Gas up before you endeavor to drive into Death Valley, as well as every other time you see a gas station and you’re below 2/3 of a tank. Because there is nothing and no one out there in the roasting 114 degree plus heat, and car services are hours away.
It was four hours from my campground to the Furnace Creek visitor center. And that campground was the last town I saw on the way there. The endless road stretched out into infinity, into those sun-bleached hills, under the dazzling, singeing blue sky.
So of course I idiotically chugged coffee before I got on the road, and nearly peed myself before I could get anywhere close to a bathroom. Still, I somehow managed to get out and look around at this layered maroon and toasty brown canyon at the precipice of Death Valley. Layers of black and light gray interspersed the fire-touched colors.
This park was not a hiking park, and how could it ever be with the constant scorching heat for most of the year? I suppose it would be a bit nicer in the winter. With that in mind, I followed a visitor driving tour that I found online, and saved these points into Google Maps to help me out on the way. [Surprisingly, in all of my travels so far, I have been able to locate myself on Google Maps, a glorious and life-saving little blue dot.] And on the list: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Zabriskie Point, the Devil’s Golf Course, Badwater Basin, Artist’s Palette and Drive, and Mosaic Canyon.
Badwater Basin look a little different from what I had pictured, not the huge chunks of cracked ground, but rather smooth white to reflect the 120 degree heat at the -282 foot elevation floor. They had placed a sign up on the cliff to show where sea level actually was, reminding us that this is the lowest elevation in North America, and maybe the hottest.
When I got out of my car at the basin, the wind actually burned my lips and eyes, like sticking my face directly into an oven. I downed a full water bottle in the maybe twenty minutes I spent walking out and back to get a picture of the basin, and I was still thirsty. Frankly, I just wanted to sit in my air-conditioned car.
The Devil’s Golf Course was nearby the basin, and it is obvious why it was named so. Razor-sharp rocks covered with tiny points of salt formations stretch out as far as you can see in the valley, the mountains surrounding the place like a bowl.
These formations crackle as they expand and contract in the varying heat, especially when the valley is momentarily shaded by a cloud. I thought it was my car making the strange sound at first, but I dropped an ear closer and found it was really coming from the ground all around me. Rice Krispies, in short. I only took a couple steps out onto the wicked-looking terrain to get a closer look. I for some reason expected the salt to crumbled when I touched it, but those crystals are hardened like cement.
Artist’s Drive was really full of color, although bleached by the sun. Dim, dusty copper-oxidized green, pale pink washes, deep maroon and cinnabar layers, white veins among the chocolate brown, and every natural color in the palette in between.
The Mesquite Flat Dunes looked very similar to the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, but not nearly as spectacular, and quiet a lot more hot. Although, when the wind kicked up later in the day, multiple dust devils could be seen racing across the sand at once. Eerie, ghostly to see them tearing away in the distance, funneling up in to the clear air only to disperse without a sound.
And on the way out of Death Valley, I f***ing ignored the gas station I should have gone to, because I was “sure” that I “remembered” that the next gas station was “CLOSE.” It wasn’t.
With 20 miles of gas to spare, I finally rolled into that Chevron. It was the most glorious, relieving sight I had ever beheld. I filled up, and promptly gunned it out of the valley.
Death Valley is something everyone should see at least once. Beautiful and striated, but a bit too hot to be entirely enjoyable (although this was expected. This is Death Valley after all.). Go once, maybe not twice. Bring lots of sunscreen.