A Land of Extremes – Death Valley

I’m sitting in our climate-controlled truck on a cushioned leather seat watching the scenery unfold in front of me. The land is vast, harsh, barren, and the road free of traffic. I can’t fathom the life of Pioneers who first explored these lands via horseback and wagon. Complaining about the lack of cell or internet coverage seems so petty on my part. However, the thought of a flat tire or other breakdown has me feeling somewhat uncomfortable. No calling AAA out here. We’re on our own!

Our Route – February 22, 2012

We pulled out of our campsite in Lake Havasu City bright and early that morning. We traveled north on Highway 95 to Interstate 40 west. After studying the map the day before, I thought it would be interesting to drive through the Mojave National Preserve.

The Mojave Desert is an arid rain-shadow desert and the driest desert in North America. And just like I imagined, the views are miles upon miles of sparsely vegetated land … harsh land that deserves respect if one is to survive. After our turnoff from Interstate 40 onto Kelbaker Road, I think we saw less than a dozen other vehicles, if that. Fascinating terrain!

Once in the town of Baker, we top off with fuel. We realize, the further we get from civilization, the more expensive fuel costs will become. Our journey continues toward Death Valley National Park and Furnace Creek.

Campground

The Furnace Creek Campground was currently undergoing a renovation and therefore closed for the season (Feb. 2012). Signs directed us to the Sunset Campground where we quickly found a level gravel site to pull into. The Sunset Campground was pretty much an organized gravel parking lot with no services, but at $12 a night, we weren’t complaining. We made a quick note of the generator hours to assure we kept our batteries topped off.

We loved watching the sunsets!

Sunset Campground is aptly named. Every evening, we found ourselves sitting outside to watch the sunset. Once the sun had disappeared, the sky would turn into fantastic shades of colors ranging from pinks to reds and purples. Then the sky would slowly darken to the most incredible deep, deep midnight blue. The stars were bright and the crescent moon stunning. Al and I would just sit quietly in awe watching the show unfold.

Although we lived in a community with a dark sky policy (Pueblo West, CO), I think this was the first time we truly understood light pollution. There was none here to detract from the beauty of the sky, and we were appreciative observers. Each night was a little different but equally spectacular. There are some things in life that can’t be captured via a photograph and must be experienced first hand. Admiring the night sky in Death Valley National Park was definitely one of those special moments … a vision etched in my memories.

Exploring Death Valley

Established in 1994, Death Valley National Park is a beautiful but challenging landscape where unique wildlife have developed ingenious adaptations to the arid, harsh environment. Located in both California and Nevada, it’s the largest national park in the lower 48 states and has nearly 1,000 miles of roads that provide access to both popular and remote locations in the park.

After reviewing the Death Valley National Park map, Al and I discuss our plan for the day.  National Parks are not usually pet friendly and Death Valley is no exception. So Al and I plan our day keeping our dog, Bear, in mind. Fortunately, the weather would be in the 60 degrees Faherenheit range allowing us to leave Bear in the RV alone for a few hours. Since he was over thirteen years old, Bear was showing his age and could use a little extra rest after a rather exciting, fun-filled five days in Lake Havasu.  So, he didn’t mind being left behind to catch up on some much-needed rest. 

Our first stops were Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View.  Dante’s View is considered the most breathtaking viewpoint in the park. The overlook is more than 5,000 feet above the floor of Death Valley and overlooks Badwater Basin. We were extremely glad that we wore our sweatshirts considering the temperature was only around 52 degrees Fahrenheit that morning and extremely windy at this high overlook.

Al reading information about the area – Dante’s View
The expansive scene from Dante’s View – overlooking Badwater Basin

On our return to the RV, we took a side trip and ventured down a dirt road known as Twenty Mule Team Canyon.  This is a one-way 2.7 mile drive through badlands.  The history of this road dates back to the days of mining for Borax in the Valley.  It was a fun little side trip even though there were points I wondered if our large truck would fit through some of the tight corridors in the canyon. If it weren’t for our growling stomachs beckoning for lunch, I would’ve loved stopping more frequently along the way. Yes, more photo-ops would’ve been nice, although Al might disagree.

A Jeep rounds a bend on Twenty Mule Team Road – the perfect vehicle for exploring Death Valley NP.

Upon our return to the RV, we find Bear still fast asleep and needing to be coaxed for his walk. He is one tired little guy and doesn’t mind being left behind the rest of the day.

After lunch, Al and I head over to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Badwater Basin is a vast landscape of salt flats. From a distance it looks like snow.

Al and Ingrid at Badwater Basin
Exploring the salt flats
Interesting patterns formed by salt deposits.

We ventured out onto the salt flats taking in the fascinating landscape. Badwater Basin was once the site of a large inland lake. The lake had no outlet, leading to the accumulation of sediment and salt over time. When the lake eventually evaporated, concentrated salt deposits were left behind. Today, captivating geometric salt polygons form on the flats as groundwater rises up through these deposits and evaporates.

A 53 year old Ingrid is awed by the landscape.

After more than thirty minutes of walking around the salt flats and marveling at the unique and surreal environment, we returned to the truck where we noticed the salt residue had stuck to our shoes and was now leaving a fine coating of salt residue on our truck floor mats.

A Golf Course that isn’t a Golf Course

Just north of Badwater Basin is a side road that took us down a bumpy dirt road to a parking lot. We found ourselves surrounded by craggy boulders which are really meteorite like sharp crystal formations of salt. Imagine an immense area of rock salt that has been eroded by wind and rain and turned into jagged spires and boulders. The sculpted salt formations form a rugged terrain that is simultaneously delicate yet dramatic. Rocks are so serrated that only the devil could play golf on such rough links. Hence, the name Devils Golf Course.

The Devils Golf Course

The terrain looks daunting and can be dangerous, thus best viewed from the parking lot. We had the place to ourselves and it was so quiet that we could actually hear the salt formations cracking. It was like tiny little pops and pings. The sound is literally billions of tiny salt crystals bursting apart as they expand and contract in the heat.

The next stop on our tour was driving the scenic, one-way, nine-mile paved road known as Artist’s Drive. A photo-op stop at the Artists Palette is a must. Artists Palette consists of multi-hued volcanic hills, best photographed in the afternoon. Known for its variety of rock colors, it’s no wonder where the name came from. The various colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals. Iron compounds produce red, pink, and yellow. The decomposition of mica produces green, and manganese produces purple. Once again, we are left speechless and perplexed by the terrain.

Artists Palette
Death Valley National Park – Vast large land worth exploring!

After two full days of exploring this southern section of Death Valley, it was time to move north. Al and I never realized just how enormous this national park is; 3,373,063 acres.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

On day three, we move camp to the Stovepipe Wells Campground.  Upon arrival, we realize its remoteness.  With the exception of Furnace Creek, all of Death Valley is extremely remote and vast. We park the RV with the backend into the wind. The wind is blowing and dirt devils are twirling.

Our campsite at Stovepipe Wells National Park Campground – no services.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Once settled in our new location, we head on over to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes nearby which is the whole reason we moved to this new location. Al and I hike the dunes being sure to keep our eyes on the ground for critters; snakes, scorpions, etc. We occasionally stop for photos or to marvel at the landscape.  These dunes rise nearly 100 feet from the Mesquite Flat and are in a constant state of change due to the winds.  It appears wind is the norm in this part of the park.

The winds continue to blow and Al and I are covered in a fine layer of dirt and sand.  We return to the RV for dinner in hopes of enjoying another gorgeous sunset. We were sorely disappointed with the sunset in this location.  However, the night sky and the crescent moon made up for any lack in sunset color. If we had it to do over, we probably would have stayed at the Sunset Campground and just driven to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for the day. 

exploring the dunes
Ingrid dumping the sand out of her shoes after exploring the dunes.

Although I feel we barely touched the surface of this awe-inspiring terrain, the constant extreme wind was irritating, and we decided to leave the next day with the promise of returning to Death Valley another time. 

Throughout our entire Death Valley explorations, we were intrigued by the landscape and felt like we had stepped back in time … Jurassic time. With each bend in the road, it would not have surprised us to have encountered a dinosaur or perhaps see a pterodactyl fly overhead. Or perhaps it wasn’t another realm but rather another planet. Regardless, we were awed, mesmerized, and perplexed by the incredible landscape. We left with the realization that another visit to Death Valley National Park would be warranted. Four days and three nights were definitely not enough time to explore this expansive and special land.

Al and Ingrid near Artists Palette – February 24, 2012
Death Valley National Park

100 thoughts on “A Land of Extremes – Death Valley

  1. I think it was a exciting journey what was made by you. If I were take part on that trip, I would be happy. But, at this moment I am reading this post and am feeling thrilled. I believe that you also had thrilled that moment

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We had a wonderful time and hope to also revisit someday soon. I think anytime of year other than summer would work. I can’t imagine experiencing those extreme summer temps.😊

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, we all have to pick our travel priorities, and the stark barren landscape of Death Valley doesn’t appeal to everyone. But, it’s still an interesting sight. 😊

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    1. Thank you! Death Valley NP is a popular place for photography workshops. We noticed more than one group out shooting together in the mornings and evenings. At the time, all I was using was an inexpensive point & shoot camera. I’d really like to return to focus on photography. Perhaps one day when the wildflowers are blooming. I definitely recommend putting DV on your travel list!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am in love with your writing style. Hope I would be able to add a hint of it to mine. Loved the details, it’s informative yet interesting in a storytelling way. Cheers. And in that pic you really don’t look 53.. you rather look 25 max!! Cheers guys!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. We thought a trip to Death Valley with the family would be nice for spring break. The pandemic struck again. Maybe after vaccines. We can use your post as a guide of places to stay and see.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. March is a great time to visit Death Valley. The weather is perfect and the wildflowers are usually dotting the landscape. I can’t wait for life to return to some sort of normalcy. It has been a long year!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Death Valley NP is one of those places worth visiting at least once. The barren landscape may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is definitely an interesting sight to see. I was intrigued beyond any expectations.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting post Ingrid! Now I’m dying to go to Death Valley! So you were 53 yrs old on this trip.
    How old now? We also have a dog name “Bear” haha – He’s 10 yrs old Husky-Shepherd Cross – originally our daughters, but now we’re stuck with him – so 3 walks a day keeping us mobile. I guess that your Bear is gone by now?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A gal never tells her age 🤣 I’m in my early sixties and Al is ten years older than me. He robbed the cradle 😁 Yes, unfortunately, our special Bear is no longer with us. We sure do miss him though. He was a great traveler.

      Definitely put Death Valley on your travel list. March is a great time to visit and you might even catch it when the desert floor is in bloom.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha! You’re still young at heart! Al was smart to rob the cradle. My wife and I are 64 yrs and I recently retired. So hoping to do some trips to USA when covid is significantly reduced. Did you get a replacement dog?

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        1. No, we did not get another dog. That was difficult in the beginning, but we decided it was much easier traveling without a four-legged family member. No regrets!

          Let’s hope life returns to some sense of normalcy soon so we can all feel comfortable traveling again.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. That’s how we feel about having a dog now that we’re retired and would like to do some travelling. We thought we were done with pets but then we needed to adopt our daughters dog for various reasons. He’s a very nice chap, but needs to be walked 3 times/day and enjoys shedding hair. He’s 10 yrs old husky/shepherd cross but in fine form, so he’ll probably live another 5 yrs at least. So we have dropped in off in a good kennel for some trips.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this wonderful tour. Enjoying travel with you through your RV journey. We travel DV decades ago, happy to see your beautiful photos of this unique place.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, crazy gas prices that I hope don’t return anytime soon. That was back in 2012 when gas/diesel prices were super high, and in DV the prices were about a $1.50 a gallon more than the norm back in civilization. We paid about the same for boat fuel at Lake Powell. Sure took the fun out of exploring.

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  6. Amazing and intriguing landscape that I’ve never seen so thanks for the tour. I have places I wish I’d seen, those I still hope to see, but I think although its stark beauty is quite evident, I’ll pass on Death Valley except to applaud our ancestors and their fortitude to settle this country. Beautiful photography as always.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Judy, and I hear ya on picking our travel priorities. There are so many beautiful places to visit yet we can’t get to them all. Plus, the stark barren landscape is not for everyone. I’d love to revisit when Death Valley experiences a super bloom … a rarity that requires an unusual amount of rainfall. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The ability to travel with our home in tow has allowed us to see and experience things that would otherwise be impossible or at the least be difficult. I highly recommend a visit to Death Valley. The Oasis Inn aka Furnace Creek Resort is beautiful and the perfect place to stay while exploring this unique landscape.

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  7. My dad and I went on a hiking trip one year for spring break and did a couple hikes here. It was amazing… and HOT! 😂We stopped by Badwater Basin as well and also did a hike there that I believe was called Golden Canyon?? Then we stopped by the reserve for some lunch. It was delish!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, Death Valley NP can get very hot. Sounds like you enjoyed a memorable trip with your father. Because of our dog, we weren’t able to do some of the hiking we wanted to do, but I hope to return one day and explore more. Our trip was way too short!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m always amazed when I see photos like yours of this part of our country and think back to the pioneers who crossed it…many not knowing what lay ahead of them. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s incredibly fascinating land and a vast contrast from our country’s lush landscape back east. I can’t imagine what went through those early explorers minds considering I occasionally felt uncomfortable with the harshness of the land and I had all of today’s modern conveniences.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. We passed up a visit to Death Valley a few years back because we were traveling at the height of the summer heat, so I especially enjoyed your descriptive post. The photo of you and Al at Badwater Basin is sweet, and the view of the basin from Dante’s view is incredible, but the pic of the Mesquite Flats sand dunes is my favorite. The colors, the composition, plus the landscape itself looks like a sculpture – just gorgeous, Ingrid!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You were wise to pass on Death Valley in the summer. I can’t fathom what 120+ degrees F feels like and I’m not interested in finding out 🥵 We were awed by every new bend in the road and I don’t think I could pick a favorite. The dunes are pretty amazing though. If you look real close at that first photo of the Mesquite Flats, you can see a couple of people climbing the dunes giving scale to the massive size of the dunes.

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    1. I highly recommend visiting. It’s a very unique sight and experience. The Oasis at Death Valley aka Furnace Creek Resort offers beautiful accommodations. March is an excellent time to visit because the weather isn’t too warm and the desert floor is usually covered in little wildflowers. I still need to return one day to see those wildflowers. We were a little too early during our February visit, but the weather was still enjoyable.

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    1. Off-worldly is an excellent word to describe the landscape. It is fascinating, to say the least. And as barren as the landscape is, there’s a beauty to it that’s hard to express.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for sharing Ingrid. I am a passionate of Geology and traveling. Your prose caught me immediately in the mood of walking and observing and also feeling the natural treasures of Death Valley, like the salt deposits. And the sunset views, really amazing! It’s a marvelous experience. Thanks a lot.👍🏻🙋🏻‍♂️🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are very welcome! I have no doubt you would enjoy a visit to Death Valley NP. The land, the views, and the history are like non-other in the world. Thank you for stopping by and commenting 😊

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  11. Did you ever get a chance to return?

    We visited Death Valley 4 years ago during our first season roaming around in a van. Although we did spend several days at Death Valley those days were do jam packed we never got a chance to document our trip in our blog. Someday I work up a post for it.

    Nice picture of the sand dunes. I think we missed those on our visit. Perhaps it is time for a return trip.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Our visit was also jam-packed, and we barely touched the surface of all there is to see in Death Valley NP. I would love to return when the wildflowers are in bloom, and next time I’ll plan on spending more time there now that I know just how large the park is. We love revisiting places!

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  12. Ingrid,
    Deserts are so unique. Since we go to California once a year, I need to spend at least a day or two in Death Valley. Thanks for taking us there and sharing the amazing views. I’m not familiar with the term rain-shadow desert, and would love to know the meaning. Have a great week! Joe

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You and Helen would enjoy visiting Death Valley. I think the Furnace Creek CG now has electric and there’s a private park at Stovepipe Wells with full-hookups. So many unique sights to see and it’s so remote.
      “Rain-shadow” – since the weather usually rolls in from the CA coast, the hills on the west side of the Mojave Desert block the rain from falling onto the desert. The hills/mountains create a rain shadow of sorts. If you need a better explanation, I recommend you Google 🤣😆🤣

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  13. That was quite a trip, Ingrid. Death Valley is intriguing and it’s been years since my family drove through there. My jaw dropped at the image of the gas prices! I’ll bet those stars were amazing there with nothing but blackness to surround you at night. Great memories!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great memories indeed! I really need to return to focus on photography. I guarantee, I’ll return with the mere mention of a possible super bloom. I’ll settle for a nice showing of wildflowers.
      Yeah, those gas prices were brutal which is why we tried to be efficient in our explorations.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Once again, your timing is impeccable. We’re headed to Death Valley later this month and I am just starting to think about our plans. You’ve given me a great outline here. We’re staying at Stovepipe Wells, so that wind issue may provide its own adventure. Fun times!!

    Thanks for the helpful post!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Death Valley is so unique. I really wanted to spend some time photographing the Mesquite Dunes either early in the day or late, but the winds were brutal and I’m not that serious of a photographer. 😁Hopefully, there will be some wildflowers when you visit, but it has been a dry winter, unfortunately. Enjoy!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow! These pics are magnificent and wonderfully majestic! Have also wanted to go to Death Valley myself! Was talking to my husband last night about retiring and going cross-country via RV one day!!! You’ve inspired me! 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Death Valley is quite the sight … nothing else like it in the U.S. (maybe the world). Traveling via an RV is awesome, but then I might be biased 😁 If you ever need some suggestions or help, just ask. If I don’t know the answer, chances are I know someone who does.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree! One visit isn’t enough to fully take in the perplexing sight. I’m still kicking myself for not dropping everything and revisiting during the super bloom a few years ago.

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    1. Thanks for sharing the link Pam. Hard to believe Badwater Basin was under water in 2005. 2016 was another year of extreme rainfall that damaged Scotty’s Castle but also provided a super bloom … an event I really wanted to see.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Ingrid, I really enjoyed this tour through Death Valley. We never made it there during our RV travels. I think we both would have enjoyed it. I was there in the third grade with my family but the only thing I remember is my Dad filled an inflatable container with water and brought it with us. He was always prepared for anything!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You can never carry around too much water in Death Valley – smart dad. You and Henry would’ve enjoyed this National Park, but I think we both know … so many places, so little time. I have finally come to terms with picking priorities when it comes to travel … not that my thoughts don’t fight with each other 😆

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha! I can imagine, kayaks in Death Valley did indeed look perplexing. Our trip to this NP was also too short.
      I managed to score some SP reservations for the UP this summer and can’t wait. It has been way too long since I’ve visited this part of MI.

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  17. Wow, thank you for the tour, Ingrid! I’ve never been that far into Death Valley. Such beautiful views. The road you took sounds interesting, I’ve passed through Baker several times but never took that road. One of your photos shows how big your husband is, you look so small! Thanks for sharing. 😎🌵

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I was so mad at myself when Death Valley NP experienced a ‘super bloom’ a few years ago. We had made some commitments in Phx and couldn’t make it back to Death Valley during that special time … regrettable. Next time that happens, I assure you I’ll be visiting.
      Al is a little over 6’3″ and I’m only 5’5″ so yeah, definitely a height difference.😎

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