Adventures in the American West: Death Valley National Park

‘Life is a great adventure, accept it in such a spirit.’-Theodore Roosevelt

When I knew for certain I was seeing Adele in Las Vegas for Christmas, I began planning the rest of my road trip. Since it was December and only about 90 minutes away, I knew I had to try to go to Death Valley National Park. Because Death Valley is the hottest place on earth, the winter months is the most popular time to visit and thus my options were limited. I was only able to get one night at the Furnace Creek Campground a couple days before the show. One night is better than none so I took it. Also, as a California native, I am not sure I had ever been to Death Valley, Mojave Desert absolutely, but Death Valley, if at all, would have merely been a drive by coming home from family road trips in Southwest.

Before I continue, I was only in the area around Furnace Creek. Death Valley National Park is huge! I did inquire at the visitors center on my side of the park about the famed rocks that move. That area was closed (as were other parts of the park due to flash flooding damage-as of December 2022) but also about eight hours away. It really put things in perspective of how big it all is. I do not recommend going in the summer and if you chose to do so, take every possible precaution you can even if it seems silly or redundant. People have died because they ran out of gas or a flat tire because Death Valley is so remote and HOT. Best to avoid the area all together, in my opinion.

I drove from Page, Arizona and arrived in Death Valley about 4:30, just before sunset. The biggest thing about Death Valley, any time of the year, is make sure you have gas. There is a gas station at Furnace Creek right next to the hotel. Use it. Is it expensive, absolutely but Death Valley is not someplace you want to run out of gas. This is especially true in the summer. In addition, you should always have a lot of water and tell people where you are. This was my first big trip with my new Toyota Rav-4 Hybrid so it was nice that gas was not a huge concern but I did fill up with the very expensive gas. There is also a general store near the sand dunes. I was able to get a Cactus Cooler, which I hadn’t had since I was a kid growing up in California. Still tasted delicious! Just remember, you can’t have too much water or snacks!

I had to be strategic with what I saw, I only had a day and had to get back to Vegas for another campsite reservation (as, again, I could only get a single night in DVNP). I wanted to go to Badwater Basin, the Artists Palette, sand dunes, and just to drive a bit. I did catch an epic sunrise and sunset from my campsite. Supposedly, the stars are also electric but it was a bit cloudy-you can’t win them all, ha! But Death Valley is a dark sky area so hopefully you’ll have much better luck.

I was able to see the sand dunes, which were wild as they just emerge. Obviously, Death Valley is a desert but the dunes are almost like beach/ocean sand in the midst of desert sand. You can rent sleds to slide down them and other adventurous excursions. I then continued along and drove through the hills for a bit. The road was winding but I was able to see wild burrows (or donkeys-is there a difference lol). It was really cool, so I have now seen wild horse and wild burrows off the side of the road. This is quite something as I never really see a lot of wildlife.

I then hit Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point in North American. It is 282 feet below sea level. If you look onto the rock face, there is a marker of where sea level actually is. As someone who loves the ocean, especially the Pacific, it was wild to see where I would be standing on the beach and where I stood in the desert. The basin is covered in crystalized salt. Reminded me of walking along the shore of Great Salt Lake! There is also water down there, which is also something as Death Valley is the hottest place on earth (yes, I was there in December and it was like 75 but still).

Then took a tour of the Artist Drive, home to the famed Artist Palette. The rock formations reminded me a lot of the Painted Hills of Oregon. The road is clearly marked and is one way, so you won’t get lost! I have seen the Artist Palette on socials but it was more muted during my trip. I have heard that it is quite vibrant after the rain, which would be the spring (also when the flowers bloom) and the edge of when you should actually visit Death Valley.

I did wander around a bit but did not have time to fully explore the Artist Drive or some other spots I wish I could have but I never regretted going, even if it were for less than 24 hours. Sometimes adventures and open roads are calling and you need to listen.

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