Oct 23, 2011

Death Valley National Park

This valley is located on the east, between the border of California & Nevada and is the hottest, driest and lowest elevation in Northern California. Death Valley is one of the few places we had, on our "To be completed" list. With extreme temperatures in summer, we found that December, January and February are the comfortable months to visit. We visited Death valley in February over the long weekend. The temperatures were between 75-85 and it was still hot !! So, if you have 2 days to spare, read on.. you will find yourself buried in a world of extreme temperatures, salt flats, sand dunes and some amazing landscapes.

View Death Valley- Las Vegas roadtrip in a larger map

We left on a Friday evening, stayed at Bakersfield for the night. Since we had already travelled via CA 178 to US 395 earlier, we changed our route a bit and took CA 58, CA 14, US 395 and CA 190 E. CA 14 is a long uninteresting route and a bit boring  I think. ( if you have already travelled on US 395 earlier ) The scenery is so much more appealing to the eyes for US 395 via CA 178 to US 395 than coming on CA14 and US 395.  The last gas station before you hit CA 190E is just before Fall road,  5 mins before the right turn to Death valley. Make sure you fill up here as there is nothing till Stovepipe Wells! You may not see / pass by anyone for miles if you run out of gas..

For accomodation in the park, we found StovePipe Wells and Furnace Creek to be more populated, lots of stores, gas stations, camp grounds, golf courses and restaurants to satisfy your hunger after a long day. During the busy long weekends and the winter months, accomodations can be pretty tough to get. Do plan your trip in advance to avoid disappointment. It is better to stay in the park rather than to stay in nearby towns 2-3 hours away. http://www.escapetodeathvalley.com/ and http://www.furnacecreekresort.com/ are the two websites that you can refer to.

I found the following facts from NPS.Gov very informative.
- The highest mountain in Death Valley National Park is 11,049 foot Telescope Peak. The vertical drop from the peak to the Badwater Basin is twice the depth of Grand Canyon.
-Rainfall in Death Valley averages less than 2 inches a year. There have been some years of no recorded rainfall at all!

-In July of 1913, Death Valley recorded five consecutive days of 129 degrees or above. On July the 10th, a reading of 134 degrees Fahrenheit was taken. This world record was held for nine years.
-The salt pan on the floor of Death Valley covers more than 200 square miles. It is 40 miles long and more than 5 miles wide.

Some places to enjoy Sunrise: Dante's View, Zabriskie Point, Sand Dunes, Devils Cornfield, Badwater & Furnace Creek.
Some places to enjoy Sunset: Artists Drive, Sand Dunes, Zabriskie Point &Badwater Salt Flats.
( Be there an hour after sunrise & an hour before sunset )

 In general, just driving in Death Valley is an expereince in itself with its very unqiue and distinctive vistas. However, the following are the "Not to miss" areas that we can recommend:

  • Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes:
This Dune is close to Stovepipe Wells. You can walk as far and for however long you want. Easy to access from the parking lot. Great to view sunset as the late afternoon light accentuates the patterns and ripples of the dunes. You will also notice people walking the sand dunes at night to view wildlife. A torch may come in handy at times. We stopped here to view the night sky which was just awesome. There are no street lights and the dark surroundings make it a fantastic place for night photography on a clear night.
Mesquite Sand Dunes
Very close to the the sand dunes is the Devil's Corn-field and the spot which marks 'sea-level'. These lend themselves to be nice photo spots. As we approach the furnace creek area there is also the Harmony Borax mine turned museum which you can drive through.

  • Furnace Creek Golf Course: 
This is the world's lowest golf course @ 214 ft. below sea level. There is an oasis with Date Palm trees that looks very pretty.

Date Palms
  •  Artist's Drive:
This drive can be done on the way in or on the way out after seeing the vista points on Badwater Road. Stop by Artist's Palette and view the kaleidoscope of color formations from a very close distance. The rock color formations that you will see are purple, red, black, yellow, pink. This is best seen at sunset when the colors actually stand out. During the day the colors look washed out but are still visible.  You will get an exceptional view from your rear view mirror about 100 - 200 feet after you take the road ( left or right ) from Badwater road of the basin below. Motor homes and Rv's are not permitted. The road up has tight curves and you will feel as you are on a roller coaster, dipping up and down between the road and the rock formations. At the end you will see the white stretch of the salt water basins. The view and drive is incredible.

Artists Drive
Close to the Artists drive is a very interesting Natural Arch which can be visited incase you haven't seen one earlier.
  • Devil's Golf Course: 
This has nothing to do with an actual golf course and is a must see. It is a large salt pan and the rock salt that has been eroded by wind and rain is carved into jagged crystal spires. One has to be very careful, as a fall on this can cause serious cuts and injuries. Take a closer look at the spires. Its beautiful. The road to the course is unpaved with a parking lot. If you are visiting in the evening, carry a jacket as the temperature can suddenly drop, can be windy and cold.

Devils Golf Course

Salt crystal spires
  •  Badwater Basin:  
This is the lowest elevation in the US @ 282 ft below sea level and is a must see. From the parking lot, look above on the cliff side, you will see a sign board that states the sea level. Badwater is a salt flat basin. Repeated freeze–thaw and evaporation cycles gradually push the thin salt crust into hexagonal honeycomb shapes. Be sure to wear inexpensive shoes as you will get salt residue on the sides and the bottom. You can venture as far out as you want. The hexagon squares are clearly visible if you walk far out into the basin as they are untouched from the hundreds of people that come to Death Valley. Like Devils Golfcourse, if you are visiting in the evening, carry a jacket as the temperature can suddenly drop, be windy and cold.

Badwater Basin
  •  Zabriskie Point: 
From the parking lot, it is a 5 mins wheelchair accessible uphill walk. This point is noted for its erosional landscape and geological formations. Some areas are dangerous even though they have walls surrounding them, its not very high. Hang on to your kids. You will be surrounded by a maze of eroded and vibrantly colored badlands, this place is out of this world. It is a spectacular view. 

Zabriskie Point
  •   Dante's View:
This was one of my favorite view points. It stands 5000 ft above and is a birds eyeview of Death Valley. The road up here is windy and steep specially towards the end. Trailers, RV's and buses are not recommended. Once up, the weather can be different. In February, it was freezing temperatures and very windy at noon. The view is spectacular. There is no railing \ wall for protection. You have to take great precaution if you are travelling with kids. One mistake and you are 5000 ft below onto Badwater road.

Dante's View
  • Racetrack Playa:
We plan to visit again to see this place as as we were not too comfortable going there with our 2 yr old son. Access to this area also requires driving about 27 miles on an isolated dirt road and a high clearance 4WD vehicle is recommended. One can be rented from Furnace Creek Area. Based on our research, one would need to plan for about 4 hours round trip if starting from the furnace creek area. Will keep you updated.

There are hikes and other activities that you can do. Please visit http://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/places-to-go.htm for more details.

( A word of caution.. Since cell phone service is limited, it is always advisable to carry maps, know your GPS. I always use quickest route on my journeys, as the shortest route has many times taken me on some unknown, unfamiliar path which may be dangerous. If you think you are on the wrong path, turn around. Sometimes its best to trust your instincts especially if you see yourself driving off-path, than rely on the GPS .. you will be thankful you did.
I have read a couple of instances where there have been deaths because of incorrect decisions in the Death Valley. Always have someone know your whereabouts and the location where you are going. And stay safe.

CA 190 towards Death Valley from US 395
From Death Valley we drove to Las Vegas via Pahrump for the rest of the holiday.

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