Saturday, February 25, 2012

Death Valley | 2012

At the last minute last week we realized that the kids had a 5-day weekend from school before Littler started preschool, so we decided to drive down to Death Valley and camp for a few days. We had no idea what we were going to do there, but it sounded like fun so we packed the car and drove off.

The first morning we headed out to Mesquite Dunes, which were absolutely awesome. We just played around in the sand forever.

Clothes slowly became less and less mandatory.

We saw a pair of huge dunes in the distance and decided to conquer them.

And conquer them we did. These kids are awesome hikers.

We decided to run right down the steepest part of the dune. It was wild. Dunes are awesome.

There's a sweet place near the bottom of the valley, a couple hundred feet below sea level, where salt deposits and dried mud form crazy jagged pillars. It's called the Devil's Golf Course and was impressively impenetrable.

We wandered around Badwater Basin, the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere, and was just as starkly gorgeous as all the NatGeo pictures suggest.

The next morning we went back to the dunes. Why not? They're awesome. Mommy ran 5.5 miles in the thickest air she'll ever breathe.

There's a giant volcanic crater that's only a couple hundred years old and we explored around the rim. Little just loves volcanoes.

There was a little minor caldera right next to the main one and Little wanted to run down into it. When she did, she enthusiastically described how volcanoes go BOOOOM.

There's a really bizarre extravagant 90-year-old pseudo-Spanish-style villa in a side-canyon of Death Valley. We discovered that the lavish gate actually has dedicated quarters for the gatekeeper, surrounded by a pupfish-filled micro-moat. It's really silly but it was also super fun to explore.

We went back to a place we'd been to the previous day, a super salty creek called Salt Creek. The kids--as always--were obsessed with playing in the water. It lasted like 5 minutes before every square inch of skin exposed to the water became bright red and stung. It was OK, it was worth it.

Daddy went on a night walk right out into the desert at night time. He found a bush.

The mornings were epically cuddly. Guess what this morning was? Little's 6th birthday! Littlest was excited for her.

We saw a total of 3 mammals in Death Valley, and two were sick-looking and disturbingly unwary. DV is not kind to animals.

We planned a very special outing for Little's birthday. We parked in a gravel pit and climbed up the alluvial plain of a canyon that drains into Badwater Basin. For some reason, we just love off-trail exploring and find it almost infinitely more enjoyable than trail hiking. We found a total of four slot canyons branching off the main canyon. We explored them all.

The kids had new confidence after their climbing trip to Castle Rock, and totally rocked the rocks.

The slot canyons were so deep and so narrow that in places they got pitch black and we needed lights.

One of the slot canyons had periodic sheer drops of 4-10 feet that Little just geckoed right up despite the fact that we forgot to bring her real shoes.

We found a kangaroo rat running around in broad daylight. That was very weird.

The third slot canyon was by far the best. The entrance was a squirm but it opened up into beautiful, shaped walls with great light.

It also got completely pitch black.

Overall, the kids hiked about 5 miles with tons of scrambling and climbing, lots of elevation gain and pretty much great spirits all around. It was a major highlight of the trip and a stupendous way to spend Little's birthday.

We let Little pick her own special birthday dinner from the National Park general store. Yes, we ate Doritos, Easy Mac and carrot cake for dinner. MMMmblublublbulbulbubl. As a birthday candle proxy, Little blew out the stove lighter. Happy 6th, Not-so-Little!