No Reservations – Death Valley National Park, California

We recently went on a family road trip and spent three days exploring Death Valley National Park. Here’s what we did on Day #1 (Friday, 3/12/21): Furnace Creek Visitor Center, West Side Road, Badwater Basin, Artist Drive, and Mesquite Sand Dunes

We took two days to drive from our home in Northern California to Death Valley National Park. We spent the night at Jawbone Station, an Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which served as a very nice layover in splitting the drive into two days. It didn’t hurt that it was free.

Jawbone Station OHV BML

< Side note: We were going to try and make the drive in one day, but there was snow in the pass and we had to turn around after going an hour in the wrong direction… I guess we should’ve checked the road conditions before we left home. It gets worse because not only did we fail to check conditions in the pass before we left, my mom had texted me the day before letting me know that the forecast was for snow. Did I listen to the wise words of my mother? Unfortunately, my inner teenager must’ve taken over my brain and no, I did not. Lesson learned. For other lessons learned see the bottom of this post.

We arrived at Death Valley National Park around noon. E practically slammed on the brakes when the sign snuck up on us. It turned out great because another family was at the sign too and we took turns taking photos for each other. “Thank you” to the nice dad who took this for us!

We purchased an America the Beautiful National Park Pass at the Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station (our 4th grader pass expired last August), picked up our Junior Ranger Workbooks, and then headed across the park (about a 30 min. drive) to Sunset Campground in Furnace Creek.

< Side note again: OK, seriously you guys, as I am writing this post to tell you about our trip. I looked up the National Park website so I could link where you can buy the Park passes and I see that they have a Free Voucher for Fifth Graders! So, I could have saved $80 by getting a free voucher for my fifth grader (good until August 2021) instead of buying an annual park pass. Another lesson learned.

Anyway, back to Sunset campground (elevation 190 feet below sea level) which was basically a nice level gravel parking lot with large spaces, a restroom, and a nearby dump station. There were no hook-ups. I’m definitely a glamping kinda girl but I wanted easy access to the park and we didn’t make reservations in advance for a campground with hook-ups. C’est la vie.

After checking in with a friendly and super-helpful park Ranger at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center we decided our first stop would be Badwater Basin. Technically, the Visitor Center is closed due to Covid-19 but the Rangers had set up booths outside to answer questions.

the weather was perfect

We had decided to tow our jeep along with us just in case we needed it. We were really glad that we brought it along because Death Valley Park is gigantic (3 million acres) and it takes some driving to get to all the different points of interest. Since we had the jeep, we opted to try out a gravel 4 x 4 road part of the way to Badwater Basin. After about 5 miles, we realized that it was gonna take us too long to get to there so we turned around, headed back on the dirt road, and then took the main paved road to Badwater. The ground on the sides of the road was covered with salty mineral rocks that were brittle and sharp.

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. The flat salt trail goes for about a mile to where geometric salt flat shapes can be seen.

Unfortunately, the salt was so white that some of us who forgot sunglasses couldn’t handle the brightness. We decided to sally forth and come back to Badwater Basin to hike out to the salt flats another day…

On the way back to the RV we took Artist Drive and set up the tripod for a family photo at Artist Pallet.

Artist Pallet

While E got some caffeine at the Furnace Creek Market the kids and I took a walk around the outdoor portion of the Borax Museum.

Once we made our pit stop at the RV we headed out to Mesquite Dunes. The kiddos enjoyed the dunes so much that we went there again the next day.

sunset at Mesquite Dunes

Best part of day #1: watching the sunset at Mesquite Dunes

Lessons Learned:

  • Always listen to your mother
  • Check the road conditions before you leave home
  • 5th graders can get a free National Park voucher that is good until August 2021
  • You don’t need reservations to enjoy Death Valley National Park
  • Remember your sunglasses 😎

Stay tuned for our adventure on day #2…

16 thoughts on “No Reservations – Death Valley National Park, California

    1. We sold the big one (35 ft), but then we bought a little one (24 ft). The big one was great when we were living in it full time but it was too big for taking it on weekend trips. We didn’t have a place to store it. The little one fits in the driveway. After living the full-time RV lifestyle we caught an incurable case of the travel bug!

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