Death Valley Bucket List
Death Valley National Park is a place of extremes in every way. It is home to the lowest point in the contiguous United States, holds the record for the hottest recorded temperature on Earth (134°), and the landscapes and colors around every twist and turn will literally make your jaw drop. Death Valley may cover 3.3 million acres (that’s huge, the second largest national park in the US), but you can pretty easily see what there is to see in a weekend. Which is honestly enough for me. The desert is a little creepy, no?
I came to Death Valley at the tail end of my journey south down Route 395. The drive is magical as the mountains turn to the dry desert, and there are so many scenic stops on the way!
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Did you know there’s several sand dune ranges in Death Valley? Most people have only heard of the most popular one, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Located in the middle of the park right off Highway 190, the dunes stretch for miles and feature the Panamint Mountains as their backdrop. Go early in the morning before sunrise for an epic light show!
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 ft below sea level. It consists of a spring fed pool and salt flats, some which are hexagonal in shape and draw photographers from all over the world. The salt flats stretch for miles and can get crazy weather shifts in the matter of minutes, from stormy skies to crazy winds to relentless sun with no shade in sight.
It’s quite a trek to get to the salt from the parking area, but at least it’s flat. Haha. Still, most days of the year, it can be an intense walk. Be careful stepping on the salt as some of the crusted over areas could break.
Artist’s Palette was the most colorful stop we made in Death Valley. The drive, which is a 9 mile round trip loop off of Badwater Road, is impressive on its own with winding roads weaving through dramatic mountains. Tucked away in the Black Mountains is Artist’s Palette, a mountainous area with about every color of the rainbow, thanks to ancient volcanic activity and unique weathering patterns on the irons and other minerals in the area. You don’t want to miss this stop!
Rhyolite Ghost Town
You can’t visit Death Valley without going to a proper Ghost Town. If you make it to the Nevada side of the park, Rhyolite is a wild sight to see. After the discovery of a gold mine in 1904, an entire town was built with tall buildings, a hospital, school, train station and of course a a red light district with plenty of saloons and a jail. The town was run dry, shut down and abandoned by 1916. Now there’s only remnants of the wild west glory days + these creepy statues.
Rainbow Canyon aka Star Wars Canyon
The first and the most unexpected stop on my Death Valley adventure was Rainbow Canyon. We got out to admire all of the colors in the deep canyon and were intrigued by the only other people nearby, who were listening intently to a military radio. Then, all of the sudden, a fighter jet flew through the narrow walls right over our heads! The couple said they’d been tracking activity all day, and after more research, it’s a common training flight path for the US military. We saw two planes go overhead in just 30 minutes. No clue how often this is happening, but it was a cool experience nonetheless. We heard super loud planes from Alabama Hills earlier in the day but never saw them, and looking back we thought it must have been the same pilots.
(Photos by NPS.gov)
There is nothing like a desert wildflower bloom, and when the conditions are right for it in the south part of Badwater, it can be the most beautiful display in Southern California. Aim for the spring season after a good rain or two and lots of sunshine. This National Park Services website also gives updates on blooming trends so you can plan a visit! Weekends will get hectic during this season, so if you can, go during the week.
There’s a few other things I would definitely make time for the next time I go back to Death Valley including the Ubehebe Crater, Zabriskie Point, and perhaps Teakettle Junction.
Any other hidden gems you’d like to share with me? Comment & let me know!