Apr 19, 2015

Death Valley National Park


On March 23rd, as part of vacation to southern Nevada, we did a day trip drive through a portion of Death Valley National Park. The park is made up of over 3 million acres and you could spend several days exploring the whole thing. As well as being a natural wonder, it also has a rich history of man's ability to adapt to any environment.
For a guy born in the foothills of Cascade Mountains of Oregon and raise in a temperate rain forest in Alaska, I sure do love being in the desert. Maybe because it's different than my usual surroundings, but whatever the reason, the desert certainly has a beauty to it.
We started our day in Las Vegas. We got an early start to maximize our time in the daylight hours. Being late March, we knew the temperatures would be too bad. The warmest it got was 95 degrees. Not that 95 degrees isn't hot...  But it's a lot cooler than the 116 degrees it averages in July.
 
We drove to Pahrump and hit a few geocaches before continuing onto Death Valley Junction, crossing the border into California in the process. From Death Valley Junction, we headed to north to Furnace Creek, where the National Park has a visitor center and campground. On the way we made a short stop at Zabriskie Point which has a great view of the valley below.
At the Visitor Center we picked up an America the Beautiful Pass. This pass is good for one year and provides access to more than 2,000 areas managed by five federal agencies including the National Park Service, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. We had a couple of more National Parks on the agenda for our trip, so we know we'd get the use out of it.
 
Part of the history of Death Valley includes man's attempt to survive and thrive in it's extreme conditions. Borax mining used 20 mule teams to haul the borax out. It traveled with two trailers for the borax and 1,200 gallon tank trailer full of water for the mules. But even 1,200 gallons was not enough to last for the 165 miles the mules would pull the 73,200 pound load. Water had to be replenished at springs along the way.
From the Furnace Creek Visitor Center we started our drive down Badwater Road. Traffic was fairly light, so we could take our time as we wanted to. If you ever do this drive, I 100% recommend you do the detour on Artist Drive. It's a one-way loop road that takes you through some amazing rock formations. It was a highlight of the day!
You can see the map of our route here... Overall our drive was just under 300 miles. We continued down Badwater road to Shoshone, California. This was our dinner stop, at the Crowbar Cafe. For a little place in the middle of no where, they had some really, really good food.
From Shoshone, we crossed the border back into Nevada and came back into Pahrump. We had some more geocaching planned for here. There was a series of caches strung out through the desert east of town and we hit as many as we watched a beautiful sunset. We didn't mind driving back to Vegas in the dark, since we had driven through the same route that morning in the daylight.
The beauty of Death Valley is a vastness that makes you realize just how small you are.
We spent a lot of time in the desert on this trip, and previous trips. The amazing thing to me is the variety of different environments that you see. From sand and cactus to rocky landscapes to salt flats. To just say "desert" is a very broad term..
Speaking of salt flats... We took a short side trip the Devil's Golf Course. This was an amazing spot!! Death Valley was a prehistoric lake, and as the water evaporated it left behind the salt, which formed in this jagged, bizarre landscape. And I do mean jagged. I did a little walking around, but had to be very careful about it. If a person fell, you'd cut yourself up pretty bad.
From a distance, the salt flats looked the tidal mudflats we have here in Alaska.
You almost expected to see the tide come in... And when we stopped, I was anticipating that smell that tidal flats have.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point on the North American continent, coming in at 282 feet below sea level. there's a natural spring here, but because it's in the middle of a salt flat, it's too salty to drink and couldn't be used to water animals.
This is a popular spot for people to walk out on the salt flats. As people have walked out, they've ground the salt into a fine powder that looks like a developed trail.
On the rocky cliffs above, you can just barely make out a sign marking sea level. You can click on any of these pictures to enlarge them.
I feel very blessed to have been able to experience some amazing places, and Death Valley is certainly one those places. I hope some day to make it back to explore even more.

8 comments:

Mastan Madina said...

Very Nice Blog Thanks for writing this, it will certainly help us plan our trip.We are planning for one day trip on Christmas day from Vegas, do you think we will be able to cover all the spots you mentioned in your blog considering sunset by 5-5.30 PM ?

AKStafford said...

If you get an early start you should. We messed around Pahrump for an hour or so on our way there.

Mastan Madina said...

Thank you for your response.... we are planning to start @ 6-6.30 in the morning from Vegas, also in your blog you mentioned "If you ever do this drive, I 100% recommend you do the detour on Artist Drive. It's a one-way loop road that takes you through some amazing rock formations. It was a highlight of the day!", where exactly is this ? is this covered in your map ?

AKStafford said...

It's not on the map link... You can read some about it here: http://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/furnacecreekarea.htm
We actually drove by it at first and then turned around out of curiosity... If I remember right, it's just a few miles down Badwater Road. Look for it on your left.

AKStafford said...

Here's the location on Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/gUU7PCApBcs

Mastan Madina said...

Thank you very much for all your suggestions, Do you if there are any interesting points between Death valley Junction and Furnace creek ?

Sylvia Brunette said...

Good to see your info on the drive. Any good places to eat breakfast on way out of Vegas on that route? We're flying in early in the morning and want to eat breakfast and head out to Death Valley.
thanks for the info and the great pictures. Cant wait to see for ourselves

AKStafford said...

Slyvia,
We've always had a condo to eat breakfast in before hitting the road... So we don't have any personal experience.
If you want to wait until Pahrump, here's what is there: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g45986-Pahrump_Nevada.html