Featured picture is the Ubehebe Crater in the northern part of Death Valley.
We had no idea what we were getting into, when I signed us up to attend the Death Valley 49’er Encampment.
We had bypassed Death Valley in our previous trips through the area mainly because we were on an agenda and it didn’t lure us at the time. However, I ran across a mention of the 49’er Encampment on Facebook and it piqued my interest. I mentioned it to Phil with a “let’s try this”, and his response was “whatever you want to do…”. He was busy with other things on his mind at the moment.
I did a bit of advance prepping by stocking the pantry and freezer with food and supplies, made sure that we had several paperback novels each, that laundry was caught up and the rig clean and tidy. Phil checked that we had our propane and reserve fuel and water tanks filled.
About mid-way (about 45 miles or so) into the park with virtually no other vehicle traffic coming our way or passing us, and none, if any signs of human habitation, the few facilities available were getting farther apart and fuel was becoming increasingly expensive and the “last chance for fuel” signs were long gone; he turned to me and asked, “now, just exactly what are we going to do out here?”.
I really didn’t know for sure, and just reminded him that if we did not like it, that we have wheels and can move on.
We had expanded our solar off-grid system in Oregon and had not really used it in an actual remote, primitive environment for any length of time. We were reserved for 14 days in this remote National Park and I was curious to see how we would do.
It was our first serious test of our ‘dry camping capabilities’. There were campsites with hook-ups which were booked far in advance. However, the Sunset dry camping campground was where our group of Escapee Boomers were camped and where the after hours pre-encampment music was performed.
We had a blast visiting with new friends and meeting the musicians camped nearby. Some guests stayed in the Furnace Creek Inn which is a 4 star luxury hotel. We toured the Inn and were told that many movie stars have frequented the Inn. It is an Oasis with a salt water swimming pool, date palm trees, a gorgeous garden with water features, fine dining and multi-roomed suites. Other guests stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch Resort which is more of a motel with standard amenities. There were several restaurants, a saloon, a general store and even a post office on-site.
Not all of Death Valley was was available to us. Death Valley had just experienced a thousand year flood which cause damage to the Scotty’s Castle area and many back roads. There was still a lot of excursions and sites to see available to us and we took several scenic drives throughout the park. We were enthralled with the beauty and the fierceness of Death Valley.
The 1849 travelers came on horseback, covered wagons and on foot.
The weather was perfect the first 10 days with warm days and cool nights, but the last 4 days we had the Santa Ana winds come through. The wagons arrived on a windy, dusty day after driving their teams for miles across part of one of the early 49’er’s trails.
I will only highlight our experiences and give limited historical information. There are plenty of historians and books on the subject and several of the more recent authors and film makers were on hand to lecture and sign their books and sell their DVDs.
We viewed historical movies, stayed for the lectures, roamed from one area of activity in the park to another. Our days were full and then the beautiful night sky arrived with shooting star shows and fireballs. Music was playing every day and night that we were camped, sometimes in several places at the same time. The Artists were really talented.
There were living historical displays, vendor booths, parades, re-enactments and demonstrations of timely crafts and skills needed to survive the land and weather of Death Valley.
The 49’er Encampment is an annual event where campers and resort guests gather for the celebration of the gold rush voyagers who traveled through and named Death Valley while searching for a shortcut to the California gold fields. Nearly all of them survived, but it was a torturous trip!
Phil played golf 214 feet below sea level (twice), and I line danced.
We found that we did very well dry-camping for the 14 days. We filled up the fresh water tanks on arrival and added to the tank with our reserve water container mid-stay. Phil did use our portable water discharge tank once, just to be sure that we did not overflow. The tank sensors in our water tanks are not reliable, they can lie to us.
Our solar kept the batteries charged and the only time that we ran the generator was to run the vacuum cleaner for a quick pickup of the sand and grit that we tracked into the rig from our treks around the camp.
The cell phones and the computers were kept charged (no internet access really available) and we had enough light to read our books after the music shows ended with reserve power still in the batteries in the morning.
We only used the propane heater in the early mornings to take the chill off the rig while we had our coffee. Once the sun came up, everything warmed up quickly.
It was a two-week experience that we will never forget.
If one wants to experience Death Valley and interact with history and wild tales of the Gold Rush era, The 49er’s Encampment is the time to go!