Even though Death Valley is the lowest point in North America, it is the hottest places on earth. Many visitors ignore the 210-kilometer long desert landscape in Southern California, regarding it as a lifeless scenery. On the contrary, Death Valley National Park is a unique gift from Mother Nature.
THINGS TO DO
In such a huge park there are plenty of destinations where a traveler can ogle the natural beauty. The best way to travel in the park and to see the most is a with a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle.
The Badwater is the lowest point in North America (at 282 feet below sea level), and hence a bucket list worthy site to visit.
Devil’s Golf Course
The Devil’s Golf Course is a land full of sand crystals, which are delicate. A single touch can break these hard formed crystals.
For hikers as well as Star Wars fans, Mustard Canyon is a colorful delight to climb. The landscape in Death Valley is surreal, the Natural Bridge, Salt Creek, and Echo Point make it an exotic getaway.
The rocks within this section of the park have been stained myriad colors by minerals within, creating a view that resembles an artist’s palette.
Spectacular view from an overlook just a mile or two away from Badwater, but 4000 feet taller. The road to Dante’s View is a bit long, but the view is worth it. If you are towing a trailer, a parking lot is provided for you to leave your trailer behind before ascending the most difficult part of the road to Dante’s View.
A four-wheel drive road just east of Furnace Creek.
This oddly shaped rock is on the road south of Furnace Creek.
Travel south from Furnace Creek. Natural Bridge is just east of the main road via a dirt road. This natural bridge in a narrow canyon was created when erosion managed to undercut a section of the stream bed and eventually create a bridge well above the bottom of the canyon.
Travel north from Furnace Creek. Salt Creek is about two miles west of the main road via an easy dirt road. This place is great. Long ago Death Valley was a lake with fish in it; as the lake dried up and salinity increased the fish evolved to cope. Now they are restricted to a short, salty creek which springs up out of the desert, flows for a few hundred yards, and then disappears back into the sand.
Visitor Center & Museum (Furnace Creek)
When visiting Death Valley, start here and you may discover that some sight you hadn’t been interested in turns out to really interest you. Or just figure out which of these many places you should really visit.
Famous viewpoint loved by photographers just east of Furnace Creek. View overlooks interesting weathered canyons. The view is a two-minute walk from the parking lot.
An unimproved road into Death Valley that begins just west of Beatty (the road to Titus canyon heads north from the normal paved route from Beatty into Death Valley). Titus canyon is narrow, deep and spectacular. Due to narrowness, parts of this road are one-way, so you really need to start from the east end of the road. You don’t need an off-road vehicle for this, normal cars should do fine, but don’t bring the RV.
Located in the northern part of the park near Scotty’s Castle, this giant crater was formed by volcanic activity. Walking trails lead into and around the crater, but be warned – going down into the crater is a difficult undertaking, and it may be best to enjoy the view from the top.
Stovepipe Wells Area
A 15-foot waterfall that is particularly interesting in Spring. Traveling west of Panamint Springs on SR 190, turn left onto a dirt road that goes up a wash just before SR 190 starts climbing uphill. After about half a mile of dirt, gravel, and rocks, there is a small parking lot. From the parking lot, hike about half a mile to a mile further into the canyon. Since this is the drinking water supply for Panamint Springs, please do not jump in, no matter how tempting it is.
A popular hiking destination. While accessible only by a long, sandy road followed by a technical rock crawl through a wash, this hike is worth the headache (or fun) of getting to the base of the trail. Before you go, consult rangers about the location of various petroglyphs along the canyon walls. Though some have been vandalized recently, many are in pristine condition.
This popular hike in the center of the park winds through a narrow, marbled canyon. Some climbing and scaling of slick marbled rock are required.
Near Stovepipe Wells. Most people think sand dunes are common in the desert. They aren’t. There are two interesting areas of sand dunes in Death Valley. The largest is Eureka Dunes, accessible only to adventurous backcountry folks. This smaller set of dunes near Stovepipe Wells is still quite impressive.
This historic marker was placed at a reliable spring in order to mark its location in harsh conditions.
Charles Manson and his followers were captured here in 1969. The backcountry road up – which includes several rocks falls – will make you wonder how Charles Manson got a school bus through. Many visitors who make the difficult trek stay overnight in the cabin here.
Remnants of Death Valley’s mining past, these kilns are remarkably well-preserved.
Because it is not marked from the road, and not well marked on the map, a hike through this canyon offers solitude even beyond that of what is a very quiet park, to begin with. The canyon isn’t much to look at for the first 1/2 mile of the hike from the parking area, but beyond that, there is much to explore.
Eureka Sand Dunes
Tucked away in the north part of the park, accessible only by tens of miles of dirt road, these are the second tallest dunes in the United States. Don’t let their out-of-the-way location deter you from visiting, however. The solitude only adds to the otherworldliness of the wind-swept sands, the highly rare Eureka Grass blades grasping for life in the dry mounds, and the panoramic view of the colorful Last Chance and Saline Ranges which flank the dunes on either side.
Well off the beaten path in the Southern end of the park, these are some of the most remote sand dunes in the American West. Mountains flank the dunes to the west and east, making both sunrise and sunset an event. The backcountry road here is rutted with arroyos, and like so many other places in the park requires a four-wheel drive.
Pleasant Canyon & South Park Canyon
A 4wd loop. The South Park Canyon portion near the Panamint Valley should be attempted only by experienced drivers with high clearance vehicles.
As with many points of interest within the park, this one is not easily accessible. The main route consists of 27 miles of dirt road, beginning at the Ubehebe Crater in the northern part of the park. However, the effort is well-rewarded with a site of twilight-zone proportions. The Pleistocene-era lake bed, nearly three miles long and a mile wide, is so flat that it once used as a landing strip for drug smugglers.
But the Racetrack is most famous for its “moving rocks”: boulders whose erratic tracks remain visible for years. Though their movement has been tracked with GPS, no adequate explanation for it has been found. In the spring months, brine shrimp – which hibernate when the water dries up, only to emerge months or even years later – are sometimes visible in the muddy puddles here.
Tea Kettle Junction
Located in the backcountry near the Racetrack Playa, this signpost is decorated with numerous tea kettles and makes for a rather odd sight in the vast desert.
The highest point in the park at 11,049 feet. The trailhead to the summit starts at the Mahagony Flats campground and is 12.5 miles round-trip with 3200 feet of elevation gain.
HOW TO GET HERE
The Los Angeles International Airport and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas are the closest to Death Valley. Rent a car to go from Las Vegas or Barstow to Death Valley. There is no public transportation to and from the valley.
Please make sure to check the Death Valley Morning Report to know the road conditions before leaving. There is also an Amtrak train station close to Death Valley.
WHEN TO VISIT
As one of the hottest places on Earth, Death Valley hits a high of 49 degrees Celsius in the summer, which makes it a hell to survive in. In winter the temperature dwindles to nighttime lows of about 10 degrees Celsius.
However, the roads become laden with snow during winters. Thus, early spring is the best time to visit Death Valley.
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December 5, 2017 11:02 pm