Death Valley, CA

Mar 3rd, 2017 to Mar 11th, 2017
Cost: $880.00 Partner Organization(s): National Park Service Service Type: Environmental conservation Number of Participants: 12

Trip Logistics and Participant Requirements:

We will depart from Charlottesville by car on Friday afternoon (March 4) and spend the night at Bridgette’s house in NOVA.  We leave for the airport early on Saturday morning and arrive in at the Las Vegas airport in the early afternoon. From there, we will rent a large van and make the two hour drive to the park. We will return to Las Vegas on Saturday morning, arrive in NOVA by early evening, and return to Charlottesville by car that night (March 11). Upon arrival in Death Valley, we will pick up gear from the National Park Service and provisions from the local grocery store. We will use the van for the entire week to travel to-and-from our campsites, worksites, hikes, and the store. Most of our meals will be cooked on a camp stove.

    Our week will be filled with cramped van-rides, tiring hikes, great views, campfires, stargazing, S’mores—the list goes on… It will, however, not be filled with showers (though we will be able to shower before we leave). Consequently, participants should be prepared to get dirty and stay dirty, be very active, maintain positive attitudes, and make plenty of new friends in an incredible environment.


Service Activities:

For the week, we will be at the disposal of National Park Rangers, helping them with anything they might need at the time. United States National parks are staffed mostly by Rangers and seasonal interns, and there are very few to go around. Consequently, if there is a big job to be done, it can take quite a bit of time for park staff to finish a job without the help of volunteer groups. In the past it has been said that groups like ASB’s can take a week of work for a Ranger and make it into a day’s. The Rangers have dedicated their careers to the preservation of the environment in Death Valley, and it is our goal to make their jobs that much easier. At the same time, it is our hope that all participants will be able to gain a new perspective on the meaning of service.


Regional Background:

    Death Valley, a region of its own, is a land of extremes: from the lowest point in North America (279 feet below sea level) to its average July temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Further, it is diverse in its geography and ecology, boasting peaks of over 11,000 feet, sprawling valleys, snow covered mountaintops, wildflower blooms, and waterfalls. Historically, the park’s area has been inhabited the Timbisha Shoshone tribes and miners. In 1849, miners attempting to cross the valley became trapped and lost one of their party, giving the region its name. The valley has also been home to two resorts, one of which is still in operation, as well as a pair of friends who built a Spanish-style mansion in the middle of the desert. In 1933, President Herbert Hoover made the region a National Monument, and 1994 saw the Death Valley turned into a full-fledged National Park by an act of Congress.


Community/Organization Background:

    Since its founding in 1916, the National Park Service has dedicated itself to the preservation of the ecology and history of America’s most treasured places. The NPS employs around 15,000 individuals year-round, and is responsible for 58 parks, as well as dozens of National Forests, Shorelines, and Historic Sites. This means that huge parks are often largely understaffed. National Park Rangers dedicate their time to maintaining the majesty of each park, combating natural disasters, human carelessness, graffiti, erosion, and much more. Recently, the effects of global warming have been a central focus of NPS efforts and studies. This makes the National Parks an ideal place to learn about the preservation of and the effects humans have on the environment.


Recreational Activities:

When we are not volunteering, preparing meals, or driving around in our van, we will be exploring as much of the 5,270 square mile park as possible. Our plans include several hikes to various viewpoints, waterfalls, and canyons. Death Valley National Park is also certified as an International Dark Sky park, making the star-gazing incredible. We will have two work-free days for longer hikes to the most impressive spots in the park, or for sight-seeing around the area. We plan on eating a dinner out at the end of the week. In addition, card playing, story telling, and chilling around the fire will also be staples of our trip.


About the Site Leaders:

Josh and Bridgette have been friends since first year: as Gooch-Dillard neighbors and struggling Statistics study partners. They were coincidentally assigned to the ASB Joshua Tree trip last year, and are both looking forward to exploring another California desert as site leaders.  Josh is a 3rd year double-major in Economics and Public Policy, and is a member of Naval ROTC. He plays the cello and has made it his personal goal to visit every US National Park before he dies. Though he is generally extremely easy-going, he feels that PokemonGo is ruining our generation, and respectfully requests that you not try to “catch ‘em all” while in Death Valley. Bridgette is an Anthropology and Economics double-major, and an executive board member of the Virginia Anthropology Society and College Mentors for Kids. She hates the outdoors and all things associated with it, including (but not limited to) camping, hiking, S’mores, and people. She tends to be a bit sarcastic but promises it will not put a damper on what is sure to be a great trip!

Site Leader Testimonials:

I have decided to continue my journey with Alternative Spring Break because of the unique range of opportunities I believe it offers to the participants and the partners we work with. Last year, I was personally struck by the impact our actions had on the park ranger and her team in Joshua Tree National Park, despite being a small group of people with little amount of time to work. At the end of our stay in Joshua Tree, the park ranger met us with genuine gratitude, claiming that what our group had accomplished in a week would have taken her team months to get around to. It showed me that these seemingly small and short trips we partake in can have surprising impact on both the people who interact with the national parks, and the people who will interact with them in the future. Meanwhile, our group was given an opportunity to learn about environmental issues relevant to the park and experience the natural beauty found on hikes and trails, all while bonding as a group throughout the week. To me, this duality of helping others while expanding our own horizons is the most rewarding aspect of ASB. — Bridgette

My ASB trip to Joshua Tree last year was without a doubt the highlight of my semester. In one day, it took me from Charlottesville and the stress of UVA midterms to a California desert. By the end of the week, I had hiked miles of trails, climbed massive rock formations, eaten a disgusting amount of S’mores, and become extremely close with 10 other ‘Hoos whom I never would have met. This all came with the fulfillment of spending my Spring Break helping the National Park Service tackle a job that would’ve otherwise taken a month, for which they were extremely grateful. “Okay we get it man, you liked your trip.” –my friends. — Josh