This is a continuation of Two days in Death Valley in February 2012.
Morning in the Panamint Valley was cold and very clear. After an unbelievably starry night, the dawn was gradual and brilliant. The best reason for going to sleep soon after dark is to be able to enjoy a very gradual dawn. The first purple gives way to blue, which grows lighter until the sky is entirely consumed by the color. The source of blue becomes the source of increasingly golden tones until the sun makes its first appearance.
We had our customary coffee before packing our tent and gear and making our way into Death Valley proper. The drive starts with a considerable descent down a long canyon from Panamint Valley. As Death Valley stretches out in full view, the road becomes flat and passes the first campground and cabins come into view.
Stovepipe Wells isn’t much, but it is far more than anything around it. To call it an oasis would be a stretch. The winds were blowing as well, a bleak landscape for tents and campers alike. We had to take a moment, of course, to check out the used car lot that we came across.
Beyond the excellent view of the valley, the first attraction on the route is Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The high mountains on each side of the Valley combine with powerful winds to bring tiny grains of rock from the mountain tops to this particular spot. We were fortunate that it was early in the morning and the tourists were still sleeping. This gave us a chance enjoy the moment without buses and flocks of photo seekers.
A great brunch is one of the most valuable ways to enjoy a day without taking too much time to eat. We stopped at Furnace Creek Visitors Center and watched a movie about Death Valley before moving on to breakfast at the nearby restaurant. Jeanne complained of suffering the opposite of altitude sickness…”low-titude sickness”. The symptoms included laughing, energy, healthy appetite and absolutely no headache. She hasn’t recovered since we we left Death Valley, leading us to wonder if this isn’t a chronic condition for her. Only time will tell.
No visit to Death Valley is complete without a stop at the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. There are lower places, like the Dead Sea, but the proximity to Mt Whitney, the highest point in the Lower 48 States, makes Death Valley all the more interesting.
Based on great advice, we decided to camp at Hole-in-the-Wall, a remote area accessible by four wheel drive. Soon after starting down the dirt road we had a great warning…a stream of oil that a previous vehicle leaked as it drove. We were very careful to keep the center of the care away from the occasional rocks to avoid the same fate. We saw few other cars as we made our way back into the interior of the park. It was wonderfully quiet, in fact.
We found a great spot far from anyone and set up our camp. We wanted to be sheltered from the infamous Death Valley winds, have an early view of sunrise (so no mountain to the southeast, and peace and quiet. We found all of those things and had an extraordinary time in our cozy campsite.