Death Valley

Death Valley
From Dante's View

Death Valley National Park always has been a place on my bucket list. We planned for it two years ago, but we had to change the plan for a family issue. As the pandemic seemed tolerable, we decided now was the time to put the mark.

It was a four-day trip of 1,200 miles. My daughter had an early call-off from school last Thursday, so we left afternoon. It should be a more than 7-hour drive, so we had a night in a great place on I-5: Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant. We had the most affordable room. The space was modest, but it was well-equipped and comfortable; we loved the La-Z-Boy recliner in the room. Yes, there, we can sense a slight smell of the ranch, but only outside. We had dinner at Prime Steakhouse. The food was great, but we were always surprised (and regretted) with the serving amount of American restaurants only after ordering it. We also dropped by there for lunch when we were back home. I can say that "Jack's Favorite Steak Sandwich" would be my all-time favorite.

We took I-5, Bakersfield, CA-58, CA-14, US-395, and Trona Rd. Bakersfield is always an excellent place to tank up. We found that a Mobile gas station (at 3624 California Ave, Bakersfield) was terrific: spacious, reasonable price, new machines, and well-managed restrooms. Trona was the perfect last stop before the Valley with good gas stations and a small but well-managed rest area. One scene unforgettable was an F-35 fighter wagged wings right above our heads (only several hundred feet) somewhere on US-395.

On the second day (from home), we arrived at the Valley around 3 pm. There was no pay-gate at the park; the park entrance fee should be paid at many pay stations and information centers. We could just hang the American Beautiful Pass over the room mirror. We visited Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes first. The scenery was marvelous; I didn't expect the dune to be so spacious. Only one disappointment was there already were so many footprints over the dunes. I wished I could have been there earlier.

Then we visited Goldwell Open Air Museum (The Rhyolite Ghost Town). It was a small place with a few outdoor exhibits. Frankly, the artworks themselves might not be interesting ones. But with the canvas - the desolate scenery - make it perfect; it completed them.

The third day was the primary tour day. After breakfast, we ran to Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Watching the video at the visitor center was my wife's ritual, and now our family ritual. It also had an excellent gift shop.

The next stop was Badwater Basin. It is the lowest point in North America (282 ft (86 m) below sea level). The white is not snow but salt. The land is a little wet but not muddy. It was such a popular place in Valley, and it would be the right to visit there in the morning.

Artist's Drive is a famous nine-mile scenic driving course. There were exotic (to the Valley) colorful hills called Artist's Palette. I heard that a few scenes of Star Wars Episode IV were filmed there. The driving was more fun than I expected. It was something like a real driving attraction of Radiator Springs Racers.

Zabriskie Point is a scenic vista point that presents a spectacular view. I thought I had seen enough of this kind of scenic view at Grand Canyon. But it was a bit different. The yellow and brown hills were depicted so unrealistic. The glimpsed plains behind them were shining as if there was the land of salvation. However, now we know the only death would wait for them.

And the highlight was Dante's View. The last mile to Dante's View was tough: steep, narrow hill road, but it's worth 100%. The point is 5,575 ft (1,699 m) above Badwater Basin. We could look down the Badwater. It was so amazing to find how narrow the vast white salt plain could be seen from the top (and tiny small moving dots over there). It must be thanks to the beautiful weather, but the scenery from the top was so colorful. It was too difficult to believe the place down there had the name of death. One interesting thing was Dante's View was the only place where I could get my LTE reception. Some places, such as Furnace Creek Visitor Center, were where 3G connectivity was available, but I couldn't get the Internet connection.

The last was Salt Creek Interpretive Trail. It was only a 0.8-mile loop trail, but there was a creek with water and "fishes." Fishes in water might sound like the last thing we could find in Death Valley, but there were so many tiny fishes. And there was a catch: the water is salty - saltier than seawater. The fish - Salt Creek pupfish have lived more than 5,000 years in Death Valley. They have been specially evolved with this extreme environment, but I heard that they are now endangered and could become extinct within 50 years.

We had two nights in Panamint Springs. It is an off-grid place, which means that no public utility service is provided. So, they produce electricity by generators and get water from nature. However, the facility was wonderful. They had various accommodations, from cabins to RV parks and campsites. There was a gas station and general store. The gas price was reasonable: around $6 per gallon - we noticed over $8 price tag in Valley. We took a motel room, and it was clean and convenient. We heard that WiFi was available, but I couldn't get through it. I wasn't sure whether it was due to low connectivity or an issue with my iPhone (some WiFi service couldn't be compatible with iCloud Private Relay). I have to say that the restaurant was excellent; the staffs were all kind and cheerful, every food we tried was yummy at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, stargazing was not perfect, but I thought it was due to the moonlight.

It was a fun and valuable travel. We bought a graphic novel book "The Man Who Beat Death Valley," (Deborah A. Fox) from the general store. It was a fantastic story of the 49ers based on the real story of William Lewis Manly. "The Oregon Trail" is a game that represents the old Apple II era, but I've never played it at that time. This might be a perfect time to try a new Apple Arcade remake of The Oregon Trail, reminiscing the colorful desert.