Death Valley National Park (Part 1, March 2018)
Updated: Feb 10, 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).
Elu and I left San Diego a little after sunrise on a Saturday morning to drive five hours north-east to Death Valley National Park. I'd packed our Subaru Outback with all of our camping gear the night before. We only stopped for groceries and gas on the way so we made it to Furnace Creek, CA around noon. I'd emailed a park ranger in advance to confirm that service dogs are allowed on all trails in the park (pets are only allowed in campsites and on 4wd roads) and the only warning we'd gotten was about wild burrows that are common in the south end of the park. On the drive up, I'd decided that my goals for the trip were to relax, enjoy some solitude, read a few books, and to explore the desert backcountry with Elu.
I'd been training for weeks to backpack in the Mojave, but those hikes with just a few liters of water in my pack had aggravated an old neck injury and were causing worse headaches and chronic pain than is normal for me. I realized that I would enjoy myself more if I stuck to camping along 4wd roads and day hiking. Knowing Elu would be happy either way helped me make my decision to focus more on exploring and less on crushing miles. I'm glad I went into the trip with the mindset of flexibility, because that definitely helped me when things didn't go as planned.
Elu and I spent the first two nights camping off of a high-clearance 4wd vehicle road at Upper Hole-in-the-Wall in the Funeral Mountains. A few other SUVs, Jeeps, and Trucks were camped nearby along the road, but they were all out of view and hearing from our campsite. If you're looking for solitude and aren't bothered by a lack of bathroom facilities, then 4wd camping is definitely the way to go. It was pretty great having such a secluded campsite without needing to haul our gear anywhere, and to backcountry camp you only have to pay the park entrance fee. All the snacks, books, warm things, and gallons of water were right inside the car a few yards from the tent.
After I set up our camp, Elu and I went for a rambling hike up the ravine behind our tent. The gulch lead to an old travertine quarry that produced building stone for the Furnace Creek Inn up the road. I soon learned that all of the roads within Death Valley NP were created for mining and quarries.
There are very few trails within the park, but there are many well-document routes that wind through canyons and up valleys. It's much slower going than on a trail hike because you have to watch your step closely and check your surroundings often to make sure you're on the best route and not about to trip over some rocks and into a cactus.
After our little hike, we hung out at camp reading and relaxing until the overcast skies turned stormy.
Our second day at Upper Hole-in-the-Wall, we headed off on a cross-country canyon trek, first walking through a broad valley called the Red Amphitheater. We'd planned to do an 11-mile loop connecting two canyons, but the rock scrambling was a little too intense for me. I knew if I kept going up the rocks, I'd probably fall, and Elu's paws were starting to get a little tender, so we made our way back to camp after a few hours of exploring.
We returned to our campsite to lay around, nap, and read. Well, Elu napped while I read.
The clouds came and went throughout the day, and we lay in the sun when the skies were clear then put our coats on when it was overcast. The day temps ranged from 65 to 80F and it got down to around 45F at night when it was windy. I'd definitely recommend this area for camping, and if you bring a dog, you can walk miles of the road on-leash through some amazing geology and plant life.