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Death Valley

Death Valley consists of desert and mountain. This serious wilderness takes up 3.3 million acres worth of space and is the largest of its kind in the lower 48 states.  The geography is viciously rough: from the shimmering, superheated salt pan to the broken mountain ranges that surround it.  Even the name sounds deadly.  But trips here don’t have to be deadly if you play it smart and plan your visit right.  If you keep in mind the distances, time of year,  and the challenge of the landscape you can come away with an unforgettable experience of American landscape at its most extreme.  A gold miner died in 1949 while fleeing from the severe snow storms in the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains, and this is how Death Valley got it’s name.  The fire like heat, frigid cold and the driest air imaginable make Death Valley one of earth’s most inhospitable spaces.  It is the largest national park outside Alaska, with more than 3.3 million acres.

Photo of Death Valley

INFORMATION: Contact Death Valley National Park, Death Valley, CA.92328 (p: 760 786 3200; www.nps.gov/deva).  Fall through spring is the best time to visit, though the park is open year-round. Seven-day entry pass, $20.  Scotty’s Castle is a must see for most people.  If the weather is pleasant, try a short hike such as Golden Canyon, Mosaic Canyon, Sand Dunes, or the Salt Creek Nature Trail.

CAMPING:  Campsites, up to $18 should be reserved at (p: 877 444 6777; www.recreation.gov).  Always inquire with the park ranger about current conditions before setting up camp.  Only five campgrounds are open year round to protect visitors from the harshest elements mother earth has to offer.  We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to prepare prior to being exposed to Death Valley.


Off the beaten path:

GAME PLAN: Without the aid of camels (frowned upon by the authorities), backcountry epics are logistically daunting in sere Death Valley. And even if they weren’t, the landscape is so varied you’d want to take day trips to experience it all. First spend a morning driving between the park’s most famous sights: Zabriskie Point for sunrise over the folded yellow badlands below; Dante’s View for an eagle-eye peek at the valley floor; and Badwater for the lowest spot in North America (282 feet below sea level). After lunch, head north to Fall Canyon in the Grapevine Mountains. From the Titus Canyon parking lot, take the Fall Canyon Trail three miles up a wash surrounded by metamorphosed marble and dolomite to a dry waterfall, then another three miles, if you dare, through a narrow slot. The following day, hike into Ubehebe Crater, once a steam-spewing volcano (2,000 years ago) that has collapsed into a 770-foot-deep cinder-strewn pit. Then stop by the sand dunes east of Stovepipe Wells to watch the stars emerge before heading back to base camp. On the third and final day, make the seven-mile climb to Telescope Peak (11,049 feet) in the high Panamints on the mountain’s namesake trail. From the rocky summit you can take in North America’s most extreme view,it stretches nearly 15,000 vertical feet from the depths of Badwater to the top of the highest peak in the contiguous United States, 14,496-foot Mount Whitney.

Photo of Flowers in Death Valley

Photo of Death Valley Flowers