Death Valley Trip Report by Mike Wong

Big 5 at 5:00am – Really?

If there was one part of this trip that I was not looking forward to, it was meeting at Big 5 at 5:00am on Saturday morning. But if we’re going to get all the way to Death Valley in time for lunch, then 5am it is.

Preparation is Everything

Before I go on, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Mr. Pinner and his wife for the tremendous amount of preparation (camp sites, travel route, pre-cooking food, etc) that went into this trip.

The reason that this trip went off without a hitch is a result of the planning they did for all of us. Thank you!

Getting To Death Valley

The drive out to Death Valley was pretty easy. That early start made all the difference as we avoided any possible Saturday morning traffic.

After a quick stop to fuel up at a reasonable gas station in Baker – and by reasonable, I mean that gas prices were less than $5.25 per gallon – we drove the remaining 73 miles to our first stop within the Death Valley National Park.

Here, we stopped to stretch our legs and eat our sack lunch before setting out for a hike in some slot canyons.

lunch in death valley

What struck me immediately about this place is how enormous it is. I can’t even begin to explain it. You really have to see it for yourself to understand.

For example, from our lunch spot, the hike appeared to be just a hundred yards or so to the mouth of the canyon. It was probably closer to half a mile or more. Once in the opening, we looked back and the enormity really hits you.

this place is big

We passed by several smaller slots until the Scouts found one that they agreed looked the most interesting. By interesting, I mean they found the darkest and narrowest slot canyon they could that also looked like it went back more than a few feet.

heading into the slot canyon
entering the canyon

127 Hours

Have you seen the movie 127 Hours with James Franco? You know, the one where he’s out hiking all by himself in Utah, slips down a slot canyon and a big boulder falls down and pins his arm against the side of the wall and he has to cut his own arm off?

127 hours

Suffice to say, when I saw this, I quickly passed under it and got as clear as possible. Okay, this rock probably wasn’t going anywhere, but I wasn’t taking any chances. 🙂

I’ll Stay Here to Take Pictures of the Scouts Coming Back

I’ve never hiked in a slot canyon before. Maybe you have, but I haven’t, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Part of me thought it would be a pretty flat hike in and out. That must be the City part of me that is used to paved roads, sidewalks, elevators and escalators.

No such creature comforts were to be found in Death Valley.

As such, the slot canyon was full of ledges to climb up. Which means on the way back, it is filled with ledges that you must climb down.

For a 12 to 15 year old Scout, that’s no big deal. For someone a little older carrying 20 pounds of camera gear on their back, it’s a different story.

just jump

However, despite the headline of this section, I did manage to climb up this ledge without the generous offer for help from James T. James offered to tie part of his 50 feet of rope (one of his 10 Essentials). I even made it back down with Riley’s encouragement to “just jump – you’ll be okay”. And no, I did not jump.

Setting Up Camp

So after exploring the slot canyons and counting everybody twice to make sure we didn’t leave a Scout or Adult behind, we drove another 30 miles or so to the Furnace Creek Campground within Death Valley National Park.

We took advantage of the remaining light and the Scouts pitched their tents.

setting up camp
setting up camp
setting up camp

Dinner Time

Once the tents were pitched, the Scouts quickly assembled and began preparing dinner. Our first night’s feast was spaghetti and meatballs. Some of the adults commented that the spaghetti wasn’t cooked quite as well as we would have liked. However, our resident Italian expert, Mr. Belfiore said that the spaghetti was cooked to a slight variation of the definition of al dente and it was acceptable.

dinner time
cooking dinner

Separating the Men from the Boys

Just like at a family Thanksgiving celebration, we had a separate seating area for the kids and the adults. However, at this dinner, the kids got the big table and the adults didn’t have a table at all.

adults eating area

Let’s Not Forget Dessert

No car camping trip would be complete without a Dutch Oven prepared desert and James T. did not disappoint. James and Zane F. did a great job of preparing a peach cobbler for the Troop and it was fantastic.

getting ready to make peach cobbler

After a belly full of Peach cobbler, everybody hit their tents (or their cars in some cases for the adults) and called it a night. We had a big day ahead of us.

Day 2 Begins

While morning came early, Troop 26 enjoyed a leisurely morning. There were several other Boy Scout troops in camp and before we knew it, we were the last ones still in camp.

breakfast time

Heading Up to Dante’s View

Once we left camp, our first stop of the day was to Dante’s View. And what a view it was.

Panoramic view from Dante's View

The Scouts hiked around the area and we stopped to take this group photo.

dante's view

And then Will decided to take in the view a little more before we descended.

taking in the view

Orienteering Activity

After our trip to Dante’s View, we set out for one of the most anticipated activities of the trip.

Equipped with a radio, a sack lunch, plenty of water and their 10 Essentials, each Patrol was dropped off in a different location with a map. The challenge – navigate their way from their drop off point to Zabriskie Point.

Each Patrol was blindfolded from the time we left Dante’s View until they were dropped off. The driver’s then regrouped at Zabriskie Point where we waited for each Patrol to arrive.

Here are the Bats orienting the map before heading out.

checking the map

While waiting at the rally point, I grabbed a few photos. This is one of my favorites.

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley

Way to Go Panthers

I wasn’t on the last trip to Death Valley, but apparently, the Panther Patrol got a little lost. The Foxes didn’t let them hear the end of it up to this point.

This year though, the Panthers redeemed themselves and were the first patrol to reach the rally point.

Where are the Foxes?

Because of their confidence, the Foxes were given a slightly harder course from their drop off to make it back to Zabriskie Point. Armed with their radio, we were in constant communication with them and since they were one of the more experienced patrols, they were more than up for the challenge.

To prove it, they even climbed to one of the peaks to show the rest of the Troop just how good they were. I think these pictures help show the scale of our environment.

Fox patrol in action
Fox patrol in action
Fox patrol in action
Michael and Jarrod
Ernie and Diego

Devil’s Golf Course

The next stop on our trip was Devil’s Golf Course.

Devil's Golf Course

Zabriskie Point at Night

Later that evening, a few of us decided to go back to Zabriskie Point to do some night photography. The stars are absolutely amazing out in the middle of Death Valley.

Zabriskie Point at Night
Zabriskie Point at Night
Zabriskie Point at Night

Death Valley Sand Dunes

On our final day in Death Valley, we awoke in the morning, ate a quick breakfast and then broke camp and got everything packed up.

We then headed North towards the most accessible sand dunes in Death Valley.

Like everything else in Death Valley, the Sand Dunes were incredibly large and covered a vast area. Armed with boogie boards and sleds, the Scouts made their way to the tallest sand dune which was approximately 1 mile from the parking lot.

Troop 26 is known for their hiking and several of us are hoping that Mr. Soga will give us double credit for that mile. Hiking in the sand is hard work!

Here are some pictures of the Scouts and some of the adults sledding down (and trudging back up) the monstrous sand dune!

sand dunes
sand dunes
sand dunes
sand dunes
sand dunes
sand dunes
sand dunes
sand dunes
sand dunes

Last But Not Least

For those of you who are interested in going to Death Valley, but don’t want to go camping, there is a very nice looking hotel available called the Inn at Furnace Creek. We didn’t get very close, but as I said, it looked very nice.


Overall, this was a great trip and I highly recommend going the next time Troop 26 goes there.

Don’t Stop Here

More To Explore

The Voice of Experience (Febuary)

Cold Weather Camping Three Ways to Lose Body Heat 1. Radiation: The emission of body heat, especially from skin areas exposed to the elements. 2. Conduction: The absorption of cold

The Voice of Experience (January)

Snow Camping Use Equipment Check list, check it twice. Use your equipment checklist and layout your gears on the floor. Check it again to pack your pack. Missing gorp is

Friends of Troop 26 | 2023

Happy Holidays from the Friends of Troop 26 Santa Barbara. It was in the late spring months of 2019 that a group of enthusiastic parents started the movement to create

The Voice of Experience

How to Sleep Warm 1.       Ground Insulation: Insulating ground pads make such a difference that seasoned winter campers usually take two. The warmest combination is a full-length closed-cell

Scoutmaster Minute

December 2023 Scoutmaster Minute

Hello friends of Troop 26, We have had a year full of great outdoor adventures and public service! Our Scouts plan the event calendar 12-18 months in advance. With the

The Voice of Experience (How to Dress in Layers)

How to Dress in Layers Your Base Layer: Moisture Management This is your next-to-skin layer. More than any other layer, the base layer helps regulate your body temperature. If you’ve