In January 2022, Death Valley National Park was our first camping trip to kick off the year, so there was a sense of poetic symbolism in the fact that we enjoyed our last camping trip of the year in the same location.
Closing out the Thanksgiving holiday, we spent the weekend on one of our usual weekend warrior expeditions for a short road trip, an overnight of camping and some hiking, before kicking off the Christmas season and closing out the year with all the excitement that accompanies the month of December.
While we would have preferred to head into the park via the southern entrance, due to continued road closures as a result of this summer’s intense rainfall and flooding, we were left with the option of taking highway 95 to the 374, which is always okay with me, as it means a pitstop in Beatty and an opportunity to stop into the Death Valley Nut & Candy Co store for an improve treat. If you ever stop in and are trying to decide which bag of treats to try out, my current suggestion; low sugar milk chocolate nuts variety.
While the 374, which turns into Daylight Pass Road, was open for the first half of the drive into the park, a detour was in place to take Beatty Road the remainder of the way to the 190. Every few feet, warning signs were posted and cones were placed along the detour, as remnants of previously washed out sections of road were still present, this served as a little teaser to the off-roading trails and dirt roads I typically enjoy driving when we visit this park.
Once on the 190 and making our way further south, we made our first stop in the park at Badwater Basin. With the odds in our favor, we managed to secure a parking spot during the busy rush of visitors, and spent the next hour enjoying walking to the far reaches of the salt flat formations, enjoying the picturesque landscape that served almost as a desert’s mirage of a winter wonderland. Though we’ve seen it before, the expansive views of sheer white salty ground is a setting I can’t get enough of, and the contrasting horizon of dark mountains, set against the vibrant blue and white cloudy skies required no filters to enjoy capturing the vibrancy of colors on camera.
While summer temperatures push the body's limits, this early winter trip provided cooler forecasts that ranged from the low 40s at night to the low 60s during the day. Cool enough for a chill in the air but the perfect weather for hiking under the sun.
From the lowest point in North America, at 282 feet below sea level, we headed north in the park to Stovepipe Wells before heading out on our next hike in the recessed washes of Mosaic Canyon. Mosaic Canyon begins with the first quarter of a mile including smooth and narrow marble walls of Noonday Dolomite combined with fragments of various types of rock which creates the canyons namesake formation of natural mosaics. Following this mosaic laden walls, the canyon then opens up and proceeds to gain 1,200 feet in elevation over the course of approximate 2 miles to the end of the wash.
Something about hiking the washes, especially after watching the severity of damage recently done by rain and racing waters builds a strong appreciation for each groove and run off seen along the walls of the wash. Another humbling reminder that nature is a force to be reckoned with.
With just under five miles of hiking in for the day after completing our drive and short hiking outings, we headed to Furnace Creek campground, our reserved portion of the park and home for the night and enjoyed the calm of a campground during winter and enjoyed an evening of new camp food meals and tons of beautiful star gazing. While there are a number of ways to pass the time at night, there is nothing quite like the calm that accompanies a dark night sky and the sparkling heavens above, finding constellations and planets in the scattering of light overhead.
With a solid night’s sleep and our morning routine complete, we packed up before 9:00 a.m. and headed to Artist’s Palette for a quiet and scenic drive and a bit of hiking amongst the remaining volcanic deposits of iron oxides and chlorite, creating a rainbow effect splashed across the hills of the landscape.
For those who have not seen these hills in person, the color combinations are surreal to see and at first glance there is no doubt the area is named appropriately. These colors displayed across the face of the Black Mountains is a result of weathering over different minerals. The oxidation of iron minerals create the vibrant red, pink, and yellow hues. Meanwhile the decomposition of volcanic tuff-derived mica produces the bright shades of green, and weathering of manganese produces the vivid hues of purple.
After an hour of hiking around the colored hills we took a moment to enjoy a favorite secluded dirt road of mine at Twenty Mule Team Canyon. Named after the 20-mule teams which consisted of 18 mules and 2 horses, these teams hauled 10-ton loads of borax and other ores on double wagons out of Death Valley to other settlements in the 1880s. In addition, this canyon was also the home to some scene filming in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
With a dirt road drive checked off for the trip we shifted our viewpoint at the iconic Zabriskie Point before bringing our trip to a close, with some burro sightings in Beatty before heading back home.
Packing up the truck and heading out of the park, I was reminded of how grateful I am to be able to experience these parks throughout the year in such an intimate way through camping and hiking across the park grounds. It’s an experience that never gets old and continues to serve trip highlights during each visit.
And so closes the camping season for 2022; our best camping year yet.