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Nine Magical Experiences in Death Valley National Park

Updated on September 24, 2021
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Cat has special fondness for the mystery of deserts. This is the third time she's explored Death Valley and it won't be her last!

Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park Bird
Death Valley National Park Bird | Source

Death Valley's Exceptional Beauty

Near the borders of California and Nevada, hidden within the vast sand lands of the northern Mojave Desert is one of the hottest places on earth. Located in Eastern California, Death Valley National Park is a world of exceptional beauty and adventure waiting to be explored. One of the most unique Biosphere Reserves in the world, Death Valley Desert is famous for its remarkable prehistoric geology and an abundance of diverse animal and plant life.

An ancient history echoes through deep golden canyons and haunting badlands, weaving its way through shimmering seas of salt flats and rolling sand dunes. Situated between Armargosa and Panamint mountain ranges, Death Valley National Park is alive with some of the most breath- taking scenery in the world.

You may wonder what could possibly be worth seeing, doing and experiencing in one of the hottest places on the planet. Especially one whose name was inspired by the unfortunate deaths of a group of pioneers in the 1800’s who died from extreme heat.

And the answer is-more than you can imagine.

Home to 140 miles of prehistoric land, opportunities to explore the legendary Deat Valley desert are endless.

CAUTION! Extreme Temperatures and Dramatic Forces of Nature Ahead

Keep in mind, Death Valley is a land of extreme temperatures and dramatic forces of nature. Take it from someone who has survived the drastic elements- you need to be prepared for anything. Death Valley is a land of enchanting beauty, but it’s a place that demands respect and awareness.

Guide books highlighting Death Valley’s most notorious points of interest can be found at Furnace Creek Visitors Center. Here you will also find an array of unique gifts, educational material, guided tours, snacks and information on everything you need to know about exploring -and surviving- Death Valley.

But, there are a few necessary precautions to consider before you begin your unforgettable journey into the heart of Death Valley.

  • Always have plenty of water, especially in the summer months when temperatures rise into the 100’s. Bring more than you think you need and don’t forget to pack it in you backpack when out adventuring.
  • Maintain a full tank of gas. Gas stations are few and far between and it would be a literal hell running out of gas in this desert when temperatures reach the mid 100’s.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, hats and other protective clothing. The sun is sneaky-even in cooler seasons.
  • Cell phone service is unreliable regardless of your carrier. Plan more intense adventures sensibly, taking a partner with you if possible and letting someone know of your whereabouts.
  • The desert gets dark. VERY dark. Always have a light source while hiking.

Now for the adventure! The following are nine things to do and see while in Death Valley.

Don't Drink the Water; It's BAD

Bad Water Basin; 242 feet below sea level
Bad Water Basin; 242 feet below sea level | Source

9. Badwater Basin

Resting 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin salt flats represent the lowest point in Death Valley and the entire Northern U.S.! With approximately 200 miles of sparkling salt flats stretching out farther than the eye can see, this otherworldly terrain is testament to Death Valley’s unique history. Thousands of years ago, mountain streams flowed through the mineral rich basin. As the rain gave way to a drier, hotter climate, the evaporated mineral rich water transformed into the salty, crystalline wonderland we see today. Near the entrance, a wooden boardwalk covers a portion of the muddy salt lakes, but visitors can walk out farther for deeper exploration. Like many of Death Valley’s amazing hidden treasures, Badwater Basin possess an extraordinary beauty that must be seen to believe.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Golden Sunlit Sands; Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Golden Sunlit Sands; Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes | Source

8. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

There is something profoundly magical about finding yourself surrounded by an ocean of golden sand dunes! It’s impossible to drive past Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes without stopping to admire their softly undulating magnificence. Sunlight dances across waves of golden sand, beckoning all to take off their shoes and play. These sand dunes are one of the few places in Death Valley you can- and should- explore barefoot. In fact, it’s much easier to trek barefoot across the peaks of these 100ft. velvety-soft dunes than battle with the discomfort of sand in your socks and shoes!

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are amazing any time of the day, but moonlit walks are magical! The exquisite beauty of the desert landscape changes with the light throughout the day, you can experience an entirely different ambience from morning to night! Although Death Valley is home to bigger sand dunes, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are the most easily accessible.

7. Mosaic Canyon

Another spectacular sight to behold is Mosaic Canyon. Graceful waves of colorful marble corridors line its entrance, beyond which, Marble Canyon trail awaits your journey! Mosaic Canyon is reminiscent of an ancient kingdom where for millions of years, mother nature tirelessly polished the rising walls to gleaming perfection. Winding trails of sculpted marble walls lead you on a remarkable journey through the canyon’s kingly corridors. Caution should be observed while navigating the unpredictable terrain of Mosaic Canyon. Wear comfortable shoes with grip to gain the best footage as surfaces can be slick and rugged.

6. Dante's View

6. Dante's View

One of the most famous overlooks in Death Valley is a short distance from the park entrance. At an elevation of 5,476 feet, Dante’s View sits majestically atop the Black Mountains. A breath -taking panoramic view of Death Valley unfolds below in glorious splendor. From this vantage point, the Panamint Mountains stand tall in the distance aa vibrant sunsets bathe the valley in a kalediescope of color and light. Early morning and dusk hours are prime times to capture remarkable variations in light and shadows playing across the valley. Visitors from all over the world gather at Dante’s View to behold the infinite grandeur of the valley-it’s a photographer’s dream come true. And if you’re not a photographer, you will be before you leave.

Seriously Roughing It

Campfire Queen at Furnace Creek Campground
Campfire Queen at Furnace Creek Campground | Source

But You Can't Rely on Phone Service

Furnace Creek Campground Phone was Out of Order.
Furnace Creek Campground Phone was Out of Order. | Source

5. Camping

5. Camping

Depending on your needs and expectations, many camping options are available throughout Death Valley National Park. Although most campsites are accessible year-round, some close depending on the season. Lower elevation sites such as Stovepipe Wells, Texas Springs and Sunset Campgrounds open from fall until late Spring and quickly become crowded. Fees are associated with the use of some sites but if you’re willing to go off the beaten path to higher elevations, you can find spots to camp for free. Wildrose campground is one of these gems and allows year- round camping. At 4100 feet, Wildrose is one of the cooler sites in summer but can get chilly in fall and winter. Temperatures drop dramatically in higher elevations so plan accordingly. If you’re planning on camping in Death Valley, it’s wise to check availability to avoid the time and hassle of going from one place to the next. Death Valley National Park covers a lot of space and it’s easy to spend hours scouring for camp spots if you don’t know where to look!

Overlooking the Vast Bad Lands

Incredible Views of the Badlands from Zabrinkie's Point
Incredible Views of the Badlands from Zabrinkie's Point | Source
Otherworldly Wonder-The Badlands
Otherworldly Wonder-The Badlands | Source

4. Zabriskie’s Point

4. Zabriskie’s Point

A short-paved path leads to a point overlooking the phenomenal ancient badlands formed millions of years ago by violent volcanic eruptions. Exploring Death Valley is much like I would imagine it to be like on distant planets and Zabriskie’s Point is Nothing is what you expect capture breathe-taking sun rises and sunsets! With a stunning panoramic view of black and yellow badlands, the colorful artiste’s palette, Golden Canyon and more, the magnitude of Death Valley’s depth of beauty is astounding. Miles of gullies formed by prehistoric lakes weave their way through the ghostly corridors of this otherworldly environment. The sound of silence is so profound it’s easy to feel like the only one in existence, yet the complete solitude is eerily comforting. Mazes of trails weave through an unforgettable journey through the badlands with a trail leading into the Golden Canyon.

This Way!

You're going the right way when everything changes colors
You're going the right way when everything changes colors | Source

3. Artist’s Drive

Imagine winding your way through the paths of a vibrantly colored painting, where each bend in the road reveals another stunning scene awash in glorious color. Gently rolling hills emerge from the desert in a burst of multicolored hues along the 10 -mile scenic drive. Artist’s drive is an unforgettable journey through one of Death Valley’s most prized and colorful attractions. Many stopping points are situated along the road where visitors can get out and enjoy the view more closely.

Hannah's Journey
Hannah's Journey | Source

Over the Rainbow

Gorgeous Palette of Colors
Gorgeous Palette of Colors | Source
I felt like I was walking through a live painting!
I felt like I was walking through a live painting! | Source

2. Artiste’s Palette

Artists Drive eventually leads to an overlook where all the splendor and magic comes alive! Emerging from the grand Black Mountains, a maze of paths snake through a rich palette of rainbow -colored oxidized rock formations. Paths are narrow, leaning into low hill formations, making for a very up close and personal experience. Walking through Artiste’s Palette feels much like I imagine walking on a different planet would feel like-strange and remarkably beautiful. But that’s part of Death Valley’s enigmatic charm!

Reflections | Source

1. Soul Searching

Death Valley provides the perfect setting for soul searchers, an adventure all its own. The infinite space of land and sky inspires journeys into personal reflection. Writers, photographers, artists and many others have found their muse in the heart of Death Valley. Thoughts echo in the silence of canyons, where it’s quite easy to feel as if you’ve entered the deepest parts of the universe. When the light of day surrenders in a blaze of colors, a million brilliant stars dance on the black satin veil of night. It goes on for as long as you can imagine, and it’s all yours while your there. It’s impossible to leave Death Valley without feeling as if you’ve experienced something hauntingly beautiful. You might leave only to feel called again, as I was, to explore more of the mysterious treasures hidden in these vast lands below sea level.

© 2018 Cat Radke


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