We went up to Lone Pine and Death Valley in March of 2017 to celebrate our three-year anniversary. It had been about 7 years since we last visited, so it was time. We were hoping that since we got a lot of rain this winter there would be an excessive amount of flowers and/or water in the valleys. Sadly, neither was the case.
We drove up to Lone Pine on a Saturday morning, giving us ample time to explore the area before the day ended. It was about a 3.5 hour drive, including a stop in Kramer Jct. to use the facilities. That was probably the worst Burger King we’ve ever been in. The service was terrible, and the staff just didn’t care. If you stop to use the bathroom there, I highly recommend you don’t do the courteous thing and make a purchase. It’s just not worth the effort. After making it up to Lone Pine, we stopped for some lunch at the Subway and took our sandwiches out into the Alabama Hills to eat and do a little hiking. We easily found the trail head for the Mobius Arch, so we parked and ate our sandwiches in the back of the truck to avoid the somewhat significant breeze. We wolfed the food down and headed for a nice leisurely hike on the loop trail to see some arches. We were not disappointed. They were pretty neat little arches, which I didn’t expect to find in California, considering the most famous arches in the southwest seem to all congregate together in the southern Utah area.
When were satisfied with our hike and completed the loop, we headed up to see how far up the Whitney Portal road we could go. As expected, it was closed fairly early due to the significant snowfall that occurred this winter. Being adventurous, I thought we should try and hike up a little way to see if we could actually see Mt. Whitney. There were big signs on the roadblock telling pedestrians to not enter as well. Not wanting to incur the wrath of local law enforcement, we headed off a side dirt road and were pleasantly surprised with the short hike. It took us down a small ravine across Lone Pine Creek and out a ways on a very dilapidated asphalt road. There were some north-east facing sections that still had some snow on the ground, so we spent a few minutes playing with that before continuing back to the car. We were also able to actually see the top of Mt. Whitney from this side road, which is what I originally wanted to do by coming up here anyway. With plenty of time left in the day, I wanted to try going down Hogback Road. It was a bit rutted, but overall was an easy drive for the truck, and I had fun letting the truck do something beyond city driving for a change. We reconnected with Movie Rd. and made our way out of the Alabama Hills towards the hotel. It was late enough now that I decided we could check in and get ready for dinner. After checking into what would become one our favorite Best Westerns, we walked into town to have some dinner at a Mexican restaurant. The red sauce on my enchiladas and Alex’s burrito was extremely sweet, so much, in fact, that it was hard to finish eating. I managed to finish my food; Alex had hers packed up and ate it later at the hotel room. We walked back and got ready for bed. Another great thing about the hotel was that parking was assigned. That meant I got to park right next to the hotel room, and no matter how late we got back from an adventure, I knew that the parking space would be waiting for me, and I didn’t have to park on the other side of the city.
Sunday morning we woke up before the dawn for some robot-made pancakes. The breakfast selections were pretty good, and we were quite satisfied with what we had. As the sun rose in the east, the 14k+ foot mountains to the west easily caught the incoming sunlight well before it reached us down in the valley. The day was a busy day of driving to Death Valley. It’s a lot farther than I remembered it being last time we were here. I think that may have something to do with with driving a big truck vs. the RX-8 I had last time we came. There are actually quite a few mountains and valleys you need to pass before getting down to the actual park area. We eventually got to the Father Crowley Overlook, which gives fantastic views of the area and the road we’d be traveling on for a while as we descended into Panamint Valley. Unlike 2010, this year it was completely dry. I’m not sure if it is because we came about a month later, or if it was just because they got less rain. When asking the park ranger at the visitor center later, it seemed like the later was the reason, although a clear answer wasn’t provided. We got gas in Panamint Springs, paying a whopping $4.50/gal because I didn’t know that there was also gas available in Stovepipe Wells for significantly cheaper. I didn’t fill up, but got enough to get us through the rest of our day trip. We eventually made it down to the dunes past Stovepipe Wells and did a little bit of frolicking in the sand. Alex decided she wanted to run and jump off a dune, and took a small tumble, making her sandy for the rest of the day.
When were done with the dunes, we headed to the visitor center in Furnace Creek. The exhibits have all been renovated since the last time we visited, so it was cool to see it all and learn new things that I didn’t know about the park and the surrounding areas. A helpful ranger gave us some information on what to do and where to go in the park. He suggested that we should get up to the higher elevations to avoid the heat, which was over 100°F on the valley floor; in March! We took his advice and drove up to Dante’s View, which is about 5000ft above Badwater Basin. Since we have already seen the lowest spot in the US in the past, it felt right to go somewhere new and see it from a different perspective. Before checking anything out, we sat in the back of the truck and ate our lunch of pb&j and chips. Sometimes having a simple lunch is the best way to go on a trip. It was amazing up on top of the mountain looking down. The wind up there was pretty steady at about 20-25mph, and so not many people were hiking the ridge trail. It made it a pretty great experience being only a few people in the vast emptiness. The weather was significantly cooler up at this altitude. We actually wore our long sleeved shirts to keep the breeze off us.
When were done hiking the ridge trail, I wanted to go back up to the other end of the park. I had read about Ubehebe crater before the trip, and I felt like it was still a good choice for us. We drove all the way up the valley along Scotty’s Castle Rd. until we hit the end of the line where the crater parking lot was. At this point, the wind had changed from a steady 25mph wind to a gusting 40-50mph blow, throwing small pebbles at our legs as we started the hike around the crater. It doesn’t look like much from satellite views, but when you’re walking around it on the ground, it’s quite spectacular. All along the trail there were signs reminding you to stay away from the edge, as it could easily collapse. Nothing was solid, it was mostly shifting sand and gravel on the trail, and made for an interesting hike. To spice it up at the end, instead of just walking back to the truck, I chose to also circumnavigate “Little Ubehebe”, so our eventual satellite track looks like an infinity symbol with one of the loops being significantly larger than the other. It was a great hike, despite the wind. In fact, I reckon the wind made it even more fun. After the hike, the sun was beginning to sink into the sky, and we were both pretty hungry. The plan was to head to the hotel to grab a quick shower and then off to Lone Pine Smokehouse for some BBQ. Well, it’s a bit of a longer drive back than expected, so we ended up heading straight to the restaurant before it closed at 9pm. It was pretty ok BBQ. The ribs were good dry, but their sauces were not to my liking. The mac & cheese was mediocre as well. We finished dinner and headed back to the hotel for one more night.
In the morning, we packed up our stuff, had some more robot-crafted pancakes and hit the road for home. Not really feeling like doing anything else, we just drove right on through. We got home early enough in the day to let us get our normal weekend shopping and stuff done. Overall, it was a good trip, and well worth the three days spent in the area.