Exploring Below Sea Level
Death Valley National Park is reminiscent of a space movie. You have landed on another planet and are exploring a desolate and alien world. This part of the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert has unparalleled panoramas, so be sure to put your camera in panoramic mode.
The Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. At 282 feet below sea level, it is a flat and shimmering expanse that was once covered by Lake Manly. The heat radiating off the ground appears almost gelatinous. You could almost reach out and grab it. Salt crunches beneath your feet. The salt plain continues on and on for what seems like forever, disappearing into a great distance. Your eyes squint against the painful glare.
Salt Pans, Sunsets, and Volcanoes
The Devil's Golf course is unlike anything you have ever seen. It looks like an exposed coral reef stretching for miles in every direction. Technically it is a salt pan made of halite salt crystals. You must tread with great care here so as not to destroy these weird creations. Each separate formation looks different from the other and each is a world unto itself.
The sunset at Zabriskie point is the best way to see Death Valley's Badlands. These pointy eroded formations have gorgeous colors of purple, green, orange, and grey. The light of the sun setting behind them is something to behold. It is no wonder that this site has been inspiring to so many artists over the years.
Death Valley is a huge place. It takes hours to drive from Badwater Basin up to the Ubehebe Crater. This maar has a one-half mile wide mouth and is over 500 feet deep. The hike around its rim is worth the labor, granting unusual views from each new vantage point.
As we came into the park, the size of this place started to become evident. Death Valley is the largest national park in the lower 48 at 3.4 million acres. Consequently, come prepared for a long drive. It was an exciting introduction, there was some kind of fighter jet that was coming straight at us just barely above the road. As the jet got right upon us, it suddenly turned and took off. It was clear the pilot was having a little fun or maybe just practicing blowing up cars!
Death Valley has a few choices for campgrounds, some of them are not that great. We recommend getting there early so that you can set up close to the visitor center at furnace creek where there are shaded campsites The other campsites are just flat places with surrounding rocks. Click here for campgrounds.
Unfortunately, we were on schedule and did not have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, so we did not get to do some of the things we wanted. One thing to check out for sure, if you have the time, is the famous walking rocks of Death Valley. There were some trails that we did get to go hiking on, one was the Golden Canyon. Hiking through this canyon really gives you the feel of what a lot of this park is like, dry, great hues and colors, and hot!!! The park has warning signs up all over that recommend you do not start hiking after 10 a.m. It makes you wonder how people complete the Badwater Ultramarathon in this inhospitable place. For hiking details, please click here.
Devil's Golf Course
The Devil's golf course was hands down amazing. The course is easy to access via a park road and will blow your mind. The salt formations seem like they would go on forever. You can hike out into the formations if you wish. Word of caution here, make sure you put some durable shoes on and you are sure-footed. One fall on these jagged rocks and you will be entering a "world of pain".
We ended our trip with a sunset view at Zabriskie Point. Be ready for crowds, if you go here. It is worth the hassle if you love sunsets. It is one of the most colorful desert sunsets you can see. If you are going to take pictures, get there early and stake out your spot. Be aware that people will walk down in front of the viewing area and may get into your frame, so plan accordingly.
These are the famous salt flats of Death Valley, most notably the lowest point in the United States. Strangely this is only about 85 miles away from the highest point in the lower 48 at Mt. Whitney. Walking out into this barren flat it is easy to see why they called it Death Valley. The salt at your feet looks like snow and you can walk out as far as you wish from the main trail. If you dig your heel into the salt a bit you will start to see that water starts seeping into the imprint, but of course, it is undrinkable due to the salt content hence the name. Again there tend to be a lot of people here, but if you walk out just a bit further most of them drop off, just make sure you take some water and sunglasses. The glare off the flat is pretty strong.
How many chances do you get to hike along the rim of an actual crater? It looks like something fell out of the sky and made this giant hole in the desert floor. The entire time we are here it feels like we are stuck in a movie from our childhood, Enemy Mine. Absent the evil creature pulling you into a pit with its toothed tongue. This hike is great though, you get excellent views without working too hard, and there are few people. If you are feeling froggy you can actually go down to the bottom of the crater, but beware it is a pretty good climb back out on loose sandy soil. We were fine seeing it from the rim.
One last note if you are a Star Wars fan, there are lots of locations that you can visit that are in the movies, here is the link to Wookieepedia where you can find them. Star Wars is only one of the many movies filmed here, check out this comprehensive list.
Out of the desert and into the trees we travel to Sequoia National park for some hiking in the snow read here.
- Be cautious. Take water and hike during cooler periods.
- Be prepared with sunscreen, protective clothing, and sunglasses.
- Plan ahead. This is a big park. Make an itinerary.
- For more information visit: https://www.nps.gov/deva/index.htm
For great road trip ideas, click here.