Saturday, November 27, 2021

Death Valley

Death Valley National park, a place we wanted to go, but did make a plan until now. Being in the Bay Area, this is quiet a distance to drive, so let’s  blame it on the distance. I have heard about it from many of my friends on how beautiful the  landscape is. But the name ‘Death Valley’ is really deceiving. The impression I had of this place was that it would be too hot and arid, and until a little while ago, the desert landscape was not exactly something I was keen on. But visiting Joshua tree and Sedona earlier this year has made me realize that there is so much to explore and enjoy in the desert too, if you plan properly for it. And here we are, on a trip to Death Valley!

A few tips here, for those who do not want to read the full blog.

1. Most Important : You should download the offline map of the entire park and even near by areas. The entire park has no coverage, so this is utmost important.

2. Please try to get accommodation in Furnace creek area, its the center and closer to many attractions, but if not furnace creek, your next bet is Stovepipe Wells. The point being, if you get accommodation outside the park, it is going to be a lot of driving each day. Sunrises will be hard to experience. The only reason we caught the sunrise was because we got an accommodation inside.

3. Carry enough water. Even in winter, it does get hot. Wear sunscreen and have layers of clothing as it can get hot during the day, and chill towards the evening.

4. This one goes without saying, please only visit this place during winter. November to Feb or March looks to be a good time. 

5. We were unable to do this, but if you are visiting in the winter months, and you bike, please try bringing your bikes here. They have some lovely biking trails.

6. The food options are not many, but you can get by with the general store, and general restaurants inside the park. But maybe carrying some bread, jam and bananas are useful especially for breakfast.

7. Definitely take a road shot here, they have some beautiful scenic routes everywhere in the park!

8. Plan on at-least one sun rise, and one sun set in the park. We did sunsets from the sand dunes and Dante’s view. We did the sunrise from Zibriskie point which was stunning! You need to plan for this, and reach at least 15 mins early to Sunrise/sunset to catch it.

9. Do star-gazing before the moon comes out. During winters, sun sets around 4:45 pm, and it becomes dark by 6:00 PM. So go to a remote location in the park like sand dunes or golden canyon area and you can definitely see the milky way on a clear night. Don\"t miss it.

10. If you are coming from the Nevada side, Amargosa valley is a great place to check out. We could not do it during this trip.

11. If you are driving from bay area, an excellent Indian food joint is there is Bakersfield called Punjabi Dhaba, the food is delicious!

12. I would suggest minimum 2 days in Death Valley to cover most attractions, but you can also do a lot of it comfortably with 3 days - like checking out Amargosa valley, and some of the other trails here.

13. Get a 4 wheel drive for those off-roading requirements, as some trail heads require some offroading( example, natural bridge trail head)

Our Itinerary
  • Day 1 : Bay Area to Bakersfield (pitstop at Bakersfield)
  • Day 2 : Bakersfield to Death Valley. Reached by noon and explored Mosaic Canyon and Sand dunes, Stargazing from Sand Dunes
  • Day 3 : Sunrise at Zibriski Point, Golden Canyon Trail, Devil\"s gold course, Badwater Basin, Artists Drive, Dante\"s View for Sunset 
  • Day 4: Artists Pallete, Natural Bridge trail, Drive to Bakersfield
  • Day 5 : Return to Bay Area from Bakersfield.

Rest of the blog is a detailed blog of our trip, just for memory purposes. You can stop here, if you are not keen to read the rest.

Day 1 - drive to Bakersfield 

This being the holiday week, we took it a bit slow, packed on Wednesday morning, and left home around 1:30 pm. After a few quick pit stops, we were on the road around 2:00 pm. The original ETA was 5:30 or 6:00 pm at Bakersfield, however there was a lot of traffic and by the time we reached Casa de Fructa it was 4:30 pm. We were hungry, so we took a break and had some yummy salad, burger and pizza from the Casa de Fructa restaurant. It’s nice to see the whole place already decked up for Christmas with Christmas songs in the background. 

Our customary first pic :)

Enjoying a quick bite at Casa De Fructa

Christmas decor everywhere

We started our drive again, and we spent the next two hours asking trivia questions to the kids :). This was fun and helped us be engaged on the road. 

We reached Bakersfield, and our first stop was Punjabi Dhaba. This place had the ambience of a dhaba itself. They were closing so our aim was to get some to-go food for tomorrow. We ordered chicken curry, kadi pakoda and chas from here. I liked this place, felt like some place in India. The owner is also very witty, and when he saw the kids, he gave them some jeeraka mitai, something all hotels in India have to freshen your mouth.Been ages since we had this. I must say, the food was really yummy here. 

Dinner time! Yummy food!

After this, we reached the Hyatt Place in Bakersfield and checked in. The room was very comfortable. So we cancelled our return hotel and booked in Hyatt itself for our return trip. That means we get to hit Punjabi Dhaba again! 

We spoke a bit about the plan for tomorrow and hit the bed early. 

Day 2 - Drive from Bakersfield to Death Valley, Mosaic Canyon and Mesquite sand dunes 

I woke up around 6:00 am got an early workout in the hotel gym.Sree went for a workout too. Actually a vacation workout felt great, it was almost like you had the full gym to yourself. Around 8:30, we went down for breakfast. We had some scrambled eggs, biscuit and gravy and cereal and checked out around 9:30 am. 

We started to Mosaic Canyon. This was a 3.5 hr drive. Around 11 am, we stopped at a gas station for restroom break. We also got some mittens and wool caps for all, thinking we might need it for star gazing tonight. 

We still had an hour and half drive. The roads looked endless with mountains looming in front of us. The scenery was breathtaking. Took some pics of the road, scenery etc on the way.We stopped at the first vista point( Father Crowleys), then drove to Mosaic Canyon. Here we had a quick lunch of the remaining Dhaba  food which tasted yummy and made jelly sandwiches for kids 

On the way to Death Valley

Long road shots !

We started the trail, and the beautiful canyon was unveiling in front of us. The shades of the rock popping out in the sunlight. The weather was perfect for this hike. We hiked for about a little more than a mile inside the canyon and then started back because we wanted to go to the sand dunes for sunset. The kids enjoyed climbing the rocks, especially Pappu who wanted to try every climb. 

ParleG always!

Posing to the sky!

Before driving to the dunes , we checked out  the food options in the Stove Pipe Wells general market, as well as the two restaurants they have. 

We reached the sand dunes and was just in time for the sunset. The kids enjoyed running down these hills, playing in the sand and we got someone click some beautiful snaps. 

Sunset behind us!

Rolling in sand

After this, Sree checked into the hotel, while I figured out our food. There was thanksgiving dinner being served, but we decided to just order to-go, as the wait time would have been a lot. 

We had dinner in the room - salad, soup and nuggets for kids. Enjoyed the dinner and then left for stargazing back to the sand dunes. 

We reached, parked and when we looked up, we were able to see the Milky Way. This was the first time I was seeing one! Of course could not capture in camera. We went into the dunes a bit, to watch it. Then came back to near the car, took out the camping chairs and beach mat, and we camped around here for a little while watching the stars. 

We also drove down a little further to see if we could see more, but it was pretty much the same. So we returned back to the hotel and settled in for an early night. 

Our hope is we can catch the sunrise at Zabrieski point tomorrow morning at 6:45 am. Tomorrow is likely going to be a long day, so we spoke to kids to set the expectations right :)

Day 3 - Exploring Death Valley 

We managed to wake up by 5:00 am today. We quickly got ready, got the kids ready and  started to Zabrieski point around 5:55 am. The sun rise is at 6:45 am and it takes around 30 mins for us to reach Zabrieski from Stove Pipes Wells.

The drive at dawn was beautiful and we thought we missed the sunrise. But as we reached the point, we saw that it’s yet to happen. Me and kids hurried up, while Sree parked the car and followed us. Multiple mountain peaks could be seen below us, and as the sun rose, we could see the sunlight creating colors on these mountains. It was very beautiful. 

We also enjoyed the sun coming up on the opposite side. So glad we were able to get the kids ready and start early for this experience. Been a while since we actually did a sunrise. 

Sun rays on the mountains.

Golden Shade on the mountains

After this, we drove to Furnace creek area, to figure out breakfast. We had a buffet breakfast at the ranch. The food was ok. My only feedback to them was that the buffet was not kept warm. But we had the food, checked out the general store and returned to the car. 

We decided to check out the golden canyon trail first. Took a lot of pics along the way with the canyon on either side and hiked up till the red cathedral. This was a 4 mile hike to and fro. The kids, especially Tara was a bit whiny towards the last leg, so me and Pranav checked out the red cathedral quickly, and came back and while I walked back with the kids, Sree explored the red cathedral and joined us back. This trail is a very family friendly trail with lots of small crevices to explore on the side. We spent around 2 hrs at golden canyon.

Red Cathedral

He enjoyed walking through these caves :)

After a small break, we left to explore the Devil’s golf course next. We parked and could see the rocks with salt formation right there. Spent about 10-15 minutes here just looking at the scenery. 

Devil\"s golf course

Next was the Badwater Basin. This is a very popular spot. Since Tara was asleep, me and Pranav explored the basin first, and then came back. Then we all went as a family. We walked the trail half way, took some pics, tasted the salt and then walked back. I had seen people climbing up a small trail on the opposite side of the basin, into the mountain which had the sea level sign, since we wanted to make it quick, I told Sree to quickly explore it and come. Apparently you have a good view of the bad water basin from here. 

view from the small hike in the opposite side

We thought we will do the artists drive next. I explored the first view point. But it was a bit too sunny, so the shades were not evident. Then we just continued the drive which was so awesome, and then reached artist pallette. Since we need a bit more time here, we thought we will come back after lunch here.

Artists Drive

Endless roads 

We drove down to furnace creek again, same restaurant and had the buffet lunch. I had this lunch well and the kids were content too. After this we had some time to kill, so we decided we will go to artist pallette, park and nap for a bit and then explore it. 

But we checked the distance to Dante’s point from artist pallette and realized it’s about an hour drive. So everyone else napped while I went and explored the trail quickly and making a note to take kids here tomorrow.

I loved walking over the hills and seeing its colors.

Artist Pallette

We put the most expensive gas at furnace creek and started off to Dante’s View. We reached there well ahead of time, but still could not find parking. So we had to park below at a parking lot, and climb up for about .4 miles. Tara was fine, but Pappu was a pain. Somehow we got him up, in time for the sunset.

The view point was great, we enjoyed the mountains and the salt flats below. More than the sunset, we enjoyed the colors in the sky around this entire 360, as we walked down to the car.

Dante\"s view 

The shades were amazing!

Now it was already 5 pm, and it’s dusk. So we drove down to furnace creek general store, bought a few stuff for dinner and breakfast, and drove back to the badwater basin to see stars. We parked and I walked down to the salt flats. I could see a lot of stars but not the Milky Way. Sree also went down and watched once I was back in the car. 

Pic taken in the night in Badwater Basin - while star gazing

We drove back to our hotel, stopping on the way at Golden Canyon, where the sky was clear and we were able to see the Milky Way once again!

Reached the hotel, all of us took hot showers, and made cup noodles for kids. Then for being such amazing kids today and doing all the trails, we rewarded them with some delicious cone ice cream which they munched happily. An end to a perfect day! 

Day 4 : Artist Pallette, Natural Bridge and return

Today, we packed and got out of our hotel around 8 am, did a pit stop at the general store to buy some earrings for Tara as she had lost hers. Our first stop was artists pallette. We reached here and hiked up those hills for an hour. Tara was a bit cranky as she was a bit scared of slipping while Pranav was all game for any hike. 

Spot me :)

After we returned to the car, we took a break and had cereal for breakfast in the car, and we drove to the natural bridges hike. This was a short hike. The road to the trail head was an off road. We completed the 1 mile hike and it was starting to get really hot. 

More road shots! - just the end of Artist drive


We did a restroom break and drove towards Stove pipe wells. We ordered soup for lunch and had it in the car again. We already had salad with us. This was filling.
From here it was a 3.5 hr drive to Bakersfield. We enjoyed the scenery around during the drive, with a short stop at the gas station. We got Pappu a car from this shop which he was very happy about. 

We played trivia and drove the next 2.5 hrs to the Punjabi Dhaba where we had ordered food on Wednesday. We got two curries paneer and chicken along with rotis and rice. And hot tea. Having this yummy food on a cold evening was awesome! Everyone enjoyed this. We spoke to the owner, thanked him and drove to Hyatt place which was just a few miles away. After checking in, me and kids played a few games. 

Punjabi Dhaba again!

Day 5: Drive back to Bay Area 

After me and Sree did a quick workout, we got out of Bakersfield around 9:30. But due to the holiday traffic, it took us 5 hrs, to reach home. We reached home by 2:30 PM to yummy doordashed Komala Vilas thali :)

This was again another amazing trip, we were able to catch some killer sun rises and sun sets, spend time as a family, be completely offline, hike through some great trails and just enjoy our time on the road through music, trivia games etc:). Feeling refreshed and looking forward to the next trip.