The drive through Death Valley National Park was yet another highlight along the route of our South West US road trip. In complete contrast to the majestic granite cliffs, verdant pines and babbling streams of Yosemite, Death Valley possesses a sun-bleached grandeur, and desolate sense of vastness. There really is nowhere else like it on earth.
How Hot is Death Valley?
Death Valley also sounds kind of scary, maybe it’s just the name, but we did approach the drive with some trepidation. We’d heard snippets in Monterey, as we waited to go whale watching, from other people who had driven it. Comments like ‘the tire pressure went up so much we thought they were going to burst’ and ‘you’ll need to turn the air-con off so the engine doesn’t overheat’ didn’t inspire confidence. Neither did the fact that the highest ever temperature on earth of 134°F was recorded at Furness Creek in Death Valley in July 1913. On our drive through Death Valley temperatures reached a mere 108°F…
Tips for Driving Death Valley
We filled the car with fuel and we filled ourselves with a massive breakfast of eggs and hash browns, oddly with a slice of watermelon garnishing the plate. We stocked the cooler box with ice and bottled water, slapped on the suncream and studied our trusty paper map – GPS and mobile signals aren’t reliable in the desert. Leaving Lone Pine, where we’d stayed overnight, we turned onto heat-hazed route 190, a scenic byway, which seemed to stretch into infinity and we entered the furnace of Death Valley.
Death Valley is an area of 13,518 km² where the earth’s crust which has sunk leaving a flat basin. It lies partly in California and partly in Nevada, USA. You might think it’s one huge expanse of heat-scorched landscape and barren emptiness framed by craggy mountains. And yes, there are areas of parched, cracked earth but on taking a closer look you’ll find so much more. There are mirrors of sparkling white salt deposits, multi-coloured lava formations and vivid rust and orchre striations in the rock face. Splashes of green where small shrubs and plants thrive prove that there’s moisture found in the valley. There’s history in the valley too; remnants of the life led by pioneers, prospectors and the borax miners.
Mustard Canyon in Death Valley
Mustard Canyon, Death Valley
Mustard Canyon, which is just north of Furnace Creek, (where we hit 106°F) is worth a stop to view the ochre rock formations and the nearby ruins of the Harmony Borax Mine. The heat hit us full on as we made our way up the hill to the old mine and the wagon cart once pulled by a twenty mule team. It was unimaginable to think that people worked the mines in this heat. Borax, known as ‘white gold of the desert’ was the most profitable mineral to come out of Death Valley.
We planned our route through the valley to take in some of the highlights – just a few. It’s a huge place and although some of the attractions are close to each other some are only accessible by rough roads which zig-zag across the valley’s peaks which means although somewhere is only 10k away it could take an hour to get there.
Death Valley Lows
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the U.S. The vertical drop from the top to the floor of Badwater Basin is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon at 282 feet below sea level.
By far the most spectacular landscape we saw was Zabrinskie Point with the view of The Badlands and its pastel pink and yellow tinted rock formations. Zabriskie Point is part of Amargosa Range well known for it’s eroded landscape. It’s made up of sediment from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up millions of years before Death Valley came into existence.
Zabriskie Point was our last stop in Death Valley. After our first road trip week of exploring San Francisco and California’s wildlife in Monterey and Yosemite it was time to head back to the city. This time, the neon lights of Las Vegas were calling us…
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Suzanne Jones is creator, writer and photographer at The Travelbunny. When she’s not indulging her wanderlust you’ll most likely find her enjoying coastal walks in her home county of East Sussex, UK.
Suzanne co-writes Sussex Bloggers which showcases the best of East & West Sussex.