I Spent My Birthday on Tatooine

I didn’t know this until I’d been here a few days and was scrolling through the Death Valley info on the NPS app: several Star Wars scenes from two of its movies were filmed here.  

This was a national monument back then, not a national park and national wilderness like it is now, so it was legal to shoot film here. I can’t imagine a crew here now; some parts of the ecosystem seem so fragile, supporting both threatened and endangered species, plus there are 1,000-year-old indigenous artifacts from the Timbisha Shoshone tribe here. But it wasn’t until 1994 that Death Valley became a national park; before then the area was mined for Borax, passed through by pioneers, and a hunk of Star Wars was filmed here. 

[Okay, you know me—if I had to pick Star Wars versus Star Trek, I’d go Trek all the way.  (Don’t ask me Stones or Beatles; that’s harder).  I know enough about Star Wars to appreciate the connection, but I apologize for loosely referencing something that many of you adore. Once I started with this idea though, I couldn’t turn back.]

The NPS app provides an audio tour of the filming locations, but each audio snippet is very short.  (Tracy thinks we could do a better job and make our fortunes with our own app.  I’ll add that idea to the list.)  

Tour Starts at Our Campground!

Even I know Tatooine, and the audio tour begins by comparing the basics of that fictional location with where we’re camped, in the Furnace Creek area—maybe because this is where lots of people stay so it’s the logical place to begin the tour. There are several campgrounds and two resorts here, plus a gas station that sells diesel for more than $6/gallon.  Everything’s rare and expensive, like resources on Tatooine. 

The app tour doesn’t mention that, of course (mine would).  It is cute though. I’m told that Death Valley, like Tatooine, is hot, dry, and dangerous.  

There’s us below the arrow, parked in the one campground here that doesn’t need reservations (so we could pull right in), doesn’t have electric hookups (we don’t need that because we have solar), and doesn’t allow generators (ditto; man are they loud). The fact that we’re roughing it means that there are very few people in this campground.  That’s like Luke’s family in that first-ever scene we all saw, yes? Or am I stretching the comparison?

We do get amazing sunsets here—this one is from the front of the trailer showing off the ornament I was given and love to hang when we’ll be somewhere for a while. (On the other side is an aloe plant, and I’ve been waiting patiently to hang it while we’re in the desert.) 

And if your screen brightness is up high, you can see the trailer in the dark sunset, below. 

Banjo gets a little spooked at night because the campground is so very dark and people walk their dogs right by us, but she loves keeping an eye out during the day.  

Don’t let the look of a nap fool you. 

Artists’ Drive Home of Jawa Sandcrawlers

One day we gave our feet and legs a break from hiking and instead drove to famous views and sites you can access from your car.

Artists’ Drive is a one-way road along hills and canyons that were formed via multiple volcanoes that left layers of various minerals. The mineral deposits, along with a lot of wind and a little rain, have turned green, blue, red, yellow, all in streaks and blobs that do look like a paint palette. I really like the pink, which hardly shows on my phone camera, but you get the idea.

The Star Wars tour tells me that R2D2 makes his solo trek in one of these canyons, and an elephant was housed nearby between stints  as a Jawa Sandcrawler. Recognize any of that?

Dantes’ View of Mos Eisley

On the same driving tour, we clanked up and up a long road to the top of a ridge on the Black Mountains to look down on this incredible view.  We went up so high that the outside temperature dropped from 90 degrees F to 70 in a half-hour drive. 

Wikipedia reminds me what I read on the park sign, that on clear days you can see, “the highest and lowest points in the contiguous 48 states: Mount Whitney [… 14,505 ft] high and Badwater” Basin (−282 ft) low.  Pretty cool.

The salt flats of Badwater Basin stretch out below you, a totally different view than what we saw when we walked on it.  

The views are just so incredible that my photos don’t do them justice.  All I could grab really is this relief map ingeniously placed right in front of what it maps.   

What Obi-Wan sees as he stands here is different: the spaceport town of Mos Eisley.  He looks out on the valley and tells young Luke, famously, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

Golden Canyon Hides Peeking Jawas

I visited and posted about Golden Canyon before I knew about the Star Wars connection; apparently Jawas peeked out from behind rocks there, watching R2D2 innocently wheeling along. They were played by local schoolchildren. 

Filming sites we have not visited: 

  • Tuscan raiders riding banthas at Desolation Canyon
  • R2D2 and C3PO lost in Tatooine at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes 
  • Jabba the Hutt’s palace at Twenty-mule Team Canyon

Zabriskie Point

This drive-to view wasn’t used in Star Wars so I can’t conveniently fit it in this entry, but I don’t want to forget it.  It’s named after a Borax mining baron, and from its heights you see the Badwater Basin, again, like at Dantes’ View, with Panamint Mountains beyond. 

Like every view here, the angle of the sun changes the entire scene; each view is like a different planet.  

Oasis Birthday

Last year we were at Tate’s Hell for Halloween, and we managed to find a local band playing at an outside brewery along the Gulf; it felt almost like pre-pandemic times that day.  Fast-forward one year later, and we’re spending Halloween in Death Valley.  How can you top that?  

How about with dinner out at a restaurant for our first time since we hit the road, at the Oasis Inn at Death Valley.  Here the treat was less the food, the service, even the views of sunset behind the mountains. It was three hours of doing nothing productive or even practical at all.  Kind of like sitting in a dark theater and watching a movie about a story that took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  

7 thoughts to “I Spent My Birthday on Tatooine”

    1. Funny you should ask – a group called the 49ers reenact some of the mule and ox wagon teams’ routes through Death Valley each year, and this year’s celebration is in a couple of weeks. We were bummed to miss it.