Death Valley – Just the name conjures images of a harsh, hot and hellish land, a desolate and barren, lifeless place of merciless severity.
If you dare to take a closer look, you will see that in Death Valley, nature is putting up a truly spectacular show: singing sand dunes, sculpted canyons, boulders moving across the desert floor, extinct volcanic craters, endless expanse of salt pans, dreamy drive through multi-hued mountains, highest highs and lowest lows – This is a land of superlative beauty.
Adventure and drama starts to unfold on its remote, long and winding, seemingly endless roads.
Our first stop, after a 7 hour drive, was the Darwin Falls, just on the western hedges of Death Valley, near Panamint Springs.
There is no formal trail and the one-mile walk to the lower falls involve rock scrambling, and several stream crossings. The trail is riddles with a choice of path at every corner and all of them lead to the same breathtaking destination – The Lower Darwin Falls. Though not majestic, there is something very solitary and serene about this place that calls out to the recluse in me.
After waiting in the cold and dark morning, its truly magnificent to watch the sun break the curtain of darkness over the Zabriski Point.
Watching the mountains change color, from black to dirty brown to golden is the perfect start to the day! The Zabriski Point is a very short and very steep hike from the parking area.
The Mosaic Canyon hike is quite strenuous and equally rewarding. Walk through the narrow wash and let the cool and vivid hued canyon surround you.
We walked beyond the lower canyons, where the canyons open up and you are greeted with spectacular views of the golden ridges.
The 4 mile round trip will take 2 – 2.5 hours. The Mosaic Canyon offers some spectacular photo ops, so load up on batteries before you start.
The Mesquite Sand dune is another enigma of the Death Valley. A walk on these silky, rippled dunes will convince you that you’re someplace far from the familiar.
Badwater Basin, the salt flats of the Death Valley, is another favorite place of mine. Walking on the salt flats that stretches up to the horizon, feels almost surreal. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America (282 ft below sea level). It is a foreboding but jaw dropping landscape of crinkly salt flats that is otherworldly in its beauty.
Across the valley rises the 11,049-foot tall Telescope Peak, the tallest in Death Valley, as white as the salt flats, but snow covered.
The place to be nearing sunset is the Dante’s Peak. Perched atop the Black Mountains at 5,475 feet, Dante’s view offers panoramic views of Death Valley. Both of Death Valley’s elevation extremes, 282 feet below sea level and 11,049 feet above, can be seen in a single glance.
My favorite activity at the Death Valley was Star Gazing. After sunset the world’s largest International Dark Sky Park begins to shine with a Million, no, a Gazillion stars. There are some ‘best place’ to watch the night sky spots, but I simple parked on the side of the highway, and gazed in awe at the expanse of the Milky Way and reflect on my place in the universe.
A couple of days is not enough to explore the beauty and mysteries of this formidable, spectacular and one-of-its-kind National Park.
Pack a lot of food and munchies. There are a few places you can grab a bite, but choices are limited and almost no options for travelers with diet restrictions.
There is something about the place, you can get dry and dehydrated even if you are stationary, so drink and carry a lot of water.
I visited in January and still it got quite warm in the afternoons. If you plan t visit Telescope or Dante’s peak, carry layers.
Most of the park has paved roads with short stretches of dirt roads, but a high clearance vehicle with 4WD is recommended. We did not drive a 4WD and we were fine.
Fuel up whenever you see a Gas Station.