This is the last and 18th National Park, Monument or Historical Site from our Trail to the Southwest adventure that I’ll write about. Don’t worry, there will be two additional posts, one titled Potpourri that will feature photos from a few additional interesting times we had along the way and the other is titled Final Thoughts and Reflections, a piece about some our most cherished moments on this trip, our first to the Southwest.
What to say about Death Valley National Park? Words that come to mind are WOW! Awesome! Majestic! Grand! and Gigantic! We visited some great sites on this trip but this was one our favs. This park has just about everything except a tropical forest! It has salt-flats, sand dunes, canyons, deep valleys, high mountains, desert, and badlands. It’s the largest National Park in the lower 48 at 3.3 million acres or 5300 square miles and is the hottest (highest temp recorded 134 degrees F, 57 C), lowest (282 feet below sea level at Badwater Basin) and driest (average 2.4″ of rain per year) of all the National Parks. Despite these negatives, there’s a lot to see and do in Death Valley especially in the cooler months of the year. We spent two and a half days in the Park and wanted more.
On our first day, prior to reaching the Park entrance (we stayed in Beatty [pronounced bee-tee] so had a 40 mile one way trip everyday into the Park) we made a stop at the ghost town of Rhyolite. This town sprang up in the early 1900’s after a prospecting discovery in the nearby hills, the town boomed reaching an estimated 5000 residents. After about 5 years, most of the mines petered out and by 1920 there was hardly anyone left. Below are a few photos of the remnants of Rhyolite. Of interest is the bottle house that continues to be well preserved.
Upon entrance to the park the Hells Gate overlook provides visitors a view of the valley where one marvels at the great expanse that lays before us.
From here, we made our way to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center to get some park information, see the park video, check out the exhibits and have our National Park Passport stamped. As you can see by the temperature gauge, the weather was very pleasant and mild, it stayed that way for the duration of our visit. The recommended months for visiting are late October through March before it gets too hot. This park received nearly 1.3 million visitors in 2017 but even if it’s busy, there’s a lot of room to spread out.
Since it was mid afternoon, we decided to check out Stovepipe Wells Village and the west part of the Park. After a stop for a some refreshments, we made our way up to towards Emigrant Pass stopping along the way to take some photos. Always photos!!
On our return, we drove up the bumpy, rocky road to Mosaic Canyon to do a short hike while there was still some daylight.
And just before sunset, we had a little time to explore the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. We learned that these dunes are little siblings to some of the giant dunes in remote parts of the Park. Regardless, we found them to be interesting and fun. Here’s a few photos.
As the sun was going down, we observed this patriotic group heading to the parking lot after a day of fun on the dunes.
I also couldn’t resist taking some photos of a gnarled dried out old tree.
As the sun was setting, this photographer couldn’t resist taking these photos during the “golden” hour, one of the best times for photography!
The next morning, we were up early and on our way to the Park. We decided to take the one-way 27 mile Titus Canyon Road through the mountains ending on Scotty’s Castle Road. This drive, albeit slow as it took us almost five hours, was the favorite part of our visit to this Park. The road was dusty, rough and rocky as you can see in this photo, and this was one of the better stretches!
The road wound through the hills and canyons as can be seen in this wide angle shot. Notice there isn’t much traffic, the Park recommends a four wheel drive high clearance vehicle to make this trip. We did see some small SUV’s and wondered how they made it through some of the tough spots.
We stopped a lot to take in the beautiful scenery and the clean fresh air plus take photos!
The road took us past the old copper and lead mining town of Leadfield that took off in 1905 boom but didn’t last much past the 1920’s. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Sites. Here are a few photos from Leadfield.
Near the end of this drive, the road makes it’s way through the “dramatic” Titus Canyon. It was pretty awesome driving through the narrow canyon on what is at times raging with water from runoff during the monsoon season.
After leaving Titus Canyon Road behind, we continued up Scotty’s Castle Road to the Ubehebe Crater. This large volcanic crater is over 1/2 mile wide and between 500 and 700 feet deep. There are some very nice hiking trails around the rim and to the bottom of the crater.
With the sun starting to set behind us, we left the park with our day’s wonderful experiences dancing in our heads. The next morning, our last day in the park, we started out at Keane Wonder Mill and Mine. This gold mine was one of the more successful mines in the area beginning in about 1905 producing until 1912 when it was deemed tapped out and closed. The remains of the mine and mill are still visible to visitors offering us a peek back into our early history.
Our next stop was at the Harmony Borax Works, where borax was mined and refined then transported by 20 mule teams to be loaded on to rail cars. Do any of you remember your Mom’s using the cleaner 20 Mule Team Borax around the house and laundry. I sure do! Here’s a few photos from our stop at this iconic location.
Our next stop was at the lowest place in North America, Badwater Basin. This is a place where parking is harder to find as it’s the most popular spot in the park, lots of tour buses from Las Vegas stop here. Please note the Sea Level sign in the third photo located on the side of the mountain, gives one perspective. We enjoyed our walk and people watching, fun seeing all the selfies being made!
Our day was winding down but we had a few more stops to make. First, was the Artists Palette, probably one on the prettiest spots in this Park with the blues, greens and reddish colors give the landscape a pleasing look. Note the shadow selfie in the top photo!
The next stop was at Golden Canyon where we hiked about a mile in to see the fine scenery. We talked with another photographer who said he’s been to Death Valley a number of times and doesn’t tire of it. We could understand his sentiment.
Our last stop of the day was at the Zabriskie Point overlook. It’s another popular stop in the park and it’s especially nice at the end of the day with the sun setting in the west. This location was named in the honor of Christian Zabriskie who spent most of his career with the Pacific Coast Borax Company that mined in what is now the National Park.
The end of our visit to Death Valley came to an end all too soon, it was time to start our trek back to Wisconsin and our other responsibilities. As I mentioned earlier in this post, this was one of our favorite National Parks and it’s one that we plan to visit again and again, if we are able. There’s a lot more to see and do. Here’s a few parting photos to encourage you to check out this park.
Next up, Potpourri.
Until next week, travel safe.