Before Thanksgiving 2015, my wife Zdenka and I thought it would be an excellent idea to travel with and visit one of America’s national parks, Death Valley, and then to proceed to Mammoth Lakes to play in the snow. We realized that it had been over a decade since visiting this national park, and our youngest children couldn’t remember the last time we saw this interesting landscape and hiked the sand dunes. Death Valley National Park is home to the lowest place on Earth, called “Badwater Basin,” situated at 280 feet below sea level, has majestic sand dunes, and interesting canyons formed by sand, wind, and rain. It is a very intriguing place to visit. During this second time my family visited this national park, we experienced a potentially life-threatening misadventure that only adds to the lore of Death Valley for the De Gree family.
A History of Death Valley
Native Americans lived in the area before the first European Americans came in the 1800s. In 1849, miners looking for a shortcut to California mining areas were stuck in the valley, and gave it the name Death Valley. Several mining towns started and ended quickly during the latter half of the 1800s. Boom towns quickly became ghost towns. Miners searched for gold and silver, but were more successful in mining salts, borate, and talc. Borax was successfully mined in the late 1800s. Borax is used to make soap, as a cleaning element for the kitchen, and in laundry. In the 1920s, Death Valley was the number one location in the world for borax mining.
Tourists first came to Death Valley in the 1920s. The area’s miners realized they could earn a greater profit from tourism and began to advertise the amazing and eerie scenery to other Americans. In 1933, President Hoover established the Death Valley national monument. For approximately 40 years, Death Valley was both an area of mining and tourism. In 1994, Death Valley was expanded, and it became a national park. All mining ended in 2005.
The De Gree Visit 2015
Everything was going as planned during our two-night stay. We hiked the sand dunes, that on picture look like they go on forever, but in reality are really a few square miles. We walked on the lowest point on Earth, Badwater Basin. We visited the Devil’s Gold Course and hiked the Badlands Loop. Both places are fantastic to see and show your children. After a stop at the Visitor’s Center, we headed out of Death Valley, to drive over two mountain ranges to get to Central California and onto to Mammoth Mountain.
Our current full-sized van is a Ford Econoline, big enough to sit 15. I like driving this car because it seems like everyone gets out of the way of what my kids’ friends call “Big Blue” (it’s color is dark blue). Driving in this car feels safe and protected. However, it is a machine and machines break down.
We had just driven by Panamint Springs Resort and had climbed five miles up a winding, one lane road. There were no street lights. The moon was almost full, so there were no stars and not yet complete light from a full moon. In front of us continued 25 miles of windy roads through desert and mountains. At this point, around one curve, the “ABS” warning light went on. I started to pray, thinking this might be the alternator. I immediately felt I might be responsible for putting five children and my wife in danger. Within 20 seconds, all electricity within the car turned off. Within another 30 seconds, the engine shut off completely. We were going uphill on a one lane road without power. Our side of the road hugged the mountain. Fortunately, there was one turnoff somewhat nearby, but it was on the other side of the road. I veered the car into the oncoming lane and we eased the first part of the van into the turnoff.
The first two drivers up the mountain road were tourists from Europe. Both stopped, helped us push the van almost completely into the turnoff, and drove us back to Panamint Springs Resort. What another blessing that no cars came down the mountain during the time our van jutted out onto the road.
At Panamint Springs Resort, we were treated to a good, home-cooked meal by wonderful waitresses. Fortunately there was room in the hotel. While this was not the Hilton, the care of the staff made up for the lack of overall convenience.
In the end, we managed to tow the car to the next town, it was repaired, and no one was injured. What was my initial fear for the lives of my family was an exciting adventure for my younger kids. Said my 12-year old son, “This is fun, Dad. I’m glad it’s happening.” Receiving his smiling face and analysis of the situation is one of the blessings of having a misadventure while on vacation with kids. We thank God for those little and not so little unplanned events.
John De Gree
John De Gree writes the current events with a look at the history of each topic. Articles are written for the young person, aged 10-18, and Mr. De Gree carefully writes so that all readers can understand the event. The perspective the current events are written in is Judeo-Christian.
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