Death Valley California – It LivesApril 25, 2012 No Comments
My kids love zombie movies. So of course a place like Death Valley, it must be rife with zombies and dead things. So it must be cool. Well, Death Valley is very much alive, particularly in the spring, when the wildflowers bloom and I’m led to take my family there for a visit. But my kids didn’t find it in the least bit disappointing. In fact, even without zombies, it’s still cool.
Located a few hours from Las Vegas and a longer number of hours from our home in Los Angeles, we’ve long loved making the trek into the park almost as much as the park itself. We take the little traveled Wildrose Road in, out of the town of Trona. In the Spring and Fall you’ll find beautiful springs, tiny quail, an overhanging rock with a picnic table for a lunch stop, and yes, yellow, purple, white, and red flowers in bloom along the narrow canyon walls. The closer you get into the park itself from here, the dryer the road becomes and the less flowers you’ll see, until you reach the area near Telescope Peak, where you’ll find more blooms along the roadside.
Even if you’re making the drive at a different time of year, the contrast of red desert rock, blue mountain peaks – sometimes snow capped – and the narrow road you’re forced to drive slow, will enchant. We’ve spotted desert hare along with the aforementioned quail.
Once you enter the park, if driving isn’t your thing, or you have a car just about as hardy or less so than the vehicle I like to call my ‘off road Camry,’ you’ll be pleased to know you can find the life in Death Valley with a guide.
Death Valley Jeep Tours
Jeep tours are now available to places I used to hold my breath and take on myself. Your family can be escorted in a comfy Trekker to the Racetrack, Ubehebe Crater, the Charcoal Kilns, and Titus Canyon among other destinations. I’ve taken my kids to all but Titus completely solo, and never had any problem, despite the lack of a high clearance vehicle. If you have an SUV, you’re golden. And if you don’t, but you still want to go it on your own, there’s a jeep rental company at Death Valley’s main tourist destination, Furnace Creek. Be aware that both options are not available in the height of the summer months, a time that I love to explore, but others find too much like entering a furnace.
As with any desert travel adventure for families, when exploring wildflowers or the Death Valley environs at any season, be sure to bring in plenty of water and keep your car gassed up, regardless of the high prices at remote filling stations.
Past the massive, surface-of-the-moon like crater at Ubehebe, you will be off-roading it in one way or another. The crater itself is windswept and vast, it’s quite an easy hike down, but much harder coming up. If you have little ones you’ll need to carry, think twice; my son was intrepid enough to do it himself at five years of age.
So swinging on past Ubehebe, wildflowers can be amazing in season. We thrilled to carpets of yellow punctuated with bursts of bright orange and white. A few ground squirrels skittered along through the growth.
If the road is in good shape – do ask at a Ranger station before proceeding on your own – you’ll be heading past Teakettle Junction to the flat pan of Racetrack. Here, life will be more limited to lizards and mysterious black bugs we didn’t recognize, but the scenery of rocks and boulders, with the drag marks of movement behind them, made my kids speculate that the stones themselves were alive.
While it’s probably wind and erosion that cause the movement, its still an irresistible theory as you walk across the flat playa, its surface striated into patterns.
At the other end of the park, near Telescope Peak, lupines were in bloom and the charcoal kilns, the remainders of an industry long defunct, made a perfect echoing series of chambers to sing about them – kind of a high desert Sound of Music. The hills are alive, remember? With the sound of wind, the rustling of little critter feet, and those amazing blossoms.
Overnight in Death Valley
Where to stay in the park is limited to Furnace Creek Inn, the elegant hotel that is open only until May; the Furnace Creek Ranch, a comfortable, average motel type accommodation with a fantastic, warm swimming pool, where, when night falls, you’ll see more life – tiny bats swooping around the lights. In the middle of the park, near the sand dunes, you’ll find Stove Pipe Wells, a more utilitarian enclave of motel-like units. Both areas have general stores; camping options abound in the park.
Be sure and take an early morning walk on the dunes near Stove Pipe for a look at some more desert life – you’ll find the footprints of ground squirrels, the slithers of snakes, the tiny toe prints of lizards – temporary fossils in the shifting, almost-living and breathing sands. No zombies here, there, or anywhere, but still a great thrill for kids and adults, young and old.