We started our trip at a little past midnight on Saturday, March 8 heading toward Death Valley from our home in San Jose, CA. The distance is just over 400 miles which we broke up into two stops. The first was at a Holiday Inn Express in Fresno, CA and the second at Ricardo Campground in Red Rock Canyon State Park just outside Mojave, CA.
On 395 near Olancha, CA we stopped to check out the Freshjerkey.com. Neither of us eat much jerkey but this was really good! Nice and tender with great seasoning. Their dried apricots were so good that Darryl had to return after getting gas to buy another bag. We were thinking that we found this unique little place until we saw another one a few days later outside of Beatty, NV. In any case, we highly recommend the jerkey and the dried fruit so check them out on line at Freshjerkey.com and they will ship their goodies your way.
We stayed at Panamint Springs Resort in Death Valley. I met a fellow Iowan working at the General Store. She and her boyfriend were following seasonal work throughout the National Parks. They just came from Glacier National Park. Pretty cool way to spend your first years out of school in my opinion!
The next day we went to Ubehebe Crater. We thought that it was a crater created by a meteor but learned that it’s actually the result of a volcanic eruption and there are many of these craters scattered throughout the park.
We had hoped to drive through Titus Canyon on this trip through Death Valley but learned that it was closed due to some washouts that were being repaired but might reopen any day. In the meantime, we decided to do a side trip over to Las Vegas to pick up some car parts at the Toyota dealer. Along the way, we stopped at Rhyolite, a ghost town just West of Beatty, NV. There were still a number of buildings visible.
I took a photo of the self-guided walking tour document to show just how short-lived these gold rush era ghost towns were. This is typical of the boom and bust cycles of other ghost towns that we’ve seen where they are bust just 2 or 3 years after their peak.
There was a quirky little outdoor art exhibit at Rhyolite led by Albert Szukalski which led to the founding of the Goldwell Open Air Museum.
After Rhyolite we headed over to Las Vegas and had the best BBQ yet at Road Kill Grill! This was a real find thanks to Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. When we don’t have time to get a local’s recommendation, we have had great luck at checking out the spots that he has reviewed http://www.flavortownusa.com/.
Our next stop was to learn about ghosts at the Amargosa Opera House. Someone we met from Pahrump, NV told us about the place and how it was featured on a ghost hunters program. We thought that it would be fun to stop by and take the tour. We Didn’t learn about any ghosts but instead were treated to the fascinating life story of Marta Becket. She is 90 years old and owns the tiny town with a population of 2. She passed through Amargosa in the late 60’s and returned for good in the early 70’s leaving New York with her husband to create a new life in the West. She held weekly performances in the Opera House but rarely had an audience to the remote location. Marta decided that if she didn’t have a live audience then she would create her own and painted the murals the decorate all of the walls and ceiling of the Opera House.
After the tour, we walked over to the little cafe in the hotel and had the BEST cherry pie EVER! Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo quick enough. If you ever drive through Amargosa, this is well worth the time to rest and have a wonderful little treat.
Our next stop was Dantes View in Death Valley. This viewpoint looks over Badwater in Death Valley. Again, the views are dramatic but I haven’t figured out how to do them justice in my photos.
On our way back from Dantes View we took the dirt road through 20 Mule Team Canyon. This was our first “off road” trek which was extremely tame. Just the sort of baby steps I needed to get comfortable with the idea of “off-roading”. 🙂 There was really no need for a 4×4 and the views were stunning. It is definitely worth of a short side trip given the scenery.
That evening we camped in the back country along Hole in the Wall road. This was our first free campsite in Death Valley since we didn’t realize that you can actually dry camp in the back country as long as you’re 2 miles off any main road. There is a brochure that you can get at Furnace Creek if you ask the ranger. It’s not something that is publicized and we couldn’t find any information about backcountry camping on the National Park Service’s website.
Since Titus Canyon was still closed we decided to venture back toward Stovepipe Wells and do the short hike at Mosaic Canyon. The hike was nice and cool since it was through a tight canyon with cool marble-like rock surrounding us. Here we are at the end of the canyon.
After the hike we made the trek toward our next campsite at Wildrose. This was also free but was a maintained site with vault toilets and fire pits. As we watched gained in elevation, we knew that we would be in for another cold and windy night! We learned that March is the windiest time to visit Death Valley and the nights got down to the high 30’s but the days were perfect just hovering in the low-mid 70’s. The campsite as at 4,144 feet but FREE! On the way, Darryl had me get out and take a few shots of a “bad ass” vehicle we saw along the way. There will be a separate home for his killer vehicles that we’re collecting along our trip.
The next day we drove down to the Swiss engineered charcoal kilns built by Chinese laborers in 1879.These were built to make charcoal, a process that would take up to two weeks. This charcoal was used for the silver and lead mining operations at Modock Mine in Death Valley. The kilns closed after only 3 years of operation.
After our venture out to the charcoal kilns, we headed back to Furnace Creek, a distance of over 70 miles, to ask again if Titus Canyon was open. Unfortunately, it was still closed with two more sections to fix. It wouldn’t be open anytime soon so we decided to move forward with our trip and leave Titus Canyon for another day.
We stopped in Baker, CA for gas and a quick bite to eat to figure out our next place to spend the night. We decided on Hole in the Wall campground in Mojave National Preserve. A little trivia for you here; the difference between a National Preserve and a National Park is that you can hunt in a Preserve. Fortunately, our campground was in a “Safety Zone”. We know this because there was a sign posted at the entrance. I only hope that bullets can read signs. Our campsite cost $12.
The next day we headed over to Kelso Depot and spent some time looking at the “Mojave Moonlight” photo exhibit by Tom Lowe. They were pretty impressive photos of the desert at night. Our next stop was Kelso Dunes. I was enjoying the stroll through the dunes then realized that Darryl had a workout planned for us when I saw him heading straight up the side of a dune rather than taking the more gradual route along the ridge. I then learned the literal meaning of “one step forward and two steps back” on that climb!
We headed out to Barstow to find a few ghost towns to visit before heading down to Joshua Tree National Park. On the way we spent the night at Owl Canyon Campground in Rainbow Basin Natural Area (BLM land) just North of Barstow.
It was here that Darryl and I first heard of the bear-dog that roamed this area 16 million years ago!
The desert sky was getting more spectacular as we drew closer to the full moon.The next day we searched for nearby ghost towns and struck out looking for the first one so we went over to Calico which was well marked on the map and by street signs.
It looked really interesting on the website so my expectations were running high and then they dropped a little when I saw the huge parking lot for all of the tourists and then I went into full-on disappointment when I saw the Starbucks sign. I’ve got to remember to keep my expectations in check!! But as Darryl pointed out, it was interesting to see how one of these towns looked at their peak.
After the tourist trap we continued toward Joshua Tree National Park where we stayed at Jumbo Rocks campground. We hiked the Boy Scout Trail the next day. The drought this past winter resulted in a very limited desert bloom throughout Death Valley, Mojave and Joshua Tree. I was pretty excited to see the few blooms there were in Joshua Tree which had many more blooms compared to Death Valley.
The next day we took the Geology Road and saw a little more of the back country. The road was actually a self-guided geology tour along an 18 mile dirt road. They did a really good job of identifying various geological points of interest along the road. If you make it to Joshua Tree, spend the hour to take the tour. Unfortunately, my photos didn’t make the cut for this post.
We then headed out of Joshua Tree the park and into Joshua Tree the town for a few hours of cleaning. First, Darryl found this amazing shower at Coyote Corner where you could get 7 minutes of water for $4. Well worth it after a few too many days without one.
Then we went to get our landry done. While it was drying, we went to the Natural Sisters Cafe for something sweet and we were not disappointed. We shared a vegan apple muffin (delicious!!) and we each had a smoothie. Mine was the Climbers Revenge made with dates and Darryl’s was the Desert Sunrise. They were both awesome! We highly recommend their deserts and smoothies. We didn’t try the sandwiches but they get great reviews on Yelp.
Our next stop was Palm Springs, CA where we had amazing burgers at Woody’s Burgers. We did errands in the Palm Springs area and then back to the fun stuff.
We continued on to the Salton Sea. Here is a photo of our guest at the campsite there, a beautiful little black widow. We wandered along the coast of the sea which had the most interesting beach made of what looked like fish cartilage. The place smelled like dead fish given the many fish die-offs resulting from the over population of Tilapia which is estimated to be over 400 million.
Our final stop along the Salton Sea and before dropping into Baja Mexico was to see Slab City which I saw in the movie “Into the Wild”. I was curious to see how similar it was to the movie, it wasn’t. Hollywood sure can create fiction from reality.