Death Valley National Park & Jonathan's Birthday

Ashley Longnecker Ashley Longnecker / January 02, 2018
jon jumps

Death Valley has been on our radar for a long time. It’s one of those places that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. Being one of the lowest, hottest and driest National Parks, we knew we had to go see it.

The drive from Trona to Death Valley was absolutely stunning. 

Death Valley national park

We choose to stay at a boondocking spot just outside of the south entrance known as 'The Pads.' Evidently someone started building a RV Campground but never finished. It’s laid out well and all the cement pads are still in place. Some of the sites are not accessible to due to the plants that have grown up at the entrances, but there are still several options and we had no problem finding a place to call home for a few days.

the pads

We knew we would have zero cell signal so we ended up taking a long weekend to celebrate Jonathan’s birthday in Death Valley. The only plans we had were to hike, relax and take in as much of this place as possible.

Jonathan is always the first to get the hiking plans together and we knew it was going to be a weekend full of epic adventures.

The first hike was called Harmony Borax Works and it was a bore or a trail, unless you’re really into learning about how Borax is produced, skip it! It was only .4 mi and we just weren’t that interested in Borax. 

Borax

Okay, babe. Time to step it up. We headed over to Salt Creek Loop next. It was only .5 mi loop on a boardwalk trail. While it was beautiful, it was HOT. And this was mid November. I can’t imagine why anyone would visit this place in the summer months.

salt creek loop

The sun was brutal, thankfully we found a bit of shade on the path. We’re going to have to get up a lot earlier to get our hiking done before the afternoon sun bakes us!

It was a pretty trail and we were still a little shocked that there was actually water in the creek

salt creek

With the heat already pretty intense, we decided to drive the Twenty Mule Team Canyon. It’s a 2.7 mi one way drive through these incredible Badlands.

20 mule team drive 20 multe team canyon

Jonathan and the kids decided they had to get out and get a better view from the top. 

20 mule 1 20 mule

It was a really awesome drive and should totally be on your list to visit if in Death Valley. 

Next we headed over to Dante’s Ridge. Holy Smokes! What a view. 

dantes view

We were up at 5,475 ft and looking down at the Badwater Basin, which is at the lowest point is -282 ft BELOW SEA LEVEL. Just incredible. 

dantes peak

We spent quite a while up there taking it all in. 

That evening, we really wanted to make it to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, but there was a rare event happening. We were in the middle of what they call a 'brown out'.

brown out

The winds were so crazy they kicked up the sand and it covered the sky. We couldn’t even see the sand dunes from the road. It did make for a pretty epic sunset though. 

We decided to keep driving and we ended up on a evening hike into the Mosaic Canyon. Wow! If you do any hike in Death Valley, let it be this one!

mosaic canyon group

You can still see the effects of the brown out, even though were drove quite a ways past the worst of it. The haze made the canyon look even more amazing.

mosaic canon kids

If you have yet to be in a slot canyon, find one near you and go. They are so fun for the kids (and us). They are one of our favorite kind of hikes!

mosaic canyon slots

We came prepared with headlamps and flash lights that we had planned to use at the dunes. I was so thankful that we had them because once the sun went down, it got very dark, very quick.

mosaic canyon evening

We didn’t do the entire hike because someone…(cough, Jonathan, cough) decided that he wanted to take an alternate route.

mosaic canyon

He and Jax went a different way around and we planned to meet up on the other side of this smaller canyon, but…signals were crossed. We couldn’t find them for awhile, we tried yelling for them. Eventually we heard Jax say…”Dad’s stuck!” 

So we had a mild panic attack and retraced their steps and still couldn’t find them. At this point, the sun was already down and we were using flashlights. Ada was really worried and was upset at the thought of loosing dad. Thankfully, in just a few more minutes they emerged from the canyon and we had a ‘discussion’ about how we will never, ever separate again on a evening hike! 

It was a really cool hike though, just wish we could have finished it. Maybe next time we get there a bit earlier! I have to say, evening/night hikes are a bit scary. I thought it would be fun, but it was so incredibly dark there. I kept imagining sounds and tried really hard not to be freaked out so the kid’s wouldn’t freak out, too.  If it had been a full moon, that hike would have been incredible lit with the moonlight. 

We headed back, exhausted but excited for more exploration the next day. 

We woke earlier this time and headed out towards Furnace Creek. This was Jonathan’s birthday and we were so excited to be able to celebrate with him doing what he loves…exploring new places, climbing rocks, and being together. 

The Natural Bridge Canyon is only a 1 mi out and back. A very easy hike.

natural bridge DVNP

I love that this guy always likes to find little perches on our hikes.

Jax perch

Jonathan always finds a way to give me panic attacks on the hikes. Hiking is supposed to be good for your health, but most of the time I feel like I'm just taking years off my life worrying about everyone. Of course he had to find a way to get on top of the bridge.

jon on natural bridge

Someone wasn't happy that she wasn't allowed to go up. Sorry Ada, but if Dad says it's too dangerous, I know it is!

natural bridge

I think our kids are getting to the point were they’re not so impressed with 'natural bridges'. We’ve seen several and it’s just not exciting when you’re on your 5th or 6th natural bridge hike. Plus, after Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, nothing compares…

One thing we hadn’t quite prepared ourselves for was how much driving we were going to have to do, and we had no idea that diesel fuel would be $5.01 a gallon! Whaaaat??? It was over $85 for us to fill up half of our tank! So, if you’re planning a trip to Death Valley, make sure you factor in enough gas money in the budget(or buy some beforehand) and have a good plan to execute all the places you want to go ad find the shortest routes each day! 

With DVNP being the largest National Park south of Alaska, at 3.4 million acres, you’ll be doing a lot of driving. 

Next we headed to Badwater Basin

badwater basin 1

The lowest point in North America at 282 ft below sea level.

ada jumps badwater

If it rains enough, a temporary lake can form. That would be an amazing sight to see. Even without the water, it was incredible.

badwater basin

Being down in the salt flats was so cool, especially after seeing it from Dante’s View. It makes for a great place to take some fun pictures and a perfect place to gross your kids out!

badwater basin mom and dad

Happy Birthday, Jonathan. Thanks for choosing to go to Death Valley!

The kids finished up their Junior Ranger booklets and we took them back to the Visitor’s Center were they were officially sworn in as the newest Junior Rangers for Death Valley National Park. 

dvnp junior ranger

We had an incredible time being here and being completely off grid with zero cell signal (unless we were at the Visitor’s Center). It was a refreshing change to just be together without the distractions of today’s technology. Perhaps we will turn off our internet connections more often :)

We found November was a great time to enjoy Death Valley, and if you’re out that far already…I highly suggests you also visit Trona Pinnacles, too!

See you down the road!

Ashley Longnecker

About the Author

Ashley Longnecker is the fiercely independent tattooed and dreaded half of Tiny Shiny Home. She's a woodworker, photographer and maker of delicious baked goods. She loathes schedules and makes every day an adventure.

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