Death Valley National Park, California
Explore One of the Nation's Harshest Climates
Marc Adamus / Aurora Photos
One of the harshest climates in the nation has helped create one of its most fascinating landscapes - a testament to the forces of nature, and the tenacity of the life that thrives in such an environment. In Death Valley National Park, where daily temperatures are some of the highest in the world, visitors are not greeted by the "standards" of outdoor beauty, but are instead faced with a powerful realm of nature, one equally admirable and worthy of exploration.
When given proper exploration, Death Valley's topography is a real showstopper. The deep gulleys and ravines of the Black Mountains are haunting, and the piercing colors of the park's Badlands - found along Artist's Drive and at Zabriskie Point - are truly startling. At 232 feet below sea level, the lowest land point in the Western Hemisphere is found at Badwater, and the 2-mile-long Salt Creek appears like a mirage in the desert. Paved roads take visitors to major scenic viewpoints like Dante's View and Wildrose. Over 350 miles of unpaved and four-wheel-drive roads give access to hiking, vistas and historic sites. Scotty's Castle is a magnificent mansion in the midst of the desert, purportedly built by "Death Valley Scotty," a Gold Rush legend in his time. Various ghost towns exist in the vicinity, whispering of a past when the lure of gold roped in thousands of settlers.
All visitors to Death Valley National Park should be well aware of the many warnings offered by park officials: temperatures in mid-afternoon can climb higher than 120-degrees; it is important to be prepared with water, maps and to set out on all treks early in the day.
The harsh environment of Death Valley began when the Earth's plates collided, uplifting the land into the mountains west of the region, and dropping the valley to lower levels. The arid climate results from a rain-shadow effect created by the mountains.
With more than 3 million acres to its name, Death Valley offers a overwhelming number of sites to see - all are incredible, but some stand out from the rest. In the Furnace Creek Area, visitors will encounter the twisting Dante's View Road, which winds into the Black Mountains and offers views of both the lowest and highest points in the continental United States. Furnace Creek is also home to the wild pinnacles of Devil's Golf Course and the brilliantly colored expanse of foothills known as the Artist's Palette. In the Stovepipe Wells Village Area, hiking through Mosaic Canyon and the notorious Sand Dunes offers incredible vistas of the mountains and surrounding landforms.
Where to Stay
After enduring a heat-filled day touring the wonders of Death Valley, visitors deserve to return to luxuriously comfortable (and affordable!) accommodations. Furnace Creek Resorts offers two different types of settings: the Inn and the Ranch, both catering to guests' needs with their well-appointed rooms, suites and cabins. Guests of the resort are privy to an 18-hole golf course, four restaurants, a saloon, retail outlets, a Borax Museum, swimming pools, tennis courts, horse-drawn carriage rides, massage therapy, even a 3,000-foot-long airstrip.
Nearby Sights/Side Trips
Once the haunting world of Death Valley has been explored, it seems somehow appropriate that the next stop on a tourist's itinerary be a bona fide ghost town. The eerily decrepit town of Ryolite, NV was once a booming gold rush town, settled in 1904 and home to more than 10,000 residents. Eventually the boomtown waned, mines began to close, and by 1916, the town's light and power had been turned off. Today there are crumbling remnants to remind visitors of the glorious Gold Rush days: remains of the old Bottle House (built from 50,000 beer and liquor bottles), a three-story town hall, the Alaska Glacier Ice Cream Parlor and a once-thriving train station lay in spooky ruins in the town center.