Turn off the A/C! Use low gear! 11% grade ahead for the next 8 miles! Brake check area ahead! The warning signs flashed past us as we entered Death Valley National Park.
Our expectation for 150 miles of flat desert was shattered as we realized just how little we knew about this vast, remote, and very hot place.
We climbed and dove, mile after slow mile, enduring multiple elevation gains and losses of 4000, 5000 feet. The landscape, extremely barren at first glance, revealed itself to be much more than that. Although we had just missed the spring wildflower season, the dramatic beauty of the park was undeniable.
Tall cactus trees dotted the horizon, and occasional flowering plants desperately held on to their last blooms for yet another day. The cliffs presented a myriad of color, displaying millions of years in the making.
Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the turnoff to our campsite was a windy, dusty intersection, but the scenery changed once again as we drove the narrow road, winding our way up to a more pleasant sleeping climate. As we meandered higher, there was a bit more vegetation, some still blooming desert beauty, and, even a single TREE.
After the heat of the day, we relished the simple pleasure of an evening at camp. Stargazing became difficult as the full moon rose over the peaks behind us, illuminating the night. A gentle breeze cooled the, still warm, air as crickets and other variety of insects began their evening harmony. THIS is why we camp, for the pure, unfiltered joy of being surrounded by nature.
The morning dawned bright and hot and, with temperatures up to nearly 90 degrees but 9:15am. We reluctantly packed up to leave behind our little slice of desert paradise.
The remainder of our drive through the park proved as enigmatic as the first, with more mountains to climb up and crawl down, eventually ending up at -190 feet below sea level at Furnace Creek. Death Valley was never really on our radar, simply a route east on our road trip, but it proved to be a perfect example of relinquishing expectations. Vast, dramatic, and…..very unexpected.