Dunes & Deserts

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Have you ever had one of those ideas that started simply enough, only to have it turn into something much bigger but so much better than you anticipated? That is how our first trip to Death Valley started.

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My wife Lisa and I decided we wanted to make our first trip to Death Valley. Being part of an online forum, we took advantage of the experiences that many who have traveled this area and combined that with info gathered from a couple SUV trail books. At 3.3 million acres, it is the largest National Park in the lower 48 states. This is not the place you will see everything in a month, let alone a long weekend, so we started piecing together a general southern route to hit some of the highlights the area has to

With a general plan in mind, we decided to see if any other members of our forum would like to join our little trip. Well, this is where things took a mind of their own and our little adventure became a much more epic trip. We had thought we might get one or two takers to join us but as details started to unfold online, we were getting to a point of a waiting list. I made the executive decision to limit the group to seven rigs, including our own. Any more and a group can become a little unmanageable and days are short this time of the year. Getting a bunch of people moving first thing in the morning can be a challenge.

With plans in hand, we waited for the big day to come. Thanksgiving morning we set out to Baker, California to meet up with a couple rigs and to start the first leg. After filling our tanks and bellies, we headed north to an unmarked trail off CA 127, just north of Dumont Dunes. This trail, commonly known as Ibex Dunes trail, heads west with a side spur to Ibex Springs. Taking this spur took us to the first of many cool sites we would find on this trip. This was an old mining town and to imagine living out here a
hundred years ago is a little hard to fathom at times. Many of the original buildings still stand, fighting the ravages of time. A very surprising find was the well, which is very full and still fed by the natural spring coming from inside the hill it was built upon. After some pictures, we were off again.

Navigating the desert is so much different then a wooded area with very clear trails. Sometimes you come upon a fork or wash and it’s not always clear which way to go. Luckily the GPS and books kept us basically on track. As we headed back on the main trail, we made our way to Ibex Dunes. Though not large by many standards, they have a very peaceful and tranquil feel about them. Surrounded by rocky hills, it is kind of hard to believe they exist where they are. It’s just another one of those mysteries of the desert.  As the day was getting short, heading to find camp was top on the list. Luckily Owlshead Mountain trail was easy to find and fairly well graded. We made the quick  climb out of the valley and found a great camp spot at Owl Hole Springs, which also had water. We got camp setup, a fire going and ate dinner. By 8:30 everyone was in bed for an early start the next morning.

Friday came with beautiful skies and weather. After breaking camp, we headed up Harry Wade Exit trail. This trail was used by the Wade party to escape Death Valley in 1849 after being part of a lost wagon train. This trail exits at the north on California 178. Since fuel is always something to factor in on a trip of this nature, we were heading north to Furnace Creek via 178 to gas up and meet with the rest of the group. Many could not forgo their Thanksgiving Day plans. On our drive up, we stopped at Badwater, which is one of the lowest points in North America at 280 feet below sea level. Traveling on to Furnace Creek, we stopped for gas and met most everyone else for lunch. This is a neat little town and hosts the Furnace Creek Lodge which is truly an oasis in the desert.

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