When we adopted our purr babies, Mango and Cheddar, we were thrown headlong into the wild world of kittenhood. Times two. At around that time, I began seeing cartoon after cartoon about the perils of mixing cats and Christmas. Though there would be a full year of growth and maturity before we needed to worry about toppled trees, wrestled wreaths, and shredded stockings, I couldn’t help envisioning the holiday season through a feline/fiasco lens.

Source: Scott Metzger on Facebook
Source: Scott Metzger on Pinterest

Ergo, I decided a decoration-free holiday of travel was in order, but to get the husband on board—literally and figuratively—after his harrowing Christmas COVID evacuation trauma the previous Christmas, I knew I needed to dangle just the right carrot.

Enter🥕Death Valley.

We’ve been to Death Valley twice before, but always in the sweaty, sweltering summer. A winter trip to the Lower 48’s largest national park had long been on our—but especially hisDust-Farm-Pail List, and now it has a satisfying √ next to it.

We didn’t entirely miss Christmas to travel the way we have some years. The weekend before our departure we exchanged stockings, where I nestled a very timely and relevant gift:

A 90-minute delay before takeoff goes practically unnoticed when you’re engrossed in the adventures of Ace and Chance.

By necessity, we landed in Vegas and drove a rental car from there. The two-hour journey was punctuated by a gustatory stop in Pahrump, Nevada, where previous experience told us a can’t-miss French patisserie—run by real French people—was hidden away in an unassuming strip mall. As on our previous visit, Ô Pain Joyeux did not disappoint.

On arrival in the park, it became clear just what a difference two cranks of the seasonal dial can make.

The wintertime air, which was seasonable and reasonable, made me aware of just how much my enjoyment of Death Valley suffered in the sauna-like conditions of our sizzling summertime visits. Previous sojourns in the park had me staggering around in a heat-addled stupor, every inch of skin covered despite the sultry air, and cursing everyone who ever said “but it’s a dry heat.” For me, the park’s beauty is blunted, its colors dulled, every aspect diminished by its infamous extreme midsummer temperatures.

The Inn at Death Valley – brought to you by snowmelt and natural springs

Comfortable and happy in our cool-weather clothes, we made our way to The Inn at Death Valley, where we reacquainted ourselves with the National Register of Historic Places property that’s been catering to Hollywood’s glitterati—and glitter-free folks like us—since the Golden Age of film.

We could have used the charming front entrance . . .

. . . but opted for the Bondlike secret entrance available only to those in the know.

Fun fact: in his acting days, Ronald Reagan spent a week here for a total of $133.50. It costs just a tad more nowadays.

Our mornings were spent exploring the eastern half of the park, including:

A sunrise visit to Dante’s View:

A 2½-mile stroll to the middle of Death Valley (the eponymous valley in the park, not the park itself) at Badwater Basin:

A Christmas morning exploration of the Mesquite Sand Dunes:

Here, we had a laugh at some wise guy’s little joke . . .

. . . which put me in a bit of a playful mood.

We did several hikes of varying length and intensity:

And we took in a few scenic drives:

A day trip just outside the borders of the park brought us to the ghost town of Rhyolite . . .

. . . with its here one day, gone the next history . . .

. . . and artistic touches.

We passed through Beatty, Nevada, with its wild burros, which we thought at the time were someone’s free-roaming livestock.

The final stop on our day trip was one of the trip’s two disappointments (the other being an overcrowded sunset viewing at Zabriskie Point, full of barking dogs, screaming children, crying babies, hoards of people, and one eyeroll-inducing Instagrammer in a prom dress looking utterly ridiculous against the harsh beauty of the rocky landscape she was trying to navigate in her wholly inappropriate shoes). 

The highly anticipated Area 51 Alien Center turned out to be little more than a kitted-out gas station with an interior devoted to chod, a British slang term that has no real American equivalent, but basically means cheap tourist crap like keychains, t-shirts (so many t-shirts), and bumper stickers. Still, we enjoyed the décor.

They didn’t even sell alien head bath bombs! What?! (I got this little beauty in Sedona – another stocking stuffer for the husband.)

Afternoons were spent lounging in and around the pool, relaxing with a book, and awaiting the spectacle of the daily sunset.

On our final day, we exited the park via a little-used road that brought with it some rare water-studded scenery.

Logistics necessitated a night in Las Vegas before flying home. Extracting a promise from the husband that we would utterly avoid the Vegas Strip (been there, done that), I arranged a hotel on the west edge of town (unavoidably, a massive, smoke-filled, labyrinthine casino filled the ground floor), which gave us easy access to one of Vegas’ lesser-known attractions: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. All we had time for was the 13-mile scenic loop drive, but it was well worth the mild annoyance of having to procure timed-entry tickets.

Next Christmas the cats will be nearly 2½ years old. By then, I think I’ll be ready to hang a test bauble or two and see what happens, but I’m glad I was able to use their kitteny antics to get us to the husband’s favorite national park in what has to be its most pleasant season.

Cats behaving responsibly at Christmas. Take note, Mango and Cheddar.

55 thoughts

  1. This is such a great post and just what I needed to read! The biggest joy of the holidays for me is connecting with friends and family, many of whom I may not see at any other time. But if I am honest, it can also be an emotional vortex that sucks me in and leaves me feeling exhausted and depleted! That’s why, over the last few years, I’ve been wondering what it would be like to escape Holiday Madness and whisk my little family someplace exciting. Reading your post about your adventures in Death Valley made me realise that there’s more to Christmas than baking and decorating. Instead, I could go hiking and exploring the world, how amazing is that! This year, I am strongly considering giving myself a gift of vacation – thanks for sharing and inspiring! Aiva 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment inspired me to reread my post called “Missing” Christmas to Travel (I’m not linking it here because I see you already read it) but it reminded me of all the pluses of traveling over Christmas, in particular the feeling of pressing the “refresh” button when Christmas starts to feel a little stale and/or overwhelming. Skipping the traditional elements of Christmas makes it even more enjoyable when you DO celebrate in the traditional way. I’m so pleased to have inspired you and I do hope you treat yourself to the ultimate Christmas gift – TRAVEL! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have one word… wow! The resort! The sunset! The stone arches! The dunes! What a fantastic trip. And with no life sucking heat? Perfect. Thanks for posting all those gorgeous photos … makes me sad we couldn’t fit a side trip there when we were in Sedona but it certainly makes me want to go back.
    And you know Mark would have loved that Area 51 store.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed all the views of Death Valley. Your pictures are awesome! Those little fur babies may be a terror now, but kittenhood is so fun…and it doesn’t last. Before you know it they will just want to lie sedately in the sun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you – I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
      The cats are much calmer now, and were at Christmas, too. But several months earlier, when they were delightful little hellions, I just couldn’t envision them as anything but little Elfin terrors, so I booked the trip.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I like Scott Metzger’s sense of humor– and yours too for adding those cartoons to this post. I’ve only been through Death Valley in August so your take on it sounds inviting. I like the look of it at Christmastime and am making a mental note about going there then.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. wow, what a fantastic way to spend Christmas! The hotel looks lovely- but I think the best part is the Bond like secret entrance. Death Valley certainly seems like it would be better not in the sweltering heat of summer…except for all the people enjoying a wintery sunset too. Loved your pictures from the park!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha – I’ll bet. Fortunately, we are not a tree tinsel family, but I’m sure there are 400 other things on the tree that are likely to get broken, batted around, or ingested. It will be an adventure, for sure. Maybe I’ll write a blog post about it! 🙂


  6. I absolutely love Death Valley, it’s so beautiful. We were there in December about 10 years ago, which is a perfect time to visit. We did many of the same hikes as well, with Golden Canyon being our favorite. Canyon Red Rock is also a favorite of ours. Beautiful photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Never would expect for Death Valley to be a destination for Christmas, but turns out, it’s a beautiful alternative to other hot-spots like Mexico or Big Bear Lake (in California). The views and landscapes are out of this world, quite literally, as it feels you’re not on this planet Earth! Funny enough, despite being a California native, I’ve never been to Death Valley, but one of these days, I’ll have to go! Glad you had a wonderful time. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I must say, your sandmanship is pretty amazing. I can’t even write that well with a pen, lol. The sunset colours are something else. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen something so purple before. What a view. Reminds me of the neon colours of the 80s (or cyberpunk). Deserts are pretty interesting. I wish I can visit one someday. Same with icescapes.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a special Christmas – the hotel you stayed in looks incredible, perfect for a bit of pampering over the festive season. And the NP is just incredible, I’d love to be able to visit one day 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed it in the lower heats, it still looks a great temperature for walking.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Those sunsets are gorgeous! Whoa! Also, am I the only one who finds the name Pahrump amusing? I laugh silently every time I read it, and I’m not entirely sure why.


  11. Love your Death Valley post! It’s such an amazing place if you visit in the right season. Sorry Zabriskie Point was such a cluster for you. I have an unnamed canyon I go to between it and Twenty Mule Team Canyon that has incredible views and absolutely no one else there, since Zabriskie is always so overrun. And loved the cat cartoons, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I hope you do. Inspiring you to go and/or to get some baked goods in Pahrump is the least I can do after you gave me your wonderful cheesecake recipe. I made it on Saturday and it was delicious! Thanks again!


      1. Yeah, I kind of, uh, overcooked the oranges. I’m no good at multitasking but there I was simmering the orange slices, emptying the dishwasher, and singing and dancing to Coldplay. I probably could have gotten away with doing two of these things at once, but not three. I managed to salvage most of the oranges, but the sauce seemed a little too overdone. The husband – a really good cook – stepped in and helped me make it into an orange butterscotch with the addition of some cream and it turned out really well. Our guests were none the wiser. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Ahh, Death Valley in December might just be the smartest travel hack I’ve ever read. 56 degrees versus 124? Sign me up!

    I’ve been to Rhyolite. And Pahrump. And Red Rock. And tacky alien- and Area 51-themed places in southern Nevada. Fun and offbeat for sure!

    Pro tip: don’t put tinsel on your tree if you’ve got cats. Let’s just say the end result ain’t pretty.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I have often traveled with my son at Christmas/New Year’s to avoid the kitsch and endless holiday-ness. You’ve found the perfect time of year for Death Valley! I loved your description of the desert summer there.

    Liked by 1 person

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