Camping in Death Valley July 2018


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I had made plans a year before to go to Comic-Con in San Diego from July 18-22. Since I was going all that way, I figured I may as well stop halfway there and camp for a few days in Death Valley. Several people said they were interested but Jim was the only one who was serious, so he and I made plans to go there.

I had bought new hiking boots in February, and since I had worn out three pairs of Lowa Renegades in four years, I got the next higher level of boot...heavier, stiffer, better soles, and I loved them...but even with careful breaking-in, they had given me huge heel blisters a couple of times. Still, by mid-July, I had hiked at least a hundred miles in them, so I was sure they'd be fine...because Jim and I were planning to tackle Telescope Peak again.

We got off right on time, and of course there was a big herd of Tule Elk at the bottom of the 152, where it turns east toward Los Banos...and me without my camera ready! This will be a theme...
Sunday, July 15
We usually go through Lake Isabella and Walker Pass, but as we approached the Kern River Canyon, a paramedic truck that had been ahead of us suddenly lit up like a Christmas tree and made for the canyon entrance...uh oh, it's a very narrow windy road, and an accident can stop traffic for hours...we pulled over just before entering, and saw a car coming back towards us. She stopped and said it was a mess, and traffic wouldn't be moving for a while; she herself had turned around and come back. So we went back to Bakersfield and turned south, through Mojave, and up the 14. This way takes an hour longer, but was probably worth it. And we weren't in a hurry.
My favorite lunch stop! In the next seven weeks, we'll see how many times I managed to get to Del Taco...not as many as you might think... The Jawbone Canyon Visitor's Center is there just before Red Rock State Park, and they not only have bathrooms, they have a pet desert tortoise named Mr. Bob! Who was evidently napping, but his house was cute.
Red Rock State Park on the 14 going north from Mojave, which is an awesome place to camp in the summer...hot but pretty.

The four pictures below are from the 14, 395 and 178 on the way into Death Valley.

We turn toward Wildrose...and here is the first of many, many wildlife encounters over the next few weeks, desert burros.
The first pic is the view from the curve just before the campground.

And here we are! Notice the altitude? That means when it was 120 degrees (all right, 119, just making the math easier) down in Stovepipe Wells all weekend, it's FORTY DEGREES COOLER here in the campground. And as far as I know, it's the only campground in Death Valley with shade (the tenting section of Texas Springs might have shade, but I've never stayed in that part.) These two things make this, even with no water closer than 9 miles away, the best campground in DV in the summer. If you can get here...the road is pretty bad.

And dinner was so delicious we needed two pictures of me fixing it!

Since this is one of the only decent campgrounds in summer, and there are trees here, I expected a lot of inimical insect life...horseflies, deerflies, blackflies...they all think I'm delicious. But no! There was pretty much nothing there that bit either of us.

What there were, were a LOT of little black gnats. They did not bite. They did not get in our food and drink, thank goodness. But they flew in bunches around our heads and faces, and landed on us a lot. This is Jim, hiding from them in my truck. I found them a little annoying but was EXTREMELY grateful that they did not bite...you'll see my solution to the gnat problem soon...

Sunset, and a beautiful night sky. The moon was so bright you could see its penumbra. And at 8000 feet, it was cool enough at night to sleep in sweat pants. Aaaaah.
Monday, July 16
So we were really just there to hike Telescope. We had come on Sunday to stay at 8000 ft and hope to acclimate ourselves for this hike on Tuesday. But (for once) I really didn't have any plans; in fact, most of the stuff people do in DV is not a good idea when it's 120 degrees out. Even I agree with that. So we talked about what we might do, and I said, I think Hummingbird Spring is around here somewhere, which means it'll be a cooler hike because of the altitude. We decided to give that a whirl and see what happened.
WILDLIFE! Adorable mule deer in the campground, hiding in the trees across the road.
Then we went down the hill...first stop was the charcoal kilns, which is where I had remembered seeing the Hummingbird Spring trailhead...but it was not there. But the kilns are infinitely interesting and photographable.
And then I saw this bad boy crawling all over some sulphur flowers...he was about an inch and a half long, a lovely Tarantula Hawk, wasting time on the flowers til a tarantula happened by.
One more shot of the Tarantula Hawk, and on to a lovely common sagebrush lizard, and some white flowers, maybe desert buckwheat.
And we say goodbye to the wildrose kilns for now...and search for the road to Hummingbird Spring. Which we finally find, after passing it, because the marker was the 4 wheel drive sign, which is what we figured this post is...but it's 20 feet down this track, and not visible from the main road. So this is the trail, all right!
So we went a ways down this road. We were just checking it out, and after a while, we said, you know, Boudika could do this, this road isn't that bad...but it's not much fun to hike, just a hot dusty road. So we turned back after maybe a mile, and went back to Boudika, and went looking for more mischief to get into.
On the way out of Nemo Canyon there were more adorable burros...and Jim said that he hadn't been to all the stuff around Aguereberry Point, so that was what we did next, starting with the Eureka Mine and Cashier Mill.
Then we got back in Boudika and drove several more miles to Aguereberry Point, stopping to look at this stuff in a small tree, which looks like some kind of insect cocoon...
And after our tailgate lunch, we went back down the road to Aguereberry Camp, about a mile from the Eureka Mine.
Several of the old buildings that the miners used to live in are still here, and you can wander in and look at stuff. And take cool pics with your sepia filter, if you have one...
And of course I had fun taking pictures of glass and screens and other stuff...
After Aguereberry Camp, we drove to Stovepipe Wells, where it was 119 degrees. No kidding. There was a guy there with three cold drinks and his shirt wrapped around his head, holding a camera with a huge zoom lens, taking pictures of these cars, which are the new Hyundai models that are being tested here...he was a blogger and was VERY dedicated, LOL!
We went to Mesquite Dunes looking for desert iguanas but didn't see any. This sign was there, though...and it was damn hot on the sand.
Here I am back in camp. See my improvised fan, made from postcards stapled together? It was pretty good against the gnats!

We picked up a guy who was hiking with a full pack up the steep road between the charcoal kilns and our campground, gave him a lift. His name is Malachi, and he's a bassoon player in San Francisco. He was planning to hike part of the Telescope Peak trail, camp overnight and see the sun rise. We made sure he had plenty of water, told him about the trail and warned him about the altitude.

An hour later he was back, it was just too much for him. So we all had dinner together and talked for a while. He had six days off from his various musical gigs and was going to a series of national parks, camping overnight. Very nice guy.

And the sunset was lovely.

Tuesday, July 17
Tuesday morning. Here we are, ready to hike Telescope Peak. Some nice young men who were getting ready for the same hike took our picture.

We had food, water, extra socks, even small canisters of oxygen to help with the high altitude parts (the hike starts at 8,000 ft and goes up just over 11,000). We had done six of the seven miles of this hike the year before, at which point Jim ran out of water and I ran out of breath, and we came back...but this time we were ready!

And we started. And about half a mile in, my boots, in which I had already clocked over a hundred miles, started giving me huge heel blisters. Again. I kept on, but about a mile and a half in, I said to Jim, I can probably make it to Arcane Meadows (2 1/2 miles up) but it would be foolish for me to go beyond that...I tried to talk him into going on without me, but he is too much a gentleman to do that, so we turned back. These are the six pictures I took on the way up and down.
So there we were, back in the campground at 9:30 am. We had made no plans for today, intending to spend it all hiking Telescope. Jim's idea was to go back and drive up the road to the actual trailhead for Hummingbird Spring, and it sounded good to me. I put bandaids on my rising blisters, and off we went.

Here is the hiking book's description of the hike, the trailhead (and I don't know why the edges are blurry) and looking back at Boudika, waiting patiently for us as she always does.

It was a sunny and clear day, and the light and shadows were perfect for my monochrome filter!
Here are each of us hiking, and some machine parts (not a car, Doug says) that are in the wash, maybe some mining machinery?
From the admittedly vague description in the book, this looked like the right place to go up the fork of the canyon and up a steep slope...but it was covered with talus, and was pretty much impassible. There was certainly no indication of a stone basin, much less any hummingbirds. And you can see how steep the slope is...as I tried to walk up it, I could feel my heel blisters (which had been not too bad til then) rip open. I'm done, I said to Jim. He went as far as he could, then we turned back.
We went to Stovepipe Wells and got ice (and car photo blog guy was still there, perishing in the heat), and on the way back, of course, yet MORE adorable burros.
And here is one of my poor blistered heels. We got back and chilled, and a pickup truck pulled up and a ranger got out. We greeted each other and he introduced himeself and said he was in the law enforcement/fire prevention part of the rangers. Had we seen anyone burning fires, collecting wood or being generally naughty with flaming things? We assured him we had not. Turned out he was camping there that night, so we invited him to come join us later if he wanted.
And after dinner, he came back and we all talked for a couple of hours. Ranger Spencer was awesome. Very nice, loved what he did, had a ton of great stories, two of which I will tell here and hope I get them right (I did make notes, but still...):

1. I, of course, asked for stories of people doing stupid things. He said his favorites are the French, who when he pulls them over invariably look at him in shock and say, But I'm French! like that gives them diplomatic immunity. One woman was driving a car through DV at over a hundred miles an hour...it took two cars with lights and sirens half an hour to pull her over. She, of course, said that. Spenser said there were three people and lots of bottles of alcohol in the car, and they were speeding because they had to be in San Francisco at 7 pm. This was at 2 pm in Death Valley...!

2. He actually said one of the best things I have ever heard anyone say, and this is a direct quote: I've dealt with more than my share of naked people covered with their own poop. I, of course, immediately asked how many that might be. Two, he said. After the first one, when the second one showed up, his coworkers said, Give it to Spencer, that's his specialty. How does this happen? The desert sun makes you crazy...

He was awesome and we had such a good time talking to him!

Wednesday, July 18
Wednesday morning, packing to leave for San Diego. There were a ton of dragonflies flying around the campground!

Spenser noticed, the night before, that one of the postcards in my fan still says, Death Valley National Monument...which it hasn't been since 1994!

You can see the charcoal kilns from the road that leads to our campground (the second picture is cropped down to just the kilns)

And Jim is packing his tent, getting ready to go.

Adorable jackrabbits on the way out!
These plants were all over the Wildrose road on the way out...they were so bright green and springy they looked like plastic. And the road goes on into the distance...and after a day's drive (and stopping in Adelanto for Del Taco, yum!) we got there and I dropped Jim off at his folks' house, and picked up my friend Megan at the airport...and it was time for Comic-con!