Death Valley – a quiet , quaint place which brings to life our hidden energies !! I had nil expectations when we planned the visit and set up the itinerary. But in spite of its “name”, it lifted our spirits with an unusual enthusiasm for our lives. Each one of us returned with a different touch-felt story.
When on one hand, our friends found the Badwater Basin – as the unbelievable phenomenon, my daughter loved collecting rocks in Racetrack Playa on the other. My hubby found the gushing winds astonishing while I felt awestruck at the sunrise in Dante’s point. A barren , desolated “Piece of Mars” with little wildlife could be adventurous and exciting in a good company . Winters is a good season to visit this otherwise hot, dry land.
Here is my detailed itinerary of this trip.
DAY 1 :
We started from Bay area in the evening around 4:30 p.m. with our friends in a FWD Nissan. If you are planning to visit Racetrack Playa, it is recommended to rent a FWD (four-wheel-drive). Our hotel – Americas Best Value Inn in Ridgecrest , where we reached around 11 pm. On our way,we got to view the amazing sunset of Bay area. Indeed a trip begins with new hopes and excitement. Still 100 miles away from our destination, we slept peacefully in the cozy hotel after having our home-made dinner with a hope to start early the next day.
After having a light breakfast , we started off at 7:30 a.m. from Ridgecrest for Death Valley National park (DVNP). After stopping in Stovepipe Wells Village for gas and souvenir (you may also get food,water and other facilities here) , we reached Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The winds , the crescent dunes and the dryness make them totally apt. In spite of the shining sun, the winds were cold and it felt totally different.You may climb down and up the sand dunes to as far as your eyes could reach to. We then stopped for a few minutes at Salt Creek Interpretative Trail . Harmony Borax works is good not only for night sky viewing but also an antique preserved place in the day. Long back, Death valley was exploited for mining Borax and other minerals. Since it has a plethora of salt lands which shine like silver from far behind, this valley was digged by travellers/miners a lot. The oldest carriage and the remains of Borax extracting machines stand there in the backdrop of Mustard Canyons on one side and Golden Canyons on the other.
Speaking of the Golden Canyons, it was an easy kids-friendly , family friendly trail with unique hills , carved by water and winds glowing golden in the sunshine. The trail leads us to a natural Red Cathedral carved by natural forces. All those who enjoy rough but easy moutain hikes, this place is not to be missed. After that we rested at Furnace Creek visitor center, filled up our bottles and gathered some information for our present day and next day travel plans.
We were set to discover an out-of-the-planet place now- Devil’s Golf Course. My daughter deducted its name; it is a golf course because of the innumerable holes in the ground and it’s called Devil’s since only a Devil could walk and play golf here. Though it looked like a house to some animals, but we couldn’t spot any in our vicinity. It is a salt formation carved by river, water, sun and wind. But the best was yet to come. The next stop- the lowest point in North America – [ -282 feet ] below sea level was yet to be seen. The salt land or “The Badwater Basin” ,as it is known, was a stretch of salts where we could walk as far as we wish (not in the hot season though). It is called Badwater and it has a story. Long back when the miners came with their mules and horses, they tried to feed its water to their horses. The horses refused to drink its water and swayed their necks in rejection,since high amount of minerals make it hazardous for our lives. Since then this place got famous as “Badwater Basin.” In front of this basin, stood a Canyon, where a board depicting “Sea level” was installed. Also it was mentioned, that this salt crust is unstable in summers, since it gets thinner and might crack up.We collected a few samples of crystallized salt.
Can you spot the board of Sea-level in the above pic? If No, click here : Sea-level.
We still had time (2 hrs) for sunset which was planned at Zabriskie Point , so we went for a short hike at “Natural Bridges canyon.” It was a moderate hike and with kids we were able to complete our round-trip in half an hour. The natural bridge is like an arch in the moutain and it’s rewarding for the whole hike. While walking back we saw some amazing phenomena in the sky and the air. By that time, winds have caused a lot of dust particles to suspend in the air. So the sun’s rays were seen in separate beams lighting the low badwater basins from those canyons. Next we were in for the zipper-dipper narrow lane ride of “Artist’s Drive Palette“. It is indeed an artist’s imagination who painted the hills in Mustard, orange, green, purple, brown, yellow , red colors and with curvy roads and bumpy rides , kids are bound to have fun.
Last but not the least , we reached one of my favorite points – Zabriskie point. Best thing was, this small hike was wheelchair and stroller accesible. The sun was about to set, but the clouds shrouded it in a deep blanket , so we got that natural light filter for our pictures. The vista point was walled but there was a rough unpaved way for the enthusiasts. It offered the view of majestic hills covered in “chocolate drizzle”(as told by my friend) 😀 and golden canyons shining in the dusk-light. But the winds were getting colder and stronger ,so we moved our kids back into the car before the sunset. Bidding adieu for now, we started for our hotel in Death Valley Junction – Amargosa Opera House and Hotel.
We reached hotel after dusk in the windy ,stormy night to discover a spooky place . It sure incited some fear in each one of us. The cracked walls, hanging lanterns, dim light , the silence was jaw-dropping. Anyhow, our brave men muster courage and went inside to ask for the keys. It was a cozy ,warm cottage as we went inside but her big cat and dog warned us in the first place. Nearly all the walls were painted and decorated in ethnic styles. The breakfast room had an old fashioned Piano . The passage to our rooms was decorated with Christmas tree and some paintings. Our room was made in the memory of an Opera singer. But thankfully nothing unforeseen happened to us, and I am writing this blog now. 🙂
Watching the night sky was on our list ,but because of the high -speed winds( at 30 mph) we cancelled our plans. Instead we ate dinner at 7 pm in a Mexican + American restaurant some 16 miles away where we have lodged. It was satisfactory and inexpensive. Tired from the whole day, we slept early at 8:30 pm.
On our last day of the trip ,we checked out at 6 a.m. from our hotel to see the sunrise in Dante’s point. The whole drive was exciting , since we were racing against time to reach the top before dawn. Finally we got down at our point (on time) to feel the numbing air and see an incredible scene there. The dry Amargosa river in the valley , the shrouded Mt. Whitney (snow-covered peak) , the Dante’s peak glowing steadily as the sun rises, everything was beyond words. The freezing winds couldn’t stop us from going on the unpaved paths below. The air was the most fresh air I found in U.S. The sunrise began at 6:50 and we waited there till 7:30 am. You would need some food after having a lot of freezing winds here.
Next came the Twenty Mule team canyons. It was named after the brave 20 mules who were once loaded with minerals and travelled across this desert with some men to serve them. Indeed the zig-zagged narrow roads imitate the “Film -sets of Sholay” – a Bollywood movie. With varying heights of hills , which looked like Camel’s humpbacks we dwindled between them in our car while kids enjoyed the bumpy ride. Famished and thirsty we found breakfast in “Ranch at Furnace Creek“(next to visitor center) which looked like an Oasis in desert. A “Dates Park” surrounding an American restaurant, where we ate to our heart’s content.
Ubehebe Crater loop, the name may sound confusing, but it is a clear evidence of a Volcano erupted thousands of years ago. All around its rim was a trail which can take from 1 hr to 1.5 hrs . We can see people trekking down the crater with the help of sticks and steady steps. It was risky to cover the whole trail with kids , hence we just climbed halfway to reach the topmost point on the rim and returned.
We were off to the “Racetrack Playa” now. This land was glistening white in the sun, with white hardened sand (made of salts and minerals) and Rocky mountain in the center.It is called Racetrack, since the mysterious stones roll and play here to form tracks in a circular motion. Scientists have been long tracking and experimenting here to find this motion in stones which is a combination of surface wind, undergroung ice and underground water. The only con is that we need a FWD to reach this place since it has an unpaved road of about 30 miles one way. The kids enjoyed collecting colorful rocks which looked like granite and shine like glass. But they were pointed and sharp unlike the rounded ones we found on beach. So be careful, while climbing these sharp rocks .On the way back we spotted the Tea-kettle junction again, which is a memoir of many tea-kettles been brought to that place.
The rest of our journey was well spent in the car while watching the Titus Canyon ; spotting the Mule, Bighorn sheep and roadrunners at dusk while exiting the DVNP. At night we stopped , parked our car sideways, turned off all lights, near Inyo National forest for 5 mins to see The Andromeda Galaxy and the countless stars all above us in an arch . DVNP is the most famous place in U.S. to watch the night sky.
There were few places like Ghost-town and Lone Pine mountains in the DVNP which were not included in our plan. If you have more time in hand, you may see the Sequoia National forest and Inyo National forest too. You can check our Point-wise detailed itinerary here : Death Valley Itinerary
For more pics click here : Death Valley – The Incredible place
In the end, I would like to say that words and pictures are not enough to describe this Martian(Mars-like) place. Hope you make new memories , learn and absorb more about such landscapes to make your and your kids’ life meaningful.
Till then keep roaming….