When asked, the majority of wanderns would openly admit their disinterest in traveling to the hottest spot in the United States. Death Valley is not an appealing title, nor does it top the attention of its surrounding parks. Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and Grand Canyon are all within a five-hour drive from Death Valley. There are plenty of undiscovered reasons to ditch the typical flora and fauna and head to the Mojave Desert.
With this many acres, Death Valley is over a million acres larger than any other national park in the lower 48 states (four of Alaska’s parks are larger). With this much land, not nearly of it is explored as it should. If you desire solitude and adventure, this park is perfect. As long as you’re two miles away from any road, you can pitch your tent in the middle of the desert wilderness.
Hottest, Driest, Lowest
Death Valley is classified as these three rare qualities. There aren’t many places in the world where you can encounter three of the nation’s records in one visit. Death Valley is home to the hottest recorded temperature in not only the United States but the Western hemisphere at 134 degrees in 1913. Death Valley receives on average less than 2.5 inches of rain annually, making it the driest place in the nation.
The lowest feature, Badwater Basin, is situated 282 feet below sea level and classified as the third lowest land in the world behind the Jordan Valley in Israel and Laguna del Carbon in Argentina.
Salt flats are rare, and to visit the lowest salt flats in the nation is a feat. Badwater Basin is comprised of a salty horizon that continues beyond your vision; the total salt coverage adds up to over 200 square miles (40 miles long and 5 miles wide). Walk on it, touch it, taste it. The salt flats in Badwater are inimitable.
To view the salt flats from above, go to Dante’s peak (photo above) and witness the unique shape of the salt patterns and paths.
The Death Valley Pupfish are a unique species of fish that are the only fish species survivors that lived in Lake Manly prior to it drying up. Prior to the last ice age, Death Valley was a completely different ecosystem (which was made up of plenty of fish); with the current conditions, it is astonishing to find swimming creatures in such small amounts of water and in the hottest and driest place in the nation. The pupfish can be seen in Salt Creek, a small, shallow, and salty water flow through the park, and in Devils Hole, the hillside water-filled cavern. For a better chance of spotting, go in early spring to catch them spawning.
Part of a vacation is having an adventure. An adventure only happens when something goes wrong or unexpected. The unpredictable wind in Death Valley creates an on-the-edge vacation. Driving on the lonely roads may get you trapped in a sudden, whirling windstorm that blinds vision for meters, but it’s an experience you won’t forget. Don’t let the wind stop you from having fun, though. The pubs and restaurants make great shelter and give you an excuse to relax and enjoy the show outside. Plus, a wind storm alters the dune range dramatically, so it’s like waking up in a new location!
Desert is frequently associated with two colors: brown and speckles of green cacti. Death Valley is anything but aesthetically boring. Zabriskie’s Point, Artists Palate, and Mustard Canyon are only a few of the locations where color can be seen. Canyon walls are painted with layers of red, green, yellow, gold, and gray. For a truly colorful experience, visit a canyon or viewpoint at sunrise or sunset. The sun’s radiance shines and reflects on the hills, badlands, mountains, and sand.
Death Valley can be experienced without a high-clearance vehicle, but the park rents out jeeps for a valid reason. The main roads in the park are paved, but the best paths are not. Some of the park’s greatest features can only be reached with a high-clearance vehicle. The Racetrack, for example, is a two-hour trip away from park civilization. Titus Canyon is a fantastic route to take if you’re coming from the Beatty, NV area; the canyon is a one way road that will loop you through tight, winding canyon walls, lead you to a ghost town called Leadfield, and spits you out at the mouth of Scotty’s Castle Road. View the park map for more off-road opportunities.
The Presence of the Supernatural
Death Valley is known for its strange, incomprehensible features such as the Racetrack and the howling sand dunes. The Racetrack is defined as a dry lakebed, or playa, and has rocks scattered on the surface. These rocks are not just pebbles or even baseball-sized stones; they are small boulders. The mystery lies in how these rocks move; although no one has seen the rocks change locations, the embedded track that is left assures their movement is constant. The remote location of the Racetrack adds to the eerie aura of the area. Death Valley’s other mysterious feature is the musical dunes. Although science has done several experiments in these locations, it has not yet been discovered what creates the harmony.
(This was written prior to the Racetrack mystery being solved. This was written as a portfolio piece and has not been published.)