Outdoors bunch camping in style; warming up to Death Valley
By 7:30 a.m., the tour group of 23 RV owners scurried about the Pahrump, , NV., rv parking lot, more anxious than nervous, in preparation to board a Greyhound style bus for no-man’s land, Death Valley National Park. It is the first park on the agenda of a 33-day FMCA (Family Motor Coach Assoc.,), Fantasy RV national park adventure covering four southwestern states.
What a way to start a tour. It’s late summer when weather is cooling in normal parts of the country but not here. Guides warn that it will be hot—maybe at high as 115 degrees—at Death Valley.
One might call this an outdoorsy bunch of sorts since all are veteran drivers of motorhomes. Yet their definition of outdoor camping differs slightly. Few have camped under the stars since long-ago overnight scouting trips. Most would probably struggle to build a fire and avoid at all costs wrestling on the ground and coexisting in a sleeping bag with desert night critters. Instead, they zip-up inside a comfy motor coach, some as long as 45 feet, and watch satellite teevee from a king-size bed.
Visitors warned of dangerously high temperatures after 10 a.m. at Death Valley National Park.
Regardless of the daytime heat, nights are cool here in the high desert altitude, affording the opportunity to leave windows open for a glimpse of the stars. So it is camping, old folks style.
Backgrounds, lifestyles and personalities are all different but motorhomes and the interest in this country’s scenic wonderment has brought travelers from throughout the country and Canada together. They all share an interest and commonality that will build many new friendships, some enduring long after the tour ends.
Badwater Basin comes by its name naturally. The water is contaminated with salt and is undrinkable.
There’s an almond grower from California, a retired military colonel, a couple former Sears execs, several retired big city police officers, a commercial real estate broker, a school administrator, insurance broker, a computer specialists and a teacher among the group. Eager to get-to-know their fellow travelers, conversations on the bus were interesting and varied during the hour long bus ride across the Nevada border into California and Death Valley.
For many, their first introduction to Death Valley came from the 1950’s hit television show, “Death Valley Days” hosted by the man who would be president Ronald Reagan and sponsored by the washing powder company Borax and its famed 20-mule team logo. The show frequently featured efforts by pioneers to survive the wilds of the desert. It hasn’t changed much except they quit mining the chemical borax years ago. In fact, Death Valley hasn’t changed much in thousands of years.
It’s still hot and dry. The highest recorded temperature on earth of 134 degrees, was recorded here in 1913. It is by far America’s driest spot, receiving about 1.5 inches annually. Some years no rain is registered. Temperatures reached 112 the day we visited. There was no rain in sight, naturally.
Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point in North American with an elevation of 282 feet below sea level, is a small body of undrinkable water because of the high salt content.
Tourists file out of air-conditioned buses and cars and walk onto the salt encrusted flats, notice a prominent warning sign advising dangers of excessive heat temperatures after 10 a.m., shoot a couple of pictures and scurry back to the air conditioning.
A spectacular view of Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park. It was a short uphill walk from the parking lot to reach this overlook.
Scotty’s Castle, also known as Death Valley Ranch, was a desert getaway mansion of Chicago insurance magnate Albert Johnson and his wife Bessie. It was constructed in 1925.
The courtyard at Scotty’s Castle, a 8,000 square foot mansion that was never completed.
One of the interior rooms at Scotty’s Castle.
NEXT: Zion National Park, Utah
RV tour of southwestern national parks begins with intro to desert critters
Scorpions were quite an attraction for many visiting the desert southwest for the first time.
The drive from Kingman, AZ., to Pahrump, NV., was quite a trip that seemed would never end with endless miles of desolate desert country until we reached the Hoover Dam and Columbia River areas east of Las Vegas. Here, the landscape didn’t change much but the road went uphill for miles and miles. The Green Knight (our 2006 Monaco Knight) has problems with long, ascending grades and after about three miles, its diesel engine started to heat-up.
A long distance trucker told me once to shift from sixth into fourth gear and hold the engine RPM’s at 2,000 to avoid overheating. His suggestion worked. As the big rig slowed near the top, we downshifted to third gear and sailed over the top and across the Columbia River Bridge on U.S. Highway 93 and into Sin City. After skirting Las Vegas, we started another long uphill climb outside Pahrump and once again used the downshifting method. We later would learn after meeting our caravan traveling group, that a couple others had heating problems crossing the mountains.
Pahrump, NV., is located due west of Las Vegas and a few miles from the California border. It is here at Nevada Treasure RV & Spa where the Fantasy Tours Western National Park Caravan participants assemble tonight for an orientation.
It was good to see our friends Don and Sue, who live near Ottawa, Canada, drive- in about an hour later and park next door. They drove their 40-foot Monaco through the Colorado Rockies while we took the southerly route with fewer mountains. They will be our tour buddies for the 33-day tour.
This will be our first caravan tour—which is basically an organized trip for RV owners to drive and camp in their respective vehicles along a specific route. There are 23 RV’s of all sizes and shapes on this trip. A couple known as the wagon masters and hired by the tour organizer, will lead the caravan. Another couple, the tail gunners, bring up the rear.
The wagon masters, Bob and Penny, explained we don’t actually travel in a caravan style, rather participants leave on their own schedule but arrive at least by 5 p.m. daily at the next destination. The tail gunners, Brad and Sue, will wait until everyone leaves the campground then follow behind the group to make sure everyone arrives at the next campground. They are prepared to stay with any traveler who experiences mechanical or other problems needing professional help. Brad will earn the nickname “Thumper” because one of his duties include daily thumping tires of each RV rig to assure they are all inflated.
At an Orientation Meeting the Wagon Masters gave everyone a travel log that provided detailed information about the tour route, giving mile-by-mile descriptions of terrain, mountain grades and special instructions noting highway changes, gas stations to handle big rigs, grocery/shopping areas and other points of interest along the way.
Each rig has been assigned a number and a visible red tour emblem which were applied to the front and rear windshield. This will be helpful to identify tour participates in the event an RV has problems along the road.
The National Park tour will start tomorrow at Death Valley National Park. During the next 33 days, we will also visit Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Mesa Verde Park, Natural Bridges National Park, Monument Valley National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park (north and south rims). There will be a half dozen state parks included in the tour along with a train ride to a wild west mining town and a visit to the popular Four Corners area.
The tour covers over 1400 miles through parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Arizona.
Two months on the road; heading to Death Valley and beyond
ABOVE: Donkeys have the right-of-way in Oatman, AZ.
The highway miles (3,373) are starting to take a toll on the driver, passenger and the dog which was a good excuse to pull off Interstate 40 and park the Green Knight motorhome in a Kingman, AZ., campground for a few day’s rest. In three days the 33-day 12 Western National Parks tour begins at Pahrump, NV., which is a short drive to Death Valley National Park, the first park on the list. Not sure how we will react to 110 to 115 degree heat by noon other than “this is crazy.” The view from inside a parked chartered air-conditioned bus might be just as impressive. The tour will take us through California, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and end at the south rim of Grand Canyon, Arizona.
One of a dozen donkeys patrolling the streets of Oatman, AZ.
This trip started in St. Augustine, Fl., nearly two months ago and after a few days on the road, parked in Galax, Va., and enjoyed the cool breezes from the Blue Ridge Parkway three miles away for a week. We headed west on I-81 and later I-40 through Knoxville, TN., then straight west through Arkansas. Among the surprises was a scenic campsite along the Mississippi River in West Memphis, AR., the new Crystal Bridges art museum in Bentonville, AR., and a Chuck Wagon Race near Oologah, OK.
The Great Plains of central and southwest Oklahoma provided miles and miles of flat but picturesque landscape until passing through Texas and into New Mexico where mesas and buttes proudly disturbed the scenery along I-40. The mesas became larger and the buttes more numerous and the desert conditions more harsh on the westward highway into Arizona. Will not forget stopping at an Arizona welcome station and learning the state harbors 13 different species of rattlesnakes. Welcome to Arizona.
A donkey looks for a handout near the entrance to a store in the old mining town of Oatman, AZ.
Our home-away-from-home is a 2006 Monaco Knight. A 40-foot motorhome with two bathrooms, washer/dryer, satellite teevee and a lot of other bells and whistles. It is not exactly most people’s description of camping. Sleeping on the ground was fun 50 years ago, but not anymore.