The word “chill” is not the first term that would usually come to mind when thinking of “Death Valley” but it definitely captures my experience there. In most national parks, erosion caused by hikers is a real concern, and there are signs everywhere imploring people to stay on the developed paths. Not in Death Valley! In fact, there are only two developed trails in the entire park, and rangers explicitly encourage you to find your own way. It was refreshing to see people following their hearts’ desires as they sought out the ideal picnic spot, or went looking for the perfect photo op.
Not that they’d have to go far for either… You could have taken a picture of the view from any window in my car at any moment in time and have captured a spectacular vista.
Now, I seem to love the desert more than the average person, but I think most people would be hard-pressed to say that a view like that is anything but gorgeous. Technically I was visiting for the Super Bloom, but since we were pretty late in the season most of the flowers were already gone. It was still a Nice Bloom though. A Pretty Good Bloom, even.
Since we arrived late at night (10:30pm on Friday night), we chose Stovepipe Wells as our first campsite. Arriving was confusing, because there is no little “tent camping” sign like there usually is for tent-friendly spots. Well, it turns out that this site barely qualifies as a campsite. It’s more like a parking lot that you put a tent in.
Not my favorite option, but still acceptable as a place to sleep. And at $12 bucks (payable by credit card via a kiosk that’s available 24 hrs a day!), and a loosely-enforced 126 spots, you’re guaranteed some place to stay, which is always a load off my mind. The “campsite” is also directly across the street from the charming Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel, which is very conveniently open 24 hours a day.
There are lots of other camping choices in the park, and you can camp anywhere as long as you’re 2 miles away from the road. Emigrant was directly next to a road with cars zipping by at 65 miles an hour. Furnace Creek, Sunset, and Texas Springs were all of the “parking lot” variety. Thorndike and Mahogany Flat are only accessible by 4×4, high-clearance vehicles, so I don’t know what they’re like. The second night we stayed at Wildrose, which was much smaller and nicer. Looking West:
Views in both direction were incredible. Looking East:
We put our tent up on the hillside, overlooking the entire campsite. It was lovely!
Wandering around the first day we hit a few incredible spots. Early in the morning, we stopped at the Mesquite Sand Dunes, hoping the morning sun would make it more bearable. The temperature showed about 62 degrees, but the sun still felt scorching hot.
Even though everyone pictures sand dunes when they think of the desert, this was actually the only spot we saw in the park that was like this (there are other sand dunes, but they’re much farther away). The majority of the park was low shrubs and variegated hillsides with incredible rock formations.
After that, and a quick stop at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, we drove up to Zabriskie Point, stopping to walk up the gentle, paved slope to the breathtaking view over the canyons. Continuing on, we eventually made it to Dante’s View. This spot provides an amazing vista over the Badwater region.
After seeing the salt flats from ~5,000 feet up, we decided it would definitely be worth heading down into the valley to see the salt flats up close. I’m so glad we did…not only was it beautiful and informative, but the salt tasted delicious!
On the way out, we did the drive down Artist’s Palette. Somehow I didn’t take any pictures, but it was one of the most colorful regions of the park. The colors were incredibly rich and varied. Next we stopped and hiked a bit up into Golden Canyon.
We ended the first day with this hike. The whole day was basically little short hikes separated by time in the air-conditioned car. The park is so huge, and the sun so intense that it’s nice to take breaks from the great outdoors. The second day we drove up to Ubehebe Crater.
Another mindblowingly beautiful spot. Walking up along the crater rim the path gets pretty narrow. Might not be comfortable for those who are afraid of heights!
The only part of the park I would have wanted to visit and didn’t get a chance to was the Racetrack, with the mysterious sailing stones. It’s something I’ve dreamed about visiting since childhood, but the 27 miles of rough road would have been too much for my little Prius.
Speaking of the drive, within the park there were only a few spots that were unpaved road, and all of those were well-marked on the map you can get at any visitor center. To get to the park from San Diego, we took the 395 through Trona, turning left to avoid Panamint Springs. Next time I’d probably try taking the Eastern route around the park, since you might avoid the LA traffic/construction issue.