Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Christmas in Death Valley

After bedding down in the previously described plantless landscape on Christmas Eve, I commenced my Christmas activity by riding north on West Side Road toward the "city" of Furnace Creek. I hadn't refilled my water since Pahrump, which meant three solid days with only the supplies I had on the bike. On Christmas morning, I still had approximately 2 days worth of water, but I didn't want to cut it too close. Any mishap could have made my 2-day water supply seem less than adequate. And Furnace Creek, 20-some miles off, was the next place to get water. After a few miles, I came to a road sign for a spring, and the vegetation sure seemed lush compared to where I'd been.

I never actually found the spring, but I did get off the bike for a short hike.

As I rode along, the floor of the valley was highly variable:

At this point, I saw a small graded pull-off area adjacent to the road. A red pickup truck was parked there, and a couple was sitting on folding chairs gazing out over Badwater. I stopped to chat. We discussed, among other topics, the unorthodox approach to celebrating Christmas in Death Valley. As they pointed out, wandering the desert looking at stars is actually VERY relevant to the history of Christmas. They suggested I join them for Christmas dinner at the Furnace Creek Inn (after some cursory research, I decided that the $400/night Furnace Creek Inn would be out of my price range). I bid my new friends adieu, and continued toward Furnace Creek.

Soon I was back on pavement.

I was astounded by Furnace Creek. I was fully expecting that the place would have the sidewalks rolled up on the most major holiday of the year, but to the contrary, it was swarming with people, and fully open for business. There was no indication that it was Christmas. The vast majority of my fellow visitors appeared to be of Asian nationality or descent, which, I'm presuming, means they are people who don't share the stereotypical American Christmas traditions. The National Park Visitor Center, a temporary-looking pole building, was my first stop was to check in there and get my $10 permit. The youngster working the front desk suggested I try the Texas Spring campground, on the edge of town. I had been led to expect by various internet readings that camping in Furnace Creek meant RV Parks, so I was skeptical.

I visited the Furnace Creek Cafe for a mediocre, overpriced cheeseburger and fries. I decided that the convenience of the cafe was not worth the cost, and that I'd be better off cooking my own meals with the Trangia. To that end, I walked next door to the convenience store, where I stocked up on overpriced cheese, butter, eggs, and a few other food items I was craving.

After I'd had my fill of big city life, I rode over to Texas Spring campground, which I found to be a pleasing place to camp. The campground host stopped to chat and answer some of my questions. After exploring a bit, I set up camp:

And I enjoyed the luxury of having a picnic table:

As I was cooking, a couple about my age walked over to talk to me. They were from France and cycling around the world. Unfortunately, their tandem frame broke, and they returned it to the manufacturer in Germany for repair. While they awaited the return of their bike, they were driving around in a rental car. I was a little amazed at what must've been a tremendously expensive proposition: sending a tandem to Germany, and renting a car for an extended period of time. Not how I might have handled that situation, what with used top-quality tandems generally available at favorable prices.

As I nodded off in my tent that night, I didn't have a firm plan for the following day. Would I pack up and head further north to Stovepipe Wells or Scotty's Castle? Would I stick around Furnace Creek and take in the local attractions? The north option looked appealing on the maps, but the campground host very gently suggested that I might enjoy exploring Furnace Creek. I didn't lose much sleep contemplating these options.


Shaun said...

Finally getting around to reading your account of the Death Valley tour Jim. Really enjoying it! And the photos too. Thanks for sharing it!

Tom L said...

Jim, the sand dunes out by Stovepipe are amazing.
The whole park is a great place for cycling, of course it's a HUGE area at that too. Enjoy the trip.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jim
I stumbled across your blog via a link that you posted on the Riverdell Google group. I am surprised that you rode and camped in such a barren desolate land. I would have been terrified to be out there with no access to water or food not to mention what could have happened if you crashed and hurt yourself and no access to emergency help or cell phone service which I am naturally assuming that you did not have coverage. Were you ever scard?

Shaun said...

Thill doesn't know the meaning of the word fear.

Anonymous said...

...Or the meaning of the word 'scard'

Jim Thill said...

I was not scard at all. Nothing bad ever happens to me.