Death valley is notorious for being one of the hottest places in North America. The park is located at the Eastern side of California in the Mojave desert. It takes about two hours to drive to Death Valley from Las Vegas. We visited Death Valley on July 23rd of 2017.
Don’t be fooled by these pictures, there were a lot of people at Death Valley the day we visited. Most people stopped at the Zabriskie point and Badwater (as you can see in the Badwater pictures). This park is very large and it takes at least 30 minutes to go between points of interest. In other words, you’ll spend most of your day in the car. Which is good, because it’s very hot and hiking is difficult in the Summer months.
Our first stop was Dante’s View. As you can see, we rented a Jeep. If you are planning to see parks near Las Vegas, an SUV or Jeep is recommended. If you’re a Star Wars fan, like me, you’ll notice that the view at the top is the view used in episode IV where Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke about Moss Eisley spaceport.
Twenty Mule Team Canyon
Our next stop was a one-way dirt road called Twenty Mule Team Canyon. You’ll need a high-clearance vehicle to drive down this dirt road. If you’re a hiker, this is a great place to stop and hike. I intentionally left some pictures of the jeep in this set to show scale of the surrounding scenery. You’ll also notice the trails in some of the photos, though we didn’t hike anything big because the temperature at this point was up to 105 degrees (around 9:30 AM).
Our Next stop was Zabriskie Point. This is a pull-off with services. The parking lot and path to the lookout are paved. The path, however, is quite the climb, but well worth the effort. Do not miss this lookout! There is a trail at this lookout, but it was almost 110 degrees when we arrived here.
Golden Canyon Trail
Our next stop was the Golden Canyon Trail. It was over 110 degrees by the time we arrived and after 10:00 AM. This is the cut-off point for any serious hiking. The minimum you’ll need, in order to walk through here when it’s hot, is sunscreen and water. My wife and I have water systems and we fill the bag with ice before filling with water. So we can cool down some. There is some shade from the cliffs, but not much. We stopped at each large shady spot to “cool” off a bit. The shade was bearable, the sun was an oven and drain our energy fast.
There is a scene in Star Wars where R2D2 gets zapped by Jawas. This is where part of that scene was filmed.
Devil’s Golf Course
The Devil’s Golf Course is next on the drive through the canyon. From a distance this area looks like a smooth salt flat. As you can see from the close pictures, it is not smooth at all. The access road is rocky and it takes some time to drive to the lookout point.
Badwater is the lowest point in North America. The elevation is 282 feet below sea level. There is a wide walking path that leads to the salt flats. We did not walk out to that point, it was close to 118 degrees by the time we arrived at this location and we decided to save our energy.
We intentionally drove past the artist’s palette to see the devil’s golf course because the road is a one-way toward the North and we didn’t want to back-track. So this stop was our next in line.
The devil’s cornfield is a small stop-off before the sand dunes. The temperature reached 123 degrees by the time we stopped here. I was curious what it felt like to be in the desert when the heat exceeded 120 degrees, so this was my chance. My best description is that, stepping out of the car feels the same as opening the lid on a gas grill in the summer time when you’re standing too close.
Notice the speedometer in kilometers. Our Jeep was probably manufactured for a Canadian dealer and somehow ended up on an Enterprise car rental lot.
The sand dunes were very hot. No shade to be found here. We pulled off at the lookout and walked out to the dunes (which is a short walk). After taking a few photos, we walked back to the Jeep and jumped back in… AC on full blast. In Star Wars, this is where C3PO and R2D2 go their separate ways. Other sand dune scenes were filmed in Tunisia.
Next, we drove a long drive North to Ubehebe Crater. This is a volcanic crater not a meteor crater. Make sure you have plenty of gas in your vehicle before driving up and back. The altitude here is a bit higher and the temperature returned to only hot (about 110 degrees). The wind was blowing very hard and it was difficult to walk along the rim of the crater. You can see some people at the bottom. There is a trail winding down the crater wall. I can only imagine how fun that was for them to walk back up.
We started to drive down to the racetrack. This is a place where rocks move across the surface of the desert. After a short trip down the dirt road that leads to this sight, we decided that we did not have enough gas to make it to the end of the road and return.