A week in Death Valley National Park, page 2

Page 1: Biking to Badwater Basin
Page 2: Furnace Creek and Dante's View
Page 3: Mosaic Canyon and biking to Mesquite Springs
Page 4: Scotty's Castle and Mesquite Sand Dunes

Sunday, March 13

After working our bodies so hard yesterday, Kathy and I knew we needed to do something easy today. We climbed into our car and visited a few places that would be impractical or inconvenient to visit by bicycle. This worked well for the whole family, and our kids had a great day. We were helped along by partly cloudy weather that kept the temperature comfortable.

Our first stop was 20-Mule Team Canyon, a narrow dirt road winding through the badlands. "20-Mule Team" is a reference to the mule wagons that used to haul borax from local mines to the railroad. The road is surrounded by steep miniature hills of many colors, and due to their high clay content, there are no plants growing anywhere. The landscape looks surreal, and Daniel loved climbing to the summits of the hills so easily.

After touring the canyon we visited the ruins of Harmony Borax Works, where borax was mined and processed in the late 1880's, and Salt Creek, a rare creek near the bottom of the valley. Finally, late in the afternoon we drove to Artist's Drive, the scenic road that we attempted yesterday on our bicycle and failed.

We were wise to give up yesterday. The road had several big climbs beyond where we turned around, and we surely would have been trapped in the steep hills after dark if we had pushed on. Today we parked at the most scenic spot, called Artist's Palette, and ate our dinner while the late afternoon sun lit up the mountains. We hiked around a bit and then returned to camp in time to hear a park ranger's presentation at the public campfire.

It was a fun, relaxing day. Tomorrow we'll go back to punishing ourselves with a long, steep bike ride, and we'll alternate hard days with easy days for the rest of our trip.


Driving up 20-Mule Team Canyon.


Hiking up a ridge among the miniature hills.


Dad teaches about geology during a rest break.


I let Daniel choose his own path to explore the badlands, since there was no designated trail. He liked being the leader.


Maggie and Kathy take a shortcut back to the car.


Looking at the ruins of Harmony Borax Works, which operated only from 1883 to 1888. The company soon decided that tourism was more profitable than mining, and built the successful Furnace Creek Resort.


One of the wagons used to haul refined borax to market. Teams of 20 mules pulled these 165 miles across the desert to the nearest railroad. The metal tank carried drinking water for the mules.




Salt Creek, one of the few places with flowing water in the park.


Desert pupfish.


Kathy makes our dinner in front of Artist's Palette.


Hiking into Artist's Palette.


A chuckwalla, the largest lizard in Death Valley.

Monday, March 14

Distance: 41.2 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 29 minutes
Average speed: 9.1 mph
Maximum speed: 32.0 mph

Our bike ride took us to Dante's View near the south end of Death Valley, considered the most dramatic viewpoint in the park. It's also a very tough bike ride from our campsite in Furnace Creek, which we knew ahead of time because I inquired about it at the Furnace Creek bike shop yesterday. The first 20 miles are a steady 6% climb, followed by 6 miles that start at 8% and get as steep as 15%. I could finish it alone on my road bike, but not with the whole family. Instead, we biked up the first 20 miles and then locked up our bike and hitched a ride up the final 6 miles.

In the morning we took a break at Zabriski Point to see the views and let our kids play a little bit, and then resumed our slow climb up the road until lunch. We worked up a sweat while pedaling, but whenever we took a break it was nice and cool. Dante's View is 5475 feet above sea level (versus -190 at Furnace Creek,) so the air was cool for much of our ride. The couple that gave us a ride up the final stretch only had time to take a few pictures before heading back down, so we didn't get much time at the top, but it was much better than nothing and the sun was about to set anyway. That couple was visiting from England and spending a week in Las Vegas (about 2 hours drive from here.) Today they drove out to Death Valley, and yesterday they drove out to Grand Canyon. That's a lot of driving to our spectacular national parks just to take a few pictures and drive back to Vegas in the evening. I guess they enjoy sightseeing through their car windows.

Our downhill bike ride to camp was wonderfully fast, so we finished before dark. After putting the kids to bed Kathy and I sat out in the moonlight and talked, enjoying the warm weather and lack of bugs.


A panoramic view from Zabriski Point. You may need to scroll right to see the whole picture. The black streaks across the hills on the left are from ancient lava flows, while the tan clay in the middle and the red sandstone on the right are from deposits in the center and on the fringe of a prehistoric sea.


Zabriski Point.


Kathy lurches forward to catch Maggie before she can tumble over the cliff.


Walking up a steep section of the road to Dante's View.


Making lunch in the desert.


A mining operation just outside the national park boundary. All mining activity on the park's land was stopped in the 1970's, but a few companies still access their mining claims by drilling under the park horizontally from the boundaries.


Looking down at Badwater Basin from Dante's View, more than 5700 feet above the valley floor.




Riding back down through the badlands.

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Page 1: Biking to Badwater Basin
Page 2: Furnace Creek and Dante's View
Page 3: Mosaic Canyon and biking to Mesquite Springs
Page 4: Scotty's Castle and Mesquite Sand Dunes