On day 5 of your West Coast trip, we left Las Vegas around 7:00 am and stopped at Walmart to get the ready-to-eat stuff like fruits, trail mix, and tortillas for our road trip to Death Valley. This name reminds me of the iconic dialog by Arya Stark from GOT “There is only one god, and His name is Death. And there is only one thing we say to Death: ‘not today‘,“. But we are definitely saying Yes to Death Valley and if you ask me, this place should rather be called Dazzling Valley.
Why is it called Death Valley?
Nothing about Death Valley is more intriguing than its name and all that it grimly suggests :P. It was given its forbidding name by a group of pioneers lost here in the winter of 1849-1850. They were rescued by two scouts. As the party climbed out of the valley over the Panamint Mountains, one of the men turned, looked back, and said “goodbye, Death Valley.”
The first thing we saw is the park entrance sign. We poped-out and took a photo for proof.
Fast forward two hours and we arrived at the pay station. There were no park rangers or ticket booths like in many other national parks. You can simply park, pay your fee ($30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days) at the automated pay station, put your receipt/ticket on the dashboard, and then continue on your way. You can also buy ‘America the beautiful‘ annual pass in case you are planning to visit more than 3 National Park.
The roads seem like they’re starting to lose their curves, everything is coming to a point ahead of us. The land becomes flatter and the temperature was slowly rising.
Death Valley Map
What is in the Name? The name was clearly inspired by Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic, Divine Comedy, in which the author journeys into hell.
We drove up the steep winding road for around 13 miles (about 25 minutes) to reach Dante’s viewpoint. The road becomes increasingly narrow and curvy just before the top of the overlook.
As soon as we were about to reach the overlook, a dense cluster of clouds overcast the place and we could barely see anything lying ahead. On a clear sunny day, you will see the snow-capped Panamint Mountains towering over the salt flats of the Badwater Basin.
A word of prudence here– While Death Valley National Park is normally warm, Dante’s View can have some really strong winds(especially in winters), so don’t forget to bring a jacket.
TWENTY MULE TEAM CANYON
What is in the Name? Death Valley is known for its rich mining history and some 100 years ago, the Harmony Borax Works hauled the borax with twenty mule teams(in actual with eighteen mules and 2 horses ) from the mines to the closest rail-head.
Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road is a dirt road, but it’s well-maintained, so it shouldn’t present a challenge for anyone in a regular vehicle. You can park your car wherever there’s a wide spot in the road and do some exploring.
Climbing up to the top of one of those small hills is a sure way to get great views of the canyon.
If you are a Star Wars fan, there are scenes from Episode IV and VI filmed in the national park a few decades ago, when that type of filming was permitted.
Zabriskie Point was once a lake that dried up roughly 5 million years ago and some of the geological formations were created by ancient volcanoes.
Probably the most iconic and spectacular spot in Death Valley is the view of the Golden Canyon from Zabriskie Point.
A postcard-perfect vista of colorful hills with shades of creamy yellow and chocolate brown had me infatuated instantly. We spent a lot of time here appreciating the stark beauty in all the directions.
For a more close-up perspective take a hike on the Badlands Loop, where you will be treated to a multitude of amazing rock formations and impressive gulches and gullies.
It’s one of those places you have to see with your own eyes to appreciate its sheer beauty.
Note that the badlands at Zabriskie point looks most spectacular at sunrise and sunset when they are illuminated in colors of orange, gold, and brown.
At 282 ft (86 m) below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America.
From the main road itself, we were able to see the unreal landscape of massive salt beds. We were eager to park the car and move closer to witness the intricacies of the sight.
What is in the name? Badwater Basin consists of a small natural pool of undrinkable water next to the road, and the accumulated salt crystals of the surrounding basin make it undrinkable, thus giving it the name.
As we walked into the lowest point at Badwater Basin, the imposing peaks of the Panamint Range with elevations over 11,000 feet were not far away either. I just uttered, Oh my gosh!!, What a mix of scenery this place has to offer!
We walked a mile or so over the interesting honeycombed shaped salt crust near the edges of the basin. Initially, it was difficult to walk over these watery salt beds but with time, I learned where to put my feet on.
Closer to the middle, the crust was smooth and covered with a thin layer of water making it looked like a frozen lake.
The reflection of the mountains and sky over the glistening salt flats was an incredible sight. This is also a great place to watch the sunset, so make sure you stay at Badwater Basin until the sun goes down.
I had visited salt flats before in Rann of Kutch, India and the views here were different but equally beautiful and enough to blow away anyone’s mind.
After Badwater basin, we took in the 9 miles one-way scenic drive to the Artist Palette overlook point. The drive has got me pretty excited when we passed through narrow canyons and mountains with banded ridges of color.
We parked our car and walked for 300 feet to witness the vibrant multi-colored formation of rocks. I couldn’t stop wondering the science behind it while walking on the paths.
The hues of pink, white purple, gold, and even green are produced by the oxidation of the metals and elements found in the ground here. The colorful bands that color the soil bare an obvious resemblance to a painter’s palette after which it is named. I would highly recommend you make this drive
The next trip out to Death Valley will hopefully lead me to some of the sights that I missed including; Dante’s View, Telescopic Peak, Charcoal Kilns, Ubehebe Crater, Racetrack, and Mesquite Flat Dunes.
Death Valley Highlight Video
Check out a quick 1-minute 30-second video highlights of our road trip to Death Valley Day Trip to get a feel for the magic of this place!
NOTE: We traveled to California, Nevada, and Arizona in late December 2019, long before WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- Death Valley National Park is an easy 2.5-hour drive from Las Vegas.
- When to visit– January is a great time to visit the park, with a daytime maximum temperature of 67° F (19° C), and nighttime minimum of 40° F (4° C).
- Fueling– Fill up your tank with gas before arriving in Death Valley. Once inside the park, you can get gas at Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells.
- Cellular Service– Don’t expect to be able to make telephone calls, check your email, or get on social media. Think of a visit to Death Valley as a digital detox.
- Night Sky– Death Valley is one of the largest dark sky parks in the world meaning its night sky can offer excellent stargazing opportunities.
- Lodging and camping– Visit the National Park Service website for details and reservations. If you’re camping, be sure to buy groceries outside the park.
- Offline Map– Make sure you download an offline map before heading to this National park as cellular services are limited and trails are not marked.
- Parking and Washrooms– The parking is free at all stops in Death Valley, which was a major relief. Also, all the stops came with washrooms too.
This road trip to Death Valley was like a journey to a different planet with sceneries I have never seen before. The greatest hits of Death Valley awaits within an easy drive: sunrise at Zabriskie Point, the lowest point in North America at Badwater Basin, and the remarkably colored rocks at Artists Palette.
That’s definitely part of the whole mystique of being in such an unusual landscape. I was indeed a drive to remember for years to come!!
If you have the opportunity to road trip Death Valley, do not pass it up. Take a tour or drive yourself, but be sure to schedule ample time to see all the natural beauty.
Do you have plans to visit Death Valley? If you have any questions about this Death Valley itinerary or if you have advice for our readers, comment below!
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