A Short Week in Death Valley 

 Bear is away at work, so I, Mouse, and the girls decided to meet my folks out in Death Valley National Park.  The park is located in the south eastern section of California and borders southwestern Nevada. From Sacramento, the drive requires two days each way, so, even though we’re taking eight days -it’s a shorter trip than I’d like.

This is our third trip to Death Valley.  Before our first trip, I looked it up, saw some photos of a big wide flat empty valley and thought… Okaaaaay? However, I have faith in our National Park system and I have never been disappointed in any Park I’ve been to. I figured it would be the same with Death Valley, and I was right. In Death Valley, the earth itself is the attraction. The layers and colors of geological processes lay bare and exposed for your enjoyment. 

There’s a variety of attractions within Death Valley, you could drive to Dantes Peak and view the expanse of Death Valley. You can hike and scramble through canyons. You can trek through the dunes or just play with a shovel and pail. There’s history as well.  The Shonshone Timbisha have made their home here since the time of their Ancestors.  Mining brought the new Americans, for gold and silver at first. Borax turned out to be the most lucrative resource before tourism.  And how could we forget Scotty’s Castle? Oh yeah because flood waters have it closed for a looong time! 🙁. The story behind the castle is amazing even if you can’t visit.  

On this trip we hiked the two canyons, the dunes, and Salt Creek. Canyons are carved throughout the alluvial fans and mountains framing Death Valley.  The two most visited, I think, are Golden Canyon and Mosaic Canyon. Both walks are great for families and kids. You can choose how far you want to go and the kids can literally climb the walls. Mosaic Canyon, Goose’s favorite, is lined with marble and breccia rock, sedimentary rocks embedded with rocks and pebbles, smoothed and polished by flash floods and time.  

The rocks and pebbles embedded in the walls give the canyon its name. My girls loved scrambling along the walls and sliding down the marble, so did I!  We hiked out to the natural amphitheater where we had lunch and went search under rocks.  We found two beasties, a zebra tail lizard and a scorpion!  Handle rocks with care!

Golden Canyon is named for its yellow rock. It’s formed where rushing water from flash floods carve through the alluvial fan. The rock itself is soft and powdery. You can also find me a borax throughout the walls. There are a network of footpaths that take you up the crest of the dunes. If you can handle a bit of vertigo, it’s worth the trek.  Golden Canyon, like most parts of Death Valley, is an area where you can walk anywhere you feel like walking. This gives you a lot of options, especially when traveling with children, of what to do and what type of hike to have. We hiked through Golden Canyon and down Bower Gulch. This is a nice option because the steep part or all uphill in the downhill is wide and gradual.

Salt Creek is home to the endemic Pupfish.  You may catch them a few different times of the year, but the spring is when they are most plentiful. The Pupfish live only in the springs and each species is a biological treasure. Interesting fact – the pupfish lives in such a salty environment, it actually needs to drink water! 

I have been here twice before and never found a Pupfish (as I said, seasonal). This year they were everywhere! It was a real treat. If you’re visiting off season, the walk is well worth it. A boardwalk guides you through an interpretative trail around dunes and Salt Creek.  

A favorite for people with children, and people without children, are the Mesquite dunes. We caught a Ranger talk there this time, and it was a real treat. It covered the formation and ecology of the area, and it included some time to hunt for animal tracks.  

The kids love, love, love digging around and playing in the sand. We bring buckets and pails find a nice quiet area and go to town. I particularly enjoy watching car pull up and explode with children, who run as quick as their legs can carry them straight into the sand. The relief on the parents faces, as their children finally get to run around after a long day in the car, always makes my day.

If the landscape seems familiar, you’re probably on to something.  Some of Star Wars was filmed in this area and it’s easy to why.  We’ve even come across kids in costumes for photo ops!  

We had enough time to complete the JR Ranger program offered in this park.  It’s a great way to integrate homeschool into our National Parks!  This time we studied adaptations for desert life, conservation and preservation and a bit of local history.

The expansive, seemingly desolate, landscape is inspiring to all.  Death Valley is an enormous park with a lifetime of treasures to discover.   It’s a place where you can enjoy the night sky and the rarity of absolute silence.  It’s a place of life and death, of hardship and preserverence and of absolute beauty.

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