Recently I had subsequently learned that because of a growing population of city lights from both Las Vegas and California, this night time phenomena was slowly disappearing. Not wanting to miss my chance, I packed my car and decided to slowly road trip my way to Death Valley.
Just before I left though, my hometown ( and really the whole western United States) was hit with a bitter cold, high wind State of Emergency , and my plan to tent camp was changed to staying in Las Vegas and driving to Death Valley for day explorations. I don’t like to camp in twenty degree temperatures.
As I made my way past Area 51 and crossed the California border into the National Park, I decide to first head to Dante’s View, at more than 5,000 feet above the park. With what felt like hurricane force winds whipping me as I hiked the trail out to the tip, I am in awe of the view.
After getting my blood pumping and my adrenaline going like a freight train, I head down from Dante’s View and make my way through 20 Mule Team Canyon. The formations in the inferno valley are truly out of this world. Nothing seems to move out here except my own two feet.
Continuing the journey as the sun above indicates high noon, I find Zabriskie Point. I choose to hike instead of driving up to the overlook, and the choice is a wise one. Immersed in a sandy stone canyon, one must use navigation skills and pin point familiarities so you do not get lost. Thrilled with this type of adventure, I make my way.
With the sun quickly setting and the temperatures dropping, I head down to Furnace Creek and bundle up with a warm drink and witness the night sky unfold in its mystery and wonder….
First stop is Mosaic Canyon. Bundling up to fight off the early morning winter chill, I set forth into the unknown. As I reach the top and turn to see the view in the narrow box canyon, I almost forget to breathe.
Next stop is Artists Drive. I stop at random places along the lonely road, and just head into the hills, not sure what I’m looking for, not caring what I find. Such freedom in the stillness.
Feeling better than I have in years, my good mood steers me over to Natural Bridge Canyon. Signs everywhere warn of rattlers, but I feel safe with the cold temperatures, although the day is warming up nicely in the afternoon. I cautiously head up the trail.
Continuing on past the bridge, I find myself scaling rocks like a lemur, pushing myself further and further up the canyon. I see a couple of gents resting, and they warn me that it isn’t as easy getting down the rocks as it is climbing up. I heed their warning, but continue forward. As I come to the end of the box canyon, I marvel in the accomplishment. Age is all in your mind.
Although it takes me some time to make it back down, I eventually make it out. Unsure of where I should go next, and with not much daylight left, I pull out the park map and decide on my next destination. I believe I’ll have just enough time. As I’m driving I come across a sign that makes me slam on the brakes, and with a whirlwind of dust I see where I am at….
The last stop starts to appear on the horizon, but I think it to be a mirage.
“That can’t be real”
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are indescribable. You feel like you could be in the Sahara, possibly the Tunisia desert, but not California.
You can get nervous heading off into the seemingly endless dunes, and so one is constantly looking behind you for your known markers, a lone tree or the far off parking lot. But the beauty of the dunes call you further in, enticing you to climb the hills, discover its hidden treasures, to find your inner child and play in its soft sand.
With nothing but high sand dunes around me, I run into a family sitting high on a hill, enjoying a snack and getting a drink. As I approach, I see their quizzical looks, and realize that I must be quite a sight to see, as I look like Mad Max from beyond Thunderdome. I remove my motorcycle-like goggles and smile, and they return the gesture. We sit and talk for awhile. I love when moments like that happen during solo travel.
As if this adventure wasn’t epic enough, you can get your Death Valley rock ‘n roll on with this two part video self made doc. ( although at 27 total minutes, I understand if you don’t…..)