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It’s the driest place in the USA the lowest point in North America and one of the hottest places on earth but between mid October and mid May Death Valley is one of the USA’s most life-affirming road trips death valley straddles the california/nevada border just afford a half hour drive from los angeles or a two and a half hour drive from Las Vegas.
Many parts of Death Valley are designated wilderness areas and are under the care of the National Park Service despite its rugged appearance Death Valley’s ecological geological and historical gems are fragile tread lightly so future generations can experience the wilderness value of this national treasure if you’re approaching from Nevada the adventure begins just outside the park in the free will in town of VD the Gateway to Death Valley.
In the early 1900s be be serviced nearby mining towns such as rhyolite which during its short life featured a train station three newspapers and 53 saloons . fter the mining boom the hills around BD called out to artists and freethinkers stopped by the Goldwell open-air museum home to the venus of nevada the Ghost Rider and other works inspired by the windswept Mojave Desert. The mojave has long drawn spiritual seekers – if you’re entering the park from the California side stretch your legs at father Crowley overlook dedicated to the man they called the desert Padre. Just a ten-mile drive further into the park take the turnoff to Darwin Falls a reminder that despite the parks foreboding name Death Valley supports a surprising abundance of life.
After Darwin Falls shake off the dust at Penniman Springs whether you’re staying for the night they’re just wetting your whistle remember to top-up on fuel and water before venturing into the backroads because this is no place for the ill-prepared follow the gravel road south to the Wild Rose kills which once produced the charcoal needed to smell clumps of Death Valley or into server. Stop by the Eureka mine where fortune seeker Pete auger berry devoted his life to swinging a pick the Frenchman never did hit the motherlode but instead discovered one of Death Valley’s greatest treasures serenity when visitors began exploring Death Valley in their newfangled motorcars in the 1930s the ever affable our Barry guided them to the place he called the great view.
Take the climb to his beloved outlook and behold the spectacle of the Panamint mountains cascading into the valley floor 6000 feet below, after exploring the back roads of the Panamint range head deeper into the parks sun-baked art at stovepipe wells it was here where a party of lost 49ers burnt their wagons ate their oxen and staggered out on foot from the place they christened Death Valley.
Death Valley’s landscapes may be harsh but they are rarely monotonous each twist on these desert roads reveals yet another Vista with its own geological voice its own story to tell, just a short drive east of stovepipe wells are the shifting sands of the mesquite dunes the easiest to access of all the parks dune fields. Further east take a walk along the Salt Creek Trail we’re a playful pup fish splash in the wetland remnants of a lake which once covered much of the valley to the south lace up your hiking boots and discover the slot canyons marbled narrows and galleries of fragmented rock in mosaic Canyon.
Once you’ve explored the trails around stovepipe wells continued south into the valley floor where as the road descends the temperature climbs pull into the aptly named furnace creek the holder of the world’s highest recorded temperature despite the heat the resorts here make furnace creek a cool place to kick back after a long day on the trails.
In the late 1800s this outpost was the home of the Pacific Coast borax company whose 20 mule wagon teams hauled borax from the valley floor and into the laundries and cosmetics counters of the USA, learn more about Death Valley’s gritty past at the furnace Creek visitor center.
Run by the National Park Service an hour here will deepen your appreciation of the parks incredible history ecosystems and geology, furnace creek is close to some of Death Valley’s most popular sites and as always no two are quite the same, just a five-mile drive south of Furnace Creek is Zabriskie point a mud Rock Badlands that has long inspired filmmakers musicians and mystics, a few miles south take the turn off on to artists drive a scenic road which takes in an eye-popping oxidized palette of hillside colors, nearby at the devil’s golf course stand at the edge of the jagged salt plain that stopped the wagons of those lost 49ers dead in their tracks, just ten miles down the road in bad water imagine the heartbreak of those lost over Landers who splashed these waters to their cracked and swollen lips only to taste water twice as salty as the sea.
After exploring the parks lowest point take the road up coffin peak to Dante’s view, here from a height of five and a half thousand feet southern death valley stretches out with all the ferocity of hell and all the beauty of heaven nature’s very own Divine Comedy, after coming back to earth head north and follow 27 miles of serpentine bends through Titus Canyon to lead field in 1925 false advertising lured hundreds of hopeful miners to these barren hills three years later lead field was just another death valley ghost town one miner who did strike it lucky was Bert Shipley cornering his runaway burro in a remote canyon the exasperated miner picked up a rock to hurl at that stubborn beast glinting in the Sun that rock was never thrown and the lost borough mine went on to produce gold for decades.
Just over the hill from Bert’s mine is the racetrack whose mysterious sliding rocks were long thought to be the work of playful spirits and bored extraterrestrials alas science says recently discovered more logical culprits high winds and winter ice, from the racetrack head through teakettle Junction to a section of the park formed by steam drive to the rim of ubehebe crater formed in one explosive instant when rising magma hit cool groundwater some geologists estimate the crater was formed only 300 years ago a reminder that despite appearances Death Valley is very much alive and forever changing welcome traveler to a destination where the rusting iron and mine shafts of old-timers tell tales of endurance and hope where epic landscapes terrify mystify and delight where the wind scours the skin in one moment and in the next whispers all the world’s secrets Death Valley is the stuff of life.