After 14 days of isolation with a 3-month-old and a 2-year-old, we had an opportunity to escape. Our campervan gave us an out we couldn’t wait to take advantage of. Since having our second baby, we had dabbled in a night or two away but a real road trip was a whole different ball game. So we packed up the van with all the things we needed (and many we didn’t) and hit the road from San Francisco to Death Valley and back again.
Our first stop was smooth sailing: a playground and lunch. Stop two was not so smooth. We needed to stock the fridge in preparation for 4 days in the desert. As we pulled into the Safeway parking lot, we saw smoke plumes billowing above the building and a mass exodus of people. We took a quick survey of our stock and decided we’d be able to manage, hopefully with a restock of produce once we were in the park.
After a few more stretch breaks and about 9 hours of travel, we decided to stop for the night on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land outside of Death Valley National Park. We spent the evening watching the stars and snuggling our littlest baby. By the next morning we were itching to get into the park so we packed up and started driving at the first sip of coffee.
After entering the park, we started to feel like we were in the Star Wars’ world of Tatooine. We enjoyed the Father Crowley Overlook and then continued to curve our way through the mountains and into the valley. There was nothing in sight but our excitement level was high. I love the high desert and this trip was promising to be just what we needed.
We took our first stop at Mosaic Canyon. The 3-month-old slept the whole hike while the 2-year-old led the way. It solidified my opinion that canyon hikes are always worthwhile.
From here we made our way to Stovepipe Wells and paid $20 to camp in the desert parking lot, before heading a few minutes down the street to Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes for sunset. The colors were outstanding and the vibe was relaxed. People were just truly enjoying it. As the sun began to dip behind the mountains, we backtracked to our campsite and chalked it up as a very successful first day in the park.
Lowest point in North America
The next morning welcomed us with a warm sun and great energy. We stopped back at the sand dunes after breakfast for some sand play (who needs a playground when you have nature?) before heading further into the park. We took a quick drive and scrambled through Artist’s Palette to see the vibrant colors, before taking the ride down to the lowest point in North America.
Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level) was heating up by lunchtime. In the middle of winter, it was just the kind of warmth I was hoping for as we strolled through the salt flats, admiring its beauty. A tempted toddler kept taste-testing the salt (apparently a common curiosity with this age group) but given that midday temperatures were quickly rising, we headed back to the van and to our next destination.
We wanted to post up for the night before it got dark but first we made our way to Zabriskie Point. The erosional layers were all the more dramatic as the sun began to sink. Unfortunately our two girls were not as amazed, so we hustled back to the van and rode to Furnace Creek Campground. For $20 we slept in the nearly-empty RV parking lot, with the mountains as our backdrop. We enjoyed the last bit of warmth from the sun before snuggling up in the van, tucked away from the desert night temperatures.
The next morning greeted us with wind storms. Our toddler braved the winds to attempt the Golden Canyon hike but after half a mile, the blowing dust was too much for her little eyes so we turned back to the van. The weather wasn’t on our side for this one so we decided it was time to head back toward home.
Third time’s the charm; we stopped at Mesquite Sand Dunes one last time for the convenience of breaking up the desert drive. The wind wasn’t as dramatic here but still bad so we decided to call it and start the drive back home early.
We left “Tatooine” in the rearview mirror and made it about 3 more hours before pulling into a BLM site, Jawbone Canyon, for the night. Forty mile-per-hour winds scared me and I spent the night dreaming about what we would do if the wind blew us over. Perhaps a bit dramatic in retrospect because that night and the rest of the trip home were smooth sailing.
Would we do Death Valley with two small kids again? Yes, absolutely, especially in the campervan—this turned out to be one of our favorite trips of the year. Death Valley is one of the most underrated national parks and it just blew us away.