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Death Valley 2013

Got a week off of work in early November and decided to take the time to get out to Death Valley. I had initially planned on going up to the Sierra Nevadas earlier in the year but wasn’t able to get any time off, by the time I could it was far too cold. But you know what? I’m glad I got to see Death Valley, what an amazing place.


Sunday, Day One

We left Vernons house in Victorville, spent an absurd amount of money on groceries and beer, filled up on gas and water and hopped onto the 395. Several signs were up saying that the route I had chosen (Trona Wildrose) was closed, we wisely ignored them. When we got to the road closure it was starting to get late so we made our way past the ghost town of Ballarat (Charles Manson hung around here I guess) and up into the bone dry Panamint Mountains. We got a few thousand feet up the trail in Pleasant Canyon and found a nice spot to set up camp since it was getting late. Daylight Savings Time had just ended and that was really throwing me off. In fact we were supposed to be in Stovepipe Wells by now but we had spent the previous night partying so we got off to a late start. Our spot was off the trail on a big mound which gave us spectacular views of Panamint Valley down below.

Skies were pretty cloudy but from what I could see this was an extremely dark area. A little bit of light from Trona lit the undersides of the clouds with an orange like a distant furnace and the occasional military radar blinked a little red light off in the distance but aside from that there was no sign of civilization.

Monday, Day Two

Woke up before dawn, it was cold and windy outside but I finally decided to purchase decent quality sleeping bags a few months ago so the cold didn’t bother me one bit. Figured I should as I go camping at least twice a month (for astronomy, not because I’m a huge outdoors person but that is changing). Packed up the gear, did a quick sunrise timelapse over the valley and we took off to Panamint Resort to refuel before heading into Death Valley.

Gasoline prices were pretty impressive here. $6.74/Gal if I remember correctly and all they had in stock was premium. Oh well, we need it. Once we filled up we were on our way up the mountain and into Death Valley proper. We stopped at Stovepipe Wells and paid $4 to use the shower. This also gave us access to the pool but it was pretty cold and we weren’t here for a quick pool party. Figured it was the last shower we would have in days so we might as well go for it while we have time. Got more beer and firewood at Stovepipe Wells and we made our way out to Mesquite Springs Campground. I really wanted to get a bit of astrophotography done and Mesquite Springs was supposed to be the best place. This was a developed campground but since it was a Monday there was nobody there which was nice. Set up camp, ate way too much food and waited for night and felt pretty unhappy about the amount of wind coming through. No serious imaging tonight.

It got very cold that night and the gusty wind did not help. I ended up sleeping in the back of my truck, Vernon was in the tent. At one point I got out of the truck to check on my camera doing a timelapse and noticed that it was indeed very, very cold. I went over to the tent to check on Vernon. Called out his name, no response. Probably dead from hypothermia. Oh well, back to sleep for me.

Tuesday, Day 3
Woke up early before the sunrise, wind was getting ridiculous. Got out of the truck, checked on Vernon. Still dead. I called his name to confirm my suspicions and heard a muffled retort from inside the sleeping bag. Still alive!


Made myself some coffee and a breakfast burrito while trying to find the motivation to start packing. A coyote decided to check out our camp, he was bigger than the Coyotes we usually come across in Southern California. Likely from all the tourist scraps at the campground. No amount of yelling would get him to take off so Vernon decided to chase him with a hammer.

We left Mesquite Springs Camp and headed east towards Scottys Castle. For some reason I thought there may be some market or something but none was to be found. Decided to soldier on into Nevada heading to Beatty and eventually take Titus Canyon back into the park.

This remote stretch went on for miles and miles and miles, yet somehow I had 3G. Pulled over to make a check in call with Kaela to let her know all was well, since we hadn’t had service since we passed Trona on the first night.

Stopped in Trona to pick up more beer, supplies and gas. Saw a place called “The Shady Lady”. A brothel! Forgot they were legal here.

Right before Titus Canyon is the ghost town of Rhyolite, had to be at least a dozen buildings still here.

And into the hills towards Titus Canyon.

The canyon was, to put simply, absolutely incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it, even Sandstone Canyon and Fish Creek in Anza Borrego is dwarfed by this thing. An interpretive sign pointed out some petroglyphs from Native Americans but there was also quite a bit of vandalism.

Far too soon, the canyon ended. Got back on to Death Valley Road and on to Stovepipe Wells and the Mesquite Dunes.

Stocked up on more beer and firewood and took a look at the dunes. Within several minutes hordes of German Tourists were everywhere so it was time to leave. Next stop, the Racetrack. It was already late though, we had started this trip at the end of daylight savings time and it was not easy to adjust. We would certainly make it to the Racetrack after dusk, which meant 30 miles of highway and 30 miles of rough washboard dirt road to transverse until we could set up camp and rest. Made a quick stop at Ubehebe Crater right before the dirt road started.

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