OUR LAST WEEK IN THE SUN WAS SPENT IN DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK. We had such a wonderful time over ten days last year we decided to return and do some more exploring.

After leaving Red Rock Canyon we traveled north to Ridgecrest, CA and then northeast through the Trona Valley and into DVNP. The Trona/Searles Valley is notable for Searles Lake, a large dry lake containing borax and other valuable minerals and the Trona Pinnacles,   “… unique landscape consists of more than 500 tufa (calcium carbonate) pinnacles rising from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake basin. These tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, were formed underwater 10,000 to 100,000 years ago when Searles Lake formed a link in an interconnected chain of Pleistocene lakes stretching from Mono Lake to Death Valley.” (BLM website). There is an annual event in Trona that looks interesting, the Trona Gem-O-Rama. If you are intrigued in any way by rocks and minerals, this could be for you (and me). The big get here is pink halite.

From Trona Pinnacles it’s about another forty-five minutes to DVNP, along a red road with the Slate range to the west and the Panamints on the east.

Panamint Springs is the west entrance to Death Valley. Last year we drove up into the Panamints to see the charcoal kilns, 8,000 feet above the Panamint valley floor. The kilns were built to burn Pinyon pine to produce charcoal for metal smelting some eighty miles away. At Panamint Springs there is a small resort with café, cabins, and RV campground. Last year we had lunch at the café and Tom like the chili so much he wrote to the owner to ask for the recipe. This year we stopped for a chili-to-go order and lo and behold, there on the bulletin board was Tom’s letter extolling the virtues of the chili and recipe request! He continues to await the arrival of the recipe.

Texas Spring campground was our destination for the next four days. (campground overview above as a storm moved through on day two) above Furnace Creek. This is a wonderful c.g. Great view to the west, of Death Valley and the Panamint mountains rising to 11,000 feet above the valley and the Amargosa  Range behind, to the east. I had hoped to be here the first week or so to participate in the 29th Annual Painter’s Open Camp/Paint Out sponsored by watercolor artist Howard Lucas (Mt. Lassen Art Center). The paint-out was happening last year when we were camped at Texas Spring and we got to chat with him a bit. This year the weather and forecast weather during the first ten days was not to our liking – cold – so I missed out; maybe next year. There are many reasons we like this campground. Scenic value is at the top of the list with amazing color everywhere; we can strike out to the north and/or east and hike until we’ve had enough, which we did on our second day; there are no generators allowed here, so it remains peaceful. A few photos below illustrate the reason to come here and paint, do some hiking, or just chill. January and February have comfortable temperatures, lots of sunshine — a welcome break from northwest winters.

Eastern edge of campground


Southern perimeter looking east. Easy hike to the top and not as far as it looks.

Looking southwest to the Panamints as a storm threatened.

On day three a massive sand storm moved through, traveling north to south. The wind began blowing late the previous evening and did not stop for another day. It was so windy that as we stepped from the truck at Dante’s View, 5,475 feet above the valley, we could hardly stand up. The temperature was 44° but felt more like 24°! No hiking here, but the 360° views are spectacular. We made a point of seeing sights we missed last trip, so after Dante’s View we toured Twenty Mule Team Canyon, a borax prospecting area, and made the short walk up to Zabriske Point, an overlook to Gold Canyon and out toward DV. By early afternoon the sand had obscured all views of the valley and the Panamints. Texas Spring had plenty of wind, but it’s like a little cove so we escaped the sand devestation. As sunset approached the winds died off a bit and shifted direction and the sandstorm became a wind event only. We had some dramatic clouds to the south and east lit by the declining sun.

Looking north the valley looks like a huge sea (which it was!).

The setting sun lit up the hills to the east.