Death Valley: Part Four
This is a difficult post to write.
My dad passed away in August of 2018. He was 84. He was my best friend growing up, and a hero to me. I wish all parents were heroes to their children, and it saddens me when I hear people talk about not having a good relationship with theirs. My dad was a very, very nice man. Everyone has their faults, and I’m old enough to know that when we look back, we tend to gloss over the unpleasant parts, but I actually don’t. I’m well aware of the good and the bad, but the simple fact is, where my father was concerned, the amount of good outweighed any bad by a humongous margin, and that’s a testament to the kind of person he was.
Was. It’s still unreal to me that he’s not sitting in his house and that I can’t call him right now and say, “Hey! I’m writing a post about our trip to Death Valley!”
He was 75 when we took him there and even though he had developed a degenerative spinal condition that could some times be painful, he was able to get around quite well. There were moments when we took it slower, and he was cautious when walking over big rocks, etc., but he always said: “You shouldn’t ever let fear stop you from seeing and experiencing the world.” Now I say it too, and I hope that inspires others to explore!
Over the days that we were there, we visited the Charcoal Kilns, Mosaic Canyon, the Sand Dunes, Furnace Creek, Zabriskie Point, the Devil’s Golf Course, and Badwater Basin. Pretty impressive for anyone, let alone a retiree!
Dad used to make a trip out to California once a year, and each time we came up with something new and fun to do. Yosemite, the San Diego Zoo, Mount Palomar, and we even went scuba diving in Catalina! To this day though, Death Valley was one of my fondest memories with my father because 99.9% of it was perfect. The company and companionship, the adventure, the food, the weather, and the sites. More on that at the end of this post. The .01% that wasn’t, was the fact that he and I both snore when we’re over tired, and since we were all sharing a hotel room, poor Jolene had to suffer through a night of what I can only imagine was comparable to trying to sleep while two chainsaws were rumbling through dense tree bark all night long. She’s a trooper, that one, and we’ll add more to that part of the story shortly. But first, how were the sites?
The Charcoal Kilns were a favorite of ours. However, on our way to the Charcoal Kilns, as we were driving, we heard a rubbing or grinding noise. We thought the grade of the road had changed, as the noise was fairly consistent. After about twenty minutes, I started to smell something burning. We were driving Jolene’s 2003 Jeep Liberty, long ago nicknamed “The Milennium Falcon,” as there were several pieces and parts of her that had fallen off, or didn’t work quite right that need the occasional tap, tweak or push. The Falcon still worked amazingly well and was a very comfortable ride. We pulled over, and it turned out that the plastic fender on the front passenger side wheel had come loose, and had been rubbing against the wheel for a while. The friction, which we had been hearing, had been slowly burning away some of the plastic. We tried to fix it and re-secure the fender, but no luck. Thankfully, there was a dumpster nearby, so we were able to disconnect the rest of it, and bid another part of the Falcon farewell. In the photo below, you can see the big hole in the center of the fender that was worn away. To this day, we still haven’t replaced it because it’s a reminder of what an excellent memory we made, and, there are far better things to spend money on.
According to history, the kilns were completed in 1877 to create fuel for use in smelters. They weren’t used for very long, which is why they think they’re still in such good condition. More than all of that though, they’re really NEAT! They have a distinct and pleasing shape, much like giant Totoro’s, the area around them is quite beautiful and peaceful, and they’re a very unique thing to see in person.
Soon after visiting the charcoal kilns, and saying au revoir to the fender, we headed to Mosaic Canyon, which is one of my favorite places in the park. There’s lots more pictures of it in my Death Valley Photo Gallery and previous posts, but here are a few of my favorites:
What about Zabriskie Point, the Devil’s Golf Course, and Badwater Basin? Zabriskie is beautiful. I think it’s actually the most stunning at sunrise and sunset. You can hang out there, have a snack, and enjoy the views, or you can go walking around. Whatever your personal pleasure. Either way, it’s lovely. Here’s a shot of Jolene so you can see the perspective of some of the landscapes.
Next up was the Devil’s Golf Course. It’s a huge salt pan that was allegedly named from a 1934 National Park Service guide book which said, “Only the devil could play golf” on its surface. It’s definitely tricky to walk around on, and you want to be careful, as you can easily slip and cut and/or hurt yourself on the rough and sharp edges. It’s also really weird and unique, and you may not ever see another place like it. I mean, how often do you go traipsing around a salt flat? Exactly. Why not do it here?! And that’s why we decided to take a little risk and try to catch ourselves jumping in the air over the place.
Badwater Basin, not too far from the Devil’s Golf Course, is also something unique, really cool to see, and something I covered with pictures and a video in my first Death Valley post here.
Now what about that snoring?
While we were sightseeing, the discussion about the previous evening’s “Nightmare on Snore Street,” came up, and Jolene and Dad hatched a plan to have a couple of stiff drinks at dinner to help them both sleep. My Dad didn’t drink very much, or very often, but when he did, one of his favorite drinks was a Long Island Iced Tea. I actually don’t drink alcohol. No crazy story or addiction, I just don’t like it. I tried several kinds over the years and they never stuck, so I decided many years ago simply to abstain. What’s worked out really well, is a triad of good things: One, I’m always there be a designated driver for loved ones and friends, two, I have all of my senses to take photos and videos, and three, I actually remember it all, which is wonderful for retelling stories like this one. And occasionally teasing that one friend who did something hilarious they may not exactly remember. 🙂
I like to call a Long Island the “dump truck” of alcoholic beverages because you essentially dump a bunch of stuff in a glass and call it a day. Many more details here. There’s usually so much alcohol in them, that they get people buzzed pretty fast. Dad liked to enjoy his with a nice meal and after twenty minutes or so, always had an adorable smile on his face to match his intellectual and silly wit. It’s important to mention at this point, that while it may seem odd, the restaurant at Furnace Creek where we ate happened to have one of the finest steaks you will ever eat in California. I honestly don’t know why or how, but it’s true. I’ve eaten steak in restaurants all over the world from cheap to super expensive, and this one topped the charts. I recently found out that they remodeled and changed the restaurant’s name, so I don’t know if the quality is still as good, but the price is certainly still as high (around $100 for one steak), so it should be! Furnace Creek is also now known as “The Oasis at Death Valley,” and the former restaurant is now called “The Last Kind Words Saloon.”
Jolene and Dad had enjoyed two Long Islands each, and bellies full of beef and my Dad smiling ear-to-ear, we decided to go for a walk. It was a night out of a classic movie. It was 75 degrees with a very slight breeze, the skies were crystal clear with almost no lights or civilization nearby, you could clearly see the Milky Way amongst the seemingly endless stars, and I was walking around a desert oasis with my Dad and my girlfriend, listening to them giggle and talk about life. It was such an awesome moment to be in that it almost seemed surreal. It was one that my dad talked about for years afterwards.
When I created this website, my main mission was to show people how important traveling is. I wanted to share my stories in the hopes that it would inspire others to go out and create their own. In doing this, I’ve also had the unexpected pleasure of discovering things about myself and my own life that I am not only truly grateful for, but that I didn’t know. When I decided to tell this particular story, I realized something about the trip that I hadn’t seen.
As I already recounted, the first day we were there, we had driven four hours, gone hiking and sightseeing and tired ourselves out enough that he and I snored like a herd of buffalo. That led to he and Jolene deciding some drinks were in order for the next night when they likely wouldn’t have been. That led to all of us sharing a special night in the warm, desert air, and a moment… where my father wasn’t in pain.
He wasn’t thinking about his spine or his health. He was happy. And there together, standing beneath the stars, he felt liberated. He was surrounded by family, love, travel, adventure, good food, and life, so many of the things he cherished. I didn’t realize what a gift that must have been for him, and for all of us, until I decided to write this post. It finally clicked why he talked it so much.
As Jolene reminded me recently, sometimes we have to travel a ways to remember to enjoy the simple things, but that’s another thing at the very heart of what travel is for.
I love you, Dad. Thank you SO much. For everything.
Moonbird’s Helpful Info:
Death Valley National Park
Location: Inyo County, California
Google Maps: Click here
Best time to visit: Anytime. Summer months are extremely hot.
North America’s Seasons are: Spring: March, April and May, Summer: June, July and August, Autumn: September, October and November, and Winter: December, January and February.