National Parks

Camping with Travel Mavens – Death Valley National Park, California

Mona and I wanted to spend more time outdoors, especially camping, but kept coming up against the same basic problem. We didn’t have all the skills we needed for a solo camping trip. We’d camp, but someone else took responsibility for things like building the fire or organizing cooking. When planning solo trips, we became aware of things we both needed to learn to be able to have a good experience by ourselves.

I first heard about Trail Mavens on the She Explores  podcast. It appealed to me for a lot of reasons. The first was that it created an opportunity for us to learn outdoors skills in a non-judgmental environment with other women. It also appealed to me for the cost. Since they are shorter trips, they are less expensive than some of the bigger excursions that are offered by other outfitters. So when I saw there was a trip that would take us camping and hiking in Death Valley with a qualified guide, we were booked.

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We arrived at the Furnace Creek campground and met our fellow campers. I was happy about the range of ages and experiences. I had been really worried that I would be too out of shape to do the hikes or that my lack of knowledge would be some glaring flaw for others to judge. That absolutely wasn’t the case. Trail Mavens provided us with some equipment, including tents. Our guides showed us how to choose our site and set up our tents. Mona was particularly skilled at the tent skills. A couple of the tent posts were bent but my clever wife grabbed a mallet and a rock and pounded them back into shape.

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One of the things I also enjoyed about the trip was the shared responsibilities. We all signed up for different shifts to take turns cooking and cleaning for the group. It was a great opportunity to learn how to make different recipes and also learn the three tub method for washing dishes. For my night, we made hobo packs. I was thrilled. Something I knew how to do! We made vegetarian hobo packs and cooked them on a grate over the campfire. I was excited to share my own recipes and was really enthused the other women were receptive. I don’t think of myself as particularly skilled in the outdoors, so having a skill recognized by other women was really gratifying.

That same support carried itself onto the hikes. There were definitely some strenuous and technical parts of the hikes, including rock scrambling. As we discussed how to navigate the obstacles, there was always someone nearby to hold a trekking pole, point out a foothold, or offer a hand as we hoisted ourselves over a ledge.

In the evening, we gathered around the campfire with a bit of wine and some snacks before dinner and talked. After sharing our experiences on the trail, it was easy to share our experiences in life. We joked about who would be our celebrity best friend but also shared our deeper fears and anxieties about careers and families. In a couple of days, I felt I knew these women and they knew me better than most people back home.

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The guides were an incredible resource. Sarah was our guide and Jen our co-guide. They taught us skills that were advertised and some that were not. I learned how to build a fire, something that I had been really eager to learn. When I’ve been camping in the past, someone else has always been responsible for building the fire while I’ve sat back and enjoyed the warmth. As Mona and I have been planning more excursions alone, this has been an essential skill to earn.

But the guides were also willing to share their experience about anything, not just what was on the program. When I asked about water filtration systems, I got a detailed explanation of Sarah’s personal systems, other systems, and the pros and cons of each. I had been thinking about getting a bike to ride to work occasionally and she told me about different frames that could suit what I was looking for. She never made me feel silly for not knowing the answers already. And she explained things without using technical jargon so that it was easy for me to understand and without trying to force an opinion on me. She gave me information so I could decide what would be best for me. I came away from the weekend with a lot of new skills but also feeling more comfortable asking questions in way I hadn’t been before.

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On our last morning, I was sad. We packed everything up and lingered over our goodbyes. Before we left, a flock of ravens came to search our site for any trace of food left behind. I know some people associate ravens with bad luck, but personally they have always appeared for me when something significant is happening in my life. I’ve seen them on travels to Alaska and Canada when I was rediscovering my love for the outdoors. It seemed fitting that I would see them again and in such abundance at the end of our Trail Mavens adventure.

We did not receive any compensation for this post. We just had an amazing time with Trail Mavens and are eager to share the experience with others.