When choosing a place to go for your travels, there are many factors to consider. Are you a nature person? A lover of big cities and culture? Are you looking to be pampered? Do you want luxury or simplicity?
Death Valley, a U.S. National Park located in California, often boasts itself as the “hottest, driest and lowest.” Badwater Basin is North America’s lowest spot, and Death Valley has had the second hottest temperature recorded in the region. This may not sound like an attractive advertisement, but in its humble desolation, Death Valley is actually one of the most incredible sights offered in the U.S. In fact, anyone who visits will notice that on any given day, a handful of languages will be heard because tourists come from all around the world to experience the location.
Even for those who prefer the city, and avoid nature, Death Valley is too beautiful for anyone to not feel a sense of awe and appreciation. The Furnace Creek Inn is the most upscale accommodation they offer, which allows those wary of nature and rustic sentimentality to appreciate the sights from a more comfortable, modern base.
The park is able to mix culture and nature in a delightfully complementary way, and after a long day of hiking, sight-seeing, and dozens of other almost-spiritual activities, you can head to one of the saloons to take part in modern civilization.
After that, take advantage of the night sky, appropriately dark, and stargaze. You can’t get a view like that in most cities.
There are three main options: The Furnace Creek Inn, The Furnace Creek Ranch and Stovepipe Wells. FC Inn is the fanciest, FC Ranch is close to the activity (visitor’s center, Furnace Creek Stables), and Stovepipe Wells is more secluded.
Each hotel has their own main restaurant. In addition to their main restaurants, Stovepipe Wells has a saloon and FC Ranch has a saloon and café. It’s difficult to get a lot of freshness and variety considering the location, but you wouldn’t know it with the menu options. The food, generally, is always delicious. (And the menu items rarely change, so they’re pretty expert with the dishes they make.) However, aside from the restaurants, the only other places to get food in the park are two or three gift shops/convenience stores, which tend to have overpriced packaged foods. Definitely make sure to pick up some key items (snacks, easy-to-make meals if you can’t afford to eat at the restaurants three times a day) on your drive there, before you reach the park.
Furnace Creek Stables, located at the Furnace Creek Ranch, provides excellent group and private horseback riding sessions. The main path goes from behind FC ranch and explores the open area there, before circling back. Longer rides or private ones can go across the street and up the hills. Sunrise and sunset are spectacular.
It’s difficult to see all Death Valley’s sights in one trip, but it’s worth the effort to see as many as you can. Most of the popular sights are located within a short distance of each other, and close to the hotels. These easy access areas are:
- Artist’s Drive – nine miles of gorgeous, colorful “volcanic and sedimentary hills.” With features like the “Artist’s Palette,” and mini-hikes, this attraction brings a nice addition of color to an otherwise brown, gray and green landscape. Seeing so many colors occurring naturally in swirls and vibrant stripes in structures that have been developing for hundreds of thousands of years? No words.
- Dante’s View and Zabriskie Point – Separate sights, though not too far from one another. Zabriskie Point has always felt like a mini-Dante’s View, which is why they’re grouped together. Zabriskie Point gives a view of the badlands and it’s a very short walk to the top. Dante’s View overlooks the park at up to 5,000 feet above. Climb to the very top, and you won’t regret it.
- Golden Canyon – A nice, simple hike, with twists and turns that make you feel completely enveloped by the majestic structures (in a good, non-claustrophobic way). You’ll find yourself wishing that civilization could look and feel more like this.
- Badwater – The lowest point in North America. It’s worth a visit just for that. Salt flats go on and on for miles. And to be honest, the salt doesn’t taste that bad.
- Mosaic Canyon – A personal favorite, because you can get adventurous (sliding on marble slopes, that’s right) on a minor scale and feel pretty awesome, even though it’s a beginner level hike. Also, marble is beautiful!
- Mesquite Flat Sand dunes – Hundreds of dunes rising up from the flats. Best to visit after a windy day, when there are less footprints in the sand.
Sights that take a bit more time/effort to get to:
- Ubehebe Crater – A must see! Even for those who have a fear of heights, falling, or general anxiety. A 600-foot crater! How many times in your life are you going to have the chance to see one of those? How did it get there? According to the park’s official website: “More than 300 years ago the desert silence was shattered by a massive volcanic explosion caused by the violent release of underground steam pressure.”
- Scotty’s Castle – Occupied in the 1920s and 1930s, people made the effort to get to the (even more) desolate Death Valley just for this place. That makes it pretty special, because getting to a mansion in the middle of nowhere was not an easy task back then. The house tour is worth doing once, to experience a bit of history, see an incredibly beautiful home, and be entertained by a musical surprise near the end.
- Eureka Dunes – In order to get to these, you have to have a specific type of vehicle, because the roads out there go through some pretty rough terrain. Farabee’s is the go-to jeep rental service within the park (located close to FC Inn). So definitely make sure that you only make that journey with the proper vehicle. The dunes are the tallest in the state of California, quite a sight to behold, camp near, roll down, meditate on, etc.
- Darwin Falls — More on the outskirts of the park, it’s quite a drive to get to. However, after seeing all the (still, gorgeous) desert landscape, it’s a welcome change of scenery to be able to check out a waterfall. Enjoy your choice of a shorter or longer hike to the falls.
Death Valley is a place for families, couples, groups and individuals. It’s a place to have fun, see some of the most spectacular sights on earth, and truly appreciate what it is to be part of that cycle of life. If you ever get the chance to go, don’t hesitate.
Images copyright Amber Watt.