For wanting to take a road trip on Hwy 395 north, we seem to find every instance not to. We arrive at the junction of 395 and 190 – east to Death Valley at least 35 miles before we hit the park boundaries. I considered driving all the way there to take a picture of vast miles of dirt scattered with dead things and then turning around. Not at all what I expected to find. The rocks are red, the plants green, and the animals alive. The highest cause of death here is single-vehicle accidents and now I know why – they were too busy staring at the unexpected beauty and wonder that is Death Valley.
A beautiful morning and a nice 43 degrees at 6:30a, by 3:00p it would be 94 degrees. Dogs are not even allowed out of your vehicle; either they will die of heat stroke or dehydration. We gave them water and put clothing in the windows. Depending on the temperature we would give ourselves a certain amount of time to explore: 15-30 minutes, sometimes we took turns. We arrive at the Stovepipe Wells Visitor Center when some guys ask us where the lowest point below sea level is. I didn’t even know that was here, but we’re going now.
We see a sign for gas at $5.48 a gallon – that’s crazy! Then we see cyclists huffing and puffing their way through the hills; I would prefer to burn water and donuts any day. We drive on and learn about the borax industry. There was a team of at least 20 mules to pull 36 tons of weight, including 1,200 gallons of water, over 165 miles of desert. The wagon wheels were 7 feet high and the length of the team over 100 feet – this was a large operation in such a harsh environment.
We arrive at Badwater Basin salt flats – the lowest point below sea level in the western hemisphere at -282 feet. The lowest point on Earth is the Dead Sea at more than -1,300 ft. We stop for sightseeing at Ashford Mill Ruins and Caleb wants to picnic. He gets the dish of carrots and bell peppers, pre-sliced, out of the car and proceeds to somehow only dump most of the carrots in the dirt. He puts the dirty carrots in their own dish and gets out the peanut butter for us to dip our veggies.
After lunch we arrive in Shoshone and get 4 gallons of gas for over $20. Then we head across the street by the Crowbar Cafe. On the right is the sheriff’s station and on the left an old building with a trail leading to another building with an open sign. We walk in to a little boy playing on a computer in the corner, see some brochures, and then a door. I open it too quickly before I think about knocking, but the lady on the other side is happy for the company. She prints us out a map and highlights some of her favorite things to do and see.
We visit the museum next door – lots of information, then to the café beside it for french fries. Luckily the waitress gave us ketchup, that we never eat, or we wouldn’t have been able to finish the fries. Next on the lady’s map is a local trail where she likes to go and relax and see things. We got lost, saw some broken trees, and a muddy creek. Perhaps it would’ve been better if she hadn’t upped our expectations. We decide to save the rest of her map for another visit.
We head back into the park and three hours later find a table and fire pit unclaimed at Mesquite Spring Campground. We are one of three tent-campers there. We ride our bikes to the pay station where Caleb sticks money in hoping to get change out – nothing we can do about it until morning. I build the fire while Caleb makes us hot chocolate in our Jetboil Sumo cooking system. There is something about warm food or drink that internally satisfies our mind and bodies. Perhaps that’s why caveman invented fire.