Visiting Death Valley National Park

 

November 17, 2011

By Lisa Petrison

I’ve spent a lot of time in Death Valley and think that it’s a great place for people to go camping. In the winter, it’s one of the few places with really pristine air quality that’s tolerably warm. And it’s really beautiful, with lots of good hikes that even people who have yet to recover a lot of their physical abilities can enjoy.

Following is some basic information about camping there.

 

Location:

Death Valley National Park is a little bit over two hours northwest of Las Vegas. The closest town is Pahrump, a little over an hour away.

 

Campgrounds:

There are several developed campgrounds in Death Valley, appropriate for tents and RV’s. A couple of the most primitive and remote of these are free; the others were $12-18 per site per night in 2013.

For those looking for a more serene (and free!) experience, camping is also allowed anywhere in Death Valley as long as it is at least two miles off of a developed road. Check with the park for details (permits may be required).

The most popular campground at Death Valley is Furnace Creek. It is within fairly easy walking distance from Furnace Creek Ranch complex (or you can drive). It has some sites for RV’s or tents, and some for just RV’s. Death Valley can be windy, so choosing a site that has a some wind break (e.g. with trees) can be a good idea.

Sunset is across the road from the Furnace Creek Ranch complex. It is basically just a big parking lot for RV’s.

Texas Spring is a very nice campground that a bit further away from the Furnace Creek Ranch complex. It feels more roomy and (I think) has better views. It’s a bit of a hike from the Furnace Creek Ranch complex even for healthy people though.

Stovepipe Wells is another “parking lot” RV park, about half an hour from Furnace Creek Ranch. The main reason to camp here is because there are a few RV sites with electricity. (The other campgrounds do not have any electricity.)

Mesquite Springs is maybe an hour away from Furnace Creek, fairly near Scotty’s Castle. It’s a more rustic camping experience. The elevation is a little higher, so it’s slightly cooler here. There’s not a lot of shelter from the wind, which can be a factor with tent camping.

All these campgrounds have water, dump stations, and bathrooms with flush toilets. The only time I’ve ever had a problem getting a campsite here without a reservation was when tent camping in early April (prime season here). I ended up as Mesquite Springs, which had plenty of spaces even then.

The free developed campgrounds are Emigrant, Wildrose, Thorndike and Mahogany Flat. I’ve not been to them.

www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/camping.htm

 

Furnace Creek Ranch Complex:

This is the main “civilization” in DVNP. There is a small store (mostly touristy items and overpriced staple grocery items); a casual dining restaurant; a buffet restaurant; an expensive steak restaurant; a gas station; a golf course; a swimming pool; a laundromat; and tourist-type attractions/essentials.

The swimming pool and accompanying showers are available to campers on a day-use basis ($5). This is fed with spring water and (I think) feels absolutely fantastic. The showers have always felt fine to me, and I’ve spent a lot of time lounging by the pool. Highly recommended.

All the buildings here feel fine to me. Sometimes the laundromat gets cross-contaminated with “the worst kind of toxin for me” and I can’t use it though. (Death Valley is pretty close to Tahoe and northern California, so my guess is that people bring it from there.)

There are motel rooms here, but I’ve never motivated myself to go check them out. Probably I should do that on my next trip.

www.furnacecreekresort.com/

 

Furnace Creek Inn:

This hotel is lovely and has always felt good to me. Everything here is expensive though. I’ve not stayed in the hotel itself, though I feel pretty confident I would have felt fine here even at my most reactive. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that the restaurant is a good choice for lunch, though I’ve not yet been there myself.

 

Scotty’s Castle:

This is a mansion built in the 1930s. It’s actually interesting and felt great to me (I took the tour through the house itself and the one through the basement). There is a historical info center right next to it that was moldy though (it’s been renovated with drywall). For those who are starting to despair about ever living in a building, this is a particularly enlightening experience.

 

Logistics:

The main problem with camping in Death Valley is food. The casual dining restaurant has been mostly okay, if somewhat overpriced, but I was a little disheartened when the husband of one CFS’er got sick with what apparently was food poisoning after eating a hamburger there. (She got an almost 100% remission of her severe CFS though, so they thought it was still worth the trip.) Obviously most people who eat there don’t get food poisoning, and I will undoubtedly eat there again, though.

Most people bring food when camping in DV for more than a few days. Of course, this requires investing in equipment (dishes, coolers, stove, etc.).

To charge my computer or other electronic devices, I’ve been able to sit in front of the store or restaurants at Furnace Creek. There are electrical outlets and shade there.

The other big problem in Death Valley is Internet access. I’ve not been able to get my Verizon plug-in to work there. (Historically no cell phones have worked there, but someone told me that may have changed.) It’s possible to buy Internet access that can be used at the area around Furnace Creek Ranch (not the campgrounds), but it’s about $10/day.

Doing any sort of active “avoidance” is basically unnecessary here. The only outdoor place I didn’t like was when I tried cutting through from the Furnace Creek Campground to the Furnace Creek Ranch complex. That’s behind a filling station and near the golf course.

Death Valley is really too hot to visit from mid-May to mid-September. It does get somewhat cold at night during the winter months (maybe 30 degrees).

 

Pahrump:

Pahrump is a casino town. It feels pretty good to me too, but there’s not much to do. There are a couple of big grocery stores (no health food stores though) and some restaurants. I’ve had more success washing my clothes at Dirty Laundry (owned by Heidi Fleiss) here than in Death Valley (since they don’t have as many tourists bringing toxins from other places there).

My favorite thing to do in this town is to visit the Pahrump Valley Winery for lunch. Gisela’s has good, authentic German food.

Pahrump has several RV parks. I think I preferred Pahrump Station, which is in town and not associated with a casino, but they all would be fine. Just one of the RV parks (located within walking distance of Terrible’s Lakeside — unfortunately I’m blanking on the name) allows tent camping, to my understanding.

 

Tecopa:

Tecopa is a hot springs town. I have heard a number of “serious water people” say that it has the best water outside of Baden-Baden (in Switzerland). I would agree with that, especially for detoxing. I made a lot of progress largely as a result of visiting here, I believe. The water has no odor and penetrates very deep into the system. (It has arsenic in it, but I don’t feel like that has been an issue for me.)

There are several different soaking places here, all with RV parks attached. If you stay in the RV park, admission to the spas is free.

The one I mostly go to is Delights Hot Springs. It has private baths. There is a 20-minute time limit, but you can rest for a while and then get back in. It’s generally not very crowded and is an okay place to hang out. Tent camping is not allowed.

Tecopa Hot Springs Campground is a public communal pool. Men and women bathe separately (nude). The vast majority of the visitors here tend to be Koreans who don’t speak English. The women’s part is pretty non-glamorous but okay. I’ve heard that the men’s part tends to be a gay pickup place, so some people may have an issue with this. There’s a private pool that can be rented for an hour for an additional fee. There is tent camping here (and it’s possible to get a tent camping space with electricity).

Tecopa Hot Springs Resort has tent and RV camping, but I’ve heard their pools are moldy. Tecopa Palms is another RV park that doesn’t allow tent camping.

China Ranch is an oasis that has been farmed since the turn of the century. It’s currently a date farm and is a nice place to walk around.

I’ve eaten at the Crowbar Restaurant in Shoshone (near Tecopa) a lot. There’s another cafe-type restaurant in Shoshone, and a rather expensive restaurant at Tecopa Hot Springs Resort. (I didn’t feel great the one time I was there and abandoned ship. I don’t think the restaurant is moldy exactly, but there’s something a little bit off about that whole property.)

The last time I went to the general store in Shoshone, there was a lot of obvious mold. So I wouldn’t suggest counting on going there.

Tecopa has sewer ponds that are right next to these facilities. Very occasionally, especially at the public campground, there are odors. Much more importantly, on very scattered days in winter when the barometer is falling, the “worst toxin for me” becomes an issue there. I thus can’t recommend this as a winter spot for people. (I did it myself, one winter, and retreated to DVNP when the weather was bad. But probably this was a mistake — it had an effect on my RV that was a bit of a challenge to fix.) There also are lots of bugs (huge horse flies and other biting insects) starting in mid-May.

Still, the water is good enough for detoxing purposes that I might consider staying there again at some point.

 

Saline Valley:

I have been hearing about Saline Valley for years but have not made it there yet. It is officially part of Death Valley National Park but is its own little hot springs commune, apparently run by a biker named Lizard Lee. It is something like an hour drive down a bumpy dirt road, in the north part of the park. People stay there for extended periods of time. Supposedly it is safe for women. An article and slide show from the NYT are here:

travel.nytimes.com/2009/02/06/travel/escapes/06american.html

www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2009/02/06/travel/escapes/0206-saline_index-11.html

*

www.fodors.com/world/north-america/usa/california/death-valley-national-park/

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Valley

 

UPDATE 5/28/2017: 

The area of Death Valley National Park near Scotty’s Castle unfortunately was hit by flooding in 2016. Scotty’s Castle itself was very badly flooded and is being remediated, and so whether it ever again will be a good tourist spot for mold avoiders is a real question mark.  I have had a number of reports that the campground near Scotty’s Castle – Mesquite Springs – also is now problematic, apparently as a result of sewage issues. Reports suggest that the rest of the park is currently still okay, however.

I recently had a good report about the RV park and campground in the town of Shoshone, which to my understanding has a swimming pool rather than hot springs, and so that could be another alternative for people wanting to stay in this area.