Camping, Visitor Center, and Natural Bridge in Death Valley
We woke in Death Valley to spacious skies and warm sunshine, which felt wonderful after our chilly winter drive the day before. Our campsite at Furnace Creek had a few little trees where we could nestle our tents out of the sun, though I learned the real shelter was from the wind. Both the first and second night featured wind gusting through the valley and pulling at our tents. Stake the tent, no matter how calm the afternoon feels. Because at 2 am when the wind snatches at fabric all around, you might wonder if you could actually blow into the parking lot...
Anyway we woke into a lovely day. Scattered clouds from the weekend storm treated us to poetic skies. Everything about Death Valley feels rugged, and harsh, so those softly curving clouds looked especially feathered and special.
After breakfast, we explored next door at the hotel which has a general store offering lots of outdoor staples. And a few great gifts to bring home!
We then started adventures at the Visitor Center. Here, a relief map could help us orient in the valley. Which was important because Death Valley is big. Like drive an hour and the view looks exactly the same big. So you can't hop into the car and hope to stumble across a cool adventure (also we did find surprises). The roads have signs that help guide, but we used the map as well. Because we didn't want to drive and drive and drive only to find we drove the wrong direction...
The visitor center also helped us learn that the Racetrack where rocks leave mysterious trails required a 25 mile dirt offload adventure (no thanks). And it clued Ian into looking for wildlife. The stars are amazing, so learning about what to look for in the night sky was also important. We loaded the Sky Guide App onto my phone so we could study constellations. Internet is spotty or nonexistent in the park, so try to download apps before you arrive.
We split our ideas into different days. I knew I wanted to hook Ian into the Explorer Spirit, so I wanted a canyon that looked straight out of Star Wars. I know they filmed in various deserts. We would still have fun discovering similar landscapes. So we went in search of Jawas.
The Natural Bride is a feature in a canyon a short dirt road ramble (not off-road at all, very well maintained). We walked up into the canyon itself. We found ourselves on an Around-The-Curve adventure, thinking we would see it any moment. Along the way, we found little nooks in the canyon walls that were perfect hiding spots for jawas.
As a rock hound, Ian was in heaven studying the rocks that have littered the canyon floor. He puzzled over the various chunks and chips of stone. Note to self: next time bring a rock identification book...
Anyway, he called, "Mom, come look!"
"Do you see it? A lizard! Take a photo."
The lizard scamped up the canyon wall, much to his delight. "Take a photo so my friends can try and find it," he said.
A short while later, we did turn the corner before the bridge. and it was spectacular. Arcing high overhead, the stone was thick, creating a shadowed framework of stone. At once indomitable, yet feeling a little fragile with the way the walls showed cracks and the ground was littered with stones, it was an awe-inspiring location.
Accessibilty notes: as you can see in the photo, the ground is not quite easy-walking. I read on the National Parks Hikes page that this is considered an "easy" hike. I quickly changed the ranking to tricky, because the ground is gravelly and shifts with every footstep. We used a trekking pole which helped. None of the guide noted, either, that the entire trail is uphill, at least towards the arch. It wasn't far, maybe a third of mile. Being uphill on shifty, uneven ground made it feel a lot farther. I wouldn't call it easy. And we crossed paths with a few other hikers who also looked a little overwhelmed. Especially if they had knee issues or balance challenges. We commiserated with a few other explorers. Luckily our next adventure was flat and easy. Next up, Badwater!