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Camping in Death Valley: Spatchcocked Turkey and San Dunes

When my Italy travel buddy Debbie invited me to go camping in Death Valley with her friends for Thanksgiving, my first thought was “Oh good. I can escape the turkey dinner I hate.”

Little did I know that her friends were planning to spatchcock a turkey (it’s not as dirty as it sounds) and rotisserie it over an open fire.

Still, as much as I dislike turkey, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by to camp in one of the hottest places in the world. To be fair, it would be winter on our trip, so, not hot, but still. With a name like Death Valley, how could I say no?

A Nontraditional Thanksgiving Dinner

After oozing out of the car, our legs having turned to jelly from five hours on the road in Thanksgiving traffic, we immediately set up camp. The men, being men, all rushed around to build a fire and used their caveman skills to get it ready for the turkey.

Dark and Stormy in Death Valley

As the sun set over the Ibex Dunes in the distance, prep for dinner began in earnest. First, we needed something to tie the spatchcocked turkey to the spit. Something not flammable or covered in chemicals. Shoelaces, dental floss, and Twizzlers were suggested and rejected. I’m actually not sure what they ended up using to fasten it, but I’m still alive, so presumably it was nontoxic.

We drank Dark and Stormys while the turkey sizzled. Despite my dislike for the fowl, I found myself staring at it hungrily, like a mountain lion ready to pounce on its prey. So by the time the turkey was finally ready, I’d changed my tune about eating it. It was tasty. Juicy and tender. We all had made dishes to accompany the star, and I realized this kind of Thanksiving, one with friends, good drinks and food, and no family drama, was one I could get down with.

Let’s Get Sandy

The only other time in my life I’ve been on a sand dune was earlier in the year when I visited Imperial Sand Dunes. It was more of a side-of-the-road 10 minute exploration, so I hadn’t really had my fill.

Ibex Dunes

Sand dunes are fascinating to a girl who grew up in the wooded South. They’re like snowy hills, only sand. Today’s footprints will be blown away, leaving no trace. And hiking up an 800-foot dune is no joke! We trudged along the spine of a dune, sand filling our shoes. It was a little scary: one false move and I’d tumble one way or another down a pretty steep hill.

Once we reached the top, we sat and took in the view. Breathtaking.

Then I asked how we would get down.

“Slide,” Fernand said, and he pushed off down the hill. I waited to see how that worked out. Then Mike tried “skiing” down. Pretty effective. We all found our own style for descending. I wished I’d had a plastic box lid to turn into a sled, but in its absence, I just pushed myself down slowly. By the time I reached the bottom, I was laughing like a five-year-old. Good times.

Disconnecting from the World is a Good Thing

The next day, we set up camp at a different spot, this time near Hole-in-the-Wall. We hiked, ate, drank, and shared laughs. We looked at the stars, which are pretty phenomenal in Death Valley, which has one of the darkest skies anywhere.

Hole-in-the-Wall in Death Valley

But the best part was disconnecting. What I love about camping in the desert is that I am forced to get away from my phone and email. I completely disconnect from the digital world that is so prevalent in my everyday life, and I feel cleansed as a result.

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