Exploring Death Valley in 1 Day

Traveling participants: Sean and Ronnie and guest starring Ronnie’s mom, Pat!

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What can I say about Death Valley? The whole landscape looks like another world! Obviously the reason it has been used in movies like Star Wars. I wish we had been able to spend more time there. Hopefully get the chance to go back at some point. We only spent one day at the park and boy was it hot! My suggestion would to not go at the end of spring and summer. Although there were very few people there, so if you aren’t planning on doing long hikes and want less crowds, by all means, get your sweat on!

The trip started with a 6 to 7 hour drive from San Diego (of course it took much longer after all the stopping for bathroom breaks, food, and gas). We arrived at our Airbnb around 6pm and immediately went about making dinner. We spent the first night just relaxing in our cute little cabin in Beatty, Nevada (I would definitely recommended Wild West Getaway Cabins).

Our Cabin

Sean had recently gotten me a telescope for my birthday so I was excited to try to use it where I knew there would be good visibility. So we spent that night stargazing and it did not disappoint.

Sometime around 9:30pm Sean pointed out a strange moving group of stars. It appeared to be a long line of stars moving quickly across the sky. None of us knew what it was, so I’m just deciding to say that I watch aliens gathering up stars! The real story though, is that Sean decided to open his star gazing app on his phone and found out it was “space junk” or an old Russian rocket. Though I still don’t understand why it looked like a length of stars following behind it. If anyone is able to explain that to me, feel free.

So after getting abducted by aliens the night before, we set out the next day for Death Valley. The day started a bit overcast, which was great for comfort but not so great for pictures (spoiler alert: it clears up later). We entered the park and decided to start at the Mesquite Sand Dunes, which happens to be a very well known scene in Star Wars. After taking several pictures of sand and toys (and getting about 10 pounds of sand in our shoes) we headed back to take the turn off that would lead us to the majority of the other sites.

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Luke on Tatooine

Our second stop was Harmony Borax site, which happens to be a site where they mined borax back in the day. I definitely could not imagine living out there and working without air conditioning (whew! I’m sweaty just thinking about it). Then we headed towards the Devil’s Golf Course. I think that happens to be one of the coolest sites and I loved taking pictures of the salt crystals. The road there was a bit bumpy so be prepared for that, but it is so worth it.

Sean at the Devil’s Golf Course

From there we made our way on Badwater Road to Badwater Basin, which is to be the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. As you’re walking on the salt basin, it kind of gives off the feeling of walking on snow because of how white it is. But walking on snow in 100 degree weather, which is a totally odd experience. We didn’t spend too long there as it was just too hot to be walking around for too long.

We started to make our way back to take Artist’s Drive to Artist’s Palette; another well known Star Wars location. The mountains appear painted. It is a very cool site and leaves in a awe of Earth.

Heading back towards Furnace Creek, we stopped quickly at Golden Canyon, mostly for what looked like a really nice view. It was a really nice view! I’m sure there is much more awesome scenery but we were all too hot and tired to last too long. So a quick view and we got back in the car.

Turning onto route 190, we first stopped at Zabrinskie Point. Oh…my…wow… this was probably the most gorgeous site of the trip. It didn’t look real. The whole view looked like a digitized background. So there is a big parking lot. Once there, you walk up a mildly steep, paved walkway to get to the top for the view. Sean and I spent some time up there taking pictures while my mom waited in the car. At this point it was several hours into the day and we were all tired out from the heat, but boy am I glad I experienced that view.

From Zabrinskie Point, we continued on route 190 to Dante’s View (another Star Wars site!). As it was much higher in elevation than everything else, the temperature dropped significantly down towards the 70’s (degree Fahrenheit) . It was so refreshing after all the extreme heat of the other sites. Again, the view is extraordinary and you can see the vast majority of Death Valley. It was definitely a whole other world, looking out over the white and gray of the salt basins with the backdrop of the multi-colored mountains.

We spent some time there just enjoying the breeze and the view before heading back towards Furnace Creek to find some dinner. The plan was to eat, rest and shower at the cabin, and then return at night for stargazing in the park. We decided to stop at the Inn at Death Valley for food and ate at The Last Kind Words Saloon & Steakhouse. I would highly recommend! Their chili was delicious, as was the steak.

After dinner we went back to the cabin to freshen up and relax. Then around 9 PM, Sean and I headed back into the park for stargazing. Death Valley is an international dark sky area and was designated the largest Dark Sky National park in the country. Some of the recommended viewing locations are Harmony Borax Works, Mesquite Sand Dunes, and Badwater Basin.

However, Sean had already been driving for several hours that day, so we just stopped at the first small parking lots when entering the park. It was empty, quiet, and still offered an abundance of stars. I don’t know if it would have been better at one of those other locations (if someone has been star gazing at Death Valley, let me know what your favorite site is) but I imagine that anywhere in the park is amazing.

So that’s our trip! I definitely think Death Valley is an underrated National Park. When I was telling co-workers and friends I was going to Death Valley for the weekend, I kept hearing questions like “why?” Why not, I say! It’s a National Park with a beautiful, diverse landscape, you can’t go wrong with that.

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