Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Campground Spotlight: Texas Springs, Death Valley National Park

When considering places to explore in the off-season, never overlook the largest national park in the lower 48 states, Death Valley National Park!  Next week, I'll be heading down to spend a few days exploring the geology of Death Valley, and hopefully catching a few of the first spring wildflowers!  Last spring, Eric and I were able to visit Death Valley during the 2016 Super Bloom, making it the first stop on our week of desert camping.

A spectacular view of the sunset from Texas Springs campground, looking southwest toward Telescope Peak

Eric and I left home one morning last March with high hopes and no definite camping arrangements, aside from a list of campgrounds and a vague idea of where each was located on a map.  We made it to Death Valley a couple of hours before dark... during an enormous sandstorm. 

If you've been to Death Valley, you might be familiar with the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  As we drove past Stovepipe Wells looking for a campsite, the dunes were literally airborne; visibility was greatly reduced as sand billowed high into the air.  A few dim shapes could be seen through the billowing sand, tents flapping in the wind as dogged campers desperately re-staked corners.  I can't comment on this campground, as I never actually saw it through all the sand.  But the plan is to camp there next week!

Not to be deterred, we drove on to the next possible campground on our list, Sunset campground, across the street from the Furnace Creek area.  We used the restroom here and immediately returned to our car, mostly for shelter from the wind.  Sunset campground is pretty much just for RVs: a large, exposed expanse of gravel parking lot. 

Just up the hill from Sunset campground, however, we found the perfect spot to camp: Texas Springs.  This campground is nestled in an eroded badlands landscape, surrounded by sheltering hills and mesquite trees growing in low-lying areas; a veritable desert oasis!

Texas Springs campground, on a stormy evening! 

Thanks to the wind, havoc had been wreaked on the campground: tents were blown into trees, sleeping bags, pads, gear and clothing were literally scattered to the winds.  Gusts were strong enough to send picnic tables sailing, flip over a pop-up camper and blow out car windows.  But on the upside, as we pulled into this scene of chaos, not-so-happy campers were jumping ship as fast as they could and a number of campsites became available (always a silver lining, eh?)  We cruised around the campground and found a recently-deserted site, relatively free from broken car window glass, and claimed it as our own, hauling our wayward picnic table out of a thicket of mesquite which had happily prevented it from flying further afield.  And someone had even left behind a whole bundle of firewood!  Talk about a windfall!

By evening, the worst of the wind had died down and big, fat desert raindrops began to fall.  Eric and I went for a walk to get the lay of the land, had our supper, and were considering putting up our tent.  But just as the sun went down, the wind kicked up again, ripping through the badlands with furry.  We slept in our car the first night.

Desert sunrises can't be beat!

In the morning, we were happy to wake to clear skies and no wind.  We put up the tent, got our gear sorted out and headed off to explore the desert.  Texas Springs campground is centrally located in Death Valley National Park, making it a great place to set up a basecamp for exploring more distant reaches of the park.  From Texas Springs, in the Furnace Creek area, it is a reasonable drive to Death Valley's main attractions, such as Artist's Pallet, Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point and Dante's to the south, as well as the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and the Salt Creek area to the north.  (Furnace Creek campground is also centrally located, but we didn't have the chance to look around that area very much.)

Our humble camp at Texas Springs.

Texas Springs campground is open from October 15 to May 10 and is first come, first served.  (For a campground that is open year-round, visit Furnace Creek campground, which also accepts reservations.)  92 sites are available at Texas Springs campground, for $16 per night; each site has a picnic table and fire ring.  Potable water is available, as is that great luxury of campgrounds, flushing toilets.  For additional information, as well as important park alerts and camping regulations, visit the National Park Service's website.

Consulting The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California during a lunch break in camp. 
Also a chance to reapply sunscreen!

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