It’s official: we made it from coast to coast! This past week we finally made it to California and we spent the week visiting some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring landscapes. The things we saw when visiting Death Valley and the Alabama Hills CA will stick with us for years to come.
We drove from Arizona, passing the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead and spotting Bighorn sheep along the way. We stopped at the Hoover Dam and were impressed by this crazy engineering feat. Then, we drove to Tecopa hot springs and bathed in the mineral water. We were lucky and there were only a few other people at this free spot on the side of the road. Our bodies needed this after a long week of hiking in Sedona.
We left Tecopa and drove to an amazing camp spot that had incredible views of the mountains and great cell phone service. We had the pleasure of meeting another van life couple (Steph and Alejo) who have an incredible self-converted van and three large dogs! We had the best time with them and I truly wish that we could have spent more time together because we were such fast friends. Read below to hear about our amazing time in the dry desert of California!
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Table of Contents
Where We Went This Week
Spot #1: Alabama Hills
After leaving our camp spot with Steph and Alejo, we ventured into the Alabama Hills for the week. This area is situated below the Inyo National Forest and next to the Sierra Mountains. It is an amazing landscape of crazy rock boulder piles and large hills that sit below Mount Whitney and the other Sierras. The Hills are run by the Bureau of Land Management, which means that you can camp on most of the land for free. The camp spots are incredibly quiet and beautiful.
Unfortunately, for most of the time we were in the hills, there was a wind advisory. The wind was so harsh that it rattled our van at night and we had to run our heater every single night to stay warm. There was also no service within the hills, so we drove five minutes to Lone Pine each day to work.
Despite the circumstances, we had an incredible time. The hills have been featured in hundreds of Western movies and other films, because of their unique landscape. We stopped into the Museum of Western Film History and saw props from movies like Star Trek and Iron Man. Also, our camp spot was remote and surrounded by boulders, so we felt completely alone in the gorgeous surroundings. At night, we disconnected from everything, doing yoga together (in gloves and jackets) and making delicious home cooked meals. It felt nice to be almost completely off-grid.
On our last day in the hills, the winds finally calmed down and we were able to hike the Arch loop to Mobius and Heart Arch. There are more than 70 arches in the park, but we only spotted three. We will have to return to find them all.
Spot #2: Death Valley
We finished our work week and were ready for an adventurous weekend. We stated the two hour drive into Death Valley National Park (NP #15) were immediately taken back by the sheer size of the landscape. We knew it was the second largest part in the US, but nothing prepares you for the magnitude of the mountains and desert in the park. It looks endless as if it goes on forever.
Our first night, we attempted to hike to Darwin Falls, but the road was rough and it took us too long. We had to turn around so that we could make it to the Mesquite Sand Dunes for sunset. There, we walked barefoot amongst the imposing dunes, taking photos, and trying to get to the tallest dunes we could before the sun set behind the mountains. We sat on top of the dune and watched as pinks and purples began to transform the sky.
Once the skies got dark, we drove back to the Stovepipe Wells area for dinner and a shower. We were happily surprised by our meal. We ordered a Brie Cheeseburger, a caesar salad, and ancho soup and each of them were delicious and filling. When we were satiated, we registered at the desk for $5 showers. The showers were surprisingly nice, with towels, shampoo, and conditioner all included. We hadn’t showered in a week and it felt so amazing to just stand there under the hot steaming water.
We drove to our camp spot and immediately went to sleep, so that we could prepare for a long Saturday. We woke up to a 5:45 am wake up call to get to Zabriskie Point for the sunrise. Surprisingly, we got up right away and drove to the spot. We could already see a little light in the sky as we made our way to the viewpoint. Even though there were no clouds in the sky (I think you need some clouds for a good sunrise/sunset), the transformations of the landscapes were astounding. We were there for more than an hour watching the rocks reflect the colors and seeing the light change.
After sunset, we made it to some of the other iconic spots in the park like Dante’s View, Artist’s Palette, Golden Canyon and the Devil’s Golf Course. Each of these spots was different from the last and a unique landscape that I had never seen before. Walking through Goldwater Canyon was definitely one of the highlights, with some of the most memorable panoramas I’ve ever seen.
We ended our day at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the US at -282 feet. After fitting a lot in our morning, we ended up being early for the sunset. So we watched an episode of Ozark on our projector as we waited for the sun to go down. It was so funny being able to watch an episode of TV in our home while surrounded by crazy landscapes and no service.
I think I can safely say that watching the sunset over Badwater Basin was the highlight of our time in Death Valley. We walked out over the crazy geometric salt flats that cover the ground for hundreds of miles. The sunset colors changed from yellows to oranges to pinks and to purples. We marveled at the transforming landscape and took far too many pictures to try and capture its beauty. I’m not sure if we even did it justice.
That night, we had to get gas before driving to our camping spot. The gas cost $6.56 a gallon!!!! So we only got a couple gallons to hold us over. Then, we drove an hour away to a camping spot off of a very rough road. The van was vibrating so intensely and things were falling from their respective spots in the van. I was worried we wouldn’t make it, but Dylan is a hero and he got us there in one piece. Once we got there, we realized that we were completely alone, probably for miles and miles. We went outside to stargaze and take in our remote location. It felt peaceful and a little bit scary if I’m being honest.
That next morning, we took the rough road back out to Ubehebe Crater, a volcanic crater that was created 2,000 years ago. It was massive, but we were too tired to really appreciate it. So, we drove on to Mosaic Canyon where we were supposed to do a 4 mile hike through the canyon, but we were exhausted. We made it half a mile in to the narrowest part of the canyon before calling it quits. Despite ending our time in the park on a little low, we truly had the best weekend.
I hope to one day make it back to Death Valley and see more of the backcountry roads (but not in the van). After an amazing week in Death Valley and the Alabama Hills CA, we headed further West to the coastline. I’ll catch you next time in our van chronicles journey!
Where We Stayed:
- Boondocking Spot with Great Service Outside Tecopa (335.75105,-116.31452)
- Alabama Hills (36.5981785, -118.0686364)
- Death Valley near Zabriskie Point (36.40574, -116.76232)
- Death Valley near Ubehebe Crater (36.98049, -117.46894)
Let me know what you liked most about this van chronicle in the comments and don’t forget to pin it!