Normally, I have an expectation about a national park before we drive away from our RV, but in the case of Death Valley, I really had no idea what to expect. It’s obviously not as popular as Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks, and it’s much more popular in the summer. But, we were still very surprised at its beauty and harsh landscape.
Dressed in shorts and long sleeve tees, since even though it’s the desert, it’s also February and we had no idea of exactly how hot it was going to be, we drove an hour west from Pahrump to the park and started our tour.
We immediately headed straight up to the magnificent Dante’s View. The high elevation provided what I imagined was God’s vantage point of the salt valley as he formed the harsh black mountains of the Panamint range, the distant Funeral mountains and the dramatic Telescope Peak on a canvas (with Bob Ross lobbying over his shoulder for a few “pretty little trees” in the distance.)
They say, on a clear summer day, you can see the highest and lowest points in the continental US (Mt. Whitney 14,505 and Badwater Basin at 282 feet below sea level), there was a bit of a haze blocking Mt. Whitney, but we would soon find ourselves 5,000 feet lower in the basin. In fact, in one photo you can actually see the road we would drive later in the day.
We then coasted (literally coasted) eleven miles downhill back to the main road without touching the gas once. We then stopped at Zabriskie Point, named after Borax company executive Christian Zabriskie, that has some of the best viewing locations in the park of the rolling gold mountains.
Furnace Creek Visitor Center was our next stop to pick up a few postcards and pay $5.91/gallon for gas – see photo, not kidding.
Then we hiked through Golden Canyon which was an easy mile long hike up to Red Cathedral. The temperature for the day was warm for March, at nearly 85 degrees, and of course we hadn’t expected such warm weather. But, like the Boy Scout’s, we’re always prepared, and had plenty of water on hand.
We then drove through Artists Drive which carries you over rolling hills and through valleys painted with vivid colors. Natural browns mixing with red, turquoise, yellow and even a bit of bedazzling made the mountains something even the most modest weekend craft warrior might wear.
We had to make a stop at the Devil’s Golf Course, if only to understand its name more clearly. The land, a strange primordial salt field, is obviously not a golf course. In fact, it’s so bumpy, erratic and dangerous to walk upon that people who have fallen have required emergency medical assistance for deep scrapes and even broken bones. It is said that only the Devil himself could play golf in this rugged, crag of land. I might give it a shot, my golf game can’t possibly get worse.
Then we hiked the trail to a “Natural Bridge” which was a bit disappointing for the hike it required – straight uphill.
And finally, our last notable stop on our journey was Badwater Salt Flat which at 282 feet below sea level is the lowest point in North America. It also holds the North American record for high temperature at 134 degrees in July of 1913. That day, the ranger reported that swallows flying above the basin fell from the sky dead of heat exhaustion upon the salt earth. A local told us that park rangers, even today, must change their truck tires at ridiculously short intervals because the heat literally dries out the rubber and causes them to crack.
As the story goes, the park ranger assigned to the area that July day in 1912, ran out to check the thermometer with a wet rag upon his head, by the time he returned inside again only 15 seconds later the rag was bone dry. Badwater has always been thirsty, today only receiving a measly 1.5 inches of rain annually. But on very rare days, hikers still must be aware of flash floods pouring down into the hiking caverns.
We had wanted to stop a Scotty’s Castle while in the park but it was a lengthy drive from our location and decided to hike and enjoy the warm weather rather than driving the length of the park. We were surprised by this national park and it is a great place for hiking. Put this on your bucket list. For more information.