This weekend I missed my third consecutive Midnight Ridazz, then the 3rd annual Tamale Festival, as well as a chance to hop onboard the “No, David Markland Is Not A Racist Pig” bandwagon, all because instead my wife and I with our two dawgz drove out Friday Night to Death Valley National Park’s remote Eureka Valley and basically lucked into the Best Camping Trip Evar by having that vast magnificent expanse — including the 700-foot tall Eureka Dunes — all to ourselves.
Click to triplify Ranger, Me and Shadow trekking across a Eureka Dunes plateau. Photo by Susan Campbell.
Literally: to us alone. It was as if someone installed a velvet rope, a doorman and a posted sign at the head of the road some 10 miles north that read “Dunes Closed For Private Party.”
From the outset it was to be a quick trip, with us renting a Ford Escape and packing up gear, provisions, and animals and hitting the road Friday evening for a full day there only to pack up and come back Sunday morning. Yeah, we’re weird to bookend what amounts to a single day with 5- 6 hours of driving on each end, but what the hell.
As planned we were loaded up and on the road at 8 p.m. Friday on a 300-mile route that took us up the 5 to the 14 to the 395 past Olancha and Lone Pine and Independence and on up to the town of Big Pine where we hung a right on Highway 168 for the last 40 miles winding our way up through the ancient bristlecone pines of Inyo National Forest before dropping down into Eureka Valley and leaving the pavement behind for a washboardy but passable dirt road that brought us to Eureka Dunes Road where we turned right and made our way along the final 10 miles dodging the occasional brazen jackrabbits that jumped out in front of us along the way.
Arrival time: 1:30 a.m. Campground: empty. Motivation/need to set up the tent right away: none. So we slept in the SUV until dawn’s first light when we stepped away from the vehicle and found it cold but not freezing and entirely blessedly windless. And completely deserted…. not counting the unseen coyotes conversating back and forth from opposite ends of the dunes.
That we were in the middle of nowhere at daybreak with nothing else on two legs in the immediate vicinity might seem like a well, duh! to some of you, but trust me: having made at least one trip a year out to the Valley of Death since 2002 and it being a holiday weekend (Veterans Day, but still), it is a rare thing to be so thoroughly and absolutely unencroached upon — even at such an out-of-the-way place. And so we reveled in the surprise solitude as the sun peeked over the western side of the valley and immediately set to warming things up to the low ’80s.
We hiked up the dunes, came back, drank beer, napped, sat and did nothing, listened to the hugesoundless emptiness, had dinner, toasted marshmallows and drank cheap red wine. There were the inevitable daytrippers who showed up, marched around the grains for a bit and then left. The next day we too were gone by 10 a.m., leaving us enough time for a somber visit to the Manzanar Relocation Camp before heading back to the big city where I’m already mulling plans for our next visit to such a magical, mystical place — and we’ll camp directly on the dunes then! Hell Yeah!