We recently enjoyed a few days in one of the most scenic and surprising places we’ve been lucky enough to visit. Death Valley National Park is vibrant, colorful and diverse…even if it is the hottest place in the world. We only covered a portion of the 3,000,000 acres, but we sure did get our eyes full of spectacular scenes.
We chose to spend our time in the southern area of Death Valley, taking in that section of the canyons, views of the valley and mountains and interesting history and geology. We camped in Furnace Creek Campground where there are water and sewer hookups available at a reasonable price of $18, only $9 for us Golden Age pass holders. From there we were conveniently located for the sites we chose. (Oh, BTW, if you see a promo for this national park, look for us at the information kiosk at the visitors center. They filmed us as we used the self-help presentations for the park.)
To start off our Death Valley exploring, how about seven miles into Echo Canyon?! Ole Yeller carried us easily over the mushy gravel trail as we were enjoying being out in the open again. There are wind and rain-carved, colorful walls all the way through the canyon, displaying the results of millions of years of earth movement and exposure of the layers of minerals. Sunshine and 60s made it a pleasant morning, ending with our lunch back at the entrance to the canyon with the valley stretched out in front of us.
Our next path was through Twenty Mule Team Canyon with its caramel-looking mountains. Some people describe them as mudhills. (Below) We were curious about the makeup of these chalky-looking hills. They have a high clay concentration. When you grab a piece it crumbles in your fingers. We could imagine the mule teams pulling the wagons of borax during the mining period in the late 1800s. In the Death Valley Museum in the park we saw examples of the large wagons and other equipment used in mining and processing this product in these hills.
The next destination we chose was the Artist Drive located about 20 miles down another highway within the park.
Wow! The name of this four-mile road tells the story. It winds through a continuous array of shades, almost as though an artist was gathering various paints for a piece of work. At one point a road sign points to the Artist Palette where you can stop to view the mounds of greens, tans and rusty-reds of this volcanic formation. As it turned out our timing was just right. We came through between 3 and 4 pm, ending our drive just as the sun dropped behind mountains to the west. The natural lighting was bringing out the best in those shades of nature. Then, as we stood watching the lights went out and all the colors were subdued.
On another day in the park we decided to take the 52-mile-round-trip up to Dante’s View. This was stupendous! The view is breathtaking. (That’s the first photo as I began this post.) At the top you are 5500 feet above it all, with a view of the mountains sloping up from the valley. But there is definitely a scary and chilly feature of this location. We were battling very strong winds with a 15-20 degree drop in temps as we tried to stand at the viewpoint. Here I am trying to hang on to my hat and keep my footing at my wonderful hubby tells me to stand next to the “keep back” sign. But it was exhilarating and fun up there.
From over-the-top to the underside – our exploration went to the Devil’s Golf Course, where the evaporated lake formed crusty mounds of salt down in the bottom of the valley. These crustaceans are so eerie and unique. We just had to touch those rough, frozen, mounds to sample the salt. Lastly, we traveled about five more miles down the road to Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level. There we took a walk out on the expansive salt floor. Here the erosion from the surrounding mountains has formed a 9,000 ft. basin of sand, silt, gravel and salt. This is yet another unique experience, standing on a solid, smooth, foundation of what appears to be packed salt. Occasionally a pond will survive after a rain and provide a home for small creatures that can somehow live in the saltwater. Today there was a small pond bubbling at the edge of the salt flat.
We were very impressed with Death Valley National Park, even though we took in only a portion of what’s there to enjoy. This is, for sure, a place we would revisit. Below is a shot of the mountains as we stood at the Devil’s Golf Course. In the foreground you can see just a small part of the dry lake bed of the valley that forms sharp, crusty, salty towers as the wind and rain do their thing over thousands of years.
Thanks for spending some time with us in Death Valley. Stay safe!