Welcome to California….it’s beautiful (and also hot)
Boulder City, Nevada –> Death Valley National Park, CA –> Onion Valley (Eastern Sierras, CA)
This is the blog where you will begin to understand the immensity of driving/activity-ing I did in a 24 hour period. This is the day I realized the amount of driving/activity-ing I did in a 24 hour period.
Disclaimer: I have A LOT of energy. I would recommend staying in places for a longer period of time. There was a lot I wanted to see in a short amount of time, so this is the hyper-lapsed version of everything. Also known as, an epic road trip.
Death Valley lures its visitors in with places like Chloride City, Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, the Funeral Wilderness Area, and the Last Chance Mountain Range. If you ever go, the naming system will make complete sense; Death Valley is an incredibly inhospitable place.
I left the Quality Inn before the sun rose, armed with a cheap thermos of coffee and a few bad ideas. It was 150 miles to my destination which was just south of Furnace Creek on 178 a.k.a Badwater Road. I began around 8 a.m. at the Golden Canyon TH and completed a 4.5 mile loop called Gower Gulch. It was already 96 degrees. There are no words to describe this kind of heat. It makes you wish you were dead. Perhaps that is how Death Valley got its name.
The loop begins up a large wash.
There are lots of colorful sand-rock-dirt mountains to look at.At this sand-dirt-rock mountain ^ go right and begin steeply climbing underneath Zabriskie Point. The trail is not well marked and everything looks exactly the same so, good luck. I briefly stopped to contemplate the meaning of life as sweat leaked out of every pore in my body.
Now, I had NO idea there are actual mountains in Death Valley, there are. Had I known at the time, I would have climbed 11,050 foot Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range, which I stared at off to the southwest for most of my hike. I wrote it down in my steno pad…I’m coming back for ya baby! (in the winter). The crazy thing is Telescope Peak towers over Badwater Basin which records the lowest elevation in the US at 282 feet below sea level. Can you imagine the gains?! It makes me hungry.
The backside of this hike is absolutely gorgeous and the sand-dirt-rock mountains are gloriously colorful. I always kind of wondered if I was on a trail but every now and again a sign would reassure me.
The trail continued through a wash with a short down climb and a sharp turn to the right (north) to avoid a dry waterfall. The last half mile is completely exposed and parallels the road. It was 9:30 a.m. and reaching temperatures of 105 degrees. I no longer felt like I existed. There is a 100 mile ultra trail race that runs through this area…in the summer…how? Just how?
After playing with fire I headed to Artists Drive, a ten mile single lane, one way loop that weaves in and out of some beautifully painted mountains. It was gorgeous to the eye but I absolutely blew my manual camera settings. I mean it when I say I did not get one viable photo.
Next, I went to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center to buy stickers and be talked down to by the female rangers. They were not friendly, nice, or helpful. But I got the message loud and clear, “don’t hike after 10 a.m. and don’t go to Darwin Falls (because it does not exist).” In the words of Eric Cartman, “I do what I want.”
Darwin Falls popped up on my radar a few days in advance, completely on accident and immediately aroused my curiosity. How could there be a magical waterfall in the middle of this barren wasteland? I was to pass right by the “trailhead” on my way to the Eastern Sierras, so why not grip the horns of adventure and buck my way to this elusive waterfall.
I drove 190 towards the west side of the park. To prevent my car from overheating I had to roll down my windows and drive with the heat blasting. I had entered the second dimension of hell and it looked a lot like this:
It was at this point that my water ran out and I needed to refill. While driving, I reached for my larger jug to fill up my smaller jug. Before I get a lecture, these roads are incredibly wide open, I was on cruise control, and there was no one around for miles. However, I am not that talented and ended up spilling 68 ounces of water all over myself and my front seat. I didn’t even flinch. It was like sweet heaven was putting out the flames. See….everything happens for a reason.
There is no sign for Darwin Falls, it is Death Valley’s best kept secret. There is a completely hidden dirt road on the left hand side after the small tourist town of Panamint Springs. I am not going to give the coordinates because I feel if someone happens to stumble across my blog, discover Darwin Falls exists, and finds themselves in Death Valley National Park then they should find it the old fashion way, trial and error….. just like I did.
Now Lola (my Honda Civic) has been to hell and back. It’s not her first rodeo. Last summer I took her down some of the gnarliest roads Colorado has to offer and ended up cracking all four of her engine mounts. For months I drove around in a car that shook like a magnitude nine earthquake at stop signs and stop lights. The road to Darwin Falls is one of the worst Lola and I have experienced but we worked together to make it within .3 miles of the start of the “trail.” I was fully convinced I would return to a car that did not start, had a flat tire, or both and that I would die on that horrible road in the 110 degree summer heat trying to go for help that did not exist (absolutely no cell service). As well, by this point everything in my car had melted and all cold beverages were the same temperature as hot tea.
But I was going to see this damn waterfall..or was I?
There is the beat up remnants of what used to be a trailhead sign and several overgrown social trails leading away from it. It was like a scene from a horror movie, only day time, with no shade, and 115 degrees. There is no trail nor trail markers so I used the compass and Topo Maps ap on my phone to guide me. I focused as I worked my way south. No time for photos as the birds of prey circled over head waiting for my meaty bits to weaken and fall to the ground. Just as I convinced myself it was all for nothing I began heading west and BOOM in front of my exhausted eyes a real life oasis appeared. I pinched myself, it wasn’t a mirage.
As I approached I reached the shade of beautiful large luscious green trees, overgrown grasses, flowers, and shrubs. There was water dribbling down, seemingly out of know where. And where there is water, there is life. Mosquitoes began to bite me, grasshoppers jumped into my cleavage, colorful dragon flies collided with my head, and frogs croaked, loudly recognizing the presence of something that did not belong.
And still…I took no photos, even though my phone was right there in my hand. I continued in a westerly direction, bushwhacking my way through gnarls of grass, a widening creek, and up and over slippery rocks until I heard the distant sound of, what? What was it?……DARWIN FALLS!
As soon as I found it, I stripped naked and went swimming in the cool deep pool at the base. It was a most enjoyable thirty minutes. No photo will ever do this place justice, mostly because of what it is in the middle of (nothing) but here are a few:My recommendation: don’t plan, always go with the unknown because nine times out of ten it leads to an amazing place like this.
I returned to a car that started with all four tires intact and began the horrendous drive out. And so the story of Death Valley was written and all before 2 p.m.
From Darwin Falls I headed straight to Lone Pine, California where there is a VERY helpful, very busy ranger station/visitors center. They do climbing and camping permits for Mount Whitney. I stopped in, bought stickers, and asked some very attractive and very helpful man ranger about Mount Langley (California 14 plus thousand foot mountain), my next objective. From there I drove to Independence, California and up to Onion Valley where I camped. My next blog is where my story is really going to pick up, because, well, the Eastern Sierras are other wordly…………
“My suspicion is that, like me, most of you reading these pages are drawn to extremes. Moderation bores you. You seek challenges and adventures that dwell on the outer edges. The path of least resistance is not a route often traveled.” ~Dean Karnazes