We were expecting this park to be open but without camping options, bathrooms or Visitor Center perks such as maps, advice, trail updates and the Jr Ranger Program due to the government shutdown. However, we were excited to find that the park’s partner non-profit organization had funded a skeleton crew of park rangers to work during the government shut down. The rangers were also keeping the bathroom maintained at the Visitor Center during hours of operation. It was so very kind and we were so thankful for these things. Boy, this park was amazing! I’m so glad we didn’t miss it.

The day we arrived at Death Valley the wind was crazy strong! The high temperature was in the 60’s which was warmer than Vegas had been but the wind cut right through you. Opening Wobbles’ door was a real struggle because of the wind and then once it was open it was hard to not have your arm be ripped off as the wind wanted to slam it open. We set up camp and tried not to be blown away!

Golden Canyon Hike & Salt Flats

Our first full day we started with a hike through Golden Canyon. The girls hadn’t been on a good hike in a while and had been spoiled by stroller rides around Vegas so the hike started a bit rough.

Sadly, this was the first hike on our road trip that our 3 year old was carried on a hike. Usually earning her dime is motivation enough to pull through hard times on the trail but this time it just didn’t cut it. She was determined to either sit in the middle of the trail and not move or be carried. These girls of ours have been born with a few stubborn genes. It was very slow going up until the point where I started carrying our little one. All of us adults were pulling out all kind of tricks. We even put on a talent show on a rock platform that acted as our temporary stage.

Luckily Justin has long legs and we were close to the trail head (since we were moving at a snail’s pace) when our little one gave up on walking with her own feet. So, Justin was able to run back to Dimes and grab me the kiddo carrier for the hike.

The hike was so pretty! I’m so glad my Mom was able to be with us for it.

Golden Canyon hike

The main path was wide and went between beautiful golden and teal hills which were all speckled or striped with white. This white was salt! Some of the salt was crystalized while in other parts it was as powdery as ash. The girls and I tasted it to be sure and, YUP! Definitely salt!

Tasting the salt deposits

There were also lots of side trails through the hills you could take. Many were dead ends but it was neat to be surrounded by the golden hills so closely on both sides of the trail and to see more of the ash-like salt pockets peppering (hehe) the area. There were also plenty of little nooks and cave like holes for the girls to have fun climbing into. It was a very pretty hike.

Next we went over to the salt flats of Badwater Basin. Grammy got to have fun with the girls in the back of Dimes on the ride over.

When approaching the flats it looked like the fields were covered in snow but of course, it was salt! Just next to the parking lot at the entrance of the salt flats there was a salt pool of water. It was pretty neat to see the water pooled up amidst the white covered salty ground. It was salt water alright! The salt flats were just that, not a trail but a large chunk of land covered in salt! It was asked of visitors to stay on the heavily trafficked main drag and to be respectful not to disturb the fragile self crystals that made the surroundings so stunning.

Salt water pool

The wind hadn’t seemed as brutal while we were on our morning hike because most of the time the hills protected us but the same could not be said about the flats. It was very windy on the salt flats which added to the elusion of snow.

Even up close to the flats it looked like snow!! It was just a mind trick. My brain wasn’t quite grasping the fact that we were all walking on salt! The crystals and square formations the salt made through the process of drying and evaporation were so amazing!

Snow or salt?

As we walked further and further out onto the flats there was less traffic and therefore more of the flats that were undisturbed creating a breathtaking landscape! The girls were frolicking around in it like it was a snow day! It was so fun!

Frolicking on the salt flats

Walking back up the parking lot steps we noticed so much salt dust had blown there that the stairs resembled a ramp! It reminded me of stairs that lead onto public beaches. The sand fills up the steps so quickly just like the salt had here at the flats.

Stairs covered in salt

We didn’t figure the kiddos would do great with getting out at a third location just for viewing so, we ended up driving through the Painted Hills. They were very pretty. In a forested environment the colors that these hills presented would not have received a second glance. However, in the muted colors and sparse vegetation of the desert, these hills looked rather colorful. It’s all about context!

Painted hills — if you look closely, there are some teals and purples out there

The thing that I found more amazing about the Painted Hills was the drive back to the main road from the viewing area. It was like a rollercoaster!! It was steep dip after dip with large mounds of land on both sides of the one way road. Wee!

That evening we were able to soak up some of what the visitor center had to offer and get in out of the wind. We were hoping that the wind would die down enough for us to visit the sand dunes the following day without it being miserable.

Sand Dunes & Borax Works

We were in luck! The wind did die down a bit the next day so we were able to visit the great Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. When we first arrived it was still quite chilly to put your feet in the sand but this didn’t stop our 5 year old. How could she resist?! I soon found that wearing my shoes was warmer than having bare feet but probably had just as much sand on my feet as she did hers. The only difference was mine was trapped inside my shoes!

The sand dunes in the distance were amazing to look at! It looked like the classic Arabian deserts. I felt like I should see a camel searching for water traveling over these distant dunes any minute. The way the sun shone on the dunes you could see the peak at the top and then the ripples that the wind had made cascading down the face of the sand mountain. It was so pretty! Something interesting my Mom pointed out to me was that wind and water make the same beautiful ripples. The earth’s natural forces are so fascinating, aren’t they?

Ripples in sand

Our three year old didn’t have any desire to travel far. Instead she wanted to play in the sand with her toys. Who could blame her? Our 5 year old on the other hand chose those distant immaculate sand dunes as her destination. My Mom, our little one and I walked far enough away from the parking lot to where we had a view and there weren’t as many people crowding around to have a play spot. Justin and our oldest went on their long and dry journey to the distant dunes. Both parties had walkie talkies to communicate with each other.

Trekking to the distant dunes

When climbing up the big sand dunes, with each step, the sand would pile up to mid calf. As you could have guessed, at this point shoes did not make sense anymore. By this time in our adventure the sun had come out and it was warming up fast without the wind of the previous days. Soon we were all pealing off our layers. We had found a great perch for our little one to play in the sand.

Best sandbox ever

Meanwhile Justin and our oldest had traveled to the giant distant sand dune. My Mom and I kept thinking we saw them as dots in the distance but as it turned out, we weren’t actually identifying the correct dots until they reached one of the two largest peaks in the distance. I was happy our oldest was wearing a bright teal shirt so we could identify the dots! We had walkie talkies in order to stay in touch while they were exploring the far sand dunes which was necessary and very helpful!

Our 5 year old makes first tracks in un-touched sand

From what our oldest, Justin and the pictures they took tell me, the dunes out in the distance were immaculate with almost no footprints in them!  The pictures looks like something out of a movie!  Our oldest would climb to the top of the dune which would take some time, then with hardly enough time to enjoy the view would plunge down again.  What an experience!

Sitting atop the great dune and preparing to slide down

After hiking to the far dunes it had gotten considerably hotter and they ran out of water!!  At that point they decided to head back (good choice) and head back to Dimes with us.  

Made it back!

Borax Works

On our ride back to the campground we decided to stop at Borax Works.  We stood on the grounds where borax (useful for so many things but most commonly used for laundry soap) was dug out of the ground and hauled by a 20 mule team for transportation.  This meant the team traveled 165 miles of forbidding terrain.  At the borax site we saw where the borax was refined in metal pits as well as what the hauling wagons looked like.  It was very impressive!  A full load of borax weighed 36 tons including 1,200 gallons of drinking water for the horses.  This borax refinery was only in working operation for 5 years and ranks as the Valley’s most profitable mineral.  They called it white gold!  Not too shabby!  It might make you think twice next time you do your laundry just how profitable borax once was.  

20 mule team wagons

Laundry Date Evening

That evening the girls were having so much fun playing in the trees.  We hated to disturb their play so my Mom offered to look after them while Justin and I went to do laundry together.  It was so fun!  Ha, if someone would have asked me if my idea of a good date night was doing laundry with my husband I would have laughed.  But, it was great to get some time to just the two of us!  The laundry was a nice little walk through a fancy Oasis Resort.  While the laundry was washing we were able to sneak a peak inside the resort, look at their gift shop and grab a drink at the fancy bar they had.  It’s amazing how efficient two adults can be without little ones.  It was fun!

As the laundry was drying we walked back to the campground to find both girls intently listening to one of Grammy’s many stories.  They were captivated!  The girls miss her stories already!  Thanks Mom for being such a good Grammy.  

All good things must come to an end.  Our time at Death Valley was over but we were so very thankful my Mom could share it with us and that so much of the park was open for us to enjoy!