100 years of NPS! Now, that’s quite something, especially given the great job they do. Moving to the US after a childhood spent in India and the Middle East, national parks and the role they play was something I only realized well into my adult life. Now I enjoy every chance to explore a new park on my list, especially since we’ve moved to California, which is basically national parks heaven I hear! One of the first national parks I visited was about 3 months into setting up home base in L.A – we went to Death Valley National Park and here’s a quick round up of the experience!
This is the hottest, driest and lowest national park so extreme weather and even extreme temperatures within a day are normal. While the name sounds slightly off-putting, it is amazing the number of different landscapes you get to see here! This is also the largest national park in the US outside Alaska – yeah, let that sink in a bit! There are many interest points charted across the park so plan your trip well if you have limited time. We planned on driving in one afternoon, spending the night at a motel and driving out the next day so we have essentially a day and a half to cover the view points we shortlisted. Remember also that this was end December so pretty chilly during the day and got progressively closer toward nightfall. We also had limited daytime hours to explore the park as a result.
The drive from L.A to the park was only about 5 hours to the entrance, shorter if you leave earlier and beat the general traffic. En route, stopped for breakfast at a little eatery called Ranch House Café. Seemed like a family run place with a few home-y faves. Seemed like the only place close enough and along the way. The entrance to the park was $20 per vehicle fee BTW.
First up: Father Crowley Vista: We did have to drive off-road a bit to get there but what a gorgeous view! In the middle of nowhere land, expanses of mountains-scape in varying shades and colors, called Rainbow Canyon. There is a viewpoint bench there and you can sight cars in the distance like ants on a track – take a minute to sit here and enjoy the scene but also the fresh air. There were a couple other points in Panamint we would have loved to hit up but had to make a move in the interest of time. There is also the Scotty’s Castle Area that we missed altogether.
Artist’s Drive: This scenic drive is a loop through hills in different colors and shades, like an artist almost painted over them. Very beautiful to see in person and is a one-way drive so once you start you have to go all the way.
Badwater Salt Flats: This is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Badwater Basin is like a field of white salt. You see it like a flat white surface from a distance and as you drive closer, you’ll see the cars and tourists lined up. Walking on the flats is kinda cray-cray, almost feels like ice and it might give way but it is just a really thick coating of salt on sand. If you are curious, yes, I tasted like an itty bitty particle and it was mighty salty!
Harmony Borax Works: An 18th century borax refinery was located here so they have an interpretive trail describing the history associated with the industrial activity there at that time. Pretty cool if you like general trivia like that. Read about the Twenty Mule Teams.
Dante’s View: This was the last stop on our plan and we almost did not make it thinking it would take too much time but so glad we took a chance. The drive up the winding slope is quite exciting and once you get there – the view is totally worth it – 5000 feet above Death Valley itself. Lucky for us, it began snowing right as we started walking along the point so we had a great experience enjoying the snowfall and the view together. Within seconds the place was covered in white and park services started having people, leave as the roads going down the slope would soon get all slippery.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: No there ain’t no BBQ shack here! But I bet if you go in the summer you will be grilled like you are on one J The sand dunes just pop out of nowhere here so you can see the real desert side. Kinda difficult to walk on and you can probably build a sand dune of your own from all the sand in your shoes after but amazing dune slopes.
Mosaic Canyon: This looks like mosaic walls chiseled away to make a cool hiking trail. Did not get too far as it was close to nightfall here but again, very cool architecture if you could call it that.
Salt Creek: At the time we visited there wasn’t much of a creek to speak of but did see some river trails and were told it is home to a rare pupfish. There is a boardwalk and ample information along it to keep you entertained.
Night stay: We stayed at the Stagecoach Motel in Beatty, NV close to Rhyolite for the night. Pretty cheap rates considering we booked just a few days before. Don't expect too much, its just night haul type place. There are some restaurants nearby for a quick meal and a Denny's onsite. The drive there was kinda scary actually. Rhyolite used to be a major city in its heyday but is now a ghost town. So there were a bunch of ruins and sculptures.
What you should know before you head here/or any national park