Death Valley: Part One
You may not know how much you miss the sound of no sounds.
Death Valley National Park is on my list of not-to-miss places on planet Earth. I’ve been there five times, and each visit was different than the one before. The landscapes are unique, and if many of them look like they’re from science fiction or fantasy movies, it’s because they are. Several well-known films, t.v. shows and commercials have been shot here.
As you explore, you may not know exactly why a particular vista is familiar, but your movie brain will recognize some of them. For example, a bit of the Star Wars franchise was filmed here. It’s a beautiful place that elicits its own distinct sensations, and as you wander its wide open spaces, it can also be a very soul-searching and emotional place. For you statistic lovers, it’s the largest National Park in the contiguous United States, weighing in at over 3.3. million acres (1.34 million hectares).
If you want solitude, this is a good place. Almost every time I’ve been there, I’ve found myself on hikes with friends or family where we were the only people around for hours at a time. The word “vast” doesn’t really begin to describe the full 360° panoramic views you have just about everywhere you look. Additionally, if you leave your electronics in your backpack, you can easily experience one of my favorite things… the sound of no sounds. No planes, cars, phones, electric lines humming, no noise of civilization or other people. It feels like it’s you and the planet the way it was when we first walked the Earth.
Trust me… it’s AWESOME.
If you’ve never experienced that sensation, it’s something you should do at least once in your lifetime, and this is one of the most unique places to do it.
So! Are there important things to know before you go? Yes!
One: There’s not a bad time to visit. I’ve been there in all four seasons, and each visit had something amazing and unforgettable to offer. You should be advised that in the Summer, it’s really hot. It’s usually around 110 to 120 degrees. More on that in my second Death Valley post.
Two: Definitely do your research before you go. Look at the weather forecast for when you’ll be there, plan accordingly, and make sure the attractions you want to see are actually open. Some sites can be closed for weather, construction, etc.
Three: Be advised that the distances between the tourist sites can be substantial. When I say substantial, I mean a one to two hour drive between locations, possibly more. We thought we’d be ambitious and try to see three major sites in one day. Once we looked at the map, we realized that was impossible if we wanted to do anything but sit in a car. This is especially true if you’re going to try to see something like the racetrack, which has a rough graded road that you really can’t go much faster than 30 mph on (or risk damaging your vehicle), and it’s a couple of hours from most everything else.
However, in reality, the time between attractions is good, because when you’re in Death Valley (and hopefully you’ve planned it well), you’ll find that you don’t actually want to go anywhere very fast. You’ll want to do a lot of just being there, breathing the wonderful, clear desert air, feeling the sun on your face, and taking in all of the incredible nature.
In my personal opinion, for a really nice trip to Death Valley National Park, allow a week. That’s more than enough time to see all the major sites, relax quite a bit, and experience the desert. If you don’t have that much time, you can definitely fit a great trip into a couple of days or over a long weekend, and then if you like it, you can come back!
Four: The other really important thing I would make sure to do is to plan your lodging as far in advance as possible. If you want to stay in the park, which I recommend, most of the hotel rooms book up fairly early for the high tourist seasons. There’s plenty of camping if you choose to bring a tent or an RV which are also fun options. Keep in mind, there are only one or two places to get gas inside the park, so make sure you fill up before you enter.
So what are some of the highlights and what should you see?
Some of my favorites are: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Mosaic Canyon, Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, Ubehebe Crater, Tea Kettle Junction, the Racetrack, and the Charcoal Kilns. You could easily see all of those over a long weekend and they’re all different and worth the driving around. I’ll post some pictures and info about each below. Remember, the park is huge. Click here to view the National Park Services official map.
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are quite beautiful and easy to get to off the main road. They’re about five or so minutes drive from Stovepipe Wells Village, one of the only places to get gas. So fuel up, hit the gift shop, and head on out.
What about the legendary Badwater Basin?
This place is CrAzY. Why? First of all, it’s the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level! Look at my Dad in the pic below to see for yourself.
Secondly, it’s a huge salt flat that’s not only SUPER fun to walk, hike, and run on (as you’ll see in the video below!), but if you’re lucky enough to hit it after a big rain… it’s an amazing experience. Unfortunately, that’s difficult to do, as Death Valley is one of the driest places on Earth. It’s not very often that there’s so much rain that you can run through salty puddles as we did, but if you hear that it’s been raining there… call to see if Badwater Basin is open and get your butt over there! It can be a once in a lifetime experience.
Also… you can lick the ground! How fun is that?!
If you’d like to learn more about this incredible place, check out all the scientific information and details here at Wikipedia.
IT’S SO SALTY!
Here’s a video we made when we went there with our dear friends Aaron and Alexandria:
Next on the list, Mosaic Canyon! This place is actually shown at the above video at about 15 to 20 seconds from the beginning. It’s a really cool hike. Almost anyone can do it and you don’t have to hike the whole thing. They say it’s a “moderate” hike, but I think it’s easier than that. My Dad was 75 when we took him there and he had no problems walking it at a pleasant, comfortable pace. I’ve seen people of all ages enjoying the beautiful scenery and rock formations. Just wear good shoes or hiking boots and I always think people should hike with trekking poles. “Be kind to your knees…. you’ll miss them when they’re gone.“ And besides… if you want to break out into a spontaneous lightsaber battle, you’re all set. 😉 Here’s some photos of the canyon and hike:
There’s much more to cover, so click on over to part two of my Death Valley National Park posts and find out how I came way too close to dying!
Moonbird’s Helpful Info:
Death Valley National Park
Location: Inyo County, California
Google Maps: Click here
Best time to visit: Anytime, but be advised, Summer months are extremely hot.
North America’s Seasons are: Spring: March, April and May, Summer: June, July and August, Autumn: September, October and November, and Winter: December, January and February.