A Land of Extremes – Death Valley

A Land of Extremes – Death Valley

I’m sitting in our climate-controlled truck on a cushioned leather seat watching the scenery unfold in front of me. The land is vast, harsh, barren, and the road free of traffic. I can’t fathom the life of Pioneers who first explored these lands via horseback and wagon. Complaining about the lack of cell or internet coverage seems so petty on my part. However, the thought of a flat tire or other breakdown has me feeling somewhat uncomfortable. No calling AAA out here. We’re on our own!

Our Route – February 22, 2012

We pulled out of our campsite in Lake Havasu City bright and early that morning. We traveled north on Highway 95 to Interstate 40 west. After studying the map the day before, I thought it would be interesting to drive through the Mojave National Preserve.

The Mojave Desert is an arid rain-shadow desert and the driest desert in North America. And just like I imagined, the views are miles upon miles of sparsely vegetated land … harsh land that deserves respect if one is to survive. After our turnoff from Interstate 40 onto Kelbaker Road, I think we saw less than a dozen other vehicles, if that. Fascinating terrain!

Once in the town of Baker, we top off with fuel. We realize, the further we get from civilization, the more expensive fuel costs will become. Our journey continues toward Death Valley National Park and Furnace Creek.

Campground

The Furnace Creek Campground was currently undergoing a renovation and therefore closed for the season (Feb. 2012). Signs directed us to the Sunset Campground where we quickly found a level gravel site to pull into. The Sunset Campground was pretty much an organized gravel parking lot with no services, but at $12 a night, we weren’t complaining. We made a quick note of the generator hours to assure we kept our batteries topped off.

We loved watching the sunsets!

Sunset Campground is aptly named. Every evening, we found ourselves sitting outside to watch the sunset. Once the sun had disappeared, the sky would turn into fantastic shades of colors ranging from pinks to reds and purples. Then the sky would slowly darken to the most incredible deep, deep midnight blue. The stars were bright and the crescent moon stunning. Al and I would just sit quietly in awe watching the show unfold.

Although we lived in a community with a dark sky policy (Pueblo West, CO), I think this was the first time we truly understood light pollution. There was none here to detract from the beauty of the sky, and we were appreciative observers. Each night was a little different but equally spectacular. There are some things in life that can’t be captured via a photograph and must be experienced first hand. Admiring the night sky in Death Valley National Park was definitely one of those special moments … a vision etched in my memories.

Exploring Death Valley

Established in 1994, Death Valley National Park is a beautiful but challenging landscape where unique wildlife have developed ingenious adaptations to the arid, harsh environment. Located in both California and Nevada, it’s the largest national park in the lower 48 states and has nearly 1,000 miles of roads that provide access to both popular and remote locations in the park.

After reviewing the Death Valley National Park map, Al and I discuss our plan for the day.  National Parks are not usually pet friendly and Death Valley is no exception. So Al and I plan our day keeping our dog, Bear, in mind. Fortunately, the weather would be in the 60 degrees Faherenheit range allowing us to leave Bear in the RV alone for a few hours. Since he was over thirteen years old, Bear was showing his age and could use a little extra rest after a rather exciting, fun-filled five days in Lake Havasu.  So, he didn’t mind being left behind to catch up on some much-needed rest. 

Our first stops were Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View.  Dante’s View is considered the most breathtaking viewpoint in the park. The overlook is more than 5,000 feet above the floor of Death Valley and overlooks Badwater Basin. We were extremely glad that we wore our sweatshirts considering the temperature was only around 52 degrees Fahrenheit that morning and extremely windy at this high overlook.

Al reading information about the area – Dante’s View
The expansive scene from Dante’s View – overlooking Badwater Basin

On our return to the RV, we took a side trip and ventured down a dirt road known as Twenty Mule Team Canyon.  This is a one-way 2.7 mile drive through badlands.  The history of this road dates back to the days of mining for Borax in the Valley.  It was a fun little side trip even though there were points I wondered if our large truck would fit through some of the tight corridors in the canyon. If it weren’t for our growling stomachs beckoning for lunch, I would’ve loved stopping more frequently along the way. Yes, more photo-ops would’ve been nice, although Al might disagree.

A Jeep rounds a bend on Twenty Mule Team Road – the perfect vehicle for exploring Death Valley NP.

Upon our return to the RV, we find Bear still fast asleep and needing to be coaxed for his walk. He is one tired little guy and doesn’t mind being left behind the rest of the day.

After lunch, Al and I head over to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Badwater Basin is a vast landscape of salt flats. From a distance it looks like snow.

Al and Ingrid at Badwater Basin
Exploring the salt flats
Interesting patterns formed by salt deposits.

We ventured out onto the salt flats taking in the fascinating landscape. Badwater Basin was once the site of a large inland lake. The lake had no outlet, leading to the accumulation of sediment and salt over time. When the lake eventually evaporated, concentrated salt deposits were left behind. Today, captivating geometric salt polygons form on the flats as groundwater rises up through these deposits and evaporates.

A 53 year old Ingrid is awed by the landscape.

After more than thirty minutes of walking around the salt flats and marveling at the unique and surreal environment, we returned to the truck where we noticed the salt residue had stuck to our shoes and was now leaving a fine coating of salt residue on our truck floor mats.

A Golf Course that isn’t a Golf Course

Just north of Badwater Basin is a side road that took us down a bumpy dirt road to a parking lot. We found ourselves surrounded by craggy boulders which are really meteorite like sharp crystal formations of salt. Imagine an immense area of rock salt that has been eroded by wind and rain and turned into jagged spires and boulders. The sculpted salt formations form a rugged terrain that is simultaneously delicate yet dramatic. Rocks are so serrated that only the devil could play golf on such rough links. Hence, the name Devils Golf Course.

The Devils Golf Course

The terrain looks daunting and can be dangerous, thus best viewed from the parking lot. We had the place to ourselves and it was so quiet that we could actually hear the salt formations cracking. It was like tiny little pops and pings. The sound is literally billions of tiny salt crystals bursting apart as they expand and contract in the heat.

The next stop on our tour was driving the scenic, one-way, nine-mile paved road known as Artist’s Drive. A photo-op stop at the Artists Palette is a must. Artists Palette consists of multi-hued volcanic hills, best photographed in the afternoon. Known for its variety of rock colors, it’s no wonder where the name came from. The various colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals. Iron compounds produce red, pink, and yellow. The decomposition of mica produces green, and manganese produces purple. Once again, we are left speechless and perplexed by the terrain.

Artists Palette
Death Valley National Park – Vast large land worth exploring!

After two full days of exploring this southern section of Death Valley, it was time to move north. Al and I never realized just how enormous this national park is; 3,373,063 acres.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

On day three, we move camp to the Stovepipe Wells Campground.  Upon arrival, we realize its remoteness.  With the exception of Furnace Creek, all of Death Valley is extremely remote and vast. We park the RV with the backend into the wind. The wind is blowing and dirt devils are twirling.

Our campsite at Stovepipe Wells National Park Campground – no services.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Once settled in our new location, we head on over to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes nearby which is the whole reason we moved to this new location. Al and I hike the dunes being sure to keep our eyes on the ground for critters; snakes, scorpions, etc. We occasionally stop for photos or to marvel at the landscape.  These dunes rise nearly 100 feet from the Mesquite Flat and are in a constant state of change due to the winds.  It appears wind is the norm in this part of the park.

The winds continue to blow and Al and I are covered in a fine layer of dirt and sand.  We return to the RV for dinner in hopes of enjoying another gorgeous sunset. We were sorely disappointed with the sunset in this location.  However, the night sky and the crescent moon made up for any lack in sunset color. If we had it to do over, we probably would have stayed at the Sunset Campground and just driven to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for the day. 

exploring the dunes
Ingrid dumping the sand out of her shoes after exploring the dunes.

Although I feel we barely touched the surface of this awe-inspiring terrain, the constant extreme wind was irritating, and we decided to leave the next day with the promise of returning to Death Valley another time. 

Throughout our entire Death Valley explorations, we were intrigued by the landscape and felt like we had stepped back in time … Jurassic time. With each bend in the road, it would not have surprised us to have encountered a dinosaur or perhaps see a pterodactyl fly overhead. Or perhaps it wasn’t another realm but rather another planet. Regardless, we were awed, mesmerized, and perplexed by the incredible landscape. We left with the realization that another visit to Death Valley National Park would be warranted. Four days and three nights were definitely not enough time to explore this expansive and special land.

Al and Ingrid near Artists Palette – February 24, 2012
Death Valley National Park

Vacation in October | Disney Celebration

I love my mother-daughter trips and who doesn’t love a trip to Disney? Earlier in the summer, my daughter and I discussed options for a vacation getaway to celebrate her milestone birthday in mid-October. Our starting point would be Phoenix, Arizona considering that’s where she lives and where Al and I spend our winters.

Disneyland Star Wars Galaxy's Edge the Millenium Falcon
Disneyland – Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Phoenix, AZ is conveniently located

Our choices were many … from scenic tourist towns, to national parks, and everything in-between. Ashton and I always have a great time setting off on one of our adventures, and since this was her 30th birthday (Oh my gosh, when and how did that happen? Seriously, am I old enough to have a thirty-year-old daughter 😏), we definitely wanted to do something special and fun. One of our best vacation trips to date was our camping adventure to Zion National Park and we haven’t been able to top that trip … just yet anyway, but she and I still have a lot more traveling to do together.

After several lengthy discussions, Ashton finally decided she wanted to go to Disneyland in California to celebrate her birthday. 1. She wanted to visit it while it was all decked out in Halloween decor throughout the month of October, and 2. She wanted to visit Disney’s newest attraction; Star Wars – Galaxy’s Edge.

Disneyland Star Wars Galaxy's Edge

What is Galaxy’s Edge all about?

This is an excerpt from the official Disneyland website …

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will feature 2 signature attractions—Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, opening January 2020.

At Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Guests will climb into the cockpit of “the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy” for their own Star Wars adventures.

disney play app at Star Wars Galaxy's Edge
Ashton had fun with the Disney Play App

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge takes Guests to the planet Batuu, a destination along the galaxy’s Outer Rim on the frontier of Wild Space. Batuu is home to Black Spire Outpost, an infamous port for smugglers, traders, and adventurers who wish to avoid any unnecessary entanglements with the First Order.

Soon after you arrive, the Play Disney Parks app will transform into your Star Wars: Datapad! From translating galactic languages and hacking into droids to unscrambling transmission and scanning objects for precious cargo, it’s an interactive adventure that will enhance your Star Wars story… and guide you deeper and deeper into this all-new land!

My daughter became very engaged with the Disney Play app, keeping us in Galaxy’s Edge longer than we intended. The app adds a whole new experience for guests that gamers will love. Me? I didn’t care about the app, but I loved being immersed in what felt like another country or another realm.

Millennium Falcon at Galaxy’s Edge

Anyone who enjoys gaming is going to absolutely love the Millennium Falcon ride. It’s an interactive motion machine ride on a smuggling mission. There are Six players per ship; 2 pilots, 2 gunners, 2 engineers. The pilot on the right is in charge of the booster and up and down movement of the Millennium Falcon. The pilot on the left is responsible for the left and right movement. Gunners shoot threats while the engineers pick up supplies. At the end of the mission, guests are given a score.

Ashton and I were pilots both times we rode the ride, and then she was an engineer when she rode again midday as a single rider. I’m not a gamer and thus didn’t perform my duties very well. I was the pilot on the left and responsible for the left and right actions. I also had to hit another button from time to time which I don’t remember what its purpose was. I do remember us crashing into a lot of things that didn’t bode well for us to collect points. (hangs head with embarrassment 😔)

According to my daughter, I repeatedly said, “Oh sh*t” … a lot. Oops, sorry to the mom and her ten-year-old boy playing engineers at the rear of the aircraft. The two gunners behind me (middle-aged guys) were laughing. I guess I was really engaged in the ride and my actions not only entertained my daughter but the other guests as well. Glad I could make Ashton laugh on her birthday! Did I already mention, gaming is not my thang?

Disneyland Millennium Falcon Star Wars Galaxy's Edge

Tips: We rode Millennium Falcon first thing in the morning and again later that night, right before fireworks, and stood in line less than 30 minutes each time. During the middle of the day, lines were as long as 2 hours. During that time, my daughter stood in the line for a ‘single’ player and again waited less than 30 minutes. For those wanting to bypass the long lines, think about riding as a ‘single-player’, BUT do note, you will NOT be riding with your friends. Since each ride requires 6 guests, for those odd-numbered parties, individuals are then pulled from the ‘single guest line’ to fill the aircraft.

Build your own Lightsaber or Droid

Got any extra money burning a hole in your pocket? Think about building your own Lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop or a less expensive option would be building your own astromech droid unit at the Droid Depot. We all need those useful items around our homes, don’t we? Since Ashton and I didn’t have any extra dollars to spend or the extra space to store those items, we took a pass on building a Lightsaber or Droid and opted to purchase a few T-shirts and Mickey Mouse ears instead … ya know, useful stuff! Mickey Mouse ears with Maleficent horns anyone?

Chewbacca at Disneyland

My daughter and I had a wonderful time hanging around Galaxy’s Edge. In true Disney fashion, you are transported to another realm … another land. The architecture and details are amazing and every cast member, including the cleaning crew and shop cashiers, remained “in character”.

Worth noting: Galaxy’s Edge has an actual water bottle filling station which was very convenient but also entertaining. We loved filling our water bottles here.

If you decide to interact with the Play Disney app, I highly recommend you bring along an external battery to charge your phone because the play app will use up a lot of battery power and finding an outlet in the park is not easy. If you do find an outlet, it’ll already be in use. The so-called ‘charging station’ noted on the Disney map is actually a vending machine with an external power battery for $30.

shopping in Disneyland
Of course, we had to do a little shopping.

Disney in October

Moving onto the rest of Disneyland, my daughter fell in love with the decor. She loves Halloween and considering her birthday is in October, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. I have to agree, Disneyland was rather festive decked out with pumpkins and non-gory Halloween decorations. I’m not a fan of the gory Halloween stuff, so this was right up my alley. After all, what’s not to love about Disney characters carved out of pumpkins? (Or rather, simulated pumpkins 😏)

 

Disney California Adventures

On day two of our mother-daughter weekend vacation getaway, we visited Disney’s California Adventures. This was my first time ever visiting Disneyland in California. I’ve always gone to Disney World in Florida. I would compare CA Adventures to Disney World’s MGM Studio’s. We spent an entire day in the park, but depending on crowds, I’d say a full day in this park probably isn’t necessary.

Mexican Hat
Mexican Hat

The thing that I enjoyed the most about this park was the landscapes that Disney replicated. Around every corner, I immediately knew the actual location that California Adventures was emulating. Been there, done that, and even bought the T-shirt! (Y’all know, I struggle with a T-shirt addiction 🤗). It reiterated to me, how fortunate Al and I are to have visited so many beautiful places over these past seven years of RVing.

Once again, Disney does not disappoint when it comes to the details. I have so much respect and admiration for all the folks working behind the scenes at Disney … from the creative vision to the impeccable craftsmanship … you really do feel transported. And the cast members working with the public day in and day out are incredible people. Not one employee throughout our whole Disney vacation seemed like they were having a bad day. Whatever they get paid, it’s not enough. Truly talented and amazing people!

Favorite rides

  • eating a large chocolate chip cookie at CA adventuresMillennium Falcon – Galaxy’s Edge. Note – Star Tours in Tomorrowland is somewhat similar but not interactive.
  • Splash Mountain – Critter Country. Always entertaining and scream-worthy at the end.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean – OK, who doesn’t love this ride?
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Matterhorn Bobsleds– I’ve always loved roller-coasters, but as I’ve gotten older, they don’t seem to agree with me like they used to. I still enjoyed Big Thunder and Matterhorn but Space Mountain made me dizzy. Ashton loved all three coasters, but the Incredicoaster made her a little dizzy… I took a pass on that one!
  • Radiator Springs Racers – CA Adventures Cars Land. Of course, we loved riding in a sports car and then racing against another sports car among the scenic red rocks of the desert southwest. What’s not to like?
  • Soarin’ Around the World– CA Adventures Grizzly Peak. This was my favorite ride of the weekend. This ride simulates an airborne hang-gliding flight over the wonders of the world. You’ll fly over polar bears in icy Greenland, swoop past sailboats on Australia’s Sydney Harbour, weave between elephants marching toward Mount Kilimanjaro, and more. The additions of wind and various scents wafting in the air like grasses and jasmine make this ride a unique experience.
  • Grizzly River Run – CA Adventures. I really enjoyed this part of the park and how it emulated Yellowstone National Park. We didn’t actually ride this attraction due to not wanting to get wet, but Ashton has ridden it in the past and loved it. I enjoyed watching the ride and next time I’ll bring a rain poncho and give it a go.

Grizzly River Run Disneyland California
Grizzly River Run

Where and what we ate while on our Disney vacation?

First off, we each brought a small lightweight daypack filled with our water bottles and snacks so we could keep the dining out to a minimum. I highly recommend doing this considering food and drinks can get rather expensive throughout the parks.

  • tips for a holiday visit to Disneyland what to eat and where to stayDowntown Disney – Tortilla Jo’s. We enjoyed a couple of margarita’s and an order of Fajitas once we arrived in Anaheim after the long drive from Phoenix. The food and drinks were average.
  • Disneyland – Galactic Grill in Tomorrowland. The specialty burger was excellent, but the fried chicken sandwich was just ok.
  • CA Adventures – Lucky Fortune Cookery; For lunch, I ordered the Szechuan Chicken and my daughter ordered the Beef Bulgogi Wrap. Both our meals were excellent and we would definitely eat here again.
  • But our favorite meal of the whole trip was from the Boudin Bakery. Their Clam Chowder Soup in a sourdough bread bowl was amazing! Although this dairy-free gal could only sample a small amount from my daughter’s bowl, she and I agreed it was some of the best clam chowder we’ve ever tasted, and of course, the bread was excellent. You can even tour the bakery and learn all about San Francisco sourdough bread while you’re there.
  • Treats; Sprinkle’s cupcake, large chocolate chip cookie, and Cake Pops were all just ok, BUT the absolute best thing was the nondairy lemon soft-serve in a cup from the Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats. Seriously, don’t pass this up!

Where we stayed.

Since my daughter has visited Disneyland numerous times, she and her friends like to stay at the Anaheim Majestic Garden Hotel. It’s close to the park, reasonably priced (most of the time), and offers a shuttle to and from Disney which is super convenient. We enjoyed our stay and it worked for our needs.

Celebrating a birthday at Disney's California Adventures

Conclusion:

Ashton and I had a fabulous mother-daughter October vacation weekend celebrating her milestone thirtieth birthday. Although I enjoyed visiting Disneyland in CA, I’ll admit, I’m still partial to Disney World in FL. With that said, when you look at the distance and the convenience for us to be able to drive to Disneyland from Phoenix in less than six hours versus the distance and cost for us to get to Orlando, I have a feeling a repeat visit to Disneyland won’t be too far in our future.

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Land of Great Extremes

Death Valley has long been on my short list of places I have wanted to see.  So when Al and I decided to hit the road, Al wanted to know my top choices of locations I’ve always wanted to visit.  Keeping time of year and weather in mind, February in Death Valley seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Have you ever wanted to do something or go somewhere really badly only to be disappointed once achieved?  Well that’s kind of how I was feeling about the trip to Death Valley.  I thought, “this is a place I’ve wanted to visit for the last twenty years, and am finally able to do so.  I bet it will be anticlimactic”.  NOT!!!!  So worth my while.  Absolutely loved it and plan to return next year for further exploration.

Badwater Basin - 282 ft. below sea level - salt flats

From Lake Havasu City we traveled north on Hwy 95 to Interstate 40 west.  We took exit 78, Kelbaker Road, north through the Mojave National Preserve.  Filled up with gas in Baker, California, before crossing over Interstate 15 and headed north on Hwy 127.

The land is vast and the road free of company.  As Al and I sit in our climate controlled truck with cushioned leather interior, we marvel at the Pioneers who first discovered these lands on horseback and wagon.  I don’t dare complain about the lack of cell phone coverage.  Yes, that’s right folks…no cell phone service in Death Valley or a good 100 miles around.  There’s actually pay phone booths at a couple of the resorts.  Flat tire?  You’ll need to fix it yourself cause AAA ain’t coming!

We had planned to camp at Furnace Creek.  However, the Furnace Creek Campground is closed for the next year for repairs/updates.  So we stay at the Sunset Campground.

Sunset Campground

It’s pretty much just an organized gravel parking lot, but at $12 a night I

Camp Site

can’t complain.  We just need a level spot to park the Rig and crash for a couple of nights.  They have a tiered overflow lot that provides the most spectacular sunset set views from your RV.  We spent a total of three nights in Death Valley and each night we sat outside to watch the sunset and once down, the sky would turn an amazing red.  We would also watch the sky darken to the most incredible deep, deep midnight blue.  The stars were bright and the crescent moon amazing.  There are some things in life that can’t be captured on film and must be experienced first hand.  This was definitely one of those moments…..a vision I’ll remember and highly recommend.

Our first night in Death Valley, we sleep well and look forward to our explorations the next day…..