May 13 – 24, 2021
We left Manzanar and drove the 13 miles or so back to Lone Pine to grab a bite to eat at the McDonalds there, making sure we would be full until we reached Tecopa, our destination for the day. We’d be driving through Death Valley which has limited dining options and so a McFish, Fries and large Diet Coke seemed like just the ticket.
Just south of Lone Pine is the turnoff onto Highway 136 which soon after connected with Highway 190 through the Panamint Valley before eventually entering Death Valley National Park. We stopped at the Father Crowley Overlook where you can view Rainbow Canyon. It is commonly used by the United States Air Force and Navy for fighter jet training and is frequented by photographers who, from the canyon rim, are able to photograph jets flying beneath them.
Military training flights have used the canyon since World War II. Planes travel through the canyon at 200 to 300 miles per hour and when flying as low as 200 feet above the canyon floor are still only several hundred feet below the rim. Observers are close enough to the planes that they can see the pilots’ facial expressions, who, aware of the audience, sometime give gestures or other signals. Formed from basalt lava flows and lapilli beds of the Darwin Hills volcanoes and granite, marble, calc-silicate hornfels and other pyroclastic rock this variety of material created walls of reds, grey, and pink that are similar to the fictional Star Wars planet Tatooine. As a result, the canyon is nicknamed Star Wars Canyon.
We pushed on into Death Valley, cresting Townes Pass at almost 5,000 feet above sea level and racing downhill (coasting, foot off the gas at over 80 miles per hour) into Stovepipe Wells, elevation 10 feet. We pulled into the parking lot and entrance to the campground, which was closed due to Covid. We have fond memories of our many Thanksgivings campouts here and it was nice to let them wash over us as we wandered through the small market and gift store. Back in the car, a quick detour across the road to the lodge/bar/restaurant side of the complex and we were on our way again.
The many campouts we’ve spent here provide a welcome familiarity with the park and yet we weren’t quite prepared for the changes that have occurred at its largest outpost, Furnace Creek. The bar, dining area and gift shop at what is now known as the Ranch have all been updated and modernized and on a good news bad news side of the ledger, the quaint 1950’s era cottages we’ve stayed in a couple of times have all been torn down to be replaced by an expansive section of more modern bungalows.
We did some shopping at the gift shop (adding to my collection of Under Armour National Park Long Sleeve T-Shirts
and then drove east out of the Valley to Death Valley Junction home of the Amargosa Opera House, and its connection to Highway 127. There, we turned south for the last leg to Shoshone and the turn off, ten miles later into Tecopa and our destination for the day, Delight’s Hot Springs.
Readers of the blog will recall we’d planned to stay here last year as a result of an article in the Los Angeles Times extolling its virtues as a peaceful retreat in a small town full of good food options. Covid put an end to those plans and as the resort kept our first night’s deposit (understandable given the circumstances) we looked forward to returning at some point in the future. We wrote about a visit here with Kim and Marty in during the 2020 Christmas holiday season (a two hour drive out of Henderson) when we stopped for a beer and lunch at the adjacent brewery and then hiked out of a trail head at the China Ranch Date Farm.
We checked in and received a dose of bad news: the timing of our visit, late May, coincided with the end of the season for the restaurants in the area (temperatures above 100 degrees tend to suppress appetites and customers), which meant we had no nearby food options. We optimistically decided to stick with the plan figuring that some choices would either appear, or we could fast for a day or so before heading to Henderson. Plus, we had a sufficient supply of snacks in the action packer and cooler.
We unloaded our gear in our bungalow, furnished with a small kitchen including a refrigerator, and eager to check out the facilities, donned our bathing suits and walked over to one of the soaking rooms, each featuring a concrete tub, benches to sit on, and a shower to wash off grime. Delight’s, as its name purports, is a hot springs resort, featuring naturally occurring mineral water.
In the United States, there are no real standards to classify the properties of hot springs while in Europe and Japan there are general standards that are widely accepted. There are two types of hot springs, filtration and primary. Both are geothermally heated mineral water with filtration initially fed by rainwater that seeps into the Earth through faults and fractures. With primary, direct volcanic activity plays a far more significant role in forming the hot springs.
Hot springs are also classified by their temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit):
Cold Springs – temperatures below 77
Tepid Springs – temperatures ranging from 77 – 93
Warm Springs – temperatures ranging from 93 F – 108
Hot Springs – temperatures above 108
Tecopa’s hot springs are classified as primary hot springs whose water temperature fluctuates between different sources; the water temperature usually measures between 116 – 118 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the ambient temperature of the water in the summer months can be as high as 121 – 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
Our first foray into the baths was short lived; between the temperature of the water and the outside heat, I couldn’t take it for long and soon abandoned to the artificially cooled relief of our bungalow. And there I would spend the rest of the day and evening, reading, sipping cold beers, and listening to the air conditioner labor all night long.
Up the next morning we contemplated abandoning with an early start to Henderson only to discover that temperatures had cooled and that sitting on the screened in porch, nothing but the quiet of the surrounding desert providing a background of peace, led us to reconsider and give the place one more day. We’ll cover that in the next post.
The Ranch at Death Valley: https://www.xanterra.com/stories/family/the-reimagined-ranch-at-death-valley-better-than-ever/#
Amargosa Opera House: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amargosa_Opera_House_and_Hotel
Delight’s Hot Springs: https://www.delightshotspringsresort.com/