Death Valley is beautiful. Are you thinking, what? Death Valley? Yes, I thought the same thing many years ago when my brother told me it was his favorite place on his cross-country journey. But I found out why when I stayed at Furnace Creek Ranch in the early 2000’s for a few nights and explored the park.
Last winter I returned to Death Valley with my boyfriend Jim and he fell in love with it too. It’s only a few hours drive from Las Vegas — a great hiking hub, yeah, I can hear your laughs now, but it’s true. Think about it — Vegas is surrounded by mountains, that means hiking. A few weeks ago we returned to Death Valley with a larger crew — his daughter Lesley and sister Patty — as part of our Grand Canyon warm up. More on that later.
Why do we like it so much? The landscape is beautiful, austere and sometimes odd. All kinds of rock formations that make you want to learn more about geology.
We only did one hike because we had left behind his sister Mary (who doesn’t hike) at Furnace Creek Ranch and didn’t want to abandon her for too long. Patty and I were dropped off at Zabriskie Point to hike to the Golden Canyon trailhead parking lot, while Jim and Lesley started from there and hiked to Zabriskie. We crossed paths along the way. If you hike near Golden Canyon, don’t miss going off the trail to Cathedral Rock. You’ll have to squeeze under and through rocks but it’s worth it — gorgeous, a secret red world.
At the end of our hike we picked up the car at Golden Canyon and drove back to Zabriskie to pick up the other two who ended up there. And then we all went to the saloon at the Furnace Creek Ranch for a post-hike pitcher.
- Artist’s Drive – a scenic drive within the park, absolutely stunning 9-mile one-way twisty road, best accompanied by Robert Plant’s Big Log playing on the CD player. We always bring Plant, Sting, Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler along on our desert trips — they fit the desert well.
- Devil’s Golf Course – salty almost coral-like landscape.
- Badwater — the lowest point in our hemisphere — make sure to walk way out onto what looks like ice, it’s bizarre.
- Zabriskie Point and Dante’s Peak – scenic overlooks.
- NPS Furnace Creek Visitor Center – learn about borax, pupfish and geology!
With more time you can explore the area around Stovepipe Wells and Scotty’s Castle like I did on my first trip, and find a crater and sand dunes, but one day in the park is enough to get a sense of its beauty, as long as you’re there in the winter, fall or spring. I wouldn’t consider it in the summer.
And if you have the time on the way there or back, stop at the Pahrump Valley Winery in Pahrump, NV. It’s not Sonoma, but it’s a nice break on the drive. Also, keep an eye out for the roadside jerky stands. By the time we drove back, the one we saw was already closed. Love my jerky!
To please my Death Valley crew who seem to take joy in my distress, I’m adding the photo that Patty took of me while I was in the midst of fruitlessly trying to find the car keys in the right rear wheel well (try saying that a few times). At this point, I must have been wondering, what the hell are we going to do….