This morning I’m sharing more of my travels through the Californian National Parks, (and venturing into Nevada,) which ended for us with Death Valley. I thought it would be useful to share my travel tips for those of you planning a visit yourselves (please feel free to chip in with your tips too in the comments below,) and whilst the photographs I took whilst there are not in any way ‘pretty’, they are visually stunning. I hope they go some way towards illustrating this awe-inspiring landscape.
We came to Death Valley directly from Kernville – a tiny town we stopped over in after visiting Sequoia. Near to Lake Isabella and on the Kern River, it’s famous for it’s water sports and centres around the associated tourist trade, mainly from students. We arrived, had a burger at the local microbrewery along with glass of the artisan beer, crashed out and left early the next morning. If you take a similar route, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the B&B we stayed at The Kern River Inn Bed and Breakfast – the breakfast was amazing and our host very friendly.
It was a long drive into Death Valley, crossing several mountain ranges, climbing and descending through ever more uncompromising landscape. On route, we passed through Stovepipe Wells – described as a potential place for a stop over night in the Lonely Planet guide, I have never seen anywhere more barren and desolate in my life! We bought a park pass and hurried on through.
There was a certain thrill about visiting Death Valley, that knowledge that you were in some of the harshest conditions on the globe and watching the mercury rise as we descended into the valley was both exciting and scary. We drove for miles and miles without passing another car or even a sign of life.
Finally we arrived at Furnace Creek. In the middle of the Valley, there are several hotels (although far apart so it still appears very isolated and barren. The only one at a reasonable price point is the Furnach Creek Ranch, as opposed to the Furnace Creek Inn which is extremely expensive. The Ranch is best described as a soul-less motel but they’ve cornered the market as the only places to stay in the valley, and the prices reflect that, although unfortunately not the standard. I’d love to hear if any of you stayed elsewhere that you could recommend?
Our first stop was to head down to Badwater Basin – the site of the salt flats that Death Valley is famous for. On route we stopped at Devils golf course, a craggy landscape of furrows and salt crystals that reminded us of a hard frost on ploughed land back in England, if it wasn’t for the 110 degree heat. I can only liken it to standing in a hair dryer on full blast when the wind blew.
We got to Badwater Basin (named after the toxic water found there which often made desperately thirsty animals passing through ill,) at 7pm and the heat was still intense. We walked out to find the salt flats and generally marvelled at the solitude. There were few people there with us and if you turned around, on the mountainside behind us we could see the sign that marked sea level, 282ft above our heads. We headed back via Artists Drive – the scenic route, best seen at sunset when the sun lights up the rock in different pastel shades that come from the mineral deposits.
Still ridiculously uncomfortable, we have a couple of cocktails back at the resort, an over priced meat-fest of a meal and hit the sack pretty early.
After another early start and keen to hit the luxury of Vegas we left the resort earlyish and drove out with a slight detour to Dante’s Peak. A viewing point that took in the whole of Death Valley, it was quite incredible in it’s vastness.
I’m conscious that my write up here doesn’t sound thrilling or perhaps like I enjoyed this particular leg of our trip. It was certainly more about travelling than holidaying, part endurance test, part geological tour and totally surreal. I wouldn’t go back, but that’s because I have been and for me, it was about ticking off one of those amazing places that the world has to offer. There’s no denying that the landscape was just mind-blowing in it’s size and completely overwhelming. We didn’t spend nearly enough time there to fully appreciate it’s terrifying beauty and I would have loved to walk the canyons if we had been properly prepared for that kind of expedition.
So, have you been, would you like to go? Have you got any pearls of wisdom to share?