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DV with young children

Detroit, MI
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DV with young children

Hi everyone --

We have an unexpected long weekend and were thinking of going to DV. We have a three year old and an infant. I have been reading through all the posts but an completely overwhelmed with great info.

Can you suggest what might be good activities and/or things to see this coming weekend (considering the weather) with young children?

Will be driving from the L.A. area in a mini-van (snow anywhere?).

Thank you so much in advance for any suggestions/advice!

Best,

holly

ne mpls
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11. Re: DV with young children

I'm looking forward to your post on how the trip went. We will be there next weekend, staying at Stovepipe Wells with a 5 year old and a 15 month old. I hope you had a great time!

Detroit, MI
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12. Re: DV with young children

Hi Frisco_Roadrunner!

Once again -- you are amazing!

I must say...I was a bit uncertain about a trip in general to Death Valley (knowing nothing about it at the time) and really uncertain with a toddler and an infant, HOWEVER, we had a really great time and LOVED our visit largely in part to your suggestions!

First -- if going with a family and kids -- pack a cooler with lots of goodies -- this was key to our success with very few places to eat with kids.

Here is was our itinerary:

Fri: Drove up to Beatty via Barstow and Baker and Shashone. Interesting to see that part of the state but sad to see lots of small towns struggling.

If you need to stop and eat -- stop at the Lenwood stop BEFORE Barstow -- there is not much the rest of the way. We did see the World's Tallest Thermometer in Baker :)

We stayed the night at the Death Valley Inn. Not much to it but clean and had a fridge and microwave. We ate at the local Denny's that night. Probably the nicest Denny's I have been to (not usually a big fan). You do have to walk through the smokey casino to get there but it is non-smoking in the Denny's.

Sat: Gas up! Gas was almost $6/gallon in park! We went to these sites: the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, Devil's Golfcourse, Badwater, Dante's View, Artist's Palette (keep driving past the first stop -- there is a more "official" stop and drive after and it is AMAZING!), and Salt Creek (too early for Pupfish although someone there claimed they saw one!). We picnic out of our mini van and out toddler thought that was the coolest thing ever :)

Sun: Checked out of Beatty. Drove to Rhyolite ghost town, Titus Canyon drive (be prepared! we had a friend recommend this to us. Can be a bit nerve wracking at points and we were in a mini van!!! The trail recommends 4 wheel drive and/or high clearance vehicles (which my husband told me about that sign AFTER!) but we actually did just fine in the mini van. Not sure that would hold true in after a rain or in the hot parts of the year. We had a picnic along this drive at the Leadfield ghost town. This was our FAVORITE part of the trip. So beautiful!!!), the Mesquite Sand Dunes and then drove out to Lone Pine. Stayed the night there at the Best Western (clean and decent breakfast). Had dinner that night at the town Pizza place (Great pizza!).

Drove back to Orange County on Monday.

Overall -- it was a great trip!

Trip must haves with the kids:

- baby carrier for small hikes

- strollers were great for longer walks

- pack food and drinks!

- games for toddler on our Ipad

- movies for the long drives (most of the time we just kept point out stuff to him and he seemed to enjoy it)

- sand toys for the sand dunes (the look on my son's face when he saw them was priceless LOL!)

Sites we wished we had more time for:

- Scotty's castle

- Natural Bridge

Thankfully, the baby is a great sleeper and slept a lot of the trip. We really enjoyed and hope this helps others.

Thanks again, Frisco_Roadrunner!

Best,

Holly

San Francisco
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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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13. Re: DV with young children

Thanks for reporting back to us! It's always good to hear how someone's trip turned out, and of course we're happy when our advice or suggestions help people enjoy their trips. I hope other families come and see your helpful tips for traveling with kids.

I'm picturing your son's eyes pop at the sight of the Sand Dunes! I guess he's ruined for anything in LA or OC now, huh? As the old saying goes, you can't keep them down on the farm once they've seen "Paree."

Next time you're in Beatty, if you want a change from Denny's, try the Death Valley Firepit BBQ on Hwy 95 just south of NV 374 (that's the intersection with the red flashing light). The restaurant is on the west side of the road, same side as the Death Valley Inn but closer to Hwy 374. The food isn't all spicy BBQ, so there are items to suit a young child's palate too. And you may have noticed on 374 there are several quaint little local eateries, and Mel's Diner is across the road from the DV Inn. But always save room for sweets, which are more thn abundantly available at the DV Nut & Candy Co.

Glad you went home through Lone Pine. That's one of my favorite little towns in the area. When the kids get older and you can do more visitor stuff, there is more than enough to do there for a weekend, and it's close enough that you don't need to make elaborate travel arrangements.

Detroit, MI
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14. Re: DV with young children

I forgot two key things:

- saw wild burros eating the palm trees at our hotel in Beatty

- saw the sculpture garden by Rhyolite - wont spoil the surprise for others ;)

We saw the BBQ place and Mel's diner but both were closed by the time we got to town :( Did get candy at the candy store though!

We thought Lone Pine was adorable and hope to adventure around there in the near future.

Thanks again! :)

San Francisco
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15. Re: DV with young children

** "- saw wild burros eating the palm trees at our hotel in Beatty " **

This would DEFINITELY be a high point of the trip for kids!

Beatty, Rhyolite, and the stretch of 374 to the park boundary is a good area to see burros. That's another thing about Beatty that makes it a nice place to stay. One time when I was staying at the El Portal, on the west side of town on 374, a commotion woke me up in the wee hours of the morning. I thought it was too much noise to be dogs, and I went to see. It turned out to be a burro cavorting in the passageway behind the motel.

Burros are not native to the area and the Park Service tries to control them. They were brought in decades ago by prospectors, and continued to multiply after the prospectors left. People love them because they seem cute and friendly, and they really are part of the mining history of Death Valley. But they eat anything, trample vegetation and water sources, and scare bighorn sheep and other native critters.

In the 80s or early 90s, the NPS and Bureau of Land Management did large-scale roundups with helicopters, wranglers on horseback, and big corrals at places like Stovepipe Wells to collect them. I have pictures I took then. The critters were shipped around the country and put up for adoption, with a signed agreement that they would be working animals or pets and not used for human or animal consumption. (Probably everyone has heard of the horse scandal in England; the Feds did not want something like that happening with these burros). The park still discourages burros, and there ae fewer within DV now but there is no way to completely keep them out.

Back to Beatty's burros... this is something weird. Along Hwy 374, I often see burros in groups of up to 7 or 8, hanging out just east of the National Park boundary sign. It's almost as if they understand that outside the park, they can wander around in public and not worry about a rope or net dropping over them. Maybe they can read! Or maybe they've observed burros captured on one side of that sign but not the other, and have passed this knowledge along like people pass on cultural memory and traditions. Anyway, I see them a lot just east of the boundary where the Chloride Cliff 4wd road angles in from the southeast, and they more often seem to be on the south side of the road for some reason.

San Diego
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16. Re: DV with young children

Hi, Frisco

We are planning a trip to DV end of March and we also have two children (3 & 8). I learned so much just by reading your posts to others. Thank you so much! I hope you can give me some advice also. We are driving from San Diego on Friday thru Baker and wanna stop by Ashmeadow Wildlife preserve near DV Junction (it only opens M-F til 4:30 I am thinking whether we have time to do this and whether it's worth it) before driving into DV. We already book 2 nights at DV Inn in Beatty. Then Sunday probably after lunch, we will head to Las Vegas and spend a nite there before driving back to SD Monday morning. I have included the following list of places and things to do during our DV visit. I hope you can give us some suggestion for itinerary so we are not wasting too much time driving back and forth. Here's the list:

Ashmeadow wildlife refuge, Rhyolite, Mesquite Sand dunes, Hiking in Mosaic Canyon (both of my kids are good hikers), Furnace Creek visitor center (My 8 yr old really wants to do the Junior Ranger Program, she collects badges from different NP), Check out pupfish at salt creek, badwater basin, artist palette, Zabriskie Point, hike to Natural Bridge, Dante's peak if time allowed. I like to do the hiking in the morning to avoid the heat. I also really really want to do some stargazing with the kids. Afterall, DV is one of best places in the world to see the stars. Is there a place near Beatty that you recommended for Stargazing? I have heard Zabriskie Point and SPW village but that seems kind a far for the night.

Thank you very much. Look forward to hear from you.

San Francisco
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17. Re: DV with young children

If you are coming from and returning to San Diego, you might consider entering the park one way and returning another. If you read a few other recent threads, you’ll see that many of us suggest I-15 via Baker as a poor third or fourth choice because of the heavy LA-LV traffic, relatively monotonous topography, only one major town, Barstow; and few specific things to see. The kids may be amused for awhile at Baker by the world’s tallest thermometer, but there isn’t much else to keep anyone fascinated for long.

If you’re somewhere in San Diego where 395 works, take it one way and use that time to see some of the west side of the park. You could do it either going or returning.

It sounds like you’ll approach Ash Meadows from Hwy 127 out of Shoshone. If that should change, approach from inside the park via Death Valley Junction. Don’t take Hwy 127 north of Death Valley Junction or NV Hwy 373, because those routes don’t have much variety. From Shoshone, or from the park on Hwy 190 and then Stateline Road, is more scenic, and you’ll see the ghost town of DVJ. It was a borax mining settlement in the 1920s and now home of the Amargosa Hotel & Opera House.

Ash Meadows is a day-use area every day; it’s the visitor center that has limited hours. Go to the VC if you can, but if you can’t, don’t necessarily scratch Ash Meadows. It is a lush desert marsh with a lot of water, reptiles, and birds, a contrast to much of what you’ll see in Death Valley proper. There are roads going through and foot paths to ponds and other wildlife viewing areas. The rare Devil’s Hole pupfish lives there, and you can see the opening to the underground habitat but not go there; it is secured to protect the fish and the visitors. One of the few readily accessible places in Death Valley itself with a lot of water and greenery is Salt Creek; you’ll see a turnoff from the main Hwy 190 a few miles north of Furnace Creek. This time of year, you have a good chance to see pupfish there.

Since you’re staying in Beatty, you could save Rhyolite since it is only 5 miles west of town. In fact, it would be a nice place for sunset. You’re facing generally west, toward the Amargosa Range. Stay after sunset for stargazing. The elevation is close to 4000’, and other than Beatty’s limited lighting and a few security lights at the abandoned gold refinery on Hwy 374 just outside Rhyolite, there isn’t anything “urban” to mess with your view of the sky. And there’s something special about seeing the sun go down and the moon come up (it’ll be full or close to it) in a ghost town! While it’s still light, be sure to see the fanciful sculpture collection just outside the ghost town. Another place to see sunset is Hell’s Gate, which is in the park itself and close to 30 miles from Beatty.

When you drive into the park from Beatty, you will see Hell’s Gate marked on the road, with a parking area, info kiosk, and outhouse. Stop there and enjoy the view. The road forks there: right for Scotty’s Castle, Devil’s Cornfield, Sand Dunes, Stovepipe Wells, and Mosaic Canyon; left for Furnace Creek and the Badwater area. You could do either one first. If heat is a concern, maybe go to the Furnace Creek and Badwater areas first because those are lower elevations that will get warm earlier. Also, you can get to the visitor center early enough to see the park movie, check out the book and gift shop, talk to the rangers and give your Junior Ranger plenty of time to do her activities. The major natural wonders on the Badwater Road are in the northern 17 miles, so you don’t need to plan a whole morning or afternoon for them unless you want to spend more time. These include Devil’s Golf Course, Badwater, Natural Bridge (a hiking option; about a mile from parking to where the main rock formations begin), Artist’s Drive, and Golden Canyon. In that order, you’ll go south and back north, seeing the sights on the west side of the road and then the east.

Dante’s View is 25 miles from Furnace Creek, and along the way are Zabriskie Point and 20 Mule Team Canyon. Dante’s is 5475’ above sea level, which makes it a nice place in the afternoon when the temperature can be 25º lower than at Badwater. OTOH, if you’re flexible, I like to suggest going to Dante’s first. It is a good intro to Death Valley and the lay of the land, because you have a grand overview of the salt flats, the surrounding mountain ranges, several roads, Furnace Creek, and Badwater almost 6000’ lower in elevation, directly below you.

Stovepipe Wells is about 25 miles from FC. Along the way are Harmony Borax Works and Salt Creek (if you didn’t see them on the way in). Devil’s Cornfield, and the Sand Dunes. Mosaic Canyon is just beyond SPW. It’s a beautiful canyon with polished white walls that look like marble and broken rock floors resembling mosaics. Both are made by water rushing down the canyon from flashfloods. The hike is as easy or as strenuous as you like, from a moderate stroll to scrambling and some climbing. Mosaic is a sheer, narrow canyon, and unlike most canyons off the main body of Death Valley, it runs north-south, so it does not get direct sunlight continually for hours, and it’s in deep shade earlier than the east-west canyons.

San Diego
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18. Re: DV with young children

Thank you very much, Frisco. It's amazing how well you know about the park and even astronomy! I think we will definitely include Ashmeadow on our way into DV. Then, head to Beatty to check in with the motel. And, after that, head to Rhyolite for a visit. As you suggested, stay for stargazing. Then, next day early morning, we will head down to Furnace Creek area for all the main stops/view points and hike the Natural bridge. Then, next morning, we will head to the Mesquite sand dunes (hopefully, we can spot some animal tracks) and hike in the Mosaic Canyon before heading out to Las Vegas.

BTW, where should we park to get to the Sand Dunes? Is there a sign that indicate the access to the sand dunes? And, do you recommend any ranger-lead programs offered by the visitor center?

Thanks again.

San Francisco
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19. Re: DV with young children

** "BTW, where should we park to get to the Sand Dunes? Is there a sign that indicate the access to the sand dunes? And, do you recommend any ranger-lead programs offered by the visitor center?" **

There is a paved parking lot for the Sand Dunes next to Hwy 190 on the north side (same side as the dunes). It's a couple miles east of Stovepipe Wells Village, and it's well marked.

There are scads of programs, talks, guided walks, etc. for visitors. The full schedule runs from October to April, with more limited activities in summer.

Here is a sample. The schedule varies each week, so you never know what surprises you might find. I know you're staying in Beatty, but another reason I suggest staying in the park is being able to go to one or more programs at your leisure, including evening programs that can be fun for kids (astronomy, weird tales, listening to nocturnal critters, etc.)

nps.gov/deva/…Ranger-Programs.pdf

To get to this pdf from the park home page in the future, click on "Plan Your Visit," "Things to Do," and "Guided Tours."

San Diego
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20. Re: DV with young children

Hi, Frisco

Thanks again for the information. I totally agree with you regarding staying within the Furnace Creek area. I just wished our budget allow us to do so. We are so excited about the trip, will keep you posted how it goes. I just hope that the rain will not be there to impact our trip. The weather report forecast shower may be happening Sunday which is the day we planned to hike in Mosaic Canyon in the morning.

Thanks. You are the best!