Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Death Valley National Park
Just four hours to the North East of Edwards, AFB is Death Valley National Park. Death Valley has been on our "must see" list since we arrived here in August. Waiting for the right time of year to visit is key - we wanted to avoid the winter crowds and the summer heat. A weekend at the end of March turned out to be just perfect. We drove up Saturday morning and back home Sunday night hitting all the "must sees" in between. You could certainly spend more time in this park, but can also do a decent job if you just have a weekend.
We left early on Saturday morning and drove into the park via 190. The road winds into the park as you come down the mountain range and into the valley. Our first stop was the rangers station at Stovepipe Wells to get a stamp in our National Parks Passport Book and pay the vehicle entrance fee ($20 for 7 days.) From the ranger station we backtracked just a bit up the road to hike into Mosaic Canyon. Mosaic Canyon offers a pretty easy hike into a polished marble canyon. The first 1/2 mile is narrow and requires a bit of light rock "scrambling," but shortly opens up into an easy uphill walk. We walked about a mile into the canyon before heading back out.
We left the Stovepipe Wells area to head over to Scotty's Castle. When we arrived at Scotty's Castle they were sold out of Scotty's Castle Tour Tickets for the day, so we decided to hop on the underground tour. Instead of going into the house we walked beneath it and learned all about the technologies used to make Scotty's Castle habitable. We also enjoyed a walk up the hill behind Scotty's Castle where Scotty and his dog are burried.
It is a bit of a drive from Scotty's Castle to the Furnace Creek Area. On our way to the hotel we stopped by Salt Creek to see the rare pupfish. It was a quick 1/2 mile loop on a wooden boardwalk that afforded amazing views of these small fish that live in the salty water. We also stopped at the Harmony Boarx Works for another quick walk around the old boarx mine. The Harmony Boarx Works is the birthplace of the Twent Mule Teams used to carry the boarx. (Edwards is actually just a few miles from the largest boarte mine in the world.)
With the sun starting to set, we checked into the Furnace Creek Ranch. I would strongly recomend a reservation. We ran into several people looking for a place to stay, only to discover that everything in teh park was booked up. The Furnace Creek Ranch has a great pool that is naturally heated by warm springs - it was the perfect end to a long day.
Sunday morning we were up bright and early when the pipes from the hotel backed up into our bathtub. The front desk assured us this was an anomile. There were no extra rooms so they gave us shower passes for the camping showers at the pool and comped our breakfasts at the Ranch. We took it as a sign to beat the crowds to some of the attractions - grabed a quick buffet breakfast and headed out to Badwater.
The salt flats were not at all what I expected. You always see the picture of cracked salt, but in fact it looked more like a frozen pond. We walked around on the salt flats for a while. The most amazing part is contimplating that you are 282 feet below sea level. Even this early in the morning we could feel the sun start to beat down on us and decided to take our leave.
Working our way back up toward Furnace Creek we hiked to the Natural Bridge, visited Dvil's Golf Course, drove the Artist's Drive and finally spent a few hours hiking in the Golden Canyon. Amazingly we had finished all these activites by 3pm and had plenty of time to head back out of the park before it got dark.
Death Valley was amazing and we are already planning a return trip in October. Durring the October trip we will have a four-wheel drive vehicle to explore some of the more remote parts of the park. Oh - and my parents will be joining us!
For more infomration on Death Valley check out the National Park Service's webpage: http://www.nps.gov/deva/