I survived a weekend in Death Valley. More impressively, I survived a weekend sharing a car/tent with my twin-carrying wife and my shit-eating dog. Here’s a recap of the trip from the only point of view that matters (that would be mine). If you don’t care what I have to say and just want to see some pics, here you go.
Surprisingly, we got the car loaded up and left just about on time. We decided to “split” the driving: I would drive to Ridgecrest, and then Shae would drive the rest of the way. Let’s just say I now know that Ridgecrest is way past the halfway point of the trip. At least I got to enjoy the beautiful city of Trona as a passenger. Yay.
This seems like the right place to mention that Lunchbox might be the best car-dog ever. I’ll have to check with the people at Guinness to see if he’s tops in the world, but he’s definitely the best I’ve seen. He didn’t make a single sound the entire trip. He spent the trip silently sitting/laying on his bed in his little space in the car and enjoyed the ride. No crying, no whining, no pacing. OK, the Lunchbox bragging section of the blog (well, at least for this paragraph) is over.
Our first stop in Death Valley was at Stovepipe Wells to get some ice cream. Apparently this is a tradition of some sort, but I think it’s just an excuse to eat ice cream. Either way I got a treat. It’ll probably get mentioned below, but I just thought I’d get on record with the obvious: Death Valley is beautiful. (Also, there are very few dead people laying on the side of the road.)
Once we finished our ice cream it was time to go setup our campsite. Actually, we had to find it first. Shae’s description of the road to our site: “It’s just after an elevation sign.” Somehow we found the little indentation on the rocks that doubles as the road to our campsite. (We would later discover that the “road” actually shows up on our Garmin navigation unit…gotta love technology). After driving about 4 miles down the road, we got to “Hole in the Wall” which is where we setup camp. I just want to point out that “Hole in the Wall” isn’t a hole. It’s a gap, or a break, or whatever but it’s not a hole. Anyway, when we got to Gap in the Wall we found that the campsite we wanted was actually available and setup camp. As we finished setting up camp we realized we had somehow forgotten the pillows despite putting them right in front of the door. Oh well, I guess we’ll be using spare blankets for pillows.
After setting up camp and eating dinner Shae took me to see Devil’s Golf Course. It’s cool and all, but my first reaction upon seeing Devil’s Golf Course was, “this looks nothing like a golf course.” Shae explained that it’s called Devil’s Golf Course because it would be torture to have to play golf on it. That makes more sense, so now I guess it’s just cool.
And now, the fun part of our first day. One of the things about making your own campsite 4 miles away from the main road is that there aren’t exactly restrooms around. Apparently, you are supposed to dig a hole, do your business, and bury it. That sounds fine until you show up with a dog who decides that this is the week his sense of smell is going to start working. About a minute after we let LB off his leash (in violation of the park regs…I hope a ranger doesn’t pick tonight to drive all the way out here looking for dogs off leash) he starts digging up and eating crap (literally). Lunchbox is usually relatively obedient, but once he catches the smell of shit he couldn’t care less what we want. All he wants is to dig up poop. Top dog my ass; I’m taking back his award. Guess our boy isn’t going to be getting much freedom around camp.
A few games of Uno and Ziggity and it’s time for bed. I learned my lesson from my last dog (hi Kuge): lab puppies sleeping on the bed are cute and fun, but full grow labs sleeping on the bed are not. Having learned from the past, Lunchbox has never been allowed up on the bed (he sleeps on his own bed on the ground next to our bed). Apparently this restriction does not apply to air mattresses. After about 10 seconds on his bed LB realized that there was no good reason he couldn’t fit on the air mattress. So to recap our sleeping arrangements: we’re using blankets for pillows and sharing an air mattress with a poop-eating lab. Super.
After a night of being pushed off the bed by Lunchbox, Friday started with a bang (actually, more of a plop). One thing I failed to mention about Thursday was that LB had problems adjusting to the rocky terrain of our campsite. More specifically, he couldn’t get comfortable enough to do his business. Well, on Friday morning he finally took his first dump since we left San Diego. It was freakin’ huge. We were so proud. I had Shae clean it up while I congratulated the dog.
After the excitement of Lunchbox’s load, we had some cereal for breakfast and headed out for the day. Our first stop was Inyo Mine. After a bit of a drive to the mine, we put LB’s little shoes on and went out to explore the camp below the mine. Shae took pictures of the deserted buildings (lots of windows and doors) while I wandered around with the dog as he bounced around in his booties. Once we were done with the pictures it was time to hike up to the mine. The hike up to the mine wasn’t very long but it was pretty steep. Shae’s “condition” (aka her two parasites) made the hike tough for her but eventually we made it up to the mine entrance. We took a quick look inside the mine (we couldn’t go too far because there was a section of the tunnel that was LB couldn’t climb over) and then headed back down to the car and had some sandwiches.
After our mining expedition, we headed to Badwater so I could say I’ve been to the lowest point in North America. LB wasn’t allowed to go out on the boardwalk, so we made the Badwater stop short. We stayed just long enough for Shae to snap a picture of me and then we headed out to Stovepipe Wells to meet the bulk of our group. We stopped at Furnace Creek on the way and picked up LB a Death Valley bandanna with a map of the park on it. We thought about putting a red X at our campsite and writing “We Are Here” so he could find his way home if he got lost, but then decided he’d probably just follow the scent of crap back to camp.
While we waited at Stovepipe Wells for Shae’s parents (and everyone else) to arrive, we ended up talking to a few dog lovers who were hanging out by the store. They all seemed to love LB’s shoes. One couple had recently gotten a lab puppy from the pound, and watching Lunchbox lie calmly in front of us they convinced themselves their dog would calm down as he got older. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that their dog was actually a couple of months older than LB, or that the reason he was being so calm was that he had spent the whole morning running around the mine. I’ll let them figure that out for themselves.
Eventually the group showed up (Tom, Grace, Cindy, Thomas, Erin, Brielle, Bob, Theresa, and James…take notes, there will be a test later) and off to camp we went. Shae decided to let me look like a man and drive. Little did I know that she would somehow avoid sitting in the driver’s seat for the rest of the trip. Well played wifey. Well played.
Once we got back to camp everyone setup their tents, etc. and got settled in. I think it’s safe to say that the quality of camping life changed a bit with everyone’s arrival. Shae’s parents brought along a toilet-tent so now instead of digging a hole to crap in we have a toilet to use, complete with chemical bags that eat our poop (like LB). For dinner, we had hash and eggs (with our leftover corned beef). Things are a little different than last night. Oh, and LB took another monster dump (a double-bagger). Lucky for you, LB has gotten over his problem crapping on rocks so this should be the last Lunchbox poop update (no guarantees though).
After another night spent being shoved off the air mattress by our dog, it was time to go do some more sight seeing. Today’s agenda: Scotty’s Castle and Ubehebe Crater. We loaded up the cars and our caravan headed to Scotty’s Castle. Shae and I left the puppy with the grandparents and went on a tour of the castle. The tour was great and apparently we got a really good tour guide (I don’t have a comparison, but I learned a lot about Death Valley and the “castle”). The main thing I learned? Scotty’s Castle wasn’t owned by Scotty. What the hell is it with these names? “Hole in the Wall” isn’t a hole, “Devil’s Golf Course” doesn’t look like a golf course, and now “Scotty’s Castle” isn’t’ actually Scotty’s castle…I give up. Don’t get me wrong, Scotty’s Castle was great, and our tour guide did explain how the name came to be, but I’m still waiting to see dead people in Death Valley. None of these names make any sense.
At the start of our tour, the guide asked everyone where I was from. When I said “San Diego” she got all huffy and acted upset. I guess she’s a UConn fan and USD beat them last night. Apparently it was also a pretty exciting game. I wouldn’t know, we don’t get CBS in the tent. Even if we did get CBS in the tent, it probably wouldn’t be in HD so I wouldn’t watch it anyway. You know where I could watch the games in HD? That’s right, from my couch.
Our next stop was Ubehebe Crater. Somehow, this name actually makes sense. You know what it is? That’s right, a big hole in the ground…a crater. In what I guess is an annual tradition, Tom and Thomas jumped out of the car and ran down to the bottom the crater and then hiked back up. For some reason, the trip back up took a lot longer than the trip down, especially for Tom. Oddly, he couldn’t run back up the crater as fast as a 13 year old. Go figure.
And now, the big Death Valley event of the day: that’s right, a fantasy baseball draft. My plan was for Shae and I to run out to the Visitor’s Center (they have free wi-fi access), do the draft and then grab dinner at Furnace Creek or something. Somehow everyone in the group ended up getting at the Visitor’s Center and sitting out in the parking lot while I drafted a fantasy baseball team. It didn’t seem like anyone was too annoyed to be dragged along, so I guess it worked out.
After I finished my draft, we went to Furnace Creek to meet the last few members of our group (John, Brianna, and Ruben) and have some pizza. That’s right, we’re out here roughing it in Death Valley eating pizza for dinner. It’s tough out here, but I think I’m strong enough to hold out for another day or two.
Well, LB decided it was time to kick Shae off the mattress for once, so I actually got a good night’s sleep. Good thing, because I apparently have a lot of driving to do today. The agenda for the day was to head over to Rhyolite and Titus Canyon, but with Tom involved we made a few detours. The first detour was to go see “Chinese Camp” (at least that’s what Tom called it, I haven’t found it on a map anywhere). The road up to the camp actually made use of the 4-wheel drive in our Tribute. Looking at the road, Shae and Grace both voiced doubts our little SUV could make it up the road (I had my doubts too, but I’m a man and I was driving so I had to act like I thought it was no issue), but Tom said the car would make it so up we went. While the other drivers waited at the bottom in their trucks (probably with the same doubts that were voiced in our car), the Tribute went right up the road (I’m sure it was my excellent driving).
Thanks to my expert driving, we got to the old camp and got out to explore. This is where LB’s little booties really paid off. I think he was actually exited when we put his shoes on. We let the puppy off his leash and he pretty much sprinted all over the camp as excited as I’ve seen him in a while. While we wandered around and Shae took some pictures, LB took turns running up to everyone in the group and generally having a super time. It was great seeing him have so much fun after being restricted to a leash and car the last few days.
After we left the camp, we continued on our trip over to Rhyolite. The trip over there is a decent drive, but apparently it needed some extra stops. Out came the GPS’s. That’s right…it’s geocaching time! Here’s my recap of the drive: drive, Shae says “stop in 1/4 mile”, pull over, everyone out, find the cache, repeat. Eventually, the prego riding shotgun got hungry and cranky, so the geocaching got put on hold so we could feed her before she ate one of us.
To take care of hungry Shae (and to get some gas) we stopped at a gas station in Armagosa Valley. Let’s just say that the stop was memorable (and it was obvious we were in Nevada at this point). There is no possible way I can do this stop justice, but I’m going to try. The first thing I noticed was that the mini-mart was bright pink. The second thing I noticed? An “Adult Entertainment” sign with an arrow pointing to a building next to the pink mini-mart (“Madame Butterfly’s”). A strip club/brothel attached to the mini-mart was weird enough, but this one was complete with red lights and a gate you needed to be buzzed through (Mastercard accepted). I’m still trying to figure out what the light is for. Is it turned on when the ladies are busy? Available? In trouble? Pregnant? I don’t think I’ll ever know. Several of the light posts in the parking lot were crooked where they had been run into, probably by truckers, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the truckers had been running away from the girls of Madame Butterfly’s.
Once we were done at Madame Butterfly’s we headed off to Rhyolite. Our first stop was at the Bottle House (a house made of bottles…another name that makes sense…crazy), but we were 15 minutes too late and they wouldn’t let us in to look around. Oh well, there were a bunch of other buildings to look at. We wandered around and Shae took some pictures, but then an all-too-familiar feeling hit me and it was time to hit up the outhouse. If anyone’s wondering, the outhouses in Rhyolite are actually quite clean. However, I just want to say that I can’t think of many feelings more disturbing than a draft hitting your ass in an outhouse. I don’t care how clean the outhouse is, that draft is coming from places I don’t like to think about. I finished my business and got out of there as quick as I could.
After Shae was done taking pictures of windows and doors we left Rhyolite and headed for Titus Canyon. I don’t want to gloss over Titus Canyon because it was beautiful, but there’s not a lot else to say. We drove a while, stopped in Leadfield so Shae could take more pictures of windows and doors, drove some more, did some oooh-ing and aaah-ing, and we were done. Again, it was a really cool drive, but with no stories about Lunchbox, pregnant Shae, or pooping I don’t have a whole lot to say.
After we finished with Titus Canyon, it was back to camp. Tonight’s treat: margaritas. Thanks to Bob and Theresa’s battery operated blender we sat around camp and enjoyed our strawberry margaritas. Again, life at camp is tough.
Overall, the trip was really fun. Lunchbox had a great time, but he’s definitely glad to be home where he gets to walk on carpet and grass instead of walking on rocks at the campsite. I hope he doesn’t miss his shoes too much.