While we were staying in Pahrump, Nevada we headed to the hottest, driest, and lowest place on earth, Death Valley National Park. This park straddles the California-Nevada border, just be sure to get gas in Nevada before entering or there is a nice hefty price tag to getting it in California. We were sure what really to expect to see because the name alone doesn’t even sound inviting but we figured since we were this close we might as well to check it out. I did my research prior and knew where I wanted/needed to go to get the shots I wanted to get, but all and all we were thinking it would be a half day event at best and certainly just a driving event. Well we were blown away with its beauty and all there is to see and we got all our steps in for the day. Since we went after a dry winter there were very few desert flowers blooming. Despite the awful name of the park there is some much life that survives in this place, it is amazing. It is extremely diverse consisting of salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons and mountains. Death Valley was established on February 11, 1933 as a National Monument and became a National Park on October 31, 1994. For obvious reasons the best time to visit is in the fall and winter months.
Death Valley received its name from some European Americans being trapped in the valley in 1849 while looking for a shortcut to California. There were some short lived “boom” towns created in the late 19th and 20th century. They came to find gold and silver, even though the the long-term profitable ore was borax. The borax was transported out of the area by a 20 mule team. The 20 Mule Team was actually 18 mules and two horses pulling large wagons out of Death Valley from 1883 to 1889. In the 20’s there were resorts built around Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek.
As far as hot goes, it was hot while we were there (April 4, 2022) and at one point we saw 99 degrees but the highest recorded is 134 degrees. As far as the lowest the Badwater Basin is -282′ (that’s right, negative 282 feet) below sea level.
Since I had sort of a photography agenda we looked at the map and figured out what we “needed” to see and what we “wanted” to see and left home at 8:00 a.m., leaving Eris at home to guard our air conditioned castle. This place is no place for pets, we would not have been able to go on the hikes we did go on (while they were short they had some challenges if nothing else but the heat) and certainly could not have stayed in the truck even for a few minutes.
Coming in from the east the first stop was the 20 Mule Team Canyon scenic road. It is a dirt/gravel scenic drive that took us on narrow roads with plenty of bends and ups and downs gullies. Some scenes from Return of the Jedi were filmed here.
Next stop for us was Zabriske point. Even though we didn’t get there at sunrise when we did get there it was still amazingly beautiful. There is a paved walkway up to the top about 1/4 a mile each way with a little bit of elevation. So worth the walk, just for the views.
On our way to the visitors center there was the Inn of Death Valley which truly is an oasis in the desert, so lush and green. We stopped there to check it out and we would love to stay there sometime, this wasn’t the time however. So on we went.
Of course no national park visit wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the visitor center. We headed into Furnace Creek to get the information we wanted and needed to make the day the most productive. There is a video and displays as well and a great stop to get the national park pass stamped (and only place in the park). We showed our pass and received the newspaper and the Death Valley map and backcountry and off-road map. We always suggest stopping at the visitor’s center first thing to get the lay of the land and find out what is open and closed and road and trail conditions. It was nice to see that the park is fully open, with ranger programs and everything.
After receiving the map we were ready to head out for the rest of the day. Next stop was Harmony Borax Works. Borax was the most profitable resources mined in the park. At this spot there is an original 20 mule team wagon and some ruins of the mining operation. This also has a 1/4 mile loop, paved trail with information signs to read.
The next stop was down another dirt/gravel road to Keene Wonder Mill and Mine where gold was discovered by accident. While borax is what makes Death Valley famous, Jack Keane and Domingo Etcharren discovered real gold by in 1903. It was mined until 1942 with the peak years being 1907-1012. Keane Wondering Mine produced $625,000-$682,000 during the boom years. We hiked up the steep incline to what remains of an aerial tram where the gold was taken out in metal ore buckets loaded to the top with about 70 tones of order and transported each day, moved to the mill about a 1.6 miles from the top. There are still some of the original structures that can be explored, however the mines are closed with a fence for safety reasons. We sat in the truck and had our lunch before beginning our journey to the base of the aerial tram.
After we had our fix with the mining tour we headed to see some more natural places so off to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes we headed. These sand dunes rise 100 fee from Mesquite Flat. We were able to just step out of the car and take some pictures. As it was near 100 degrees we really didn’t have the need to go walk through the sand. Not to mention we had other places to see.
We stopped at Stovepipe Village. Which consists of some lodging, general store (where we proceeded to get ice cream) also gas was much cheaper here if needed then at Furnace Creek. While there we did stop and get some ice cream but nothing else.
Next stop on our tour was to the lowest place in North America-Badwater Basin. It was pretty amazing to think we were 282 below sea level. There is a sign that shows where sea level is. We walked out a little bit but since it was 99 degrees we could feel ourselves baking from the bottom up. Took some great pics and moved onward as we wanted to get to Dantes View before sunset and had other places to go.
We made our way to Artist Drive which is a paved, 9-mile one-way scenic loop drive through multi-colored hills. This drive did not disappoint as the views were spectacular.
Our final destination for the day was Dantes View, which is viewpoint at 5475 feet. It’s a way to get to the view point and the last 1/4 mile was a 15% grade to the top. Down at the bottom we were near 90 degrees by the time we made it up to the top it was 68 degrees. The views here did not disappoint as well. We could see Badwater Basin down below and were able to see the sunset.
While the season for Death Valley is earlier than we were there our trip was still magnificent. We highly recommend this as a destination. If we make it back to the area we will go again and plan on doing some of the amazing hikes and to see some more of this park. Don’t let the name of this park deter you from going, it is not dead at all it is full of life. Here are some shots from our time we spent there. Until next time, keep on keeping on….