Thanksgiving Family Adventure to Saline Valley

Some adventures are more epic than others.  Our yearly voyage to family camping trip to Saline Valley Hot Springs in Death Valley tends to rank pretty high on the epic adventure scale.  This year was no exception.

I spent a lot of time driving, cooking, being a dad, and just kicking back and enjoying life.  Somewhere in there I managed to take a few pictures.

For more on our adventure, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Packing and getting out the door

Packing a vehicle with food, water, sleeping and cooking infrastructure, and all other camping accoutrement for a week and a half trip into the desert with two small kids can be a little daunting.  This year, Loretta and I had some kid help from her aunt and her sister which made the packing much easier.  I started cooking about 2 weeks before we left, block froze several meals, and bought snacks and other food stuff for an army.  We got under way in record time and with relative ease.  The gravitational pull of one’s home can be awfully strong, but we somehow escaped its pull with our happy little circus of misfits.

The drive to Bishop

We were driving along toward Bishop, CA, and right around dusk a deer appeared in our path.  I pressed hard on the brakes of our overloaded van, and it slowed sharply.  The deer just kind of stared at us and finally moved seconds before we would have crossed paths.  I thought that would be the big story of our ride in.  Ha.  If only. This family adventure to Saline Valley was just beginning.  

The break down

About 100 miles outside on Bishop, while crawling up a steep grade shortly after sunset, our van made a funny noise and lost power.  I pulled over and my eyes darted to the temperature gauge.  I watched as the needle slowly moved toward the red, and listened as the coolant in the engine boiled.  The thermostat needle got about three-quarters up and held tight.  It was really cold, dark, and windy outside.  I got out of the van and did an inspection.  About 1/2 a cup of coolant had boiled over.  I crawled under the van and found that part of the fiberglass heat shielding was smoldering.  Since my spray bottle was buried deep in the nether reaches of our stuff, I decided to fill my mouth with water and act as a human fire extinguisher.  Brilliant.  Surprisingly, this worked.  We were all in a bit of shock and decided let the van cool down, sit for a bit, and watch some of a movie that Loretta had on her tablet.  After about 15 minutes, I figured we should probably come up with a plan.  And then a sheriff car pulled up.  

The sheriff

Freezing and under the beam of the sheriff’s spotlight, I was alerted to the fact that my registration was expired and that our van could be impounded.  After he checked all my info, he told me that we were almost to the top of the steep hill we had been climbing and gave me the number of a local tow company.  He left us and said that if we were still there when he came back through that he would give us a hand.  We decided to press on and see if we could limp our way into Bishop.

Bishop to Saline

The shock of our compromised van faded with each mile we drove.  We were able to drive.  The engine temperature stayed well within reasonable levels. Besides for not being able to drive very fast, we managed to make it over a couple of steep grades without issue.  We arrived in Bishop, and were welcomed by our friends.  They had food waiting for us, a cozy bed, and a warm house.  We were glad we had pressed on.  The next day we rented a truck, transferred our gear, and enjoyed the day and the good company.  Our journey had only been delayed a bit, and once we got under way, the drive into Saline Valley was uneventful.  

We made a detour to the salt flats for a fun first stop in the valley. It was very nice arriving and setting up camp with plenty of daylight.  We spent the next week eating, drinking, soaking, reconnecting with old friends, making new friends, and generally enjoy ourselves.  Ellis woke me each morning and said, “hey, dad, wanna go soak,” and then “I’m hungry, can I have some cereal.”  We managed one hike.  Ellis somehow walked 9 miles on his own.  What a trooper.  We weathered one wind storm.  We shared Thanksgiving supper with about 200 people and headed home the day after.  

On the way back, it took two tows to get us over the passes. I drove the van the final bit while our good friend, Alex, took Loretta and the kids home in his car.  Another great Saline Valley family adventure.

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