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Hiking Death Valley (Feb 2019) Part 1

The Day the Tent Closed...with Us Inside

Before it even began, the trip was off to a rough start. See, we'd planned  - if you can call deciding to go on a trip just a few days prior to departure, "planning" - to leave two weeks earlier, but inclement weather caused us to push the trip back. Even so, the weather report was iffy just a few days before the new date - something we decided we'd ignore so we could get out and explore.

Plus, by pushing the date, we'd gotten a couple of friends - Ben @m3bassman, Zane @Speedytech7, and Mikey @pizzaviolence to join @mrs.turbodb and me on this adventure - no small feat since the plan was to do something completely different than normal - spend the vast majority of our time out of the trucks, hiking some of the beautiful canyons that the Death Valley desert has to offer.

So it was that on the morning of February 13, we packed up the truck and headed south - happy to escape the snow that had enveloped the Seattle area for the previous two weeks, hoping that the weather we'd find ourselves in was more inviting.

Now, getting to Death Valley is never a quick operation - for us, it's a 19-20 hour ordeal through the back-woods of Oregon and Nevada, with a stop for the night somewhere around the latitude of Reno - approximately 15 hours from home. This trip was no exception - in fact, the cold weather we were running from at home had an even stronger grip as we made our way south - snow, rain, and a headwind making us question if we had really made the right decision.

We did get to see this Toyota Truck - outfitted with a Wildernest - as we passed through Oregon. And he was pretty excited to see us.

With stops only for fuel and food, we pushed on. Our destination was just south of Fallon, NV, where we were going to meet up with Ben and Mikey for a few hours of sleep, and then make the final push to Death Valley early the next morning. And so it was that around 1:00am, we rolled into camp - a camp on the side of a hill that, despite the early, hour we could see from literally miles away. See, the rain had (thankfully) stopped and having arrived a half hour earlier, Ben had turned on not only his headlights, but also his Hellas and what we like to refer to as his "small collapsed sun," (aka his bro bar) to guide us in.

Not actually Ben. He's got more lights.

There were warm greetings all around as @mrs.turbodb and I got the tent setup and then we all quickly agreed that rather than leaving at 5:30am, a better start time might be 6:30am - that extra hour of warm sleep a welcome end to a long day. As we got cozy under the covers, the wind whipped around the tent, but we didn't care. We put in our earplugs and closed our eyes, the new Exped MegaMat 10 Duo LXW - brand new on this trip to replace the ageing foam mattress - so comfy that we were nearly instantly asleep.

The wind not only continued through the night, it picked up steam. A few times, it lifted the fold-out part of the tent a few inches off the ground but nothing I hadn't experienced in the Henry Mountains a few months before. But then, at 4:57am, a strong gust must have caught the tent at just the right angle and WHAP, the entire tent folded up with us inside! Well, not completely, since we were still in there, but the floor of the tent was now sticking vertically in the air, and we'd been completely thrown onto the other half of the tent floor - not a good situation!

I quickly got the tent re-deployed, and a quick visual inspection showed the only thing hurt to be our egos, so we flipped the bedding around to put most of our weight on the fold-out side and tried to go back to sleep, hoping that the adrenaline coursing through our bodies would give us another hour of shut-eye before we had to get up and on our way.

Alas, it wasn't to be - about 15 minutes later, we heard the rain - which had held off all night - start, and it was furious. Blown sideways by the driving wind, everything was soaked within minutes. Ben was out of his tent at this point, quickly putting it away, and we soon followed - it was clear that we weren't going to be getting any more sleep.

Both of us were luckier than Mikey, who was sleeping in a ground tent, and who later related to us that he "thought the tent was working great, until I realized that my sleeping pad was just soaking up all the water."

And so it was that by 6:00am, we were on the road - once again in heavy rain - to Death Valley.

We Luck Out and It's Beautiful

Despite the weather, we made good time heading south. There aren't many towns in this part of Nevada, so we stopped where we could for fuel, ate breakfast as we drove, and caught up over the CB radio. By 8:00am we were nearing Hawthorne, NV and the then a couple hours later, Tonopah and Goldfield.

If the weather had been nicer, and if we'd had a bit more time, I always recommend stopping in Goldfield for the Enchanted International Car Forest (photos) (more photos), but neither weather nor time were cooperative today and so we pushed on to Beatty where we got our last fuel before heading into the park.

It's here that I feel obligated to note that the Arco station in Beatty now accepts credit cards - a welcome convenience given the (relatively) cheap price of fuel for the area, now without having to remember cash!

All fueled up, we headed into the park. "Welcome to the hottest, driest place on earth." said Ben over the radio. It was raining, and visibility was well under one mile.

And, just as we took our first photos, we all got the following notification over our cell phones. "Just perfect" given our plan to hike up a canyon.

Luckily - we hoped - for us, we still had a couple hours to drive before meeting up with Zane for our first hike. Fingers crossed, it wouldn't be raining near Jubilee Pass - or if it was, it'd just be a light, intermittent, drizzle. So we pointed the trucks that direction and made reasonably good time - the weather reducing the number of stops we made for photos.

Of course, it's not every day you see significant amounts of water in Badwater Basin, so we made a few stops along the way to capture the event as best we could.

Eventually, and right around lunch time, we found Zane. He'd arrived just a few minutes earlier - his trip up from the south a shorter one - and was putzing around the trailhead, eavesdropping on our CB chatter as we approached. Unfortunately, it was still raining quite hard at this point and so even our quick greetings resulted in 5 very wet campers. We climbed back into the trucks and continued the conversation over the radios.

All hungry for lunch, we decided that the first order of business was to eat, and then we'd figure out what we wanted to do about the hike. So we ventured back out into the downpour and got sandwiches assembled before retreating to the trucks once again for consumption. But lunch could only delay the inevitable for so long, and soon we decided that having come this far, and with no rain in the forecast for the remainder of the trip (so we could dry out our stuff), that there was no real reason not to go on the hike.

I suggested to my better half that she wear only the minimal clothing necessary - essentially a shell - so that there was as little to dry out as possible, and with that we locked up the trucks on the side of the road (the "trailhead") and set off on foot.

Now, and astute reader may have noticed that I have yet to mention where we were actually going on this hike. It turns out, there was no trail where we were going - rather, we were headed cross-country, up an alluvial fan, and into Kaleidoscope Canyon.

As with many of the hikes on this trip, this one was inspired by @DVExile, who's adventures in Death Valley always leave me wishing I was a fly on the window of his truck. In fact, he and I had hoped to meet on this very trail two weeks earlier - he wrapping up a trip to the park, and I just starting - alas, the weather throwing a wrench into those plans.

Just a few minutes into our trek, a stroke of luck - the rain began tapering off! We all looked at each other - hesitant to mention a word lest the weather gods take their revenge - and continued on, taking in the scenery as we neared the entrance to the canyon, vivid from the recent rain.

Little did we know at this point that everything we were seeing was - at best - just "meh" compared to what we were about to experience in Kaleidoscope itself. As such, we were continually stopping to take photos of the spectacular surroundings.

Along the way, we ran into these little shrubs that reminded us of the "layered" trees you might see in Hawaii, tropical rain-forests, or Africa - just miniaturized to about 12" tall.

And bright red cotton-top cactus, clinging to the sides of the canyon.

And then, we started - just started - to get into the geology of the place. Here, a fault line in the rock as clear as day - where the orange and white layers of stone are no longer aligned - so cool to see in such an obvious way.

And a humongous fold, where some sort of geologic activity caused all kinds of craziness to happen - a U-shaped fold filled in by additional (vertical) layers, then sheared off at a 45º angle at the 8 o'clock position where even more layers of earth remained horizontal.

And we started to see color. Both close up, and far away. Yes, this was going to be special.

It is at this point that I must warn you - the reader - that I am going to run out of ways to describe this place to you. I'll continue to try, but it will be impossible for me to do so without repeating myself about the color and beauty that it holds. The photos too may seem slightly repetitive - each one different views into the same Kaleidoscope. It's not that I'm sorry about any of this - quite the opposite - but I felt it necessary to warn you up front :).

As we entered Kaleidoscope Canyon proper, the oranges and reds began to pop.

And little bits of blue sky started to make themselves known. It was at this point that @mrs.turbodb, who had suggested that perhaps it wasn't the "best idea" to go on the hike in the rain looked over and mentioned how it seemed to be working out just fine!

We continued up the canyon, turn after turn - each time thinking that we must have reached the apex of the experience, only to realized that no - it continued to get better - the colors getting more varied and vibrant all the time.

A hike like this really is a special thing - it's an experience you never want to end, and yet one that you're worried might go on forever. If that were the case, it one would have to tear themselves away from the splendor to eat and sleep - and no one in their right mind would want that.

It wasn't just the colors at this point - we were once again looking at the geology of the place. Palisades, with boulders delicately balanced on their tops, a huge, black, V-shaped fold in an otherwise orange wall. Spectacular.

We continued. We stopped. Turn after turn. Over and over again.

Eventually we did reach the apex of the trek. We continued on past this point by scrambling up several sets of dry falls - just to make sure we weren't missing anything - the canyon continuing up into the mountainside, before deciding that it'd probably be a good idea to start heading back, so we could get to camp before dark. But not before we snapped a few more photos that were sure to be different than all the rest.

As we headed back down the canyon, the weather continued to get nicer. The sun was poking through the clouds more and more, illuminating the colors in the canyon - making our exit out of the canyon even more enjoyable than our entrance into it. So amazing when we thought back to how we'd started our trek in a downpour!

At the mouth of the canyon as we could see the sun streaking down into Death Valley, I looked back to capture it one more time - such a special place, and one that I was glad we'd taken the time to hike, rather than just driving by as we usually do!

And then, we headed down the alluvial fan to our awaiting trucks. It wouldn't be the last time on this trip that we'd measure our progress by how tiny the trucks were in the distance.

When we finally got back it was nearly 5:45pm, and yet we were more energized than we'd been when we'd started. As we piled into the trucks, I let everyone know that our destination for the evening - Rhodes Spring - wasn't far away, and that we should be there in 15-20 minutes.

Up and over Jubilee Pass, then a bit of dirt, and we were there. And we were just in time to take in the cabin with the last of the daylight.

The cabin was in amazingly good shape, so we explored a bit - though we left the bulk of our exploration for the following morning, wanting to setup camp before dark - this time more cognizant of the wind direction - not wanting a repeat of the night before.

As the sun dropped below the clouds, we were treated to a perfect end to a glorious day - the long rays glowing orange across the bottoms of the clouds and top of the desert. There isn't much more that you can ask for than a setting like this if you ask me.

And then, as the last of the light faded on the horizon - and a glorious pink illuminated the sky - we prepped dinner (tacos and guacamole) and gathered between the trucks, sheltered from the wind, to reflect on the day.

It hadn't been like anything we'd expected - it'd been better. We'd seen so much and yet it was only the first of three days we planned to spend wandering off into the desert in search of sights not visible from any road. Glorious!

Without a camp fire (none are allowed in the park), tired from the night before and our hike that afternoon, and knowing we were going to do it all again the next day, we hit the sack early - Mikey braving the hammock life even with inclement weather - suspending his between Ben and Zane's trucks.

We weren't sure what was in store for us the next day, but we knew one thing - this was just the start to a trip that would be like no other!



The Whole Story


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  1. Jim
    Jim March 12, 2019

    just read this one...fantastic! Keep on rockin' ! UJ

    • turbodb
      turbodb March 12, 2019


  2. Kenny
    Kenny January 5, 2021

    As always your photos are spectacular and your narration makes one feel like you are there. Thanks for sharing your trips, we are very much appreciated.

    Happy Trails!

    • turbodb
      turbodb January 5, 2021

      Thank you Kenny. Always so nice to hear when you enjoy!

    IWPCHI April 9, 2022

    Amazing geology! And how fortunate to arrive in Death Valley just after a heavy rain! (I'm not a religious person but I'd be careful not to anger the gods and the spirits of the dead by complaining about the rain... in Death Valley! It's not difficult to imagine how many have died in that valley praying for even one drop of water.)
    The water on the rocks heightened their color; and you can see that the plants reveled in that rare moisture from heaven (don't ask how some of them obtain their moisture the rest of the year)! You couldn't have picked a better time to visit! And at the end of the day in Death Valley... a rainbow?! No one would believe this story unless they saw the pictures. Absolutely sublime! Thanks for sharing this!

    • turbodb
      turbodb April 13, 2022

      You're welcome! I always love getting notes like this. Sounds like you happened into this story after reading about Indian Hot Springs... I hope you have the chance to wander into some other stories as well, and that you find them equally enjoyable! ?

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