A few months back I signed up for a 10k race in Death Valley. I’ve always been fascinated by desert landscapes, but I haven’t had the opportunity to spend much time in them. The run was a great excuse to take a few days to explore California’s most famous desert. After making the long drive down on a Wednesday, we arrived in the desert on Thursday. We had planned to stay at an off-the-beaten-path campground, Wildrose Campground, but driving into the park, we found that the road to the campground off of Hwy 178 was closed! After a consult with the map (because, no cell service!) we found that we could likely take in another road off of Hwy 190. Whew! Crisis averted! After a quick side trip to hike out to Darwin Falls, we made it to Wildrose Campground in the late afternoon. The husband and I instantly fell in love with the secluded campground, tucked in a canyon on the west side of the Panamint Mountains. We had the campground almost completely to ourselves and had a great time exploring the area. Sometime in the middle of the night, we heard wild horses come through our campsite! The husband didn’t initially believe that I had heard the neighing of horses, but in the morning, the two other people in the campground both confirmed hearing neighing and hooves during the night. Vindication! The race we were running early on Saturday morning was taking place on the east side of the Panamints, in order to not have to wake up super early that morning, we ended up staying at Wildrose for only one night. On Friday morning, we drove east toward the Furnace Creek area, checking out the sights and stopping for hikes along Hwy 190. The Furnace Creek Campground, sadly, was nothing like Wildrose. It was packed with both people and RVs, and is right off the highway. Thankfully, I had reserved a spot in the tent-only loop that is in the back of the campground, and we were mostly spared from having to listen to the noises from the RVs and traffic. The one great thing about the site we stayed in was that it backed up to an open area and we had a nice view of the east side of the Panamints. We quickly set-up camp, and after a full day of hiking and sightseeing, we were looking forward to a relaxing time around the campfire that night. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans and around 6pm, the skies opened up and a steady rain fell for the remainder of the night. Thankfully we had a small tree next to our tent that provided enough protection from the rain so that we could cook dinner. On Saturday, we woke up to overcast skies but no rain. Unfortunately, we also woke up to the quicksand-like pit that our campsite had become. The rain had turned the sandy ground into a wet, sticky, muddy mess of soft ground. Our shoes were caked in mud, and it was almost impossible to move around without sinking into ankle deep mud. Ugh! We did the best we could to get ready for the race without getting mud all over ourselves, but it was definitely a challenge. The race was an out-an-back running along the shoulder of Hwy 190 to just past the Harmony Borax Works. The course was not overly challenging, and the scenery was absolutely beautiful. The husband and I had a blast running the 10k course. Afterward, we spend the remainder of the day hiking and sightseeing on the east side of the Panamints, hitting all of the usual spots, Badwater Basin, Golden Canyon, etc. Later that night, after returning to our now dried out campsite; we were visited by a pack of coyotes within a few feet of where we were sitting! Later, we enjoyed their boisterous calls as the sunset over our campsite. It was a great end to our trip to the desert.
Though we were able to see a lot in our short visit, I know that we only scratched the surface of what Death Valley has to offer. I really want to go back and explore the non-touristy areas of the park. The husband and I are now talking about making this a yearly trip! How about you? Have you visited or ever wanted to visit Death Valley?