Discover Death Valley’s scenic wonders (part 2)
While luxurious places like Inn at Furnace Creek make a stay in Death Valley rather civilized, the area’s real attractions are more natural.
Many of the Death Valley National Park’s scenic wonders are accessible by car, but there are also some incredible natural sights found on hiking trails that criss-cross the 3,000 square miles within the park boundaries.
Flooding in 2015 destroyed the roads leading into the park from the north (Nevada State Route 267), which are expected to reopen in 2020, so the best way to visit is via Nevada State Route 374 (through Beatty) or Nevada State Route 373 (Amargosa Valley to Death Valley Junction).
Additionally, the flooding closed Scotty’s Castle, which is also expected to reopen in 2020.
Among the best attractions to look for:
• Badwater, which is the lowest elevation you can drive to in the Western Hemisphere (nearly 280-feet below sea level). This site is located in the southern portion of the park.
• Devil’s Golf Course. The salt crystals that cover the ground are almost pure table salt (remains of the ancient lake that once covered the area) and the surrounding pinnacles have been shaped into interesting designs.
• Gold Canyon is an interpretive road that takes you to the Red Cathedral, an unusual red-colored stone formation. Artists Palette is a one-way loop road through an old lake bed that offers an opportunity to view marvelous brightly-colored red, brown, green and yellow cliffs and hills. The vivid shades are the result of oxidation of minerals in the sediments.
• Dante’s View, a spot about 5,500 feet above Death Valley that offers perhaps the best view of the region.
• Twenty Mule Team Canyon. This one-way, one-lane trail takes you through the heart of Borax country. The tan-colored terrain appears to have the consistency of dried mud and looks like mounds of collapsed adobe. Throughout the canyon, you can still see dark entrances to the many Borax mines that once operated here.
• Zabriskie Point, one of the many geological marvels of Death Valley. At the point, the scenery, while familiar and sometimes crowded, remains impressive. From here, you can look west into the Death Valley flats and admire the surrounding photogenic clay canyons delicately carved by nature’s tools.
• Emigrant Ranger Station and the Emigrant Canyon drive. This scenic drive takes you to Aguereberry Point, which offers a splendid view of Death Valley from about 6,400-feet. If you continue south through Emigrant Canyon, you can also reach the historic Wildrose Charcoal Kilns.
• Stovepipe Wells Village, the park’s only commercial area besides Furnace Creek. Visitors will find accommodations, camping, recreational vehicle parking, restaurants, a gas station and a general store.
• Stovepipe Wells historic site and adjacent sand dunes. Here you will find some beautiful sand mounds created over centuries out of rock particles blown into this valley from the Cottonwood Mountains to the west and northwest. The dunes take on a variety of shapes, influenced by the strong winds that whip across the valley. As with the sand dunes found in Nevada, the area was once part of a giant lake. The sand sits atop an old clay playa; the mounds interrupted in places by white salt deposits.
• Ubehebe Crater, a unique geological formation created more than 1,000 years ago when a volcano erupted. The road to the crater takes you right to the rim. From here, you can see a huge bowl in the ground, measuring about a half mile wide and 750 feet deep.
For information about Death Valley National Park, go to http://www.nps.gov/deva/index.htm.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.