Death Valley weather
This past weekend Machelle and I decided to head up to visit Death Valley for her introduction to this particular national park. Machelle’s experience with deserts had left her unimpressed, so she wasn’t expecting much from Death Valley.
It turned out to be a visit to remember.
(please click through here to get to the main gallery with all the pictures)
As we left Los Angeles after work on Friday night it was raining hard but we weren’t certain what to expect in the desert park. Our plan was to camp out Friday night at Eureka Dunes in the north west corner of the par, and then head south through the main valley and see what we would see. The rain had mostly cleared up when we finally reached Big Pine at around 11:30pm. We refueled there and turned east on the road to the white mountains before turning off to head into the park. As we gained elevation it started to snow. More elevation, more snow. I put the 4runner into 4 wheel drive and we continued. Soon the snow was getting quite deep. All we could see out the window was black sky and the white road ahead of us. It became so deep that snow was sporadically cascading over the hood and blinding us briefly. It was like driving in a cloud. after a long drive in this otherworldly environment we reached the highest point in the pass and began to descend. After a particularly steep and curvy section of the road we began to see some car lights ahead. Up to this point we had the road entirely to ourselves so we were wondering who this was. slowing down as the car ahead flashed its hazards at us we pulled up beside a car stopped in the middle of the road with snow up to the top of its wheel wells. We rolled down our window and talked to the family in the stuck car. They were all bundled up in sleeping bags, and wondering how much further it was to Big Pine. We told them the road was steep ahead and there was no way they were getting up it on this night. We offered to break trail for them back down to Eureka Valley, but they decided to stay and wait for the snow plows to come through the next morning. We told them we would come to check up on them the next day then continued down. after a long descent out of the snow we reached the Valley bottom and found our way to Eureka Dunes. We made our bed in the back of the car and settled in for the night.
The wind was fierce that night, rocking the car, but we were cosy and tired so it just rocked us to sleep.
We woke with the early morning light and looking at the dunes decided we would be on our way rather then climb them. They had been pounded by rain the previous few days and all the graceful curves and sharp edges had been rounded to a firm mound of wet sand. We loaded up the car and drove back the way we had come to check on the stranded motorists. The air was washed clean and we could see for ever, viewing the mountain ranges dusted with white in waves off into the distance as we climbed back out of the valley.
ABout 2/3 of the way back to where the car was stuck we met up with a snow plow, so we knew they were fine. I began to look instead for pictures to take. Eventually we stopped in a snow field and I waded into the waist deep snow to take some pictures. Machelle took the helm and we wound our way back into the park oohing and ahhing at the vistas, and stopping every couple of minutes to take more pictures.
Eventually we made it back down to the valley floor, then blasted across to the Last Chance Mountains and climbed out enroute to the north end of Death Valley. A few more photo ops in the mountains and we headed down toward sea level. On the way south we made a sie trip to Ubehebe Crater and the Race track. The race track is just drying out from its winter sojourn under water, but it was dry enough for us to skirt the edges to get to where the rocks walk.
After this we headed down to Furnace Creek for gas and dinner, and then went and found a peaceful camping spot.
Sunday morning we woke just after dawn and headed to Stovepipe wells for some coffee. (Life is always better int he morning when Machelle gets her coffee). We then headed up to Mosaic canyon bright and early, thus missing all the crowds. Overnight the snow had melted from all the mountains in the area which was too bad, but I was happy we had got the gorgeous day on Saturday with the snow for all my landscape pictures. We clambered up to the bitter end of Mosaic canyon, far beyond where most of the tourists stop. The air was cool and the morning sunny and we had the whole place to ourselves which was great. When we came back down to the bottom of the canyon we finally started to run into the hordes, but we had had our time alone in the canyon and were happy.
Since it was starting to heat up a bit we decided to head over to Panamint Springs to hike up to Darwin Falls. This 180 foot waterfall and attendent stream is obviously an unusual sight in the middle of a desert, and we once again climbed past where most of the tourists stopped at the bottom falls. We made our way all the way to the top of the big falls where we found an anchor just waiting for us to rap down. Unfortunately we had neglected to bring the canyoneering gear so we had to walk back down. After this all that was left was the long drive home, but we where more then happy with our visit.