Part 1 of Two Days in Death Valley in February 2012
Sometimes places are so close and accessible they become a less urgent destination. Death Valley has been that way for me. Jeanne has been in the US for eight years and has been there five times, where I’ve lived here all of my life, and in California twelve years and never made my way there. It isn’t my first experience with that phenomenon. I grew up in Western New York, an hour and a half from Niagara Falls but never made it there until my late teens.
An Un-sort vacation
We packed quickly on a Saturday morning using our trusted checklist. We knew this would be no-frills camping (‘un-sort’, the opposite of ‘resort’, in Jeanne’s words) on a holiday weekend with no reservations. Death Valley allows camping anywhere two miles from the main roads, but that also means no water, showers, or easy access for last-minute supplies. “Dry camping” as it is called in the West, and our trips to Johnson Valley, CA camping prepared us well for this…bring lots of water.
Of course we brought the dogs along as well. Mitch and Gwenn love every part of camping from the ride, to the new sights and smells, to sleeping in a tent, usually on top of our sleeping bags. Dogs can’t hike on trails in National Parks but we always find ways to have an adventure off the beaten track.
Not too far out of Los Angeles the horizon opens, the land dries out and the Mojave Desert takes over. Getting to Death Valley is much of the same route as heading to Mt Whitney or Mammoth, and we know the best gas stations, restaurants and each turn by heart. This time, however, we wouldn’t be passing the turnoff for Death Valley and commenting yet again that we should go there ‘sometime’.
Once on SR190, the main highway through the Valley, we filled up our gas tank and were given the advice to camp near Panamint Dunes on Lake Hill Road. This took us down a dirt road for a couple of miles until we found and excellent, sheltered spot at the foot of a small mountain and near sand dunes and a dry lake bed. We immediately began our routine of setting up camp with both of us knowing exactly our part. Dinner was beef stew and bread, and we were in The Babymaker by 6pm., just as it became truly dark outside.