A week in Death Valley National Park, page 3

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

Tuesday, March 15

Death Valley is such a big park that we'd rather not spend a week in the same campground. We packed up this morning to go northwest about 28 miles to Stovepipe Wells, a small campground/hotel area within the park. I'm glad that Daniel and Maggie played happily in the trees while Kathy and I packed, because packing took a long time. It was midday when we were setting up camp again at Stovepipe Wells, and the sun was cooking us - no cloud cover today, and our unshaded campsite is 100 feet below sea level. Daniel doesn't tolerate heat well when he's tired, so we drove up to a mountain pass (just 15 miles away) both to find some cool air and to help our kids fall asleep.

Daniel and Maggie play in the trees around our campsite while Mom and Dad pack up camp.

We drove west over Towne Pass for this view of the dry Paramint Valley and Mountains.

Later in the afternoon we came back down to explore Mosaic Canyon, a narrow canyon with marble walls. At first Daniel was in a bad mood and refused to even walk to the trailhead, so I carried him while he complained that he didn't want to go. As soon as we entered the cool air of the canyon and he saw the slick marble walls, he got excited and said, "Daddy I changed mind, I want to explore." Kathy and I spent the rest of our hike trying to keep our kids safe as they scrambled over the boulders. In some places erosion had carved the marble into chutes so slick that our kids used them like playground slides.

We didn't do many things today, and I doubt our kids would have tolerated much more. After four days of camping they're probably low on sleep. Tomorrow we'll try the only fix we know - long naps in the bicycle trailer.

Daniel practices rock climbing on the marble walls of Mosaic Canyon.

Daniel leads his family up the canyon.

Daniel and Maggie scramble over a rough spot.

We stopped for lunch after the canyon widened and gave us this view of Tucki Mountain.

Moonrise over Mosaic Canyon.

Maggie shows off her new rock.

Kathy watches Maggie slide down a slick marble chute.

Daniel saved his greatest energy for the end of our hike.

Wednesday, March 16

Distance: 43.0 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 20 minutes
Average speed: 8.0 mph
Maximum speed: 26.9 mph

We started a miniature bike tour today, meaning that we put our camping gear on our bike and rode off to spend a couple nights without the convenience of our car. We're going to explore the northern end of the park and enjoy the cooler weather at Mesquite Springs, which is 1800 feet higher than Stovepipe Wells.

Packing camp and sorting out food and equipment for the next few days took a while, so we didn't start riding until 11 a.m., but the first few hours of riding were a lot of fun. The climbing was easy and the scenery and weather were good, and we even had a tailwind. Some park rangers that we met at a picnic area complimented us, as did a couple from Vancouver, Canada. Later on we ate our lunch on the ground in the middle of the desert somewhere, and then began the steeper part of our ride.

We were doing alright with the hard climbing, but after a while I saw that the sky farther north had suddenly turned hazy, and I didn't know why. We figured it out about 5 minutes later when a howling headwind hit us. The wind created a huge dust storm in the valley, and although the dust didn't reach us, the wind nearly brought us to a standstill. We had to walk the bike for miles, riding only when the road was less steep. Since it was nearly sunset, six different visitors stopped their cars to ask if we needed help, including the couple from Vancouver. They said that they were at their campsite when the windstorm hit, and they were worried about us. We told them that we would be fine, even though we had 12 more miles of climbing into the wind. That's what we told all the other kind people too, even though it was dark and they all asked, "Really? Are you sure?" And although we answered, "Yes," in our minds we thought, "No, of course we're not fine, we just know that we'll survive, and that we haven't really got another option." Our huge bicycle and all our camping gear won't fit in an ordinary pickup truck or minivan, especially with 5 or 6 people on board. And even if it would, the process of loading and unloading everything takes so long that it's usually better to just keep walking. Besides, I prefer traveling under my own power, and throwing the bike on a truck when the going gets tough often feels like a cop-out.

We plugged along, walking and biking, until we turned off on the downhill road to camp. Down in the campground a man named Fletcher saw our headlight approaching and walked out to say hello. He's done some bike touring too, and after talking to us for a minute he invited us to share his family's large campsite. Pretty soon our kids were playing in the dark with their kids, Rachel and Owen. Fletcher helped me set up our tent and his wife Laura boiled water on her stove to help Kathy start our dinner. They even made hot cocoa to help us warm up. We cooked dinner in record time and had fun getting to know our new neighbors.

We passed the Mesquite Sand Dunes shortly after leaving Stovepipe Wells.

Mesquite Dunes.

There's no gasoline available at Scotty's Castle, but that hardly matters to bicycle tourists.

Kathy reads about the geology of alluvial fans like the one right behind the sign. Death Valley is ringed by dozens of large alluvial fans.

Looking north at the Grapevine Mountains.

We saw far more plants as we gained elevation, and many of them were prickly.


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