Day 1: On the way to Furnace Creek Campground in Death Valley National Park
Location: Death Valley National Park
Points of Interest: Father Crowley Vista, Mosaic Canyon
Hike: Father Crowley Vista (1/2 mile to vista from parking area), Mosaic Canyon (1/2 mile to expansive wash, or 2 miles to the dry falls)
Campground: Furnace Creek campground, $18/night (Oct 15-April 15, reservations through recreation.gov up to 6 months in advance)
Trip Date: December 2015
Four more days until Christmas…the start of each day was like opening a flap on an advent calendar – nature’s advent calendar. Excited to see what the day brought us! We really enjoyed our time at Red Rock Canyon State Park, maybe a little too much. We left the park way too late to have any hope of getting to Furnace Creek campground in Death Valley National Park before dark (sunset was 4:30 pm in December!). Since all we had to do, really, was park the van at the campsite, we placed our priorities on seeing the sights. Google maps estimated our travel time from campground to campground to be 2h 40 min. Death Valley is such a big park (5,219 square miles) and not having enough days to back track, this was our day to see what we wanted (or could) on the west side. It would have been great to have more time on this stretch. I guess we’ll just have to take another trip to Death Valley again someday, oh darn.
On a completely dry and sunny day, albeit with a few clouds, a rainbow appeared just ahead on Hwy 14 and beckoned us to come see what lay ahead…
We traveled north until we reached Hwy 190 which then took us west through the Panamint Springs Area of Death Valley National Park. Father Crowley Vista is located in this area and is a great place to stop and stretch your legs. Many people drove to the parking lot, used the restroom, took a picture or two, then left. Only a few walked down to the grand overlook which could be reached by a dirt track on the east side of the parking lot. If you make the effort to walk this short stretch (about one mile round trip), the overlook rewards you with an amazing view of Rainbow Canyon.
We were burning daylight, so we drove straight to Mosaic Canyon. By the time we reached the start of the 2 mile gravel road to the Mosaic Canyon parking lot, we pretty much only had 30 minutes before sunset. We decided to go for it, but about a quarter of a mile down the extremely bumpy, gravel road we started having seconds thoughts. Too late, once you head down the road there aint no turning back. The campervan did NOT like that road, poor little guy was rattling and shaking like no other. I stayed calm knowing that I had duct tape… you know, in case I needed to put anything back together.
The Mosaic Canyon hike was beautiful, especially with the moon peeking out wherever we looked. Mosaic Canyon is known for its water-polished marble walls which have been smoothed by running water that has been channeled through this canyon for centuries. You can’t help but want to touch the surfaces and marvel at how nature did this.
By the time we left Mosaic Canyon, the sun had set and we joined all the cars/RVs that were making their way to the Furnace Creek area. We had researched the campground, looked at campsitephotos.com and had reserved site #58 about 6 months prior. Unfortunately, the feel of the campsite differed greatly from the photo we saw. All of the sites were very close together without much shrubbery for privacy and lucky for us (all of us campers actually), every space around us was occupied. I know, it was bound to feel different than the night before at Ricardo campground when we had the place pretty much to ourselves, but this was a bit too much togetherness for me. I do have to say though, the folks who stayed in this campground were very considerate and the campground was quiet. With no crazy wind to slap us awake like the night before in Red Rock Canyon, we got a good nights sleep.
The Furnace Creek camground is what I call a functional one, it’s a place to spend the night, has everything you might need (drinking water, flush toilets, rv hookups, dump station, even a dish washing station), and is centrally located, but maybe it’s not the campground where you would hang out all day. There is so much to do and see here at the park, that you don’t have time to sit around and relax at the campground anyway. And that’s what everyone seemed to be doing, the next morning there was a mass exodus from the campground between 8:30-9:30 am. We took the time to fill our water tank at their fill station (clean and easy to use) and drive through the campground. There were a scattering of tents, which was understandable since the weather in this area was very mild (temperature during the day around 60-65°F, at night around 40-45°F, elevation 196 ft. below sea level). November through March is their peak season and Furnace Creek campground is the only campground that takes reservations. There is a also a Furnace Creek Inn, a Furnace Creek Ranch, the Ranch General Store, and a number of dining options in the area as well. The Christmas decorations were out everywhere and made things feel festive. Who knew a place like Death Valley, so ominous sounding, could be such a great place to visit during Christmas time? I didn’t!