Imagine a scene from a Hollywood road movie when the main actor ( most likely a criminal) run from the world and drive his car through the empty road as long as the horizon can afford to see. It is the only desert around, nothing except dry ground and rare shrub in a very best case. It looks darkly and mystique, absolutely uninhabited. There is neither the beginning nor the end of this road. Sure, we’ve all seen something similar in the film ones at least.
I was looking to a photo of this place with inspiration so many times before coming and getting to know where is it exactly. This is Death Valley, one of the most famous national parks in the United States.
Situated in California, it is very close to Nevada. So if you are about to visit a couple of places by the time then this National park will be your perfect gate to Las Vegas. The contrast between emptiness + silence of the first and overcrowdedness + diversity of the second will be so huge that you would not probably believe in your eyes.
So, let’s start with the main points. What do you need to know to plan your trip in the best way ever?
How to get to Death Valley?
Take a flight to Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Las Vegas. The Valley is situated between 3 of them. The closest city is Vegas, it will be 2 hours of driving to the entrance of the park. But, in my personal opinion, it is better to come from LA or San Francisco, then to stay for the night in Olancha and enter the park the next morning.
How much is the entrance?
One vehicle entrance fee is 30$. If you are a motorbike driver you will pay 25$. For an individual who is fearless enough to travel by foot or bicycle, the fee is equal to 15$. The ticket is valid for 7 days with an unlimited quantity of entrances option. There is also an annual pass that costs 55$.
Why is it called the Death Valley?
In 1849 during Golden Fever time some group of people was searching for a short way to California through the desert. Unfortunately they have lost one of the members during this trip forever. When the group finally got out of the valley, starving and deserted, they give a name to this place in honor of their lost friend and that hard expedition.
There is another version of this story that I like even more because it is not so sad. The group was walking around the Valley during weeks trying to find the right way, they were lucky to find water. But to cook something to eat it was only one option: to kill bulls and to break a part of the caravan (to make a fire). By the way, there is a place called Burned Wagons Camp today inside, that you can visit too. When finally they reached the exit by foot one woman looked back and said: ” Goodbye, the Death Valley “.
How hot is it inside?
As hot as you can imagine. The regular temperature during summer is +43 +45 degrees Celsius. When we got out of the car next to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes the sand heat started to go right through my shoes after 1 minute of walking. It was in September. The driest place in the USA and the hottest place on earth can be more hospitable to you in spring with 20-29 C. If you decide to go in winter be prepared for 10-20 degree C during a day, that could be even better for hiking. But if you are to explore real desert heat, go in summer. Just be sure that you have enough water, that air conditioning in your car is ok and you have something to wear on your head. The warning signs like ” Overheating can be dangerous to your life” will be everywhere, so prepare in advance to make your trip safe and informative instead of exhausting. I’d recommend to choose a road trip and do it by car instead of motorbike, bike or hiking if you have no special sportsmanship (especially if you go in summer).
What are the main places to visit?
As for the desert, there are even too many places to visit in the Death Valley. One day is not enough for sure. If you have one day only this is the minimum must-visit:
Father Crowley Vista Point
The stunning view to the Death Valley with such a full silence around that it is even hard to believe that you are still on the same planet with noise overcrowded cities not far from here.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Infinity of yellow sand is around, blue sky is overhead. This is where you can explore one of the incredible natural elements on earth – real desert and it’s huge power over man.
This dried lake is the lowest part of the earth’s surface in North America ( 86 meters below the sea level). By the way, 123 km from there you can visit the highest point in North America Mount Whitney (4418m). It was very interesting to know that the Ultramarathon passes here every year. Athletes run straight from the surface of the lake (86 meters below the sea level) to a point on Mountain Whitney (2548 above the sea level), which is the heaviest track and field race in the world (taking into account desert weather conditions)
This is the most famous viewpoint in the whole park with a stunning view of the golden-colored dunes. It’s a must-see for sure.
For travelers who have more than one day, the Death Valley can propose Scotty’s Castle, Golden Canyon Trailhead, Furnace Creek, Racetrack Playa, Golden Canyon, Devils Golf Course, Artist’s Drive. All of these places are unique. It just depends on your route, longness of the trip, and curiosity. But nothing can be unnecessary from this list.
Is it true that there is no parking/restroom/water in a whole territory?
No, of course not. You will find everything, even camps and a couple of hotels to stay for the night if you need it. But anyway don’t forget to bring enough water with you just because traveling through the desert can be unpredictable.
Are there any dangerous animals inside?
Despite extremal hotness, there are a lot of different animals inside the park. It could be reptiles, coyotes, birds, mountain lions, and bobcats, even bighorn sheep and many other species. As 95% of the territory is considered wild you will unlikely meet one of them. But remember that you are just a visitor, not a host here, just in case.
Ok, I’m in. What are the best things to do in the Death Valley?
Hiking, backpacking, biking and mountain biking, backcountry camping – no matter what you choose the most important is sightseeing. People from all over the world come here to see spectacular views, so alien and wild that you simply feel on the other planet.
So this is only a couple of main facts about the magical place called the Death Valley. You know, despite a scary name, this place is a real proof of the invincible power of life to me. Even in this difficult environmental conditions, you can see endless flowering fields in spring and feel the strongest will to live in harmony with nature. Isn’t it great?