“ Death Valley, Nevada. „
Death Valley California. Bad water and Furnace creek.
I have visited Death Valley a couple of times although the first time it was a bit of a misadventure. We were staying in Las Vegas and drove up to visit Scotty's castle and was planning to drive all the way back to Las Vegas via Death Valley.
We had breakfast and made our way up to Scotty's Castle and after going around that for a couple of hours we came out just as the sun was just setting. We set off for the journey back through the desert but unfortunately it was pitch black and we could not see anything apart from the odd light here and there and passed no cars on the road. The only thing we could see was a few yards of road ahead of us.
You could feel your ears pop as we descended into the valley but there were no visual clues as to what was going on in the darkness. The sky was clear so you could see the stars and the moon but it was just black and nothingness. You could make out the outline of the mountains either side of the valley but that was about it.
Death Valley is the lowest point in America at 282 feet below sea level. There were markers on the road to tell you how low you had reached and the odd sign now and again telling you how far to the next junction but apart from that there is absolute nothing to focus on. The odd bush here and there but that was about it. We finally got to a turning which we needed and after driving for about half an hour we suddenly had to come to a stop as the road had been washed away and there was no way of passing this area we had to turn back along the road and join the main road again. The temperature in the dessert drops considerably during the night and it feels really cold. So from one extreme to another, boiling searing heat in the day and freezing temperatures at night.
Our second visit was a little bit more successful. We were there in April and decided to get out and make our way earlier than the last time we were there. We did not bother going to the north of Death Valley but headed towards the Bad water basin. We travelled along the mountain ranges and every so often there were viewing points which gave spectacular views over the barren land.
My title not much water here is true enough as what is there is practically undrinkable due to the high salt content but it can support some of the fantastic fauna that grows quickly and briefly following rainfall but due to the extreme temperatures it soon evaporates.
Once we reached Bad water we got out of the car but boy it is really hot there. There were salt pans there and you could walk out along the board walk taking in all the scenery. There was no plant life here just surface salt for as far as you could see. You would have thought it was snow as it was brilliant white colour and quite blinding in the blistering heat. It is fair to say that we were not here for too long as the heat was absolutely unbearably hot. We had to get ourselves back to the car as quickly as possible. The sun was quite strong and burning I really cannot imagine working in this heat or travelling on horseback. Thank the lord for air-conditioned cars!
We carried on and drove to a Furnace creek where there is a very small town where there are caravan and motor home parks. There is also a visitor's centre with the history of death valley on display. There are swimming pools and camping grounds a couple of cafeteria type restaurants, a motel and a museum. Outside were a couple of train locomotives and wagons on display. We stopped here for a while to use the toilet facilities get a drink and have an ice lolly. The temperature was 109 F which is around 42 C. You can imagine how difficult it must have been when the settlers and gold miners lived in these very harsh and inhospitable conditions and bearing in mind this was Spring and nowhere near the height of the summer. The hottest temperature ever recorded on earth was in 1913 here in Furnace creek when temperatures reach 57 C or 134F.
This time as we drove through the desert a lot of the fauna had sparked into life there was an abundance of colourful flowers here and there obviously where there was a slight water supply. I guess that it is fairly short lived as the temperatures creeps up over the summer months. We saw no wildlife at all although I dare say in that heat they may well have been hiding in the little shade that is there. Summer temperatures can reach 42C in the summer and is the hottest place on earth. What is spectacular is the scenery. According to the time of the day and the position of the sun the surrounding mountains change colour from bronze, amber to purple and blue hues. There are different rock formations all around the lower valley and whether you are at base level or high over the mountains the views are spectacular. Traffic is steady and it won't be long before someone passes you during the day time but as I said at the beginning we were very much alone in the valley at night. I did like Death Valley it is a place of beauty but due to the harsh weather conditions it is one of the most dangerous places on earth.
Would I recommend a visit here?
Yes I would as it is quite a fascinating place. It is not all glamour or neon lit at all but you can put yourselves in the place of the earlier settlers and gold diggers and imagine the harsh conditions they had to put up with. There is some beautiful scenery here set amongst the blue sky above the mountain range but if you can only stand the heat it is worthwhile visiting it. Summer night time temperatures do not dip much below 98F or 37C which is body temperature so it might be pretty uncomfortable to sleep in. You are perfectly safe as long as you stick to the main routes through the desert. Essentials are to take water with you, a sun hat and sunglasses.
Having left behind the spooky area of Rhyolite Ghost Town and the strange sculptures we decided to head on down to Furnace Creek Village, where you can find accommodation, when available, and a campground. You can also grab a bite to eat at this oasis and fill up your tank. There is also a small airport too.
As we had already had sorted out our accommodation and sorted out our stomachs a little earlier, all that was left at the Village for us to do was to visit the ranger station to get some more information on the attractions around this beautiful section of Death Valley. As mentioned in the Stovepipe Wells review, ranger stations are great for finding out details of hikes on some of the trails in this area and for getting good advice on surviving the intense heat in this area.
The area is divided into two different sections and we decided to start on the western road first, otherwise known as Route 178 or Badwater Road. If you keep on this road it takes you all the way to Shoshone where again there is accommodation available. We only went as far as Badwater Basin, which is the last Furnace Creek attraction on this road, before we headed back towards Beatty for the night.
This was the first stopping point and according to the guidebook it is a round trip trail into the canyon. It says it is quite an easy to moderate hike but bearing in mind that it was still over 100 degrees despite it being early evening, we decided not to go all the way as it can take over an hour to do and takes you on towards Zabriskie Point, which is somewhere you'll hear about in my next review.
As you enter the canyon it gradually expands to give you an amazing view of golden coloured rock. As the evening sun shone over it, we could see amazing colours of yellow, orange and red. We would desperately have liked to have continued farther along the trail to the Red Cathedral area, where the colours are supposed to be even more eye-catching but heeding the warnings of the dangers of rattlesnakes at this time of day and heatstroke at this time of year, we turned back after about quarter of a mile.
***Devil's Golf Course***
The next stop on our exploration of the area was when we turned off the main road and headed down a dirt track, where we saw lots of signs warning us of flash floods, which can occur at any time of year. The problem in this area is that the land is so dry that it can't absorb the water and as this area is under sea level, it can be very dangerous so be sure to check for any warnings at the ranger stations before heading out.
Getting to the end of the road we found a parking area with information boards explaining that the ground is made up entirely of salt crystals. It is a very jagged area and you do have to be pretty careful when walking along this area that is named because only the devil could play gold on such a rough area. This area is vast and you do feel pretty isolated out there with only a salt bed surrounding you. It was very quiet at that time of day with only a couple of other visitors at the time we were there and as you stand around you can hear crackling noises caused by the salt pinnacles expanding and contracting.
This was an amazing area to visit and we found out that this jagged saltpan is one of the largest protected saltpans in North America. The recurring floods in the area are what continue to leave the salt deposits and some of this area can actually be submerged at certain times of the year. It is possible to pick up some of the largest bits of rock salt and we did manage to find a couple of very large pieces. As with all the National Parks though, you must not remove anything from them and you do have to be very careful not to damage any of this naturally beautiful phenomenon.
This is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere and is actually 282 feet below sea level. Like Devil's Golf Course, this area is made up of a salt bed but there was a little bit of the pond in this area when we visited. This used to actually be the site of a 30-foot lake a few thousand years ago but as temperatures soared, the lake dried up and left behind layers of salt that can go as deep as 5 feet. The pond is around 4 times saltier than the sea and this is the reason for the name of Badwater, as the miners stopped at this area with their thirsty mules and realised it was no good when the mules refused to drink from it.
Tiny snails live under the surface of the salt in the pools and feed on the algae that appear on the surface. For this reason, visitors are asked not to wade into the pools and to stay on the boardwalk in the wet areas. At the end of the boardwalk, there is an area of salt paths that you can walk out on and it looks like a skating rink covered by ice although it is not at all slippery in the dry season. You are warned not to hike out on to it in very hot and sunny weather as the reflection from the sun is too intense and can be very dangerous.
This area is extremely beautiful and it's amazing to find any sort of pool of water in such intense heat. It's also quite strange to find that you are so far down under sea level and to feel the strange sensation of knowing that the highest peak in the Panamint Mountain rises up to 11,000 feet and is only 15 miles away as the crow flies.
Artist's Drive is a 9 mile one way loop drive and it is one of the recommended spots to watch the sun go down. We decided that was exactly how we wanted to end our sightseeing for the day and headed along this narrow and winding road to get to the heart of the area, which is known as Artist's Palette. Only vehicles of less than 25 feet long are permitted on this road and it's easy to see why, as the road turned and dipped. We left this bit until last and had to head back past Devil's Golf Course to get to the entrance area.
All of the Furnace Creek areas were beautiful to see for one reason or another but this was a very special area for us. When we arrived at the viewpoints and information boards, we saw a couple of other cars just leaving and realised suddenly that we were the only two people around sharing a wonderful moment as the sun started to set in the sky.
As we got out of the car we were shocked at how hot it still was in this area and unlike the more open areas of Death Valley, this one was completely sheltered by the wind and the warmth was lovely, as we started to look around and explore this amazingly beautiful area.
The thing that strikes you as you drive into this area is the rapidly changing colour on the rocks that completely surround you. This is caused by volcanic eruptions many years ago and you can still see where lava flowed through the many small valleys. The landscape is not at all uniformed and there are many different sizes and shapes all around you. Colours of blue, purple, pink, gold, green, yellow, red and orange could clearly be seen and it really is a spectacular array of hues and textures. It is easy to see why it is called Artist's Palette.
It is possible to climb up on some of the larger areas with the help of the well-trodden paths but do be careful, as you could be facing a long fall down some of the steeper areas and it is so remote out there that there are no handrails or safety barriers. At the top of these sections, we found that there were actually some shrubs growing with pure white leaves. They looked as if they had been covered with a harsh frost and it was strange to see this in such a warm and desolate place.
We decided to sit at the top of one of these areas to give me a chance to recover (I have a fear of heights) and to watch the ever changing colour around us as the sun continued to set. The peace and quiet all around us was hard to understand in a world where there is usually so much hustle and bustle. Not a car or voice could be heard and it again gave us the feeling that we were the only 2 people left on the planet. We felt very privileged to be able to experience something like this without other tourists chatting and we enjoyed sitting and holding hands without having to feel the need for conversation. I actually still get quite emotional thinking about that feeling of utter peace that we shared and this has to be one of the most special bits of our honeymoon.
We actually had to drag ourselves away from this beautiful sight and it was with heavy hearts that we headed down the rest of the trail, which opened up to wonderful views of the salt beds of Devil's Golf Course with only a trace of sunlight left in the sky. The shadows made the area seem very lonely and this was helped by the fact that at 8pm at night, there weren't many other cars around so the darkness seemed to close in very quickly. The area does look very different in this light and if you were visiting then I would urge you to discover a bit more at dusk. The roads are good round this area and we found them easy to negotiate back to Beatty for the night.
When I first arrived in the desert area I found it to be a bit lacking after the lush greenery of Yosemite. Stovepipe Wells had some good things to offer but if you're visiting Death Valley and don't have time to do everything, then be sure to visit this area of Furnace Creek if you possibly can. The contrast between the vast openness of Devil's Golf Course and the feeling of being alone in a wilderness of colour at Artist's Palette was so different but yet each had its features for an interesting and special visit.
You can probably guess that our favourite spot was the latter but that doesn't take away the feelings of wonder at such a large salt bed and the small pond at Badwater Basin. The Golden Canyon would be an area I would want to explore further but obviously I would need to return when it wasn't quite so hot. This is mainly because there is really no shade from the sun and the ground temperature in summer can exceed 200 degrees so it's not really safe to go far away from your car at any time. Recommendations from rangers state that hiking is best from October through to April so I guess I'm going to have to arrange another trip at some point in the future for that. I've said it in other reviews but it really is important so I'll repeat myself and say that you should always carry some water with you even if you are only planning a short walk away from your car. It's amazing how quickly your mouth will dry and you will crave fluids.
Sunset is a great time to see the valley because temperatures do dip under 100 degrees at times and the views are breathtaking so be sure you have plenty of batteries for your camera and enjoy it.
All this beauty comes at a cost of only $20 for a 7-day car pass. This covers all the areas in the Death Valley National Park.
This review also appears on Ciao with pictures.
The low, salty pool at Badwater, just beside the main park road is probably the best known and most visited place in Death Valley. The actual lowest point (-282 feet) is located several miles from the road and is not easily accessible - in fact its position varies, but a sign in front of the pool proclaims it too to have an elevation of -282 feet, and it is here that everyone comes to take photographs. An enlarged parking area and other new facilities were constructed in fall 2003 to cope with the ever increasing visitor numbers at the site.