. There was also another huge RV only campground that looked like another RV dealership called Sunset. Furnace Creek campground has the most greenery of all the camps while Texas Springs looked kind of desolate to me. Bob suggested pulling the trailer with us and camp in the desert for seclusion, but if I needed a campground, Mesquite Spring about 50 miles north close to Scotty’s Castle might be what I was after. Before leaving out for Mesquite, we did a once around the local area. Furnace Creek offers diesel and has the largest store around not to mention restaurants and tourist shops. Down the road from the store there is  Furnace Creek Inn  that looked quite impressive. Don thought he might talk his wife into a vacation and it would take a spot like this to convince her to experience Death Valley. It really would make a nice trip but I’ll bet it’s an expensive hotel. I wondered how good the food was there compared to what we had with us. Hard to beat a Cup-O-Noodles.

We fueled up, restocked our adult beverages, and headed out.

I was able to get off a shot of the lower valley above Furnace Creek. These were some of the salt marshes. The higher mountains can cause the sunset to be earlier than other spots in the valley so if you know where to go, you can catch the premium photographic times.

Once we were heading toward Scotty’s Castle, I was amazed at the color of the  surrounding mountain range. 

The lower hills were a mix of light pastel colors that resembled strawberry, vanilla, mint, and chocolate ice creams. Unfortunately all I got were these pictures above the range that showed vivid red colors. Later we found out that to see the pastel colors, you had to be there when the sun was setting. During normal daylight, the colors almost disappeared. We found this to be true at most every spot we visited. Evening was the time to be somewhere with a camera. This proved to be difficult due to time restraints. Most of the time we were too far away to get to the right spot in time. I wanted to pull over and get some shots, but I had a group of diesel pushers on my tail and they all seemed to heading to the same place we were going. After passing this colorful section of mountains, the road started a steady uphill climb to the campground. Too bad I missed my photographic opportunity. We drove past more sand dunes and a cutoff to Titus Canyon. The Titus trail was supposed to be one of the better routes in the park. As bad luck would have it, that trail was closed which is common at this time of the year.

Turning on the road to the campground, we were hoping that the wind would be less severe. Unfortunately it was here to stay. Once again we were subjected to very high winds along with blowing sand.

Mesquite Springs Campground.

Pulling into the campground it was apparent that there would be no fire, no barbecue, and no sitting around outside with a cold beverage in hand due to the winds. The other thing that caught my eye was all the big recreational vehicles calling this place home.

We found the campground was almost full but one spot looked nice until we smelled why no one was there. It was down wind from a sewer manhole cover and NOT a primo spot. The bathrooms at Mesquite Springs are nice with flush toilets and running water but the sewer system was really bad. Oh well, we found a site downwind…way downwind! Like Wildrose there were no trees, just shrubs about 4 feet in height. At least I’d have a spot to drop the trailer to do some exploring in the upcoming days.

That night we decided to conserve water by drinking adult beverages in the comfort of the SMB.

 

 

 

Because of the high winds ripping through camp, we had an inside dinner of homemade tamales and hoped that the morning would bring calm weather as we planned out the next day.

 

 

I woke to find high winds again. Don’s tent was full of sand and he said it was a rough night for sleeping. We moved from the spot we occupied the night before after finding a better one that someone vacated. There were 2 other SMB’s in the camp but I only talked to the guy at the west end of the camp. He was off to Las Vegas. We had a few good conversations with some of the other campers and talked with one group that I was glad to be far away from due to the ruckus they raised the night before.

That morning after deciding where we were going to explore, the tent had to be taken down again . These winds were so heavy that one of the  fiberglass poles snapped into during the night and Don didn’t think it could stand too much more. While putting thing away in camp I ran into the ticket checkers. These wannabe rangers were something else. The gal acted like I committed a felony because we didn’t register the night before. I don’t know what was pulling her chain, but her coworker had a disgusted look on his face. Lucky him to get to work with such an uplifting person! Then Don showed up with the ticket…Oh!

We had a great breakfast of Cup-O-Noodles  along with a few cups of espresso and Cask & Cream. Finally we were off to explore.

The main off road trek for the day was a trip to the Chloride Cliffs. They over look the mid section of Death Valley, but our first stop would be Ubehebe Crater which was right around the corner.

Ubehebe Crater.

This crater is a site not to be passed by. Colors here during dusk would be vivid. You can walk down into the crater, but we were short on time. There is no camping around Ubehebe but I really enjoyed seeing it. Unfortunately Ubehebe Crater is not a meteor strike, rather a volcanic leftover.

If you click to enlarge the image on the right, you can see how big it really is by looking at the hikers in the bottom of the crater. It’s pretty big!  Short on time, we moved on to our next destination. I would have liked to have seen Scotty’s Castle also, but finding a few boon dock spots was an overriding factor. At this point in time I was looking for backcountry places I could get my trailer to. I needed some premium places where we could camp at during the next visit that would support off road trailer access. Both Don and I also wanted to see the Race Track but were told that the wind had exposed sharp rock and chances were we would get a flat. Although I think this was BULL, my tires were not in the best shape, so we skipped it. I think that if you drive too fast, your front tires can kick up the sharp rocks and set you up for a rear flat. The rangers ask that you keep the vehicle in 4 wheel drive on all non-paved roads to keep the washboard down. I don’t know if that even works but the rangers made it sound like it would have been a long bumpy ride. We were also told that people have been destroying that area lately and even stealing the rocks, so the park staff are discouraging folks from going in there. OK, maybe next time. Bob said that Big Pine Road to Eureka Dunes was a cool route. OK, next time. Because of how big Death Valley is, we would be saying “OK, next time” throughout the trip.

On the way down we saw a few colorful mountains but this is when we figured out that evening skies are the catalysis of color and didn’t dwell too long. After taking this picture we kept looking for those bright colored mountains but never really found what was visible the night before.

The Chloride Cliffs.

We hit the trailhead to Chloride Cliffs about 1:30 PM. This route was bumpy but it was one of the better drives we would take.

The trail into the Chloride Cliff for the 1st couple of miles was only rough in a few spots.

We took a wrong turn into Monarch Canyon that turned out to be a blessing. Even though the trailer was back at Mesquite, I found a spot to boon dock at that I could get my trailer in to, and it was an ace in the hole for our next trip.

We pulled over to check things out as we entered the canyon.

 

 

 

 

 

This is what we were looking for, nice spots to get to with my trailer. The only problem pulling a trailer on this route would be if I had to backup do to an oncoming vehicle. I plan to return to this area on my next trip. It would be a nice spot to boon dock out of plus it’s close to Titus Canyon, a spot I must see some day. Here are some pictures of Monarch Canyon.

 

  

One thing that is apparent as soon as you work your way to the back of the canyon is the amount of vegetation everywhere compared to what we had seen to this point in Death Valley.

 

 

Looking down the canyon at the first dry fall is interesting.

The trail follows the canyon and makes it to the valley floor. I’m told that the falls offer rock climbers something to transverse and if I’m not mistaken, there are three of these. We walked down to the bottom of the first waterfall.

 

 

 

This was the back of the wash and would probably have water flowing over it during a rainy season. The van was parked at the upper right of this image out of view. We had to walk down a ridge trail to get here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was water coming out of the rocks behind me in this picture.

 

The rock formations and layers are amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rocks are smooth from erosion and it’s one place I would not want to be in a flash flood but judging by the plants, the water probably doesn’t get too deep.

Too much water or lack of? No matter what, he didn’t make it. At first I thought I found a living object other than plants…too bad.

After surveying the wash we headed back up. It was cool due to the winds, but not cold.

Back on top we were able to find enough shelter to barbecue some steaks and munch on some potato salad. This really made our day. Up until now we had to cook inside the van every night and we were getting tired of soup and the like. We were running late, so we slammed some brews, wolfed down the food, and headed out.

Back on the trail we climbed higher toward the cliffs. What a difference from the canyon. We encountered a barren desolate looking zone as I drove on toward the top. Although this area above appears low, calm, and warm, looks can be deceiving. We were at about 4000 feet here with winds gusting to over 50 miles per hour and the temperature was about 35 degrees. Soon we encountered temps in the low to mid 20s and a dusting of snow.

As dry as it looks, this snow had been on the ground for over 2 days in full Sun.

The road so far had its good and bad spots but nothing terrible.  Eventually we came to a major split. The road to the left heads into flat desert and toward the town of Beatty in Nevada. A right turn leads to Chloride City about a mile away. The road begins to narrow and soon becomes the most difficult spot on the whole route. Still it wasn’t that bad, but I did lock in the hubs not knowing what to expect. The temps were now in the low 20s and the winds were howling. I thought my temperature gauge was wrong until I got out. It was freezing and the wind chill was terrible. We were hoping to make it there before dark so I could get some good pictures. Just below the Chloride Cliffs is the old mining town of Chloride City that was occupied from 1880 to 1918.  Once you’re in the old town’s vicinity, other roads branch out all over the place. We were short on time so we couldn’t look around much. There were some old structures, metal debris, and mine shafts that had mesh wire over them to keep people out. Most of the structures had deteriorated to mere piles of wood. Our main objective was to see the Cliffs and the view of the valley so we headed up.

This is a shot looking into Death Valley from the Chloride Cliffs.

Here we encountered the highest winds I have ever been in, as well as the coldest temps during our stay. The winds were so bad they could almost knock you down and we had to yell at each other while talking. The view of the valley was jacked up by dust and sand so we saw what looked like fog. This was one time that we were at the right place at the right time as far as the sun was concerned.

Too bad we couldn’t see much color. In fact you barely see the valley floor due to this dust storm. I had expressed some worry about getting a flat tire up here. Besides being dark, if I did get a flat, the wind chill alone might convince me to wait until morning rather than changing a tire out in freezing temps. I was worried my Espar heater would flame out in these conditions, and I didn’t want to test it. Because it was now dark we didn’t want to go back the way we came, so we set out toward the flat desert. I uncovered my Halogen lights and headed for the fork that took us toward Beatty. The road was great until it split 4 ways. Which one? Sure enough we took the wrong road, and then another wrong way but the G.P.S. showed our mistake each time and we finally got on the correct route. Again, this road seemed to go on forever. My Halogen lights really helped big time. We drove in and out of many small washes and ended up close to the California Nevada boarder. We hit Nevada state route 374 and headed east toward Beatty for fuel and to restock our bar. One nice thing about Beatty was the fuel here was cheap compared to Death Valley but the stores really don’t carry much more than those in the Park plus Beatty’s beer selection sucked. Camp was about 60 miles away so we headed  in that direction. Arriving back at camp we had to set up Don’s tent. The heavy wind, dust and sand made it difficult to pitch much less stay up. We rigged rope to it at every point possible. Now with all that dust in our throats, we had to wash it down with some type of fluid. Being this was Death Valley we decided to conserve water again. After a few adult beverages and dinner, we were exhausted and crashed. I decided to leave the top up over night. The other SMB’s had their tops up, so I did the same. I can’t say having the top up was a good or bad idea. I slept with one eye open and the van really rocked when buffeted by the winds. At least I found the top can handle 40+ MPH winds. We were both hoping for a calm morning.

West Side Road.

What would the weather be like in the morning? What else, high winds! But it was a beautiful morning. We had only two more days left to explore and still the wind would not stop. It was starting to take a toll on Don’s tent, but I had duct tape. The tape was a lame fix for the broken pole but repaired a rip fairly well.

We got out the books during breakfast inside the van to determine what we wanted to see. On this excursion I wanted to check out the central section of the park. One couple took a liking to the van and had some questions. We also pumped them for info and asked what they had visited so far. Nice folks.

 

On the way down I snapped a 360 degree view along the highway.

The drive between Mesquite Springs and Furnace Creek is a long one. Seeing the hills that were so colorful a few days before made me realize that I had made a mistake by not pulling over for some pictures the first night we headed to Mesquite.

 

The mountains were bland looking during the morning hours and I had hoped to catch them on the way back to camp while the sun was setting.

Highway 190 was visible in the distance where it drops down into Stovepipe Wells.

Bob had told us about a spot that was quick and easy, so we went to take a look at the Keane Wonder Mine.

It was supposed to be a good road according to Bob and we found it on the G.P.S. immediately. At first it was a real easy drive. Looking over the flat terrain I wondered where the mine was. Maybe that’s why they called it the Wonder Mine, you wondered where it was.

This The road looked easy like Bob had said. I should have figured out that the 4 small rocks were a sign to keep out. We thought that if the road was restricted there would be some kind of sign.

 

Soon I was dropping in and out of washes that were questionable.

I had to be in four wheel drive and at one point had to lock the front differential to get up a hill. I thought this was supposed to be an easy road that a 2 wheel drive could take.

We dropped into another wash and found a 3 foot bush in the middle of the road. Knowing how slow these plants grow in Death Valley, we came to the conclusion that no one had been on this road for years. We were probably somewhere we weren’t supposed to be.

Even though it was a nice view, we high tailed it out of there. Back on the highway we headed south and came across a big sign that said Keane Wonder Mine and took the 2 lane dirt highway back to the mine. Any low rider could make this. We found that you could walk up to the mine via a trail to get a look at all the old structures and what not.

 

The mine itself was the most intact structures we had seen and there was a foot trail to it.

The view over the valley was nice from the Keane Wonder Mine and would be a good place for someone with 2 wheel drive to visit.

Indeed, we did talk with a couple from L.A. who were hiking to the mine. I snapped some pictures and we headed out.

 

The mine site is considered one of the Parks better spots to view the mid-section of the Valley.

Too bad it was so hazy due to the wind and blowing sand.

I had heard about West Side Road, so we headed to Furnace Creek to stock up on our adult beverages (to conserve water) and top off the Diesel. West side road is just south of Furnace Creek and has many four wheel drive routes off of it into areas that you can boon dock at. Some areas are restricted to camping, so check with the park service. Our plan was to head south on West Side Road then loop back on 190 where we would make a stop at Bad Water and end up at Artist Palette to get some photographs at sunset.

Well it was a very long washboard road and we had to air down.

 

The salt flats including the Devil’s Golf Course are all accessible from West Side Road.

I had never seen anything like this. On a wet year this would be covered with water.

These hexagonal saucers  were interesting as well as the other formations along Westside road.

 

It was strange to think of this as salt.

This is another section of the Devil’s Golf Course where a salt flat divides the rougher terrain.

Ranger Bob said to take Johnson’s Canyon but our time was limited, so that run would have to wait. West Side Road is a long drive and we had to push hard. The road was much longer than we anticipated and we had to skip any side roads for now. As it was, we never would make Artist Palette.

                                                               

There were spots where vegetation was  more plentiful, and the washboard mellowed a bit in places making the drive more palatable.

 

 

This was supposed to be some kind of spring, but we never found any water. We ate lunch here and watched several vehicles pull up and do the same thing we did at arrival, which was to get out and walk around this large area of brush wondering what the hell it was.

 

Other than Furnace Creek, this was by far the greenest spot I had seen in Death Valley.

Not too far from here was the Bennett’s Long Camp historical marker.

A wagon party during the mid 1800’s were stranded for a month until a couple  of  the group headed for supplies and returned to save the party from peril.bennetts

 

The road seemed to go on forever, and as we neared the end, the area turned to mostly shrub brush.

 

We passed several roads that lead toward the Panamint Range.

This shot was looking back toward Telescope Peak, the highest mountain in Death Valley at 11,049 feet above sea level. What a difference considering Badwater’s lowest point is 282 feet below sea level and they are only about 15 miles apart from each other.

As the sun was getting lower, the colors on the mountains started to brighten.

 

The highway in this shot isn’t visible but it is in the background at the base of the mountain range. Around the corner from where I took this picture is the a seasonal river that would normally have water flowing during springtime, but this year it was dry when we crossed it.

This was an interesting formation along the highway.

 

 

 

 

I don’t like flying over washboard, so we were lucky to limp our way to Badwater to air up before it was too dark.

On the way to Badwater I took a few shots from the highway at where we had been.

This picture of Telescope Peak shows the snow on top. The charcoal kilns are on the other side of this mountain.

At Badwater I was surprised to see so many foreign visitors even though it was close to dark. It reminded me of Yosemite; lots of tour busses and cameras.

In the center of the picture is a sign on the mountain that indicates sea level.

Img0475 B Fall 2006

 

 

 

 

 

That little sign showing sea level is  probably is the most important sign in Death Valley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was just light enough to get off a few camera shots and check out the scenery.

We aired up and headed back toward Furnace Creek sadly passing Artist Palette in the dark We refueled and headed back toward camp and the miserable routine of setting up Don’s tent in high winds. This was getting old.

Echo Canyon.

In the morning we woke up to light winds and a great sunrise. Finally we got a break with the wind. I snapped a few pictures of the Last Chance range and packed up.

This would be our last day of exploration in the park and we wanted to make it the best of the trip if possible.

We decided to ask ranger Bob at Furnace Creek, if it were him on his last day in the park, where would he stay if he had a rig like mine. He suggested Echo Canyon. This would be the highlight of the trip. Not only was the weather cooperating, with no wind and a temperature around 70, Echo Canyon itself was fantastic. We were ready for a nice day and finally got it.

This was the start point of Echo Canyon beyond the power lines.

The first few miles went through an open area, but soon it turned into a narrow wash with towering vertical walls on both sides.

The scenery was unreal with the trail winding its way up at a gentle slope.

The lower portion of the trail was smooth but loose gravel required four wheel drive in a couple of areas.

 

There were only a few narrow spots where I had to climb over a rock or two and that was because I was pulling my trailer.

 

 

 

 

 

There are several places along the trail to boon dock at. Although it’s attractive, within the canyon walls you will be subjected to close drive by’s from other vehicles.

This is a rock formation called “Eye Of The Needle” and is close to where we camped.

 

 

We set up for the night and did some exploring further up the canyon.

 

 

 

 

 

The opposite side of this formation is easy to climb up and stand in the window.

 

This erosion hole is actually over 10 feet tall.

Img0493Fall 2006

Our boon dock spot was one great camp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rock formation in the picture at the right looked like a bear watching over our camp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not having much time left, the Canyon had to be explored, so a drive was required. The Canyon is quite vertical  and moderately narrow around the Eye Of The Needle.

We found another nice spot to camp at and it offered some shelter as well. This had to have been used in the past because the walls were black with soot from fires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not far up the trail the canyon starts to open up and becomes more like rolling hills. After that, the trail turns back into a canyon and there are some very difficult four wheel drive obstacles. We never made it that far and headed back to camp.  OK next year.

This is the East side of the “Eye Of The Needle”. This picture gives some perspective to the size of this thing . With the sun setting, I grabbed a few shots.

The setting sun really brings out the color.

I was very happy to find that my satellite radio work within the narrow canyon walls. This was a day that nothing went wrong and the evening was the same.

That night we were able to get out the “Pit 2 go” and have a fire. It is illegal to have ground fires in Death Valley National Park, so you need a portable fire pit like what we used. Many folks were using portable propane fires, but I prefer packing in real wood and packing out the charcoal.

Img0524AFall 2006

This is what we wanted the whole trip to be like, but with all the wind hounding us throughout the week,  we felt lucky to get at least one night like this. We really conserved water that evening, celebrating by drinking many adult beverages and having a great barbecue.

 

 

 

 

We were visited by a fox that walked right up to us during the evening.

Despite the fact that we both prefer micro beers, bottles on the trail are not my choice for many reasons. Packing them out is difficult and on my first trip with my SMB trailer, I opened the ice chest to find a shattered mess of glass and foaming beer. Still, it appeared the Fox  had the same taste in beer we had unless his plan was to cash in the cans for some puppy chow. I wish we could have stayed 1 or 2 more days and use this spot as a base camp. I’ll never forget my first trip into Echo.

The next morning we walked up the wash that we had camped in. The rock formations and plants were fascinating so I took several pictures before returning to pack up and leave. We could have spent hours here. As with most areas of Death Valley, the rocks display different colors depending on the light. These shots were taken in subdued light in the early morning. We found some amazing colors everywhere we looked.

We wanted to go further, but time was not on our side. We had a long way to go to get home.

I found this to be the most interesting wash I had seen and it really made the trip end well. Don agreed.

After exploring, we packed up and headed out biding  farewell to the guardian of the wash.

On the way out I got some pictures of the trail, Telescope Peak, and the valley floor.

Telescope Peak and the lower basin were visible. I finally got to see the valley with no dust.

We left out and hit 190 toward Death Valley Junction and drove by a small spur called Twenty-Mule Team Canyon. The rock formations looked unique, but being a one way road that prohibited trailers, we had to pass it by. Next year!

That was about it. Once we left south out of Death Valley Junction, the highway seemed to go on and on. I was amazed how far south the park boundary went. Passing through Shoshone, we drove passed Dumont Dunes where many flock to ride the endless sand dunes. We were still close to the south boundary of the park. We passed by the Harry Wade exit, another unpaved path out of the Park. If we had taken that road out of Death Valley, we would have had to stay one more day. Even driving 70 MPH on the highway, it took over an hour to get past the park. Harry Wade road was a bumpy road from what we were told, and if we would have taken it, we probably would never have broke 35 miles per hour.

We fueled up at Baker and headed back toward Bakersfield and the central valley. Of course it was dark and the ride was a long uneventful sort of torture. It was sure nice to get home. Next time I would rather stay somewhere in between and take a few more days.

I can’t wait to go back to Death Valley. We barely scratched the surface of this park and you could spend weeks checking this place out. The rangers told us that early heavy rainfall in November and December is the key to the floral bloom around February and March. I wished we would have made the large bloom the year before. Death Valley offers off roaders a number of trails to explore, camp, or possibly drive for hours at a time and without seeing another vehicle. It’s truly a unique National Park. I still plan to go around Christmas next year.

Maybe see you out there and thanks for following Sportsmobile 4×4 Adventures.

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