Thanksgiving in the desert, Death Valley National Park. We expected a clear sky and warm days when we drove down a rutted four-wheel-drive-only road into the Panamint Basin. We planned to car camp in the desert, then hike in 4 miles to climb a set of five towering sand dunes at the foot of a mountain range. Car camping means you can bring more stuff with you, so we had two sleeping bags EACH for the cold nights and salmon on ice to grill for dinner.
After we set up our tent – a six-foot tall screen tent with a cover on all sides, pretty inappropriate for the terrain but nice and roomy – we set off for the two-hour hike to the dunes, hoping to see the sunset at 4:30 and return in the light of the rising full moon.
Even before we headed out at 3 pm, we could see two large clouds hanging dark and low in the sky, but we convinced ourselves that they could be gone before sunset.
We walked for two hours, then turned back in order to enjoy the pink afterglow reflected on the clouds. But the big dark cloud hovered over the mountaintop where the moon was expected by 5 pm.
As we walked, it became clearer that we would not have any moon to guide our way. For two more hours we walked and stumbled through the rock-strewn desert, the wind picking up as we went. We had ridiculously small flashlights on a key chain that helped a bit.
The tent was still standing when we got back to our campsite, and we set about making dinner. We sliced zucchini, peppers and potatoes for grilling and Mark found a corner protected from the wind to light the charcoal grill.
As the food cooked, we sat in the car, warming up and listening to NPR. When the wind began to spit rain (yes, in the desert!) we decided to skip the salmon and just eat the vegetables. They were delicious and we topped them off with a pair of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the main course.
As the wind howled, we had to find rocks and more stakes to batten down the tent, which shook like a bowl of jelly. Sand was blowing into the screen house tent but by the time we crawled into our bags we just hoped that we would not be blown away.
The desert was quiet when the sky lightened and we peered outside. The moon had shown up after all and still hung low in the west over the mountains. But to our amazement, the mountain peaks around us were covered with snow! A beautiful sight on Thanksgiving morning.
After coffee and oatmeal at our campsite, we packed up more peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and water, then headed back to the dunes, where we climbed the 200-foot peaks. The brilliant blue skies were cloudless and we were filled with Thanksgiving gratitude.
Listen as Johnny Cash & Lynn Anderson tear it up.
Where we are today.