As I drove through Death Valley I wasn't certain I was in the park until just before I got to my campsite. This was due to two things: sandstorms and a serious lack of knowledge of where I was. I added this park last minute to my trip to avoid freezing temperatures elsewhere, so I had no notes or preprinted guides. There is no cell reception, so maps and notes would have been nice, especially when the winds picked up and I could no longer see more than 2 feet in font of my car. (Note: When you you look out and see this ahead (picture 1) maybe stop for awhile and don't drive through it and get stuck behind a long line of other cars for over and hour while you are pelted by small rocks.) This desert has all the extremes: from below freezing nights, to record highs of 130+ degrees, to sandstorms with wind gust over 50mph. (I experienced this last one first hand.) When you take this journey make sure you are prepared with food, water and gas. It is dry, it is exposed, and it is one of the few places I have ever felt truly alone, and it was amazing!
Note: The morning I was driving to Death Valley I slipped and fell on the jagged shoreline of Mono Lake (more about this awesome place in another post) and tore up my left leg pretty badly. This meant fewer hikes and more long drives and vista overlooks.
I stayed at Furnace Creek, one of the only open campsites in June. Most site close in Mid May due to brutal summer temperatures. The other campsites that are open at this time are at higher altitudes and/ or only accessible though high clearance roads. Furnace Creek is open year round but runs a steep price of $22 per night. There is also a lodge on site and plenty of privately owned hotels and campsites nearby.
Hikes I Hiked
Badwater Salt Flats - .75miles - A must do hike because It's the lowest point in North America! 'nough said. Okay but for real, it's a short easy flat hike across what is seemingly an alien planet. There is zero shade and the ground is white so sunscreen and hats are a must.
Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral - 1.25 miles - A fairly simple out and back hike though a a passage way of canyon walls. While I hiked I was constantly worried about a rattle snake due to all the cliff hangings and little hiding spots across the rocks. I never saw one and you probably won't either. You'll find good lighting in the early morning and evenings.
Dante's Ridge - .5miles - This hike is a half mile walk along the edge of her Black Mountains ascending 100 feet to spectacular views of the salt flat and Badwater Basin. If you don't feel like making the steep hike or are fearful of cliff edges the trail head at Dante's View offers similar scenes.
Sites I Saw
Dante's View - It's a cool spot with great views at the end of windy incredibly steep road. The trail head for Dante's Ridge.
Sand Dunes - Towards the center of the park are the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Again, this is another great place to visit at sunrise/sunset and offers little to no shade in the afternoon. I didn't spend much time here as I use my early mornings for long hikes and my evenings for sleeping, so I was there at noon and it was hot. Though I did see quite a few people walking out into the dunes and, if you don't mind sand in your shoes, it's probably a really great experience..
Twenty Mule Team Canyon - This a 2.7 mile windy bumpy road that I bravely drove my Honda Civic though, I do not recommend this. It is unpaved and uneven, it is not high access rated but in my civic I couldn't drive much above 10mph and had to be extra cautions. The drive offers views of badlands that are tucked out of sight from the main roads and it doesn't take much time to complete. So if it's boiling hot out and you wan to see something from the comfort of you air-conditioned car this is the thing to do.
Badwater - The lowest point in North America! It lies about 282 feet below sea level and has an environment like non-other. For all you running nerds this is were the Badwater Ultra. begins and it is super cool to stand in this spot! For those of you who want to understand, when you go there just try and imagine running 13miles, then multiply that times ten. Yeah people do that, in this environment, and they are amazing.
Artists Drive / Artists Palette - This is an amazing scenic drive (9miles one way) with plenty of spots where you can get out and hike. Honestly you can get out and hike almost anywhere on the road as there are few other people and lots of scenery. (Though I don't know how the park feels about this... Just please don't park your car on vegetation!) Artists Palette is the main attraction along this drive, due to the vast array of natural occurring color. This is a great place to get out and wander about about endless hills. Photograph in the late afternoon for best light. Lastly, look closely for a little dude in this final photo to get a sense of scale.