My Road Trip through Death Valley National Park

My Road Trip through Death Valley National Park

Tips when Visiting Death Valley National Park

• 91 percent of Death Valley National Park is designated wilderness. Preservation means solitude. That requires being self-reliant for your own safety.

• Death Valley National Park receives less than 2 inches of annual rainfall and has an evaporation rate 75 times than that. It is the hottest place on earth, and the driest place in North America. The world’s highest temperature was recorded here on July 10, 1913: 1340F (570C).

• Needless to say, the place is truly hot as hell. Even when I traveled in mid-September, the average temperature in Death Valley National Park was in the late 70s. Remember to wear sunscreen, shades and a hat. Dress in loose and airy clothing.

• Death Valley National Park is so hot that people lose body fluids even in the shade. Avoid activity in the heat. Remember to carry plenty of water on you, and stay hydrated.

• There are sparse gas, water and food services in Death Valley National Park. Food, water, flush toilets and car fuel are available at:

  • Panamint Springs
  • Stovepipe Wells Village
  • Furnace Creek
  • Shoshone

• Vault toilets are only available at some points of interest.

• Make sure you travel with a full tank. Death Valley National Park is one of the last places on earth you want to be stranded in.

• Since Death Valley National Park lies below sea level, the area also experiences flash floods. If there is a rain storm warning, avoid canyons. **Note: Scotty’s Castle is closed until 2019 due to flood damage.

• Stick to the road. Wandering off is fatal, and rescue is difficult in Death Valley National Park.

• Do not depend on cell phones and GPS. Service is either non-existent or unreliable.

• Backcountry maps and other park brochures are available at the visitor center and ranger stations. Check on road conditions with park rangers before traveling to backcountry roads in Death Valley National Park.

My Road Trip through Death Valley National Park

 

Zabriskie Point

Death Valley National Park’s most famous viewpoint, Zabriskie Point offers visitors unadulterated views of the golden colored badlands, and the narrow gulleys weaving in and around them.

The erosional landscape is courtesy sediments from Furnace Creek Lake which dried up 5 million years ago, long before Death Valley came into existence. The Furnace Creek Formation is 5000 feet of mudstone, stiltstone and conglomerate. It is the primary source of borate minerals in Death Valley National Park, the result of mineral concentration in hot spring waters and volcanic fields. This can be seen today in the variety of colors evident in the geography.

The best time to visit is at sunrise and sunset, when the rays of the sun create a beautiful warm transition across the terrain. Hikers can also choose to explore connector trails that lead to Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch, and Red Cathedral.

**Vault toilets are available at Zabriskie Point.

My Road Trip through Death Valley National Park

 

Harmony Borax Works

The history of Death Valley National Park and the subsequent popularity of the Furnace Creek area is closely tied to the Harmony Borax Works.

Death Valley was an unknown land before the discovery of borax in 1881 near Furnace Creek. Between 1883-1884, William T. Coleman built the Harmony Plant to begin mining for borax. During its busy days in the late 1800s, the Harmony Plant employed 40 men, and produced nearly three tons of borax every day.

Transporting the borax from the heart of Death Valley was a difficult and perilous task. The Harmony Plant became famous for coming up with the idea of large mule teams. Mules are naturally stoic animals and were an efficient means of transport. To this day, the “20 mule team” hauling double wagons filled with borax across the desert, symbolizes the borax industry in the United States.

After only five years of operation, the Harmony Plant closed in 1888. Today, the Harmony Borax Works is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The short 0.25 mile trail takes you around the mine ruins and the surrounding landscape. While it is tempting to go exploring mines, these structures have been lying unused in Death Valley National Park for many years. They are fragile and can easily collapse. Keeping in mind that vast stretches of Death Valley are completely desolate with spotty cell phone coverage, you might be stranded or injured with limited rescue options.

My Road Trip through Death Valley National Park

 

Mesquite Sand Dunes

Located near Stovepipe Wells, the Mesquite Sand Dunes are the largest and best known dune fields in Death Valley National Park. The polygon-cracked clay of an ancient lakebed constitutes the floor of this dune field.

The Mesquite Sand Dunes come in three types: crescent, linear and star formations. The dunes are dotted with mesquite trees that are home to desert wildlife.

Less than 1 percent of Death Valley National Park is covered with dunes, something that first time visitors find surprising. In order for dunes to exist, three conditions need to be fulfilled. 

  • A source of sand should exist.
  • A strong wind pattern to move the sand.
  • An area where the sand can collect.

Eroded canyons and floods provide the sand in Death Valley National Park. There is also proof of a strong wind presence. However, the lack of geographic features such as mountains means that sand cannot be accumulate in a place. That’s why Death Valley National Park is not a “sea of sand”.

My Road Trip through Death Valley National Park

 

Dantes View

At 5,475 ft, Dantes View is without a doubt, the most awe-inspiring viewpoint in Death Valley National Park. It is located on the north side of Coffin Peak along the crest of the Black Mountains.

Sunrise is the best time to come here. The expanding yellow, orange and red colors in the horizon against the Panamint Mountains towering over Badwater Basin is simply mesmerizing. You can also barely make out the outline of the Sierra Nevadas, home to the highest peak in the United States, Mount Whitney. The peak itself though, is not visible.

Dantes View is also a great point for star gazing through telescopes. On any given night, the sky above Death Valley National Park is filled with a billion stars, and is a real treat for astronomy lovers.

**Vault toilets are available at Dantes View. 

My Road Trip through Death Valley National Park

 

Golden Canyon Trail

The Golden Canyon is popular with hikers in Death Valley National Park. The trail takes you into the badlands labyrinth, consisting of golden colored hills and narrow winding canyons.

Since it was near sunset and we had a long drive ahead of us, I had only half hour to spare for this hike. But I truly appreciated the little time I had. The rocky walls reflecting the golden hue of the setting sun was just gorgeous. While many consider Death Valley National Park inhospitable, you cannot argue about the serenity you find in this place. So far removed from the clamor and pollution of human civilization.

If you did want to do the entire 3 mile (round trip) hike to Red Cathedral, it takes around 2 hours to complete. Remember to take plenty of water and stay hydrated! There are no water facilities on this trail.

**Vault toilets are available at the Golden Canyon parking lot. 

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Artist’s Drive

Located at the top of an alluvial fan fed by a deep canyon in the Black Mountains, Artist’s Drive is remarkable for its variety of rock colors. This 9 mile scenic one-way loop in Death Valley National Park takes you through multi-colored hills made of volcanic and sedimentary soils.

The section Artist’s Palette is particularly photogenic. Chemical weathering and hydrothermal alteration during periods of volcanic activity caused the oxidation of different metals. Such chemical reactions produced the vibrant colors you see today in the surrounding geography. The reds, pinks and yellows represent iron, the greens mica and the purple manganese.  

**Vault toilets are available at Artist’s Palette.

My Road Trip through Death Valley National Park

 

Devils Golf Course

The saltpan in Death Valley National Park is one of the largest in North America. Studies show that the salt and gravel beds can even reach depths of up to 9,000 feet in some places. A seemingly endless field of rock salt as far as the eye can see, it is the product of wind and water erosion.

This popular attraction was named after a line in the 1934 National Park Service guide on Death Valley National Park. Describing the large halite salt crystal formations, the guide stated, “Only the devil could play golf.”

If you listen carefully, you can hear tiny metallic sounds as the salt crystals expand and contract in the heat.  

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Badwater Basin

At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park is the lowest point in North America. The basin is also the second lowest depression in the Western Hemisphere, after Laguna del Carbon in Argentina (-344 feet)

Note: The tiny white board in the picture marks the sea level.

My Road Trip through Death Valley National Park

An ancient aquifer feeds this pool throughout the year, but the dissolving salts make the spring water “bad”. The pools are home to aquatic insects, larvae, pickleweed, and the rare Badwater Snail. 

During rainstorms, a temporary lake may form here. But it would rapidly evaporate given the daytime temperatures in Death Valley National Park. That means it would take only a year to dry up a 12 foot deep, 30 mile long lake. The vast expanse of salt flats stand testimony to such extreme and incredible forces of nature. As a result, visitors are advised not to walk on the salt flats during hot weather.

**Vault toilets are available at Badwater Basin.

If you have any travel queries, concerns or feedback about Death Valley National Park, please comment below. I will be more than happy to get back to you! Safe travels!

My Road Trip through Death Valley National Park

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