Recently, I shared my delight in enjoying a weekend getaway in Death Valley National Park. The Inn at Furnace Creek was wonderful, but the national park is even more incredible. It’s one of those places that must be seen to be believed, but I wanted to share some photos just to illustrate the crazy, almost whimsical terrain of Death Valley.
Death Valley is the largest national park in the continental United States. It’s the size of Connecticut, so this is just scratching the surface of the park’s attractions, but these are perhaps the best and most popular things to see in Death Valley.
Perhaps the most incredible spot in Death Valley, the Racetrack is named because of it’s prominent feature: these massive boulders that somehow move on their own. Scientists are still trying to figure out how these rocks slide across the rugged landscape unaided. A long drive down a bumpy road, this is an experience you won’t forget.
As a gentle reminder that Mother Nature is in charge, Ubehebe Crater was formed by the earth’s explosive forces. It’s quite surreal to be driving down a paved road and then make a turn and end up here, at the edge of a crater. You can walk to the bottom, but careful – the hike back up is a real slog.
One of the most scenic spots in the park is Dante’s View. I recommend a stop here because it gives you a true overview of the valley, but also it is such an irony that you’re high atop a mountain ridge just above the lowest point in the park, Badwater (it’s just on the lower left in the photo).
Many films have been shot at Zabriskie Point and the surrounding badlands because it really does look like Mars here, with the weird, jagged peaks decorated in a surreal array of colors. This point is an easy turnoff from the main road, but hiking out into the badlands is also a must if you have the time.
Just a hop and a skip from Badwater Basin, this “golfcourse” is actually a salt flat. Careful when out taking photos – the dried salt mounds are hard and very rough, a real visualization of the harshness of the valley floor.
Badwater Basin is Death Valley’s most famous spot: the lowest point in the North America at 282 feet below sea level. If you look up at the mountainside, you’ll see a sign that indicates sea level. Be sure to take a stroll out onto the salt flat – the white part is smooth and safe to walk on, and you’ll get quite a surreal perspective as you go further out.
The Artist’s Drive is one of Death Valley’s most scenic drives, an undulating one-way road that curves around some spectacularly-colored spots like this one, the Artist’s Palette. Get out of the car and go on a short hike – the colors continue and change as you experience them up close.
Located on the Golden Canyon hike near Zabriskie Point, I was so thankful to experience the Red Cathedral near sunset – the colors so vibrant and fierce they felt over-saturated and almost cartoon-ish. The wall of red rock is expansive and deserving of the name.
Manly Beacon, a strange rock formation, appears like a alien-constructed outpost on a foreign planet – there’s even an opening near the top that looks almost exactly like a man-made window. The formation is another sight on the Golden Canyon hike; the structure is quite striking especially as you near it and realize how massive it really is.
Have you ever walked down a canyon where you could touch each side with your hands – at the same time? Mosaic canyon is a wonder to experience and an easy hike. Waters from the infrequent rains have worn down this slot canyon into this narrow point, which continues for a short distance before opening back up. Even more interesting is the different rock formations on either side of this canyon – proof that the valley is complex to even the most experienced geologist.
Eureka Valley Sand Dunes
Sand dunes are one of earth’s most interesting phenomenon – despite being whipped around, dunes tend to stay in the same spot, just like the dunes in death valley. There is little sand in the valley otherwise, despite being a desert. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are the most accessible dunes (famous for being a Star Wars filming location), but the Eureka Valley dunes are the largest and most impressive.
Last, but not least, are one of death valley’s most underrated features: the sunsets. Being in between two mountain ranges means that the sun disappears quite early, but the location makes it perfect for sunsets that will have you thinking you’re on the beach in the Caribbean. And that’s just the warm up for the starry night sky that follows.
All photos by author except Eureka Valley (by Inn at Furnace Creek), The Racetrack (Travis OC)