A few hours in Death Valley National Park

My most recent trip out west had a focus on National Parks. I flew into Las Vegas as a base to travel around Utah and head into Arizona. I spent two days and one night located in the Vegas area, and decided to make the trip into California and visit Death Valley National Park. The record for the highest temperature ever recorded was 134 degrees in the park, this is the hottest place on earth. Dress accordingly and bring more water than you could ever drink. During my November trip the temperature was a comfortable 80 degrees in the afternoon. Since I was driving two hours from Vegas, and two hours back, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked – but I was ready to make the most of it.

DSCN4274If I could do it again I would have found a hotel closer to the park, a lesson learned for next time. Death Valley is the largest National Park in the lower 48, no matter which way you look at it it’s unlikely you can see the whole park in just a day. I chose to focus my hours on one section of the park, the Furnace Creek area. For us, this wasn’t a foodie day. We ate a hefty breakfast on the way to fuel us, packed lunch, and planned on having a late dinner when we got back. First stop was at the Visitor’s Center to get a map and orient ourselves. Our main hike was located at the Golden Canyon trailhead, the 4 mile RT Gower Gulch loop.

DSCN4294We got to the lot early and snagged a spot, when we got back the place was swamped! Get there early for more comfortable temperatures and less people, and bring a hat! It’s very sunny on the trail. We took note of the map and headed into the canyon. The initial portion of the trail was flat and as we comfortably walked on I was increasingly impressed by the ever changing rock colors and formations. Different hues of yellow muddled with some green, brown, red, and the brightest blue you could ever imagine in the distance – only challenged by that of the sky.

DSCN4296 DSCN4303 DSCN4299The path was intuitive to walk, and anytime there was a turn to take a small marker would appear.

DSCN4305Once the loop began we started heading uphill gaining a new perspective on the badlands.

DSCN4307 DSCN4308 DSCN4310 DSCN4312At the climax of elevation the trail was situated on a ridge step with care.

DSCN4315For me it was hard to stay focused on my footing because the view to the side was incredible, but after a little stumble I decided to stop walking to look at the view for a moment.

DSCN4316Eventually you will reach a junction, if you are finishing the loop you are more than half way done.

DSCN4320You can extend your hike by heading to Zabraskie Point – which can also be reached via car as a scenic overlook. Your choice. We decided to finish the loop as there were other sights to see. We marveled at the now crackled earth below our feet.

DSCN4328Just a few days prior a flood ravished the park, as I scrambled down a dry waterfall and looked out I wondered just how much water was – and used to be at one time where I was standing.

DSCN4331We were almost finished with the loop and back out near the road. The views outside of the canyon were as astounding as those within.

DSCN4333 DSCN4336We strolled back to the lot with the satisfaction of completing an ideally exciting hike with excellent views. We hopped in the car and made our way to the Devils Golf Course.

devils golfcourseThis brutal landscape is a sight to see. Jagged dry salt covers the flat land, try walking out a bit. You need to have good shoes and major balance, a fall on this would really hurt. Observing the intricate designs of the salt is fascinating, but after a few minutes we were back on the road. Badwater Basin lowest place in North America at negative 282 feet below zero, and a major attraction at the park.

DSCN4366From the parking lot you will see a cliff behind you, not unusual as there are huge mountains surrounding the entire area. If you squint you may see a little sign that reads ‘sea level,’ that’ll put things in perspective for you.

badwater basinTake a walk with the throngs of people out into the basin, the path is short and well worn, and absolutely worth it.

DSCN4371Many people were walking barefoot, the salt isn’t great for your boots. Would you believe there is still life somewhere so barren? A butterfly licked salt on the path, what a contrast.

DSCN4372It had just rained so the puddles added an interesting touch to the landscape with the blue reflection of the sky above. We walked past the people to find our own quiet spot and take in this beauty, this strangeness.

DSCN4379This was our last stop of the day, as the recent flood had closed off Artists Drive. We were happy with the portion of the park we saw, it was unique and thrilling enough. We had a long drive back to Vegas, but it was well worth the daytrip to make memories that will last a lifetime. I can’t wait to return and visit the other sections of the park, so much to explore.

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