Death Valley, established as a National Monument in 1933 and
redesignated as a National Park in 1994, is the largest National
Park in the contiguous United States with more than 3.3 million
acres of desert wilderness. Death Valley is a place of extreme:
the hottest and driest place in US with summer high temperatures
commonly running above 120F (134F, the 2nd-highest ever recorded
in the world, was noted in 1913), and the lowest point (282 feet
below sea level at Badwater) in the Western Hemisphere.
Getting there ...
Our first trip to
Death Valley was 7 years ago when Linus was still a baby.
Seven years later we have Linus and Iris, and both were excited
to go to a place which they have seen many of my photos from the
previous trip. We had a morning flight to Las Vegas (we have been
to Las Vegas so many times without going into the city in the
recent years!), and had a rental car leaving for Death Valley
before noon. Unfortunately, there were some road damages caused
by flash floods inside Death Valley in August, so we had to take
a longer route from Beatty to the park. Also due to the flood
damage, many good vista places including Zabriskie Point, Dante's
View, and Artist Drive were out this time.
- Golden Canyon
After checking in the Furnace Creek Ranch, we headed to
the Golden Canyon, which I knew was good for a late
afternoon walk. Linus and Iris liked to explore the
"side" canyons along the way and we were a
little bit too late when we got to the Red Cathedral.
The Second Day ...
- Sunrise at Badwater
I got up early and decided to drive to Badwater for
sunrise. The newly built deck around the water pool made
it more difficult to find a good spot to get the
reflection of the distant Telescope Peak.
Badwater is the lowest elevation point in the Western
Hemisphere (-282ft, -86m). Two- to four-thousand-years
ago, the basin was the site of a 30-foot lake that
evaporated and left a one- to five-foot layer of salt in
its wake. A small pool, four times saltier than the
ocean, still remains in the basin closed to the parking
lot during the winter. We can walk to the salt flats in
any direction and see the patterns of cracked surfaces.
- Natural Bridge Trail
The 0.5-mile trail is flat and easy, and there are a few
dry water falls along the trail. Most of people stop at
the Natural Bridge which is not that photogenic in my
opinion. We kept going and there were a few steeper
cascades which require some climbing. Linus was hesitated
in the beginning although Iris had already climbed up to
the next level. With some assistance, both Linus and Iris
enjoyed the climbing of the 2nd half of the trail (they
thought the 1st half was too easy and too boring).
- Harmony Borax Works
After a lunch at the Furnace Creek Ranch and a relaxed
movie at the visitor center, we went to the Harmony Borax
Works to see some remains of machinery and wagons from a
mining operation that dated back more than 120 years ago.
The early miners used the famed "20-mule-teams"
to haul borax 165 miles to the railroad town of Mojave.
- Stovepipe Wells Sand Dunes
Sand Dunes are definitely one of the most popular places
in Death Valley. We parked at the road side about 2 miles
east of Stovepipe Wells Village on Highway 190, and
walked right toward the sand dunes as there is no trail
and everyone just picks their own path. It's like a huge
sandbox with unlimited sand supply for Linus and Iris to
play. They ran up and down and dived into the dunes with
sand all over their bodies.
The Third Day ...
- Sand Dunes
I got up early and headed to the Sand Dunes closed to the
Stovepipe Wells for sunrise. It's quite a challenge to
photograph sand dunes here because: 1) it is difficult to
scout a place on the previous day since there is no trail
and there is no way to find the exact same place again,
and 2) it is also very tricky to avoid all those
footprints. The light quality was good before dawn and
for the first few minutes of sunrise, but then the sun
hid behind the cloud and the golden hour was lost. When I
walked back, I saw 2 white cars parked at the road side
and they were about a few hundred feet apart. I could not
tell which one was my car from the distance, and of
course, I picked the wrong one and headed toward the
- Wildrose Charcoal Kilns
Marvel at beehive-shaped charcoal kilns erected by the
modock Consolidated Mining Company in 1877. Each is about
25 feet high with a diameter of approximately 30 feet
across. It was a long drive from Furnace Creek to the
west side of the park, and some places were winding and
steep although we can maintain above 65mph on most of the
Emigrant Canyon Road. The last section of unpaved road
was actually covered with snow that we were surprised
that nobody has even mentioned about snow chains. We
could not believe that we can play snow in Death Valley!
I planned to stop by a few places along the way back, but
I gave up all the plans since both Linus and Iris got bored
in the car and they wanted to go back to sand dunes again
this afternoon. We headed straight to Mosaic Canyon close to
Stovepipe Wells Sand Dunes.
- Mosaic Canyon
After a quick picnic at the trailhead parking lot, we
started the hike into the canyon. When we stepped into
the canyon, Linus immediately shouted "this is the
type of trail I like most". With narrow polished
canyon walls and uneven ground, it's quite a different
experience compared with other places in Death Valley.
After about half a mile, the trail became wider and
flatter, and we had to ask Linus and Iris to keep going
until we faced some dry falls which I knew we stopped
years ago . It's really the fun part of the Mosaic
Canyon trail to climb these rocks and we conquered those
blocks until we reached the end (at least we thought it
was the end), a steep wall with probably more than 50
feet high. On our way back, we spotted a bighorn sheep on
the mountain, but unfortunately I did not bring my long
lens with me on the hike.
- Back to Sand Dunes
We went back to the Sand Dunes as I promised the kids as
their reward for behaving so well today. We all enjoyed
an easy and relaxed late afternoon until sunset.
The Last Day,
- Devils Golf Course
The gnarled crystalline salt spires dot the landscape and
look like coral reef run amuck. The salt formations here
were so different from those in Badwater area. Though
there is no official hiking trail, we can tromp through
this strange and rugged terrain with extra care to these
crystal formations and to ourselves.
- Salt Creek
The Salt Creek trail is an easy 0.5-mile loop on a
boardwalk along a small stream, where desert pupfish
adapt and thrive in the desert. But we could not find any
since pupfish will not be active until late February.
- Borax Museum
We went back to Furnace Creek Range and checked out of
our room. After lunch, we went to the Borax Museum inside
the ranch and took a look at the early mining tools
displayed outdoors. The museum was closed because the
staff was out for lunch :-(
I had been telling Linus and Iris some fake stories about
the "ghost" town all day, and they were anxious
to visit here. Rhyolite is the largest ghost town in
Death Valley, boosted a population of nearly 10,000
people during its peak between 1905-1911. However, I was
a little bit disappointed when I saw the town that there
are not many things left today. With only a few pieces of
walls and foundations, it was hard to make another
Going Home ...
It's about only 2-hour driving back to Las Vegas. Although we
have seen most of stuffs in Death Valley from our last trip 7
years ago, the experience this time was still refreshing and
exciting. Even though there were some road closures and we could
not go to some places like Zabriskie Point and Dante's View, we
still covered a lot of grounds and filled up all of our time. We
may come back here again (another 7 years?), and when we do that,
I'll get a 4x4 and get to some more remote and less visited parts
of Death Valley.
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