Death Valley is the most overwhelming experience I have ever experienced on the west part of North America. This desert provokes all sorts of contradictory feelings and makes you lose yourself in it’s austere greatness. As if it were from another planet, Death Valley invites you to discover it, but at the same time it frightens you and teaches you to treat it with respect.
Death Valley National Park is one of the largest national parks in the USA, with an area of 14,000 km2, a length of 210 km, and the width varies between 10 km and 21 km.
Telescope Peak, the highest peak in Death Valley, rises to 3367 m above the sea level. It is only 24 km away from the lowest point in the United States, in the Badwater basin, 85.5 m below the sea level.
To visit the key points in the park, it takes a day, and to see them all, it takes two days. We left Las Vegas, and we made the following one-day road trip:
Las Vegas-> Death Valley Junction -> Devlin’s Golf Course -> Badwater Basin -> Artists Palette -> Furnace Creek Visitors Center, where I have also refueled -> Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
Ever since I entered in Death Valley National Park, the landscape put me in an intense state of mind. Death Valley surprises in a special way, because it attracts you and scares you at the same time.
There are only two gas stations in the park and there is no signal on the phone, except in the Furnace Creek Visitors Center area. So, it is very dangerous if you get lost, if the car is broken, or the fuel tank get empty. It was awfully hot when I was there, at the end of June it was 53°C.
Before you go to Death Valley, you have to take some precautions. You must have 10 liters of water per person and food supplies, make sure the car is in good condition and the tank is full. You can find more information about Death Valley National Park here.
Another very important detail to be considered before visiting Death Valley, is that there is no signal. To move around the park, you must have updated maps and know how to guide yourself after them. There is, however, a solution that we have also used. We have set up a route on google maps and added all the points where we wanted to stop. So, when we entered the park and lost the signal, we guided on the same map. The blue point on the map was moving with us and we could see where we are in real time. If we were getting off the road, we always went back to the set up route.
Death Valley is one of the hottest places in the world. the air temperatures above 49°C are frequent in the summer months, from June to September. Death Valley claimed the world record in 2012 after the 58°C temperature recorded in Libya in 1922 was de-certified by the World Meteorological Organization. Therefore, the highest temperature ever recorded was 56.7°C, on July 10, 1913, in the Greenland Ranch area of Death Valley National Park.
Fortunately, temperatures from November to March are mild, with average values of 15°C – 25°C, with a decrease during the winter nights usually between 5°C and 10°C.
1 Zabriskie Point
The first stop we did was at Zabrinskie Point, where we left the car in a parking lot and then we went up 50 meters to a viewpoint. There, I felt for the first time the dry and gloomy climate.
The Zabriskie Point is located in the eastern part of the park, and is known for the erosion landscape. It is composed of sediments from the Furnace Creek Lake, which dried out 5 million years ago – long before the Death Valley existed.
The location was named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, vice president and general manager of Pacific Coast Borax, at the beginning of the 20th century. Just 5 minutes I was able to stay out of the car, the 53°C in the atmosphere being amplified by the strong wind.
We continued our way to the next point, enjoying the martial landscape from outside, in the thermal comfort of the car.
Although you feel you are “in the middle of nowhere”, sometimes you see a car with tourists. On the side of the road there are all kinds of placards that warn you not to drive the engine to the car, not to use the air conditioning to the maximum, or to get off the road.
2 Devil’s Golf Course
The next attraction was Devil’s Golf Course, a place created by the evaporation of the water from the old Manly Lake, which once covered the valley, to a depth of 9.1 meters. A few meters above the Badwater Basin, Devil’s Golf Course remains dry, allowing meteorological processes to sculpt the salt from there in all sorts of formations.
The place can be accessed from Badwater Road, driving on an unpaved road, 2.1 kilometers long.
The day we visited Death Valley, at the end of June 2017, it was 53°C and a mighty and torrid wind blew. I could not stay out of the car for more than 5 minutes. I felt my tension rising and I felt I could not breathe.
Despite these harsh conditions, there is still life in Death Valley. I saw a mouse, fainted by the heat, a snake, and I saw quite large areas of desert vegetation. More than that, I even saw a water eye in Death Valley.
3 Badwater Basin Lake
Badwater Basin area is the place where is registered the lowest altitude in the park, but also in North America, 85.5 m below the sea level.
With a length of 12 km and a width of 8 km, the mass of white is almost entirely made up of pure salt. The basin is the second lowest basin in the western hemisphere, overtaken only by Laguna del Carbón from Argentina, located at 105 m below the sea level.
This stretch pan has been created for the first time, by the dry out of the lake that was once there and had a depth of 10 m. Unlike the Devil’s Golf Course, the torrential rains flood Badwater, covering the huge “salt pan” with a thin layer of water. Each newly formed lake does not last long, because the average rainfall of 48 mm/year is dramatically exceeded by an annual evaporation rate of 3800 mm. This means that a lake with a depth of 3.7 m and a length of 50 kilometers would dry up in one year.
Address: Death Valley; Inyo, California
4 Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette
From Badwater, we went back on the same road, to Furnace Creek, making a new stop at one of the most beautiful attractions of the park, Artists’s Palette. To get here, you have to go to Artist’s Drive, an one-way road that is nine miles south of Furnace Creek on Badwater Road. Vehicles over 25 meters long are forbidden on this road.
Artist’s Palette is the result of one of the most violent volcanic eruptions in the Death Valley, the area being known for the variety of colorful rocks. These colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals. Iron compounds produce red, pink and yellow, the tuff decomposition (rock formed by the accumulation and consolidation of ash and sand from volcanic eruptions) produces green, and manganese produces purple.
Address: Artist’s Drive, Death Valley National Park, Death Valley, CA 92328
5 Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are located just on the edge of the road US190, which crosses the Death Valley through the center.
The dunes are surrounded by mountains almost on all sides. Due to easy road access, the area has often been used as movie set in the Hollywood movies. Including the Star Wars series had scenes shot here. The largest dune is called Star Dune and is relatively stable and stationary, because it is at a point where the various winds forming the dunes converge. The depth of the sand at the ridge is 40-43 m, but it is small, compared to other dunes in the area, which have sand depths of up to 180-210 m.
Address: California 190, DEATH VALLEY, CA 92328, USA
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes was the last objective we visited, then we went back to Backersfield, where we stayed overnight. We chose this town to be close to Sequoia National Park, another park we visited the next day.
From Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes we arrived in Backersfield after a 4 hours road trip. The phone signal came back after two and a half hours driving. After we got out of the park and got to an area where the signal came back, I was happy to survive in Death Valley. Now I’m exaggerating a bit too, because in the end, the park can be visited in safety conditions, if you follow some basic rules. From time to time, we’ve met with tourists in the main attractions points, but not many, up to 5 cars parked in the same place.
The landscape of Death Valley is amazing, though, apparently, you might think you have nothing to see there. We stayed in the park for about 4 hours and we completely disconnected from the outside world, because this is the effect of this desert, unique in the world. The place is very discrepant. Driving a car on deserted roads makes you feel somehow free, though you are aware that you could remain captive for eternity there, if you get lost and nobody finds you.
Death Valley has made me feel, that for several hours, I am on another planet, and has definitely changed the meaning of the word heat that I had in mind.