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Spring Break in the Desert - Arizona and Death Valley

Spring Break in the Desert - Arizona and Death Valley

Old Apr 8th, 2016, 01:30 PM
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Spring Break in the Desert - Arizona and Death Valley

Spring Break in the Desert- Great weather and amazing scenery.

We had planned this trip (sort of on impulse) last August, so way before we knew this was going to be a ‘super bloom’ year but that certainly made it even better than it might have been. Although I’ve been to the southwest a number of times, I’ve long wanted to see giant cactus and never been that far south. Since summer is not a good time to go to places like Tucson or Death Valley we figured March would be perfect – and it was.

Itinerary was: Tucson (Saguaro National Park), Sedona, Grand Canyon South Rim, Antelope Canyon, Valley of Fire (Nevada) and Death Valley. All were amazing. I traveled with one of my favorite traveling companions, my sister in law Allison (we actually did ask our husbands but they didn’t seem interested so it was just us). Total trip was 10 days.

Photos of the trip:
Tucson Saguaro National Park and Grand Canyon South Rim - http://www.pbase.com/annforcier/tucs...a_gc_south_rim

Antelope Canyon and Valley of Fire - http://www.pbase.com/annforcier/ante...valley_of_fire

Death Valley - www.pbase.com/annforcier/death_valley
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Old Apr 8th, 2016, 01:36 PM
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Days 1 & 2 Thursday and Friday – Tucson: Hot & sunny, not a cloud in the sky. The ‘average’ high temp at this time of year is 77 but it’s been 87 this week.

Arrived mid day on Thursday and after enchiladas at a fast food Mexican place, went to Mission Xavier del Bac. It’s only about a 15-minute drive from the airport (if you don’t follow google maps and get lost). Get on I-19 (not Bis 19) and it’s the next exit, very well marked. The Mission was built in the late 1700s and is quite impressive, more so outside than in, but certainly worth going inside as well. There were Native Americans selling fry bread and other regional foods from stalls outside the mission.

Decided to stay in the north end of the city (Best Western Gold Poppy Inn), which I though would be close to Saguaro National Park (the west side). Tucson is very spread out, and it took almost a half hour (on the interstate) to go from the south end where the airport (and mission) are located to Ina Road. But still, checked in and headed into the park by 2:30 and had about four hours till sunset, which is actually a decent amount of time for the park. The hotel clerk said to go back south to Speedwell Blvd and then over Gates Pass to get there. It is indeed pretty scenic. There are some impressive Saguaros everywhere in the region, but once you get up over Gates Pass they become a ‘forest’. Just covering the brown landscape as far as the eye can see. There are a few turnoffs on Gates Pass Road (absolutely no where to stop except for the well marked paved turnouts) and the views west to the next range of ‘mountains’ is great.

The Red Hills Visitor Center is fairly large with several displays and helpful ranger guys to give you maps and directions, etc. The main thing to ‘do’ in Saguaro National Park (West) is the Bajada Loop, a six mile unpaved drive through the best stands of cactus and views to the mountains on both sides. The ranger said the road was ‘very well’ maintained and ‘perfectly’ passable in any regular car. I guess I would agree with that, but no way did I ever get up the posted 25mph (more like 10-15 miles per hour) – maybe I was being overly cautious as I was in a rental car. There are several hikes that start along here, but as it was 88 and brutally sunny (Saguaros may be as tall as trees, but they don’t offer any shade) I didn’t feel like a very long hike.

Back on the main paved road (Kinney Rd), is the Desert Discovery Nature Trail, a paved walk through some really interesting cacti with amazing views. Quite a lot is in bloom right now, which probably really adds to the interest.

Day 2 (Friday) Went the ‘back way’ heading west on Ina Road to Picture Rocks Rd to Sandario Road. (On the map there is a ‘road’, Golden Gates Road, which looks like it is a short cut to the visitor center, but it’s unpaved and apparently not in good enough shape for a non-four wheel drive high clearance vehicle). But the paved roads are still faster than going over Gates Pass if you are going from the Ina Road area and almost as scenic.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – as all the reviews point out, it’s really not a museum, it’s a park/zoo. At $20 it’s on the expensive side. But it’s very nicely done, and there are tons of interesting plants that don’t grow in large numbers elsewhere in Tucson (some from all parts of the Sonora Desert, which is mostly in Mexico). Since so many of them were in bloom it was really impressive. Maybe I’m easily amused, and I do like photographing flowers, but I spent three hours and didn’t see everything (for example I did not go into the snake or spider houses – and not for lack of time). The most ‘advertised’ thing is the rapture show, which I found the least interesting. While the whole place was not at all crowded (at least not from 8-11am) at the 10:00 rapture show it was very crowded, and you had to stand in the blazing sun. There was more ‘talking’ than birds flying around. I’ve been to way better similar shows, at nice old castles in Europe.

The zoo aspect was not quite as good as the cactus but I did see a bobcat, an ocelot, a mountain lion, some big horned sheep, and a few other creatures. The animals (which I believe are all rescue animals) seem well cared for and their enclosures are good sized with lots of places to climb and hide (thus the reason you don’t really see them if you go later in the day, they are sleeping). That said, it is a zoo, and they are in confined spaces (how else could you see them).

After three hours I was ‘cactused’ out and ready for something different so I went to “Old Tucson Studios”, an actual film studio site where more than 300 Westerns (and TV shows) were filmed. In fact they are still using it, so some times it is closed to the public if they are shooting. It looked a bit gimmicky on the website, and the reviews were mixed but I really liked it. It’s quite large, several streets and many buildings, both inside and out, really does look like it does in the movies (duh). The ‘shows’ were hokey (gun fight, can-can dancers, parade) so I mostly skipped those and just explored. There were a few exhibits about the actual films that have been shot there, which were pretty interesting. There’s also a ‘haunted mine’ – very Disneyesque but only takes 10 minutes to go through and given that we have a haunted house every Halloween I found it worthwhile. There are at least 3 or 4 places to eat. The one featuring barbeque was excellent and reasonably priced. Not what I expected. (You expect to get ripped off and have lousy food in places like that). Admission to Old Tucson Studios is $19, but there are two for one coupons available. I still thought it was worth it.
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Old Apr 8th, 2016, 02:49 PM
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I'm looking forward to the rest of your repot. Loved the pictures and what luck to be there during the super bloom.

Keep it coming!!
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Old Apr 9th, 2016, 04:12 AM
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Saturday - Tucson to Sedona - Sunny & 85

The plan had been to get to Sedona by lunch and spend the afternoon hiking. Alas, plans don't always work. Just two days before we were to depart Allison's mom got sick and and it looked like she wouldn't be able to make the trip. Fortunately she was able to arrange things at home and change her flight to arrive in Phoenix so I had those first two days in Tucson alone and picked her up at the Phoenix airport. That actually only delayed our plans by an hour or so, but we got in a mega traffic jam - over two hours! sitting on the interstate due to an accident. Oh well, those were the only bad things that happened - the rest of trip went off without a hitch.

Driving into Sedona on the road from Phoenix was amazing –Rt 179 into Sedona has great views around every corner. Very RED ROCKS. We stopped at a few places to take some pic but couldn’t have gotten a parking space even if we’d wanted to do a hike as the parking lots were more than full (people creating their own spaces). Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock. Of course the best views were where you couldn’t even pull over.

By the time we got into Sedona and checked in it was too late to go to Crescent Moon to see Cathedral Rocks in the late afternoon sun. Turns out it closes at 5. We went to Airport Mesa, supposedly the best place for sunset in Sedona – plus it’s one of the five vortex sites - the views were no more than “OK”, (and didn’t appreciate any change in energy level). We did get lucky and got a parking space on the road up to airport mesa (huge lot at the top, but only small parking area for about ten cars half way up where the best hikes are) and hiked around for a while. There is a long hike you can take but the first part is very close to a pretty scary drop off so we decided against going too far.

Drove around the main street and settled on a what looked like an a pretty upscale Italian restaurant. Turns out it was a renovated Pizza Hut turned Italian restaurant staffed with hippies from the 70s who are still working as waiters.

Overall impressions of Sedona – some amazing scenery, very unique Red rocks all around, pretty good considering it’s not even a National Park. I’m sure there is some great hiking in the area, but all I had read indicated that the best hiking trails are not accessible via a non high clearance vehicle,(thus all the pink jeep tours - and we saw a huge number of pink jeeps)and the few that are have inadequate parking lots and charge $10 to park. The old hippy/new age vibe and mega-money vibe is VERY apparent. So – given all else there is in the southwest, it made a nice stopover on the way from Tucson to the Grand Canyon, and had we gotten there three hours earlier as we originally planned, we certainly would have done a hike, but I don’t think we missed all that much.
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Old Apr 9th, 2016, 03:46 PM
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Grand Canyon South Rim

The drive from Sedona to the Grand Canyon South Rim East entrance is fast and easy – wide open highway. After Flagstaff it’s flat and desert but with the San Francisco Peaks on one side (snow covered). Only a couple cars ahead of us at the park entrance station ($30 per vehicle if you don’t have a pass).

We stopped at the Watchtower first – quite an impressive structure and of course awesome first views of the canyon – with a good stretch of the river visible (it is not visible from every view point, probably less than half of them total). We also stopped at Navaho Point, Moran Point and Grandview Point along that 23 mile stretch of road before you come to the Grand Canyon Village.

Hungry and too early to check in, we stopped at the Market Place for lunch. It’s a fairly large grocery store (fairly large for a national park, an actual grocery store but with pretty limited selection) as well as a lunch place – salads, sandwiches and hotdogs. Over priced and not very good. Driving around the village is pretty confusing – it’s huge, and while the signage is excellent it’s still confusing due to winding roads through forested areas and lots of different lodgings, visitor centers, etc

We stayed in Maswick Lodge, the cheapest, and in my mind, the best place to stay. It’s at the far end of the village so much quieter – more like being in a national park is supposed to be – versus a crowded resort like experience. The rooms are simple, but adequate. Decent cell service but no wi-fi. Most of the lodging is right on the rim trail. But even at that less than half the rooms have a ‘rim view’ and there are hoards of people tramping by those rooms all day long.

From Maswick Lodge to the rim is about a ten minute walk – and you come out where the two shuttle buses intersect and where Bright Angle Trail begins. Mega crowded area. We walked five minutes down the trail so we could say we had ‘walked Bright Angle Trail’. We would have gone further but the crowds of people didn’t make for a very ‘wilderness’ like experience. Looks like lots of people do the first hour or so and then turn around and come back up. We continued on the rim trail heading east form there – very, very built up. Kolb studio, Bright Angle Lodge, El Tovar Lodge, cabins, gift shops, restaurants, the Hopi House, the Verkamp’s Visitor center (the smaller and newer of the two on the south rim). After the visitor center is gets slightly more like you would expect/hope a national park would be – but still pretty crowded, though no buildings. Of course fabulous views. We went as far as Yavapai Geology Museum. The rim trail in this area is paved – hilly but not terribly strenuous. It was pretty cloudy so no dramatic late afternoon canyon color.

We had dinner at Bright Angle Lodge - the food was just OK but the drinks were pretty good – a Cactus Lemonade (with vodka and limoncello) and an Arizona sunrise with tequila and OJ). Not outrageously expensive, but no bargain (about $45 for two including the drinks and a ‘gourmet’ burger and a pasta dish).
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Old Apr 17th, 2016, 04:57 AM
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Grand Canyon South Rim

I got up at 5 to see the sunrise from Mather Point. I drove to the Visitor Center – there were about a dozen cars already there. Managed to find my way to Mather Point in the dark – there were maybe twenty people there, mostly photographers with tri-pods. It was about 40 degrees and windy – freezing! The sunrise was OK – no the best I’ve ever seen – the clouds were kind of weird, they turned pink and blue and yellow but were not as striking as the sunrise on the north rim a few years ago. That experience was also a lot better in other ways– way fewer people, (warmer – it was August), overall much more of a ‘this is why I travel’ moment. That sunrise is definitely one of my most memorable travel/nature experiences. This one was kinda ‘blah’ in comparison. And as I turned to leave I realized there were over 200 people out on the point and on the rim trail!

I went back to collect Allison and we went to Bright Angle Lodge for breakfast (after rejecting the crap that seemed to be on offer at Maswick food court). Had eggs and pancakes and about 5 cups of coffee. Better than dinner the night before and not terribly overpriced.

Then we began our hike on the rim trail towards Hermits Rest. Much better in this direction. No buildings (till you get to Hermits Rest, and then it’s one small, historic building), no cars (only shuttle buses from March to November), way fewer people, especially early in the morning. And much better views.

We hiked as far as Hopi Point (less than 3 miles, quite a bit of it uphill, but about half of it paved, and all of it nicely maintained, most of it with a canyon view and several view points that jut out into the canyon). We took the shuttle from there to Pima Point (about another 2.5 miles) and then hiked from there the last mile or two to Hermit’s Rest (Hermit’s Rest Road from Bright Angel Trailhead to the end is almost 8 miles). There are restrooms at Hopi Point and Hermit’s Rest (where there is a small gift shop and very small coffee shop).

Took the shuttle back. At this point, it was around noon and man was it crowded. The shuttle bus stops heading west were so crowded not everyone was getting on. And apparently this amount of crowds is only about a quarter what you experience if you come in summer.

We decided to drive to the Market Plaza and get some supplies for lunch and breakfast. Well we had to drive around the damn parking lot for half an hour till we got lucky and we first in line for someone backing out. It was crazy. Nowhere close to enough parking spaces for the only actual store in the whole park. And this was March. I cannot (and don’t want to) image what this place is like in July.
Later when we went back to the rim trail in the afternoon the lines for the shuttle buses were probably an hour long (in both directions). We went to the Kolb Studio, the gift shops, the visitor center. All jammed. All the parking lots were full, cars parked along the roads. Really, only Maswick Lodge (and we were at the far end of that) had any space whatsoever.

Of course the Grand Canyon is magnificent whichever rim you are on, but the difference in the experience between our visit in August (four and a half years ago) to the north rim and this March visit to the south rim were like day and night.

Some say the views from the south rim are better than the north rim. Given that you are looking north, with the sun behind you, they should be. They also seem to be a bit more ‘expansive’ than the north rim (which is pretty darn expansive). But so much depends on the light that a bit too much cloud cover can dull the view. Either way, is the Grand Canyon worth seeing – of course!
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Old Apr 17th, 2016, 11:30 AM
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Grand Canyon to ANTELOPE CANYON (via Cameron Trading Post) to Mesquite, NV.

Got up around 6 and walked to the rim, got the shuttle bus. I was planning on going to Hopi Point, but the bus was late (and slow) and just as we pulled into the first overlook the sun was coming up so I hoped off and managed to get a few shots. Within minutes the sun rose into the clouds and alas, there was no great color as you’d expect just after sunrise.

Checked out and headed to Antelope Canyon.
We stopped at Cameron Trading Post – clearly recently renovated (but the original has been there over 100 years). Now it’s a huge gift/jewelry shop, a restaurant and hotel.

We got to Antelope Canyon around 11:15 hoping to get in earlier than the 13:00 slot we had reserved. (Can reserve on line with just name and email, no credit card needed). There was no long line of cars, a few people on line paying, but still the earliest time slot was 13:00. (This was our second attempt to go to Antelope Canyon, the first being four years ago (in August) when it was 105 degrees and the line to even get into the parking lot was huge, so that time we had to be content with Horseshoe Bend.) So we paid and were told to come back at 12:45. We went into Page and got some really good Mexican food for lunch. A burrito that really should have been three meals.

Fifteen minutes before your scheduled time slot everyone gathers and they call you by name and assign you to one of the jeeps (about a dozen people and one guide). We got really, really lucky and our guide told me and Allison to get in the cab with him. Not only did we not have to get sand blown in our faces (which even happens on a normal day and this day was extremely windy), but our guide is normally one of the photo guides and he gave us lots of pointers and was just really nice and informative about the canyon and the tours, etc.

About 10 jeeps go at the same time. There are several companies that run tours and they get certain time slots. Antelope Canyon Navaho Tours is the one with the parking lot on Rt 98, closest to the canyon. The ride from there in the jeeps to the entrance of the canyon is across a big sandy area, about 5 minutes. The guides basically are doing crowd control taking you through, but also point out all kinds of historical and geological information as well as tips on how to get the best photos. Our guide even took shots for several of us with our cameras (mostly iPhones). I was using an actual camera and he gave me pointers re ISO, white balance, etc. Really great guy.

The canyon itself is just incredible beyond words – everything I expected and more. The walls are so high (142 feet), so close, such great colors, so curvy. Magnificent. Totally worth the $48. The crowds were well behaved and it was possible to get some great shots even without tripods. Didn’t see the famous ‘beam of light’ (At this time of year it only happens at noon) but that didn’t matter, the rest of it is so wonderful. Not that the other things we did this trip were not fantastic but this was the best. And often when expectations are high (and mine were sky high) you are disappointed. Not this time. IT WAS GREAT!
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Old Apr 17th, 2016, 12:10 PM
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Thanks for your report and photos, isabel! How much time did the tour spend in the canyon?
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Old Apr 17th, 2016, 04:20 PM
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It wasn't a tour. We rented a car in Tucson and drove to the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, then on to Death Valley via the Valley of Fire, and returned the car and flew out of Las Vegas. Very easy to do on your own, and I doubt a tour would have gone to Antelope Canyon or Valley of Fire, two highlights.
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Old Apr 17th, 2016, 04:27 PM
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More specifically this time: How much time within Antelope canyon?
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Old Apr 17th, 2016, 05:17 PM
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Sorry, I misunderstood. It was so incredible I wasn't actually keeping track of time, I think it was a bit less than an hour. You walk through with the guide, (the groups are about 10-12 people)who stops to tell you stuff about the canyon,lets you take photos (no tripods unless you pay extra and take the photo tours) and come out the other end. Then you get to walk back through, more or less on your own, and meet the guide back at the beginning. There were numerous groups going through in both directions at the same time so there was no way you had any solitude, but it wasn't as bad as it sounds. I actually found myself 'alone' in a couple of spots a couple of times.
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Old Apr 17th, 2016, 06:21 PM
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Thanks for those additional details. Sounds fantastic. We crisscrossed the West on numerous family road trips but somehow Antelope Canyon never made it onto my radar screen until that era was over. An incentive for one more trip to northern AZ and the red rock country of Utah.
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Old Apr 18th, 2016, 03:31 AM
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Valley of Fire State Park

Another amazing place, but this one relatively unknown and uncrowded. It looks like Mars, or some other planet, certainly not what you find on earth. Amazing, incredibly orange/red rocks in all shapes – but also some gold and tan and even blue rocks. Really cool. The main road through the park (Rt 169) passes some interesting formations (like Elephant Rock and Arch Rock) but the really good stuff is up the six mile road to White Domes. The ‘best’ we though was the hike to the “Fire Wave”. It’s about a mile hike (in and out) across sand, around some impressively high rock formations, and then over the ‘wave’ rocks.

Another high light was the short spur road to Fire Canyon with some highly contrasting colors. The visitor center had some interesting exhibits, flush toilets, drinking water and a small shop selling posters and snacks and stuff. It was the only place that was at all crowded (well, the parking lots to the hikes were all full and people were creating their own spaces, but there were no where near enough parking spots and out on the hikes people were so spread out it didn’t seem at all crowded). Most of the time driving there was no one behind us so we just stopped and I’d shoot out the window.

The last time we were in the region we drove right by the turnoff for Valley of Fire (on our way to Bryce). I guess I had heard it was 'good', but I figured it was a state park and we were going to National Parks, which by definition must be better, right? Not really, this place is small, but what you see is as good or better than what is in many National Parks. Definitely worth the few hours it takes to see.
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Old Apr 18th, 2016, 11:32 AM
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Death Valley via Rhyolite Ghost Town

As soon as you leave the Las Vegas sprawl behind, the road (Rt 95) becomes pretty deserted, open and flat and speed limit of 70. First (and only) thing you come to before Beatty is Amagosa Valley – and the gas station/convenience store called “Area 51” with lots of alien tee shirts to buy. Got gas and took a pic of the Brothel Sign and were on our way.

Just past Beatty is the turn off (well marked) for Rhyolite Ghost Town. One of the largest in the region, at one time had 10,000 people (including 50 saloons, 18 stores, two undertakers, 19 lodging houses, eight doctors, two dentists, a stock exchange and an opera). Many of the buildings were made of stone so still standing when the wooden buildings in most ghost towns have fallen down. Very interesting plus there were some nice Joshua Trees around. There’s a really cool sculpture of ‘The last supper’ (Ghosts) done in the 1980s on the way into town. We spent maybe a half hour total there.

Death Valley – overall loved it. Such an amazing and interesting landscape – so varied, so colorful. And for someone from the East Coast (or west coast for that matter) used to green and trees and water as part of the natural landscape, the starkness and lack of vegetation and water make the rocks and mountains and colors really pop out at you, very other-worldly. We really felt like we were on the moon or another planet. So obvious why they filmed Star Wars here. The weather was almost perfect – sunny with highs in the upper 80s to low 90s.

We were there just about 48 hours and felt that was a good amount of time. The only things I had wanted to do that we didn’t were Scotty’s Castle (closed due to flood damage last fall), and Natural Bridge and Twenty Mule Team Canyons, due to the gravel roads being in ‘unsuitable condition’ for a rental car. Technically, we should not have done any of the gravel roads in the rental but that would have really limited what we did (couldn’t have done Mosaic Canyon, Sand Creek, Harmony Borax Works, or Devils Golf Course) and given that I was very careful those really were quite OK in a Hundai Accent.

The road into Death Valley from Beatty (slightly bigger than Amagosa, with a couple of gas stations and a few places to eat) is very pretty, lots of hills and dips and wildflowers along the side of the road. As you come down out of the mountains you can see the valley spreading out in front of you, the salt flats glistening in the sun. Then you see the dunes ahead of you. Very impressive.

We stopped at the Mesquite Sand Dunes (paved parking area with pit toilets) and walked out onto the dunes a ways but it was pretty crowded so no ‘virgin’ sand – too many foot prints and people everywhere. And HOT.

Next stop – the ‘town’ of Stovepipe Wells, consisting of a pretty small motel, general store (90% tee shirts), a gift shop (more tee shirts) and a gas station with gas costing approximately twice what it was outside of the park. We ate our PB&J sandwiches sitting on rocking chairs in the shade in front of the general store. Took a pic of the sign saying ‘Sea Level’.

The road to Mosaic Canyon is literally a few feet from Stovepipe Wells. It’s 2.5 miles long, gravel and pretty ‘wash-boarded’. We never did over 10-15 mph. You can see so far in Death Valley – even though it’s 2.5 miles you could see the cars in the parking lot glittering in the sun as you turned onto the road. But it was worth it. The hike into Mosaic Canyon is one of the best in Death Valley. Starts with a short area of Slot Canyon, few places of slick rock you need to scramble up (and slide down on your butt coming back out) – then it opens up to a wider and flatter and slightly uphill hike for about 1.3 miles till you come to an area that you really need to climb. Allison said no way, she held my bag and I managed to climb the first set of rocks and go a bit further but then couldn’t get up the next bit (other people did manage it, I think I was just too short, or maybe with two people you could push and pull each other up it). Anyway, apparently goes another bit before ending in a ‘dry waterfall’. On the way back out we saw a big lizard (well maybe 10-12 inches including tail) that let us photograph it.

The road south to Furnace Creek passes Devil’s Corn Field – which is an area of some weird desert plants interspersed with sand. Not anything worth hiking into. There were some wildflowers along this stretch of road though not the best ones.

The main roads in Death Valley are paved and wide with decent shoulders and speed limits range from 45 to 65. You can cover a decent bit of ground in good time. And you can stop anywhere you want as long as there’s enough shoulder to pull out of the traffic lane. People would park and explore or even hike (we saw cars with no evidence of the people who had been in them so they must have hiked a ways.)

We stopped to check in at Furnace Creek Ranch – much larger than Stovepipe Wells – lots of lodging cabins (two rooms each, the rooms have 2 double beds, TV, free (though slow) internet, AC, fridge), general store (half tee shirts, half food), 3 restaurants, a Borax Museum, golf course, pool, gas station (even more expensive than the one in Stovepipe Wells), and the park Visitor Center.

Then we drove to Golden Canyon (about 5 minutes from Furnace Creek). Paved parking lot right on Badwater Road. Another great hike. Narrow but not slot, amazing rock formations, mostly gold and tan and beige but with the red ‘Cathedral Rock’ at the end. You can go all the way up to Zabrinski Point from here which didn’t look as bad once you were there as it did reading about it, but still, we stuck to the relatively flat portion which goes about a mile to a mile and a half before turning around and coming back out. The light at 5 pm was amazing – very golden (lots in shade by then, lots of contrast).

Back at the ranch….. We went to the Wrangler Steakhouse but the prices were ridiculous ($30-40s) so we tried the only other option, the 49er Cafe (the Saloon has appetizer type foods). Had to wait 15 minutes to get in. Prices there were not much better. $15 for a hamburger. Very limited menu. We decided on salmon and scallops for $20. The salmon was decent sized but the scallops had just 4 medium sized. Both were served with rice and about 5 spinach leaves. Prices in the general store (things like yogurt, candy, bananas, etc. were just about double what they are outside the park. I guess it’s a captive audience thing. Anyway, loved Death Valley but bring your own food in).
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Old Apr 18th, 2016, 04:26 PM
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Thanks for bringing back some memories of past trips. when we first started exploring the southwest, Vegas was the cheapest place to fly into and we went to DV several times as a day trip. I love it. Valley of Fire is also special and if you take the hike into Mouse's tank, there are petroglyphs along the rocks on one side.
Very nice report and lovely pictures.
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Old Apr 21st, 2016, 12:21 PM
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emalloy- we were sorry not to do the hike into Mouses's tank - the parking area was totally full and we had no where to park. Even though the entire park felt really empty, the parking areas to the hikes were pretty full. It was that way with all of them. I wonder if they couldn't expand the parking just a bit without overwhelming the park. Anyway, we certainly enjoyed what we did do.

Here's the final part of the trip report.

Death Valley Continued

Breakfast at the buffet - $12, total rip off unless you really want to eat a ton of bacon and sausage but no other choice really. (They do have coffee makers in the rooms).

Started with Zabrinski Point – probably the highlight (I went there three times – about 9 am, again for sunset and the following morning for sunrise – and I think it’s worth seeing all those times, though probably lots of people will be satisfied with just once). Of the three times, sunset was the least good. For sunrise you have to get there fairly early if you want a ‘spot’ out on the point since photographers set up their trip pods early and then don’t move.

Zabrinski Point is about 5 miles south of Furnace Creek, paved parking lot – short hike on a paved walkway up to the point – and then you can hike on some fairly narrow dirt paths all around the area, and down into Golden Canyon. The shapes, colors and views here are amazing.

The landscape at Zabriskie Point is often called "badlands" which is any dry area with deeply-eroded soft rocks and clay-rich soil. This view looks west across the badlands, back down into Death Valley and to the mountains on the opposite side. The black rock layer is lava that oozed into an ancient lake bed. Hot water brought minerals into the mix - borax, gypsum, calcite - creating the colorful layers.

Badwater Basin – 17 miles, about 25 minute drive south from Furnace Creek. Paved road, paved parking area. Walk out onto the salt flats, took pic of the sign saying 282 feet below sea level (lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere)(and the one way up on the hillside saying ‘sea level’). There was a bit of water in the sodium chloride pool with nice reflections. Everyone walks about ½ mile out so the surface is shinny and flat but then most people turn around so after that the surface becomes more interesting. There’s no trail, but since you can see forever you can’t get lost. I could just make out the polygonal salt flat formations.

We headed back north on Badwater Road, bypassing the spur road to Natural Bridges since the ‘Daily report’ continued to say that road is in bad shape and not advisable without high clearance vehicle. The Death Valley National Park has lots of excellent information including a daily update of road, weather and other conditions. (https://www.nps.gov/deva/upload/Morning-Report.pdf)

The spur road to Devils Golf Course is unpaved but only 1.3 miles and not too bad. Thousands of miniature salt pinnacles carved into surreal shapes by the desert wind – very sharp. You really could cut yourself badly if you fell on them and they are hard to walk on so most people just walked out a few feet. But the salt crystal formations were interesting to photograph. And it is amazing that the surface is that way – as far as the eye can see. I don’t see how even the devil could play golf here.

Heading north you next come to the turn off for Artist’s Drive – amazing colors and shapes. We were there mid day and the colors were great (went back again late afternoon and the sun was too strong, no where near as good). The whole drive is 9 miles, one way with lots of curves and dips – like a roller coaster in the car, lots of fun and since it’s paved I wasn’t worried about the car, and since it’s one way you don’t have to worry about people coming around the corners. The first major pull off (just park along the road) you can do a short hike to a point. Good, but not the best one. Artist’s Pallet Spur road is a very short, paved road to a paved parking lot and that’s where the best color is.

Back to the ranch for lunch – again at the buffet – this time it was $16 but we made this our main meal of the day. Bit of a rest and then headed north to Salt Creek. This stream of salty water is the only home to a rare pupfish (found no where else on earth), kind of fun to watch them. I think they got the name ‘pupfish’ because they play with each other like puppies. Also saw a few tiny lizards. You have to do the ½ mile walk on a board walk because of the sensitive nature of the area but it was really cool to see so much water in Death Valley (by ‘so much’ I mean more than anywhere else, but we are still talking about a stream that is maybe two feet wide and 8-10 inches deep at the deepest). Lots of signs telling you about the area and the wildlife.

On the way back we stopped at the Harmony Borax Works which is a short trail with interpretive signs leading past the ruins of the old refinery, some outlying buildings and the very photogenic wagon. There is also a Borax Museum right in Furnace Creek Ranch with lots of old equipment, a train engine and some wagons which is worth the 10 minutes or so it takes to see it.
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Old Apr 21st, 2016, 12:23 PM
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The last day I did sunrise at Zabrinski Point – definitely worth while, made even better by the fact the full moon was setting. The sun actually rises behind you, so you don’t watch the sun rise but rather watch the mountains across the valley turn pink, then orange, then red. I also got to see a coyote on the road (although there are coyotes where I live so this was not especially exciting, but there is so little of anything living in Death Valley that it was interesting to see.

Back to the ranch…. We had breakfast in the room and checked out the Visitor Center and Borax Museum. Visitor’s center is quite extensive with lots of interesting displays and worth spending a while. Much less crowded at 9am then it had been at 4 the previous afternoon.

The drive to Dante’s View is about 45 minutes from Furnace Creek. The second half (once you turn off Rt 190) was lined with wildflowers – the famous ‘Super Bloom’ – this was supposedly the best year in about a decade for wildflowers. Mostly yellow but a couple different varieties. While there were some along Rt 190 from Stovepipe Wells south to Badwater, the best were here, and along the road in from Beatty. The flowers we saw the most were ‘Desert Gold’ – a type of yellow daisy that is the most abundant flower on the valley floor. On the road to Dante’s View it was Golden Evening Primrose (shorter and lighter yellow) that was lining the road. Scattered around were some purple flowers – notch leaf Phacella. Also some white flowers, probably ‘Gravel Ghost’.

The last quarter mile to Dante’s View, though paved, is very steep (15%) grade and curvy. But the view is amazing – you can see forever. It was slightly ‘hazy’ – but the haze was due to sand kicked up by the wind. But you could still see what seemed like forever. Probably 20 degrees cooler up there than in Furnace Creek.

The road back to Vegas is two lane but fast and wide and mostly very straight. Parhump is the only town and is surprisingly big with lots of eating choices and multiple gas stations, and even a few casino hotels and a couple of chain motels. We got a really good (and cheap, after Death Valley prices) lunch at Panda Express. After Parhump there is a long stretch with Joshua Trees on both sides of the road, then you pass through the Red Rock Canyon area with some pretty impressive red rocks even visible from the road. We spotted some mountain goats in this area. It’s a bout 2 hours to Vegas, and after a bit of sprawl (pretty clear that this is a region where the housing boom ran into trouble – lots of signs advertising new houses in developments and several developments unfinished and just sitting there – like future ghost towns?). Signs for Car Rental Return appear pretty soon and I must say, car rental return at Las Vegas airport is a snap.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2016, 06:45 AM
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Glad to see you had a great trip. I remember we were planning our trips about the same time. Great that some of the "super bloom" was still there for you!

Loved your photos, thanks for sharing.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2016, 08:07 AM
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Planning on following part of your route for our trip next month. Thinking of stopping off at Valley of Fire on our route from Springdale to LV. How long should we spend there to do it justice?
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Old Apr 22nd, 2016, 01:07 PM
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Nelson - thanks for all your help while I was in the planning process, it really helped.

David - you can drive through it, including the 6 mile detour (definitely worthwhile) in a couple hours but longer if you want to do any hikes. The hike to the Fire Wave (and back out) was probably a bit over an hour. You could certainly spend four or five hours there if you wanted to do a couple other hikes.
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