A Different Kind of Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day this year we decided to bypass the traditional candy, flowers, or dinner at a crowded restaurant. With a desire to enjoy the sunshine, avoid crowds, and spend some together time away from life distractions, we packed the camping gear, loaded up the car, and headed to our favorite place…


I know, doesn’t sound very romantic, does it?  For some crazy reason (to some anyway) we love this place! Over the past 30 years we have been here about 25 times and each visit is unique as well as beautiful.  Maybe it is the serenity, the diversity, or  the peacefulness that calls to us but we are drawn back here year after year. Last spring we came in early March to experience the Super Bloom.



Once every decade or so, the desert comes alive with a magnificent show of flowers. The almost magical conditions of dormant flowers seeds, rain, and weather have to be just right for this phenomenon to occur.  It really was a sight to behold.



 We left home at 4:00 am and arrived before 9:00 am. The campground much busier than expected but we found a couple leaving so we were able to get a great campsite. We had packed light for our brief visit and set up was completed in no time.


We now had a full day to soak up some much needed sun and enjoy the day.

After settling in and taking some time to appreciate the day before us, we decided to head over to the pool at Furnace Creek Ranch. There is a marvelous spring-fed swimming pool that maintains about a 80 degree temperature year round. For a mere $5.00 each we could use the pool and showers for an entire day. We had a lovely swim with snow capped mountains in the background. I actually forgot to take a picture but more information and pictures are found in the provided link.

A few hours later we headed back to the campsite for lunch and a brief nap.


 We wanted to make the most of our short visit so soon pulled out our beloved Scrabble game for a few ‘friendly’ (but competitive) games.


It was Valentine’s Day after all so we continued the celebration with some bubbly.


We completed a lovely day with barbecued steak and baked potatoes, a campfire, and star gazing. The nighttime sky is unbelievable!

Before we knew it we were enjoying the sunrise from our tent…


…and it was already time to pack up and head back. We might have stayed another day but we have two new kittens at home and were not yet comfortable leaving them for any length of time. I know our cat-sitter had things under control but you know how new parents are!


After breakfast in the cafe, we decided to take the scenic drive out of the park and headed towards Badwater, at about 279 degrees below sea level. Furnace Creek is almost at sea level. You can see the snow capped Panamint Mountains in the distance.


While I was snapping pictures of the salt flats at Badwater, Thommmee was snapping pictures of me!


We lingered along the way…in no hurry to leave.

Jubilee Pass


It is not often you see such green in the desert. We have had a great deal of rain this season with more expected. This is seriously helping our drought situation!


For us, this was a perfect way to spend Valentine’s Day.


Death Valley-Super Bloom

A special treat is happening in the Death Valley……spring flowers! With only an average annual rainfall of 2 inches a year, this season, the park got  3 inches of rain so far! Three rare storms in the first two weeks of October was enough to cause millions of dormant wildflower seeds to spring forth.


Our yearly camping trip to Death Valley Nation Park is at Thanksgiving so the chance to visit this past weekend during the super bloom was a special treat. The roads, campgrounds, hotels, and just about everywhere we went was full of enthralled spectators. Never before had we experienced such unique splendor. Death Valley, despite its name, is such a beautiful place anytime of the year. Although barren of many plants, trees, and shrubs, the diversity and beauty of the park is not to be missed. It is this diversity that makes this park so incredibly appealing-from the salt flats to the sand dunes, the mountain tops  to the badlands, and the sunrises to the sunsets. It is a land of extremes.

We were going to see Death Valley in the spring and during the extraordinary blooming of spring flowers!  Out the door at 3:30AM we arrived full of anticipation and excited to explore. We spent two days driving around the park with many stops along the way.

This is some of the highlights of our trip.


Desert Gold


Deep Purple Phacelia

(If touched can cause a rash)


More than 20 species of wildflower bloom in the park at various elevations.

We saw these at a higher elevation but I don’t know their name.


The Desert Five-Spot


The Gravel Ghost


(see how seems to float from the very interesting leaves hugging the ground?)


The Charcoal Kilns. No flowers but a group of young people making a video!


Badwater Basin. 282 feet below sea level. That is not snow in the background…


…it is a salt flat.


This was a shrub growing among the Desert Gold flowers.

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On a normal trip the landscape would look more like this…


…instead of this!

 Our second night  we were sent packing with 45-60 mph winds… which collapsed our tent….so…we slept in the car! Not the best way to end our trip but worth every minute to have been able to enjoy such a rare sight.


A day earlier than planned we soon found our way home. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it though!

That time of year again…


One of my favorite holidays. We celebrate a very untraditional Thanksgiving which started in 1986.  Not that I don’t love spending holidays with family-don’t get me wrong-it was just that  things changed in my life around that time. I am like most people who don’t like change but decided to make this a positive experience…


Thommmee and I decided to go camping. We packed up our little car (a Volkswagen Golf) gathered together our meager camping supplies,  popped a turkey roll into the ice chest (with a few other essentials of course), and set our sights on Death Valley, California.


We began our journey-just the two of us-thinking we were probably crazy and that no one else could possibly have the same idea. We took in all of the sights along the way, stopped at Badwater (the lowest point in North America),


and enjoyed the magnificent views. We saw a few people here and there but figured we would pretty much have the place to ourselves.


We arrived at the campground (that did not take reservations) and found the place completely full! As we aimlessly wandered around trying to decide what to do, a nice couple offered us a small corner of their campsite to share (after looking us over to make sure we did not have any kids or pets in tow-which we didn’t). We made a makeshift campfire, warmed up our little turkey roll, unsuccessfully tried to light our propane lantern, and hunkered down in our little tent for the night. This was only a humble beginning of many wonderful trips to come!

Come to find out, Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest time of the year for desert camping and for Death Valley. We spent most of the next 27 years camping in Death Valley during the Thanksgiving weekend. Some years we explored, sometimes kids came with us, sometime we went alone. Occasionally we talked people into driving out for a full turkey dinner and once we ate at the small restaurant in Furnace Creek.


We got much better at this and Thommmee learned to smoke an entire turkey. We have stuffing, mashed potatoes and the entire meal with all of the fixings! Some of the kids learned to love it as much as we do and continued coming with their families and some of them have never again set foot there. We have listened to a multitude of ranger programs, hiked many trails, explored back roads, and appreciated a quietness that is hard to explain. We have had magnificent sunsets, wind, rain, and cold but have loved almost every minute of it. Well, maybe not the wind. Something about sleeping in a tent during a windstorm is just not fun. The wind is pretty much the only thing that will keep us from heading out there. A few years the Santa Ana winds have kicked up pretty bad so we have endured, left early, or not gone at all. Many people think we are a little nuts and are always asking us what is the attraction!


This year we are doing something different. We are driving a little closer to home-to Anza Borrego State Park .


This is largest state park in California and, the second largest in the continental US. It is located in Northern San Diego County and will be about a two hours drive and not the five hours it takes us to get to Death Valley. Our oldest daughter and her family will be going too. They love this about as much as we do. We are all feeling a little sad to miss our usual place but are anxious to see if this will work equally well.

The turkey is defrosting, Thommmee has started packing the car, dusted off our bicycles, pulled out the tent, and I am packing up the food. We leave in the morning for three nights and four glorious days.

This time in the desert allows me time to reflect on the year, count my blessing, commune with God, prepare my heart for Christmas, and spend time around a very unconventional Thanksgiving table. Except for the beauty of the desert in winter, there are few distractions.  I have so much to be thankful for and look forward to this time. It helps me prepare for the Christmas hustle bustle and is the calm I need to face the next few weeks.

Wishing you all a very

Happy Thanksgiving!

“The more you are grateful for what you have the more you will have to be grateful for”

This wonderful quote by Zig Ziggler really sums up the Thanksgiving weekend. As we prepare to move into the Christmas season, (run actually for most of us) I wanted to reflect and take a moment give thanks.

Our Thanksgiving is different by most standards, I suspect, but for Thommmee and I, it is our favorite way of spending Thanksgiving for  over 20  celebrations. We pack up our turkey and fixings and head to Death Valley to camp. He actually cooks the turkey in his smoker that he drags out there each year. He has it down to a science and this year he really outdid himself by cooking an amazing 9 pound turkey breast. (we decided to cut back this year instead of a full turkey). unnamed (8)

We started this tradition in 1986, our first Thanksgiving together. In those early years we went alone, sometimes with one or two kids  and occasionally  other family members.  Thanksgiving had become a bit of an untraditional holiday for us with the changing dynamics of the family. As teenagers the kids often went elsewhere and each year we trudged back to the desert. People always looked at us like we were crazy wondering what on earth was out there to keep drawing us back. For me, this weekend had become my thankful and reflective time-the calm before the storm of Christmas.  On the occasional years we didn’t go-because of wind-I missed it immensely! As the kids became older a few of them found a significant interest in the place but only one developed the love of it that we have. It is her and her intended that we spent this most recent weekend with.

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We put together a full Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravel, rolls, cranberry sauce, and fresh asparagus. Somehow we were even able to coordinate it to come together at the same time-no easy feat sometimes at home! We used 2 camp stoves, the smoker, a small Weber smoker, and our experience! Our camping neighbors are often amazed and this year (as they warmed their dinner up in their small camper)  were no less surprised.  We tent camp so did not have the luxury of a microwave or traditional oven. The stuffing was prepared using bread (that we tore into small pieces-just like at home), we chopped our celery, onion, mushrooms, and browned Italian sausage. We used a metal foil pan and “baked” it in the smaller smoker.  We peeled the potatoes, boiled them on the camp stove, and mashed them by hand. I brought a real table-cloth, a nice bottle of wine, my daughter brought a pumpkin pie and whipped cream and there you have it-a perfect Thanksgiving dinner.

I digress, however, this story is  about being thankful. As we took in the sunsets, the views, the quiet, the simplicity of Death Valley I could not help but to appreciate and relish in God’s masterpiece. Don’t let the name confuse you. This place is so simple yet so complex. The quiet can almost hurt your ears. The sunsets take your breath away.1385771613526  2013-11-29 16.35.43 IMG_20131127_164342 1385599324563The stars at night are so intense it is hard to imagine. We went to a star-gazing  program one evening. A few available telescopes allowed us to view some interesting constellations and stars. The rangers were very knowledgeable and informative about the night sky. It was amazing and awe-inspiring!

The views of the mountains, landscape, and diversity are incredible. 138556844299813855761974362013-11-28 16.42.322013-11-30 07.55.31

If you have not been there I suggest you go.  This past year they had there most extreme temperatures-15 degrees in January and 134 degrees in July (you may want to avoid those months!) Our days were about 70 degrees and about 37 degrees at night. A bit chilly but we were expecting this and hunkered in our sleeping bags and our tent was cozy enough. 1385673283379

Nights by the campfire playing Scrabble or cardsIMG_20131129_1024551385603451003

Breakfast on Friday morning consisted of pancakes and sausage-coffee and juice….and a gorgeous sunrise.

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Lunch was-what else-left over turkey sandwiches!

There is a natural well fed spring swimming pool at the hotel. We missed it for the first nine years but have made up for it ever since. For $5 (increase in price this year!) you get a shower and a swim.1385758366765138575838737713857583545321385758380467

It was truly a time to be thankful.

Another thing to be thankful for was coming home and sleeping in our own bed! Dorothy said it best-“there’s no place like home.”