Left SD around 5am Friday morning and made it to Death Valley around 11:30. If you look at a map of the route from SD to DV (go ahead and get one, I'll wait) you'd see that Interstate 15 runs from SD to Las Vegas. We turn off and head north around 100 miles short of Vegas but still had to contend with all the Vegas bound traffic. Being New Year's eve there were thousands heading for Vegas to celebrate. Hwy 15 is usually pretty quiet once you get past the the San Bernadino Mountains but not this weekend. However, after we hit Baker, CA and headed north on Hwy 127 we were pretty much alone for the next 2 hours of the drive.
I'll put up pictures after I've had a chance to process them but for being a desert and having a name like Death Valley, it's really a beautiful place. We didn't have a real plan for what we wanted to do so we just drove around and got some ideas from the visitor center on what roads went where and what sites we could get in during the visit.
Around 3:00 we went looking for a camp site and found one much easier than I thought we would. As we were setting up camp I noticed that something was missing. Turned out to be my sleeping bag. We both agreed that it will be important to have a bag when the temp drops at night, we're pretty good a figuring out stuff like that. It was almost 50 when we arrived and we were now at the "hottest" part of the day and still not much above 50 degrees. Not much wind which was nice and the sun felt warm when you basked in it but the lower it went on the horizon the cooler it became.
I told Katherine we'd figure something out. I had cold weather clothes but most of it was upper body stuff, no long johns (I remember holding them while packing and saying "Nah, won't need them" and tossed them back in the camping box). I had two pair of thermal hiking socks but still my legs we gonna suffer. I have a very nice 3-season tent that would retain some of our body heat but most of her body heat would remain in her sleeping bag. I'd only have a Therma-rest pad and the tent floor between me and the ground, I was gonna suffer.
Katherine suggested we run down to the General Store and see if they have any blankets. We did and all we could find was a flimsy $20 flannel "sleeping bag" which was really a large piece of flannel sewn up so you could crawl inside. Nevertheless, I paid the $20 and crossed my fingers.
By 5:30 it was really dark and the wind, though not strong, was biting. Our fire was nice but we were spending more time thinking about how cold it was than enjoying the fire, food, wine and each other's company. The star-filled sky was gorgeous but all we could really think about was the cold.
By 8pm it was 33 degrees and still early in the evening. It felt like it should have been 2am and we realized we still had a long night to go. We weren't ready for bed yet, far from it. So, Katherine suggested we go into the small village of Furnace Creek (hmmm, furnace) to grab a bite and get a drink. It's only 3-4 miles from the site and we figured we could hang out there until we're ready to hit the sack. Furnace Creek is really a commercial enterprise run by a company (Xanterra I think) within the National Park. Grand Canyon NP has something similar. They have gift shops, a hotel, restaurant, general store, gas at $4.45 a gallon and some displays to give it an authentic look.
The restaurant was pretty full as the Christmas - New Years week is one of the most popular for the park. The were only serving pizza though and I really wanted a hot bowl of stew. We split a pizza and some locally brewed beers. It wasn't long before our corner of the bar smelled like campfire smoke as our clothes had marinated in it for the last few hours.
"What time is it now?"
"9:30, sleepy yet"
"Nah, I'm wide awake, at least it's warm!"
"There's a hotel next door ya know."
"Yeah, but it's probably full"
"It's really cold out, isn't it"
"Yep, and all you have is that flannel bag."
"Okay, let's go check the hotel."
And we did, and they had ONE room left, it was a room for 3, and it was the most expensive room at the hotel, and it cost $240 a night, and we said, "We'll take it!"
And it was wonderful. Well, except for the people in the next room who were up late and talked on and on.
We never even went back to the camp site to get stuff. Katherine had a change of clothes in the car but I had pulled everything out and put it in the tent. We took a nice warm shower and hit the sack.
We slept in 'til 9 or so. When we're at a place where I intend to take pictures I like to get up with the sun because that's when the light is best, but this morning I was more than happy to bury my head in my feather pillow and snooze away.
New Year's morning was beautiful. The air was crisp and clean, chilly but no wind. Time to explore.
You can say what you will about California (and I know you do) but this state has some of the most awe inspiring and absolutely beautiful landscapes in the world.
I can't accurately relate the immense landscape that rests in Death Valley. It has harsh, inhospitable, deadly areas full of salt and infertile earth and in other places you'll find palm trees and scrub that, when you think about it, somehow lives in a place that gets 2" of rain a year. Photographically, Death Valley is a mecca. I'm disappointed to have never come here before. Since we got up late and most of yesterday was spent getting to know the place I knew I wouldn't be able to do the photography I wanted so I chalked it up to learning what I wanted to do next time. And, we decided that next time would be at the end of February, just as it's beginning to warm up but not so much to be uncomfortable. DV has reached 134 degrees in the past.
We spent our time being amazed by The Devil's Golf Course, Mesquite Sand Dunes, Artist's Drive, Natural Bridge, The Devil's Corn Field and miles upon miles of salt flats and beautiful landscape. On the way out we stopped at Badwater; 282 feet below sea level. Ironically, this time of year it is covered in water as it floods during the winter. When the water evaporates it leaves behind salt beds that have a mosaic look to them. The salt is caked over everything and if you didn't know better you'd think it was snow.
We left the park around 4pm and started the long drive home. The road leaving the park is desolate and now completely dark, then we hit Hwy 127 and for the next 60 miles it's dark and desolate until we hit Baker and Interstate 15. As we approached Baker we could see miles upon miles of headlights coming down 15 as Las Vegas exhaled and hordes of Californians migrated home. I've never been on 15 in the high desert when it was so crowded. You'd think it was rush hour in San Diego the way we were packed in on the two-lane southbound highway. Finally made it home around 11pm last night.
Good trip, fun times. I can't remember many New Year's eves. This one I will.