The best thing about full time RVing is that you often have the freedom to change your plans on a whim. So we often ask locals, what’s a “don’t miss” around here?
Two people, including a park ranger, recommended the China Ranch Date Farm near Tecopa, so as we left Death Valley, we decided to detour south to visit it.
Whew. Neither person mentioned the hairpin turns, single-lane roads or steep hills. It would have been scary enough in a car, but we were trying to maneuver it in a lumbering 27-foot long RV.
Several times, Mark had to get out, jog ahead to the next blind curve, see if a car was coming, then wave me to inch forward. At times the rock formations on either side of the road were so close it was like threading a needle. We would have given up and turned around but there was no place to turn around.
First, the back story. During the mining rush (gold, silver, borax, talc) at the turn of the century in Death Valley, a Chinese man named Ah Foo (I could NOT make this stuff up) left the Borax mines and started a ranch in an oasis, growing food for the miners. His “Chinaman’s Ranch” was very successful until he mysteriously (foul play?) disappeared.
At the shop, you can sample a dozen different types of dates, from black to tan, or taste the date cookies and date bread. But they are best known for their date shakes.
I piled my purchases on the counter and asked the clerk for a date shake. She grinned, did a little shimmy, and said, “There’s your shake!” Then, singing the whole time, she scooped vanilla custard ice cream and purreed dates into a metal cup, blended it, and served it to us with spoons, because a straw would have been ridiculous.
By Mark Bergmann
I remember those TV commercials for 20 Mule Team Borax detergent in the 1960s but never really gave any thought as to why anyone would need twenty mules to pull two wagons and a water tank. Turns out, when those wagons were full of borax, they weighed 36 tons. Plus, they had to carry 1,200 gallons of water if they wanted the mules (and humans) to be alive at the end of the 165 miles from Death Valley to the railroad in Mojave.
William T. Coleman of San Francisco consolidated borax mining operations in Death Valley during the 1880s. We visited the Harmony Borax works where borax was refined and then shipped by the mule teams. Borax “mining” did not mean digging underground, just scraping the borax salt off the ancient lake bed.
Talk about minimum wage….Chinese workers scraped borax off the salt flats for $1.30 PER DAY minus lodging and food.
by Mark Bergmann
You’d think Death Valley would be a boring expanse of nothing, but there is actually so much to see here that it requires at least a three day stay. To do that in the summer would be difficult because of temperatures regularly in triple digits. The highest temp ever recorded in the world was 134 degrees at Furnace Creek.
High season for Death Valley is December through March. During our “winter” visit, temperatures were comfortable around 75 degrees.
Driving into Death Valley from Shoshone, I was not sure when we might run across the next gas station so I decided to top off the motor home. BIG mistake! The gas price photo says it all. (Most of the country was under $2.00 a gallon. In the park, we paid $4.05 and $3.50 but that seemed like a bargain.)
As the sun dropped below the mountains we found a campsite for $12.00. Sounds like a good deal until you realize in the morning that you are basically in a parking lot with no water or electricity. I guess the view was worth a couple of bucks.
Think of the cartoon of a guy dragging himself on his belly across the desert, thirsty, hungry, clothing tattered…then he spots an oasis.
That’s us. Well, except we are driving in an RV instead of crawling on our bellies. And our clothing is relatively tatter-free. But we are really really hungry. So when we spotted the Furnace Creek oasis after a hard day of hiking, we parked at the campground and rushed to the adjacent restaurant.
What do Star Wars (1977), Spartacus (1960) and The Twilight Zone (1959) have in common?
Parts of all three were filmed in Death Valley.
It’s easy to understand why a filmmaker would be drawn to this 5,000 square mile national park on the eastern edge of California.
We were completely taken by surprise at the variety of sights here. From huge sand dunes
Perhaps most memorable was the sunrise our second morning. It filled the entire dome of the sky, with hues Crayola would envy. Sleepy and bedazzled, neither of us thought to grab a camera. We did catch the sunset that night.