We just returned from a great, but rather short, weekend at Death Valley National Park. Tyson’s parents joined us for the three day adventure and I think I speak for all of us when I say it was certainly an adventure. We had wind, rain and even snow in the upper elevations, yet we still managed to get through it and see a lot of the interesting features that make up Death Valley. Although it gets a bad rap for its extreme weather and heat, it is a beautiful destination that has great hikes, scenery, geology and optimum star-gazing.
We arrived at Furnance Creek Campground on Friday afternoon, welcomed by heavy winds. We got camp set up, which was the most difficult set up, followed closely by a pitch-black set up. In the evening, the Park Rangers gave a little astronomy presentation in their auditorium, which we were able to take outside when the clouds cleared. It was very informative and will come in handy next time I’m able to leave the lights of the city.
On Saturday we woke up to rain, so we skipped our planned breakfast and went to the Furnance Creek Ranch 49er Cafe – roughing it, eh? Then we headed 40 miles north to tour Scotty’s Castle. It was actually called Death Valley Ranch, and was the home of wealthy Ohio-based Albert and Bessie Johnson in the late 1920’s. Scotty was basically a modern day con-man who convinced Albert and other wealthy men to invest in a Gold Mine that he claimed to have discovered in Death Valley. Most investors just gave the money to Scotty sight unseen (afterall, who wants to go to Death Valley to get proof, right?). However, Albert decided to make a trip out to see this actual Gold Mine. After spending a month or so in Death Valley (he never saw the supposed Gold Mine), Albert fell in love with Death Valley and decided to build the ranch as a vacation home for him and his wife. He and Scotty became good friends, despite the con, and Scotty was invited to live at the ranch with the Johnson’s. He continuously called the ranch “Scotty’s Castle” to reporters and other visitors, and that is how it got its more publicized name.
We woke up on Sunday to blue skies and sunshine. After breakfast, Tyson’s parents left for home and Tyson and I decided to do more sightseeing on our way home. We did the Artist Drive which is appropriately named for its colorful rocks, mountains and views. We also visited Bad Water Basin which resembles a large frozen lake. It’s the lowest elevation in the United States at 282 feet below sea level (our campground was 190 feet below sea level). The salt forms from the constant flooding and evaporation over the years. Earthquakes cause the low elevation as they force the mountain ranges to shift and spread farther apart, causing the valley floor to stretch and drop lower each time.
If you’re looking for a fun trip outdoors, I highly recommend Death Valley National Park (in the winter of course). There is a lot to do and see and it’s a very beautiful and peaceful place.