Death Valley was high on our list of must-see places because so many of our friends had raved about it, and it seemed like the kind of place we would really enjoy. Hell, for years, I’ve been pointing out instances where the National Park Service seemed to relish the opportunity to kill its visitors and I knew a place called “Death Valley,” home to such scenic locations as “Funeral Peak” and “Coffin Canyon”, would offer plenty of opportunities to prove my theory. With its claim to fame being the hottest, driest, lowest place in North America, I figured there would be no shortage of ways for unsuspecting tourists to meet their demise, but even I couldn’t envision all the possibilities beforehand:
But, to be honest, sometimes my critique felt a bit too ‘on the nose.’ For that and other reasons, Death Valley falls firmly into our “one and done” bucket. Unlike so many other national parks we’ve sworn we’ll return to, we were happy to check this one off the list and admit: we’re not going back.
Located on the eastern edge of California, about two hours northwest of Las Vegas, DVNP is the largest national park in the lower 48. It is also one of the least accessible. There are only a handful of paved roads that cross through the park, mostly to allow visitors easy access to several main points of interest, but the vast majority of the park is inaccessible absent serious back country hiking. (Folks with high clearance/4WD vehicles can also see some pretty cool features like Racetrack Playa and Eureka Dunes, but since we don’t have our Xterra anymore, we nixed the idea of visiting those places.) Additionally, it should go without saying that DVNP gets hot and dry. Very hot and very dry. We visited at the end of March and it was already getting toasty. Finally, the park is remote. The closest reasonable sized town is Ridgecrest which is almost two hours away, and getting there requires driving on remote desert roads where you’ll see few other vehicles or businesses.
A couple months ago I mentioned that, as a person who’s always lived in highly developed areas and who’s married to someone with a significant history of cardiac issues, I get a bit “twitchy” when we’re in really remote places. Places like DVNP take my low grade twitchiness and dial it right up to “full-on seizure.”
Stovepipe Wells Village Campground
One thing that didn’t help was we stayed inside the national park – something we’ve never done before. Usually, it’s not even an option because the sites aren’t large enough to fit us, reservations are impossible to get, or because the campgrounds don’t have hook-ups (and we don’t want to leave Thor in the RV with no temperature control in a lot of these places.) So I usually just find a campground outside whatever national park we’re visiting and we drive in for day trips. However, in Death Valley, there are actually two campgrounds inside the park that offer hookups – one at Stovepipe Wells and the other at Furnace Creek.
The Stovepipe Wells Village Campground only has 14 FHU sites, and consists of nothing more than a dirt parking lot with a row of parallel sites, but it was good enough for our needs. (FYI, there’s also large FCFS campground at Stovepipe Wells that is operated by the National Park Service. If you’re good with dry camping, that lot is much larger and, as I understand it, rarely gets full.)
However, being inside the national park meant we didn’t have reliable cell service for the better part of a week. Although we had spotty 3G service at our campground, once we drove away from the RV to explore the park in our car, we had nothing, and after a particularly bad windstorm, we lost even the 3G.
Speaking of which, our time at the campground was challenging because of the terrible windstorms that kick up. On our first full day, the winds went absolutely nuts, and because of all the dirt and sand, it was like a scene from the Mummy.
The wind was so intense, we brought our slides in, which reduced our liveable space by about half, but saved us from losing our slide toppers (pieces of cloth that roll out over the slides to keep leaves and twigs and other junk from getting stuck in the slides).
Fortunately, I had checked the weather reports before we headed into the park, so I knew the wind was coming. Later in the week, when another windstorm kicked up out of nowhere, everyone was caught off guard and left scrambling for cover. We watched tent campers in the campground across from us, chasing down their possessions as they suddenly blew away.
That brings me to a little rant. Join me over here as I jump on my soapbox for a good old fashioned grumble session.
Most national parks do not offer cell service in the parks. Why? Because they think it takes away from the aesthetic of the parks. No one wants to see unsightly cell towers in nature, and no one wants to listen to some tourist talking too loudly on their cell phone at a beautiful overlook.
I get that.
However… in a place like Death Valley, it seems blatantly irresponsible and unreasonably dangerous to not offer reliable cell service to visitors. Death Valley is extremely dangerous. Extremely. And if you have trouble of any kind, you may quickly find yourself completely on your own in deadly conditions. Other than in the heavily trafficked areas near Furnace Creek and Badwater Basin, you may not see another human for a long time. On our way into the park, our tire pressure monitoring system went off so we pulled over to let Kevin check the pressure in the tires. In the 10 or so minutes we were sitting on the side of the road, not a single car drove by. That is concerning. If you have a medical emergency or a breakdown on one of these remote roads, you may find yourself stranded and alone for a lengthy period of time. And if and when someone does come by, you’ll need to wait as they go get help and the help then comes back to you. There are no roadside emergency callboxes or other ways to seek assistance. All of this is a recipe for disaster.
And you don’t have to take my word for it. Less than two weeks after our visit, a 32 year old congressional aid – an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and an ‘experienced camper’ – and his wife ended up with a disabled vehicle on some remote road, went looking for help, and he is now dead. No one knew they were missing for days, no one found their car for days, and it took a helicopter team two tries to retrieve them.
Ya know what would have avoided all of that? A cell signal.
In the year 2021, we are all reliant on our cell phones. They are no longer a luxury or a “nice-to-have.” They are a necessary part of modern life. We’ve received warnings about all kinds of potentially dangerous weather – from tornadoes to snowstorms to windstorms to flash floods. We’ve completely changed our plans, switched directions, hunkered down, and stayed off the roads based entirely on news and notifications we received on our phones. And we’ve sought help in other ways too. Roadside assistance, emergency veterinary advice, and help for a million random problems via the magic of Google. None of that is possible if you look at your phone during an emergency and realize its only value is as a paperweight. And it’s not just those of us living in tin cans on the road, it’s everyone. Visitorship is off the charts at national parks and other wilderness areas and the truth is, most of these people are inexperienced. Here’s an entire article about all that.
Some national parks are starting to allow cell service and I expect more will follow suit, but it has been a very slow process even in the face of ubiquitous cell phone usage and exploding park attendance. And to be clear, I’m not arguing that cell service needs to be a priority in every park, but in an especially dangerous place like Death Valley, I think it should be. Yes, people need to prepare themselves and make good decisions about the risk they take on, but bad things can happen to even the most prepared people, and a mistake or some bad luck in a place like this, can quickly lead to tragic results. There’s simply no excuse to not at least try to mitigate some of that danger.
End rant. (Please feel free to tell me I’m an idiot. I’ve been called worse. You won’t hurt my feelings.)
Seeing the Must Sees
Alright, back to the good stuff.
DVNP is huge and requires a lot of driving. Most of the must-see stuff is in the southern section of the park, south of Stovepipe Wells, where we were staying, so we spent multiple days south of our campground while we only spent one afternoon north of it.
Badwater Basin & Devil’s Golf Course
DVNP boasts some of the most unique spots in the national park system. Take, for example, Badwater Basin. At 282 feet below sea level, it is the lowest point in North America. Mandatory picture to prove we were there:
And here’s a marker on the mountain behind the parking lot which shows where sea level is.
Beyond the coolness factor of being at the lowest point on the continent, you can go play on the salt flats, which extend for about 200 square miles.
As you walk out, there’s a decent sized area of compacted, bright white salt:
Keep going out further, and you’ll run into these hexagonal patterned salt formations. When we were there it was brown and white. I’ve seen other pictures where it was all bright white. I guess it just depends on the season. Either way, it’s the perfect spot to break out the old Insta-gaze.
Who did it better? Laura??
Me, obviously. I crushed it.
Anyway, just down the road from Badwater Basin is another area full of cool looking salt formations, called Devil’s Golf Course – the idea being only the devil would build a golf course on such terrain. Visitors are permitted to walk out on the formations, but be forewarned, they’re very sharp and will rip your skin open if you fall. Not that you could call for help if you did. Because… ya know.
Artist’s Palette, Mule Canyon Road, and Dante’s View
Not far down the road is Artist’s Drive which is a 9 mile, paved, one way road that takes visitors around and through a series of canyons and includes a viewing area for the particularly colorful “Artist’s Palette” – the result of oxidation of minerals contained in the rocks.
We saw several examples of these unique, colorful patterns in the mountains as we drove.
However, we actually enjoyed driving through the bizarrely named “Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road” even more. This unpaved road had far fewer visitors, but just as many multi-colored, layered, and textured mountains to gawk at. (You don’t need 4WD or high clearance for this road.)
Dante’s View is located on the southern end of Badwater Road. Unfortunately, we visited on a very windy day, and the elevation there is high, so it was cold and windy and we didn’t stick around long. If the views were clear, you’d be looking down the canyon between two mountain ranges. The white area in the picture is Badwater Basin. All the salt runs down from the mountains into the canyon and collects there.
Hiking Golden Canyon
One of the most popular trails in the park connects the popular Zabriskie Point overlook to the Golden Canyon trailhead on the far side of Golden Canyon. One can either do an out and back on the same trail, or connect to another trail called Gower Gulch to form a loop. Or, if you’re Laura and Kevin, you can accidentally miss your turn and end up doing a little of both. (Mistakes were made…)
The scenery along the trail is epic, but in looking at my photos, I realized how hard it was to capture the experience:
Did you notice the hikers in the above photos? There are 1 or 2 people in each of the pics.
That’s what I mean. It’s really, really big, and that sense of scale just does not convey in most photographs.
In addition to the scale of these formations, it was fascinating to watch the colors and shapes changed as the sun moved across the afternoon sky:
Without question, this was our favorite experience during our visit to Death Valley. We really enjoyed this trail and would highly recommend it to others.
Ubehebe Crater and Mesquite Sand Dunes
For our day north of Stovepipe Wells, we visited Ubehebe Crater and Mesquite Sand Dunes. The crater is located some 45 miles north of the campground, and it takes about an hour to get there. When you arrive, you will see a large hole in the ground.
Then, you will get back in your car and drive home.
I mean, it’s cool, but it’s a hole in the ground.
It was formed by volcanic action, so kinda like Crater Lake, but without the “lake” part. Here’s what it looks like from above:
The Mesquite Sand Dunes are located just a mile from Stovepipe Wells Campground. They would have been awesome to photograph right after one of the crazy windstorms. Alas, by the time we got there, they had been trampled all over.
Still neat though…
Speaking of the crater and sand dunes, we visited those with a very old friend of mine, Randi, and her partner Clare. Randi and I met when we were high school sophomores, attending a six week summer program for high school students at Cornell University. We were roommates for the program and have remained friends ever since – though we hadn’t seen each other for many years.
Here we are, age 17, outside our dorm room for our nightly ID check (can’t let a bunch of high school kids run around unsupervised on a college campus)
and here we are today:
It’s hard to believe an entire decade passed between these two photos.
Something like that, anyway.
Fortunately, we also got to spend time with Randi and Clare at the campground because they were camping in the same area as us. Unfortunately, we did not get to hang out with other friends who were passing through because they happened to pass through during one of the stupid windstorms (and we couldn’t hang out inside because of the virus). Which brings me back to my original point: Between the less than ideal weather, the lack of connectivity and resulting twitchiness, and the overwhelming amount of dust and dirt and brown and gray, DVNP ends up low on our list of favorite national parks. Not that it’s not worth visiting; it’s just not a place we’re motivated to return to.
So with that, we packed up our absolutely filthy motorhome:
and headed straight for a Blue Beacon for some professional crud removal:
Next up… we head back to the California coast to explore Morro Bay, Paso Robles, the Pacific Coast Highway, and, most importantly, get some of that sweet, sweet vaccine. In real time, we’re back to a more typical travel schedule as we start heading east to finally visit family, friends, doctors, and everyone else we haven’t seen in far too long. On the way, we’re looking forward to more national parks, more bucket list items, and Des Moines. Oh yeah… This summer, we’re going to Des Moines!!! Until next time…
Where we stayed:
Stovepipe Wells Village Campground, Death Valley, California
Des Moines? What the hell is in Des Moines? 🙂
CORN! I think…I dunno. That’s why we’re going there! I’ll report back as soon as we figure it out! 🙂
I’m going to say Kevin won the photo contest peeing on the salt, but then that’s me.
He’s not peeing! Gawd…. What the hell is wrong with you??? Sheesh.
We have been there once and I think it is our one and done list as well. It was cool, we saw wind, heat and snow on our visit along with some really cool. formations. My favorite was the moving rocks, We rarely visit Southern California, the prices out there are just too outrageous for us. Northern California (I mean way north) is a whole other story we love that area!
We’ve been to see the Redwoods, but haven’t explored much beyond that. California is just enormous and there’s a little of everything. Something for everyone!
When in Paso Robles, visit Daou Winery. Of the wineries my mom, sister and I visited there, that was the best experience. We went early in the day on a weekday and got a lot of attention. Beautiful spot and top quality wine! Of Sonoma, Napa and Paso Robles, PR was my fave – beautiful landscape.
Hey! We already left that area, but I agree, PR was beautiful! We did not visit Daou, however. All the vineyards are working with reservation systems right now and Daou is super popular, so it would have been a two week wait just to get a reservation. Additionally, they are currently charging $45 per person for a tasting, which I refuse to pay on principle. Everyone else charges around $20. Seemed a little gouge-y. I have had their wines however, and agree they are very good. But I also enjoy boxed wines, so really… what the hell do I know? 🙂
I think Death Valley NP is one of those parks where weather makes all the difference. We were there in late December several years ago and stayed at Furnace Creek campground and it was lovely. The temps were wonderfully cool for hiking, there was no wind, there was no stupid virus, the visitor center was open, and we even had lunch on the patio of the beautiful historic hotel in the middle of nowhere. We would love to return sometime.
BUT—if our experience had been like yours—with wind and dust storms and in a parking lot of a campground—there is no way we would be inspired to return. Even with less than ideal conditions, you made the best of the situation and did the most beautiful hike and the most beautiful drives. Your photos really do look like paintings! As far as the salt flat photo contest…I had the same thought as TBG!! And as far as cell connectivity, there are so many places we don’t have reliable connection in our travels, it’s almost a miracle when we do. Maybe Bill Gates should have put something in our vaccines so that we could all be little cell towers! LOL LOL LOL
We have found, over and over, that weather makes all the difference. Sometimes you notice it and sometimes you don’t, but I think it’s always a crucial part of the experience. I think you also hit on an important point which is the impact of the virus. When you can’t make use of the usual services (visitor center, ranger led tours, trams, etc.), you really lose out on a big part of the place. And when you’re concerned about interacting with people, or you can’t spend time at all, it just kinda takes away from the whole thing. Not that I’m complaining. We’re fortunate to get to do what we’re doing, but if we left with a bit of a negative taste, that may have a lot to do with it as well.
As for the rest, you and TBG both need to get your minds out of the gutter and I am absolutely convinced that my recent excellent cell reception is a direct result of that FABULOUS vaccine! 🙂
So glad I finally got around to updating my new email address with the people whose subscriptions I care the most about. In October of 2020 my wife and I sold our 4010 square foot home on 13-acres in the Texas Hill Country and my rural Co-Op email address went away as well. The last Chapter 3 blog post I got was the thoughtful one Laura wrote about the not so fun realities of full time RVing. I’d been a subscriber for a while so I hoped their adventures on the road were not ending since our new adventures in our Tiffin 34PA motorhome were just beginning.
We are now officially living fulltime in our RV, November through April near New Braunfels, TX. May through October our base is now what was our second home, our cabin near Red River, NM at 9200 feet in the Sangre de Christo Mountains.
Obviously this blog is one, if not the best of its kind. Laura and Kevin provide us with excellent advice and information not to mention Laura’s stellar photos. Keep up the good work and we hope some day to meet you guys on our travels.
Laurent and Candis Perron and Carlee – our 6-year old mixed breed pup
Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m glad to hear you like the blog and find it helpful, and I’m very happy to hear you took the plunge into RV living! It sounds like you have a fantastic setup with two perfectly located bases to always stay in comfortable temps and have easy access to plenty of places to visit. We think about the whole ‘home base’ thing all the time, and likely would have settled down by now if not for the pandemic derailing everyone’s plans. For now, we’re just coasting and waiting things out to see what makes sense. So, I expect we’ll be doing this for a bit longer. Hopefully that means we’ll cross paths and can hang out in person. It would be great to meet you all! Until then, safe travels!
Very cool pics! I agree, for me this would be a “one and done” if I ever did it at all! I think I’d stick to other national parks. You did rock the salt flats pic!
Haha, thanks! Yeah, there are so many beautiful national parks, unless you have a particular interest in geology or really like desert environments, I think this is one I’d skip.
It is so interesting to read others’ perspectives on places. Death Valley was one of our favorite parks, and a big surprise for us as well because we weren’t expecting to like it as much as we did! But, everyone is different, and enjoys different things and places, and I love that about people. Thanks for sharing your experiences and reflections!
That is definitely true. No different than we now try to avoid cold weather at all costs while many of our friends absolutely love it, and we seek out cities while most of our RV friends avoid them. Variety is the spice of life, right? Speaking of experiences, we’re heading into Yosemite tomorrow and I just remembered that you guys visited there several years ago. I’ll be using your post for ideas, so thank you!
For us in SoCal only JTNP is closer than DVNP, so I’ve had the opportunity to visit more often. A few years ago the Super Bloom covered the desert floor in fields of color, a decade ago a kayak was not an uncommon site in Badwater Basin … back when rain found it’s way here. We had the chance to visit Scotty’s Castle before a mud slide forced it to close … yes it used to rain.
However I agree that DVNP, like much of SoCal, is dry and desolate – a One and Done visit. and WINDY!
Here we have cell towers disguised as palm trees, I’ve seen saguaro cell towers in AZ, complete with nesting holes. The NPS can and should offer some life saving communication capabilities to those vast distances.
I was thinking about rain when looking down at Badwater Basin and all that salt that has collected. I know it rains a tiny bit there now, but I guess it really has dwindled over the years. Not enough water in DVNP, too much water when you visited Mexico….Ugh, climate change is no good for anyone. I’m very jealous that you got to see the super bloom. Randi and Clare actually were there that year too and raved about the experience. It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I like the idea of the disguised cell towers. See? Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
We enjoyed our first and only visit to DVNP. I had much the same feelings about being disconnected but, because of Dave’s back problems at the time, we didn’t venture too far off the beaten path. When we do find ourselves off road, in the middle of no where I always feel a some comfort knowing we have a SPOT with us….just in case. (our son bought us one when he saw our proclivity for heading away civilization whenever possible) During our visit, the campground (Furnace Creek) had a little cell coverage and the weather was grand. That being said, however, we probably won’t visit again. I think we’ll leave well enough alone!
(I agree with TBG, Kevin peeing on the salt flats wins the prize but the shot with you gazing at the horizon was lovely too…..;)
Ya know, I looked into those GPS locator devices when we started traveling, but I held off and, ultimately, decided not to buy one because I realized we almost always have cell service. We’re not big boondockers, and we tend to use well traveled roads, so we’ve almost never been in places where we have zero coverage – except the national parks. However, it’s never bothered me as much as it did this trip. There’s something about DVNP that made it much more of an issue and made me uneasy. I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s felt that way.
I am, however, not glad to hear that you agree with TBG. That guy is nuts.
Death Valley looks so cool with all the colors and weird features. But I can definitely see how wind would make a visit less than ideal.
As for the cell phone thing, I’m typically on team “no phone service” when it comes to national parks but I do see your point in this case. Just last week, we drove through eastern Colorado and spent almost 2 hrs with no service and no one around and we had the same conversation… what if something happens? I hope the NPS finds a happy medium where there’s at least enough connectivity for emergencies but not so much that everyone is wandering around loudly FaceTiming with their friends and ruining the experience for others.
I agree. There needs to be a delicate balance established. People have already demonstrated they can’t be trusted to not be inconsiderate with their technology, so you can’t just let people have free reign, but on the other hand, something should be done to make things reasonably safe. I’d even be happy to see some of those emergency call boxes once in a while. At least if you could flag someone down, they could drive 10 minutes down the road to a call box rather than having to drive an hour to get to civilization.
For a place you’re not keen on returning to, the area gave you the most spectacular photos I’ve ever seen since following your blog for several years now . . . absolutely stunning scenery!!
Aww thanks, Terri! The scenery really is pretty cool – especially along that hike. And with a bright blue sky, the rocks create pretty striking subject matter. It was fun to photograph – when the winds weren’t trying to rip my camera from my hands. 🙂
Well finally someone agrees with me! We went to Death Valley, we saw, and I have no desire to go back but so many people tell me I’m crazy, it’s such a great place. I don’t get it??
Right? Right??? See?? None of us are crazy!!
Laura – do you have a TAN??? Is that even possible? Or, is it dirt from the windstorm? You did crush your photos. Did you lick the salt flats? You should broker an agreement between VZW and NPS to build towers that blend into the landscape (heh heh heh) and get cell service for those remote places. You’d be amazed at how creative the telecoms can get with blending in their facilities in order to get approval. Beautiful pics!
Ya know, it’s funny. This is an anonymous comment, and as soon as I read it, I was like “I know who wrote that.” But then I thought: “Wait… it could be this other person… or this other one….”
The problem is, I have a lot of sarcastic friends.
Sorry about the anonymous thing. Mistake. It’s your sarcastic friend Shelby! 😉
I’m one of those friends who recommended it highly, and I’m not sorry! We loved it.
I think you win the photo contest, and that TBG, Laurel, and Sue have warped minds.
About those sand dunes…when you say “by the time we got there,” I had to laugh and laugh knowing your penchant — nay, ADVICE! — to not arrive early in the morning. Those footprints were not there at 0700, I’m sure of it.
How in the world did you get suckered into going to look into another big hole? At least this one didn’t cost anything.
I would never call you an idiot, but your cell service rant was dumb. Kidding!!! It’s not dumb at all, though I don’t share your view on it. You can’t out-careful death, no matter how many good choices you make, so I’m gonna make the best choices I can and die in the dirt from a rattlesnake bite. Then YOU can call ME an idiot LOL
I would never expect anyone to be sorry for recommending anything! Each of us has our own likes and dislikes and sometime, it really does just come down to weather or crowds or completely unpredictable factors. There’s no way to know what one likes without trying it, so I have zero regrets. I just always try to be honest about our experiences to put it all out there.
I absolutely agree that that husband of yours and his “followers” are weirdos. Who looks at that sweet innocent man practicing his insta-gaze and thinks he’s peeing on a national park? Man. Some people.
As for the sand dunes, you are 100% correct. Things like “untouched sand dunes” and perfect sunrises” are never going to be captured by my camera. Ever.
I hear you on the trying to be too careful thing. I just think we’ve had enough experiences with medical situations where time was of the essence that it’s planted in the back of our minds at all times. It won’t stop us from doing things, but it is something we’re mindful of. And in this case, being mindful of it day after day, rather than for a couple hours here or there, bothered me..
What is really crazy is The Badwater 135 Ultra race. It is a 135 mile run from Badwater Basin to Whitney Mountain Portal (it used to finish at the top of Whitney Mtn…the lowest and highest points in the lower 48). It’s held every JULY with temps in the 120’s and runners run on the white lines on the road to keep their shoes from melting! So just saying…you might what to go back in July for the real spectacle!?
The word you’re looking for is “Insane.”
What the hell is wrong with these people? Just sit home and eat cookies and watch Netflix like a normal person. Why is that so hard??
We are firmly on Team DEVA, but then again we did not have to deal with Hollywood-level dust storms during our visit. We absolutely loved the vastness and emptiness, which gives the place unique grandeur, but that’s an individual taste.
As you know we always prefer to stay inside the national parks when we can, so lack of cell service is something we have come to accept (but not love) about life on the road. I really don’t think the NPS will be able to hold out much longer against the inevitable onslaught of technology. People just expect to be able to use those computers we carry in our pockets, and if NPS doesn’t solve the lack of service with towers then I’ll bet their concessionaires will start offering some sort of Starlink-based wifi access. When there is so much demand for service, I am certain someone will figure out how to profit.
Oh, and you did get one benefit from the pandemic – “low” gas prices. When we visited it was over $5/gallon in the park. Ugh!
Actually, we noticed the gas station at Furnace Creek was selling gas for something like $5.15 and diesel was like $5.70!! The gas station at Stovepipe Wells was significantly less, though they didn’t offer diesel. I can understand it given how remote these places are, and given the regular cost of gas in California, but still, it’s pretty insane.
Staying inside the park is definitely the way to go, and if we could do it with less aggravation, we would love to. It certainly makes seeing the sights that much easier. You guys are ideally set up for it and you’ve absolutely made the most of your opportunities.
Finally, I too believe companies like Star Link will revolutionize our communications in the same way other tech companies have changed existing industry. I think the sky’s the limit as far as what they’ll be able to do and I for one am looking forward to it.
We visited DVNP a couple of years ago. My honey thought we would stay for 10 days or so. I think he was out of his mind at the time. We were there the end of October and it was still VERY hot. We lucked out and got a site at Furnace Creek with full hookups and that was the only thing that saved us. My favorite experience was when we dry camped near Scotty’s Castle (not open). The stars at night were breathtaking! We had a constellation app which we used to figure out all the different constellations up there…very fun. We ended up staying for 5 days. Enough for me! One and done for sure. Oh, and then we stayed a few days in Pahrump, NV. One and done at that place also. We did learn our lesson about going to a Walmart on the first day of the month. Don’t do it! Everyone in the town was there after receiving their government checks. Not a good scene!
That was one thing I read about but we never even tried doing – the stargazing. As I understand it, we could have driven just a couple miles form our campground and seen an incredible night sky. Sounds like you really took advantage of it and it paid off. 5 nights sounds about plenty to me! We’ve spent ten near other national parks and I’d have no hesitation about doing it again, but Death Valley is just not that place – at least not for us. And yeah, I’ve heard of Pahrump a couple times but never really understood why people went there. I guess it’s a decent sized town for people who want some version of “civilization” but who don’t want to go to Vegas? I don’t know. I’m gonna go ahead and leave it off my must see list for now. 🙂
Well what can I say Laura, different strokes for different folks especially when weather is added to the mix. I agree that weather has a big influence in our feelings in liking or disliking a place. And it’s too bad DVNP did not get your attention. We visited this park three times believe it or not and also experienced one of those windstorm (just once though). We were there in the months of Nov 2012, Dec2011 and Oct 2019 the best time to explore the park. We were fascinated by its diversity.
And speaking of cell signal when we rented a jeep to drive to Titus Canyon and Racetrack Playa we were outfitted with a SPOT just in case of emergency. It was a long day of driving and bumpy one and I don’t think you would like that either or leave Thor for a long time.
I remember reading your posts about DVNP and referred back to them when I was planning our trip. Your decision to rent a Jeep to explore Racetrack was a good one and something we might have considered as well, under normal circumstances. I also think it might have been better to visit in the Fall when the weather might have been a little more settled. However, we enjoyed the longer hours of sunlight and I know that’s a big issue with visiting during the winter. Very, very short days.
I’ve been twice, but stayed at Furnace Creek (so for $5 a day, you can use their wifi and their warm springs pool, which rocks). It’s also closer to the cool stuff in the park (IMHO) like Z’s point (I refuse to look up how to spell that one more time) and Oh, yeah, that hotel up the road with a full bar and a nice patio. It’s not all dry camping and hiking when I’m in DV. But, yeah, March is kinda late for visiting as far as weather goes. Then again, we were melting on arrival in November and 4 days later freezing our *sses off so maybe it’s all a weather crap shoot. But at least you got this NP done.
As for cell signal, yes, please. I carry a Garmin InReach jsut for places like this, since I travel solo and on back roads a lot where cell signal isn’t always reliable. (right now, I’m at a TN campground, state park, with free fast wifi and I’m kind of in heaven after 3 nights in the Great Smokies with zero signal and a 15 minute drive one-way to get weather updates for departure, ugh).
I definitely agree that Furnace Creek would be a better option for camping. It’s closer to most of the sites and has a lot more conveniences than Stovepipe Wells. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation at the campground with utilities there, which is why I reserved a sight at SW. But if it was an option, I would definitely choose Furnace Creek.
Having a GPS locator is a great idea. We considered it early on, but we realized most of the places we were visiting and most roads we traveled had cell service, so it seemed unnecessary. However, a couple of these experiences does make us rethink that. I’m hoping NPS gets its act together and gets this done sooner rather than later – at least at these more remote parks.
We visited Death Valley NP over a decade ago. It’s where Mark first met my parents, flying in from Belgium and expecting my by then ex-boyfriend. But that’s a story for another day. I don’t remember anything else about Death Valley. I’ll have to go back. Or not. 🙂 So annoying all that dirt, dust, and grit. We hate windy days in the desert or next to the dunes. We had to move one evening in Baja as well for that reason. FYI: I don’t own a cell phone and I’m still alive! 🙂 Better never cross any ocean with that twitchyness. Happy travels!!
Windy days in the desert are no fun at all, and no matter how hard you try, you will end up with an RV full of dust and grit. As for ocean travel – oh hell no! I give big time credit to people who travel fulltime on sailboats, but I could never do it. Talk about seizures. Yikes. Hope you guys are doing well!
Okay, you convinced me… no DVNP visits for us! I’m only half kidding. Tim visited once long ago before we met, but we haven’t made it there yet with the RV mostly because of what we’ve heard about the wild weather and the lack of connectivity. I’m totally with you on the whole cell service in National Parks idea. We’ve been lucky enough to seek out and find some nice campgrounds with cell service in NPs, but it’s rare (Watchman in Zion is the best). Since we need to be connected for work, any NP that doesn’t have it is more difficult for us to visit. We’re trying to visit Mt. Rainier this summer and I’m finding it nearly impossible to find any campground nearby with decent cell coverage! Aside from the work issue, I absolutely agree that for safety reasons NPs should at the very least have coverage along the major roads inside the parks. Oh, and since it sounds like you’re heading East, if you want to visit more National Parks that will end up on the “One & Done” list, definitely check out the Indiana Sand Dunes and Cuyahoga Falls. Both parks fall firmly into the one-time visit only kind of place for us (but they did have cell service).
Haha… I remember looking up Cayuhoga and someone describing it as a “national park that would be a state park if it were located anywhere else.” Ha! We might stop by as it is kinda close to where we’re headed, but I hold no illusions as to its appeal relative to other national park units. As for DVNP, you guys would really need to plan for a weekend visit when work wasn’t an issue. There’s plenty of space at the dry camping campgrounds and you guys are pros with that stuff, but obviously, weekends are busier at parks, especially when their season is limited by weather.
We visited Rainier last summer and actually stayed at a campground that had incredibly solid wifi – it was small and popular, but if you could snag a cancellation or something, it might work well for you. https://www.chapter3travels.com/campground-reviews/campground-review-mounthaven-resort-ashford-washington/
Your photos had me grinning. We LOVED DVNP but then we had a beautiful paved FHU site in Furnace Creek, perfect weather, and several days for lots of exploring. Definitely makes a difference on how one sees a place. We were amazed at the diversity of the park and the spectacular colors and formations. I hope to revisit one day but it seems that the NPs are not the place to be for awhile til they settle down. I’m sorry your visit met with so many uncomfortable situations. I do believe the NPs need to improve the availablity of cell service. Definitely makes it a little uncomfortable at times. But, hey, you did get to take in this unique area! Happy, safe travels back east!
Thanks, Pam. I absolutely agree that weather and accommodations can seriously impact our appreciation, or lack thereof, for various places. It truly makes all the difference in the world. I am definitely glad we visited DVNP and who knows? Had we gone at a slightly different time, we might think of it in a different way. Spring is just a tough time to travel, no matter where you are – endless winter up north, tornadoes down south, windstorms in the west. Never a dull moment. 🙂 Hope you are enjoying late spring in Nevada!
I think visiting Death Valley NP was the first time I realized that I wanted a 4WD vehicle. I was so jealous of all of those people who can go everywhere in the park. I want to go everywhere – especially all those places that other people don’t go.
It can be a very beautiful park with amazing features and your pictures capture that!
Thanks, Duwan. We actually had a 4WD truck until about 18 months ago. I miss it often, but especially in places like DVNP. We really would have enjoyed visiting some of the more out of the way spots, but the right type of truck is an absolute necessity. Ah, well… Maybe some day! ?
Thanks for sharing your ordeal at Death Valley National Park . The blog has made me averse to DVNP. However, the pictures you shared are gorgeous. So stunned am I to witness the Devil’s Gold Course, Badwater Basin, Ubehebe Crater and the Artist’s Drive, that I need to rethink. Looking forward for your next venture and another interesting read!
I hope you’re not turned off completely. It really is a cool place to visit – certainly one of a kind. It can just be challenging too. I think with sufficient planning and preparation, it is absolutely worthwhile. And you won’t know unless you check it out for yourself!!
We visited DVNP in May of 2018 and I have to say, we loved it. But, we didn’t have crazy wind storms or panic attacks about cell service (or lack of). Plus, with the Jeep we got to visit some of the REALLY remote parts of the park, including Racetrack Playa which was super cool. And Tea Kettle Junction, which as just weird! The biggest problem for us was almost running our of fuel and having to pay the “in the park” prices. Even though you added it to the one and done bucket, I’m glad you got to see it! Safe travels!
DVNP was one of the first times I’ve REALLY missed having the Xterra. If we still had it, we totally would have gone to Racetrack Playa and maybe Eureka Dunes. I am envious of your ability to go anywhere and see anything with confidence. All that being said, the CRV gets amazeballs gas mileage comparatively, and when prices are as stratospheric as they are right now, I am more than happy to have it. It’s all a balance, I guess.
We spent a week there in 2/20, stayed in the FHU area at Furnace Creek, got most everything done we’ve wanted to do there. I liked the Furnace Creek area better to stay since there was a bit of civilization there. The Racetrack is still on our list when we have a Jeep type of vehicle. Since we were there with friends we hiked Zabrinski Point down Gold Canyon, then drove back up for the other vehicle.
Hiking Zabriskie Point to Golden Canyon as a point to point would be perfect! I wish we would have done that because making it a loop doesn’t really add anything anyway and you don’t have to worry about running out of daylight or baking in the heat. That’s absolutely the best way to go. Had we still had our old Xterra, we would have checked out Racetrack, but there’s no way we’d try it with the CRV. I hope you get to check it out at some point. It looks really cool!
I have been lurking on your site on and off for a couple of years now and thought it’s high time I give you a bit of feedback and join the party.
Firstly, I want to thank you for your informative and very entertaining blog.You really do an exceptional job in highlighting the highs and lows of the places you visit and stay in.I’m sure like many of your followers I really look forward to your posts.
I guess what really resonated with me on this post was your rant about cell service in National Parks. My friends and I regularly take the 1 hour drive from the Coachella Valley to Joshua Tree National Park to hike and enjoy the spectacular and unique landscape of the park .Every year there are folks who get lost or exhausted to the point of delirium (usually in the summer) and end up dying because they cannot reach help.Often these people are tourists from areas totally different in geography and climate and don’t understand their peril until it’s too late. Although there is some very limited cell service in the park many of the most popular areas have no service. I have asked the Park about this unnecessary hazard and as you mentioned I was told that in order to maintain a truly ” wilderness experience” providing cell service is undesirable.
I appreciate the severe underfunding that the parks have to deal with but with multiple lives at stake annually and with the improvement in cost effective technology I don’t believe there is any reason not to provide some form of basic service ( particularly for emergency situations.)
Thanks again for your posts!
Thanks so much for your kind comment and I’m glad to hear you agree on the cell signal issue. I have no doubt that Joshua Tree can be just as dangerous as Death Valley and it doesn’t surprise me at all that people get into trouble there. These parks are so iconic and the National Parks have only become more popular over time. Tragedies are bound to happen and it just seems crazy that the park service isn’t doing more to avoid them. Especially, as you pointed out, with the more cost effective technology available now. No one’s asking to be able to to stream Netflix to their phone; just make a simple call for help. I sure hope they improve this situation soon. Thanks again for your comment!