Hypnotic Death Valley

Our perspective seems off balance as we wend around and dip through the curving landscape. We follow what seems like the only paved road in Death Valley National Park, adding to its allure. 

The diverse terrain is richly rewarding, but feeling as if you’re the only person exploring the park is priceless. The quiet is hypnotic. 

Other national parks require a hike into their interior to enjoy the reward of solitude. Not here. Death Valley is one of the few national parks where you can feel completely alone on the road.

 

We couldn’t suppress the impulse to pull over, seat ourselves on the warm asphalt and take a picture to prove the point.

With only two nights in the park, we prioritized our time and quickly realized our short stay would only scratch the surface of this expansive place. It covers just over 3.3 million acres of territory, making it the largest American national park outside of Alaska.

Zabriskie Point at sunset seemed like a place Thomas Moran would have enjoyed painting as the clouds diffused a palette of colors onto its eroding hills.

 

Artist’s Drive showcased multicolored volcanic and sedimentary hills along its 9-mile scenic loop off Badwater Road.

Created by a volcanic steam explosion possibly just 300 years ago, hiking the rim of Ubehebe Crater reminded us of the power of nature. The impression it left resembles a basket and measures 600 feet deep and a half mile across.



Scotty’s Castle, a Spanish-Mediterranean vacation home hidden in Grapevine Canyon, demonstrates the determination of man, especially under the intoxicating influence of nature.

After increasing our odds of not getting stranded in the park by topping off our gas tank at Furnace Creek, we began our drive out of the park at 190 feet below sea level. Our ears popped as we climb 4,956 feet to Towne Pass less than an hour later. We passed a sign reading, “brake check stop,” as we headed back down closer to sea level. 

The textures of the mountains and valley floor with patches of sand dunes and salt flats bring to life geologic curiosities. Alluvial fans, sparsely vegetated canyons colored in shades of rust and black, and piles of stone scattered like litter on the plains are but a few of the landscape scenes that unfold before us as we exited the park on Panamint Valley Road.

As we left Death Valley, we noted hikes and sights we’d like to explore the next time. Topping the list are Golden, Mosaic and Titus Canyons, Badwater Basin, Racetrack Playa where rocks mysteriously slide across the dry lakebed, and Dante’s View to take in the the lowest and highest points in the continuous United States from one vantage point (Badwater at 292 feet below sea level and Mount Whitney at 14,505 feet).

It’s enough to fill a week in the park, but it’ll just have to wait until the next trip.

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