Our Trip Through California: Death Valley  

Leaving the Coachella Valley we knew that the journey northeast meant both the half-way point of our trip West and a turn toward home and an adventure into some areas that may challenge our comfort levels. Turning North meant leaving the ease of the interstate which we had experienced in Texas. This provided an opportunity to see some interesting and off-the-grid places, but also could present some problems in terms of comfort and fuel.

After quite some time on limited highways that were winding, hilly, and kidney-jarringly bumpy in several stretches we were back on I-15 which is a major thoroughfare between California and Las Vegas and through to Salt Lake City. After a while on I-15 we were scheduled to turn off onto Route 127 North for the last sixty miles. I had the choice of stopping at the first truck stop we had seen in quite some time and refueling in order to make it the last sixty miles or use my reserve. I chose to stop and take advantage of the truck stop. I quickly got a lesson in local commerce. The price for diesel was four dollars and ninety-nine cents a gallon. As a means of comparison, we had been paying an average of three dollars and eighty cents or so.

As we left populated civilization in Baker on I-15 we drove the final sixty miles on Route 127 North. The further along we traveled the more remote and beautiful the terrain became. It is striking how each remote area has its own personality and structure. In this area we were beginning to see a lot more variety in the color and structure of the rock formations. There was quite a bit more striation in the mountains. There was obviously a difference in the geological conditions over the last forty million years that had created what we were looking at.

We finally came to the little town of Shoshone, California which sits just south of Death Valley National Park. We had been warned that we would be in a very remote area and that turned out to be true. We found the Shoshone RV Park just passed “downtown” Shoshone. Checking in I was informed that I had been assigned a back-in site. I try to avoid backing in if I can. It is not the easiest thing to accomplish with a forty-foot fifth wheel. I probably should bite the bullet and do it more just to perfect the skill but it is much easier just to ask for a pull-though site. Sometimes pulling through is not a panacea depending on how wide and long the site is and the specific circumstances of getting out when leaving.

The young man checking us in located a pull-through site for us and we made our way there. It had rained hard for a few days in the area which is actually an oddity. Pulling into our site was a muddy mess but we were in and that is what matters. As we were pulling in, we had a welcoming party. Two gentlemen who were camping in smaller sites next to ours were apparently starving for anything resembling entertainment probably having spent the last couple of rainy days cooped up in their small tent trailer and mini-van camper.

As we pulled up, I was literally greeted outside my door by these gentlemen. They had questions immediately. How big was the unit? Where are you from? I found out that they were brothers-in-law. One was from Reno, Nevada and the other was from Eugene, Oregon. As I went about the normal tasks of setting up, I was followed engaging in chit-chat. They were nice fellows and it really was not a real bother.

Just a few minutes later a brand-new camper van pulled in on our right. A young couple from Germany with a small baby were traveling America and seeing our country. They were very friendly and were amazed with what they had seen over the month that they had been traveling. The young woman was a teacher and her husband worked in marketing. The baby was an eleven-month old girl and very cute, smiling and waving hello. We found out that in Germany parents are given paid family leave for a year after having a child. This couple had taken the available option of splitting the year between them so each had six months of paid leave. They had been traveling the mainland United States and were on their way to Los Angeles to return the camper and on to Hawaii to spend another month before returning to Germany.

Why is it that young parents in the United States face pressures to return to work as soon as possible because they cannot afford to take any extended time with their child to bond and create a deep connection. Too many parents, especially those who are in minimum-wage jobs cannot even take a full six or eight weeks before they are forced to return to work. Monetarily they cannot afford the time off, and in some cases, they could lose their jobs. What does this say about how we value families and child development in this country and how the existing economic divide perpetuates the ills and challenges faced by the poor which in the end affect us all.

(OK. Climbing back down off the soapbox)

The warnings about being in a remote area were very true. Although we are on the road visiting all sorts of places, we are still living our lives in the RV and count on the same things that most everyone else counts on in terms of connectivity. This is especially true with our children being back in CT and the three grandsons that we like to connect with as much as possible through Facetime. Shortly after setting up we realized that we had no cell phone service, no internet connection and no tv reception.

Essentially, we were off the grid. Aside from going through withdrawals, especially with no internet, it was also a bit scary as we were cut off from the kids and we rely on so many facets of the internet for GPS and just basic information. We could live with no TV. Not happily for me, but we could survive. No internet and phone – that’s a different story. During the night Eileen realized that she could miraculously get online and text on her phone. That was enough to communicate and do what we had to do.

The next day we relaxed and spent some time checking out the surroundings. The RV park had a hot spring fed pool right across the road from us. It wasn’t the nicest looking pool, needing a paint job, but quite a few people came each day to use it. Hot springs were plentiful in the area as we found out while traveling in the area. Every campground and motel that we came across advertised access to hot springs.



On a short hike on the trails across from our campground

It is no surprise that there are so many hot springs in the area. It is one of the hottest places on earth during the summer months. The desert floor in Death Valley is considered the hottest and driest place on earth. The highest recorded temperature was recorded some eighty years ago in Death Valley. That was 132 degrees fahrenheit.

I had posted on Facebook how desolate the area was and our friend John reminded me of one of his favorite shows growing up; Death Valley Days. Reading about the park I was reminded of the Twenty Mule Team Borax detergent that was advertised on the show. That name came from the actual mule teams that for some time actually carried the borax from the mines in Death Valley. The show depicted scenes of the tough life that the people in the area lived and their challenges.

The next day we set out to visit the park. The ride from Shoshone to the visitor center at Furnace Creek was about fifty miles. As has been the case with just about every park, simply driving through is a special visual experience. You find yourself stopping several times at lookouts and other areas to take pictures. Death Valley was no different. The Furnace Creek area was a bustle of activity. There were a few hotels, restaurants and a campground in the area surrounding the visitor center.

There were a few places that we wanted to see and experience. Badwater Basin allows you to hike a mile or so out onto the desert valley floor to experience the depth and vastness of the area. When we arrived, we learned that the recent storm had washed out parts of the road closing access to guests until repairs could be made. This is highly unusual in that the dessert floor in Death Valley gets an average of only two inches of rain per year.

We decided to experience two other parts of the park that intrigued us. The first we saw on the way up to Furnace Creek. Zabriskie Point is obviously a popular site to visit. You walk up a steep hill for about a quarter of a mile to an overlook of the canyon below. We made the walk up the path which was busy with lots of people. It is interesting viewing the comfort level of differing people. I am not a fan of heights so I tend to stay away from the cliffs and head for any fences or guard walls that provide a sense of safety. Eileen is braver and will get fairly close to edges and cliffs but not recklessly close.



Scenes from Zobriskie Point


Others climb out on rocks and sit on edges even climbing down to the next level if at all possible. It bothers me to watch these daredevils. What will actually cause me to turn and leave is when people allow their young children to run around unchecked and come dangerously close to areas that I would never allow my children to approach. I guess you could argue that these parents are raising independent and adventurous people. That may be true, but it does not mean I have to watch them do it.

After experiencing Zabriskie Point, we decided to visit Dante’s View. The twelve-mile ride up to the view was very bumpy with piles of sand and rock having washed across the road in many spots. The recent storm had certainly done some damage to the park that they were probably not used to. The road up was a steady but slight incline until we reached the last half mile. That last half mile had sharp curves and a steep incline around curves without guard rails. Fortunately, it was only a half-mile. The reward was views over the valley and to the valley floor that were spectacular. One sign talked about looking at the evening stars from this viewpoint and being able to see a light smudge on the horizon that is the lights of Los Angeles.



Scenes from Dante’s View

While we were enjoying the views, I was approached by an elderly woman. She asked if I were in a hurry. I told her I was not with a bit of apprehension for what would come next. She asked if I could help take her husband’s scooter out of their car and put it together. I agreed to help. Her husband was struggling to get of the driver seat and hanging on the door until I was able to extract the scooter and assemble it. It was in four pieces, two of which, the base and the battery, were fairly heavy. After assembling it and being thanked, I wondered if this couple had a volunteer assemble and disassemble the scooter at every stop. I had to admire their motivation to keep moving and experience things despite the obvious restrictions and hardships in doing so. I am not sure I would go through the complications of traveling and having these experiences that required help at every turn. I am not very comfortable asking others for help.

Main St. in Shoshone is an interesting collection of businesses that cover less than a half-mile. There is a post office, a restaurant, the sheriff’s office a town museum and a store/gas station I paid another four dollars and ninety-nine cents for diesel once again. The supply and demand market at its best. The store had far more tourist stuff than it had food stuffs. There were literally no fruits or vegetables to be had. None.

We decided to take the thirty-mile drive over the border to Pahrump, Nevada. Pahrump is a very interesting town. It is large enough that it has two casinos and tons of restaurants, stores and other businesses. We were not only able to go to a store and get food and other staples but we were able to check texts and phone messages and get fuel at a reasonable cost.

Nevada is an interesting place. It is certainly a place where people are allowed to live independent lives and where almost anything goes. I just had a sense that many of the people were rough around the edges. I mentioned to Eileen that I had encountered at least three people talking to themselves while in the store.

The one distinguishing feature of Pahrump that I was not aware of until later in our trip is that it is known for its brothels. I was under the impression that prostitution is legal in Nevada. Apparently, it is only legal in Pahrump. It happens somewhat freely in many places like Las Vegas and Reno, but it is technically only legal in Pahrump.

I picked up a couple of free local magazines while at the store. I went through them when we got back and got a sense that a good deal of the Pahrump population were strong second amendment and NRA advocates and anti-immigrant. There were articles about English as the official language and cutting off services for immigrants and deportation. Pahrump was convenient but not a place I would go out my way to revisit.

Many of the people we met in and around Shoshone and the campground kept mentioning the China Ranch Date Farm. We had already been to the date farm in Thermal, but we decided to check it out. As we drove several miles through the country side all we saw was dessert and mountains. We were looking for palm trees as we followed the signs but saw none. The final segment of the trip was a ride over a very rough dirt road through a canyon that finally put us out onto a farm that was next to the Amargosa river and very well hidden. The farm had a very nice store with date products as well as Native American pottery, rugs and other items. I had a date shake and we bought some date cookies. The ride through the canyon was as interesting as the farm. We did learn that there are male and female date trees. The male trees provide the pollenization and the female trees provide the dates. Who knew?



Making our way into the canyon and China Farm Date Ranch

Despite the fact that we had been without real contact with the outside world for five days, it had been  well worth it. We had met some interesting people and been able to visit one of the most interesting and beautiful places in the country.  We were on our way to the Las Vegas area and more interesting sights and people.




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