25 January 2015

Exploring Death Valley National Park

Dec 2014

Death Valley National Park (DVNP) has been on my 'most wanted' list for some time.  From early Spring until late Autumn temperature often stays on unbearable level. December being announced as a 'low season' offered good reason to spend a long weekend there (among motivation in low temperature). Overall it was not too far away, some 5 hours by car.

It's a wast, really large area to explore all interesting point of sights at one visit. During the first trip wanted to explore the most important places there to get overall understanding of the nature and rank some importance of sights. This (among long distances, unknown distances of lack of water, high vertical differences etc.) excluded hiking trip being the very first visit the National Park (NP) overall.

Long road trip from San Diego, Highway 15 to Las Vegas. At Baker, off from 15 to 127 north. Fancy road. Still some 200km to go up north. Driving the first time the road itself felt nice in addition to naked scenery. High mountains everywhere. Some snowy top mountains far off north east, obviously in Nevada (Charleston Peak in NV, obviously?).

At Amargosa (village/city), a junction to 190, still some 50km to go. At first glimpse of being nowhere, a sign of ''Opera House" at Amargosa CA,  appeared to be really good one Opera House. Just, Wow!

Last three days there's been heavy rain in the DVNP. Floods been obvious in so many places within the NP. Was expecting closures, which became very true.

The Death Valley National Park was, and still is, the home of Shoshone Indian Tribe. They've been living there over thousand years. Hope they going to live there at least another thousand years.


Highway 190 towards Panamint Springs


Dante's View

Once arriving at a border of the NP, decided to see the whole Death Valley, Salt Sea etc. on one sight. Dante's View was perfect for it. Being over a mile above on a peak (nearly 1700m above the sea level) the valley offered great view. Some clouds hung in the valley, as well as along the mountain tops near by.

Telescope Peak (3366m above sea level) on Panamint Range mountains across the Basewater Basin appeared few times as clouds ran in fast speed. Great view.

Clouds covered most of mountains on Panamint Range in the west. The sun brought short appearance every now and then.  It was surreal to think and see Basewater Basin (292ft below sea level), the lowest point of America, was just under your feet, 1700m namely. Lots of 'white something' was down there. Couldn't distinct humans on valley. Following days revealed what it was actually.

Panamint Range at Sunset

Dante's View at Sunset

Furnace Creek

The heart of civilization of the park, so to speak. Meaning Visitor Center of the NP, gas station, a store, Pubs and a Ranch offering classy rooms for staying.  Kind of mandatory place if one is on a vehicle. Visitor Centers at NPs are often offering crucial information for visitors, as well as background information and history of the NP itself. Really appreciated this one too, presuming paid by tax payers money. This was the place to rent a Jeep for the real Backcountry roads.

The Ranch at Furnace Creek

Basewater Basin

292ft below the sea level, being the lowest point of North America. Absurd feeling there as had just passed mountains before reaching there. Vast flat valley, Death Valley. Bright white something in the valley. Thick, polygon formed white salt. A dried lake. Heavy rains had brought floods which had broken polygons into random formed objects. Most of the dry salty land was grey coloured, not pure white. This was (one of) the most visited place within the DVNP. No wonder. Worth walk on salt.  Had a lucky day, premier snow had just come overnight and covered Telescope Peak, providing a nice view from the Basin in the morning.

Badwater Basin (-292ft) seen from Dante's View (5476ft)

Telescope Peak (11050ft) got snow last night.
Salt polygons on Badwater Basin (-292ft)

Devil's Golf Course

Closed. Floods.

Zabriskie Point

Perhaps the most wanted place to see was a Zabriskie Point. A classic view. Antonioni's film, another classic. Closed for nature renovation until Mar 2015. Hard to describe disappointment not to allow to walk around and shoot photos from there. Well, perhaps high motivation to return? Well, from Golden Canyon one could have walked up to Badlands. Didn't do it, being lazy, sort of. Would have been number one visiting point.

Natural Bridge

A mile rough backcountry road and a 5min walk. Didn't raise wow level. Next.

Artist's Palette

Didn't know what to expect. Appeared to be a twisted road with all sort of forms of rocks. Their colours were striking, red, amber, magenta, cyan. Really strange. From sand stone to sort of granite. Got better understanding of the titles within the DVNP, well thought. Absolutely worth drive through and walk.

Artist's Palette

Titus Canyon

Closed. Floods and preparation to becoming marathon race.  However, its west side was open for walking. Straight vertical rocks narrowed tiny road to even more tiny. This would certainly be on the agenda (as well as its neighbor, Fall Canyon).

Devil's Cornfield

Strange looking bushes here and there.  Didn't dare to walk there, not sure if it was allowed. Photographic.

Devil's Cornfield

Mesquite Sand Dunes

One of (at least) three sand dunes in the DVNP (Eureka and Panamint dunes). Fantastic looking dunes, which wind forms every day. Nice to walk around few hours. Very photographic, at sunrise and sunset and at night (had a full moon so no milky way shooting this time).  The Eureka Sand Dunes was on the list but experiencing these backcountry roads made plans impossible.

Mesquite Sand Dunes and Grapevine Mountains

Charcoal Kilns

West side of the Panamint Range, or within the range. Fantastic looking old site where wood was burn to make char coils. Swiss design.  It was unbelievable but the Kilns were in the middle of the pine forest. Tough needles and short trees. From here the trail started to the top of Telescope Peak.  Low hanging clouds and -2C weather stopped plans to reach the top. Visibility was about 200 meters.  One of the best places in the DVNP.

Charcoal Kilns

Scotty's Castle

Short stop. Beautiful.

Ubehebe Crater

A crater. Interesting to see and walk around. Fantastic views 360 degrees.

The Racetrack Playa

On Wanted-to-see list, top of it.

A long backcountry road, about 30 miles. They called it a Dirt Road.  Really tough drive. Interesting scenery, different one than in any other valley.  Cactus forest. Coyotes. High mountains, Cottonwood Mountains on east and mountains within Last Chance Range on west. Cannot recommend any other vehicle than a Jeep (with special tires and low pressure in them).

Cactus Forest


The Racetrack Playa

Teakettle Junction

Fancy road junction where people have left their tea kettle pans. From there one could see snowy top Sierra Nevada mountains far in the west. Pretty place.

Teakettle Junction

The Grandstand

Range of rocks in northern part of the Racetrack Playa.  Beautiful, black formed rocks on flat dry lake.  Nice place to walk (when the lake is dry. If it isn't, one shouldn't walk there as steps leave traces which will take ages to get vanished).

The Grandstand

Moving/Sliding/Gliding Rocks (you name it)

They looked amazing. How on earth? There's no logic in direction they had moved.  Again, one can walk on Playa only if the lake is dry.   Walked quite a while on the lake.  It was hard to believe what eyes had seen.  Absolute favorite of the DVNP.  Like a coincidence, San Diego Scientists solved their mystery some time ago.  There was a camping site near. Would have been fantastic to stay there overnight. Perhaps one day.

Sliding Rocks on the Racetrack Playa


Such a diversity place; dry salt lake, high snowy top mountains, even some waterfall, sand dunes, colourful rock formed canyons, thick pine forest, cactus forest, wildlife etc.  Sceneries were great. No wonder why some people return there year after year.

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