Death Valley National Park

Warning: This is a long one, so grab a snack and get comfortable.  We had originally intended for this to be broken into two separate posts, but we didn’t have any cell service to upload the first one when it was ready, and in an effort to get caught up, we are making it one giant post!

Death Valley National Park!  This is one of those places we have watched many videos about and been fascinated by, but it seemed so far away that we never really thought about going ourselves.  It is also a massively huge park.  We thought Big Bend was big, but seriously, this place is huge.  So huge that it is the largest National Park in the United States outside of Alaska.  That said, we decided to spend quite a bit of time here and stay in two different campgrounds to minimize the amount of driving we would have to do while here.

Only one campground in Death Valley accepts reservations, and we didn’t plan early enough to get a spot in that one, so we were taking our chances on first come, first served again.  Based on the NPS website that said one of the first come, first served campgrounds (Sunset) rarely fills even in peak season, we felt encouraged that we would get a spot.  We did not go to that campground first, though.  We decided that we would try one of the others first and use Sunset as our backup.  We pulled into Stovepipe Wells Campground around 1:30 or 2:00 in the afternoon and there were tons of sites available.  It is mostly just a large gravel parking lot style area, so it is nothing to talk about, but it is a decent place to stay and with a park this large, you want to be in it and not staying outside the park boundaries. 

On our first full day in the park we started it off by attending a ranger program in Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes that talked about photo composition, but with it being a pretty cloudy morning, it wasn’t a great time to actually take photos.  The sand dunes were pretty close to our campground and we knew we could come back when the lighting was better, so we headed off for a hike into Mosaic Canyon.  This was a fun and challenging hike.  There were areas that the canyon was very narrow, and areas that it was quite wide.  There were also several areas where some rock scrambling was necessary.  The rock scrambling was made more difficult by the fact that this is a canyon that experiences flash flooding, so the rocks are polished smooth and are very slick!  It was not easy, but we persevered and were able to complete the hike.  The canyon is gorgeous with very colorful rock and we also enjoyed seeing two different dry waterfalls.

After the hike, it was back to the Bigfoot for lunch, and then right back out for a visit to Ubehebe Crater.  This is a 600’ deep crater that was created around 2,000 years ago when rising magma came into contact with groundwater causing an explosion.  In the same area is the Little Ubehebe Crater, which is much smaller, but still very neat.  A trail goes all the way around the crater, and you can take a little detour to see Little Ubehebe also, which is what we did.  There is also a trail down into the big crater that we bypassed this time.  It was a great hike with views of both craters from every angle possible, but man was the wind howling!  We aren’t sure if that is normal for the area, but it wasn’t windy in the valley at our campground, but was EXTREMELY windy at the crater. 

On our way back, it was getting late in the day and the shadows were getting long, so we decided to swing back into Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes to get some photos before heading in for the night.  Conditions were much better this time than they were that morning!  All in all, it was a successful first day in Death Valley!

Our second day, we had a slow morning before driving over the mountains, and across Panamint Valley, to Father Crowley Vista Point.  This is an overlook into Rainbow Canyon and the literature we read said there is a possibility of seeing some military training flights there through the canyon.  That would have been an amazing thing to see!  We decided to spend a little time there watching and waiting, so we set up some lawn chairs, ate lunch, watched the birds, and walked around for a while, but no military training flights that day.  Maybe next time.  The drive through Panamint Valley was really cool, though, and the road to the Vista Point was a fun mountain road, so it was definitely not a wasted trip!  All days are good days when you are exploring!

Texas Spring Campground. Can you find the Bigfoot?

The next day, we decided to move to the Furnace Creek area of the park.  When leaving Stovepipe Wells Campground, we were fairly sure we would end up in Sunset Campground next, so that is where we headed.  There is a smaller campground, Texas Spring, very close to Sunset, but it is one of the most popular in the park.  The sites are a little larger in Texas Spring, each site has its own picnic table and firepit, and it is a smaller campground overall, so there are less people.  We didn’t think there was any chance of getting in there, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to drive through before heading to Sunset.  Much to our surprise, a nice man flagged us down as we were going through and said he was about to move to a new site, and if we wanted to wait a few minutes, we could pull into the site he was in as he left.  Sounded good to us!  As far as campgrounds in general go, Texas Spring isn’t the greatest.  As far as Death Valley Campgrounds go, though, it is pretty nice!  Suffice it to say that we don’t think anyone comes to Death Valley because they just love the camping experience here.  It is set up to accommodate a lot of people, and it does a great job of that. 

The Furnace Creek area of the park is close to most of the iconic Death Valley attractions, so we set out to see as many of them as we could.  On our first full day in the area, we headed out early. 

Our first stop was Devil’s Golf Course.  We have talked to several family members and friends who have been here and they each said to make sure we saw Devil’s Golf Course.  It is a viewpoint down a gravel road and is really just an area to look around for a few minutes.  There is no hike, but you are able to walk out amongst the formations if you choose to.  The salt formations in this area are large, bumpy, and very sharp, so you have to be super careful if you decide to walk amongst them!

From there, we traveled to Badwater Basin.  This is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level.  They even have a “sea level” sign up on one of the rock faces nearby to show you just how far below sea level you are.  It seems somewhat surreal that you are below sea level when there are 11,000 foot tall mountains surrounding you!  Badwater Basin is the image most people associate with Death Valley.  It is the basin of flat, white salt with the polygon formations throughout.  At the ranger talk the night before, the ranger said that if you want to see the best polygon formations, you really need to walk quite a distance from the entrance to the area, so we went prepared to go the distance.  We found that you can still see the formations without walking too far, but once we got away from where all the people were, the polygons were actually three dimensional and the salt would crunch under your feet rather than feeling like a flat, smooth surface.  We walked a decent distance, but it was completely flat, so not difficult and very, very worth it!

After leaving Badwater Basin, we drove Artists Drive which is a scenic loop through some badlands-like areas.  Our favorite part of this drive was the stop we made at Artists Palette.  This is an area with formations in all different shades and amazing hues.  There is pink, green, purple, yellow, etc., and you are able to hike out amongst all the colors.  We spent quite a while exploring the area and marveling!

Our final stop of day one was Harmony Borax Works.  A fair bit of mining has happened in the past in Death Valley, but the most lucrative mining that happened was for borax.  The Harmony Borax Works that we visited was one such mine that was in operation for approximately five years in the late 1800s.  Mustard Canyon scenic drive is right next to Harmony, so we drove that on our way out before heading in for the day.

Day two in Furnace Creek took us on a hike!  Golden Canyon used to have a scenic road through it, but that is now closed and it is one of the most popular hikes in the park.  Knowing it is so popular, we got an early enough start that we were able to get a good parking spot in the actual parking lot.  We didn’t want to just stop with Golden Canyon, though, so we combined the hike with the Red Cathedral spur trail, the Badlands Loop, and the Gower Gulch trail to make a loop that was over six miles long.  It was a great hike!  The terrain and scenery are so varied!  There are the yellow rock walls of Golden Canyon, the badlands near Zabriskie Point, and a dry wash that is very wide at times, and super narrow at others.  Combine all that with the rock scrambling getting to Red Cathedral and the sweeping vista view once there, and we had an excellently rewarding hike!  By the time we completed the hike and returned to the truck, cars were parked EVERYWHERE, including up and down the road!  We were glad we got an early start!

Our final day in Death Valley took us along the 20 Mule Team Canyon Scenic Drive and on to Dante’s View.  We cannot stress enough how amazing the views were from Dante’s View.  The view down into the valley looking at all the places we had previously visited was beyond words.  Getting out of the truck and seeing it for the first time was absolutely breath taking.  We weren’t satisfied to just see it from the main overlook, so we traveled a bit up the Dante’s Ridge trail to see more.  We found ourselves continually saying “just a little further” until we had to force ourselves to turn around and return to the truck.  If we were planning to stay in the park any longer, the 9 mile hike from here would be at the top of our list of things to do!

Zabriskie Point

We needed some diesel fuel for the truck and since they charge $7.50 per gallon for it in the park and we were also in need of groceries, we drove into Pahrump, NV to fill up on both.  We also took some time while in town to use the internet to do a bit of trip planning before heading back.  We hit Zabriskie Point on the way back, and man was the wind blowing!  Luckily, we had done the hike through the area the day before, so we didn’t feel like we needed to spend a lot of time at Zabriskie. 

And despite our attempt at trip planning while in Pahrump, we still weren’t entirely sure where we would end up the next day.  Check back soon to see if we found a nice camping spot, or ended up in a parking lot!

Until next time!

We Added California!

6 thoughts on “Death Valley National Park”

  1. Lisa Dale Thomas

    The scenery is amazing and you did an incredible job of capturing it, in both your descriptions and in your photos. Outstanding post and great photography!

  2. That one photo from Dante’s View/Dante’s Ridge that is at the top of the post is absolutely spectacular! All the photos are great, but that one. Man!

    The Devil’s Golf Course looks treacherous. Glad Heather didn’t face plant there!

    Can you imagine being in Death Valley on a 120-degree day? Probably a little different experience than what you had in March.

    Last thing. I know Heather handles the blog, but why only pictures of Jeff?

    1. Jeff actually said the same thing about the pictures – that there aren’t enough of me (Heather). Since I do the blog it is easiest to just use the photos I take and not have to bother Jeff with getting his. I will try to do a better job of including us both.

      I’m also really glad I didn’t face plant at Devil’s GC. That would be awful!

      And we both repeatedly said that we were sure glad we weren’t there in the summer. It felt hot at times when it was in the 60s and 70s, so I can’t imagine 120!

  3. Wow. This makes me regret only doing a day trip to Death Valley. Of course it was 109 when we were there so probably would not have done a lot of hiking.
    What were the temperatures while you were there?

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