Death Valley 2021
There are many national parks that one can travel to in the western United States. One that usually doesn’t come to mind is Death Valley. The name itself isn’t very welcoming and the triple digit temperature…well, down right repelling. Disregard the name and the heat, yes, disregard it and let me take you to a landscape filled with life and beauty. The best time to visit the valley is between the months of November through February when the high temperature drops to 60 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This Valentine’s Day weekend I spent the day with my Valentine, mother nature. Death Valley is a 4 hour drive from Southern California and about two hours from Las Vegas. This would be my second visit to the valley but that didn’t damper my enthusiasm.
My first visit was Zabriskie Point where I last saw it at sunset during my last visit. It’s one of the best spots to see the sunset and on this visit I wanted to see more of it. Of course, I took some great photos from the viewpoint but I wanted to hike the hills below that reminds me of strawberry and vanilla ice cream mounds. I made my way down and hiked the trail up and down those amazing mounds. The trail ends when it connects with the Golden Canyon Trail.
Here, the hillsides change to a darker color and the strawberry swirl changes to a dark shade of brown. Golden Canyon is another wonderful trail but one that I did on my last visit and I had more of the park to explore.
I was off and on my way to the next destination. Artist Drive would be my next stop. This drive is a dedication to the valleys first artist, the volcano. Five million years ago a volcano erupted and deposited ash, metals and minerals that conglomerated, weathered and has been chemically altered by heat, water, oxidation and other factors into it’s unique colors. It’s a nine mile, one way road, through the iconic and vibrant landscape of Death Valley. It’s filled with roadside stops where you can take in the wonderful surrounding landscape. I didn’t make any stops on this trip. I went straight to Artist’s Palette, a hillside that resembles a colorful palette. It stands out among the sun drenched rocks of the valley. The last time I came here, the park discouraged people from walking on the actual palette. Now, a well worn trail connects the parking lot to the palette and the “no trespassing” signs are no longer around. Most people recommend visiting in the afternoon to see the colors gleam in the light. I would recommend the morning for better photos. My afternoon visit produced nothing put over-exposed photos.
The next visit would be the famed Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. It’s made up of hexagon shaped crusts of dried salt. Here, you can wander as far as you want or just stay close to the parking lot where the ground and salt is more fine. I wanted to see the hexagon shape so I continued for maybe a mile until I was among them. Dusk had arrived and I got my camera ready for sunset. Actually, the Panamint Range blocks the sunset but the valley still fills with a spectacular array of color. This was why I made it my last stop of the day. I wanted to see it for myself. The valley filled with vibrant colors and I was in heaven. I took several photos and light was dimming quickly.
As I stood among the salt, I thought to myself this would be a great opportunity to see the stars. It turned out to be the best decision I made during this trip. The stars must have numbered in the hundreds of thousands that night, a spectacle I don’t get to see in the city. I was so amazed, I spent over two hours among the salt and only hunger called me away.
The second day would bring a visit to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. It’s not a strenuous visit unless you want to hike up to the larges dunes which are further away. Most people stay among the smaller dunes near the parking lot.
The more adventurous, like my self, trek out to the larger dunes. People also bring saucer sleds and snow boards to slide down the large dunes. You’ll eventually get sand on your clothes and of course in your shoes so keep this in mind before you get back in your car.
I made my way home and out of the park but I wasn’t done with the valley just yet. I made my way to Dante’s View and it’s windy road. I only expected a typical viewpoint but I got so much more. I was blown away by the view of the valley below and there’s also a short trail that you can take.
It provides God’s view of the valley from different angles that will take your breath away. This was a spectacular way to end my visit.
The world is full of amazing and beautiful locations and Death Valley is definitely among those places. I understand those who are reluctant to visit a national park and a valley named death in one of the hottest places on earth. It’s a contradiction of the largest kind. The land is so unhospitable and at the same time so wonderous and so beautiful. Death Valley, I’ll see you again… during the winter of course.