Death Valley National Park
After staying in Las Vegas, Nevada for two nights, Zosia Zgolak and I drove out to California's Death Valley National Park on 18 October 2016 with plans to climb Telescope Peak the following day.  We enjoyed a leisurely day visiting popular tourist spots such as Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin and Artists Palette, some of which I had already previously visited in 2011.  We also stopped in the visitor centre at Furnace Creek to check on road conditions and fill up some water bottles.  From there, we headed to Stovepipe Wells and enjoyed a late lunch before continuing the long drive to Thorndike campground.  Whereas the temperature at Furnace Creek was about 34C, Thorndike campground was a startlingly chilly 5C.  We pitched Zosia's tent for the first time on our road trip here, but because of the frigid temperatures, I am not sure if I slept any better that night than previously in the back of my car.
I didn't even get to gamble on this visit! It is another beautiful morning in Las Vegas in this view from Zosia's and Sonny's hotel room at Circus Circus.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Well, if I had known all this beforehand, we may have stayed here a little longer... This rather unique convenience store/gas station is located near the turnoff to Death Valley from Highway 95.  Apparently, there is a brothel at the back, and the diner at the rear of the store doubles as a topless bar at night!

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Too hot and too crowded--probably my least favourite place in Death Valley! Sonny finishes eating an apple at Zabriskie Point.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Still no swimming allowed! This is the spring-fed pool at Badwater Basin.  There is less water here than when Sonny last visited in 2011.
Under the sea... Zosia walks along the salt flats of Badwater Basin.  The Sea Level sign is indicated.

What I said in 2011 still holds true:  It's like God threw up here!

Artists Palette is still as colourful as ever.


Just kidding. Zosia has such low blood pressure that she still feels cold at 34C.
Unfortunately, the watermelon was so-so... At a picnic table beside the gas station in Stovepipe Wells, Zosia cuts a watermelon with her Swiss army knife.
Let's fire it up and make a pizza! Zosia checks out one of the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns on the way to Thorndike campground.'s cold! Is it too late to go back and sleep in the kilns?? Zosia's tent is set up at Thorndike campground.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Much too early... Sonny hits the sack early.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

On the morning of 19 October 2016, Zosia and I got up before dawn to eat breakfast and pack up camp.  Prior to coming here, there was some uncertainty as to whether or not we could drive all the way up to Mahogany Flat campground and the trailhead for Telescope Peak, but the road turned out to be in better shape than expected.  A well-graded trail runs all the way up to the summit of Telescope Peak, but a couple of named peaks along the way can also be tagged with minimal extra effort.  After hiking for about half an hour, we left the trail shortly after sunrise to ascend the east ridge of Rogers Peak.  We encountered no technical difficulties, but with telecommunications equipment cluttering the summit, we saw no reason to linger there.  We promptly descended the south slopes and briefly regained the trail to Telescope Peak before leaving it again to ascend the north slopes of Bennett Peak.  This ascent was also straightforward, but we stopped a bit longer at the top to enjoy the surrounding views and to sign the summit register.  When we resumed hiking, we dropped down the south side of Bennett Peak to again pick up the trail to Telescope Peak.  The switchbacks going up the north ridge of Telescope Peak seemed a bit long-winded, but again, there were no technical difficulties as we climbed up to the highest point of Death Valley National Park.  After an extended stay at the top, we returned to the trailhead via the same trail, bypassing Bennett Peak and Rogers Peak on the way back.

Good morning, Death Valley!!!

The sun rises over Badwater Basin (left).


I get misty just holding your hand... Mist fills the valleys to the southeast.
We heard a phone ring repeatedly inside one of the buildings. Probably a telemarketer... Zosia approaches the summit of Rogers Peak.
One down, two to go! Sonny and Zosia stand near the summit of Rogers Peak (3039 metres).

And I don't know why the saddle even bears a name...

Zosia walks toward Telescope Peak (left) and Bennett Peak (right).  The broad saddle in front of her is known as Arcane Meadows.


This sure beats walking the Las Vegas Strip! Rogers Peak can be seen at distant left as Zosia approaches the top of Bennett Peak.
Two down, one to go! Sonny and Zosia sit on the summit of Bennett Peak (3041 metres).
It's probably already quite hot down there. Badwater Basin gleams in the morning sunshine.
Let's get 'er done! Telescope Peak looms to the south.
The top is further away than it looks! Zosia begins to climb up the north ridge of Telescope Peak.
Some people lose patience and take to the ridge crest... Zosia gains elevation slowly on the numerous switchbacks running up the north ridge.
Bloody long walk! The summit is finally in sight.
It's struttin' time! Sonny takes the last few steps before the summit.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Pasta and tabasco--we could have a helluva meal up here! Telescope Peak's summit register is also a geocache.

Third peak of the day!

Sonny and Zosia stand on the summit of Telescope Peak (3365 metres), the highest point in Death Valley National Park.


I wonder how many people bother to hike south beyond the summit of Telescope Peak... Zosia pokes her head above the wind-break with the southern portion of the Panamint Range behind her.
A whole lotta nothing out there! The flat expanse to the west is known as Wildrose Wash.
Don't get any ideas, Zosia... Among the white peaks on the right horizon about 117 kilometres away to the northwest is Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States ("Lower 48").
Some crazy people climb Telescope Peak from Badwater Basin! Here is a last look at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America.
That phone is still ringing, I think... On the way back, Zosia hikes through Arcane Meadows below the top of Rogers Peak.
A very long but easy hike.

Total Distance:  20.3 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  8 hours 16 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  886 metres

GPX Data

When Zosia and I returned to the trailhead, we took another extended break at Mahogany Flat campground before heading back through Stovepipe Wells to visit Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  Along the way, we stopped briefly at Emigrant campground where we were planning to spend the night.  Although the free campground was mostly deserted when we arrived in the late afternoon, Zosia suggested pitching her tent in order to save a camping spot.  We then drove to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes where we hiked to the highest dune as the sun disappeared over the western horizon.  Hiking back to the parking lot in the dark was a little tricky as we tried to minimize the number of ups and downs over the intervening sand dunes.  Upon returning to Emigrant campground, I was a bit astonished to see that it was nearly full, and I was thankful that Zosia had the foresight to save us a spot.  While she turned in early, I stayed up a little longer to make myself something to eat and to gaze at the stars in the sky.  It was a satisfying way to wrap up our whirlwind visit to Death Valley National Park.
The campground is a glorified parking lot, but at least it's free! Sonny grabs some water from the back on his car at Emigrant campground.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

I will find sand in my boots for quite a long time to come... Zosia has her sights set on the highest dune of Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
Glad we aren't here under a full sun! Zosia heads toward the highest sand dune (right).
Uhh...did you bring a headlamp?? Standing on the highest dune, Zosia watches as the light fades over Death Valley National Park.