You may have heard of it. You’ve binge-watched the Youtube videos that say, Man Runs in a Darth Vader Suit in the Hottest Place on Earth, or Family Trapped for 3 Days in Desert.
Death Valley pretty much is – Death Valley. It’s barren, dry, and desolate in nature. At the same time, this national park offers hidden beauties you wouldn’t often see on your average nature walk.
So is it worth the long drive? Let’s get reviewing:
Is There Really Anything Out There?
Death Valley stands true to its name – with temperatures reaching over 120°F, the barren land has attracted three types of travelers over the past century: miners, geologists, and wandering travelers who want to check off the national park in their open agenda. If you’re one of the listed, you’re in luck.
My father and I took a 2-hour drive from Las Vegas to stay for two days and one night in Death Valley (I’d personally recommend three to five days if you’d like to squeeze in everything. Otherwise, two days still fits enough). We decided that the end of spring was the best option – a midway point between not-so deadly weather and the chance to see the wildflowers was a must.
Recommended by a friend, we stopped by a local gas station right before the entrance of the national park. Big reminder – Death Valley is HUGE. Even though our tank was almost full, every drop literally counted in our trip out in nowhere. Once entering the park, gas prices jumped up by a dollar.
We were greeted by the iconic Zabriskie Point, a scenic view that showcases the chocolate-vanilla ridges of Death Valley.
After the 10-minute “oohs” and “aahs”, we set up camp in Furnace Creek Campground. What I personally found funny was that, after purchasing a year national park pass, the park rangers required a camping permit & park pass to enter the campground… but I didn’t see any booth that prevented no-pass travelers from entering the national grounds itself. Can you just enter without a pass? It’s possible, but I still recommend making the donation.
We drove 1 hour to Ubehebe Crater a former 2,000+ year-old volcano that blew its cap off thousands of years ago. Arriving at the scene, I felt as if we were on another planet. An ocean of black sand became our surroundings. The mountain ranges from afar turned into a blue hue as we neared a black-and-reddish-orange mound. Temperatures quickly dropped and I found myself throwing on a coat as the winds picked up.
We spent another 20 minutes at the crater before rushing to the car before sunset. We soon discovered that the famous Scotty’s Castle was unfortunately closed due to damages in flash flooding. Scotty’s Castle is literally an incomplete castle built in the middle of the desert. Started by an investor who was scammed in the 1930s, the castle remains vacant but a beloved attraction in Death Valley. A park ranger told us that Scotty’s Castle hadn’t experienced any natural catastrophes for decades until the 2015 flash flood, which will take years of restoration.
My father and I then decided to continue southward for the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes before calling in for the night. It took another hour to reach the dunes – just in time for the sunset. Hordes of people could be found throughout the dunes, as these were the most accessible sand dunes to the public. Out of personal experience, do NOT go out to the other sand dunes unless they say it’s easily accessible or you have an off-roading vehicle and equipment. It is so easy to keep driving into sandy areas until you realize that you can’t move your car from the sinking gravel.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes were busy but still big enough for everyone to have their own personal dune. It was as if we were in a giant sandbox – my inner child was released as I rolled down the hills in glee. Additionally, at night, the dunes are a great spot for stargazing.
The next day, my father and I packed up our supplies and left the campground for the sites, Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America (282 ft [86 m] below sea level). A 20-min drive from Furnace Creek, Badwater Basin is a giant, evaporated lake that has tiny pool of salty water. Badwater Basin got its name when an early surveyor couldn’t get his mule to drink the water, stating that it was simply… “bad water”. With white, cracked regions as far as the eye can see, it is the very symbol of the desert.
No joke, the walk took 20 minutes largely in part because of the freakishly strong winds in this area. Badwater Basin stands right behind a giant, black mountain, which forces all the downdrafts to enter where we visitors walked. Every few seconds, everyone would stop walking and hunker down as the winds whipped against our bodies. Small children who were on the trail literally almost flew away by the gusts of wind, thrills turned to screams as their parents grabbed their hands. Whatever was on our heads or faces – hats, glasses, sunglasses, masks – were to be snatched by the thief of the wind, never to be seen again.
As a 5’3, 115-pound girl walking alone (my father decided he’d stay in the car), I silently questioned if I was going to fly away. I continued my walk, wearing my buff as a mask and staring at the ground, blind as I tucked my glasses away.
Once returning to the car, a mess, my dad and I drove up through Artist’s Drive, a scenic view of colorful rocks. Artist’s Drive is a 15-minute, one-way drive that ended the trip in an aesthetic manner. As we finished the drive and entered the windy roads outside of Death Valley, my father and I called it a worthwhile adventure.
So is Death Valley worth the trip? It’s not your average Yosemite, but I’d say it’s a great place to check it off your bucket list. My biggest recommendation is to avoid the 120+°F weather and visit during April or May, the season of blooming wildflowers. Though I barely saw any wildflowers in my time there, I’d say everything else – the crater, dunes, and salt beds – made it all worthwhile.
About the Author
Born in Washington, raised in Guam, and now living in Vegas, DeAnna grew up living the “standby life” – in short, catching any open plane seat she could get her hands on. Now, Dee values interviewing the ones who represent change – from entrepreneurs in Peru to descendants of the Fa’amatai in the Pacific.