Death Valley National Park sure could live up to its name if you don’t visit it the right time of the year, but let me tell you, it would be worth it anyways. This time of the year, basically winter or early spring is the perfect time to visit this wonder. Yes, it sounds as though it could be morbid and scary but I’m here to tell you it is anything but.
While in Vegas I decided I needed to get out of the town and explore as much as I could. After all, Vegas is not my kind of place, however, I was able to stay at the park I was at for free as it is one of the places of my membership. You can read about that here: Thousand Trails. When I saw that Death Valley was only 2 hours away, I decided I could endure 4 hours of driving to get out of Vegas and see something new like this place. My neighbors at the park told me that it was worth it and suggested a couple of spots there and a vendor to buy an Indian flute from. Well, with wanting to get out of the area and that kind of a recommendation, I had no choice but to satisfy my wanderlusting and go.
Now, this is going to sound funny, but I hate driving and this drive, wasn’t great. After all, you are driving through the desert pretty much, but hey, you can’t see new places unless you drive through the crap. First arriving to the park, I was a little confused as to where to go, check in, pay, etc. It seemed as though I might have come in from a wrong direction or something. Let me explain, when you first come in, at least from Vegas, you go past a couple points that seem like they are part of the park and you should go and look at, etc. They may be part of the park, but you do not have to present your pass or pay in order to view them. Once you get to Furnace Creek, you will present your annual pass or pay (Pay for the annual pass, it is more than worth it. Even if you only visit 3 parks or monuments the entire year, it more than paid for itself.) The people were incredibly helpful there. I let them know I was only there for the day and asked what the musts were while I was there. They gave me a few places to visit and I was off.
I don’t know if this is a normal for Death Valley, but if you only have a day, get there at the crack of dawn so you can see more than I did. There was construction and I was stuck at a standstill for over an hour waiting to get from Devil’s Golf Course to Artist’s Drive. Mind you, they really aren’t that far apart. Needless to say, that wasted a lot of my exploring time. Truth be told, I was an idiot and didn’t fill up my tank before I got there so I was running on the clock for the gas tank as well.
My first visit in the park was Badwater Basin. You seriously can’t even believe this place when you pull up. It seems like one impossibly long, never ending mirage. You see mirages on tv and movies all the time but here you will actually experience it. The heat bouncing off the salt seriously makes this place seem like it goes on forever. Trust me, it actually doesn’t. Here you can get out, take a selfie, proving you are actually 282 feet below sea level, yep, below sea level and get to walk the saltwater flats. You can walk as far as you want, but eventually you are going to see, that you really aren’t going to see anything more than what you have already seen. Take a minute to admire the salt flats and the crystal power. It’s a pretty neat process and looks really cool. The further out you go the less damage to these patterns you will see and the better idea you will get of the process itself. Take a minute to read the info signs at the beginning to truly understand this place. It truly is interesting stuff.
My next stop was Devil’s Golf Course. My first thought, such an interesting name, what could it possibly mean? My conclusion on my drive down was that it was similar to Badwater Basin, only hotter and the devil would certainly take you if you tried to play a round of golf out here. I was wrong. It is absolutely nothing like Badwater Basin. This place probably got its name because if you were to try to hit a golf ball out here, you would never find it and trying to find it would most certainly lead to your death. Death Valley is hot in itself but adding in the dangers of this place you will certainly come out bloody, dehydrated and without your ball. This place has crystallized salts that compose jagged formations that can easily be overlooked and crack under pressure. If your leg goes down in one of those formations, you can guarantee there will be blood. I found this place really hard to photograph. Not because it isn’t beautiful and photograph worthy, but because it is near impossible to photograph it for others to actually see and understand what your eye actually sees. My recommendation…..go see it for yourself!
Finally, it is time to see Artist’s Palette. After all, this is the place my neighbors in Vegas raved about so I couldn’t wait. This place is simply amazing. It really is. There is no way you could possibly imagine the amount of color and beauty you will see both on this drive and this specific spot. It seems near impossible for a place like this to hold such colorful beauty. I took a ton of pictures and walked through the area to see how much I could see. Definitely get out of your car here and explore it a little. You won’t be sorry you did. Take a minute to read about the ‘Palette of Color’ too. It explains all the color, but essentially, it all started from repeated volcanic eruptions more than 5 million years ago and a bunch of other stuff (Hey, I can’t ruin it for you, I told you to read about it.). Here I would suggest a really good camera or camera filter. Or, maybe I’m just not a very great photographer, but regardless, the colors you see in person, truly didn’t come out in photos here either. So, go see it.
After I was done there I decided I needed to stop at the Harmony Borax area and investigate. As an RVer part of many groups relating to RV life, you will hear a lot about Borax and using it in your tanks, to rid off animals, and so many other things I don’t even remember, so I thought it was important to see this place, almost as if it was a history of RV living. I know it isn’t, but I felt drawn to the area. This place is a nice break from the beauty of the landscapes and brought you a little closer to human life and what it must have been like back then, manufacturing borax and living out there. Take a minute, stroll around, read the signs and take some pictures. It really doesn’t seem like this area fits, but after you read some of the history, it will make sense.
At this point, after getting a late start, having a 2 hour drive and getting stuck waiting for construction for an hour I am running out of time….and yes, gas, so I decide my next stop HAS to be the ghost town I heard so much about, plus I wanted the Indian flute, so I take off to get there before I run out of gas and daylight. A lesson I learned is: there is a road you have to turn right on in order to head to Rhyolite (Ghost Town) on Scotty’s Castle Road. This road will seem to go on forever and you will eventually realize you are running on fumes and this doesn’t seem to be the right direction. Oops. So, the lesson is there is a right you will need to take, and it isn’t super obvious, there isn’t a large sign pointing you in that direction, oh, and Scotty’s Castle was closed, so that would have been a huge disappointment, besides running out of gas in Death Valley. It could have been the death of me, literally. I didn’t have enough water to run out there and be without AC.
So, when I arrive at the Ghost Town I am immediately happy I did. The first thing I wanted to do was find the place where I could get this flute. This place was literally a ghost town. No, seriously, there wasn’t anyone, anywhere. So, I didn’t get a flute. I looked high and low for the guy that is supposed to be there selling them and couldn’t find a soul. That part I was gravely sad about (Hahaha, a little ghost humor). After wiping my tears, I decided to explore this place, mostly on foot since I didn’t have much for fumes left in the tank and no idea how far until there was going to be a gas station. Let me tell you, this place is selfie heaven. You can’t help but to feel the amount of eeriness here but also the art that created this place after the town went down. This place really didn’t have much to read or look at to tell you the history, but honestly, it wasn’t something I wanted to know while I was there because I might have been a little worried that the ghosts were going to come out of the ground and grab my selfie loving ankles and drag me under. Don’t judge me.
So, the many lessons here are: make sure your tank is full, have a full day or two available, have a really good camera or filter and read all the info you can because it really puts a lot of these places in to perspective. This is a place I intend to revisit in the future. There was so much more there that I wanted to see and explore and really didn’t get the opportunity. Afterall, outside of Alaska, this is the largest National Park in the U.S.
- Badwater Basin is the lowest elevation in North America being 282 feet below sea level.
- Death Valley is about 140 miles long and between 5 to 15 miles wide
- The area is about 3,000 square miles
- The highest point in Death Valley is Telescope Peak at 11,043 feet.
- In 1913 Furnace Creek reached the highest recorded temperature on earth at 134 degrees.
- Death Valley actually has over 600 springs and ponds.