Early morning on Saturday December 29th, we had everything packed up and ready to head back on the road. I stood outside of our tent for some good 15 minutes, staring at what was probably the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen (I guess maybe close second to the sunrise at the top of the Haleakala volcano in Maui), and I was really contemplating the idea of staying at Zion for at least one more day. There was just too much we still wanted to do there, but we had to focus on our goal of seeing all the places we had in our itinerary and not making the last day drive home excruciatingly long.
We said our goodbyes and started our drive. Only 2 more days and we would be heading on home, but for the day our destination was Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The drive was pretty quick, and as we were circling the Las Vegas area we could spot the beautiful mountain range of the conservation area.
Just like our nights at the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, we did not have camping reservations. However, we were not as lucky and even though the park entrance was open the campground was closed. Since it was still early in the morning, we decided to do a quick loop around the conservation area and then head to Death Valley.
The change of plans meant we were going to have a busy and long day ahead of us! So we drove non stop to the first place on the list: Area 51. Area 51 is known for its U.S. Air Force facility, but its secretive nature has led conspiracy theorists to believe that the location presents a high activity UFO zone. True or not, the businesses surrounding the Air Force facility are taking advantage of that for their own touristic purposes!
Time’s a wastin! So we hopped back on the truck towards Death Valley Junction, a small unincorporated community, also known as one of Death Valley’s ghost towns. As we approached the community, we could immediately feel the place’s eeriness but there was also something charming about it.
Established to support the borax mining business back in 1907, Death Valley Junction experienced a mid century economic decline but in the late 60’s it was chosen by dancer and actress Marta Becket as her home . She supported the revitalization of the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel. Her performances attracted visitors from all over the world and she lived there until her death in 2017.
The Amargosa Hotel is open to this day, and you can book a night there in one of their famous haunted rooms and have a nice lunch (only on Fridays through Mondays though) with the lovely crew from Amargosa Cafe. As for the Opera House, it is still up and running, allowing the work and the soul of Marta Becket to live on.
Death Valley Bound
Death Valley Junction was our last stop before arriving at Death Valley National Park. We still had a lot to see, and I thought it would be fun to find a few places to drive off the main road. A few miles into the park we took a detour on the Twenty Mule Canyon Road: a 2.5 mile road with beautiful desertic and colorful mountains!
A little bit down the road, we stopped at Zabriskie Point. The vista point presented us with the most amazing views of the landscape of eroded mountains.
The end of the day was approaching so we headed to Furnace Creek, a little village in the middle of the park where you can find hotel and lodging, food, and gas! With the government shutdown still going strong, there were no rangers collecting fees for any of the campsites, but we circled around a few of the campgrounds and found a great spot at Texas Spring Campground.
The sun was starting to go down and we got our campsite, but we still had a little bit more in us and we decided to head to Badwater Basin– a salt flat that sits at the lowest point in North America. Luckily we had just enough time to get there in time so watch the sunset hit the basin.
I was surprised by how many people were there, but once we started walking towards the middle of the basin it felt calmer and more spacious. Visiting a salt flat has been on my bucket list for a very long time and I felt so happy and fulfilled to be able to experience that with Frank.
We took a different way back to the campsite, through Artist Dr., and even though is was after sunset and we couldn’t see all the beauty, it was nice to drive through those narrow roads amongst the mountains.
Back to the campsite, we started the fire, shared our chopping axe with the neighbors who were struggling with their hatchet, and then had a drink with them. The weather was great at 48 degrees Fahrenheit, much warmer than the previous nights where it got to 12 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sky was so clear you could see the Milky Way! It was truly one of the highlights of our trip.
As we were sitting by the fire reminiscing about our trip, we realized that this was our last night of the trip and it was time to go back home. So we soaked it all in and enjoyed that moment.
The road back home
Sunday morning right before hitting the road while I was making us a quick sandwich, our neighbors stopped by asking us some help getting their car up and running. Luckily we had just bought our emergency kit before the trip which included jumper cables 🙂 And once his car was good to go, we said our goodbyes and left.
It was a long drive, about 8 hours all in without any stops, but the first few hours was full of beautiful landscapes. As we approached the west exit of Death Valley National Park, I could see Mt Whitney and the rest of the Sierra mountains peaking up on the horizon. And for a little bit, we were right in between the desert and the snowy mountains!
And that was it, like the blink of an eye, our trip reached its end. These were 8 unforgettable days, filled with adventure, happiness, and amazing and beautiful places. We also learned so much about our new truck, overlanding, and how to better prepare for our next journey – which we absolutely cannot wait for!
This post is part of a series in which we visited Oceano Dunes SVRA, Los Padres National Forest, Joshua Tree National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Red Rock Canyon National Preserve, and Death Valley National Park.
– Pt 1: San Francisco to Joshua Tree
– Pt 2: Joshua Tree to Grand Canyon
– Pt 3: Grand Canyon to Zion
– Pt 4: Zion to Death Valley and back home (this post)
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