by Laurie Pedrick (Sparks, Nevada)
Death Valley opens up before you when entering the Park from Beatty Nevada full of promise, with beautiful vistas, sounds and adventures. Diverse in many ways, Death Valley is a land of contrasts. Not just the arid desert that many picture, but a land of water and brimming with life.
A good side trip when using this route is to take the time to see the ghost town of Rhyolite. Rustic, with just a few buildings (or remnants thereof) remaining, Rhyolite was established in 1905 but new discoveries of gold ceased in 1909 and the town’s fortunes quickly subsided and was truly a “ghost town” by 1920. In its hay-day, the town had concrete sidewalks, a hospital, fire department and train station among other things. Telephone and telegraph along with electricity were available. This most definitely is a worthwhile stop.
When traveling within Death Valley National Park, this amazing place has a size that can be daunting. But many of the attractions are not very far apart from one another. At 3.4 million acres, this is one of the largest National Parks. Surprisingly, this Park has a greater variation in altitude than Grand Canyon National park as the tallest mountain – Telescope Peak – is 11,049 and at the lowest point 282 feet below sea level.
Many envision the hottest place in the U.S. (it is!) but few know that there is a creek that flows in the valley basin and that there is a year-round waterfall located within the Park boundaries.
For those not quite as adventurous, rooms can be found in Furnace Creek, Shoshone, Panamint and Stovepipe Wells and there are several campgrounds located throughout the park. Reservations can be made by searching the Death Valley National Park site or sites that reference the above mentioned location names. Food service is available at most of the locations and all have beverage service that includes draft beer. A warning for those with diesel rigs – there are not many locations in the Valley that have diesel fuel and the station at Furnace Creek charges accordingly. Be sure to fill up before you enter the Park. Be aware that Scotty’s Castle no longer has fuel available for sale.
The places to explore- note some locations are best to be seen at certain hours of the day as the late afternoon nearly dusk brings out the best views. In no particular order, here are some spots to see.
Artist Palette – this location is best viewed just prior to sunset as the multicolored hues become more vibrant in the waning light. A one way road for much of the route, there are a number of pullouts to stop for photos. Vehicles greater than twenty five feet are not recommended and there are rock outcroppings to watch out for if you are driving a high profile vehicle.
Badwater – the lowest point in the United States, at 282 feet below sea level, this area is salt encrusted and is quite interesting. Look up on the side of the road, for the sea level sign. The salt cakes onto your shoes, but the walk out to the salt flat are a must.
Devils Golf Course – located just off the main road leading to Badwater, take this small side trip to see the interesting formation of salt crystals in the soil. Road is a bit of a teeth jarring experience, but no special equipment needed to access this location.
Natural Bridge – this natural bridge was formed by running water and has many interesting geologic features. A slight hike, but not difficult. A good spot for photographs if not crowded and the sun is in a good location.
Zabriskie Point – One of the most scenic views in Death Valley can be seen from Zabriskie Point. Beautiful sandstone which shows various layers and a surprising amount of colors.
Golden Canyon – from the parking area it is an easy walk up this canyon to the Cathedral – rock formations of deep red sandstone. This is the back side of Zabriskie Point. The trail will allow for hikers to transit all the way to Zabriskie.
Twenty Mule Team Canyon – This route will accommodate two wheel drive vehicles but in some spots is a bit twisty and has many turns. Would not recommend anything greater than twenty five feet in this location as well.
Dante’s Peak – this drive is a scenic route and is about the longest trip suggested if traveling out of Furnace Creek. The last section of this route has blind curves so caution should be exercised. Worth taking the hike out to the end of the trail as there is a good view and photo opportunity there.
Darwin Falls – A bit of a hike, but so worth it once you get to it! Located at the far western corner of the park is Panamint Springs with a small campground and a great bar across the road. There is a fuel station here that has diesel fuel. You drive west for a short distance until you see the turn off for Darwin Falls. Taking this road for about one mile and then hiking into the Falls which is also about a mile. While not marked, you can easily see where others have gone before you. You are going to get wet and muddy so dress accordingly. Great place to stop, relax and listen to the waterfall…
Scotty’s Castle – located at the far north end of the Park, Scotty’s Castle has a great amount of history surrounding it. A guided tour is well worth the cost. Our guide regaled us with some of the many stories of Scotty and the true owners of his “Castle”. There is a great amount of history and legend surrounding this place and is worth making the drive here.
Stovepipe Wells/Mosaic Canyon – Stovepipe Wells has a nice campground and provides easy access to Mosaic Canyon which has beautiful marble walls that have been made smooth by running water. Difficult to climb over and around at spots, it is worth the effort that you may make. Don’t be shy, slide over those rocks on your derriere!
I hope you have enjoyed this narrative as much as I have enjoyed writing it, until the next trip……… Stay safe.
Laurie and JP
The Cruisin’ Campers