After a day of fun in Las Vegas, I headed to Death Valley National Park. The name is ominous; however, I remind myself that I am visiting in December and not in August.
As I made it just outside of the park, I am reminded that I am in Nevada when I stopped at a gas station and found a combination gas station and brothel.
I needed a post office – and in the middle of nowhere, one appeared. Not sure how many other customers they saw that day. It is literally in the middle of nowhere.
Just before entering the Death Valley NP, I saw the first of many elevation signs for the day: 3000 feet. Death Valley has the lowest point in North America at 270 feet below sea level. It also has a mountain peak over 11,000 feet. The temperature throughout the park varied from 56 to 66 degrees – but the temperature did not follow elevation or time of day.
Death Valley is quite pricey for a National Park: $20. I went to the Furnace Park Visitor Center to use my annual pass and watched the movie. The most interesting part of the movie highlighted the Race track Playa: an area of cobblestone dirt/mud where large boulders “race” across a large flat expanse leaving their tracks behind them. According to the movie, no one has determined how the boulders move. This area is only accessible with off-road vehicles so I did not see it for myself.
From the Visitor Center, I went 30 minutes down a side road to Badwater – the lowest point in North America.
Mount Whitney is the highest point in the lower 48 states and is located in Sequoia National Park – which is only 84 miles from Badwater: a very short distance between the highest and lowest points.
Badwater collects water in the winter time and dries out in the summertime – leaving behind thick deposits of very fine salt. The salt was a couple of inches think on the boardwalk and much thicker everywhere else.
From Badwater, I visited Golden Canyon which had one of the few hiking areas in the park. I missed the turnoff for Artists Drive which exposes a great array of colorful mountain sides to visitors.
Death Valley National Park has more loose sand and rocks than I expected. There is little vegetation. I have been to desert areas before – there was desert vegetation but not in Death Valley. Barren. I did not expect sand dunes.
After the sand dunes, the traffic decreased as I focused on leaving the park via the west entrance – it was just a lot further to the west entrance than I thought. I went through a pass (elevation 5,000 feet) alongside the 11,000 foot peak. The road became very steep: a sign for 9.5% grade for 11 miles – the sign was not exaggerating.
I crossed a dried river bed at the bottom of the descent – great pictures from both sides.
Death Valley was a huge surprise – more picturesque, more variety and more barren. There were many bicyclists and many side trips which almost all required an off-road vehicle.
Death Valley is isolated: 2 hours of nothingness on the Las Vegas side and then 2 hours of nothingness on the California side. The rangers suggest that you keep at least a 1/2 tank of gas and extra water in your car – a recommendation that I respected in December and would be afraid not to respect in August.
There is no cell phone reception – if you get in trouble, you are on your own. Death Valley is the 2nd largest National Park after Denali – lots of ground for the park rangers to cover to find you.