Tag Archives: california

Death Valley Pretty-Good Bloom

Death Valley Pretty-Good Bloom

The word “chill” is not the first term that would usually come to mind when thinking of “Death Valley” but it definitely captures my experience there. In most national parks, erosion caused by hikers is a real concern, and there are signs everywhere imploring people to stay on the developed paths. Not in Death Valley! In fact, there are only two developed trails in the entire park, and rangers explicitly encourage you to find your own way. It was refreshing to see people following their hearts’ desires as they sought out the ideal picnic spot, or went looking for the perfect photo op.

Not that they’d have to go far for either… You could have taken a picture of the view from any window in my car at any moment in time and have captured a spectacular vista.

Golden Canyon from Zabriskie Point

Now, I seem to love the desert more than the average person, but I think most people would be hard-pressed to say that a view like that is anything but gorgeous. Technically I was visiting for the Super Bloom, but since we were pretty late in the season most of the flowers were already gone. It was still a Nice Bloom though. A Pretty Good Bloom, even.

Since we arrived late at night (10:30pm on Friday night), we chose Stovepipe Wells as our first campsite. Arriving was confusing, because there is no little “tent camping” sign like there usually is for tent-friendly spots. Well, it turns out that this site barely qualifies as a campsite. It’s more like a parking lot that you put a tent in.

Stovepipe Wells Camparking lot

Not my favorite option, but still acceptable as a place to sleep. And at $12 bucks (payable by credit card via a kiosk that’s available 24 hrs a day!), and a loosely-enforced 126 spots, you’re guaranteed some place to stay, which is always a load off my mind. The “campsite” is also directly across the street from the charming Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel, which is very conveniently open 24 hours a day.

There are lots of other camping choices in the park, and you can camp anywhere as long as you’re 2 miles away from the road. Emigrant was directly next to a road with cars zipping by at 65 miles an hour. Furnace Creek, Sunset, and Texas Springs were all of the “parking lot” variety. Thorndike and Mahogany Flat are only accessible by 4×4, high-clearance vehicles, so I don’t know what they’re like. The second night we stayed at Wildrose, which was much smaller and nicer. Looking West:

Wildrose Camping Site

Views in both direction were incredible. Looking East:

View of the mountains from Wildrose Campsite

We put our tent up on the hillside, overlooking the entire campsite. It was lovely!

Wandering around the first day we hit a few incredible spots. Early in the morning, we stopped at the Mesquite Sand Dunes, hoping the morning sun would make it more bearable. The temperature showed about 62 degrees, but the sun still felt scorching hot.

Mesquite Sand Dunes

Even though everyone pictures sand dunes when they think of the desert, this was actually the only spot we saw in the park that was like this (there are other sand dunes, but they’re much farther away). The majority of the park was low shrubs and variegated hillsides with incredible rock formations.

After that, and a quick stop at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, we drove up to Zabriskie Point, stopping to walk up the gentle, paved slope to the breathtaking view over the canyons. Continuing on, we eventually made it to Dante’s View. This spot provides an amazing vista over the Badwater region.

From Dante's View

After seeing the salt flats from ~5,000 feet up, we decided it would definitely be worth heading down into the valley to see the salt flats up close. I’m so glad we did…not only was it beautiful and informative, but the salt tasted delicious!


On the way out, we did the drive down Artist’s Palette. Somehow I didn’t take any pictures, but it was one of the most colorful regions of the park. The colors were incredibly rich and varied. Next we stopped and hiked a bit up into Golden Canyon.

Golden Canyon

We ended the first day with this hike. The whole day was basically little short hikes separated by time in the air-conditioned car. The park is so huge, and the sun so intense that it’s nice to take breaks from the great outdoors. The second day we drove up to Ubehebe Crater.

Ubehebe Crater

Another mindblowingly beautiful spot. Walking up along the crater rim the path gets pretty narrow. Might not be comfortable for those who are afraid of heights!

The only part of the park I would have wanted to visit and didn’t get a chance to was the Racetrack, with the mysterious sailing stones. It’s something I’ve dreamed about visiting since childhood, but the 27 miles of rough road would have been too much for my little Prius.

Speaking of the drive, within the park there were only a few spots that were unpaved road, and all of those were well-marked on the map you can get at any visitor center. To get to the park from San Diego, we took the 395 through Trona, turning left to avoid Panamint Springs. Next time I’d probably try taking the Eastern route around the park, since you might avoid the LA traffic/construction issue.

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Posted by on Monday, March 21, 2016 in fractally weird


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Swimming holes in Yosemite National Park

We left Berkeley at 4:30am on Saturday morning.  The drive out to Yosemite was quiet and beautiful – almost no cars on the road that early in the morning, so we made good time.  We arrived at the Big Oak Flat Information Center because we thought we had to in order to get a campsite.  We got there at 7:30am and since they don’t open until 8, we just sat around in line with a bunch of other folks waiting to get wilderness permits.  But, it turns out that if you’re aiming for a “first-come first-served” permit, you just head straight to the campground and look for someone packing up. Cut out the middle-man, so to speak.  It would have been nice if they’d had this information on the website, saving us those 30 minutes of uselessly hanging around.


Then we drove up to Tamarack Flat which was our first choice for a campground.  The rangers warned us that the last mile of road out to the campground was “pretty rough” but it was actually fine.  It had clearly been paved a few years ago, and while there are a few potholes, for the most part it’s actually totally fine – even for my low-slung Prius.  We drove into the campground, and I guess our lucky stars were already shining because the very first fellow we talked to was packing up and leaving from the best campsite in the whole park.  We quickly paid the $10 fee and went about setting up our tents as he was still packing up.  Unfortunately by this time (9am or so) it was raining pretty good so as soon as we got our tents set up we retired to the car for some card games.  Then we took a nap for 2.5 hours, hoping for the rain to clear.


Our friends arrived around 12noon, right as the sun started to come out and we loaded up our packs with picnic food and headed down the trail to the swimming hole.  I’m not going to tell the Internet-at-large where the hole is, because swimming holes are precious resources that should be protected/hoarded, but if you come visit me we can go there.



After swimming for about 3.5 hours we hiked back up the 2.5 miles to the campground.  It’s not terribly strenuous.  Just a bit of a climb up a hill, then way down to where the creek runs. The altitude adds a bit of a challenge – I think it was around 6000 feet. I took a quarter of a table of diamox because I tend to have problems with altitude, but everyone else seemed to be fine.  The scenery is gorgeous and there’s plenty of shade so we enjoyed it.  We didn’t see a single other person on the entire hike, which continues to amaze me.  Our entire experience of Yosemite was of empty hiking trails, beautiful and quiet campsites, and secluded swimming holes.


There’s no water at Tamarack Flat, so the next morning we packed up and headed up towards Yosemite Creek.  We stopped along the way at White Wolf, where they told us a bear had been hit by a car that very morning.  The 14th bear this year!  That’s very sad – if you go to Yosemite please drive slowly and watch out for wildlife.  After filling up with water and using their sinks (with soap!  Luxury!) we headed down the road a bit to the Yosemite Creek and Ten Lake Trails staging point for our second hike.  These lots were both full with plenty of backpackers and day-hikers in various states of arrival and departure.  But once we headed off down the trail, we quickly left everyone behind (except the highway, which unfortunately runs just parallel to the trail for about a quarter of a mile).  Again, we didn’t see a single other person for the entire hike in!  


We made it to another swimming hole, which was completely wonderful and perfect.  Swimming holes are my new favourite thing and I’ve got a list of about 20 more that I’d like to visit.  California seems to have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to idyllic outdoors activities, and I’m looking forward to exploring more.



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Posted by on Monday, August 20, 2012 in camping, fractally weird


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