Day 144 – 1/21/21 Death Valley National Park (Day 1)

We had an amazing day exploring the northern side of Death Valley National Park.

Our morning routine was a bit different today, mainly because we don’t have cell reception or internet at the campsite, and both girls said they wanted to login and do their work at their normal time, which meant waking up a few minutes earlier, changing, packing school stuff and breakfast, and taking the truck to the office and parking right in front of the office to be able to use their wifi.  I woke Bia up at 5:40am, and we were there by 6am. 

We were able to connect, and she got comfy in the back of the truck, laid down with the pillows we keep there, and covered up with the blanket she brought, and she was on as usual.  When Bia and I got out, it was pretty dark yet, I even brought a flashlight with me, but within a few minutes light started showing up, and around 6:30 or so the sun was rising behind the mountains, right in front of us!  That was awesome. 

Around 6:40, I left Bia by herself and locked the truck, and walked to our site to get Bella.  I woke Bella up at 6:50, she woke up right away and changed.  I got her stuff, and we walked to the truck, and she was logging in right by 7:10am here, for her 9:10am class in Sheboygan.  Great success so far.  Bella was in great spirits, good mood, and just got school work going. 

Because we were in the truck, and I was there, there were no distractions, and they just did great.  Both of their classes were going to have movie day in the afternoon, so I knew we would be done earlier, and around 9am here, they were both done with school.   Nice!  We also had some fighter jets flying over around 8:30am, but they were not too close, so it was not easy to see.  Maybe we’ll spot them closer another day. 

As the morning activities in the campground started, we also saw the owner come in around 7:30am with a little red cart he was pulling, he then pulled out a little step ladder, and some devices.  He put the ladder down by one of the chairs and setup the rest on the table.  I then noticed that particular chair was the only one outside with seat cushions.  Hahahah.  Then about 10 minutes later the guy who works at the office arrived, and exactly at 8am the OPEN sign was flashing, and the owner had a steaming cup of coffee in his hands.  A few other people joined him little by little, and eventually the guy who works there brought three to go boxes with breakfast he had just cooked.  Looked like a relaxed business breakfast meeting :).  With the girls all done, I started the truck and we started driving off, almost saying bye to those folks hahaha.

When we got back, Carol was up, and was all ready to go.  She had made lunch to go already, and had all the snacks and such all packed too.  Wow!  Timing today was awesome.  The girls and I unloaded the school stuff, and everyone started getting ready to go for the day.  For some reason, Bia and I were hungry, so we had some sandwiches, Carol made more and we ate more, who knows, hungry early risers.  We packed the truck, made sure everyone had the proper gear for the day, hiking shoes, long pants and sweatshirts along, etc.  It gets warm during the day, but it gets chilly after the sun sets.  When we were all ready to go, packed and such, it was almost 10:30am.  We were not in a rush, as for a Thursday, that is great timing and will give us plenty of extra time.  We even made a stop by the office again before heading to the park, so Carol could download another GPS audio guide app.  We really like those apps as they not only help make sure we don’t miss any cool spots, but also give us the history of the place.  Carol found one app that has all the parks, plus other areas and is cheaper than doing one park at a time, so we’re getting that one.

Our campground is on highway 190, and when we drove in, we actually had passed the sign for Death Valley National Park, you know, the entrance to the park one.  This means, we are kind of inside the park already, and did not pass that sign again on our way in today.  We just drove on 190 eastbound.  The road is amazing right there, it’s a straight shot super long road that goes up and into the mountain range in front of us, it’s amazing.  It was like a 13 mile drive on that almost straight shot road up the mountain, then we go down on the other side and can see new views from that side.  It’s all quite amazing.  Vast lands, valleys between mountains, with mainly sand and dirt, and some dry looking vegetation.  We rarely see any animals.  A bird here and there.  The guy from the office told me because it is winter, we won’t see much of the other “creatures” from the area, like spiders and scorpions.. what?  hahahaha.. I think the girls will freak out if we see one of those.  Well, we’ve seen a few tiny spiders in the trailer, two of them showed up, but they were so tiny they were more like ants.  Anyway, I had set the GPS for the furtherst point in the north side of the park, which is Ubehebe Crater, so we were driving in that direction.  The audio guide kicked in, and started explaining each gravel side road, and more about the park, and as we drove down it recommended the stop at the Mesquite Sand Dunes as we were approaching them, so we made the stop. 

The dunes were on our list, but for another day since they are so close, but they looked pretty cool and we felt it’d be a nice first thing to see.  And sure enough, as we drove in the parking area and got on the same level as the dunes, it is just amazing.  Amazing and beautiful to have all the sand, perfectly piled into dunes, in the middle of these glorious mountains.  We wanted to walk around in the dunes, so we went. 

It is nice that you can just get on the dunes and walk anywhere you want.  It was warm by then, and walking on the dunes is not easy, which warms you up a bit more, on top of the sun, which beats on the sand and let me just say we all got warm pretty quick.  I took my shirt off, and Bella was following me, so she took hers too. 

Bia and Carol went on a slightly different path to the right, while Bella and I went forward.  I was looking for bigger dunes to walk up to, get nice views, then run down.  A bit later I told Bella if she wanted to take her shoes off and walk barefoot, she could just give them to me.  She did immediately!  It was pretty amazing to be walking there, we were enjoying it a lot.  

Soon, Bia yelled out for us to wait as they were coming by us.  When they got there, I offered to carry her shoes and she took them off immediately as well.  And as expected, it didn’t take long for her and Bella to be rolling on the sand. hahahaha….

This sand was just so soft and fine, it was very satisfying.  The app had said the sand actually retains water if any is dropped there, so often it feels cooler, and today, it did for sure.  Bia then wanted to go to a dune that was a little higher, and not too far from us.  Carol didn’t want to go, it is a lot of work to climb up the dunes, so she waited for us there, and the three of us went.  First we ran down the dune we were on, which is super fun… your feet just sink, but you don’t loose control.  We walked to the other dune, and the girls started saying they were too hot.  hahaha.. it was getting warm, and running around sure didn’t help, I was almost sweating.  We then got up the dune, which is a work out by itself, and just stayed there for a bit, enjoying the nice views and the breeze.  Carol looked to be enjoying her time on top of the other dune by herself, sitting down and soaking in the views as well.  It was such a treat to be in that place, with nothing to worry about, and just enjoy it.  I wanted to keep moving, so we went back to meet Carol and walk back to the truck… but, not before running down that dune.  When we got to Carol, we ran down that dune as well, and I convinced Carol to try it, which she did, and loved it. Hahahahah.  During our time checking out the dunes, we did spot some animal tracks (no animals), like snake tracks, and another one that the girls think was a kangaroo mouse, but Carol things maybe it was from a scorpion.   Anyway, we got back to the truck, and continued our drive towards Ubehebe crater.

There is another point of interest on the way to Ubehebe Crater, which is Scotty’s Castle, but it was closed, and we could not even drive to it to see it.  The app did tell us the story about it, and how it was actually owned by some life insurance millionaire from Chicago, but he had a buddy in this area who he helped, and the buddy had a room there and entertained people there, etc.. his name was Scotty.  Lots more detail than that, but the castle was named by the guy who used it more rather than the guy who owned it, and the owner himself was ok with it.  But, we didn’t get to even see it, though from pictures and just knowing where we are, it’s quite amazing to even have such a big “housing complex” in the middle of the desert here.

Ubehebe Crater is the site of a volcanic explosion, that left the crater as a souvenir, and the guides say the area around it looks like the surface of mars.  As we approached the crater area we could tell the scenery changed a bit, lots of rubble looking small rocks and sediment, but I kept wondering where the crater was as we got closer.  You just can’t see anything until you are right on it, but when you make that last turn into the parking area… holy shit! 

It is quite an appearance.  I don’t know if it’s the surprise factor that makes it so dramatic when you first see it, but the four of us were like “WOOOOOOW” at the same time.  Carol even had me back up and drive it again, so she could get that effect on camera.  As soon as I parked, everyone just jumped out of the truck to go take a look at the crater from up close.  It is pretty cool, just this massive hole in the middle of the mountain, in the middle of nowhere.  Once we absorbed the grandness of the view, we paused for a lunch break. 

It was quite windy by that spot, so we had to be very careful not to have our paper plates and plastic silverware flying everywhere, or even the rice flying out of our plates.  Carol made a delicious rice with peas and corn, and some of the steak from last night.  Yum!  I had seconds.  The girls were being picky, but they ate it (no choice here).  That was a nice lunch spot, with an awesome view.  When we were done, we hiked up to Little Hebe crater, which is a small crater kind of just above the main big one. 

The hike is short, but all uphill on soft terrain, so not too easy.  The hike is also on the rim of the big crater, which can be a little scary for people afraid of heights.  Bella, who usually has some issues with heights, was fine.  The views from above as we hiked up were pretty amazing.  There were these two crows that kept flying around us, they pretty much would just open up their wings and the strong wind coming from inside the crater would push them up and they were just hovering around us.  Little Hebe was pretty cool as well.  As we got there, there was a little path to the highest point of the little crater, so while the ladies stayed at the base spot, I walked up.  That path was a bit narrow at times, but being way up there with views from all of the sides was amazing. 

Definitely worth the extra few minutes to get up there.  I enjoyed the views and snapped some pictures, then walked back down.  As I got close, Carol and Bella started walking back, and Bia was playing and waiting for me.  As I got close, I took a picture of Bia, which looks like she’s just at the edge of a cliff… well, she was! 

I also wanted to walk down the big crater, but no-one else did, and if I did, they’d be waiting for over an hour so I didn’t do it.  We finished up our visit there and started driving back.  Next stop, Titus Canyon.

The proper way to visit Titus Canyon is to almost exit the park towards Nevada, then there’s an entrance there at some point, and you can drive through the canyon (high clearance vehicles only) and come down by the parking area we were going to.  It is a one way road, and the entire trip is about 3 hours.  We are not doing the whole thing, but I had read that the trail into the canyon from the parking area was nice, so we went there. 

The parking area is about 2 miles of dirt road, off of Scottys road, and when I say dirt road it’s more like rocks and bumps.  It was super bumpy both ways, like there was a tornado going through. hahahah… I can only imagine taking the road to racetrack, which is like 41 miles of that kind of road.  Yikes.  The girls were really not into going into the canyon, but we didn’t give them much choice.  Supposedly there is a nice view within 1.1 miles into the canyon from the parking lot, but with the girls not really digging the walk, we walked for about 0.7 miles. 

It was a nice walk though, pretty amazing view and area, it was quite cool to be inside the canyon and walking around.  Bia and I were ahead, and at one point she wanted to hide, so we climbed a spot and hid. Bella and Carol came soon looking for us. Bella found us and then wanted to do the same. As we got to the end of our way into the canyon, the girls started climbing on the rock walls, and from there, they had a ton of fun.  They were finding spots to climb all the way back. 

Bella was pretty amazing and climbed up some areas that had not much to hold on to.  Bia did great as well, but she’s more afraid and it takes a lot more for her to pull herself up with minimal grip.  Carol got the truck keys and went back ahead of us, and I stayed behind letting the girls just enjoy their time climbing.  They really had a great time.  Bia was doing her happy dance as we got to the end of the canyon.  Bella was saying she wanted to go back tomorrow.  It’s always like that… they complain when we start, then mid way in they start having fun… then they complain we are leaving and want to go back.  hahahah…. At least they enjoy and have great memories of most places. Oh and with the sun setting right in front of us, the pictures on the way back were amazing.

From there, our plan was to go to Rhyolite, which is a ghost town on the Nevada side, and then hit up the town of Beatty in Nevada for dinner, and to fill up the truck.  I had looked up and Beatty has Diesel for under $3/gallon… Cant’ even believe I see under $3 a gallon, it’s been a while… hahahah of course, it’s not CA.  The drive to Rhyolite was nice, more mountains, more canyons, more valleys… and the terrain changed here and there, but all in all still desert.  Very nice ride when everywhere you look is amazing views.  I was not sure what we’d find in Rhyolite, but this ghost town is technically still part of Death Valley NP.  It basically is some old building ruins from the mining days, some buildings still standing almost entirely, some just a few walls.  There was a house made from glass bottles, basically bottles stacked horizontally and mudded together.  It was the entire house made like that, so kind of cool.  We drove around the small area, which was maybe 6 blocks, looked at the few buildings, drove by the “museum” to see some ghost statues, a naked blonde lady made out of legos… and some sculptures, and that was it.  It was quick.  Kind of interesting, but unless you’re already right there, I’m not sure I’d recommend a long drive for that. 

Beatty was 5 miles from there, so we moved on.  I found the gas station I had looked up, and was happy to fill up at $2.81/gallon… that part of not being in CA is great, and I know it’ll keep getting cheaper as I head west.  After that, Carol looked up a place to eat, and just choose a BBQ place nearby that had good reviews.  The place looked big, and clean.  You go in, order by the counter, get a number and get your food when they call you.  You can chose to sit outside or inside.  Inside, the tables were spread apart far enough and since the place was quite big, it felt comfortable to be in there.  The girls were not too thrilled to eat there because the menu didn’t have anything they wanted… ahhh they are getting so picky it’s not even funny.  But, too bad for them, we were not leaving.  I ordered pulled pork and brisket.  Bella got ribs.  Bia got chicken fingers and Carol got a salad.  My food was good :).

We left there and went back to the gas station for the girls to get ice cream, and from there drove back towards our campground.  We had a one hour and some minutes drive back.  It was dark, and the sky was amazing.  No clouds… plenty of stars… and the half moon was so bright.  Carol had her nice camera, so she wanted to stop a few times in the middle of the park to take pictures of the sky.  We first just pulled over near the turn to the main road.  I had the truck off, and all the lights off, and it didn’t take much time for our eyes to adjust and we could see clearly the road as the moon was so bright.  Looking up at the sky, more stars than I’ve ever seen.  Amazing. 

The park is considered one of those total dark places, or whatever they are called, so it is quite amazing to watch stars there.  From there, we drove to the parking lot of the dunes, and did the same thing.  While Carol was out taking pictures, I had the girls stop what they were doing, put the devices away, and sit on the windows to watch stars for at least one minute.  They did, and they loved it, so that one minute turned into 5.  :). It was quite amazing and impressive.  Not only that, we could see the silhouette of the mountains all around us, which was amazing.  I took some pictures with the iPhone too, which turned out ok, but there’s a lot of “noise” in those pictures.  The pictures Carol got are awesome. 

And from there, we drove all the way back.  We were all pretty tired, Bella arrived sleeping, so when I got her from the truck, she wanted to be the first to shower so she could go to bed.  While Bella showered, Bia sat on the couch and fell asleep.  While this was going on, Carol and I sensed a different smell… and as we traced it, it was coming from the water heater.  It smelled like gas, but not quite.  I thought maybe something had fallen on the heater from our storage area, and while there was something there, the smell didn’t go away after we removed what I thought it was.  I looked outside, and inside and could not find anything, so I just turned off the gas part of the heater, and later turned off the propane completely so we can check tomorrow.  We left the electric water heater on, which is fine, just takes a bit longer to heat up the water again, so just more spacing between showers.  And as we each showered, we just went to bed.  And everyone was out.  I did not turn on the furnace as I had the propane off, so I know it’ll get a bit cold tomorrow morning.

We had an amazing first day at Death Valley National Park.

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