Day 11: Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway & Death Valley National Park

Road Miles: 129

Total: 849.5

Trail Miles: 2.4

Total: 69.6

Sites: Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway, Death Valley National Park

Locals: Chop & Hesh

Business: The Hostel California

I knew if I got too comfy at The Hostel California, there’d be no telling when I’d get back on the road again. This place is known as a dangerous vortex amongst PCT hikers, some of whom stay for days, some of whom return to never leave *cough-Pippin-cough.* So, I reluctantly packed up and got ready to head out after saying goodbye to my trail family. On the way out, I ran into Matt Myers, the owner of the hostel, who was settled in at the dining room table with two laptops, bracing himself to hit the reload button until he got carpal tunnel trying to score tix to Burning Man.

I realized that the bulk of his revenue is probably related to public lands, as most of the guests are traveling to, through, or from them. In fact, many businesses are dependent on public lands: the Outdoor Industry Association recently published a report indicating that outdoor recreation contributes almost $900 BILLION annually to the U.S. economy, and includes almost 8 MILLION jobs. So, I asked him some questions about that, and now I have a new “Businesses” page where you can learn about some of the ways public lands impact and promote businesses, as well as support some of the local businesses that depend on open access to public lands. 

I started back south on the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway toward Lone Pine, stopping in at the Great Basin Bakery for breakfast. So, all the tourists rolling through Bishop go to Schat’s, which is pretty good, but all the LOCALS (and cops!) go to Great Basin, so you KNOW it’s great. A giant green chile cheese bagel with onion chive cream cheese (what? I’m by myself with no one to breathe on) with a large takeaway coffee was only $6.50, and enough to fill me up. 

TIP: Check out the day-old rack for amazing deals – I scored 2 bagels for only a buck to pack out. Get there early, though, because that rack empties fast. Also, the brownie bites are just ridiculous. You’re welcome.

I stopped in at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center at the junction of 395/136 in Lone Pine. I LOVE this visitor center. They have literature and info for the entire region, from Death Valley to the Sierra Nevada. And clean bathrooms. They even rent bear cans (although if you’re going somewhere those are required, I still recommend you bring your own – theirs are old, heavy, and clunky). I picked up some info on Death Valley, and managed to escape without buying any literature (a first!), although I did leave a donation. They do good works and deserve support. 

Heading east toward the entrance to Death Valley, there are some great views back toward the Sierra and of the Owens Lake and salt flats around Swansea and Keeler on Hwy 136, so definitely take your time. I stopped at the Park entrance to take the obligatory snap of the entrance sign, and within 10 minutes, was surrounded by about a half dozen other cars carrying probably a dozen or so other visitors. I chatted a bit with a couple of guys who work in tech in the Bay Area who were visiting the Park for the first time on their days off, then continued on. 

I’d never been to Death Valley before, so I drove slowly, trying to soak in as many of the epic views as I could without being a road hazard. I pulled off into a dirt turnout on the opposite side of the road not far from the entrance that had a small side trail off it that yielded an incredible down-valley vista you can’t get from the road. The geological formations and colors were amazing, and definitely worth the stop. 

It was mid-week and still reasonably early, so I figured I’d easily score a spot at either the Emigrant or Wildrose primitive campgrounds, both free and at higher elevations removed from the ambient light I figured would be present at the more developed sites on the Valley floor. I wanted to see the stars in this Dark Sky Park, and when in doubt, stay high! Unfortunately, Freya got a little cranky, and started to overheat on the way up the hill to Towne Pass. So, I pulled into a turnout and we hung out for about an hour, hour and a half before she was dead cold again and I could baby her the rest of the way up the hill. 

I got to Emigrant and was bummed to see that the first-come, first-served spot was entirely full. Emigrant is kind of weird as campgrounds go – it’s basically a big level dirt square, with the individual sites demarcated with lava rocks. More like a camping lot. I went to the day use lot adjacent to the campground (where the bathrooms are), and sat on the ground, maps out, looking for another camping option. Wildrose was out because I didn’t want to try to take Freya up too much more hill: WIldrose is more remote and sits at 4,100′ while Emigrant is on the main road and at 2,100′. 

As I sat there stressing, a guy wandered over and said that if I wanted to park at his site in Emigrant there was plenty of room and I was welcome. Yes! The Trail always provides. I moved back over to the campground, where Hesh & his wife Chop had a sweet corner spot overlooking the valley and Stovepipe Wells Village. It was awesome getting to chat with them – they spend several weeks in Death Valley every year for their anniversary and know a ton about the Park. And, as anticipated, the stargazing was glorious.