Death Valley is one of the most known and suggestive National Park in the whole North America. With its arid and desert landscape, wavy mountains, colorful canyons, craters, salt pinnacles and above all a depth up to 86 meters below sea level, the Death Valley is the hottest and most rugged locations in the world and once here you’ll feel like being landed on another planet. The National Park is in California, close to the border of Nevada , pretty much 200km from Las Vegas and 450 km from Los Angeles. Visiting the main spots takes around 3/4 hours (more if you like hiking ) and driving through the Death Valley is very easy, all the roads are tarred and the attractions well marked. The only thing you must take care is the strong heat during the summer season that can easily reach 50° C because could be dangerous for your own health. Exactly for this reason, there are many signs at the beginning of the trails of the main spots indicating to avoid the hike in the heat. The Park can be visited all the year long but the best period is from November to April right to avoid the high temperatures that hit the valley in the other months. I ‘ve visited the Death Valley twice, mid October with 35 ° C ( and it was quite good ) and August with 47° C… so i promised myself never ever more a visit during the summer season!
The spots not to be missed in the Park are :
1 – Badwater Basin
It’s the large dried up bed of the prehistoric Manly salt lake and the lowest point in North America at 86 meters below the sea level. The landscape around you is ”lunar” and appears to stretch on forever. A short hike starts from the parking lot ( around 400 mt. ) that will bring you to the pool and the salt flat with its hexagonal salt formations. The Badwater pool is a small collection of water ( it depends on the storms that cover the salt pan with a thin sheet of standing water) and often non-existent during the very hot summer months. From the parking lot, you can also see the sea level sign that is located above you on the adjacent mountain.
2 – Devil’s Golf Course
It’s a huge area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires that jut out of the barren landscape as far as the eye can see. It’s said that the spires are so serrated that ”only the devil could play golf on such rough surface”. From the main road, driving on a gravel road for 5 minutes, you’ll get to the point where you can stop the car and have a look of the area. If you decide to have a stroll, be careful because the salt slabs are difficult to walk on as they are jagged and stick straight up.
3 – Artist’s drive and Palette
It’s a 15 km scenic drive starting and ending on the main road (one way) that lines the mountains. This road is mostly curvy and the drive also has a lot of fun dips. After 7 km you’ll get to the main spot of the drive: the Artist’s Palette. They are an unusual and colorful hills with their hues of greens, purple and yellow. The colors are produced by the oxidation of the metals and elements found here in the ground.
4 – Golden Canyon and Red Cathedral hike
First of all, this is a beautiful hike that must be done out of the summer heat (best season November to March). The hike to the Golden Canyon starts from a car park easily reachable from Badwater road. It is an easy trail of about 1.6 km (one way), which can be lengthened making a circular stretch (to reach again the car park) of 5.3 km passing through Manly Beacon and Gower Gulch. Starting from the parking lot, the trail gradually climbs through the gentle hills of the canyon, yellow, beige and cream colored that indicate the presence of different minerals. At the end of the Golden Canyon trail, it’s worth a little effort ( 0.8 km / 0.5 ml ) to reach the Red Cathedral, an imposing red wall, which owes its color to the action of the atmospheric elements on the rocks rich in iron.
5 – Zabrinskie Point and Badlands Loop
It is one of the most popular viewpoint in the park, probably the most famous and photographed above all during the sunset. Overlooking the golden colored ”badlands” of Furnace Creek, you can simply enjoy the view with a short walk from the car park. If you like hiking, it starts from the car park the Gower Gulch trail ( ending at the Golden canyon car park – around 5.5 km / 3.5 ml- if you want to go back at Zabrinskie point through the Golden Canyon is around 5 km / 3 ml ) and the Badlands loop ( around 4 km / 2.7 ml ).
6 – Dante’s View
It’s the best overlook of the whole Death Valley. Once here you’ll get how impressive and huge this area is. Situated atop the Black Monuntains at more than 1600 meters above the sea level, it boasts one of the most amazing and expansive view of the Badwater dry salt lake below and the mountain range across from it. The mountains you spot across Badwater basin from Dante’s View are the Panamint Mountains and its tallest peak named Telescope Peak. The road is well marked (last part is a steep ascent), from the CA190 you have to make a detour and drive for 20 km until you get to the parking lot.
Hiking information: https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/hiking.htm#Golden
How to get there : Coming from the west or south west side (Los Angeles, Ridgecrest, Olancha, Joshua Tree NP) and driving along the CA 190 E, the first spot you’ll meet is the Mesquites sand dunes ( they are the most accessible dunes of the park with a height of about 30 meters ). Here, from the car park, you can have a short or medium hike on the dunes and enjoy your first taste of the Death valley. After that you can go straight to the visitor center at Furnace Creek, get your map and start the visit. If you are coming from Vegas, the first spot is Dante’s view, then Zabrisnkie point before getting to the visitor center.
Ticket fare: the best way to save money is to buy the ”Annual pass”, a card valid 1 year which allows you to visit all the parks managed by the NPS. It costs 80$ x vehicle. If you are visiting only the Death Valley the price of the pass is 25$ x vehicle (valid for 7 days).
Where to sleep: usually most of the visitors spend 4/5 hours through the park, but if you like having an overnight here, there are some Campgrounds and Lodges. Check at: https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/eating-and-sleeping.htm
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