When you think of Death Valley, what do you think of? Sand, dry, hot, boring, more sand?
Sand? Certainly! Dry? Definitely! Hot? April through Oct, most assuredly! But, absolutely not boring.
Yeah, yeah,Yosemite is a beautiful place…all green and waterfall-y, lots of trees and meadows and, darn it, people. You can hardly see the landscape for the masses of people. I don’t really like to go there anymore, it’s so crowded.
And, yes, the beach is beautiful…the sunsets, the sandpipers scurrying along the waves, the dead sea lions washed up on the shore, the seagulls pooping on my head. Seriously though, I am more at peace along the beach or a river than anywhere else.
But the desert, too, has a stark beauty all its own. You just have to look closely. It has a deeper kind of beauty that grows on you.
We like to visit the desert in the winter months – partly because we can count on it being warmer there than where we live, partly because there are no hordes of people milling about and partly because of its unique qualities. Its T-shirt weather during the day but it gets very cold at night, so layering up is the name of the game.
You’ll drive over the crest of the mountain and you can see the valley sprawling before you, all browns and scrub brush and far off in the distance your eyes pick out a glint from the white roofs at Stove Pipe Wells. Get out of your car and wait a bit to let your eyes adjust to the subtleties and you’ll begin to see the wild variations in the cliffs, the mountains, the rocks. You can see sand dunes that rise almost 100 feet right in the middle of the valley.
Death Valley isn’t boring. There are hikes in narrow canyons of slick marble, you can scramble up dryfalls (we were making an attempt to continue past the official end of the hike and I was half-way up the dryfall when 2 ten-year old boys ran up. They said that the other side of the fall was easier and proceeded to show me how very much easier it is when you’re 10!).
Wander along volcanic craters, experience the surreal landscape of the enormous salt flats, visit historic Scotty’s Castle, see the mysterious sliding rocks at The Racetrack…, check out the charcoal kilns. There are old borax works, abandoned mines, the Rhyolite ghost town.
Take water with you everywhere and make sure your car is gassed up and you won’t be at a loss for things to do. There are 3 hotels in the Valley – Swimming Pools! Tennis! Golf! – lots of tent or RV camping spaces (about 800), 4 restaurants, 2 convenience stores, 3 bars, 1 gas station, an airstrip, bicycle and jeep rentals, you can go out on your own or rent-an-adventure from various outfits – we even saw paragliders! And, thank heaven, there are even bathrooms out in the middle of nowhere.
An hour outside the park is Beatty, NV, with a few hotels (Stagecoach Inn, Motel 6, Desert Inn) and the Armagosa Hotel at Death Valley Junction is historic and pretty funky, its owner is the famed ballerina Marta Beckett…she’s 87 and still puts on a show every Sunday.
We went to Death Valley a couple weeks ago & there were people from all over the world…Australia,England, Japan,Mexico,Canada.
Sidenote: We were invited by Coco, our Denny’s waitress (not a lot of breakfast places in Beatty, NV) to a NYE’s party at a local bar where a live band was playing and EVERYthing. The Tracy Barns Band – country flavor with a large repertoire of popular standards. Thankfully, they were actually good musicians!
You have to like driving to like wandering around Death Valley, cuz there’s a LOT of wide, open space there – 3.4 million acres! And many of the longer drives are recommended for high-clearance vehicles (hence the popularity of the jeep rentals), but there are plenty of drives for regular sedans and even RVs.
There’s a place where an underground stream comes to the surface and becomes home to pickleweed and tiny pupfish (they are so energetic, like puppies, according to the guy that discovered them). It finally runs out of energy and melts back into the sand…
We discovered another oasis on the map – it’s the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, actually outside the Park, between Beatty and Death Valley Junction – where there are 30 streams and seeps (doesn’t quite qualify as running water) which feed the many species of birds, fish, animals and plants that thrive there. There used to be farms in the area, but they dwindled away and now it’s mostly the Refuge with a few private homesteads peppered around.
Its here that we got to drive through a washout! In a gully! I was very excited, I had to get out of the car and make Rick drive through slowly so I could get pictures of us Driving! through the Water! in a gully! Wow…is my live so dull?
Dust everywhere! Here’s the back of our car…especially after driving the gravel roads up to the trailheads.
As I said before, the beauty of Death Valley isn’t as obvious as it is at the beach. Look more closely and you’ll find tiny berries, a riot of color (the variations don’t show up as well on the limited color-wheel of a computer monitor), unique formations – sand dunes, natural rock bridge, a canyon of marble, hills of bold red, bright gold and even aqua.
I heard someone say that the average hotel stay in the Valley is 1 night. 1 night! Are you kidding! You can’t stay less than 3 days and if you have a truck or 4-wheel-drive, then stay another day at least, maybe 2. There are 3 things we’d have liked to do but didn’t have the vehicle for – The Racetrack (where rocks leave tracks in the sand – how do they do that?), Titus canyon and the kilns.
Visit Death Valley, it’s a fascinating place