I’ve been to Death Valley many times. Some people, who never visited the area, always ask me why I like it so much. “There is nothing out there”, is the usual argument. I can only smile. You have to see it with your own eyes. Once you do, you have to agree that there is so much more than “nothing”. Anyways, these objections never stop me from going there regularly. However, this time was the first time that I drove to Death Valley with the clear intention to see an abundant display of wildflowers. I have never done that before. With the excitement of a “little boy” I packed my stuff, charged my batteries, looked at the maps, and read some reports the days before in growing anticipation of another trip to Death Valley.
As usual, I was late booking some rooms in the park. I found one in Beatty, Nevada, a few miles east of the eastern border of the National Park. I stayed there before at the same motel and was quite familiar with the little town. I actually like staying there. It definitely has some unique flair to it. I got back home from work early on Friday, April 16, and Yan’s mom and I drove to Downtown around 2pm to pick up Yan from work. I knew it would be bad traffic but I did not expect it to be that bad. It took us over one hour to drive from the Westside to Downtown. Unfortunately, it did not get better. After we picked up Yan, it took another 3 (!) hours to reach Cajun Pass. It was never that bad before. Once over Cajon, for the first time I had the feeling to be really outside the city. It felt good. There was still a lot of traffic to Baker but at least we could drive. Once we turned on Highway 127 in Baker we were (almost)alone covered in darkness around us. We drove to Shoshone, Death Valley Junction, and further to the California-Nevada border. We reached Beatty shortly before midnight. Pretty exhausted we checked in and were asleep shortly after.
Mojave Sun Cups
Death Valley Buttes
Refreshed we got up reasonably early the next day and started our hunt of wildflowers. The goal was to drive over Daylight Pass to Death Valley and further south to Jubilee Pass. Knowing that the distances in Death Valley National Park can be quite deceiving, I was planning at least for half day to get there. The drive to and over Daylight Pass is always gorgeous. Among the Funeral Mountains to the south and Grapevine Mountains to the north we were greeted with nice but sparse wildflowers near the Pass. There was road construction (road pavement) so they intermittently closed the road and we had to wait there on the road for about 30 minutes. It did not bother us, as we got out of the car and enjoyed the scenery and flowers on the roadside. Our first “real” stop was at Hell’s Gate west of Daylight Pass. I never get tired of the view from there down to Death Valley and to the Panamint Range. We saw some Mojave Sun Cups and blooming Creosote bushes here. I of course was equally impressed by the views towards Corkscrew Peak and Death Valley Buttes (both of which are high on my list of to-do-things in Death Valley).
We then continued towards Furnace Creek Ranch. Once down at the valley bottom there were some nice yellow fields near Salt Creek. I noticed some movement on the asphalt and after closer inspection I say literally hundreds of caterpillars on the road. Most of them of course did not make their crossing and the road was “painted” in yellow-orange colors; poor creatures. We did not stop here and continued further towards Badwater. Since we have been driving for almost two hours already we decided to get out of the car and mingle among the crowds at Badwater to take a stroll out to the saltflats. Although only about 10am it was already getting very warm. The views from the saltflats are always impressive and there are only few other spots where you feel more in Death Valley than here. Still snow-covered Telescope Peak was looming high above across the salt flats.
After Badwater we continued further south. It’s amazing that immediately south of Badwater the crowds disappear and we met only a few cars on the road. There were very nice yellow fields on both sides of the road in this area. Our next brief stop was near Mormon Point, where we saw nice Desert Sand Verbena along the road. We drove further to Jubilee Pass. There were many beautiful wildflowers here; Desert Five Spot, Lacy Phacelia, Desert Chicory, Desert Dandelion, Beavertail Cacti, and many more. We spent a long time wandering through the area.
Near Jubilee Pass
I recognized many peaks from trip reports here: Ashford Peak, Desert Hound Peak, Rhodes Hill, Jubilee Mountain, … We had a brief snack here before we drove back towards Furnace Creek. I stopped briefly at the Ashford Mill Ruins, which served the Ashford Mine in the Black Mountains some miles to the east. There was not much to see here, but it was nevertheless interesting.
Since it became already unbearably hot with temperatures soaring above 100F we decided to get some rest and shade in the Furnace Creek Inn. I have never been inside the Inn and was pleasantly surprised how beautifully decorated it is. The views from the terrace are quite amazing. However, we stayed inside, replenishing our energy by lounging in the comfortable chairs in the lobby. Getting hungry we decided to have some Afternoon Tea there, which turned out to be great idea. It was quite delicious. Thinking about what to do next we settled on nearby Golden Canyon. I knew that it is supposed to be a gorgeous hike towards The Red Cathedral formation and further to Zabriskie Point. I thought that maybe we can do the Golden Canyon – Gower Gulch Loop. Off we went…
Standing at the trailhead at the mouth of the Golden Canyon we quickly realized how hot it still was at around 5pm. Nevertheless we wanted to walk a little and despite the temperatures started into the canyon. The hike was gorgeous, the badland scenery amazing. There were interpretative posts along the trail which explained the geological features and history of the canyon. However, looking for shade as best as we could, we did not stop at those signs. About one mile into the canyon there is a trail junction to the Red Cathedral and Zabriskie Point. Feeling pretty hot and dehydrated already we decided to hike to the Red Cathedral and then turn back. After another 15 minutes we were standing close to the base of the vertical, red-colored cliffs. Luckily, the canyons here were quite narrow providing welcome shade. Yan and her mom rested here a bit while I was scrambling a little further towards the cliffs. Hiking back to the cars I was thinking we should have started the hike at least one hour later. Well, next time…
After our hike we drove to the Furnace Creek Ranch, wandered around the area a little bit, visited the gift shop, and had dinner in the restaurant. It was already dark when we drove over Daylight Pass back to Beatty that day. On our way, we briefly stopped at the side of the road, turned off all the lights, and enjoyed the star-covered sky for about 20 minutes. No sound, no lights, only darkness and the stars. It was mesmerizing. We slept well.
The next day, we checked out in the morning and started our long way back home to Los Angeles. We drove again over Daylight Pass and continued towards Stovepipe Wells. We briefly stopped around Towne Pass to take pictures of the first Globemallows we say that weekend. Once in Panamint Valley, we took the Trona-Wildrose road south. I have never taken that route and I have to say the scenery in Panamint Valley rivals that of Death Valley. There were not many cars on the road, which made the drive very relaxing. We stopped many times to gaze at Telescope Peak and the Panamint Range on the east side and the Argus Range on the west side. We passed the dirt road to Ballarat, at which time I had no idea what that was. I only read later about it and I wished I had taken the dirt road to visit that place. Shortly after Ballarat we noticed a small grove full of colorful wildflowers. We stopped, walked around a little bit and took again many photos. That was also the first time that I saw the Sacred Datura plant. All parts of that interesting plant contain hallucinogenic substances and are toxic at high enough levels.
We continued our drive towards Trona. I read about that town before our trip and was interested to see it with my own eyes. It is dominated by the Searles Valley Mineral Company, which extracts and processes minerals, including borax, from the dry Searles Lake. Although not many people would agree with me, I found that town very interesting in its own right. After Trona the road turned west towards Ridgecrest bordering the China Lake Naval Weapons Center. I even got a glimpse of the Trona Pinnacles to the south. I definitely want to visit that area later. I was pleasantly surprised with Ridgecrest, which seems like a very place. Across the Indian Wells Valley I spotted one of my favorite places in the Southern Sierra so far, the Five Fingers where I was scrambling a few weeks ago with my kids. There are so many hikes in that area that I want to do, including the Morris, Jenkins, Owens Triple, the Russell, Backus traverse, Spanish Needle, Sawtooth Peak, …
After that long drive we were all getting very hungry. We agreed on Bernardino’s in Inyokern, a nice little Mexican restaurant with very good food. Replenished, we continued to the 14 Freeway and back on familiar grounds started the way back to Los Angeles, where we arrived at around 5pm. Although I drove more than 800 miles in basically 2 days, I was happy and extremely satisfied with our trip. I have never been to the Mojave Desert at the time of bursting spring wildflowers. It was truly amazing and worth every mile of driving.