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Death Valley - hiking, camping and information. Our two day two night Utah mountain camping trip with friends Casey and Kade Buchanan got cancelled last minute due to freezing weather and high winds. So we went to our friends (Mark and Kiki, Vegas entertainers) house in North Vegas. Ate pizzas and hors d'oeuvres fireside accompanied by 4 different types of wine while our bunny rabbit Bugsy played out back on the grassy lawn in the shadow of a huge mountain. Great fun. Left at midnight for their front yard where we slept until 6am in our van then headed to Death Valley California.
Death Valley is unexpectedly beautiful despite being the lowest, driest, and hottest place in America with multicolored mountains, waves of sand dunes, deep canyons, and salt flats. Death Valley is the largest park in the contiguous U.S. comprising of more than 3.3 million acres of desert wilderness for backcountry camping and hiking. Death Valley's Badwater Basin is the lowest place in North America and one of the lowest places in the world at 282 feet below sea level.
Furnace Creek is the main hub in Death Valley National Park with the visitor center and lodging at the Furnace Creek Ranch and Furnace Creek Inn.
There is a general store and gift shop, restaurants and a sandwich shop, fuel, propane, ATM, post office, showers, natural spring-fed swimming pool, golf course, tennis courts, picnic tables, a paved airstrip, dump station, and the Borax Museum.
At Stovepipe Wells Village, Panamint Springs, and in the towns adjacent to the park there are motels, camper stores, restaurants, dump stations, fuel and auto services available.
Left: Picture taken with our friends Mark and Kiki in Las Vegas. Before driving on to Death Valley we stopped at their house for some good food and company with Bugsy.
Driving off paved roads and on backcountry dirt roads in a rented car voids most car rental agreements. Before you head out on any of the backcountry dirt roads keep in mind that many towing insurance companies and even AAA may not be valid on backcountry dirt roads. Typical towing charges for remote areas within Death Valley National Park range from $250 to $1000 dollars or more. Backcountry dirt road driving is serious business and high-clearance vehicles and 4-wheel drive vehicles are highly recommended. Not only can you get a flat tire but their can be steering damage, or the oil pan can get punctured and leak. These dirt roads go for anywhere from 10 miles to 28 miles one way to get to a hike, camping, or geological wonder. A few favorite backcountry roads are Echo Canyon, Titus Canyon, The Racetrack, and Butte Valley via Warm Springs Canyon.
Above: Picture of Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road.
The Twenty Mule Team Canyon drive is spectacular with multi-colored mountains, badlands, and old mines dotted along the unpaved one-way loop. This is a pleasant one-way drive with many pull-offs to walk around and take lots of pictures. The easy three minute walk up to Zabriskie Point is one of Death Valley's unforgettable viewpoints with eroded and brilliantly colored badlands and golden-brown mudstone hills. We were told this is the best place to see sunrises and sunsets.
Above: Picture of salt later at Death Valley's Salt Creek.
From November through March the temperatures are mild but there is an occasional winter storm. Summers are extremely hot and dry with temperatures commonly above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In mid October the temperature begins to drop below 100 degrees Fahrenheit and about the middle of April the temperature starts getting above 100 degrees. No matter what time of the year you visit sun protection is a must and sturdy walking shoes are important.
Above: Kelly running up sand dunes. This is cheap fun and mountain views in the distance are beautiful.
Sand Dune Tip No. 1: When visiting the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes don't get out of the car when the wind is blowing 15 knots. The dunes rise 150 feet from Mesquite Flat and are impressive being surrounded by mountains on all sides. You can walk over the dunes in just an hour or so but don't be fooled the other side of the dunes is much further than it looks, approximately 2 miles to the highest dune. Definitely stop along the road and walk to Salt Creek or drive the unpaved Salt Creek Interpretive Trail where pup fish can be seen three months out of the year.
Above: Zabriskie Point Overlook.
Death Valley has more than 785 miles of roads including hundreds of miles suitable for mountain biking. Bikes are not allowed on closed roads, service roads, off of roadways, or on any trails. The National Park Service campgrounds do not provide hookups for recreational vehicles.
Above: Picture of Scotty's Castle from hike on top of the hill. Scotty's Castle is definitely a desert mirage with water running through it and towering palm trees. You can pay to tour the castle, castle basement, tunnels, and Pelton waterwheel or just walk around the grounds yourself and up the hill behind the castle to the grave of Scotty and his dog.
Jason's thoughts - Great very scenic drive from Las Vegas through Pahrump and into Death Valley. Good visitor center, and the small mining focused museum at Furnace Creek is worth walking through. Loved the short 1 hour drive on a one way dirt road called Twenty Mule Team Canyon. Had a great time with Kelly goofing off. Tiny sign off Highway 190, hard to find, which made it much more private and nice because there weren't many people there. Heat is a bigger issue here than anywhere I have ever been. When it is cool it is extraordinary. When it is hot one must leave or hole up at the Furnace Creek Ranch and swim in the natural spring water pool. I do not recommend this Death Valley National Park for children at all. Much of it is experienced from the car because it is so huge. The hikes can be more arduous due to usually zero cover from the sun. Overall a very unique experience and well worth driving into for a few days.
Kelly's thoughts - Two of my favorites in the park is Zabriskie Point which is positively awesome and the Golden Canyon hike. Next in line would be the Sand Dunes and The Racetrack. And I really was astounded by the diversity of scenery that comes with elevation changes while driving through the park.
Above: Picture of Jason and Kelly atop Zabriskie Point in Death Valley.
Travel Info - There are very few fuel stops in Death Valley and it sells for twice the normal rate elsewhere; some locations close without warning. Fill up outside the park. Death Valley National Park is located in southeastern California with a little part of it in southwestern Nevada. Death Valley is located about 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles and 120 miles northwest from Las Vegas.
Read more on RV camping in Death Valley for seasonal information and full service campgrounds. More on backcountry camping, driving, and hiking or wildflowers of Death Valley or Golden Canyon Gower Gulch Loop.
American Road Trips - reviews & pictures of places we visited on $20 a day - food, gas and lodging.