Summer in California brings to mind trips to the river, the beach, a road trip to Baja, a trip up PCH or maybe even a flight to the Islands. Rarely, if ever, do we conjure up Death Valley.
And rarely has a summer paradise gone so underused and underutilized. Summer in Death Valley is the ultimate retort to any ass-wipe who ever asked the clichéd and inane pregunta, “Hot enough for you?” (Answer that with this response: “No—as a matter of fact, it isn’t. That’s why we’re loading up the camper and heading toward the desert. We’re gonna vacation Death Valley style.”)
First, a few quick safety tips. Check your oil, radiator, tires and fan belt before you go. Hell, you may just want to buy a new car. Bring gobs of water, and then bring more, unless your idea of fun is dying of thirst while you desperately try to drink your own urine. If your car breaks down, stay with it—if you try to walk for help, you’re as good as dead, unless of course there’s a flash flood. In that case, run for the nearest high water mark you can find. Wear sunscreen at all times and a hat, and keep an eye out for snakes, even at night.
Ready to have fun? Let’s go.
Most of what you want to do in Death Valley is located in the National Park, so here’s the quick rundown: The park is open 24 hours a day, all year long. You can come in March like any average coward, but not you, you’re here in August. And they’ll let you in. Assuming you have the $10 dollar entrance fee, which is good for 7 days. ATVs are not allowed, but bicycles are. Fires are legal in fire pits, although why someone would make a fire here in August is beyond me.
Anyone can go to Scotty’s Castle during February, but in August, you may get to watch the Castle melt. Scotty’s Castle is named after Walter Scott, a.k.a. Death Valley Scotty, local curmudgeon, coot and all-around dreamer. At one point, the Castle functioned as a hotel, featuring an eclectic list of celebrities like Bette Davis and Norman Rockwell. The place is still loaded with art and old bric-a brac. Take a tour and soak up the odd energy of the place.
Five miles behind the Panamint Springs Resort lies an all-year stream and a 20-foot waterfall. In Death Valley! It’s the only real agua around, and it’s yours for the taking. But, like most things in Death Valley, there’s a catch—make sure to not go too far up the path past the waterfall, as it gets slippery and you could fall and die. Have fun, kids!
It sounds like a band that opened for Foghat in 1980 at the San Bernardino County Fair, but in reality, Badwater is the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere at a mind-numbingly low 282 feet below sea level. You need to check out Badwater just to walk amongst its crusty salt beds as you stare out at the Panamint and Amarogosa Mountains hovering in the distance. You’ll feel like an egg on a frying pan, so what the hell—go ahead, fire up the Foghat.
When you feel like you just can’t take the heat anymore, head up to Dante’s Peak, which at 5,500 feet is normally cooler—slightly cooler—than the rest of the valley. While not the highest peak, it offers a bitchin’ view of the park, as well as being drivable by car.
Furnace Creek Campground. It’s one thing to do Death Valley in the summer, but quite another to camp overnight. And yet, why not go all the way? Furnace Creek Campground requires reservations from October 15th to April 15th, but after that, people’s desire to rough it dwindles. Any effete, Pinot-sniffing yuppie can stay at the Inn (see below). But only the truly psychotic camp in weather that can melt tent poles.
Furnace Creek Inn. Offering “luxury and timeless elegance,” this plush palace is closed for the summer. It’s like they’re daring us.
Furnace Creek Ranch. The not-so-fancy-yet-decent motel they keep open in the summer. You think you’re going to keep us out, Furnace Creek people? We’ll sleep in our cars if we have to.
Sleeping in car. Not recommended.
So come this summer to Death Valley and prove you’re no wimp. Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to, I can’t make it this year, as I’m stuck going to Fiji, a place that anyone can handle.
More info at www.nps.gov/deva; www.deathvalley.com; and www.furnacecreekresort.com.