Death Valley is the largest national park outside of Alaska at 3.3 million acres. I don’t know what I thought Death Valley National Park would be like, maybe a very hot sandy, flat kind-of boring place. Instead, it is one of the most diverse places, like Yellowstone but with weird salt and borax formations, sand dunes, volcanic craters, 7,000 foot peaks and flats that are below sea level. Boardwalks over streams where endangered pupfish playfully protect their territories. There is even a place where the rocks appear to glide over the dry lake bed on their own leaving tracks behind them. There are hills that have eroded to reveal rainbow patterns. Very definitely not boring and truly a wild and beautiful natural place that is on the must-see list.
A Visitor, Scenic Drives and Great Hikes
Our daughter, Megan, joined us for a weekend and we saw as much as possible in that day and a half. It was a long road trip that was worth every mile. The scenery was out-of-this world!
The sand dunes at Mesquite Flats were beautiful and displayed weird patterns in the sand at the base of hills. The scenery with the mountains surrounding the sand dunes was impressive.
Salt Creek is a boardwalk path along a seasonal stream of salty water where the rare Salt Creek Pupfish live. The water is clear so it’s easy to see the pupfish guarding their territory on the sand or algae.
Keane Wonder Mine is one of the most unique historical gold mining sites in the park.
Devils Golf Course is a salt pan on the valley floor that displays jagged uneven salt formations as far as the eye can see. The formations are around 2 feet tall and form very slowly, less than 2 inches every 35 years!
Badwater Basin is 282 feet below sea level and consists of almost 200 square miles of salt flats created from evaporated water from flash floods. The evaporating water leaves patterns that look almost like woven textiles.
Natural Bridge shows on the park map that the road is accessible by most sedans but we would challenge that view. The road was very rough even in our high-clearance 4-wheel-drive Jeep! The walk was beautiful to navigate through a wide slot canyon to see the rock bridge formation. Beyond the bridge are some dry water falls that look like they would be gushing water during monsoon season.
Artists Drive & Artists Palette is a drive through hills that have eroded to reveal pastel colors in pinks, greens, blues and purples. The gorgeous color is created from oxidized metals in the earth. There is a path leading to a canyon and views of the colorful hills.
A highlight was a hike to Rainbow Falls. The hike included scrabbling over rocks in places and walking through some water. As we were leaving the falls, a family passed us and their young kid said, “That’s iiiTT?” We chuckled as we walked back down the path. We thought it was worth the hike because this waterfall is in the middle of one of the hottest and driest places on earth, however, it is pretty small in comparison to falls that we are used to. In our home state of Oregon, we have amazing waterfalls and one park about an hour from Portland has seven waterfalls that you can walk behind. So we get the kid’s reaction!
Moved North to Mesquite Spring
After Megan left, we moved our campsite from Sunset campground. a gravel parking lot, near Furnace Creek to Mesquite Spring campground in the northern part of the park. This campsite was beautiful with large sites, good views, fire pits and picnic tables but it was a little narrow to enter between the trees. We love this more outdoorsy style of camping and being in more natural and wild surroundings. This location was closer to some of the more remote locations that we wanted to see in the park but it is a road trip to see anything. The next few days provided lots of adventures:
Hiking the rim trail of Ubehebe Crater
Plus off-road driving 30 miles to see the Race Track where the rocks appear to move across the lake bed on their own. Wish Megan could have stayed longer!
Driving to the Charcoal Kilns was a cool adventure.
Like most National Parks, it takes a minimum of an hour to get most places. When the road is gravel, and large rocks with pot holes and washboard tracks, it takes on a more adventurous feel. This place is one of my favorites, only places with more animals would rank higher.