Death Valley: The name of this national park conjures up pictures of lifeless wasteland, fear and forgetfulness. But in fact, as you learn more about these places, you will find that they are full of life and varied. Today, Travellizy Team's report is about an amazing sight in the US Wild West.
A terrifying name
The valley owes its name to a group of pioneers-prospectors who inadvertently decided to take a shortcut to the coveted gold mines of California in the middle of the 19th century. In the winter of 1849-1850, about 20 carts of gold diggers could not find a way out of the valley. The belongings of the miners were pulled by oxen, some of which were eaten, and the meat of the animals was cooked on a fire made from the wooden parts of the wagons. One can only imagine what feelings these people experienced when they found themselves without sufficient supplies of water and food, not knowing where to go.
Despite the fact that the prospectors and their families saw death face to face, during the four-month hike, only one person died, who was initially not very healthy. But the hardships and ordeals that befell the group affected them so much that the name stuck and always reminds of danger.
People were banished by climate change
What's interesting is that these places have been inhabited for many millennia. Several tribes of Indians lived here already 10,000 years ago, when the climate was much milder and cooler, animals roamed in dense thickets, and it was easier to survive. Drought periods began about 2,000 years ago, and gradually the hot and dry climate drove people out of the valley.
A tremendous size
Death Valley National Park is one of the largest in the United States. It occupies 3 million acres, almost all of them are nature untouched by man. The park is located in the western United States in the state of California, southeast of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
The length of the park is 225 km, width is from 8 to 24 km. Only about 500 people permanently live in this entire vast territory. But biodiversity is much broader than the human population. Dozens of species of animals and birds live here. Humans also made their contribution to the expansion of the fauna: for example, you can sometimes see small herds of feral mules near the roads. It is strictly forbidden to feed them, but you can take pictures of them as much as you like.
Mines: prosperity and decline
During the Gold Rush, thousands of people came to the valley hoping to get rich from mining silver, gold and other minerals. Only a few succeeded in this, and in the 1930s, President Hoover designated these areas as a national monument. In the 1970s, the status was strengthened by adding Death Valley to the list of national parks of the country.
Nowadays, these lands are partly under the control of California, and partly of Nevada. All previous permits for mining were revised and/or canceled, and the last mine was closed in 2005. There are currently no active mines in the park, and all new permits are carefully checked taking into account environmental regulations. The order in the national parks is monitored by employees of the civil service of law and order as well as rangers.
Fans of concept photography will be delighted to visit abandoned mines and ghost towns.
The beauty of Death Valley should not fool the tourist: this place is still a test of strength and fitness. The air temperature reaches +49°C in the summer months.
Despite the fact that the infrastructure keeps improving every year, you have to be careful and follow some simple rules here. So, you cannot leave public roads without a clear understanding of where you are going. Firstly, it is illegal to travel around the protected areas. Secondly, in this huge reserve, the Internet can disappear completely unexpectedly, and online maps do not always show correct information. In the car, you must have a large supply of water, warm clothing, hats and sunscreen.
Walking in the desert is very exhausting even for healthy prepared people, so take care of yourself and your loved ones and never risk their health or their lives.
Unfortunately, not everyone takes into consideration this fact, when visiting the park. For example, in August 2009, a young woman with her son and a dog decided to leave the public road to drive through the remote corners of the valley. Her car was found on tire tracks a few days later. By this time, the child was already dead. The woman explained to the authorities that she relied on the GPS navigator, which took her in the wrong direction, then she got a flat tire, and it took her so long time to change it. The food and water they had quickly ran out, and the sun and thirst quickly exhausted them. These places are famous for record temperatures, so it is very dangerous to ignore the facts.
Almost all the tragic stories that darken the park's reputation are the result of an overestimation of one's physical endurance and inattention to recommendations. The heat kills 1-3 visitors almost every year. But be sure that if you follow the simple recommendations, your vacation will not be overshadowed by dangers.
The name given to this place seems to joke sarcastically: "Bad Water Basin". You will not find here any basin in the usual sense, and all the water that can be obtained is extremely saturated with mineral salts. Several springs supply water to the soil saturated with salts, but it isn't suitable for drinking.
Don't miss the chance to take a photo of the sign indicating that you are 86 meters below sea level!
The sea level sign is located on a cliff. It is visible from a convenient car parking place, but does not show the basin's deepest point. In fact, it is located a few kilometers from the road, and people rarely get there. It is extremely difficult to move around: zero shade and hot soil do their thing, so you feel heat like from a heated stove. A separate danger is thin layers of salt that break underfoot, leaving sharp fragments. In no case should you set out on a journey without careful preparation. If, however, you are determined to meet the remote corners of Badwater Basin, follow the path trodden by tourists.
In different seasons, the area slightly changes its appearance. From late spring to October, the sun dries up Badwater Basin, and dust and clay come to the surface, which does not look very picturesque on a camera. During the winter months, when moisture comes, the soil condenses with salt water, making it look like a snowflake.
White salt polygons look especially beautiful.
A commercial oasis
Furnace Creek is the park's main visitor center, where you can not only get background information, but also buy souvenirs and groceries at the largest store in Death Valley. There is also a gas station, which should be avoided as much as possible: the price of gas is extremely high!
Life flourishes in this place: there is a small post office, a golf course, two hotels, a restaurant and a cafe. This place is considered to be a town: about 30 people live here. Furnace Creek is located in the very center of the valley, at an altitude of 58 meters below sea level, so you must stop here in order not to miss the only American town located so low.
Furnace Creek is known for its 136-place campsite. This is a very popular place, with showers and toilets, which must be booked in advance. The mild spring months are usually reserved by the end of January. Another option to stay here is to come by camper. Choosing this way of travel, you also need to remember that the number of parking spaces is very limited, there are only 26 of them.
Previously, Furnaсe Creek was the only campground that required pre-registration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the rules are constantly changing, depending on the number of cases in the district. Therefore, find out the rules of visiting in advance on the official websites of the campsites.
A separate pride of Furnace Creek is the pools among the palm trees. The oasis owes its prosperity to natural water sources. Numerous visitors complain about high prices, but rooms are booked in advance. If you're still wondering if it's worth visiting, watch the Furnace Creek promotional video:
Dante's View: the most beautiful hell on earth
Dante's View is the highest point in Death Valley. It offers unforgettable views of the valley and the salt lake. A narrow serpentine road leads here, at a height of 1669 meters. At the top, travelers will find a large parking lot and several places, which offer an unforgettable view. The wild, austere beauty of these places gave a reference in the name - Dante's View. This refers to Dante Alighieri, who wrote The Divine Comedy in the XIV century. In his immortal poem, the famous Italian created the images of Purgatory and Hell so piercing and vivid that it became an internationally recognized classic of poetry. It was his name that was used to draw attention to the stunning panoramas of the Black Mountains of Death Valley.
It is interesting that these places give different impressions to visitors at different times of the day. On a sunny day, Dante's View is filled with the blue of the sky and the white salts of the lake. But come back here by sunset, and ancient fears and anxieties will seize even the thick-skinned traveler. Evening dawns paint the sky in fiery colors, and the Black Mountains seem gloomy and dangerous. It's truly a panorama worthy of the author of The Divine Comedy!
Cinematic landscapes from Star Wars
Fantastic views and diversity of Death Valley attract film professionals. Fans of science fiction films come here to see with their own eyes the places where Star Wars was filmed (1977). There are special sites where fans of the space Jedi saga post routes and photos. Some of them dress up as their favorite characters.
Nowadays, commercial photography in the wild is prohibited without a permit. You can get permission for shooting from the National Park Administration.
Environmentalists and climatologists are closely monitoring the amount of rainfall in Death Valley. Nature enthusiasts follow the indicators just as anxiously: after all, if there is enough moisture in the winter months, then in the spring, you can enjoy the views of the blooming desert. Kilometers of carpets of small but bright colors line the valley in this very short period. It is on such days that there are crowds here, as well traffic jams on the roads: everyone wants to capture the amazing and fragile beauty.
Park employees publish their superbloom forecast on social media pages. So, the forecast for the spring of 2021 is disappointing: there is not enough rain in the desert, no matter how strange it sounds, there will be a spring drought. But on superblooming days, if you are lucky enough to visit these places, be extremely careful not to step on plants and flowers. The natural balance is very easy to destroy and thus harm the subtle, but beautiful creatures and plants that survive in such an extreme place.
The best time to travel Death Valley
The best time to visit Death Valley is from February to March, when there are no extreme temperatures yet, but there is a chance to see a blooming desert. From October to February, the valley is cool almost everywhere. At other seasons, remember that the higher you go, the lower the temperature and the stronger the wind. Therefore, even on hot days, take a windbreaker with you. In December-January, it is so cold in the desert that the soil freezes at night. On such days, the roads are covered with a thin layer of ice, so they can be blocked. Before traveling to Death Valley, make sure you check the latest news on the official website.
During your trip, make sure you check out the visitor center, where you can learn more about the history of the valley and its inhabitants.
Not by the desert alone
Very often a trip to Death Valley is combined with a visit to Las Vegas and/or Los Angeles. When moving around the park, you won't be tired: there are no traffic jams, and many California cities will envy these roads. When planning your route, remember that there are few roads and long distances. Therefore, the best routes are built so as not to return to the points that you have already visited.
Las Vegas is the closest major city to the park, so many travelers combine a trip to the gambling capital with a trip to Death Valley. The distance between them is about 180 km, so you can leave Las Vegas early in the morning, visit several viewing platforms in the valley, and return to the city just in time for the start of the Cirque du Soleil show. Or you can just while away the evening at one of the many casinos.
There are few hotels and restaurants in the national park itself, so calculate the route to comfortably relax in the towns located at the entrances to it. On the way from/to Las Vegas, this is Pahrump at the intersection of Highways 160 and 178, Nevada.
And if you're driving from California along Highway 190, Panamint Springs will most likely be your choice.
To get a glimpse of the most beautiful places in Death Valley, plan to spend at least two days here. These places have an amazing property: they fascinate travelers. Without any architectural delights and tourist gimmicks, the desert will forever win the hearts of travelers. Visit Death Valley at least once - and you will definitely want to return to these strange and piercingly beautiful places.
Pioneers of the western part of the North American continent, gold miners and seekers of a better life left their traces here. Abandoned mines coexist with stunning landscapes. When you dare to conquer these red-hot lands, our experienced and friendly Travellizy Team will help you carefully plan this incredible trip!