Once retired one has nothing but free time. Add a little dose of spontaneity, and you get last minute trips like our Death Valley National Park trip.
Thanks to the internet, a quick research can help cobble up a trip in less than 12 hours. And thanks to credit card reward points, one can score free lodging (at the last minute, during a pandemic).
Our day started before daybreak with our 4 1/2 hour drive (“133 to the 5, then the 55 and 91 to the 15” – this is California speak when it comes to directions) from coastal Southern California.
Unlike most National Parks in the US, Death Valley doesn’t have rangers at the entrance collecting fees. You just go to the kiosk to pay for the day pass. Since we have a National Park annual pass, we simply had to display our card on the dash. For $80, an annual pass is definitely worth it if you plan to hit at least 3 parks a year as some popular park entrances like Yellowstone cost upwards of $35. Given that the Western US is essentially one big National Park (e.g., CA has 9, AZ 3, UT 5, WY 6), it’s easy to get your money’s worth. Additionally, the annual park pass is also good for all National Forests and lands under the Bureau of Land Management.
Death Valley, billed as the hottest, driest, and lowest National Park, is probably best visited any time other than summer, when temperatures can reach 130F. However, some people do come in the summer, but you really can’t do much other than take a picture with the park’s thermometer.
Spring is probably the best time for hiking, and hiking is what we did.
First trail – the Mosaic Canyon trail, a reasonable 4-mile round trip hike. You can make this hike as easy or as hard as you want, as the first half is relatively flat and wide. However, the fun part of the hike occurs when “easy” ends.
There are several side trails that you can explore, but be careful as they can be challenging for those afraid of heights.
Lots of clambering past this point…
Make sure to follow the stone arrows as there will come a point where you’ll need to make a detour to avoid ending up at an un-scalable dryfall.
Back on the main trail…
By the time we got back to the trail head, the wind really picked up.
With the sandstorm we opted out of the sand dune hike, and decided to check out the Badwater Basin. Badwater so named because the water is so un-drinkable due to the salinity.
While on route to our hotel, we took the 9-mile one-way Artist Drive.
Finally, after a full day, with chicken wings in hand, we arrived at the hotel.