When I hear the name ‘Death Valley’ for the first time, I just paused for a moment and thought this may be one terrible place to visit. An image popped up in my mind: a skull of a cow on the dried salt flat, like the beginning of any western movie. Little did I know, this is one of the most beautiful national parks in USA. You may call it desert wonder or one of the hottest, driest and lowest places in the country, still it is full of amazing sights including mountains, canyons, salt flats, crater, sand dunes and the lowest lake in North America. This place is one of the largest dark sky parks in the world which makes it an ideal place for stargazing and night photography. Here, I will try to summarize a few places you must visit in Death Valley National Park.
Artist's Drive (Artist's Palette)
Artist drive, located right off the Badwater road, is a scenic one way nine-mile paved loop, which I recommend highly. Though this scenic drive is one amazing one, you should also checkout the area named Artist's Palette located along the Artist's Drive. There is a viewpoint along with a short walking trail that will take you up close to a section of the Black mountains and this place is famous for its multicolored eroded hillside ranging from orange, pink, brown to turquoise, green and what not! This photogenic section is beautiful anytime of the day, but to watch the drama of the landscape along with the colorful sky, late afternoon and sunset are the best time.
Badwater Basin – the lowest point in North America. Situated at 282 feet below the sea level, this basin of salt crystals is one of the surreal and top attractions for the tourists. The crisscrossed patterns with the patchwork of polygon formation looks like huge cracks throughout the white salt flat. You can reach this 200-square-miles area of basin via the boardwalk trail near the parking lot. Most of the time there is a small amount of water in the basin, which make it possible to walk on the salt flats.
Zabriskie point -the most beautiful point to watch the sunrise in Death Valley National Park. This location is dreamy, you will find yourselves staring at a huge landscape full of hard packed ridges of golden, orange, crimson red, brown and many more different colors. You can either enjoy the beautiful sight from the lookout point or you can go for a hike through the trail that leads out from Zabriskie point. If you don’t want to go for a long hike, simply go for a short distance and return following the same path. It is still worthy, and you will be able to enjoy the colorful ridge and different formation.
The versatility of Death Valley also includes a crater resulted from a volcanic explosion. This half mile wide and around 600 ft deep Ubehebe Crater is located at the north region of the National Park and the landscape is quite different from the other part of the park. You can gaze down into the 600 ft deep crater from the overlook or follow the two miles rim trail for a better extended view of the crater.
Dante’s view is one of the spectacular viewpoints where you can see the huge valley floor of Death Valley from the top lookout. The distinct layers of the mountains far aside of the valley along with the hugeness of valley make it an amazing sight for the tourist. From the highway you have to drive around 16 miles along a paved but twisty road with an elevation of 5475 feet above the sea level. Because of the cooler temperature than the valley floor, it feels so refreshing to enjoy the vastness of the landscape.
If you want to feel the vibe of the dunes with the mountains as a backdrop, you should check out Mesquite Flat sand dunes, located east of Stovepipe Wells. Specially, during the sunrise when the first ray of sun hits the curve of the dune and during the sunset when the dunes welcome the darkness with a colorful sky, are the best time to visit the desert beauty. If you are a photographer, you can definitely relate me about these two magical times of the day. During the winter, it feels amazing to walk on the dunes, climb to the highest point; but I must warn you about the summertime. The scorching heat of the summer generally makes the visit less pleasurable. If you want my advice, I would recommend the winter months when the weather is cool and with much less crowd.
Racetrack Playa is located at the end of one of the few back roads which is rough and rugged, and you will need a four-wheel drive for that. Racetrack playa is a huge dried mud bed where you will find lots of stones of various size along with long tracks behind them. At the first impression, you may think somebody dragged the stones through the muds and there were a lot of different speculation about how the stones were moved.
· During summer, the temperature can get high than most part of the country. If possible, avoid those time. Check the weather before you plan to visit.
· Even if you are going for a short hike or during the cooler month, don’t forget to bring water, snacks, sunscreen and hat. Desert hiking may wear you off. So, be prepare for any kind of situation.
· For some of the drives like Dante’s view, Artist drive, etc., vehicles must be less than 25 feet in length. Check before you go.
· If you are planning to drive through some off roads to visit attractions like Racetrack playa, make sure that your car is four-wheel drive and bring spares.
· Leave no trace, pack out whatever you pack in.
For more detailed information, please visit Death Valley National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov).