Death Valley in California is one of the most special national parks in America and perhaps one of the most spectacular places in the world. The name alone appeals to the imagination and conjures up hellish scenes. But in reality it is an enchanting desert with many beautiful places. Welcome to a landscape of mountains along an extensive salt flat, singing sand dunes, enormous moving boulders, extinct volcanic craters, colorful canyons, ghost towns and magical sunsets. Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells are an ideal base to explore the Death Valley with its unique climate and extremely high temperatures. Which sights and beautiful places should you not miss in Death Valley?
- Death Valley’s sights and beautiful places: what to see?
- Temperature and climate: when to visit?
- Zabriskie Point
- Dante’s View
- Artist’s Drive
- Mosaic Canyon
- Scotty’s Castle
- Ubehebe Crater
- Titus Canyon
- Sand Dunes and Devil’s Cornfield
- Bath water
- Golden Canyon
Death Valley (California) / Source: Esudroff, Pixabay
Death Valley’s sights and beautiful places: what to see?
Where does the name ‘Death Valley’ come from?
Death Valley owes its name to a group of gold seekers. In 1849 they wanted to take a shortcut on their way to California, passed through the valley but lost their way. They were stuck for weeks and one person even died. The name Death Valley was soon born.
The valley is about 225 kilometers long and lies between two mountain ranges: the Panamint Range (3350 meters) in the west and the Amargosa Range (2500 meters) in the east.
Death Valley was once the territory of the Shoshone Indians. They lived here for more than a thousand years until they were displaced in 1933 to a tiny village near Furnace Creek.
Death Valley is a place of records and extremes. The highest temperature ever recorded in the US was recorded here: 134 degrees Fahrenheit or a scorching 57 degrees Celsius!
The lowest point in all of America is also located here in the town of Badwater. It is located 86 meters below sea level. The icing on the cake is that the park, with more than 5,000 square miles (1.32 million hectares), is also the largest in the United States outside Alaska.
Furnace Creek is the main site in Death Valley. Here you will find the largest visitor center, a shop, a (very expensive) gas station, bank machines, and of course accommodation and dining options.
Stovepipe Wells was once Death Valley’s main center until Furnace Creek took over. Yet the village, which is actually hardly more than a hamlet, has a certain charm. You will find the Stovepipe Wells Village, a hotel with 83 rooms and the nice adjacent Toll Road Restaurant and Badwater Saloon where the old West comes to life. There is also a shop and a petrol station.
Temperature and climate: when to visit?
Best time to travel
Winter and spring are the high season. Hotels are often fully booked months in advance, especially on weekends. In the summer, temperatures in Death Valley can be unbearable, reaching almost 50 degrees.
Can you visit Death Valley in the summer?
Yes, but it is best to limit outdoor activities to the early morning or late afternoon. It is better to spend the warmest period of the day by the pool or seek out the higher areas of the park.
View from Zabriskie Point / Source: Werner22brigitte, Pixabay
One of the most popular spots and highlights of Death Valley is Zabriskie Point, where you can enjoy spectacular views of the valley. The viewpoint is worth seeing at any time of the day. In the north, red-brown hills rise from the sand-colored environment. The undulating badlands form an impressive panorama, especially in the morning.
Do you want a nice tip? Also visit Zabriskie Point at sunset. It is not far from Furnace Creek so you don’t have to drive too far through the valley in the dark afterwards. An enchanting experience! In the visitor center they can tell you the time of sunset. Make sure you are there a while in advance.
Want to escape the heat? A ride to Dantes View is a nice option. From this viewpoint at 1669 meters you can simultaneously see the highest point (Mount Whitney, 4418 meters) and the lowest (Badwater) in the US outside Alaska. Brown mountains rise majestically from the white salt flats below.
The panoramic view is stunning, but you have to be prepared for it: the drive to Dantes View takes about one and a half to two hours there and back. You reach the point along Dante’s View Road, a side road off Highway 190 for 13.3 miles (21 kilometers).
Artist’s Drive / Source: PDPhotos, Pixabay
Even if you don’t have much time for Death Valley, you should definitely drive the nine-mile Artists Drive. It starts about nine miles south of Furnace Creek. It is a scenic walk in one direction. The narrow winding road winds through a spectacular landscape of hills and rocks with beautiful colors, the result of an age-old interplay of minerals and volcanic ash.
Almost every bend takes you to breathtaking and photogenic spots. The highlight is the Artists Palette section, where the colors of the rocks are at their best. Allow approximately 45 minutes for the journey.
A nice hike in Death Valley runs through Mosaic Canyon. You reach the trailhead not far from Stovepipe Wells, along a three-mile unpaved but passable road. From here you can walk and climb a bit along the beautiful path through the canyon with its beautiful colorful rock walls. You choose how far you want to walk into the canyon and return the same way. The splendor of colors is best expressed around noon. The deeper you walk into the canyon, the more impressive the colors become. If you have an hour to spare near Stovepipe Wells and you don’t know what to do, exploring this canyon is highly recommended!
Scottys Castle is perhaps the most bizarre of all the sights. What is such a kitschy villa doing in the middle of a desert?
Walter E. Scott, aka Death Valley Scotty, was an odd figure to say the least. He was a cunning and cunning businessman, fantasist and braggart. With his endless stories about gold and wealth, he inspired people like Albert and Bessie Johnson, two insurance magnates from Chicago. He talked them into financing a Spanish-style villa in the middle of the Californian desert.
Scotty built a Spanish-style villa with all the trimmings: red-tiled roofs, bell towers and a swimming pool. It was completely restored. There are twenty-five rooms and they are full of beautiful artefacts and furniture. Many items were imported from Italy and Spain.
Visit Scotty’s Castle
You can only visit the house with a guide. The Living History Tour is the most popular tour. A guide takes you through the historic building and tells Scotty’s life story in scents and colors.
This deep and impressive crater can be found a few miles west of Scottys Castle. It has a diameter of almost one kilometer and is 150 meters deep. The crater was formed thousands of years ago when magma came into contact with cool groundwater and led to a volcanic eruption. You can walk along the rim and also explore the younger, adjacent Little Hebe Crater.
If you have a 4×4 vehicle, be sure to take the spectacular Titus Canyon Road between Highway 374 north of Furnace Creek towards Beatty and Scottys Castle. It is an adventurous excursion along a winding road that sometimes climbs and sometimes descends. Along the way you will pass the ghost town of Leadfield, ancient petroglyphs and narrow passages through the canyon. Be sure to check the road conditions at the visitor center at Furnace Creek before you head out.
Leadfield isn’t the only ghost town in Death Valley. Skidoo is also an abandoned old mining town that has now become a ‘ghost town’. Located just outside the park, Rhyolite is an equally fascinating ghost village. At its peak in 1912, ten thousand people lived here, but none today.
Sand Dunes and Devil’s Cornfield
The sand dunes of Mesquite Flats near Stovepipe Wells are worth a look. With a little imagination you can imagine yourself in the Sahara. The dunes are especially photogenic when the sun is low. It becomes completely magical during the full moon. The entire landscape then takes on something enchanting. The immense sand dunes also slowly change shape under the influence of the wind.
Across the road you will see the Devil’s Cornfield, a bizarre landscape of countless groves of arrowweed. The plant growth proves that the top layer of the soil still contains a lot of water despite the high salt content.
Badwater / Source: LoggaWiggler, Pixabay
The name of the town sounds ridiculous to the Dutch and Flemish, but the landscape with its vast salt flats is worth it and resembles the environment of some alien planet. Moreover, this is the lowest point in the entire US. You reach the town about 17 miles south of Furnace Creek. A spring next to the road created a small pool of undrinkable salt water, hence the name ‘bad water’ or ‘bad water’. Yet some plants and animals such as the bathwater snail survive in this hostile environment.
Be sure to take some time to explore the terrain of salt and water. It is an impressive and haunting environment.
If you drive to Badwater, you can also stop along the way at Golden Canyon, one of the most special hikes in Death Valley. It is about two miles there and back together. The name of the canyon refers to the beautiful golden color of the rock walls. At the end you will also notice beautiful red rocks.
The walk is quite easy and does not require too much climbing. Make sure you bring enough water because it gets very hot in the canyon. Doing this walk early in the morning or late afternoon is therefore highly recommended!
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