Tag Archives: desert camping

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.

Leave a comment

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


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Culp Valley Campground

Quick info:
Campground: Culp Valley Campground in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Date: 20 June 2015
Temperature: 95 (daytime) ~58 (nighttime)
Distance walked: ~5.5 miles
Cost: $0
Water consumed: 4.5 liters
# of times peed: 8

Recommendations: It makes more sense to put up your tent where it’ll be shaded from the sunrise in the East and then get up to the ridge where you can feel a breeze. Even in this unseasonably warm weather it got plenty cool at night.

After reading this excellent post from, I decided to head to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for a night of star-gazing and maybe even some light hiking. According to everyone, it’s free to camp there, but no fires are allowed unless you have a “metal container”.

I called ahead to the ranger station, where they told me it was unseasonably warm, and there was an “extreme heart warning” in the region. She said “if you can camp anywhere else, do it.”

Never one to shy away from a challenge, or think carefully through the consequences of my choices, I decided to go anyway. Culp Valley Campground is actually 3,000 feet higher than the town of Borrego Springs, so I thought it might be a little cooler up there. (I was right).

Here’s the approximate route I took:

It was a very easy drive. Only one part of the 67 has some treacherous curves (and signs reminding drivers to keep their headlights on at all times, and stay under 55 mph) but for the most part it is very relaxing. It goes through some lovely country as well.

The campground is very primitive. I’m used to marked spots for tents, but at Culp Valley you just throw down wherever you find a flat enough patch of ground. That’s not hard: there’s plenty of clear, flat ground. The area is scrub brush scattered through bare sand. I chose to put my tent behind a bush, because when I arrived in the evening that’s where the shade was. Turns out the shade made almost no difference at that point: it was WAY too hot to be down in the valley. I put up my tent and almost immediately climbed up to the ridge where a breeze was blowing.

The views of the desert are amazing.

You can see the town of Borrego Springs down there. This view came from following Trip #8 from the San Ysidro Mountain section of Afoot & Afield in San Diego and following the signs for the Vista Point. If you, like me, can’t see any signs on the trail, just keep walking up and out towards the edge of the mountains. Follow your heart. You’ll get there.

Finally the sun began to set, and I ate dinner on the ridge in the cooling breeze.

I actually woke up twice in the night from temperature changes: once because I suddenly got way too hot and once because I suddenly got way too cold. There was a gentle breeze almost all night. Right before I fell asleep I dragged my tent out from behind the bush so I’d get more of a breeze. The only downside was that headlights from any cars coming down the mountain would shine into my tent, but a) they were rare, and b) they were very far away so it didn’t seem like a big deal. I’d estimate the temperature got down in the upper 50s, though I can’t say for sure.

I woke up the next morning at around 5am because of the light and the sudden heat. I packed up my tent right away so I wouldn’t have to do it in direct sunlight after hiking. I was pretty shocked by how hot it felt so early in the morning. My car’s temperature gauge read 66, but there was a blazing hot breeze blowing through the valley. In fact, I started to do the hike to Pena Springs (also part of Trip #8) but I turned back before even reaching the springs because I could feel the heat starting to get to me.

Overall it was a LOVELY trip. I’m so glad I went.

1 Comment

Posted by on Sunday, June 21, 2015 in fractally weird


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,