Death Valley National Park (Part 3, March 2018)
Updated: Sep 2, 2019
Camping and hiking with my service dog in Death Valley National Park, California, March 2018. Ancestral lands of Kawaiisu and Newe Segobia (Western Shoshone).
Day 4 in Death Valley NP, we left the town of Stovepipe Wells around noon and because I wanted to hike Wildrose Peak the next day, I knew we needed to sleep at higher elevation in preparation. My weird migraine brain is especially sensitive to elevation changes, so I need extra time to adjust. Using my map and guide book, I picked Hummingbird Spring for an easy day-hike and camping spot in the Panamint Mountains. We drove about 35 miles south of Stovepipe Wells before heading off the paved road for a few miles of bumpy dirt and rocks.
The rambling hike at Hummingbird Spring follows an old road from the mining era in Death Valley. We saw the foundation and chimney of a stone building, rusty cans, and large pipes that made up the Skidoo Pipeline. The 1907 pipeline carried water 23 miles from the south side of Telescope Peak to the town of Skidoo in the north.
A low-pressure system rolled into the area, and right on schedule I started to get a migraine. I took my meds, set up camp by the rubble of the old miner's house at an excellent viewpoint, and settled in for a nice rest with an audiobook. Elu opted to nap just outside the tent in the sunshine. A nice breeze kept the bugs away, and I wore my fleece to stay warm. Off-grid and without distractions, I read more than I had in months.
Here are the books I enjoyed that week and highly recommend:
1. Eat The Apple by Matt Young (at Upper Hole-In-The-Wall)
2. An Amputee's Guide to Sex by Jillian Weise (at Hummingbird Spring in the Panamints) 3. The California Deserts: An Ecological Rediscovery by Bruce M. Pavlik (at Upper Hole-In-The-Wall)
4. The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams (at Echo Canyon)
I also listened on Audible to these excellent books: 5. Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (selfie at Upper Hole-In-The-Wall) 6. Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine and Anne Aguire (with Elu at Upper Hole-In-The-Wall)
The evening brought winds and rain, but we were snug in our tent by then and I was adjusting to the altitude at our campsite (about 6,500) and already feeling much better. We heard another car rumbling up the bumpy road blasting music, and a dude-bro in a bright yellow Jeep popped his head out the window. He was pretty surprised that we'd already gotten the prime camping spot (this happens to us pretty often, since we hike in the early mornings when it's cool then rest through most afternoons). Also looking for solitude, he decided to try his luck finding a campsite a little further up the old mining road. It was so windy that night, we barely heard him at all, except for a car door closing once or twice.
The next morning (day 5) we woke up at first light and packed up camp to drive over to the trail up to Wildrose Peak. I'd considered hiking Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park, but there was still too much snow on the mountain mid-March for me and Elu to safely make it to 11k feet. Wildrose Peak turned out to be the perfect hike for me and Elu that day; it was a challenge, but fun, quiet, and beautiful.
The out-and-back hike was 8.4 miles, beginning at charcoal kilns at the trailhead, and zig-zagging up 2,200 feet through piñon-juniper forest. We stopped a couple times to rest and take in the views. Elu wore her new Ground Bird Gear vest and pack, carrying some kibble and testing the gear. Her old pack was bulky and always seemed off-kilter. This new pack is custom fit and it definitely shows. It was snugly in place the whole hike.
Snowy Telescope Peak was visible to the south for much of the trail, and I was very glad to have decided against that hike. The top few miles of that mountain were covered in snow, while Wildrose only had patchy snow near the top, and the trail was clear the whole way.
Elu and I didn't see any other hikers the whole way up, and we only bumped into a handful of retirees hiking up when we were on the way down. Both the lowest (Badwater Basin at -282 ft) and highest (Mt Whitney at 14,505 ft) points in the continental US are visible from Wildrose Peak. It's really a spectacular view. I even found some grizzly bear prickly pear cactus thriving at the top of the mountain. I didn't realize that any cactus could survive at high altitude and below-freezing temps.
At 9,064 feet, this was our highest hike ever. The altitude and elevation change made for a great challenge, and while I felt a little dizzy on the way down, camping at 6,500 feet the night before seemed to help both of us adjust. The steep hike was well worth the views, and our early morning start meant we had the trail to ourselves the whole way up and and much of the way down.
Since we started so early in the day, Elu and I were off the trail by late morning, and we had plenty of time to explore a little more of the park. Unfortunately, visiting the desert in March meant unpredictable weather, and high-winds with sand storms were popping up in the lower elevations across the park. We adapted and chose the crowded but more protected Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for a quick visit. They're right off one of the main roads, so we just walked along the edge and sat for a little bit. Even in this more protected area between two mountain ranges, the wind was starting to pick up, so Elu rocked her new Rex Specs.
The doggles weren't necessary, but I got them on sale and I'm basically an obsessive service dog mom and I want Elu to live to be 20 years old, so she's got some accessories. You might notice that the blue lenses and doggles match her service dog vest. These are the things that make me happy.
I'd planned to camp another night or two in Death Valley NP, but the winds were only intensifying as the day went on. By early evening, I'd attempted to set up camp in Echo Canyon, but the tent was being buffeted so hard that it wouldn't stay upright. Elu voted to sleep in the car. I voted to avoid my Outback being sand-blasted by 50 mph winds, so we headed back to San Diego a little early. Driving through the Mojave Desert at sunset was beautiful, and I listened to audiobooks on the way home. We arrived home to our apartment near midnight, tired and happy. We will definitely be returning to Death Valley National Park to explore some more.
Next time we visit, I'm planning on camping and hiking by the more secluded sand dunes in north end of the park. It was already heating up in the lower elevations when we visited mid-March, so we'll have to wait for late fall/early winter before we return. Five days to a week seems the perfect amount of time for our camping and backpacking adventures, but there's plenty to see if you only have a weekend to visit Death Valley.