Trying to get away from the snow and cold weather, Death Valley National Park is a great option for a short getaway. If you can plan three days for the trip, that’s a comfortable amount of time to take the drive, see the popular sites and a little more.
In the continental U.S., Death Valley is the largest National Park and it continues to grow, as the Senate just passed a lands bill recently to increase the park size. It’s the lowest, driest and hottest place in North America. There are plenty of options to do the usual stuff, or get out into the wilderness away from everyone.
Furnace Creek will probably be one of the first stops. If you’re staying at a room or camping overnight, this is nearby. Stop at the Visitor Center and be sure to grab a guide. The guide provides useful information, a map of the park and ideas for activities. Unfortunately, one popular attraction, Scotty’s Castle, has been shut down due to floodwaters. According to nps.gov, flash floods of 2015 caused damage to the roads and structures and it won’t be open until 2020.
So the National Park Service does a good job at organizing places to go in their guide. The list begins with “The do-not-miss list for a visit to Death Valley!” First on the list: Badwater Basin. This is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. The area is the most popular in the park, with plenty of people filling up the parking lot and beyond. It’s a flat, easy walk out to the wide-open salt flat. The pattern along the floor was cracked, like dry, weathered desert. Except the cracks were filled with tons of tiny salt.
Coming back from Badwater Basin, there’s another short hike to venture on called Natural Bridge. The attraction here is a climb into a canyon to see a rock formation that looks like a natural bridge. It’s sort of like an arch, but you can walk under it, and it’s massive. The hike continues a short while farther until a steep water runoff makes it impossible for the normal hiker to pass. The road to get to Natural Bridge is in rough shape. A high clearance vehicle is more than preferred. There were some cars crawling along that rocky bumpy road, and it didn’t look pleasant for them.
Then along the same road heading back toward Furnace Creek, there’s a scenic one-way called Artists Drive. This winding road has a few stops for good views. Take some walk around Artists Palette to see the different color combinations from the oxidation of different minerals. Plenty of green and purple make this an interesting place to see and the colors continue with pink, orange, red, tan and more.
Nearby, there’s Zabriskie Point — an easy viewpoint close to the road that shows the colored badlands. The guide says this is a spectacular spot for a sunrise.
Going to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is well worth the trip. The sand has an amazing feel to it. At sundown, this place was full of people getting great photos. The scenery surrounding the dunes was astounding, and the sun setting gave the landscape a different mood. The guide says to enjoy this place during sunrise, sunset or full moon for unforgettable experiences.
Although this visit in February the moon was close to full, there still were plenty of stars in the night sky. At least one shooting star was seen on the trip. And the planets that are visible are bright and obvious.
Not only is visiting the park worth the trip, but the drive is an enjoyable scenic route as well. It’s a trip that’s worth taking a loop to travel in. Taking highway 95 down there takes you through Nevada. Exiting the park toward Lone Pine, Calif., and heading North from there will give you views closer to the Eastern Sierra with many places to check out along the way. One tip: You’ll surely be using plenty of gas. If you have cans and extra space, bring them and you’ll save money because it gets to more than $4 a gallon in and around the park.
There was too much to fit into a short trip to Death Valley, but there was enough to get a taste of the park and hopefully come back for more. There’s plenty more to check out that didn’t get mentioned. They just didn’t make it in this recent trip. So check out Death Valley National Park soon. The park is open year-round and may be visited 24 hours a day. Some campgrounds close down around mid-May. Check www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm for more details.
Kyler Klix is a designer and contributor at the Nevada Appeal. If you’d like to talk about the outdoors or upcoming concerts, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org