Brittle Bush - Desert WildflowerAs anyone would expect, the desert has a very brief spring (and you all know how much I love me some spring wildflowers), so when I heard that wildflowers were popping up around Death Valley I had to jump at my chance to get down there and see if I could catch some still in bloom. I joined a group of 6 other CouchSurfers for the long car ride down to one of the largest National Parks in the United States, and we were lucky enough to not only find some wildflowers, but to see some amazing views and some wildlife too.

While we were down there, we stayed at Emigrant Campground, which is little more than a gravelly parking lot where you can set up tents and a makeshift kitchen. Fires are not allowed, but our fearless leader brought one of those portable campfires that runs on propane (biggest win of the trip if you ask me). The camping area only had about 10 sites, all one next to the other in a rectangular formation, which made it really easy to get to know our neighbors and socialize. This is definitely not the place to camp if you’re looking for privacy though – the lack of trees being one large factor in that. But there were real flush toilets and sinks, which made me happy. By day three I was really wishing for showers too, but since we all were pretty stinky by that point I guess it wasn’t too big of a deal.

Our resident drifter, ChrisOne of my favorite characters on this trip was a drifter named Chris, who we met the first night. Chris was a 62-year-old man who was full of stories about his travels and advice about life. He would come and drink with us by our warm fire every night and regale us with stories about Kenya, Vietnam, panning for gold in Alaska, what have you. I kept telling everyone: That’s me in 32 years. Anyway, it made me smile that he was so content with his drifter lifestyle and that he wasn’t lonely because one of my biggest worries is that I’ll regret my lifestyle somewhere down the road.

As for the sights, my favorite that we visited was Badwater Basin, the famed salt flats of Death Valley and the only piece of land in the United States that rests below sea level. This was a really cool spot because the skyline had some snowy mountains in the background and it tricked your mind into thinking that what you were looking at was snow and not salt. It was also fun to walk on because the ground was a little big squishy, like clay, and made me feel like I was walking on the moon. Make sure you have sunglasses though if you ever visit it because, man, is it bright.

View from Dante's Peak

We did two hikes while in Death Valley. The first was Golden Canyon, which we did because it was only a 2-mile trek round-trip, making it manageable for all skill levels. Unfortunately, that also meant that every other tourist in the area wanted to do the trail. It wasn’t too crowded though when we got there, possibly because it was already getting into the heat of the day and there was very little shade in the canyon. I wasn’t particularly impressed by this hike, but, like I said, it is an easier, shorter hike if you just want to get out and move your legs.

Fall Canyon HikingThe second, and last, hike we attempted was Fall Canyon, which I was far more impressed by, but which was also much more difficult. The hike is about 8 miles round-trip, but the trail is incredibly gravelly so we felt like we were walking uphill through sand the entire time. Despite the difficulty of walking through the canyon, I really enjoyed the hike. The high, striped walls showed the passage of time, indicating that a river once ran through here for thousands (if not millions) of years. I would highly recommend this hike; just be sure give yourself extra time as walking through the gravel adds quite a bit of effort and time to what sounds like a shorter hike. Also, I’d recommend leaving early in the day, as some of the open areas tended to get unbearably hot.

We had hoped to also get in the Mosaic Canyon hike, but were too exhausted after Fall Canyon to manage another one. The photos in the ranger station made it seem worthwhile though. If anyone’s done it, I’d love to hear what you thought. You can check out the rest of the pictures from the trip here and for more information about Death Valley go to the National Parks website.

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