Death Valley


March, 2005

We arrived in Tacopa Hot Springs on the 2nd of March. This tiny place has no drinkable water, no food market, and no restaurant. The local wells provide only hot, mineral-rich water that gives the town its name. We spent two great days in the public spa enjoying the waters. We then drove into the south entrance of Death Valley National Park, over Jubliee Pass. One of our first stops was at Badwater Basin (see photo #1, at left). At 282 feet below sea level, it is the lowest spot in the western hemisphere. That afternoon, we drove on to Furnace Creek where we stayed for 2 weeks at the Sunset Campground.

The accomodations at Furnace Creek vary rather dramatically. Sunset is a fairly primitive campground, with no electric power and no water or sewer hookups. There are bathrooms with running water. Jim had installed a single 85 watt solar panel on our Scamp trailer, and it worked very well. Our battery was always fully charged. At the other extreme is the Furnace Creek Inn (photo #2). Built by the railroad to house their rich customers, it was the height of luxury when it was built in 1927. It is still much too expensive for our budget.

We had the immense good luck to arrive in Death Valley just as they were experiencing the greatest bloom of wildflowers in recorded history. The valley had received unusually heavy rainfall throughout the previous winter, and the flowers were taking advantage of the unexpected moisture. When we arrived, the best displays were in fields of desert gold at the south end of the park (photo #3). Later, the best flower displays moved north through the park.

The mountains that surround Death Valley were still covered in snow. The combination of rain falling in the valley and snow melt from the mountains filled the usually dry bed of Manly Lake with several feet of water. People even came out to kayak on the lake (photo #4). We met Chuck Graham in the dark one morning as he prepared to set off across the lake. Within a few weeks, the lake had dried up and returned to its normal condition, a vast salt flat extending, seemingly, forever.

Here are some more photos from our visit to Death Valley this year:

bug   |   cactus   |   cornfield   |   Lake Manly   |   desert gold   |   badlands

Because of the heavy rain, parts of the park were inaccessible; the roads had simply washed away. Some of the access roads to places like Artist's Palette may not be rebuilt for years. Even some of the main roads were closed while construction crews worked to repair them. At the time of our visit, the high country areas in the mountains were still closed due to the heavy winter snows, which had not yet melted. So, our access was limited and we did not get to visit some of our favorite parts of the park. We have posted photos from earlier trips to Death Valley in our photo gallery.

As word of the wildflower bloom spread, more and more tourists flocked into Death Valley. A week or two after we left, the crowds became so massive that the park simply could not handle them all. The two service stations in the park ran out of gasoline, and there were fist fights in the lines as people impatiently waited for fuel. Luckily, we left Death Valley before any of these problems began. As always, timing is everything.

— return to the 2005 Journal Archive.