Infamous deadly heat. We were so lucky, during our stay in Death Valley the temperature equaled to 46°C only. Majority of tourists go there only to take a picture next to the well-known sign in Badwater Basin. But there are many other things to do in in Death Valley National Park.
A lot of people go there while staying in Las Vegas. However, we wanted to spend a few days in Utah and Arizona first, so we spent previous night in Saint George, on the border of these two states. We decided to travel through Death Valley from east to west via CA State Route 190, making stops to see everything we wanted. All attractions described below are in close proximity to this road, very well-marked and easily accessible for every car.
THINGS TO DO IN DEATH VALLEY
We arrived at Zabriskie Point, where you can have a perfect view of rock formations, which look like somewhere in the outer-space! Wiki says that Philosopher Michel Foucault described his feelings after taking LSD in this place in 1975 as the best experience of his life. Well, yeah. No philosophy-junkies this time, but hundreds of tourists instead. Of course, all trying to take a picture showing how isolated this place is, away from civilization and humans. Anyway, visiting this place is still one of the most spectacular things to do in Death Valley:
Devil’s Golf Course
Majority of tourists go directly to the most famous place in Death Valley – Badwater Basin. However, it is worth stopping on the way there to have a look at Devil’s Golf Course, large salt pan, full of sharp formations. They are made of soil and salt and are surprisingly hard. This process of evaporation is accompanied by metallic sound, which overall is a bit creepy, looking at the surroundings. I heard the rumor that as road signs are a bit misleading, sometimes people come to play golf here (instead going to nice grassy course in Furnance Creek). Well, good luck!
We arrived at last. Badwater Basin. The lowest elevation in North America at -85 meters below sea level. In fact this lowest point is a bit further, but getting there is too risky – under the layer of salt, there is dangerous mud. Deadly heat makes water in the basin evaporate, so as a result you can enjoy the view of rather tiny puddle instead of a large pond. Evaporation here is so extreme that it would dry up 50-km long, 3,7 m deep lake in one year. Wow! It explains this tiny puddle then.
Why is it called Badwater? One of the first explorers of this place wanted his donkey to drink some water from the puddle, but he was very reluctant – it was bad water, too salty to drink. On the other hand, endemic Badewater snalis are not picky and live long and prosper here. Nowadays, taking a selfie with Badwater Basin sign is on the top of things to do in Death Valley.
On our way back to Route 190, we visited Artist’s Palette, where oxidation of different metals transformed boring grey rocks in a rainbow marvel. Iron went yellow, pink and red, mica – green and manganese – violet.
Mesquite Flat Dunes
On the way to the motel, we enjoyed our last stop before exiting Death Valley – picturesque Mesquite Flat Dunes. Look familiar? Yeah, they were starring in the Star Wars movies!
As I said, it was our las stop in Death Valley. With every kilometer driven, we could see less and fewer cars. Finally, on the last junction, we were the only ones turning left, in direction of Trona. What happened next? You can read here.
Now something about a place we really wanted to see, but due to logistic issues it turned out to be impossible. There were 2 problems – first of all, this place is far away from the Route 190, so you need to drive 3 hours to get there from Badwater Basin. The other issue was our “regular” car – 4WD is strongly advised as the road itself is washboarded, tricky to drive while wet. I herad that some people still try to get there by Mustang, but often without success. We really didn’t enjoy the idea of paying 800$ (in cash!) for towing.
But why is it still worth visiting?
Racetrack Playa is a dry lake. But it is not ordinary dry lake – rocks move mysteriously on it surface. Sometimes they suddenly change movement direction, sometimes go the opposite way than the other nearby stones. Some people call it magic, some link it with conspiracy theories. The others found a little bit different explanation, but it required 100 years of research and using GPS.
How much time do you need? To tick off all the above-mentioned things to do in Death Valley, you will need approx. 1 day. If you plan to visit Racetrack Plaza, you will need two days.
Where to stay? You can stay in a hotel in Death Valley, eg. in Stovepipe Walls or Furnace Creek. If after visiting Valley you are going west – Trona, Inyokern or Ridgecrest are a good option (2,5h drive from Badwater Basin). If driving east – the best option is Las Vegas (also 2,5h drive from Badwater Basin).
Fees and prices: ticket valid for 7 days – 25$ per car. If you plan to visit more national parks in the States, consider purchasing America the Beautiful Annual Pass for 80$. You get unlimited access to all parks till the end of the year!
Important: Before you hit the road, check updated conditions and warnings in Death Valley (eg. roads closures). Also remember to carry enough water – 2×1,5 liter bottle per person is a must!
Do you recommend any other things to do in Death Valley? For more our adventures in the US, click here!
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