Death Valley National Park | 7/59

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Death Valley was… HOT.  We were struggling and it was only spring!  We showed up and the valley had already reached a whopping 108 degrees.  It was hard to get excited about going out to hike and explore.  The kitty didn’t even pretend to be excited. He was grumpy at us the whole time. He would lay in the back of the RV where he had a little cool spot by the shower. Don’t worry, we kept him as comfortable as possible.

We post about each park, and sometimes neglect the time that it takes us to get from point A to point B.  It may seem to the reader that we just magically poof from one place to the other.  When in reality, half of our adventure happens as we roll down the road.  It was a particular struggle getting to Death Valley.  Well, to be more specific, it was a struggle getting out of town to leave to Death Valley.

After we finished the parks in Utah, we doubled back to Provo for a wedding of one of my best friends, Tanner and his beautiful bride Gina.  We partied hard and had a great time.  We had planned to replace the engine in the RV while we were partying.  Yeah, pretty crazy.  This was a huge secret, but turns out we were rolling on 4 out of 6 cylinders.  It really blows my mind that we were able to roll on 60 percent of the engine.  I guess crazier things have happened.

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We decided that instead of taking a chance on our motor lasting the whole way, we would preemptively replace it where we knew an honest mechanic that would do a good job.  I know the guys at the Inspection Station in Orem, UT.   If you need a good mechanic in the area, Dan and his crew are great.  I totally recommend them to anyone; the story I am about to tell really validates the recommendation.

We had told Dan that we needed to be in Death Valley that Friday night.  And this wasn’t a problem.  We had everything planned and had the time to do it.  The only problem was, that the guy who was supposed to bring the engine didn’t get it to him until Thursday!  So he had one full day to work on it!  Pretty crazy!  So we had planned to leave Friday morning, and have the whole day to drive down.  We were meeting up with a friend Saturday afternoon, so we wanted to get a little time in exploring the park before that.  Well, Dan wasn’t done with the engine until 2:30 am that Saturday morning!  He worked on it ALL NIGHT for us!  I showed up at about midnight to see what the status was and helped work the last few bugs out with him.

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I was very impressed with his integrity.  It wasn’t his fault that the engine wasn’t there in time.  He could have very easily pushed the blame to the guy bringing the engine, but he didn’t.  He apologized, and owned up to the fact that it wasn’t done when he said it would be.  He stuck to his word and finished it as fast as he could.  There really aren’t many people out there that would do that.

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I pulled out of the parking lot at 2:30 (Madison and the kitty were long asleep) and I drove a solid three hours down the road until the coke and gummy worms wore off.  I pulled over at a truck stop and we slept until about 9:00 A.M. and then hit the road again.  Madison was a little disappointed in me when she woke up to see that I had pumped my body full of nasties to stay awake.  We made it just in time to meet Katch, our photographer friend, and find a place to do the shoot.

Along with the engine, we got a new muffler thrown on.  We were getting some back pressure which was robbing us of some power.

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Between the new engine and the new muffler, Our Vie felt like a whole new machine!  It is GREAT.  It makes such a huge difference.  We can hold 75 mph on the highway now!  We used to only be able to hold 55 (and then we’d drop to about 30 on the hills).  On top of this extra power, the AC works now!  Seriously such perfect timing for Death Valley.  We were feeling very blessed.

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Our first day in Death Valley we took off for Racetrack Playa.  We knew it was going to be a long haul to get the RV out there, so we set aside a whole day to make it.

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Getting out to Racetrack Playa was a major adventure.  I had been there once with my geology homies, but hadn’t really paid attention to how gnarly the road was.  I remembered that we had gotten a flat tire on one of the vans, but other than that, I thought the ride was totally mellow.  It was far from mellow.

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It was an all-day adventure in Vie.  We just drove slow.  We took breaks here and there as well, since it was 108 degrees outside, we just tried to take it easy on the old RV.  When we stopped at Teakettle Junction we were wishing we had a kettle to donate to the cause!  It was fun to go though the kettles and read some of the notes people left on them.

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We arrived at the playa and stopped at the north end.  There is a really cool rock feature called The Grandstand.  I remembered looking at this feature when I came here for geology, and how I wanted to rig a slackline between some of the boulders.  There are quite a few places that could be rigged, but unfortunately, I didn’t have the right gear (I had the wrong size of anchors) to make it happen.  Honestly, if it hadn’t have been a million degrees outside, I would have doubled back to the RV and gotten some rope to make it work – but I gave up quickly in the heat.  Whatever.

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The structure of the mud cracks makes me feel happy.  I just love that nature tries so hard to split mud in a uniform way.  But even with the forces of the universe behind it, there are still slight imperfections.  Don’t get me wrong, Mother Nature does a pretty dang good job, but some spots don’t come out a perfect 120 degrees like she would hope.  Somehow that makes me feel better about my life and how, try as I might, I fail at perfectly compartmentalizing everything.  Sometimes things are just going to crack how they want to crack and there is nothing I can do about it.

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The sailing stones of Racetrack Playa were the main attraction for us in Death Valley NP.  We drove a long way to see these things in action!

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Turns out that super smart geologists have solved the problem!  The rocks get trapped in a sheet of ice and are blown around by wind. As they move, they leave their trail in the soft playa beneath them.  (side note – geologists fabricate 90 – 95 percent of their science – keep that in mind)  My money is still on the theory that aliens moved these rocks to confuse us humans.

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It was a long drive back on the 4×4 recommended road… but we made it!  Just goes to show, that you can do anything if you set your mind to it!  That’s one reason I am so glad that we drive around in Vie.  The fact that it just looks like the truck shouldn’t be able to pull a such a huge load, is what attracted us to this vehicle.  It shows that people (and trucks) can do hard things!  Even if you are a little truck from the 80’s, you can still move a house down the road for almost 200,000 miles (and counting)!!!

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So yes, the RV survived the 4×4 recommended road, but she did sustain a few injuries.  Somewhere along the way we managed to break our secondary fuel pump.  SO, when the time came to pump the gas from our back up tank into our main tank, nothing happened.  This was bad.  We were literally in the middle of nowhere Death Valley, and we couldn’t get the gas to our engine.  I traced wires up and down the truck trying to see if I could find a short or a break in the wire – nothing.  We were toast.

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It was getting dark, we didn’t have any service, and we were past the empty line.  There was nothing we could do but keep going, and hope for a desert miracle.  We drove 40 miles after the needle hit the empty line!  We pulled into the gas station on fumes.  From now on, we won’t rely on the reserve tank.

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We ran into a frenchman who was riding his bike all across the American West.  I think that one of the coolest adventures a person can do is set off on their bike and just GO.  There is just something about a self-supported bike tour.  It’s just cool.  He had finished his ride for the day and wanted to see the canyon down the road.  So he jumped in the RV with us and we went to check it out together.

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It was really hot in Death Valley.  Did we say that already?

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Eye Spy the giant desert lizard…

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Do not attempt to walk barefoot on the sand dunes!  I repeat – do not walk on the sand dunes barefoot!  Its a terrible idea.  Way too hot.
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Just looking for my golf ball at the Devil’s Golf Course.  It just kept going and GOING.

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Can you see the sea level sign?  It was way up there! 282 feet up there, to be exact.

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When we pulled into Badwater we figured that we had hit rock bottom of our trip.  Things can only go up from here!  That’s kind of a good feeling, right?

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This took a lot of energy, but Madison was trying to stay positive.

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After we walked a good way out in Badwater, we started realizing that everybody was making what we creatively called the Death Valley Face (DVF).  (Our brains were too far past their melting point to come up with anything wittier, so you’re going to have to roll with it.)  Nobody was smiling; nobody seemed happy.  Nobody was really doing anything except thinking about how miserable they were.  Madison tried to capture the pain, but if you are looking at this picture in a nice air conditioned home, you will never even begin to grasp the significance of DVF.  To truly understand DVF, you have to take a trip to Badwater.
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The only real cure to DVF is full-blast air conditioning applied directly to sweaty armpits.  Even then, the symptoms of grumpiness and a body that smells like beef and cheese have been known to linger hours after a Badwater experience.

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Artist’s Palette scenic drive to me felt like one of those multi colored sand bottles that you made as a kid – just not as bright.  We drove through the colors and up and down the steep one-way drive.  We didn’t really stop in fear that our DVF may return.

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On the way out of the park we stopped at Zabriskie Point.  Madison and I asked ourselves a few times (under the influence of DVF of course), “how is this place a National Park?!  National Parks are supposed to be happy places!”  The historical placard at the top of Zabriskie Point explained just that.  Essentially, Christian Zabriskie, the vice president of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, was a genius.  As the borax mining game was coming to an end in Death Valley, he began to focus on tourism instead.  He brought many people in with “Death Valley Days” and other events that the company would hold there.  It became a National Monument only three years before he died.  Pretty smart dude, if you ask me.

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It really is a beautiful place.  It just so happens that it is an extremely hot, beautiful place.  Which means you have to be tough to get excited to head out and climb mountains.  Death Valley has a unique way of getting people to show their real colors.  As miserable as we may have made this place sound, there are special things to be found in Death Valley.

4 Comments

  1. Anthony Blackham

    That big old lizard is a chuckwalla. They blow themselves up in between cracks in rocks so you can’t get them out. I know because I tried it once, as much as I poked and prodded it it wouldn’t budge, all it did was whip me with its tail.

    • Cees

      Ha! That’s awesome! I should have tried to catch him! I would have loved to see a puffed chuckwalla…

  2. We went there in March for the “super bloom”! While there aren’t always flowers, it is a perfect time of year to go. NOT TOO HOT! Lows around 55 during the day (down to the 30s even at night) and highs in the 80s in the lower/sunnier valleys. Bare feet in the dunes no prob, and no DVF even in the basin ;). It actually rained for us more in DVNP than anywhere on our trip! Of course you have a schedule to stick to so that you can hit all your parks, but for others just keep in mind that timing is everything in Death Valley National Park! When the sun isn’t trying to kill you, it is one of the most diverse and remarkable parks <3

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