top of page
  • Writer's picturebalzaccom

Death Valley Redux

We love to spend time in Death Valley, as long as that time is springtime. The weather can be glorious and the valley and its environs never crease to fascinate us. So this year we headed down once more...

DAY ONE: We left home on a Sunday, with an overnight stop in the Pinnacles on the way down. This was a childhood haunt, and I've only been back a few times on day trips over the years. And I noticed lots of changes. The new campground is large, with lots of spaces between sites--although the restrooms in. our area were replaced with porta-potties during renovation...sigh. In the afternoon we hiked the Condor Gulch Trail, a steep hike up to the High Peaks Trail. A beautiful day, condors roosting on the rock towers above, and perfect weather. This was a great start to our trip, and allowed us to really stretch our legs.

In the evening we walked down to the Bacon Ranch, where we ran into clouds of wild turkeys, lots of deer, and even a few fellow humans. This would have been a very peaceful place to have a ranch--and a damned hard place to earn a living.

DAY TWO: That night it froze, and we woke to slushy water bottles, a table loth covered with frost, and icy fingers. youw! We were not expected that. We ate breakfast in the van with the heater on.

From the Pinnacles we drove through the town of Coalinga (my boyhood home) on our way to I-5. I managed to identify my two boyhood homes and the elementary school, but not much else.

Lunch was at our favorite 24th St café in Bakersfield, which did not disappoint--good honest diner food served with a smile---and a short wait time. A great stop for a road trip. And then we took off on a high speed race to Stovepipe Wells so that I could join a confernce call that afternoon. Who said I was retired?

Ravens chatting above the water station at Stovepipe Wells.

It was a lovely warm evening in the campground. With our senior discount, it costs $7 to stay here, and worth every penny. Our neighbors to one side hosted a movie party for the nearby kids, so we got to see the most recent Disney movie on a screen on the side of their RV. They guy also offered us free WIFI supplied by the same Starlink connection he used to download the movie. So for two days here, we had full WIFI connections in Stovepipe Wells.

DAY THREE: It was a perfect morning in Death Valley, 60 degrees and sunny. We set off to hike Marble Canyon. We'd done nearby Cottonwood Canyon as a backpacking trip years ago, but this was a day-hike. And to make it more challenging, we left the van at the large parking lot outside the first narrows, adding some miles to this hike. It ended up being about 12 miles round trip. But there are some lovely narrows in the heart of the canyon, just above a chock stone with an easy hike around.

We were back in camp in time to wash up (M had a shower at the hotel) and a zoom call with Expedia. Our afternoon was nap was somewhat spoiled by the generator on one side and four children howling like coyotes on the other side. hmmm. The wonders of van life also including long conversation about Quartzsite between some of the campers right outside our van. sigh.

Dinner tonight was a salad and cheese sandwiches, fresh fruit and chocolate chip cookies!

DAY FOUR: Woke up to breezy weather--winds of 15-25 mph, with gusts to 40! . We wanted to explore more of the north end of the park. so drove up to Mesquite Springs and got a campsite there. It was still very blustery, but at least there was plenty of room between campsites, rather than the gravel parking lot of Stovepipe Wells. After claiming our site, we drove back down to Red Wall Canyon and hiked in...a slog uphill in the wind and gravel, but beautiful and much calmer in the Canyon. As usual we turned around at the first dry fall, which was a bit too much for us. The hike back was better--not the least for being all downhill. We made it back to camp for a nap and quiet evening, buffeted by the wind, but free of any other noises.

For second day in a row we watched fighter jets in a mock dogfight overhead, loud and impressive what they can do in. those planes.

DAY FIVE: We woke up to cool temperatures and a breeze. But it quickly warmed once the sun came over the mountains. i started the day off with a bang, spilling my uncooked oatmeal in the van. Since we didn't have much extra, I carefully swept it up back into the bowl, certainly adding some fiber to my diet...and leaving a lot of the maple flavoring behind. Not recommended.

Today we were out for an adventure. We drove to mile 24 on the road and hiked up the big fan to an unnamed canyon in the Grapevine Mountains for a few miles. It was very easy hiking, and based on the topo map, this canyon could go up for miles and miles. We got to about 3000 feet by my watch, which was about 3.5 miles in, and stopped to eat our lunch. It was absolutely silent...a glorious Death Valley experience. We'll be back to backpack this one, carrying our own water...there sure wasn't any in the canyon.

After a nap and wash, we drove to look at Ubehebe Crater...then back to camp for dinner, and an amazing moonrise over the Grapevine Mountains

DAY SIX: It was time to starting heading for home. M had always wanted to stop and see Manzanar, the WWII Japanese Internment Camp, so that's where we went first. It was far more impressive than we had expected, with excellent exhibits, and a stunning view of the east side of the Sierra.

When we checked the weather and the road conditions, it looked like Highway 50 was clear, and so we drove up 395 to Gardnerville and then over Echo Summit, enjoying the views of Mammoth, Yosemite, Sonora Pass, and the rest of the amazing scenery of that side of the mountains. After a delicious dinner at Farm Table in Placerville, we climbed back in the van and drove the final miles back to Napa.

In all we were out six days, hiked about 30-35 miles, and saw some truly wonderful stuff.

The full photo log of the trip is here:

270 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All


The New York Times ran an interesting article about the impact of foraging hikers on our national lands. We took a hike a few years ago in a fire-affected part of the Eldorade NF and were amazed by t

Tioga Pass is OPEN!

The last highway pass over the crest of the Sierra Nevada opens for vehicle traffic tomorrow, June 10. Highway 120, aka Tioga Pass, was open for bicycles only for today. Get your gear. It's time to h

1 Comment

Mar 21, 2022

Sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing

bottom of page