Sunday, March 4, 2012

Death Valley - Hidden Jewel of American National Parks

Zabriskie Point in October
Now is the time to visit Death Valley, a largely unknown treasure of US National Parks, having less than 1 million visitors a year.  In the late winter and early Spring, Death Valley has moderate temperatures (not too cold, not too hot), but it can be very windy. In mid-March and April, wildflowers usually cover the desert for a few short weeks. Unfortunately, lack of rainful this past winter makes for a poor wildflower forecast for Spring, 2012.  I have never visited Death Valley in the summer when temperatures soar above 120 degrees F. and do not recommend it to anyone.

Badwater at dawn (Oct, 2009)


Zabriskie Point

Badwater at dawn - Lowest point in the USA 282 Ft. below sea level

Zabriskie Point - One of the first landmarks on the eastern side of Death Valley coming from Las Vegas via car or tour bus

Ron viewing Zabriskie Point
I first went to Death Valley as child in the 1950's when it was still only designated as a National Monument.  In  1994, it was expanded to more than 3.3 million acres and upgraded to a National Park. Here are some photos from my visit in 1967 after it was designated a National Park:
 My grandmother, I and my mother - Dante's View in 1967

Me in 1967 at Ubehebe Crater

Scotty's Castle in my 1967 visit

I've been to many National Parks in the USA. Death Valley is one of my favorites, ranking behind Yellowstone NP and equal to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Parks. I tend to like parks with interesting geology. Death Valley offers a vast and panoramic landscape with surreal images of colorful canyons and unusal geologic formations. 

Salt deposits from ancient dry lake on valley floor
Zabriskie Point's sedimentary and volcanic ash layers bent and folded by earthquakes

Take your camera or your paintbrush and record the beautiful scenes you will not see all in one place like Death Valley.  From Badwater at 282 ft. below Sea Level and the Devil's Golf Course and Zabriskie Point in the mid-section of Death Valley to the eccentrically elegant Scotty's Castle and deep Ubehebe Crater in the north end of Death Valley, you should plan on driving many hours a day for your visit.  Only 2 hours from Las Vegas, Nevada, Death Valley still needs at least an overnight stay to enjoy what it has to offer.  Make sure you have reservations for lodging or a campground in advance of a March or April visit as this is Death Valley's busiest season along with October-November.

Death Valley has lodging, gas stations, stores, restaurants, RV parking and campgrounds. The Furnace Creek Ranch has resort facilities including an RV Park, horseback riding, swimming pool, tennis, golf, and family and fine dining restaurants.   If you do not own a 4WD and wish to go exploring on jeep trails, you can rent a jeep at Furnace Creek Resort.

The wonderful website Desert USA has a Death Valley Introductory Package for purchase in advance of an exploratory adventure of more than one day.  This Park needs a minimum of three days to see the highlights, and a minimum of 5-7 days to enjoy all the Park has to offer, especially if you plan to hike, bike, or 4WD the more remote canyons and mountains

Next weekend (March 9-11), NASA is partnering with Death Valley to have its first ever Mars and the Mojave Festival :
"Death Valley NP is a lot like Mars. That's why scientists are partnering with the park to celebrate a three-day, free public festival titled Mars and the Mojave: Exploring extremes on Earth and beyond, scheduled for March 9-11, 2012....Visitors to Death Valley National Park during the festival will enjoy scientist-hosted field trips to analog sites like Mars Hill, Badwater salt flats, and the Ubehebe crater field.An expo on the lawn of the park's newly renovated Visitor Center will feature booths from various NASA centers, universities, and non-profit organizations, as well as mini-Curiosity Rover demonstrations, scientist talks, and free souvenirs.After-lunch lectures and an evening panel will provide the public with more in-depth perspectives on planetary research in National Parks and around the globe, as well as a discussion about the relevance of space science. The festival concludes on Sunday afternoon featuring a talk on the future of planetary exploration, on earth and beyond."  -  Excerpted from Death Valley NP website.

Looking at Death Valley north  from Dante's View  

Be sure to take the tour of Scotty's Castle

The Devil's Golf Course - salt formations on valley floor


  1. Starkly beautiful, I'd say. When I read you title though all I could think of was Ronald Reagan TV show and him pushing "Twenty Mule Team Borax" soap... :)

  2. I used to watch "Death Valley Days" when I was a kid. Maybe one of the reasons I was so eager to go to Death Valley. It was the "stark beauty" and surreality of the place that keeps me coming back.