20 Mar
Posted in: photography, travel
By    Comments Off on Take a Trip: Death Valley National Park

Take a Trip: Death Valley National Park

When I say we went to Death Valley National Park for spring break, people seem perplexed by the choice. I’ve been asked numerous times why we chose that park for a vacation. We’ve been to loads of destinations run by the National Park Service. It has yet to lead us wrong.

Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park

The places the park service has set aside and protected for the enjoyment of people are varied and stunning in their own right. Death Valley is no exception. The valley is known for ridiculously hot temperatures and the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere. The temperature hit above 90 degrees a few days ago…in MARCH. Death Valley’s Furnace Creek holds the distinction of the highest reported air temperature in the world at 134° F set in July 1913. I wouldn’t recommend going anywhere near Furnace Creek after mid-March.

Badwater Basin sits at 282 feet below sea level, making it the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere. We walked out over the salt-crusted ground surrounded by mountains. Telescope Peak stands to the west of the basin, two-miles above the salt flat. Those mountains are where you want to be during the summer months.

Natural Bridge in Death Valley National Park

Everywhere you look in Death Valley National Park there’s a reminder you are in a desert. It’s both beautiful and frightening. The desert is not to be taken lightly, especially in an extreme area like Death Valley. The ground is cracked, and the landscaped is bleached of color. The plants that fight to thrive stand out in the harsh scenery.

Golden Canyon in Death Valley National Park

We hiked the 1-mile Natural Bridge Canyon Trail to find an impressive bridge spanning the narrow canyon. The walk is easy through the canyon, but crowded. Golden Canyon Interpretive Trail is another 1-mile one-way trek through a yellow canyon. Death Valley served as a location for parts of the first Star Wars film. It was easy to imagine Tusken Raiders peeking over the top of Golden Canyon.

Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley National Park

The hike through Mosaic Canyon could be as long as 2-miles one-way if you choose. We didn’t hike it quite that far. The canyon is unique in Death Valley. Instead of gaping, rough, canyon walls, we were treated to polished, marble canyon walls and narrow passages. The narrowest part of the canyon is the first ½-mile. From there it widens. The rock is smooth enough in places that the kids chose to slide their way to the canyon opening rather than climb.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park

The kids once again found playing in sand a highlight of the day. The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes feature 100-feet high sand dunes dotted with scrubby bushes. The sand looked gold-flecked in the sunlight and was hard-packed in spots. The kids enjoyed rolling down the dunes only to hit spots halfway down that no longer had any give to them and sounded more like hard-packed dirt than fine-grain sand. They were sprinting over and down dunes like they’d never seen sand before. It took extra time to empty accumulated sand from our shoes and pockets.

Making tracks on the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes - Death Valley National Park

Expect to spend lots of time driving in Death Valley National Park if you want to see most of its features. It’s the second largest park under the supervision of the National Park Service at 5,310 square miles and measuring 140 miles north to south. We spent time driving to the far northern part of the park to see Ubehebe Crater. The crater was caused by an underground gas explosion 3,000 years ago. It measures 500 feet deep and ½-mile across. Here, the landscape changes from yellows and dull brown to black and orange rock. We chose not to hike to the bottom of the crater because we didn’t want to haul a 4-year-old back to the crater rim. We did walk around part of the rim. The trail was steep, and the loose rock made for tricky footing in spots on the way down.

Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley National Park

We didn’t see much wildlife in the park. We did see six coyotes who were not afraid to come up to the vehicle, indicative of people feeding them in the past. We toured the boardwalk at the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail where we found a shallow, spring-fed wash alive with aquatic plants and pupfish.

Artist's Palette view in Death Valley National Park

Artist’s Palette offers more than just yellow and brown canyon walls. Visitors are treated to contrasting greens and pinks. We were there in late afternoon, and the lighting was perfect. The palette is found on the Artist’s Drive. Look for posted signs on the drive, which will lead you to the parking lot for the view.

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park

We ended the day at Zabriskie Point which offers a distinct panoramic view of wrinkled, rock hills. It’s a short up-hill walk to the viewing point from the parking lot, but worth the jaunt.


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