Death Valley

The weekend before Christmas I went to Death Valley with Victor and his friend Wei Zhuang. We were deciding between an RV or a four wheel drive and in the end we decided on the former since it sounds more interesting. I had to take public transport to Newark to rent the smallest 19-feet RV from CruiseAmerica. It is a pretty solid vehicle powered by a Ford E350 van cab chassis, fits 3 property on a double bed above the cab and a dining area, kitchen area, fridge, microwave and even a tiny bathroom. A self-contained motor-home with all the essentials but still can fit into a regular parking lot! Driving it was a little bit challenging initially. First, it is a big fat monster, hence its acceleration is very slow. Second, you cannot see through the rear view mirror, so the ultra wide side view mirrors help to see the rear. Third, the turning radius is slightly bigger than a normal car, causing it harder to make u-turns and park.

After a while I got used to it and we are on our way for a 10-hour drive to Death Valley. It was a pretty smooth drive, although I have to keep right more than usual for the “overtaking game” on i5 as I am slower. You know cars overtake trucks on the two-lane road but some cars are too slow yet they stay on the left lane, and then the worse is when trucks overtake trucks and they try to be smart. Gas mileage is horrible at about 10mpg but the 40-gallon tank helps to reduce the number of top-ups. Over the Bakersfield pass it turned dark and there was police and traffic because there was a trailer accident and it spilled some of its load on the freeway and hence everyone had to maneuver slowly. Highway 395 and 14 was a pretty boring stretch, straight, dark and devoid of civilization. Finally we reached the dark entrance of death valley. My high beam wasn’t on and we almost crashed into a black buffalo which was crossing the road. Fortunately I managed to seurve in time. We also saw a coyote on the way. I was also surprised by the elevation climb through the mountain to Panamint Springs. I was initially worried about the return route through Lake Isabella and decided to cancel it, but this was probably worse and hence it was good training. (In the end, I decided to book the Lake Isabella KOA again for the last night since the elevation/rain won’t be a problem compared to these). Our first meal was instant noodles with fishballs on the RV. It was pretty cosy once we hooked up the electric at the campground and the heater could be turned on. Stars filled the night sky.

The next day we went to the bathroom without the car keys and locked ourselves out! The funny thing was we were wearing slippers (so Singaporean) in 3 deg C. We asked the campground front desk for help. They said the maintenance guy would only come an hour later. Meanwhile we fiddled the keyhole but to no avail. Why God? Fortunately the guy came with a slim Jim and he managed to pop the lock open by wedging the window and putting the metal rod through the gap and pressing the unlock button. (I wonder if God was making a joke with me when I was mediating on “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”)

And so we had a buffet breakfast and are on our way. A kind gentleman was talking to us and warned us about black ice as we drove across the mountain pass. It was very scenic and breathtaking with a straight road up a rocky mountain. We finally arrived at stovepipe wells and we visited the Mosaic Canyon, which had some real cold marble rock. I was a bit worried as we had to drive through rocky gravel dirt road on a huge truck. Thankfully the RV handled pretty well actually. Dirt roads are not that bad for cars after all. After that, it was another drive to Furnace Creek, and then up to Zimbrakie’s overlook and Dante’s Peak. The road has a 25-feet length limit which we fit and a 15% grade near the top. The ice forming on the sides of the narrow road was slightly intimidating. At the top, we have a nice view at about 2000ft above the death valley. It was very windy and cold though. We then drove back to Furnace Creek where we cooked instant noodles in the parking lot which is hilarious if you think about it. Haha. We attended a boring star gazing talk before heading back to Stovepipe Wells for the night. This place had slightly better facilities like a pool and showers.

After another sightly better buffet breakfast, we are on our way to the sand dunes for a morning hike. The early morning sun casts nice blue shadows on the sand, and along with the ripples and footprints, it was quite picturesque like a desert postcard. We hiked 1 mile to the highest sand dune on the soft sand and it was pretty fun like a giant playground. After that, we went to badwater basin, which is the lowest point in the valley at 85 feet below sea level. Here, salt forms sendiments and patterns along the whole valley. Lots and loads of salt. After that we went to Natural Bridges, which is a hole in the canyon (dried up river) and formed a “bridge”. We played with rocks and created our own marker tower. The next attraction was Artist’s Drive, which was slightly disappointing. It was a one-lane windy dippy road and there was a spot which many drivers stopped but there was not much to see. But there was another spot called Artist’s Palette with lime-green and red rocks but not many people stopped to see. Weird. The last attraction we went is the Golden Canyon, which leads to a massive rock formation called the Red Cathedral, which is like a mini-grand-canyon viewed from the bottom. It was getting dark as we hiked out. At the restroom pit stop we met some Singaporeans whom Victor knew. What a small world. And we set off for our destination for the night which is Lake Isabella. The plan was to drive more at night to drive less the next day. We had to make a dinner detour to Lone Pine as that’s the only place with real food (like McDonald’s McRib lol) and our fuel tank barely made it there. Thank God it lasted for the whole of the valley because the gas prices are exorbitant in the national park. After 5 long hours at 11pm we finally arrived at Lake Isabella KOA where we camped for the night. Thankfully not much rain as forecasted.

The last day, the drive down highway 178 wasn’t as bad as I was worried about. It was pretty scenic actually, with the river running by rocky mountains and nice autumn trees. Weird that they still have trees with yellow leaves. We had a nice sumptuous brunch at Bakersfield which made us so full that we need not have dinner. However, due to rain over the Gilroy pass we still took a long time to drive home. I was surprised that people still drive fast in low visibility. By the time we reached Redwood City it was 6pm. We cleaned up the RV, vacuumed all the sand, and went home.

Thank God for a wonderful trip without any major mishaps. For even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Next time, should drive a 4×4 to Death Valley!